Test Drive: The Eventide DSP4000B Production Ultra-Harmonizer

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by Jerry Vigil

At first glance, it's obvious the Eventide DSP4000B Production Ultra-Harmonizer is related to its forerunner. It retains the four bright yellow Soft Keys, the big data wheel, the white numeric keypad on the right, all on the familiar black face. But the latest in the Harmonizer line is a dramatic upgrade from the 3000 series. The most glaring difference in appearance is the extra large backlit LCD display that's nearly three times the size of the large display on the 3000 models. And this display comes with independent contrast and brightness controls that can crank up the lighting enough to suit anybody's needs and tastes. Another eye-catching addition to the front panel is the Memory Card slot which accepts standard PCMCIA Type 1 Static RAM cards for storing and retrieving programs. The unit supports cards with up to 4 megs of memory, plenty of room considering that some of the more complex reverb programs only need about six or seven thousand bytes!

There are some other changes on the front panel, but first a look at the rear panel. The AC voltage selector, fuse holder and connector are at the far left. There are MIDI IN, OUT and THRU jacks enabling MIDI control of effect parameters and more. The model used for this review came with the digital I/O option. AES/EBU digital I/O is available on XLR ports and S/PDIF digital I/O is available on RCA connectors. 1/4" connectors provide unbalanced analog I/O and XLR connectors deliver balanced analog I/O. There are 1/4" jacks for a foot switch, a foot pedal, and a relay output. RS-422 serial interface I/O ports (for future applications) complete the rear panel.

The DSP4000B has five operation modes, and each has its own button on the front panel: LEVELS, PROGRAM, SETUP, PATCH, and PARAMETER. Pressing any of these activates that mode, and the display changes to show the appropriate information, including the various functions of the four Soft Keys below the display. The Levels mode obviously sets operating levels but the options are extensive. Press the Global soft key to set I/O levels for the entire system, or press the Preset soft key to set levels for individual programs. Press the Gain Trim soft key to adjust the analog input gain. Press the Route soft key to set the operating mode of the Bypass/Mute button on the front panel and to set the mix mode of the unit. When in the Guitar mix mode, input signals can be mixed with the effect. In the Studio mode, the output is 100% wet. Pressing the LEVELS button a second time advances the display to the second screen of soft key functions. The Meter soft key accesses settings for meter ballistics--decay time and peak hold time. Finally, the ExtCon (External Control) soft key enables remote control of the BYPASS/MUTE button as well as the L/R output and mix levels via MIDI signals, front panel "user" buttons (labeled USER 1 and USER 2), foot pedals/switches, and more.

If you're like me, you can't wait to see what cool effects are in the factory presets of a new effects box. Press the PROGRAM button to put the DSP4000B in the "play" mode, as in, "I want to play with this thing!" Programs are contained in "banks." Each bank and program is numbered and titled. Up to 100 banks can be stored with up to 128 programs per bank (memory permitting). The unit provided for this review contained nearly four hundred factory programs filed into 28 banks! This filled up most of the user RAM leaving only a little over 100,000 bytes for storing additional programs. That's plenty unless you plan on doing some serious program writing, but if you need extra space (factory presents cannot be deleted), a 512K memory card ($195 from Eventide) should do the job.

The idea of banks is a good one, especially since they can be named. For example, the first factory bank is "Utilities" which contains some useful programs such as an oscillator and a white noise generator. The next bank is titled "Commerce" and offers some fun programs like "Airplane Background" which puts you in the seat of an airliner with a Bong control to call the flight attendant and a Throttle control to change engine sounds. It sounds incredibly real. A program called "Fries With That" accurately simulates the cheap fast food intercom. A bank titled "Communication" offers programs that simulate everything from bullhorns and cell phones to CB radios and helicopter traffic reports. And the "Traffic Report" program even includes a parameter that controls how much the traffic reporter (the VO talent) is shaking in the chopper. It sounds pretty authentic.

There are programs to simulate an old record player, complete with scratches and poor quality. Never could quite get that "TV in the next room" effect? It's in the "Entertainment" bank, program 8. There are sound effect programs that simulate windstorms, locomotives, thunder, various alarms and sirens, and a UFO take-off that brings back memories of every old film and TV show that featured this classic sound. Press the Take Off soft key again to land the UFO. The "VR Backgr01" program creates eerie, out-of-this-world background effects. It works well with the UFO program and is ideal for sci-fi type stuff.

Run that muddy agency dub through the "Brightener" program to add second harmonics to the signal. The "Long Distance" program simulates not only the noise common with long distance phone calls, but also includes a parameter to adjust the amount of crosstalk on the line. As you talk, you hear a faint voice in the background, though you can't make out what it's saying. That's because the crosstalk signal is the input signal delayed, pitch shifted, and reversed. Again, nice result. And you'll love the humor scattered throughout. On the "Long Distance" program, there's a parameter for the Telco service provider. Choose from Splint, EmCee Eye, AT$T, and FlubboFone, each offering different combinations of line noise, crosstalk, sidetone, etc.. Need that loud, obnoxious phone "off the hook" tone, but don't want to wait several minutes for your phone to finally blare out the warning signal? Select "Off Hook!" for an instant and authentic off-hook alarm. The "Shortwave Radio" program is excellent. If you've ever played around with a shortwave receiver, you know this strange vocal effect. I've never needed this effect for anything, but after hearing it, the creative juices began to flow and several ideas came to mind. This is something that happens a lot with this box. As you scroll through the programs, you think of neat ways to use the sounds and effects.

How many times have you selected an effects program and had no idea what the effect was supposed to do or how to modify it properly? You're given a title like "Dry Paint" and parameters with abbreviations like "SKdly,", "LftOEn," "RtQ1F," etc.. YOU will love the DSP4000B! Each program comes with an "About" or "Info" soft key that brings up a help screen with useful information about the program. The information is put in plain English and is quite comical on some programs. And if there's more info than will fit on one screen, the data wheel can be used to scroll through the text. Very nice.

Of course, the Harmonizer has always been acclaimed for its pitch shifting and delay programs. The new DSP4000B doesn't forget where it came from. The pitch shift is the most glitch-free I've come across and boasts an eight octave range! Of course, there are many programs utilizing the pitch shift algorithms, programs that do everything previous Harmonizers can do and more. (Speaking of previous models, there's even a bank of programs emulating twenty-seven H3000 programs.) The delay programs are also extensive and impressive. How about a "Long Mono Delay" program with TEN seconds of delay! This much delay RAM allows for some very nice multi-tap delay effects. There's even a nice collection of dynamics programs including gates, compressors and duckers. There's a pretty nifty 4-band compressor that splits the input into four frequency bands and includes a de-esser.

There are several programs utilizing the unit's high quality reverb algorithms. What's helpful to radio producers are reverb programs with names like Big Church, Classroom, Kitchen Reverb, Tile Men's Room, Small Club, and High School Gym. Rather than picking a Room or Hall reverb and tweaking for a while, just select the room you want and press the Load soft key! Speaking of rooms and reverbs, there are close to a hundred reverb programs, many with names not quite so self-explanatory but great sounding nevertheless. These are the best reverb programs I've heard from an Eventide Harmonizer. A bank titled Alternative Verbs contains a nice collection of multi-effect programs good for special effects on the voice as well as instruments.

One feature that's new to the 4000 series is the ability to "morph" or crossfade from one program to the next. This is a feature showing up in many effects boxes these days and is most helpful to the performing musician. However, it can make for some interesting special effects for radio production, especially with the ability to set a maximum crossfade time of sixty seconds! Due to limited processing power, only certain programs can be crossfaded with each other, as indicated with a cross next to the program name.

Once a program is loaded, its Parameters page appears on the screen. Press the PARAMETERS button to access additional parameter pages (if any). The parameters screens are some of the easiest to read and use I've seen on any box. Perhaps this is due in part to the large display. There's plenty of room to display parameter names and values, and if you need some help, there's always some available by pressing the Info soft key. The unit takes advantage of the graphics capabilities of the display and provides meters, knobs and faders on many screens which makes adjusting parameters easy and even fun. Not enough can be said about how the large display makes using the DSP4000B an effortless and painless procedure. One program where this is very evident is "Multitap Delay." This program has forty taps! Each one is represented on the screen as a vertical line. The taller the line, the louder the tap. The further to the right, the longer the delay. This is the first multi-tap delay program I've seen where you can actually see the taps graphically.

Speaking of easy, setting parameters up for external MIDI control is a breeze. Each program has a "Remote" soft key. To set up a parameter for external control, simply put the cursor on the parameter and press the Remote soft key. From the next screen, simply scroll through the different available controllers. When your choice appears on the screen, it's active. You're done. It's fast. It's easy. Yes...fastest and easiest I've seen.

I must admit, I was shy when it came to creating my own programs on the 3000 series Harmonizers, but the Patch mode of the DSP4000B eased my fears. Once again, with the aid of the extra large display and helpful graphics, programming the unit was easier than expected. Now, don't get me wrong. You will need some time with the manual to get a grip on creating your own programs. But the programmer's life is made a little easier. Press the PATCH button to enter the Patch mode. The display shows graphic representation of the modules that make up the current program. Use the cursor keys to highlight any module. Use the data wheel to scroll through the graphic of long, complex programs. Use the soft keys to modify modules, add and remove modules, make connections, and so on. Though easy to use, the DSP4000B is still an elaborate effects box, and programming the unit can get pretty tangled, especially with ninety effect modules to play with! Fortunately, there are enough factory programs that most users will probably use existing programs and make modifications to them rather than start from scratch. Either way, you'll find the DSP4000B a programmer's friend if given a little time, and if you want to get deep into it, there's plenty of room to get lost in.

Pressing the SETUP button accesses several system parameters. This is where display contrast and brightness are set. Press the MIDI/Ext soft key to set up the MIDI configuration. Press the Audio soft key to select the I/O (digital or analog) as well as the sample rate. (Choose the sample rate for analog signals between 32kHz, 44.056kHz, 44.1kHz and 48kHz.) Press the Dump soft key to perform MIDI dumps. Press the Segue soft key to set the program crossfade time. Other soft keys include Service which displays information about system ROM and RAM. Format internal memory and external memory cards as well as fix problems with internal memory or memory cards.

I was genuinely dazzled with many of the factory programs. There were several effects I had never heard before. The fact that there are so many factory presets and so many useable ones makes the DSP4000B an attractive box for the radio producer on the go. And organizing effects is very easy. Set up your own banks with your favorite effects or effects you've built on your own. Each producer can have their own personal bank which will keep other producers from altering YOUR favorite programs.

Perhaps one reason I found so many of the factory presents remarkable, from a radio producer's point of view, is because production veteran Jay Rose [RAP Interview, March 1996] wrote about 100 programs for the DSP4000, most of which were specifically for the "Broadcast/Production" version, the DSP4000-B. In fact, most of the programs mentioned in this review were written by Jay, and they are all available on the Broadcast/Production Preset Library memory card ($395) for 4000 series Harmonizers without the Broadcast/Production presets. Jay can also be credited for the welcome humor found on many of the "Info" screens on the programs he wrote. Nice work, Jay!

One thing that hasn't changed about the Eventide Harmonizers is the lofty price tag. The model used for this review came equipped with the $1,000 digital I/O option which brought the grand total to $4,995. In a day when effects boxes are selling for as little as two and three hundred bucks, it seems odd to consider spending five grand on one when there are digital workstations out there for less, some of which come with built-in effects. But there's something about the Eventide box that makes it special. It's probably a combination of a lot of things that make it special, like that long ten-second delay time that's so much fun to play with, and that huge display that could probably double as a second monitor for your computer. Perhaps it's the attention given to the pitch shift programs, something Eventide has always taken pride in. Actually, it seems they've taken pride in all of the programs. Whatever it is that makes this box special, one thing is certain. Eventide continues to improve upon the Harmonizer series. Plug one into your production studio, and you'll always use it. It's difficult to find any shortcomings with the DSP4000B. The Eventide Harmonizers just keep getting better and better. If you're a die-hard Harmonizer fan...it's time to upgrade.

Reported specs include S/N >96dB ("A" weighted), THD+Noise at 87.5dB, and frequency response 5Hz to 22kHz. The unit occupies two rack spaces and weighs 12 pounds. Options include internal Sampler Boards providing 22, 87, or 174 seconds of sample time at $995, $1,995, and $2,995 respectively. Additional preset libraries, the GTR Guitar Presets and DSP Studio Presets, are available on memory cards for $495 each. Please note that factory programs may differ between models in the 4000 series. This particular model is specifically called the DSP4000B Production Ultra-Harmonizer and contains custom "production/broadcast" presets in ROM versions dated April and May of 1996.

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