Culture

Eventide H3000 Factory Plugin Harmonizer Review

“It f***s with the fabric of time!”

When producer Tony Visconti explained the concept of the original Eventide Harmonizer on a conference call around the time of David Bowie’s Low in 1977 (the first of Bowie’s experimental albums produced in Berlin) that Visconti shared with Bowie and synth pioneer Brian Eno and was asked what it does, the above quote is the answer Visconti hilariously blurted out, often toned down as “messes with” for more family-friendly publications.

Eventide Harmonizers have been messing with the fabric of space and time ever since. Harmonized guitar solos, exotic percussion sounds, double-tracked vocals, echoes that rise and fall in pitch — over the decades, you’ve heard Harmonizers on countless hit records. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin kept one in his guitar rack in the later years of Led Zeppelin. The band’s soundman used another to allow Robert Plant to sing harmonies with himself during concerts. And on “Bonzo’s Montreux” on Coda, their posthumous last album in 1982, Page ran John Bonham’s drum kit through an Eventide Harmonizer to create a variety of tuned steel drum-like percussion sounds.

For decades after its commercial introduction in 1975, the Eventide Harmonizer was only available in rack-mounted form. With digital audio workstations largely supplanting analog recording by the end of the 1990s as the recording industry’s standard recording platform, Eventide introduced a Pro Tools-compatible plug-in version of their early Harmonizer over a decade ago. It took a while for Eventide to issue a version in the popular VST-plug-in format though, which is why I reviewed Audio Damage’s Discord clone for VST back in 2006 at Blogcritics.

Fortunately, Eventide finally released a VST-compatible version of their late-‘80s-era H3000 Harmonizer in 2012, and over the years, have added a number of new presets to it, some created by producers such as Alessandro Cortini, who has worked with Nine Inch Nails, Damian Taylor (Björk, The B-52s, Metallica), and Dave Darlington (George Benson and others).

Go Inside the Factory

So, what does the H3000 Factory sound like? It’s capable of a lush stereo chorus sound on patches such as Variable Width Pitch Shift, which is equally useful on guitars, synths, bass, and anything requiring fattening up. There are some cool auto-wah and filtering effects on patches such as Envelope Filter. The GUI has the classic “big knob” of the hardware Eventide Harmonizers, which allows for adding lots of motion and a human touch to filter and auto-wah patches. The knob and other settings on the H3000 can be animated via automation lanes.

The H3000 Factory can do much to take a routine guitar or keyboard track and add interest, particularly when “multing” the source track to multiple tracks, allowing for, say, a juicy chorus effect on the verse, a filter effect between vocal passages, and a dramatic descending “Kamikaze” delay on the break.

Eventide Harmonizers have long been favored by producers to thicken a lead vocal with patches such as the iconic “Dual H910s.” The H3000 Factory’s Traversing Beyond patch can add an atmospheric “outer space” special effect to voices, and there are plenty of filters built in to produce simulated telephone, transistor radio and other lo-fi effects.

The H3000 Factory is also a fun sound effects generator, capable of producing synthesized helicopter, wind, laser beams, UFO, and police siren effects. And some of its more extreme 460+ default patches can radically transform a synth or drum track beyond recognition.

The H3000 Factory can be tweaked by its virtual patch bay cables, which were obviously inspired by similar virtual cables that have long been a part of Propellerhead’s venerable Reason software synthesizer. Though as Music Radar notes in their 2013 review of the H3000, “Programming an H3000 from scratch isn’t for the faint-hearted, so it’s good to see that plenty of presets are included (we counted 464), the highlights being a collection of patches from the likes of [producers] Dave Darlington and Richard Devine.”

Because Eventide is primarily attempting to replicate a vintage piece of hardware from the late 1980s, somewhat paradoxically, their Harmonizer plugin may not be your best choice for realistic vocal harmony effects. I found the patches on TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive 3 hardware-based unit to be more somewhat more realistic if the goal is to create vocal harmonies that pass as believable background vocals when inserted into a mix. Think of the Harmonizer Factory as more suited to special effects than creating realistic harmonies. And it’s fun for creating deep scary monster voices and the helium-filled Carvel Ice Cream Cookie Puss voice from the ‘80s.

Also, I found that some of the more involved effects such as the aforementioned Envelope Filter didn’t always sync up perfectly in time with the rhythm of a track. It may be necessary in some cases to print the effect on a new track, and then slide that passage backwards in time until it syncs up musically, and then mute the original track. And I wish the unit offered a longer maximum delay time than 600 milliseconds, though savvy DAW users can use software such as Melodyne and editing to create longer delays.

Original hardware-based H3000 Harmonizers and its predecessors, the H949 and H910, trade in the low four-figure range on eBay, and as Music Radar notes, the virtual Factory plugin isn’t a complete replacement for its hardware-based namesake predecessor (and especially Eventide’s current flagship model Eventide H8000FW rack-mounted Harmonizer):

There are quite a few replica patches from the hardware, but many of the classic algorithms aren’t here (Reverb Factory, Reverse Shift, and Layered Shift, for example). So, that means no ‘Voc Doubler BC’, ‘Dual H910s’, ‘Watery Chorus’, ‘Big Snare’ or ‘Crystal Echoes’, to name but a few sought-after sounds.

However, all is not lost, as some have been recreated using the multi-faceted Factory algorithms, and you’ll find a good vocal doubler (‘Tight Dual Shift’), widener (‘Phantom Double’) and a recreation of the original ‘MicroPitchShift’.

There’s also a ton of special effect patches (‘Alert’, ‘Jet’, ‘Laser Echo’, ‘Sub Rumble Generator’, etc) utilising the triggered LFOs and Mod Knob, and plenty of sound mangling and filtering (‘Aliens’, ‘MC Weird Phase’, ‘Son Of Kamikaze’).

As that review notes, there are lots of presets in the H3000 Factory that can do much to enhance, or radically reshape a production. It might not replace all of the effects in the hardware versions of the Harmonizer, but at $330, it’s certainly a plug-in that’s well worth exploring — and messing with the fabric of space and time yourself.