Eventide DSP 4500

Ultra Harmonizer

Eventide DSP 4500 Ultra Harmonizer

Review by George Shilling

The Eventide name is synonymous with the studio harmonizer. Their more recent designs include many other types of effects, but the pitch-shifter remains central to all 'Ultra-Harmonizer' models. The most widely known Eventide unit is the H3000 and its variants. These wonderful units contain a variety of superb effects. Although two versions of this unit remain available, Eventide introduced the DSP4000 several years ago, as a truly top-flight effects mainframe, borrowing many features of the H3000 and expanding on them. Specialist versions for broadcasters (DSP4000B) and guitarists (GTR4000) have been introduced with tailored presets. The DSP4000 has not proved as popular as the H3000 in commercial UK studios. Perhaps this is because of the high price, or the specialist nature of the unit. In my early encounters with it, I found it less friendly than the H3000, with an irritating, complex, cold blue display, occasional hourglass waiting times and even a couple of software bugs.

Fortunately there are no obvious bugs in the DSP4500 Limited Edition, a special model, which brings together all the presets from all versions of the DSP4000 and includes a new library of 225 presets by Scott Gilfix named Alchemy 101. These are available on a memory card for DSP4000 owners. In addition, an 87-second sampler board is included. The front panel is painted blue and printed with Limited Edition legending, and all this is included at a much lower price than if you were to buy a DSP4000, all the memory cards and a sampler board.

Physically, the DSP4500 is a bulky 2U device with a solid, professional feel about it. The front panel has many similarities with the H3000, but looks slightly cluttered in comparison, with buttons scattered across it.

A similar large knob/wheel, the keypad, four Soft Keys and the bright twin LED level meters are included. The LCD screen is much larger but uses a smaller font. In addition, there are User 1 and User 2 buttons, a Patch button, Cursor and Select buttons, and the PCMCIA memory card slot with eject button. A blank card is thoughtfully included. On the back, the two analogue input sockets are of the dual-type arrangement, which will accept XLRs or º" jacks. Two normal XLRs provide analogue output, whilst digital connectors are available on XLR and phono which can simultaneously be set to AES/EBU or S/PDIF with Input and Output formats separately menu-switchable.

There are a number of blanked panels, suggesting potential future expansion, and a space for the optional fitting of an RS232 PC serial interface or a Sony 9-pin RS422 VTR interface. Three jack sockets are provided for Footswitch and Footpedal inputs, and Relay Output to control another unit's footswitch input. MIDI In Out and Thru 5-pin-DINs are present with extensive MIDI implementation, and a fuse-carrying IEC socket with a switchable voltage selector rounds up the back panel.

At switch-on there are reassuring relay clicks and the unit goes through a self-test routine. The 1000+ preset programs are divided into grouped banks by type, each bank containing roughly between three and thirty presets in alphabetical order. However, due to the sheer quantity of presets in this special edition model, one sometimes discovers similar programs or types spread over a number of different banks. I waded through nearly all of the presets during my time with the unit, and was occasionally surprised to find certain programs in unexpected places. Unfortunately, Eventide lags behind Lexicon and tc who have made an effort to provide some sort of 'search by type' facility in their latest models, which would certainly have been useful here.

The DSP4500 comes with uprated 24-bit A/D and D/A converters, which sounded great, boasting extremely low distortion figures. However, in a normal +4dB environment there was not always enough Input Gain to make full use of the large headroom allowance. Pressing the Levels key brings up the necessary settings, but with Inputs set to a maximum 0.00dB and Input Gain Trim at the maximum +10dB a 0dB tone only lights the first four of the 10 LEDs. Connected to a digital device the output seemed to be set with internal 0dB equivalent to -18dBFS. Sample rate is normally 48kHz, but can be set to 44.1kHz, 44.056kHz or 32kHz. A useful global parameter bypasses the mix control for 100% wet studio use. The º" jack inputs are nominally -10dBm. Impedance is not quoted, but these seemed perfectly happy to accept a signal directly from an electric guitar, with just about enough gain.

The Program key brings up a screen where you can see the current program bank title and scroll down the list of programs. Turning the knob further at the bottom of the list will tip you over the edge into the following bank. At the bottom of the screen the four Soft Keys' functions are displayed, and by pressing Program again a further four functions appear. Load and Delete worryingly share the same Key, but Factory Programs cannot be deleted, and User Programs require a confirmation before deletion is performed. User Programs can be stored in the Factory Banks, although you can create new banks of your own, or save to the memory card.

When your chosen program is highlighted, pressing the 'Load' Soft Key will instantly load the program and display the first page of editing parameters. Alternatively, the User 1 and User 2 keys are pre-programmed to load Next and Previous programs within the current bank respectively, no matter where you are in the menus. This could be seen as a curse or a blessing. It enabled me to quickly run through the available programs, but could end in tears if you were to accidentally press one of these after much fine-tuning of a program. No confirmation is required before program load, and this function is not immediately obvious. Armed with this knowledge you might want to reprogram the User keys. The cursor keys below the wheel takes you through the editable parameters, which can be changed with the knob. The knob feels heavy but rotates very freely, a slight gripe being perhaps the lack of any variation of data entry speed. Sometimes you cannot turn it slowly enough for fine-tuning; other times you wish that parameters would change quicker. In these instances, it is often preferable to enter the exact desired number with the keypad. Most Programs contain a parameter page called 'Info' or 'About' where a text message displays hints or useful information for the particular preset. Sometimes, Soft Keys can access multiple pages of the same name with repeated presses: this is indicated graphically. Like the H3000, some presets contain 'Expert' parameter pages for more complex tweaks.

Preset creation and manipulation is achieved from the Patch menu, where graphical representations of the flow of audio and/or processing can be displayed and manipulated. This is where you sometimes see an hourglass while the processor computes. Users can create their own algorithms from the huge number of 'blocks' provided. Possibilities are manifold, but there are such a huge number of programs provided, that there is every chance that your need has already been fulfilled. Even some of the much-vaunted Artist Presets by famous users are simple modifications of basic presets, where little patch modification has taken place. A number of presets include the ability to crossfade into other presets, and this capacity is indicated by a symbol on the program page.

Let's take a look at some of the presets, which have benefited from help and contributions from well-known producers, engineers and musicians at the top of their respective professions. First come the DSP Studio banks. The DSP4500 as expected performs exceptionally with its harmonizer programs: there are many imaginative implementations of its market-leading pitch shifting algorithms. There are clever multiple-shift and delay programs for beautiful atmosphere creations or huge textures, as well as rhythmically delayed harmonised repeats. The Utilities bank includes a useful MS decoder and manipulator, and a list of all factory presets. Other preset banks available include the self-explanatory Delay FX, Chorus/Flangers, (tape-phasing programs are particularly good), Dynamics (with Gates, Compressors and Panners), EQ and Filters, and Distortions. The Mixdown Suite bank includes useful pitch 'Whippers' for momentary tuning corrections and the H3000 Emulation bank contains 27 old favourites.

There are some (rarely usable) fun things in the Bizarre, Curiosities and Multi FX banks, whilst Dual FX contains mostly twin mono effects which include reverb. Reverbs are grouped by size and are generally big, smooth and sophisticated in character, with the huge processing power being put to good use in creating a number of gated settings. The larger spaces are exceptionally smooth. The Big Delay, Big Sampler and Big Loops banks make full use of the 87 seconds full-bandwidth sampling capability. Next, the Guitar presets, some of the which were a little irritating in that they required a footpedal to be plugged in to work. Also, some of these programs required MIDI data input, for example to control pitch change. It would have been nice to easily be able to use the knob instead, but the creators obviously did not consider Luddite studio engineers like me when creating presets for the GTR4000! Virtual Pedalboard features 21 multi effects programs with MIDI control for the gigging musician who doesn't want the deafening silence that occurs when switching presets. Each of these contains a variety of effects, many of which feature graphic representations of virtual knobs for level, mix etc. Notable are Trey Gunn's presets, which are characterised by heavy compression with a touch of distortion and atmosphere. Artist Bank A includes EMT 140 with a decay of up to 1000 seconds, and AMS dmx1580S which includes the smooth Eventide harmonizers but lacks the warm grunge of the original device, which still sounds great to me.

Broadcast and Production banks include a number of sound effects, which require no input, some good, others unrealistic and a waste of time. Many of these have an overwhelming American slant. There are all sorts of telephone and radio emulation, hum and hiss elimination, and the remarkably successful Solo Zapper, which gives an instant karaoke version of the inputted mix. No, really, it works (kind of!) Finally, the real treats: Scott Gilfix's Alchemy 101 banks. These are mostly alternative takes on the DSP Studio banks, but put together with a huge dollop of imagination, and a good grasp of what goes on in studios. A chromatic tuner pops up in the Utilities Too bank, along with a metronome and the tongue-twisting Tap Tempo Template. Delay Based, Verbs, Dynamics and Filters banks all contain novel and useful presets, and there are loads of sample-looping templates. The guitar effects provided on the Preamps/Pedalboards are mostly set up with overly expansive effects, but the Preamps/Fuzzpedals and Preamps/Overdrive banks include some great settings.

Overall, there is something for everyone, and collaboration between manufacturers and end-users is undoubtedly a good thing. One problem in an analogue environment is the converter delay, which can affect phase if you mix any dry signal externally, but this does not affect digital-domain users. Eventide describe themselves as purveyors of "neat science toys", but this sounds almost too flippant to describe the DSP4500, which is a complex tool for the serious professional. However, it sometimes seems operationally more scientific than musical and friendly. While there is no doubting the quality of the effects achievable by this box, some of the operating architecture seems a bit clunky when compared with the latest Lexicon and tc units. And at this price, why is there no dedicated remote?

The distributor was cagey about how truly 'limited' this Limited Edition is, but it will apparently be available for approximately a year. The DSP4500 contains some outstanding audio manipulation tools. However, when investing such a large amount of money one has to consider whether this Limited Edition is possibly a last-gasp DSP4000, a Ford Cortina Crusader special model, perhaps before the next generation of Eventide Harmonizer is released. (H5000 anyone?) On the other hand, those blanked panels may mean this design will be around for a while, with improvements still to come. I hope so.

Reproduced with kind permission from Copyright ©

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