By Scott Auld
When Eventide said they wanted to send one of their guitar effects units to The Gear Page for review, I was beyond excited. Eventide has been chugging along with its quirky, unique line of sound-modulating products since the early 70s, and their name has become synonymous with the types of sounds you just can't get from anyone else. Their breakthrough product, the famous H910 Harmonizer, followed by their delays and pitch shifters that did everything from magically adding a doubled vocal to music, to allowing radio stations to dump obscene callers with the now-ubiquitous delay. Perhaps another key to Eventide's enduring presence was their willingness to jump into any industry that had a niche that needed filling ... I remember seeing Eventide RAM chips for sale at the local computer geek shop. But musical sound manipulation, such as reverb and pitch shifting have always been at the heart and soul of Eventide, and when I learned that I'd have a chance to demo the extremely popular PitchFactor, it couldn't arrive fast enough for me!
The unit arrived VERY well-packed. Viewing the effect from the top you immediately grasp what the designers were trying to do: put a vast array of control into an easy-to-understand layout, and then combine the parameters into TEN easily-selectable effects so that you can set up your sounds with detail ahead of time, and then access them real-time, during a performance, from the pedal switches. That's what they appear to have been aiming for, and in my opinion, they succeeded.
Each built-in sound-modulating effect relies primarily on three changes to your signal: delay/reverb, pitch-shifting, and occasionally, reversing the effect (and blending that with the original). For each effect, the user is given complete control (TEN KNOBS!) over how much delay/reverb is added, including tap-tempo capability, feedback, wet/dry mix, and the musical intervals of pitch shifting that the given effect uses. An additional set of controls, generically labeled Xnob and Ynob, are used to add effect-specific controls that change from effect to effect.
This might sound like trying to fly a 747, but once you take a few moments to consider what each knob does (and start turning them to hear it for yourself) the whole concept makes sense and is blindingly obvious. You end up staring at the box asking yourself why this hasn't been available to musicians all along. Then you wonder how you're going to get along without it if you ever have to give it up.
The instruction manual, written in a very straightforward, layman's-term style that is friendly and easy to follow, does a great job of walking you through what each control does and how it affects each of the ten effects. I'm going to skip the how-do-you-set-up stuff and get right into the magic of the sounds that I was able to pull out of the box.
I have seen a few online demos of the PitchFactor, and a lot of these focus on the "Crystals" effect. This makes sense, because it's the easiest to use and it's the effect that demands the least amount of thinking from the user. You start playing, and Crystals mixes your dry signal with twin reversed pitch shifters, with independent delays (that's right, it's like having two separate delays in the same box) and a bit of reverb to smooth it all out. That's the technical description - the audible description is that it sounds like a world-class keys player is layering angelic sweetness around your playing.
What I think a lot of the online demos of Crystals miss is the flexibility and control you are given over the effect. There is no reason for your recording to sound like anyone else's use of Crystals. The user can completely control the ratio of pitch shifting (in cents), control the ratio between the two delays, decide how much wet/dry and how much feedback occurs, allowing you to be either fully immersed in the effect or subtly surrounded by it. And by the way ... there are stereo outputs, and you should hear what it sounds like in stereo! There's nothing like it.
Many people may try the Diatonic and Quadravox effects and move on too quickly, not realizing the power of editable intervals and delay times in your music. Diatonic mode tracks and shifts your notes to two simultaneous, preselected harmonic intervals. Do you want to hear thirds, or fifths of your tones? Done. Do you want something a little more bizarre, like major seconds, or maybe a sixth? You got it. Not only is the chromatic shift completely editable, but so are the delay times. And if all this control wasn't enough, you can press and hold the LEARN button while playing and Diatonic mode detects (very quickly!) what key you are playing in, and shifts all of those modulations into that key. Quadravox mode does all of this .. with FOUR intervals! Playing around with this I got the feeling that Eventide does things sometimes just to see if they can do it…..or to prove that they can. The sounds you can get away with in Quadravox mode just aren't fair to other musicians. Before you say, "Hey, there are other polyphonic shifters out there!", remember that the PitchFactor does this while still giving you multiple editable delays, feedback and reverb all at the same time. Like I said, it's just not fair.
Harmodulator and MicroPitch are very subtle, interesting tools. The first combines two pitch shifters, and the second provides a very fine-resolution pitch shifter, with delay. There isn't a lot to say about them other than at first they appear to be one-trick ponies, but then you realize that they are perfect for combining with your other effects because they are sparser in their approach. This is the perfect pair of effects for the guy who is addicted to his wah pedal.
Regarding the H910/H949 effects, let me rely for a moment on the documentation, which in my opinion, lays out the details better than I could: "This effect emulates the sound and functionality of Eventide’s legendary H910 and H949 Harmonizer™ effects units. The H910 Harmonizer was the world’s first real-time pro-audio pitch changer and introduced the word “glitching” to the pro-audio vocabulary. The H949 was the world’s first de-glitched Harmonizer. Unlike the Diatonic pitch shifters, pitch shifting is in the feedback loop allowing for arpeggiated repeats."
So in addition to all of these amazing effects that are mostly geared towards guitar and guitar-similar instruments, you are also getting these two famous harmonizers thrown in, for what seems like a free bonus. I couldn't stop coming back to these effects, and I admit I even ran vocals through it and was simply blown away by what it does. In my opinion the purchase price of this unit is justified with only the H910/H949 tools, and yet I imagine a lot of folks hardly experiment with them. Listen to me when I say SPEND TIME WITH THIS EFFECT. Only ten years ago, engineers would have literally traded a finger for this tool, and we can have it on our pedalboards? Mind-blowing.
What would a pitch-shifting tool be without an octave setting? The Octaver is just what you think it is, with a couple of twists thrown in (I tell you, Eventide does things that makes you think they're just showing off!). Not content to “just” shift your tone down an octave, the Octaver creates a pair of sub-harmonics, one an octave below the note you’re playing and the other two octaves below. It then adds FUZZ and provides an endless way to tweak the sound with those ten control knobs. If you are a knob twiddler, this box is definitely for you.
Just so that we insane guitar players never get bored, Eventide gives us the HarPeggiator - a madman's workbench if there ever was one. A dual 16-step pitch-shift sequencer, dual 16-step rhythm sequencer, and dual 16-step effect sequencer means that you could literally spend weeks trying different things and not reach the end of the combinations. This effect alone takes up over three pages of the manual, mostly with suggested settings (in easy to read tables) and is probably the most complexly rewarding effect, for those willing to spend time with it. The only thing I can add is that the effect seemed to have extremely fast tracking. I tried to glitch it but couldn't. I had the effect playing it's endless stream of harmonized notes, and then for giggles I ran that into an external delay and probably spent an hour just playing and grinning. This effect is not to be overlooked.
Finally, hiding at the end of the bank of effects, is Synthonizer, which generates a synthesized tone at the same pitch being played. Compared to HarPeggiator, it sounds simple, right? Sometimes simple is sweet. Nothing like a nice synth tone, right? But wait, what's this in the manual about Synthonizer ... oh my. Turns out you can edit the ratio of the two synthesized voices, control the mix of the various added waveforms, control the blend between unison, 1 octave down, and 1 octave up synth voices, control the attack for the two synthesized voices, the reverb level of each, and select between three different waveshapes ... oh, and let's add in a sweepable filter on one of the voices. All that, just in case you get bored with the simple stuff!
Eventide must have had some spare gumption, because they threw in a very accurate and fast built-in tuner, and made sure the unit is true bypass for us tone junkies (you can turn off true-bypass if you want your effects to trail when turned off). And if that doesn't sell you, how about adding an input for an external expression pedal, if you have one, and making the effects controllable with that? How about adding a "Catchup Mode" to make sure that your effect changes occur gradually instead of jarringly? How about adding a "Play Mode" and "Bank Mode" to the footswitches, so that you can decide how you want to arrange and perform your music? How about the ability to save all your changes? Oh, and let's make the whole thing speak MIDI, and provide USB support, in case we want to connect it to our other smart devices? I could go on and on but I have a feeling Eventide would just invent more features if I tried to cover them all here. They seem like the type of folks who just keep pushing themselves, asking "Wait, what if we added ..?"
When they were building the PitchFactor, I wonder how the folks at Eventide knew when the unit was done? I'm pretty sure I never reached the end of its abilities. And I bet you can't either.
PitchFactor Demo Part 1
Pitchfactor Demo Part 2