The latest addition to Eventide's acclaimed Ultra‑Harmonizer range, the DSP7000, looks set to keep them at the forefront of digital effects technology. Hugh Robjohns checks out the machine that redefines the state of the art.
Eventide's experience in digital signal processing stretches back a very long way indeed. The defining products for the New Jersey company were the original — and now 'classic' — 10 and 49 pitch‑shifters, or 'Harmonizers' as they called them, whose algorithms were leagues ahead of those offered by the competition of the time. The subsequent H3000 series of effects processors rapidly became industry‑standard tools and have remained so popular that they are still available in several different guises. The DSP4000 family came next and redefined the state of the art with immensely powerful DSP resources (for the time) capable of providing complex, imaginative combinations of real‑time effects including excellent reverb, dynamics and equalisation — you could have complex signal paths comprising 40 separate processing 'modules' selected from a range of over 130!
Although Eventide effects processors have traditionally cost rather more than apparently similar products from, say, Yamaha or TC Electronic, the superb processing quality, enormous range of effects and upgradability have always provided sufficient justification for this, and both the H3000 and DSP4000 series therefore remain studio standards.
The new DSP7000 Ultra‑Harmonizer series builds directly on the pedigree of the DSP4000, though with four times its predecessor's processing power. As a guide to just how impressive this new machine is, it can generate up to eleven pitch‑shifted voices, provide four stages of dynamics control or 128 bands of equalisation (64 bands in stereo), simultaneously. The DSP7000 model incorporates enough memory to provide 87 seconds of mono delay (at 48kHz), which is extended in the DSP7500 with 174 seconds of stereo sampling memory. The only more powerful unit in Eventide's range is the Orville, which has double the processing power of the DSP7000, but is designed for multi‑channel use.
Although resembling the DSP4000 closely, both in terms of appearance and operation, the DSP7000 is a completely new design internally, taking advantage of the latest improvements in DSP technology. The I/O has also been improved over the DSP4000, with 24‑bit converters and 96kHz sampling‑rate capabilities.
The new machine comes pre‑programmed with over 500 effects presets ranging from rich, natural reverbs, through countless variations on the familiar time‑delay effects (chorus, phasing, flanging and so on) and inevitably on to some of the very best pitch‑shifting and pitch‑correction algorithms available today. Over 150 user presets can be stored internally and removable PCMCIA cards of up to 4Mb in capacity can be used to store libraries of hundreds more. Expanding its scope even further, the 7000 series can read DSP4000 memory cards — even the official DSP4000 effects library extends to well over 1000 patches, providing a vast archive for a variety of general and specialised uses.
Many DSP7000 owners will find every effect they could ever need, either included in the factory presets or readily available from the existing DSP4000 libraries, and all the usual parameters can be tweaked through the front‑panel controls. However, one of the greatest strengths of the DSP7000, as with the DSP4000 before it, is that its programmability is simply phenomenal and allows enormous creativity virtually unmatched by anything else on the market. And I am not just talking in terms of choosing and ordering the vast array of available signal processing blocks, or even of the huge amount of DSP power enabling extraordinarily complex arrays of processing to be constructed. One of the most important aspects of programming the DSP7000 is the way the various signal processing elements can be controlled and modified in response to both internal and external control sources — the latter including MIDI controllers, footswitches, pedals, and control voltage generators.
The DSP7000 is constructed to the same very high, professional standards as the DSP4000. While, at this price level, there can be no excuse for cutting any corners, Eventide certainly haven't — a considerable proportion of the substantial 5.5kg weight is attributable purely to the 2U rackmounting case! Removing the heavy lid reveals a single, densely packed circuit board covering the whole of the unit's base plate. Like the subsidiary board behind the front‑panel display and controls, it carries mainly surfacemount components. This integrated design contrasts with the DSP4000's much smaller main PCB coupled with a number of plug‑in daughter boards.
The DSP7000's main operating system is stored in ROM and runs on a Motorola 68340 processor, with a single Motorola 56303 DSP for much of the hard signal‑processing work which is aided by some large plug‑in custom chips — presumably ASICs (application‑specific integrated circuits). Two vertical connectors towards the rear of the circuit board presumably cater for the optional sampling memory board (included in the DSP7500 version). The internal mains power supply is a conventional linear design switchable externally for either 100‑125V or 220‑240V operation, with the conventional IEC mains inlet and an integral fuse holder.
The rear panel of the DSP7000 is equipped with a pair of combi‑jack analogue input connectors, accepting either unbalanced quarter‑inch jacks or balanced XLRs, while a pair of balanced XLRs provides the analogue outputs. The analogue converters are specified with signal‑to‑noise ratios in excess of 105dB (A‑weighted) and with distortion better than 0.0025 percent — half that of the DSP4000's 20‑bit converters. A second interface area caters for AES‑EBU and S/PDIF digital signals, on XLR and phono‑type connectors respectively. Word clock in and out are via a pair of BNCs.
The analogue and digital inputs are linked through relays directly to their corresponding outputs whenever the unit is unpowered or a hard bypass mode is selected. Only one of the digital input formats is available at a time, but the selected source can be mixed with the analogue input and the relative levels of each adjusted as necessary before feeding the processing chain. In bypass and power‑down modes the unbalanced analogue inputs are muted.
There are two TRS quarter‑inch jacks (Pedal 1 and 2) for remote control of selected program parameters and these are wired with a +5V reference supply on the ring (relative to the grounded sleeve). The tip contact will receive an analogue control voltage between 0 and 5V. This facility is intended to accept simple footswitch contact closures, a variable foot pedal, or an external control voltage source. Through clever wiring options, up to six footswitches or two pedal controllers can be accommodated and the control inputs allocated to modulate a variety of effects parameters or to trigger an event of some kind. A third TRS socket provides connections to two independent low‑voltage relay contacts (wired sleeve‑tip and sleeve‑ring) which can be activated by some programs to control external equipment.
The customary trio of MIDI sockets are provided for remote control and data dumps, although a point to note is that the MIDI In socket is of a seven‑pin variety. This socket accepts data input from a conventional five‑pin lead, but is also capable of transmitting not only MIDI data but also power (from a optional Remote Power In socket which was not fitted on the review model) to a MIDI pedal board. Together with these connections are an RS232 nine‑pin serial port, for linking to a PC running Eventide's proprietary editing software Vsigfile (see 'The Softer Side Of Eventide' box for details), and an Ethernet connection for the EVE/NET remote controller (see 'The EVE/NET Remote Controller' box for details).
There are a number of blanking plates scattered around the rear panel including additional blanked off pairs of analogue inputs and outputs, second AES‑EBU input and output sockets, the aforementioned Remote Power In socket and an Options module. I could find no mention of these facilities in the handbook and I suspect that they result from the metalwork being shared with the Orville.
Above the power switch on the right‑hand side of the DSP7000's front panel there are two buttons which access the audio Levels and Setup menus. To the left of this is a numerical keypad, ordered more like that of a telephone than that of a computer keyboard, which includes increment/decrement keys in addition to cancel (CXL), enter (ENT) and minus keys. Below this, a PCMCIA slot accepts memory cards and an associated LED indicates when data is being transferred — this LED also illuminates when MIDI or serial data is being received.
To the left of the keypad is a large, well‑balanced encoder knob used to scroll through programs lists or adjust selected parameters. As with the DSP4000, there is no way for the user to change the fixed relationship between the degree of encoder rotation and the speed of parameter change, nor any kind of shifted fast‑scroll function. Half a revolution is required to advance each item in the program list and, although the program parameters fare a little better, with typically twelve 1dB increments or ten percentage steps per revolution, it seems unnecessarily slow. You get used to it soon enough, but I often found it a frustration. It is much easier if you know the bank and preset number of the effect you require, as you can enter these values directly on the keypad — however, with so many patches available, that is not as easy as it sounds. Furthermore, entering text when naming new effects patches involves a lot of tedious scrolling around with the wheel and there is no easy solution to that one.
A column of buttons to the left of the encoder wheel recall the program and associated parameter pages — a select button activates the current program selection. There are also the familiar quartet of cursor keys which navigate around the menu pages and four soft‑keys below the LCD which perform various functions according to the on‑screen legends. At the extreme left of the machine a pair of LED bar‑graph meters may be configured to show analogue or digital input or output levels, or the input or output from the DSP processing engine, allowing the gain structure to be optimised throughout the system. There is also a column of LEDs to indicate the sampling rate (all the usual suspects from 44.1 to 96kHz), as well as the selection of an external word clock.
Finally, a Bypass button below the meters can operate as a hard bypass connecting inputs directly to outputs through relays (which click in a most reassuring manner), a soft bypass through the electronics, or as an output mute function.
As with its siblings, switching the DSP7000 on is a fairly lengthy process taking around twenty seconds punctuated with lots of relay clicks. During this boot‑up time the machine performs thorough self‑tests of the basic hardware, system ROM, the effects modules and pretty much anything else it can find in the box. For the record, the software versions in the review model were 1.09 for the system ROM and 2.677 for the effects modules, both of which seemed to work without any obvious bugs. I should add that, although I'm not a regular user of Eventide products, on every occasion I have had cause to use the H3000 or DSP4000 families I have never encountered a significant software problem.
The operation of the DSP7000 centres around the LCD screen and the menus found there. However, there are only five main menu pages and several are only required infrequently. The Levels menu, accessed through the front‑panel button of the same name, determines the digital and analogue input and output levels, the wet/dry mix, and the metering source and characteristics (decay and peak hold times). The analogue inputs have two gain adjustments — before and after the ADC — allowing the best converter performance to be achieved without restricting the creative possibilities of mixing analogue and digital inputs. To make life easy, controls can be ganged so that stereo signal levels (and processing) can be set quickly, accurately and efficiently.
The Setup page allows the digital input format to be established and the sampling rate selected — the machine displays the actual sample rate, as well as the declared rate. There are facilities here to select the bypass mode, as already discussed, to deal with all MIDI, footswitch and pedal inputs, and to adjust the LCD's contrast and brightness characteristics. The MIDI implementation is impressive, with virtually every aspect of the machine controllable via MIDI and in real time. Finally, there are some service modes to format external memory cards and so on.
The main centre of operation is a trio of menus: Program, Patch and Parameter. The first and last of these are accessed through dedicated buttons between the encoder wheel and screen, whereas the Patch menu is accessed by holding the Program button down for longer than a second. The Program page selects, loads and saves preset effects algorithms, grouped into related banks, stored internally or on external PCMCIA cards. The Patch setup page allows configurations of processing blocks to be stored and recalled. The Parameter page is the one menu screen which changes with every program to reflect its functionality. The more complex programs often require parameter menus which span several pages in order to provide all of the necessary controls, these being accessed through repeatedly pressing either certain of the soft keys or the Parameter button itself — the presence of such extra pages is shown graphically as 'layered' soft button legends or side arrows.
As with previous Ultra‑Harmonizers, there is no search facility to locate specific effects by name or type, which is a shame when there are so many available. Usually, there is a comprehensive list of effects programs in the manual but I couldn't find one in the book supplied with the review model. However, Eventide's web site provided a complete list for V2.676 which was helpful — it's much easier finding a preset if you know where it is.
A selected program takes a few seconds to load and run with the display indicating the status of the machine at all times. The number of parameters available in each program is determined by the way in which it has been constructed — some programs have only the basic parameters available whereas others have a complete set. Parameters are selected with the cursor keys and then modified with the encoder wheel, and the function of any given parameter is usually pretty obvious. Many programs even have an 'info' page which explains the I/O configuration (ie. mono in, stereo out, and so forth), and gives lots of other helpful information.
Each of the 42 program banks pre‑programmed into the DSP7000 store between four and 25 related effects. In the period I had to review the new machine I managed to play with most of them and found the vast majority to be useful, well‑designed and effective. Every conceivable effect is here in every conceivable style from rich and lush, to thin and weedy, powerful or subtle, clean or dirty. Whatever the application, there is almost certainly something here that will suit you straight out of the box... and if there isn't, something similar can be tweaked to perfection very quickly. The range and complexity of the effects stretch far beyond the conventional time‑delay offerings to include a full complement of dynamics and equalisation tools, as well as ring modulators, vocoders, test oscillators, tuners, metronomes, pitch recognition and correction tools, and even a range of test and measurement facilities including an oscilloscope and spectrum analyser!
Although the DSP7000 is not intended to compete with high‑end reverberation machines, its various reverb programs are all surprisingly competent. The equalisation facilities are really intended to complement the other effects modules, although they stand up to solo use very well indeed. The same can be said of the various dynamics processors, and in both cases the machine can be programmed to sound pristine and digital, or slightly dirty and almost valve‑like.
If I had to point out the DSP7000's 'faults' I would whinge about the operating ergonomics not being perfect and the complexity of the programming suite. On the other hand, it's certainly worth the effort, and familiarity allows speedy operation.
However, the bottom line is that the DSP7000 is a very professional machine. In comparison with other multi‑effects units it may appear expensive, but this is undoubtedly the machine the others all aspire to be. Once installed in the rack, this processor will probably never come out again — it certainly won't become obsolete in a few years time and it is unlikely to be removed for repair either! This machine does a great deal, does it all extremely well, and will keep on doing it for a long time. Its limitations are likely to be set by the user, not the machine, and if I had to buy just one multi‑effects processor this would probably be the one. I thought the DSP4000 series was as good as it got, but the DSP7000 is not only cheaper, but has also added a few features, such as the ability to work at elevated sample rates, which push it even further ahead.
Although basic editing and some programming tasks can be accomplished directly through the interface of the DSP7000 itself, the best way by far is to use Eventide's bespoke PC‑based graphical editing program called Vsigfile, which supersedes their previous Algorithm Construction Kit. The PC‑only program runs under Microsoft Windows 3.1, 95 and 98 and communicates with the DSP7000 either through a standard RS232 serial interface or over MIDI. Software upgrades obtained from the Internet can also be downloaded to the DSP7000 from a PC via the same data links.
With Vsigfile, new effects can be configured using a largely intuitive block‑diagram style of display. The catalogue of processing modules within the DSP7000 can be selected, placed in order, and connected by simple drag and drop actions on screen. Interconnections between the modules are not confined to audio signal paths, but also include all of the manual, external and automatic control and modulation signals appropriate to each processing element. Parameters and controls which need to be adjustable by the operator can also be selected and organised on the corresponding menu pages, whilst others may be hidden. During the design process the program continuously calculates the available DSP power and warns when it is running low.
Although initially appearing complex, Vsigfile is reasonably logical to use and allows an extraordinary range of innovative or creative new effects programs to be constructed fairly quickly and easily in a clear visual form. Once constructed, the programs can be downloaded to the machine, stored internally or to a PCMCIA card, and run.
Eventide have recently released a new remote control unit which may be used with the DSP7000. Their new EVE/NET controller can communicate with up to four stereo DSP7000 machines, as well as with three other EVE/NET controllers over a local network — ideal for multi‑room facilities. The EVE/NET controller is reasonably compact, yet incorporates an LCD panel with soft keys, a numeric keypad and most of the other operational controls found on the DSP7000 front panels. Thus, full remote control is provided through an entirely familiar interface, but the advantage is that there are also eight rotary encoders to control simultaneously up to eight selected parameters.
- High sample rate support.
- Cheaper than the DSP4000!
- Eventide's definitive pitch‑shifting technology.
- Provides virtually every effect known to man.
- Programmable and extremely flexible.
- An expensive tool.
- A lot of preset effects can't be used at the high sample rates.
- Ergonomics can be frustrating.
- Programming is not for the technically‑challenged!
Redefining the state of the art, this multi‑effects processor adds 96kHz sampling and even more DSP power to the already mind‑blowing capabilities of the DSP4000 range. Eventide's definitive pitch‑shifting algorithms are included along with some pretty decent reverbs, dynamics, equalisation and all the familiar time‑delay effects. Nothing else comes close in terms of flexibility or programmability.