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Eventide Eclipse

Multi-effects Processor By Hugh Robjohns
Published September 2001

ASTRAL TWEAKS

Eventide's new entry‑level unit brings their high‑end algorithms within reach of the serious home studio owner.

The American manufacturer, Eventide, can lay claim to being one of the first companies to manufacture digital effects processors, and certainly one of the most successful. Walk into any top‑flight recording, post‑production, or broadcast studio, and bolted somewhere in the outboard racks will be an Eventide unit of some description. Although the latest products are extraordinarily capable, you are just as likely to find one of the company's early models — such as the now classic 49 Harmonizer — still providing sterling service.

Their current catalogue starts with the H3000 Ultra Harmonizer series of multi‑effects processors (reviewed back in SOS November 1988), which have virtually become industry‑standard tools. DSP technology has advanced at an alarming rate in recent years and Eventide have continued to develop both hardware and software at an equal pace. Although still a very competent machine, which remains in the catalogue, the H3000 was effectively supplanted by the more powerful DSP4000 series. And, as if the 4000 were not powerful enough, Eventide have gone on to produce the DSP7000 and DSP7500 series (reviewed in SOS January 2001), which have four times the processing power of the DSP4000, and more recently still, the stunning Orville multi‑channel processor, with eight times the power of the DSP4000.

10 Times Bigger, Half The Size

However, the subject of this review is Eventide's latest addition to the processor family, the Eclipse. This new machine is priced to appeal as the entry‑level Eventide product, although it is far from a slouch in the DSP stakes, with 10 times the power of the still‑popular H3000 series! All previous Eventides have been 2U rackmount machines, but the new Eclipse changes all that with a radical new 1U rackmounting chassis. It features a dual processing engine architecture, allowing stereo and mono, and serial or parallel configurations. Analogue signals are converted with selectable resolutions up to 24‑bit/96kHz, and the digital interconnectivity is very comprehensive too.

The user interface is extremely elegant: a clear and simple fluorescent LCD screen, a few soft keys, a parameter wheel, a numeric keypad and a scattering of function keys — everything entirely intuitive and extremely fast to operate. There are 217 preset programs built in, with a PC Flash card slot for further expansion and user setups. All the usual suspects are available, including glorious reverbs, multi‑effects and, of course, Eventide's trademark pitch‑change algorithms.

Examining the back panel of the Eclipse, it quickly becomes obvious that Eventide wanted to ensure users could plug it into pretty much anything! The two analogue inputs are via combi jack/XLR sockets — balanced +4dBu inputs on the XLR and ‑10dBV unbalanced inputs on the quarter‑inch jack. There is enough gain available in the input circuitry to accommodate electric guitar inputs directly, if required. The analogue outputs are provided with XLR and quarter‑inch sockets, both electronically balanced, but plugging in an unbalanced jack plug will reduce the output level by 6dB.

Eventide Eclipse rear panel connections.Eventide Eclipse rear panel connections.

Digital I/O is through XLRs for AES‑EBU signals, phonos for S/PDIF signals, and Toslink optical for either IEC568 stereo signals or ADAT lightpipe multitrack data — the relevant tracks can be allocated through the Setup menus. A pair of BNCs provide word clock in and out, and a nine‑pin D‑Sub connector enables an RS232 serial link to be established with a personal computer to transfer data. The traditional trio of MIDI sockets is included on the rear panel, along with a coaxial power socket — the MIDI In socket is a seven‑pin version which allows remote powering of pedal boards, provided a power source is connected to the coaxial power socket. There are also two quarter‑inch sockets which may be connected to foot switches, foot pedals, or control voltages (0‑5V) and used to modulate parameters or to trigger events (including program loads). The ubiquitous IEC mains inlet accommodates AC between 100 and 240V. There are no mains fuses accessible from the outside of the unit.

The front panel is delightfully uncluttered. A pair of LED bar‑graph meters are to the left of the large dot‑matrix display. The seven lamps per channel span the range from zero down to ‑40dBFS and a button below accesses the input and output configuration menus. The first screen offers input and output gain, wet/dry balance, and metering, while the second offers analogue and digital input levels, mono/stereo input mode, and master output level. The various gain stages and level matching can be applied to both channels together or either channel independently, simply by repeated presses of the relevant selection button to cycle through the options. A third column of LEDs indicates the sampling rate, with lamps for 96, 88.2, 48 and 44.1kHz, and Ext (to indicate clocking to the rate of an external source). There is also an isolated red LED to record digital overloads, which can only be reset from the metering submenu.

The fluorescent display is very readable, the dot‑matrix allowing an attractive typeface to be presented over two lines — the upper line presenting the current program and parameter details while the lower indicates the function of the relevant soft keys and informs of how many menu pages are available in the current mode. A green LED below the display lights when a recalled preset program has been modified. The brightness of the display can be adjusted over a wide range, and there is also an auto‑dim mode which reduces the display brightness after a user‑defined time period.

To the right of the display are the main operational controls consisting of a column of three buttons, a rotary encoder, and two further buttons. The first column of buttons are labelled Program, Hot Keys, and Parameter — each with an associated LED to highlight the current status. The Program button is used to recall and store programs, or to access the program search facility. Hot Keys recalls the most salient program parameters, four at a time, to the soft keys, allowing a program to be fine‑tuned very quickly and easily. The Hot Keys are also user‑configurable, enabling specific user preferences for parameter access to be set up. The Parameter button enables access to every parameter of the current program — not only the routine facets found by the Hot Keys button, but everything else as well, including the underlying algorithms, the signal routing, the levels between processing engines, and the modulation block parameters. In effect, the Hot Keys button provides a kind of 'Quick' mode and the Parameter button is the equivalent of an 'Expert' mode.

The rotary encoder is nicely weighted, and has varying ballistics depending on the speed it is moved and the number of steps involved in the selected parameter. For example, when adjusting the wet/dry balance, 90 degrees of rotation changes the balance by about 15 percent, whereas the same amount of rotation only increments the preset program list by one. To the right of the wheel, the Bypass button (with red LED) is self‑explanatory and the Setup button below accesses a range of housekeeping functions. These include setting tempo characteristics (speed and source — Tap button, MIDI, and so on), operating modes (including relay, DSP‑block, or hard‑mute methods of bypassing), and Digital In and Out configurations (source, clock, sample‑rate conversions, ADAT channels, output format, emphasis, SCMS, dithering, and so forth). The second page provides display and MIDI configurations, pedal type selection and user grouping of programs, while a third page offers MIDI maps, data dump and various service modes.

A compact numeric keypad is provided, with Increment and Decrement buttons, a decimal point, a plus/minus button, and an Enter key. These facilities are used to enter parameter values directly (instead of dialing up a value with the rotary encoder), but only apply after pressing the Enter button. The remaining controls are a Tap tempo button, power switch and Memory Card slot. When the Tap button is active (selected under the Tempo submenu within Setup mode) it flashes at the current tempo rate, and repeated presses will establish a new tempo. When disabled, pressing the button recalls the current tempo value to the fluorescent display for information only. A yellow LED above the card slot illuminates when data is being transferred with the card or, if a card is not inserted, it indicates data being received via the MIDI or RS232 ports.

In Use

Everything about the Eclipse shouts 'professional' — the controls all feel very solid, the display is very clear and informative, and there is nothing I have found wanting. In fact, every possible need has apparently been catered for. The LED bar‑graph meters are a good case in point. Most users would be quite happy to have input meters... but some would question "which input, analogue or digital?", and others still might prefer to meter the output or the internal DSPs. The boffins at Eventide have already thought all this through, and the meters can be selected to monitor signal levels at no less than eight different places: the analogue input (after the input gain and level controls), digital input (after level correction again), the input to the DSP block, the input of either engine, the output of either engine, and the output of the DSP block after the output level controls. For the really fussy, the metering ballistics can also be changed for decay times between 0.1 and 10 seconds, and peak‑hold times between 0.1 and 20 seconds! This ultimate‑anorak level of flexibility can be found throughout the machine, yet it doesn't get in the way of normal operations — the fussy detail is all tucked away towards the bottom of the sub‑menus where it can be set once and forgotten.

Similar attention to detail is evident when it comes to naming modified or newly created programs. Not only can the rotary encoder be used to scroll around the lower case alphabet, upper case alphabet, numbers and symbols in the familiar way, but the numeric keypad can also be used like that of a mobile phone, with repeated presses of each key cycling around its own number followed by three sequential letters and a symbol.

The machine has three fundamental input operating modes: Stereo, Mono 1 and Mono 2. The first allocates the two inputs to the corresponding two inputs of the DSP block, whereas the last two modes take either the channel one or channel two input respectively and split it to the two DSP block inputs, the unused input being isolated. The plethora of input and output gain and level parameters allow the analogue gain structure and digital headroom to be optimised very precisely. This is because the Gain parameters operate in the analogue domain while the Level parameters operate in the digital domain. In general, they would all be left at their 0dB settings, but the Input Gain can be used to provide additional gain for a guitar input, for example.

Whereas the input mode is notionally constant, the signal routing within the DSP block changes for each program loaded. The two processing engines within the DSP block are each equipped with stereo inputs and outputs, and can be used in one of five modes. Series passes the stereo input signals through the two engines, one after the other, each typically running different algorithms. Parallel splits the stereo input signal to feed both engines simultaneously, again typically running different algorithms, with their outputs being mixed together. Dual retains the parallel structure, but routes only the left leg into one engine, and only the right into the other. The stereo outputs from both engines are mixed together.

Dual Mono is almost the same as the previous mode, except that the stereo outputs from each engine are summed to mono and feed only one output channel, there being no mixing. The fifth mode is Xfade, which uses the normal stereo‑in, stereo‑out configuration, but with only one processing engine. This frees up the second engine to process the next algorithm to be loaded, which can then be crossfaded with the first program to give a very smooth, glitch‑free transition, or to create a melding effect. This is excellent if you are using the Eclipse in any kind of live situation — on stage effects or in a live broadcast, for example.

Everything about the Eclipse shouts 'professional' — the controls all feel very solid, the display is very clear and informative, and there is nothing I have found wanting.

The wealth of programs can be bewildering, with 217 factory presets in the current version of the Eclipse, and 1000 program locations available in total. User programs can be stored in the first hundred internal memory locations, with locations 500‑999 residing on the plug‑in memory card. The fundamental algorithmic factory programs are located between patches 100 and 199, and more complex combination factory programs between 200 and 499.

Eventide supply a data sheet of programs, listed in both program number order and alphabetical order. The Eclipse's onboard search routine takes this a stage further by not only allowing searches to be made on the basis of numerical or alphabetical position, but in terms of Source and Effect, or in terms of the 10 user groups. The Source search finds programs on the basis of what input format they are designed for, while Effect searches sift for the underlying effects algorithm. Once the search parameters and subsets of required programs have been identified, the rotary encoder is used to scroll through the relevant programs. Pressing the fourth soft key then loads the program. The nice thing here is that, within certain constraints, the machine can be configured so that there are no clicks, bangs or mutes when loading a new program; a newly loaded preset can be made to crossfade with the previous one in a very sophisticated and professional manner. Nice touch.

With the desired program loaded, any minor tweaking can probably be done through the Hot Keys. For example, the Hot Keys associated with a dense room reverberation program control level, early reflections, position, diffusion, decay, size, pre‑delay, and high‑cut — a range of parameters more than sufficient for 99 percent of applications. The stereo pitch‑shifter program has Hot Keys associated with it for level, pitch, delay, feedback, low note and crossfade time — again, entirely sufficient for most needs.

The majority of programs involve some LFO modulations or delays, which normally synchronise automatically to the master tempo. This is set either by keying in a value, tapping in a tempo (if the Tap button is enabled), or via MIDI timing data. A lot of the algorithms also employ signal amplitude envelope followers to modulate a particular parameter or even the LFO or tempo rates. Under the parameter menus, the envelope follower sensitivity, attack and release times can be adjusted, as well as a multitude of parameters associated with the LFOs — speeds, modulations, wave shape, and so on.

Verdict

The Eclipse is one of those rare pieces of equipment which you just know is 'as good as it gets' from the first moment you start using it. This is a thoroughly professional machine which is impressively straightforward to use, despite the enormous flexibility of its configuration and processing capabilities.

Beyond its elegant looks and usability, the Eclipse delivers the goods with a fidelity which is every bit as impressive as that of its highly regarded forebears. The pitch‑shifts are classic Eventide, smooth and glitch‑free over realistic ranges. The reverbs are very usable, particularly the ambience and small room settings, and the chorusing, phasing, flanging, distortion, fuzz, and various delay algorithms are warm, rich, and musically satisfying. The numerous filtering options are handy too, with both smooth, creative algorithms and savage corrective ones. And with so many factory presets to start from it is easy to find and fine‑tune a program for every requirement. The best all‑encompassing description I can come up with for the Eclipse is that this is a multi‑effects processor for grown‑ups. Nuff said!

MIDI Implementation

The MIDI implementation is typically comprehensive, with the Eclipse being able to save data as System Exclusive dumps, as well as responding to Program Change messages to recall programs. However, since there are 1000 Eclipse program numbers, while MIDI patch numbers only range from 1‑128, a trio of MIDI map pages are provided to allow the user to customise which patches correspond to which programs.

Performance At 24‑bit/96kHz

Not all the programs may be used at elevated sampling rates, simply because the higher rates require twice the processing power and twice the physical delay memory. Compatible programs are indicated in the display screen with a 96 logo between program number and program name, and many programs are available in two versions, one for higher sampling rates and one for standard rates — the higher‑rate version typically having restricted parameter ranges. The machine is intelligent in that, if operating at 96kHz say, it will refuse to load a program which can only run at standard rates. Equally, if a standard‑rate program is already loaded and the user tries to change the clocking to one of the elevated rates, the machine will again refuse to cooperate.

Pros

  • Wide‑ranging but entirely usable factory presets.
  • Classic Eventide algorithms.
  • Superb sound with 24‑bit/96kHz capability.
  • Excellent ergonomics and extensive flexibility.

Cons

  • None.

Summary

A very elegant 1U rackmount multi‑effects processor building on Eventide's unparalleled reputation. With ten times the power of the industry‑standard H3000, this is a very serious multi‑effects tool at a comparatively low UK price.

Published September 2001