You'd think a digital effect processor's brilliance might have been eclipsed somewhat in the last decade, but Eventide have made significant software changes that keep this one fresh, relevant and desirable.
Eventide are American manufacturers who have maintained a strong position at the forefront of the digital effects processing market for decades, having set the initial benchmark high with classic (and still revered) products such as the H949 Harmonizer and its many descendants, the current standard-bearer being the awesome H8000FW.
The Eclipse V4 is the baby model of the Harmonizer family, but still boasts the same class‑leading harmoniser algorithms, plus a wealth of other powerful and impressive effects programs. I first reviewed the original Eclipse model back in September 2001 (/sos/Sep01/articles/eclipse.asp), and the fact that it is still in production a decade later speaks volumes about not only its popularity, but its capabilities too. After all, technology never stands still, and this is a fast-developing market. With its 1U, rackmounting case, the Eclipse is half the size of the H3000‑series units, but boasts five times the processing power and double the feature count! However, while today's Eclipse looks identical to the model reviewed 10 years ago — and there are a couple of visible signs of ageing design! — internal processing power is still more than sufficient to accommodate upgraded firmware (V4.01 at the time of writing).
The V4 software platform was launched at the end of last year and is available as a free download to registered owners of earlier versions of the Eclipse processor. One of the more obvious aspects of it is that it has accelerated the program load‑time quite significantly. More importantly, in addition to the familiar complement of Eventide's renowned pitch change (harmonizer), reverb, and special effects algorithms and presets, it now also incorporates all of the company's TimeFactor and ModFactor 'stomp box' effects algorithms, expanding the number of different internal algorithms to 109. These can be used singly or in pairs, to construct a bewildering 960 specific factory effects presets.
As with the original Eclipse, the current version has a dual‑engine processor capable of running two separate and completely independent stereo effects at the same time, and configured to operate either in series (the output of one effect feeding the input of the other), or in parallel (where both effects share the same input and their outputs are mixed together). It can also be switched between stereo and dual‑mono modes. The Eclipse has always been popular as a high‑end musician's effect processor, largely because all the effects parameters can be adjusted in real time using standard MIDI foot‑controller or expression pedals — features that few other studio‑quality effects processors can claim.
You can find a full and detailed description of the Eclipse in my September 2001 review, and from a hardware point of view nothing has changed. Connectivity is unusually comprehensive, with two analogue inputs on combi‑XLR sockets accepting balanced +4dBu signals on the XLR and ‑10dBV unbalanced inputs on the quarter‑inch socket, and there is plenty of gain in hand to accommodate electric guitar inputs directly. The Eclipse's converters manage a signal‑to-noise ratio of around 104dB; not class leading, perhaps, but still very respectable. Electronically balanced analogue outputs are also provided on both XLR and quarter‑inch sockets, and there's comprehensive digital I/O: AES3 via XLRs and S/PDIF on both RCA phonos and optical Toslink, the latter being switchable to operate with ADAT lightpipe interfaces (with selectable track allocations). Word clock is catered for via a pair of BNC connectors, and the unit will operate at standard‑base and double sample rates. A nine‑pin RS232 serial interface is provided for communication with a computer, for software updates and so on (although the Compact Flash card socket can also accept cards with firmware updates), and perhaps this is an indication of the unit's age; a USB socket would make far more sense today, given that few computers and laptops possess serial ports any more.
Of interest to the musician is the complement of three MIDI sockets, along with a coaxial power socket. Unusually, the MIDI In socket is a seven‑pin type, to provide remote powering to compatible MIDI pedalboards, but instead of taking the power from the Eclipse's own supply, an external unit suited to the pedalboard can be connected to this coaxial power socket. Two quarter‑inch sockets can be used to connect footswitches, footpedals, or external 0‑5V DC control voltages, which can be used to modulate selected effects parameters or to trigger specific events (including loading new programs). The Eclipse incorporates an internal universal power supply, which accepts 100‑240V AC via the usual IEC inlet.
Despite the unit's considerable processing power, the front panel is remarkably uncluttered, but very 'Eventide' in its styling. LED input metering and sample rate indicators sit to the left of the wide, dot‑matrix, fluorescent display. A push button toggles the display between two I/O configuration screens to set analogue and digital input and output levels, as well as the wet/dry balance, mono/stereo mode, and so on.
The two‑line fluorescent display is bright and crisp, and easily readable from a distance. The top line presents the current program and parameter details, while the lower line indicates the function of the four instant‑access soft keys arranged below the display window. Spread out to the right of the display, five buttons surround a rotary encoder, with a numeric keypad incorporating up‑down buttons and an enter key on the extreme right‑hand side, plus a tap‑tempo button and the mains on‑off rocker switch. There's also a Compact Flash (Type I and II) memory-card slot on the front panel for storing preset memory data (another sign of ageing hardware, as a front‑panel USB socket for a memory stick would be more fashionable and convenient today!).
The three buttons to the left of the rotary encoder, labelled Program, Hot Keys and Parameter, each have an LED to indicate the current status. The Program button recalls and stores programs, or accesses the 'program search' facility. The Hot Keys button assigns the most relevant program parameter functions to the four soft keys, which makes fine‑tuning a preset very fast indeed. The Hot Keys are also configurable so that, if desired, a user can allocate their own preferred parameter preferences. For more in‑depth editing, the Parameter button accesses the full set of parameters for the current program. Essentially, then, the Hot Keys button provides 'Simple' operation while the Parameter button provides the 'Expert' mode.
The rotary encoder's ballistics vary cunningly depending on the number of increments available for the selected parameter and the speed of rotation. This makes navigating parameters fast and intuitive, rather than painstakingly slow, as it can be on some devices that step dogmatically through every parameter value! Set to the right of the encoder are Bypass and Setup buttons, both with LED indicators. The latter accesses the unit's back‑office functions, such as the detailed operating modes, digital I/O and clock configurations, display and MIDI settings, footpedal and footswitch types, user grouping of effects programs, and so on. The numeric keypad is used to enter parameter values directly, instead of dialling a value with the rotary encoder.
The Eclipse is certainly a high‑quality product, built robustly and with solid buttons and controls that give confidence it would cope easily with life on the road as a musician's effects processor, as well as coping with 24/7 use in a studio. The overwhelming collection of preset effects (the 2001 model I reviewed had just 217!) are constructed from various combinations of the underlying 109 algorithms, which are grouped into 11 categories: delays (21), dynamics (4), filters (13), plex (5), preamps (10), shifters (12), verbs (7), combos (12), utilities (5), and the new TimeFactor (10) and ModFactor (10) stomp-box algorithms. There are presets for every occasion here, and while individual user preferences will undoubtedly prefer slightly tweaked versions of the stock factory options, the simple user interface makes that trivially simple to achieve. The larger reverbs are rich and spacious, with lush modulations, while the smaller rooms and ambience effects are very effective and usable. The delays and filters are comprehensively specified and adjustable, and the pitch‑shifters are as good as it is possible to make them, setting standards others still struggle to match in some cases.
While the Eclipse has studio origins — and serves extremely well in that application — its design obviously embraces live performance too, whether as a front-of-house processor adding some micropitch fullness and reverb to vocals, perhaps, or as a guitar rig's central processing tool. Indeed, many of the effects are particularly well suited to the guitar, including some excellent fuzz, overdrive and distortion effects, all of which sound decidedly analogue (tube‑like in some cases) rather than digital. The pitch‑shift effects are completely clean and natural sounding, if restrained to an octave of shift, with no burbling or glitching at all — although this is Eventide's forté, of course. Wider‑ranging shifts are also possible and still sound remarkably good, although the technology starts to become audible.
The icing on the cake, though, is the ability to program in a key and scale, and then let the diatonic Harmonizer algorithm play a full accompaniment — ideal for Thin Lizzy tribute bands! The chorus effects are quite superb too, and I have to say that I didn't find a preset that could be described as a 'filler' anywhere. All the factory presets are well thought-out and implemented, and they can all be tweaked to suit a specific application very easily, thanks to the simple and intuitive user interface.
For those with a full set of coloured ball‑points in their shirt pocket protector, every preset can be fully edited in enormous and meticulous detail too, if you're so inclined... although such in‑depth editing does get quite involved very quickly. Fortunately, the manual (a ring‑binder, actually) makes the enormous complexity and capability of the Eclipse quite understandable if you take the time to read it, although the operation is sufficiently intuitive that I suspect few will bother. The full manual and algorithm/preset guides are also available on the company's web site.
I said at the end of my 2001 review that 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”. That impression hasn't changed at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with the Eclipse in V4 form. The Eclipse remains "a multi‑effects processor for grown‑ups”, but one that guitarists needn't shy away from, especially now the highly regarded stomp‑box TimeFactor and ModFactor algorithms have been squeezed in. Even better is that the retail price is slightly lower now than it was a decade ago, and you get even more for your money. There aren't many products you can say that about! Highly recommended.
Eventide set the standard to which others aspire, and I know of no other studio‑style effects units with such comprehensive guitar‑friendly interfacing and facilities.
- Class‑leading effects quality.
- Substantially expanded algorithm and presets libraries.
- TimeFactor and ModFactor algorithms now included.
- Versatile interfacing, including lots of options for guitarist effects applications.
- Costs less now than it did a decade ago!
- RS232 and CF card interfaces beginning to seem a little outdated.
Few effects processors remain on the market more than a few years, and while several revered classics are still in popular use, most went out of production years ago. The Eclipse is unusual in that it has remained in production and fundamentally unchanged for a decade, although its algorithm and factory preset list has expanded dramatically. This is an excellent multi‑effects unit with superb treatments, sophisticated flexibility, and lots of guitarist‑friendly features.
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