The best designed and most enjoyable effects unit ever: Eventide H3000 UltraHarmonizer

By David Silverstein for

When one of the most influential and well regarded electronic musicians praises your effects unit as the best it should really hold some weight. Not only did Brian Eno love his Eventide H3000, but he loved it so much that he took the time to actually write to Eventide to congratulate them on designing it. In his letter he declared the H3000 "the best designed and most enjoyable effects unit ever."

Eventide started out of the basement of the Sound Exchange, a recording studio located in midtown Manhattan. Their control room wasn’t big enough to fit a tape op so studio owner Steven Katz commissioned Richard Factor to create a device that would allow him to locate the tape to a specific time. Eventide was born.

In 1974 they developed the H910 Harmonizer, one of their most notable products, which was the first digital pitch shifting device.  From the H910, the H3000 would be born. Interestingly enough, the H910 Harmonizer was first used to speed up the dialog of older sitcoms, like I Love Lucy, without changing the pitch of the voice.

In 1986, Eventide released the H3000. But what really makes it so special? Before this unit if you wanted to speed up time, you also had to speed up the pitch. This one major advancement inevitably leads to tools that are paramount to modern recording like Auto Tune, Melodyne, time stretching, etc.  I think to truly grasp the full magnitude, you have to consider the time period during which it was released. Up until that time every effect that anyone ever heard was produced through hardware. There were no plug ins. The majority of the time there was one piece of hardware that did one specific effect.

If you could design the most perfectly laid out effects unit, with what seems like unlimited capabilities, the H3000 would be it. With only 7 buttons, a jog wheel and number pad, finding and altering your favorite presets is quick and easy for even the most novice engineer. The H3000 could not have been more well received and It wasn’t long before every studio had an H3000 in their rack. The H3000 was the first unit to offer true diatonic shifting or shifting that stays in key but other features include*:

  • Dual Shift –  Two separate pitch shifters
  • Layered Shift – Two pitch shifts from one input
  • Stereo Shift – Mono-compatible stereo pitch shifting (maintains stereo imaging)
  • Reverse Shift – Backwards-talking pitch shift
  • Swept Combs – Six sweepable delay lines, with stereo panning
  • Swept Revere – A dense reverb with smooth sweep capability
  • Reverb Factory – A full-featured reverb with EQ and flexible gating
  • Ultra-Tap – Twelve delay taps with full control over panning, level, and delay, Includes a diffuser to generate dense gated reverb effects.
  • Dual Digiplex – A stereo delay with smooth delay change
  • Long Digiplex – A 1.5 second delay with smooth delay control
  • Patch Factory  – A “modular” effects program which lets you design your own effect. “Patch” together delay lines, filters and pitch shifting to create never-heard-before effects.
  • Stutter – Get that sound – effortlessly
  • Dense Room – Our densest reverb, with unique front/back position control
  • Vocoder – This is our version of the classic vocoding effect
  • Multi-Shift – Two six-octave pitch shifters, two delays, panning and patchable feedback paths make this program incredibly useful.
  • Band Delay  – A multi-tap delay line feeding eight resonant bandpass filters make for some sounds like you’ve never heard.
  • String Modeller – This program lets the H3000 double as an extra voice in your MIDI rack
  • Phaser – A wonderfirlly thick, smooth, phase-shifting effect that is hard to beat

*List source: Vintage Digital

It’s over 30 years after the release, but the H3000 is still found in countless studios across the world. Through all the changes in technology the unit and its effects not only hold up, but many would argue still surpass anything that has been made in the modern era.

Eventide has given engineers a cheaper option– they released the H3000 plug-in for $350. I can’t vouch for how good it sounds or how it compares with the real unit, but you can download the demo here and try it for yourself.


Click here to listen to samples of the unit



Getting Equipped to Record

By Jim Sabella

I can’t tell you how many times, as an engineer; I have encountered clients who expect me to make magic come out of a train wreck. This is a pretty normal occurrence in any field of professionalism (make-up artists, hairdressers, photographers, auto detailing. Etc.). There is only a certain degree of improvement you can put on any one thing. I’m not just talking about having great quality; I’m talking about having the right equipment. Make-up can only hide wrinkles to a certain extent, but there is always that time when you just need a face-lift.

Now let’s get back to the studio. Having high quality instruments is one of the easiest and most important ways of getting a great sounding recording. If you take a cheap guitar and plug it into an inferior amp and mic it with a great microphone, (i.e. Neumann U-47 Tube) plugged into a superb console, (i.e. old Neve) and recorded onto a great format (like a vintage Studer tape machine, considered one of the best sounding) you have an excellent recording and representation of garbage. The thing that amazes a lot of young bands is that the best recording studios in the world, only capture the sound of the instrument being recorded. What you put in equals what you get out.

This is not to say that you don’t need the best recording gear, because you do. But you must remember that you are only as strong as your weakest link. When you are dealing with high quality studios, the weakest link is usually your own equipment.

Let’s get equipped! How? Take care of your own sound. Although a lot of first-rate studios are equipped with there own gear, it may not fit the sound of your band. If your drummers prefers the sound of 24” kick drums with extra long power toms and a 13” x 3” brass piccolo snare, he should not use the studios standard size set and then (during mix down) explain to the engineer the size he wants each individual drum to sound like. It should be planned out ahead of time. It may be tempting to just say “with Pro Tools, can’t I just replace the kick?”…Yes you can. Remember though that those plug-ins are designed to ‘touch-up’ parts if a drummer say hits the snare weird for one hit. If you just replace an entire drum kit, it’ll sound like a drum machine…and if that’s the sound you like, may I recommend kicking your drummer out of that band?

Spend the time and the money to find out what equipment will give you the sound you want. If your keyboard player likes the “Choir” patch on the M-1, don’t sit in the studio for three hours trying to recreate it on the Yamaha DX-7. That’s not how it’s done.

Guitar players must know and be able to create the sound they want. Sam Ash (I was not paid for this) has more than enough guitar amps and effects to make any good guitar player establish his sound. As an engineer I am constantly bombarded with guitar players asking for the sound, like the sound of the last (insert band name here) CD. I can usually tell them what it was, and if we have it here, or how they can get it. But, you can't walk into a session with a Service Merchandise guitar, a Gorilla practice amp, and tell the engineer “Make me sound like George Lynch!!” Sorry.

A lot of the time spent recording of many of the big budget bands (Metallica, Nickleback) is spent on getting the right sounds of the guitars & drums themselves. Although they will try different miking techniques, 9 out of 10 times if the sound isn’t happening, they will change the instruments, (i.e. Guitar, amp or drums) not the mics.

The instrument is the source of the sound. If you want to sound like the Beatles you use a Rickenbacher and a Vox Ac30; Guns & Roses a Les Paul and a Marshall; Eric Clapton a Stratocaster; Boston a Rockman; you get the point. Mic choice and placement is really secondary. I don’t care what mic you use and how you EQ it, you’re not gonna make an Ibanez through a Mesa Boogie sound like a Les Paul through a classic tube Marshall, you wouldn’t come to a baseball game wearing a football uniform. Would you? Wrong equipment!

It is important to note that the artist plays a vital role in the sound, too. A lousy guitar player can make a great guitar sound like moosh if his technique isn’t up to par. And if the drummer does not hit with a good snap on that $1000 Nobel $ Cooley snare drum, the drum (and your money) will be wasted. You have to know how to get the most out of your equipment. If you play well with good equipment, the engineer will probably just set up a mic though a call A mic pre-amp and press record, saving you lots of money.

For singers, unfortunately, you can’t buy it. Alesis hasn’t put it in a box yet! You have to have the voice. I have some of the best mics money can buy, and they still can’t make a bad singer possess good tone. They’ll just capture your insufficient tone with believable fidelity. Even with today’s advances in auto tune with programs like Melodyne…you need to sound good, otherwise the more processing that needs to be done to fix it, the more mechanic it will sound.

Please remember, it is all too easy to blame the engineer for not getting you sound. If you do your homework and go to a top-notch studio, a monkey could probably get your sound. The difference between having the right or wrong equipment could be the difference between having the shiniest garbage on the block or the next big hit of the year.

The Importance Of A Finished Product

By Jim Sabella

How many of you have spent dollar after dollar of your hard earned money just to record a demo that sounds like well... a demo! We spend hours on that mix that sounds real cool on that pretty good sound system just to bring it home and realize it doesn't sound nearly as good as all of your favorite CD's. In the record business (like in any true art form) there is no room for "good enough."

A&R departments have changed a lot over the years. There once was a time when an artist could walk right into an A&R executive's office, with an acoustic guitar in hand, and croon a little diddy about "Missing His Darlin." The singer would then sign his life away and be on the radio that weekend. They would buy him clothes, find him some songs, change his name and voila! Overnight sensation. It's not like this anymore (except the part about signing your life away). The record companies are not looking to spend a half-million dollars to develop and re-record an act, when there are so many other acts who have already done all the work for them. These acts will save them time (they won't have to re-record the demo) money (better spent on promoting the record), and hassles (wondering if the band will even stay together long enough to finish the record).

There are literally thousands of bands recording demos of 4 to 6 songs which all sound "kinda" good. What makes you think that your music will stand out in this cluster of mediocrity? It must sound better than any and all of your competition. At the very least, a finished product will show a commitment to your music and to what extent (or expense) you believe in your music and/or yourself.

It is very important, in the evaluation of an artist, for an A&R executive to clearly envision your music on the radio, or even MTV. These people are not record producers. They can't always hear a hit song beyond the cloud of cheap electronics from which your CD has been siphoned through. It is to your advantage that your music sound as clear and professional as the music it will be going up against if it were to be heard on the radio.

By recording and presenting a finished master, you have also obtained control over your musical integrity. As these troubled economic times persist, record companies are submitting smaller and smaller budgets and therefore are pressing more and more records made independently by the artist. This gives you the opportunity to stretch the limits of an ordinarily typical market. Which is probably the reason for such a change in what is usually known as "Commercial Music."

It is crucial that we raise the question here, of how many songs should be recorded. There are a few different ways of looking at this. If money's no object, (yeah right!). I would suggest recording a full length CD. A lot of ambitious bands have already taken this step and are now one up on you. Would you want your (pretty good) CD sitting on an A&R executive's desk next to one of these ready to go CD's? I doubt it. Another way of dealing with finished products is to record three master quality songs. (Note: It is better to do two or three master quality songs than to do six or eight decent sounding demos. if the sound of the first song doesn't blow them away then they're not gonna even listen to the second song, let alone eight.) Very often a major label will sign a band and just invest the money for them to complete their record at the studio from which the first three cuts were recorded. The first three songs must be finished products. We have personally experienced, in our studio, a surge of bands in the particular situation. The days of starting from scratch with an unknown band recording in the record companies' own studios are rapidly seeing their demise.

This is not to say that 4-16 track studios are obsolete. It is always advantageous to demo your song to see if it is worth making a master quality recording of it. Even Aerosmith demos over twenty songs in an 8-track studio to select their best cuts in which to complete. Every songwriter/musician should own at least a small 4-track or midi studio to get his or her ideas down. You need to try every possible variation of your song on your own "free" time. When you have worked it all out, then you can then take it to the next step. Make a "finished master."

By now you are probably wondering what a “finished master” means. This is a very delicate subject. Most studios are obviously gonna tell you that their sound quality is of the highest caliber (the biggest brightest fattest sound ever). Oooo-kay. A good test: bring our favorite CD to the studio you are considering recording at. Then let them play you some of their best sounding projects. Does their material sound as big as your favorite CD? Can you clearly hear all the individual parts of the mix without straining? Does the vocal reach out and grab you? If the sound of these studios compares favorably to your favorite CD's, then you should have no problem creating a "finished master" on your next project. (Depending, of course, on your material and performances.)

I do realize for most up and coming bands, money (as always) can be a problem. However, you would be surprised how affordable a "state of the art" recording can actually be. The essential point to remember here is that quality is more important than quantity. Would you trade your three favorite CD's for all of the $1.99 bargain bin cassettes at Kmart? I would hope not!

How Song Arrangements Effect The Recording Process

By Jim Sabella

So your band feels it’s ready to record a demo. You’ve picked your three songs and you have rehearsed them thoroughly. The guitar and bass player have had their guitar’s intonation checked, strings replaced, and amps (tubes, I hope) biased. Your drummer broke down and bought all new skins for his set. You would be shocked to discover the difference in sound recordings when something as simple as drum skins are replaced. Sure, it costs more for the drummer, but maybe the band should consider the worth of such an investment into the recording budget. Yes all this does affect the way your next demo or record will sound. But…let’s see. Have you forgotten anything? What about song arrangements. Most bands today don’t realize how much a song can suffer in the studio if the song arrangement is not taken into strong consideration.

Always record your rehearsals so that you can hear your band’s sound from both directions, from both the playing and the listening perspective. You must learn how to analyze your own material from the listener’s point of view, unless of course, you don’t care if you ever sell a record. Now, listen to three or four hit songs from successful bands that have a similar style to your band. How does your material compare and contrast in song form, temp, and rhythm tracks? Their songs did not hit by accident, there are a lot of changes that your band can make to improve your recording and the size of your listening audience.

When looking at your song, try to be objective and sensitive to the melody of the song. The melody is what the rest of the music in the song should be supporting. The best place to start is by laying down a strong foundation: the rhythm track.

We will concentrate first on the kick drum pattern. The kick drum part should be independent from the other parts, i.e., the melody line, the guitar parts. For example, in Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” although the guitar riff contains many accents and upbeats, the kick drum still resides on a solid 1 and 3 pattern. This may seem simplistic to some, but it ends up creating a clearer, massive sound with a hypnotic groove. The distance between kick hits creates a psycho-acoustic phenomenon for the listener, giving more emphasis to the sounds that occur less often. In other words, the more space between kicks, the bigger each kick-hit sounds.

Next, we will examine the bass lines. Whenever possible the bassist should try to avoid simply repeating the guitar line. Too often, the bass line is taken for granted. The bass should be the anchor of the song. At times it can even act as a sub-hook. The lower notes and the less often they occur, the more likely you will get a product that has more clarity and punch. For example, if the bass player is playing eight notes and the guitar player is playing eight notes, the guitar will just end up sounding muddy and the bass will be indistinct.

Song form plays a vital role in the presentation of your music, whether it’s song length, structure, tempos, or even intros. Although each individual part may be interesting, the song may still be perceived as being boring. A song must be presented in a way that keeps the listener’s interest. When listening to the hits of you favorite bands, write down the structure (ABABCAB) for each of the songs. Notice that similarities in structure between these songs, and see how your material fits in.

One sure fire way of keeping your song interesting is to get to the chorus quickly. We’ve all heard the expression “Don’t Bore Us To The Chorus.” Always keep this in mind. Get a stopwatch and time as many songs as you can. You’ll find that nine out of ten times, the chorus will appear within the first minutes. This is a conscious effort on the artist’s part, and it is a good guideline for you to follow.

The tempo of your song is incredibly important. Most bands push the tempo of their song in rehearsal to create excitement. The faster your song is, the smaller it sounds on CD. If a song is too fast, it will feel nervous, but if it lays back – it feels huge!! It’s the psycho-acoustic thing again. Write down the tempos of your song and compare them to your heroes. If your song is a familiar tempo to other songs getting radio-play, then it increases your chances of getting radio-play.

Intros are a tricky subject. A lot of bands fall into the trap of being so bored with their song (hearing it a thousand times) that they think it will be interesting to make a spectacular introduction to their masterpiece. Big mistake!! When you sit in an A&R office and play a minute and a half of keyboard-preset #36 “The Wrath of Kahn” before your vocal even comes in, you’ll see what eternity feels like. Keep it to the point. You’ll notice that your average hit song will have a ten to twenty second intro before the lead vocal comes in. Save the special effects. They don’t sell records.

If all of the previous guidelines have been considered then there should be no problems with song length. Again, take out the stopwatch, or just check your CD’s. Are your songs six minutes long? Are there fifteen different parts? Maybe it would be a good time to cut out all the insignificant parts. You’ll notice that most songs, by a new artist, are between three and a half to four minutes long.

One of the most common mistakes a band unfamiliar with record will make, is to overproduce. They get into the studio, see all the toys, and think it’s playtime. The strength of the song should not depend on the amount of guitar overdubs recorded. Just because you have 48 or 96 tracks, doesn’t mean you have to use all of them. Even with digital formats like Cubase or Pro Tools, when it is easy to just quickly add an extra track, fight the urge. The more space in the mix you occupy, the smaller the sound. Overproduction can also refer to the overplaying of each instrument. For example: the more drum fills and cymbal crashers in a song, the less important each one of them become. One powerful snare fill before each chorus will make a bigger impact than a tom fill after every four bars. K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid!!!!

The sound of your CD is very dependent upon the parts you play: or should I say the parts you don’t play. Some people believe a great sound comes from the right eq, compressor, the newest reverb-delay unit, or the newest plug-in to come out this week. Not!!!! The sound starts with you and your performance. If you feel your material is along the lines of Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Extreme, or Motley Crue, and your bass player plays more notes than Jaco Pastorius, and your drummer tried to outdo Neil Peart, you may want to reassess their position in the band. A baseball player doesn’t come out to the field with a football uniform on.

It is important to note that these guidelines do not always hold true for all forms of music, but it can't hurt to compare your music with that of commercially released material, and it certainly will improve the sound of your recording.