At first glance, the H9 Harmonizer can be easily mistaken for a fancy guitar pedal adorned with pretty LEDs. Upon further study, it becomes clear that the H9 is so much more than a stompbox. It's hard to even begin describing all that it can do! First of all, as the legendary Harmonizer name suggests, it's a digital effects box that excels at time and pitch-based effects. Importantly, there's nothing that prevents you from using it as a stereo outboard processor for mixing. In other words, it's not just for guitars. Second, because it has very flexible I/O, it can operate as an instrument DI as well as a re-amp interface. Third, it has MIDI, USB, and Bluetooth control, so you can operate it from the H9 Control application running on Windows, Mac OS, or even iOS. Plus, you can automate parameter changes from a DAW or sequencer via MIDI or MIDI over USB. Fourth, it's a tuner.
If you're familiar with Eventide's family of pedals, you'll want to know that the H9 can run algorithms developed for the TimeFactor, ModFactor, PitchFactor, and Space. The hardware unit is sold in three different bundles — the only difference being the selection of algorithms and presets that are included. Additional algorithms can be purchased from the Eventide store. H9 Core comes with the H910/H949 algorithm from PitchFactor, plus a coupon to purchase one additional algorithm. The "standard" H9 bundle includes the same coupon, the H9- exclusive UltraTap algorithm, and two algorithms from each of the aforementioned pedals: Tape Echo and Vintage Delay from TimeFactor; Chorus (4 types) and Tremolo (2 types) from ModFactor; H919/H949 and Crystals from PitchFactor; and Shimmer and Hall from Space. H9 Max includes all 45 algorithms, including two more H9-exclusive programs called Resonator and EQ Compressor. Multiple presets are included with each algorithm, which you can freely modify, copy, and delete. The unit itself can store 99 presets, but preset storage and retrieval is virtually limitless through the H9 Control application.
Accessing presets from the H9's onboard controls is dead simple. Push the Presets button and turn the big rotary encoder to scroll through the list of presets. Preset number and abbreviated name are displayed on the six-character LED display. When you stop scrolling, the cued preset loads. Or, push the left footswitch, then push the right footswitch to increment one preset per tap, and then push the left footswitch again to load the cued preset.
To edit the preset, push one of the three backlit parameter buttons, and the button's "top-level" parameter (determined by the preset) will become active such that turning the rotary encoder will change the parameter's value. A ring of LEDs around the encoder displays the relative position of the virtual "knob" as you turn it. Pushing the encoder displays the actual numeric value on the six-character display. To access more than the three top-level parameters, push and hold one of the parameter buttons to enter Expert mode, and then each subsequent push of the button will page to the next parameter.
A backlit HotKnob button turns the rotary encoder into a realtime parameter control, not unlike an expression pedal, so that turning the encoder will change the value of the mapped parameter(s). An actual expression pedal can be plugged into a 1/4'' jack on the back of the H9. Alternatively, the 1/4'' jack can be used for an external switch bank (up to three switches, since it's actually a TRS jack).
Also in back are four 1/4'' (unbalanced) jacks for stereo I/O. Input and output levels can be set independently, and the range is wide enough to accommodate guitars and other instruments, as well as +4 dBu pro audio gear — very cool. Also neat is that the H9 intelligently manages effects channel routing based on which jacks are in use, choosing mono-to- mono, mono-to-stereo, stereo-to-stereo, or stereo-to-mono mode appropriately.
Three bypass modes are available. Relay Bypass routes input to output directly. DSP Bypass turns off the effect but still routes audio through the A/D and D/A converters, which better preserves level, tone, and latency. DSP+FX Bypass is similar to DSP Bypass, but it allows the "tail" of the active effect to finish its run after bypass is enabled. A related feature is Killdry. When enabled, no dry signal is sent to the H9's output, regardless of the active preset's wet/dry mix setting. Killdry is usually enabled when you're employing the H9 as an outboard aux send/return processor.
In general, I found the various settings easy to access and tweak. It's clear that the H9's designers put a lot of thought into the physical controls and the hierarchy of virtual controls, especially in terms of maximizing workflow efficiencies for on-stage performance.
But for those of us who want to use the H9 as a studio tool, there's the H9 Control application — and this is a real game changer. The application looks like a plug-in, so any DAW user will be immediately familiar with its use, and it makes tweaking the H9 so much easier! When you choose an algorithm or preset, a set of virtual knobs and switches appears in the application window. What's great is that all the interactions are predictable and as expected on Windows and Mac OS. On my iPad Mini, H9 Control is smooth and responsive, and everything is touch-enabled. On my touchscreen-equipped Toshiba Portégé laptop running Windows 8.1 Pro, H9 Control is mostly usable with a finger, but some UI elements (like dropdown menus and the X/Y pad) don't respond to touch. Otherwise, H9 Control works identically across platforms, and Bluetooth connectivity isn't reserved for iOS only; Mac OS and Windows can also connect wirelessly to the H9 (as well as through USB).
H9 Control also provides contextual help, with detailed explanations of all the parameters associated with each algorithm. Plus, big I/O peak meters facilitate setting input and output levels. (I wish the app allowed the meters to remain in view at all times.) A virtual touch-strip mirrors the behavior of the H9's rotary encoder in HotKnob mode. Thankfully, mapping the touch-strip (and HotKnob) to parameter ranges is a much simpler operation (with immediate visual feedback) in H9 Control than it is through the physical controls. In addition to the linear touch-strip, there's a 2-D X/Y pad that can be mapped to various parameters (some algorithm-specific) if you really want to get creative with real-time tweaking.
When I patch the H9 into a traditional aux send/return loop, and use it as an outboard effects processor during mixing, my favorite algorithms are UltraTap (a delay line with up to 64 taps that can slow down or speed up, and a Slurm control for slurring and smearing), MangledVerb (a reverb with Overdrive and Wobble that I like to sneak under otherwise clean vocals or lead instruments for phantom texture), Resonator (four resonant comb filters that can be tuned to note-triggers — the result can be gorgeous depth and thick sugar, especially on melodic elements), ModEchoVerb (a ridiculously flexible echo effect that can go forever without sounding brittle or whiny); and Undulator (modulated, detuned delays).
A less traditional way to use the H9 is as a re-amp interface and processor. Here, I'll take a DI'ed guitar or instrument track and feed it directly to the H9. The output of the H9 will then go into a guitar amp that's mic'ed for re-recording. Crystals (twin reverse pitch shifters that can add a unique kind of density when used sparingly), Octaver (dual subharmonic generators with Fuzz and Resonance), Tape Echo (exactly what you'd expect), and RingMod (a ring modulator with lots of control) are algorithms that I used recently while re-amping. The best thing is, I can wire up the H9 in the live room to the mic'd amps while I sit in the control room with iPad in hand.
I do want to call out that most of the factory presets are pretty extreme — too much modulation, too many taps, too much predelay, etc. I imagine the presets were created to "show off" the H9. In almost all cases, when I load a factory preset, I find that I have to tame it down to make it usable. Luckily, it's easy to overwrite a default preset once you've settled on your changes.
All in all, I can't recommend the Eventide H9 Harmonizer enough. It sounds great; it's capable of a huge range of effects; and it interfaces easily with guitars, electric/electronic instruments, recording gear, mixing desks, and everything in between. It's one of my favorite pieces of hardware (and I should say software too) in my studio. Moreover, considering all of its uses, I think it's priced affordably, especially when you compare it to Eventide's rackmount processors.