It was nearly three years ago that this curious white stompbox, with the Harmonizer trademark name on it, showed up at a Deerhunter gig. One big turnwheel? App-based control? I was skeptical, to say the least, but intrigued at the idea of pulling up presets and precisely controlling parameters — all via my mobile device. This began my long relationship with the Eventide H9 stereo effects pedal [Tape Op #107], and thusly, the lovely people at Eventide. I had already been using pedals at FOH for some time, as a sort of reactionary tactic against the too-often terrible-sounding effects programs built into the different digital desks I was using every night on tour, as digital mixers became more ubiquitous and rack gear became more scarce. So I took the plunge and threw this insanely powerful, little white box into my FOH kit for the rest of the tour. At first, it was reserved for vocals, but soon after, it had a twin to handle drums.
Of course, the two pedals made the jump to the studio as soon as I was back. Thankfully, the H9 can handle instrument and line–level I/O by itself, so there's no need to pull out your DIs or fancy pedal-interfacing boxes — just patch it in. In the studio, it quickly became my go-to reverb for tracking vocals. Its ease of use and immediate response to the H9 Control app (iOS, macOS, Windows) made it integral to the situation. Then, as I had hoped, Eventide started issuing new algorithms beyond the original ones ported over from the now-classic Factor series [#62] and Space [#87] pedals. One of these new H9 exclusives is CrushStation.
The words digital and distortion do not bring to mind pleasing sounds... unless you're some blue-suit lawyer by day, khaki-pants guitarist by night, getting ready to slay your version of "Mustang Sally" at The Blind Pig. No offense to musicians who enjoy their business-casual attire on Monday nights, but you get the idea. Anyhow, this was the second time I was skeptical with this pedal, and the second time it proved me very wrong. Is it comparable to a vintage Shin-ei FY-2 Fuzz or the like? No. But that's not what it's for.
I figured out I was prejudiced against "digital" distortion, because CrushStation sounds really good and very convincing — even responding dynamically like a real circuit. These days, a good amount of the tone I'm capturing is coming from the power section of whatever amp I'm tracking. Once I got past my issue with semantics, I was super stoked on CrushStation, because the algorithm's Sag feature alone is worth the price. It enables you to simulate the sound of a starving circuit. Amazing. In fact, I love the sound of a circuit running out of juice (and even dying), and I keep a bunch of almost-dead batteries in the control room just for use in various pedals to get that sound. Not sweating the clock while you eek out the last few virtual volts from CrushStation is a welcome relief. The ability to then save and recall that setting is priceless. CrushStation also sports the ability to dial in compression amounts, before and after the gain stage on the pedal — super useful. Add to that the crazy, solid, laser-fast tracking of the Octaves feature, and you can really get to some territory that feels pretty unexplored. I quickly started using an expression pedal connected to the H9 to adjust these parameters during tracking — like cranking Sag on the decay of notes. Quite simply, it just doesn't sound like anything else.
Of course, the next thing I did was try CrushStation on vocals and drums. The flexibility of this pedal made it a superb choice for drum dirt and vocal treatments. Being Detroit-based, I get a lot of requests to "run it through the Fender Twin" on vocals and drums, and sometimes the whole mix. I've gotten great results here using CrushStation instead. Its three-band EQ helped tame cymbals and some sibilant vocals when needed, and its Grit control, which adds preamp-style distortion with hefty lows, helped bring out the kick on some room mics. A couple of times, while doing FOH for Blonde Redhead, I used CrushStation on Kazu Makino's vocal to add a lower octave, and it sounded better than the standard PitchFactor preset I had been using previously. Of course, I had to dial the H9's level down, but the algorithm itself added a nice subtle distortion along with the lower octave, making the overall effect blend better and sound less obvious. I've also used the H9 running CrushStation as a front end for synths, to add a little warmth and saturation when needed.
The short story is, the Eventide people have exceeded expectations and made an algorithm that can be as subtle or as downright nasty as you want. I really like products that let you dig in and get your hands dirty, but reward you greatly when you do. The fact that I just said that about something I control with an iPad Mini feels a little strange. But really, that's no surprise, because Eventide gear has been pushing engineers and musicians alike out of their comfort zones for the better part of the last 45 years. Case in point — I just reviewed an algorithm. Anyway, just buy this thing. It's worth the $20 — and way more. Purchase one less movie on iTunes this month, and get down to the business of getting dirty! If you have an H9 Max, CrushStation is a free download.