Reverb can be a divisive and personal issue among engineers and musicians. Everyone has a favorite, and people are absurdly particular and become oddly attached to what works for them, myself included. One of the many advantages of coming up at the venerable Ultrasuede Studios was that we had an EMT 140 plate reverb left behind by Reggie Calloway, and an AKG BX20 spring reverb. Little did I know it then, but I was a spoiled young reverb snob. Between Ultrasuede and the studio I now call home, I spent several years touring as a FOH engineer. The hellish reality of ‘90s touring dictated that, with rare exception, a display addled Yamaha SPX990 or a TC Electronic D-TWO (with the scroll knob sheared off) were the best you could hope for. Out of necessity, I learned to make it happen whatever the gear, but after a few years I said, “Fuck this” and started carrying pedals for FOH use, with that practice bleeding over into the control room once High Bias Studios opened in 2003. But ever since, I’ve restlessly searched for an ideal solution, changing from pedal to pedal.
I first became aware of the Blackhole as a preset in Eventide’s Space reverb pedal [Tape Op #87] in mid-2011. It was instantly my new fave, as it enabled me to get that “disappeared into audio” sound that seemed more elusive then. However, this was not the Blackhole’s origin – it first graced the ears of audio engineers who were lucky enough to use the Eventide DSP4000 Ultra-Harmonizer in the mid-’90s. Earlier I said “preset,” but truth be told it’s been an algorithm since birth, and while maintaining that now-classic vacuous sound it has gotten several tweaks along the way. The journey has taken it inside the box as a plug-in, and now back into the physical realm as a standalone pedal. To be clear, I am indeed writing a review of a pedal, that came from a plug-in, that came from an algorithm. Fucking 2021.
The Blackhole gets all the praise for, well, living up to its name. If you’re looking for huge palatial reverb with a metric ton of options and extras via MIDI with expression pedal happiness, stop reading now and go buy this thing. If you’re still reading, here’s a brief overview of what’s under the hood. Six knobs: Mix, Gravity, Feedback, and Size, plus Lo and Hi EQ – five of which offer adjustment of two parameters each, allowing control over the ten original Blackhole knobs. To get to the second layer Delay (up to 2000 ms!), Q, Depth, Rate, and Out Lvl, you simply press the page LED button. All controls are accessible via expression pedal as well. The Active footswitch triggers the pedal and works in momentary or latching mode depending on its dedicated LED switch. The Freeze footswitch toggles between freeze mode and the preset mode. The Freeze here is the best I’ve heard, seeming to grab a lot more tonal information and vibe. If you hold this switch for two seconds, a preset mode is engaged and you can scroll between the five presets stored in the pedal by pressing the switch once. These are indicated by the five preset LEDs. The Blackhole can hold up to 127 presets that are easily tweakable and a snap to organize, thanks to the Eventide Device Manager desktop application. You can save multiple lists of these 127 presets and switch them instantly by connecting to the Device Manager on your computer via USB. Pretty sweet. That metal band you were in pre-pandemic has its first streaming set streaming via Chain Reaction Online, but you have to be back in Costa Mesa to do a 2 a.m. Zoom set of your new Ableton-based ambient project you (and the rest of the world) started during quarantine? Fret not. Eventide has your back. Simply throw a USB cable and laptop (or iOS device) in your 7-string case then switch lists on your way back to the basement! While you’re at it grab a TRS insert cable while remembering to switch the Chain Reaction Online to stereo mode and line level on the pedal’s back panel. Oh, and the USB jack also does USB MIDI, for those of you who get into that.
I’ve been using the Blackhole algorithm for years now in the Space pedal, and as a plug-in instance – the Blackhole pedal is a faithful recreation with the aforementioned tweaks in functionality geared toward performance, and I think it sounds a little better. It has all the same tones and mojo that are inherent in all earlier iterations, but apears to have more headroom, thus making the vast universe it entails a higher resolution. I’m noticing that when I make huge or crazy sounds with the Blackhole pedal, I don’t have to worry as much about gain structure as I used to with the plug-in version. As mentioned above, the Blackhole lives up to its name and then some. If you’re into channeling your inner Nebulae, look no further. From slightly “out there” hall vibes to the cavern of infinite black, it’s all there. But there are other rooms inside to explore too, and the Gravity and Size knobs are the keys that open those doors. It’s hard to mention Gravity without talking about the Blackhole’s Size control. The relationship is symbiotic, but in short: Size controls the length of the decay and Gravity controls the behavior of the decay. Gravity is a bi-polar knob, so traveling clockwise from noon increases positive Gravity and counter-clockwise takes you into negative Gravity. Gravity seems to spread out and smear the verb as it increases from noon. This means lower settings sound brighter, and higher settings less so, making the Hi and Lo EQ knobs eternally useful. Head the other way, and lower settings make a longer inverse reverb – again Size-dependent. As you turn further, the heads and tails of this decay disappear. All manner of reverse ‘verb is on tap here, from Kevin Shields [Tape Op #26] to Carol Anne Freeling “inside the TV” Poltergeist vibes and way beyond. This pedal gets a lot of heat for the caverns it creates. Sure, you can make gorgeous pads using a mono synth with feedback in infinite mode and put the whole fucking band underwater – but it’s really magic at shorter times too. Recently, I used the Blackhole (with a low Gravity setting) as a snare reverb, and got some straight-up Martin Hannett [#103] vibes, making a home-recorded drum track really shine. I used the Blackhole as a short room effect on vocals with low Gravity and Size for the Bars Of Gold’s record Shelters, and at every Bear Vs Shark gig I had the good fortune to mix. During a recent session, I tracked a Nile Rodgers-style, out of phase Fender Stratocaster part that needed a little halo around it. Blackhole was perfect for this, and the short slap added some much-needed rhythmic interplay. Oh, and I should add that the Feedback knob does exactly what it says and further extends the bounds of the decay. When used with the Delay knob, it can add repeats to the madness. Feedback also employs Notched Freeze and Infinite settings – Infinite allows the incoming signal into the buffer while Freeze does not. The Lo EQ is set to 350 Hz and Hi is set to 2 kHz, adjusting from -18 to +9 dB and -18 to +12 dB respectfully. The Filter is post-reverb. The Q knob allows you to make the Filter more resonant. I’ve never used this on the Space pedal version for some reason, but I LOVE it now for added tonal options when placing the reverb in the mix. The Modulation on the Blackhole is another stellar feature that functions as a wide chorus inside the reverb, which it is, as opposed to modulation being either pre or post effect. This may seem insignificant, but it makes a huge difference. I’m a big Cocteau Twins fan, and there are lots of Robin Guthrie [Tape Op #50] zones to explore here. Yes!
No surprises here. Eventide has yet again retooled an instant classic from their lineage and brought it to your pedalboard. Some will say, “If I can already get this in the Space pedal” blah blah blah – it’s half the price and half the size. If you don’t want it don’t buy it. It’s not Eventide’s fault they made an algorithm in 1994 that was so successful it kept showing up for 25 years! I use the Space Pedal for the Blackhole algorithm 80 percent of the time for gigs. I replaced it in my live rig with the Blackhole pedal, and added a tiny expression pedal with the leftover space! It’s a thoughtful physical manifestation of the now-classic algorithm, with performance and, more importantly, players, in mind. This is what it sounds like when you stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back.