Opening up the Eventide H3000 Factory plug-in for the first time will no doubt be daunting to many people, even those familiar with the studio staple H3000 Ultra-Harmonizer rackmount boxes, which were first introduced around 25 years ago. Fact is — there's a lot of stuff going on. The top third of the GUI looks a lot like the face of the hardware unit, complete with meters, four "Soft Keys," the famous Big Knob, and a number pad (which actually doesn't do anything in the native version but is there for aesthetic continuity). Below that is a set of global parameters — levels, mix amount, and tempo controls. The section on the bottom is where it gets complex. There are three pages to choose from, which deal with many of the same parameters in different ways. The default is the Program page, which has a virtual patch panel (think Reaktor or Max/MSP) for connecting different processing "blocks" in various routing configurations. Each of those blocks, when clicked upon, has a set of parameters that opens up in the right half of the pane, ranging from a beat grid for delay times, to a frequency plot for filters, to modulation sources and ranges. The second page is the Expert page, which seems a bit of a misnomer, since the "non-Expert" pages are just as intense. This is where you can view or alter most of the parameters for each of the blocks in one place, but don't have access to routing or modulation choices. The final page, Function, is for all things modulation-related — here you can determine your source and range of modulation for any parameter that's, um, modulatable.
The basic modulation sources are the Function Generator, an LFO with 19 different waveforms to choose from; the Soft Keys and Big Knob; and any one of ten MIDI sources. I found the MIDI control to function extremely well, allowing me to use any of the wheels or knobs on my Oxygen 8 controller to physically ride (and automate) whatever parameter I desired (filter frequency, delay time, feedback amount, etc.). Because you can fine-tune the ranges of your controls, you can easily find settings with virtually no glitchiness or stepping, which is unbelievably great for hands-on tweaking. (For the control surface users out there, I found the MIDI method much more effective than trying to control H3000 Factory with my Artist Control [Tape Op #76] or iPad running V-Control Pro.) A single source can feed multiple destinations, so when you turn a knob, any number of chosen parameters will follow suit. You can also set an "internal" modulation source, which can be one of two other LFOs (each of which has 13 wave shapes, and is even able to be modulated itself); the envelope of the incoming signal; an external sidechain input sourced from another track in your DAW (AAX and AU versions only); a white noise generator; or the output of any of the blocks themselves. Lots of complexity, but all for the sake of creating super-unique sounds!
For those of you wondering why the hell anybody would make a plug-in so complicated, keep in mind that this piece of software was designed to replicate a few of the algorithms from an incredibly complex piece of digital hardware. (Eventide refrains from stating exactly which algorithms are modeled, but it ain't that hard to figure out if you care.) For me, there are always two questions when checking out an emulation of a piece of hardware: does it sound like the original, and does that even matter? To help me answer the first question, I enlisted the help of producer/engineer Pat Dillett [Tape Op #79], who has been using H3000s since they first appeared in the '80s. He was already well-acquainted with the version included in the Anthology Bundle [#89], and he reported that, to his ears, this native version has been improved in a few ways that make it much more similar-sounding to the H3000 hardware. His main beef was functional, not sonic; he suggested that the Expert page be the default, since it gives the best portal into the tweaking of a preset (as opposed to building a patch from scratch). His hardware, which he was kind enough to lend me for a few weeks, will still get plenty of use, but for having multiple instantiations or for automating parameter changes, the software version will be super-handy.
As for me, I've used H3000s in a number of studios over the years, but doing the research for this review prompted me to finally go online and get one for myself. (I bought a black and yellow "B" model and upgraded the EPROMs to the full 3500 B-DFX algorithm set, but that's a story for another article.) Comparing software to hardware, I heard many similarities — but also a few differences — on any given preset. I often felt that the hardware had a certain "richness" that the software didn't; wider stereo imaging and more extended frequency response were the two elements I found myself unscientifically sensing from the rackmount box. However, that doesn't mean I always preferred the sound of the hardware. For many applications, I felt like the native version fit into the mix better, or just had a character that I liked. Also, the ability to easily sync echo repeats and modulation waveforms to the session tempo made the plug-in functionally ultra-efficient. Not to mention the fact that Pro Tools 10 on my 2011 Intel Core i7 iMac could run over 25 instances of H3000 Factory without a hiccup. So to answer the second question above, I don't feel like it really does matter if this software emulation sounds exactly like the hardware, as long as it does its own roughly-similar thing extremely well, which H3000 Factory does.
In short, this plug-in is so valuable because it is so good at so many things. It's a fantastic delay, since you can fine-tune the character and action of the repeats to such a large extent. Chorus, flanging, phasing — it's all in there. The pitch-shifting is top-notch, which is no surprise coming from the company that brought the entire concept of digitally-altering pitch to the masses. The routing, filtering, distortion, and modulation capabilities are nothing short of what you'd have access to with a robust modular synthesizer setup. Yes, the GUI is a bit complex, but time invested in mastering it will definitely pay off once you dive into the depths of this very powerful processing tool. Hell, it's even a great tutorial for learning how to get the most out of your H3000 hardware! Even if you don't want to spend the time to move beyond the presets, you'll have oodles of amazing-sounding effects a couple of clicks away, since there are a whopping 450+ presets available in this version, from people associated with NIN, Björk, Wire, and Throbbing Gristle! (The pedigree of that list hints at the sonic envelope-pushing H3000 Factory is capable of.) One word of caution when flipping through the presets, though — some of them are LOUD!
Drawbacks are few — the main one being for anybody running Pro Tools 9 or earlier; there is no RTAS version of H3000 Factory — only AAX, AU and VST. Also, you need a second-generation iLok, but Eventide offers the dongle at a great discount for software purchasers on its website to defray that cost. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that people looking for Reverse Shift (the algorithm behind the famous Crystal Echoes patch), String Modeler, Reverb, and Vocoder effects from the H3000/3500 will have to wait or look elsewhere. But all in all, I find H3000 Factory to be an unbelievably cool tool at a rock-bottom price. If you have any interest at all in the extensive manipulation of audio for music or sound design, download a demo as soon as you can. But be warned — if you are like me, it will only whet your desire to buy a used H3000 box, so you can get the best of what both software and hardware have to offer.