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Sitting down to write this review, I feel a little overwhelmed. Honestly, the notion that I can fully quantify and qualify this plug-in bundle in this short amount of space is yay short of giving me an aneurism. However, I will persevere and attempt to give an overview of this vastly deep set of extremely useful and musical tools, while highlighting some of my favorite components. If I miss something - or a thousand things - please pardon me in advance. I'll avoid too much explanation of what the original hardware does/did, since that's what the Google-machine's for. Anthology II comes with 15 TDM plug-ins, which is a fully sane amount. What isn't sane is the amount of programming hours that must have gone into making some of them, most notably the ones based on Eventide's exalted H3000 Ultra- Harmonizer processor, introduced in 1988: H3000 Factory and H3000 Band Delays. Both plug-ins have the familiar faceplate of the H3000 - big knob and all - at the top of a window with oodles of controls underneath. These are truly "under the hood," and they afford you all the control of the original hardware without the menu-scrolling. Dangling patch cords; LFO waveform displays; animated, 3D, 8-band, color- coded filter matrices; number fields that look like panels employed to navigate the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field - these controls are not for the faint of heart (nor for the '80s-phobic). Luckily, there are a gazillion-and- ten presets to choose from, so you can avert your eyes from the lower half of the screen and just preset away until you find something you like. Which you will.
Two more of the Anthology II plug-ins are based on hardware Harmonizers from the '70s: the H910 and H949. When the H910 came out in 1975, Tony Visconti claimed that it "f*cked with the fabric of time". Go Tony. He used it to give a trailing delay on the snare drum, descending in pitch. So I had to as well. These days, the fabric of time gets perturbed in many different ways, but it sure is fun doing so in ways that Visconti, Eno, and Bowie were doing when I was three years old.
I also just had to hear the three Harmonizer plug-ins next to the original hardware units, so I packed up my iLok and fired it up over at Tiny Telephone (Tape Op #10), where an original H3000, two H949s, and an H910 all live. After comparing patches for a few hours, I came to the same conclusion for all of them: the hardware sounds different from the software. This is pretty much the conclusion whenever I am A/B'ing hardware and software - or A/B'ing anything for that matter (and even the two H949 units at Tiny sounded different to my ears). Some of the differences can be qualified; for example, the feedback of the delay on the hardware H910 was choppier, with more discretely audible reiterations, whereas the software H910 had more of a smear on its feedback tail. But most of the differences were vague, like "this one sounds dreamier and that one sounds like an underwater helicopter." The fact of the matter is that all of these Harmonizers sounded killer, hardware or software - from subtle, tuck-it-in-the-mix drum effects, to someone-shot-the-singer-with-the-shrink-ray stuff. I did find the plug-in versions slightly more adept at true pitch-shifting, like for dropping a keyboard part an octave down, or for getting the resonance of a floor tom more in tune with a bass guitar.
Instant Phaser and Instant Flanger are two more plug-ins based on '70s Eventide boxes, and I found them simple to use and highly effective at giving static tracks some motion. I already have a fair amount of phaser and flanger plug-ins, but I imagine I'll be reaching for these first for a while,based on the smooth, analog vibe they bring to the source. My only problem with them is that they turn any mono track de facto into stereo; I often like the stereo spread they impart on a mono source, but I would like a fully mono option as well.
Eventide Reverb is an extremely versatile reverb plug-in, based on various hardware Eventide reverbs. In addition to very smooth-sounding plate, hall, and room algorithms, Eventide Reverb has built-in pre/post-reverb EQ, bit reduction (for that "vintage digital" sound), stereo delay, and pre/post-reverb compression. Lots of tweakability, but also some very usable presets for those put off by too many controls.
The Anthology II plug-in that I was most caught off-guard by is Omnipressor, also based on an Eventide hardware box from the early '70s. I just didn't think I needed any more dynamics plug-ins, and yet I find myself reaching for Omnipressor so often that I had to go bid on a hardware one! (Good luck, they don't come up very often!) It has a really unique interface, which might be off-putting to some at first, but once you get a bead on the controls, you realize you can get sounds out of this guy that normal gates and compressors just can't touch. A single knob determines the amount of expansion or compression you are applying, and past infinity on the compression side, it goes into negative compression ratios. (I think we're f*cking with more fabric here.) This range theoretically reverses your dynamics, so where the attack of a drum should happen, you get this sucking sound of the compressor kicking on (tunable with the attack control), and somewhere during the decay of the transient (depending on how the release control is set), the auto-gain kicks in and brings up the quieter parts of the envelope. The only other dynamics processor that I own that does a similar thing is the SPL Transient Designer (Tape Op #21), which is much more of a one- trick pony than Omnipressor. Be warned, the make-up gain component to the circuit is a little unwieldy sometimes, and that's partly what I love - it gets strange in a hurry. (Not that you can't get subtle dynamics processing out of it as well, like really natural-sounding drum gating.)
Rounding out the collection are a couple of utility plug- ins for precisely aligning the sub-sample phase of two or more adjacent signals (Precision Time Align and Precision Time Delay), two vocally-oriented multi-voice harmonizers (Quadravox and Octavox), two channels strips (E-Channel and Ultra-Channel), and two EQs based on classic Universal Audio boxes (EQ45 and EQ65). I did run some comparison tests on the EQ65, since I own two hardware Universal 565s, and again, I found some discrepancies from the hardware in the filter curves, but nonetheless, these are all highly useful and good-sounding plug-ins. Ultra-Channel is true one-stop shopping. Not only does it have the normal channel-strip gating/compression/five-band EQ, but it adds an Omnipressor, Harmonizer, and stereo delay as well - all in one compact and elegant GUI.
For those of you not working on TDM systems (the majority of readers, I'm sure), the only plug-in of this bundle currently available in native formats is Omnipressor, but my hope is that each of the Anthology II plug-ins will eventually make their way to the native world. These are plug-ins so good that I want access to them at home as well as at the office. ($995 street; www.eventide.com)
-Eli Crews, www.elicrews.com