Eventide H8000fw opinions?

James R. Coplin james at ticalun.net
Tue Sep 20 17:25:47 CEST 2022

Thanks to Joost for pointing out this hadn't gone to the list. Which I'm 
glad about because it was full of early morning typos made worse by the 
fact that the keyboard on my laptop seems to be failing. In any event, 
my long winded thoughts on the Axe-FX and other Fractal Audio products 

The Axe-FX is brilliant at what it does, but what it does is aimed 
squarely at performing guitarists and not studio work. So, keep this in 
mind with my criticisms. Fractal Audio has decided and positioned its 
products for performing guitarists so my complaints/critique are from a 
perspective of using a piece of gear in a way that Fractal does not 
really say it is suited for. The Axe-FX is not advertised or marketed as 
a studio multiFX - and I think the distinction is important as you can't 
really fail at something you don't claim to do in the first place. 
Bottom line, the unit is amazing at what it does, but if you want to use 
it as a more general purpose studio fx, there are fairly significant 
limitations and problems. Also, we are well into the realm of subjective 
opinion when it comes to algorithm quality so this is entirely my 
subjective opinion and may very well not be your experience or opinion 
which is cool. So here is my long winded take down on the Axe-FX, a unit 
I love and also want to punch in the face sometimes.

The first immediate problem is IO or lack thereof. The Axe-FX has *8* 
analog ins and out.  4 stereo sets, each available individually in the 
signal chain, and you can loop in and out of the unit to your hearts 
content to incorporate any external pedals etc you have around. That's 
all well and good on stage with a bunch of pedals, amps, etc. In the 
studio though, its all about digital IO and this is where the Axe-FX 
fails pretty miserably. 1 AES or SPDIF in. 1. It is also maxed at 48k 
sample rates. By comparison, the H8000fw came out in 2005 and had 8 
digital ins and outs in AES (both DB25 and XLR connectors), ADAT, 
S/PDIF, and even Firewire. All except the S/PDIF were up to 96k. The 
Orville which predates the H8000 by several years at least had 2 AES. 
The Kurzweil KSP8 of the same era also has 8 digital ins and outs in all 
flavors. So, not to put to fine a point on it, the Axe-FX digital IO was 
behind the times 17 years ago and is massively inadequate now. This is 
especially true given the sheer DSP power of the unit, it leads to real 
lopsided capability versus accessibility unless you stay in the analog 
realm. It would be very hard to impossible to utilize all the DSP of it 
on a single set of digital ins. The short outcome of this is that if you 
want to keep all your sends digital in the studio, you are going have to 
use the Axe-FX as a single processor which already severely limits it. 
Secondly, you are going to have you project at 48k or you are going to 
need some sort of a converter. The Axe-FX does have a USB interface but 
I found it insufficient as well. First off, I already have my main 
interfaces and I don't want to have to run aggregate or ASIO/4All 
drivers to mix and match. I also found the performance of the USB to be 
inconsistent and fiddly to work with. All of this is really a shame 
because a more robust set of digital IO would push this device into more 
studios. But, to be fair, Fractal has not positioned the Axe-FX as a 
studio piece so I get it why digital IO isn't a priority. It irritates 
and saddens me but I get it. This also makes it extremely expensive. It 
would be cheaper, and more capable, to purchase 2 of Fractal's cheaper 
FM-3 units so you could at least run 2 stereo chains digitally. You 
would lose some algorithms, and a good bit of power but would actually 
be able to utilize more DSP overall than a single digital chain in the 
Axe-FX 3.

If we look at the quality of the algorithms, its also a bit of a mixed 
bag. For anything "guitary" - amps, cabs, pedal emulations, etc. it is 
absolutely, hands down, stunning. Period. I've had the crankiest, purist 
guitar guys in the studio use it and come away with a changed attitude 
about digital emulations. I can't praise it enough in this area. Even 
using the "clean" amps and cabs, a boring synth or wheezy part can sound 
amazing and alive. I never really understood the big deal about amps and 
cabs until I had the Axe-FX. I had always used distortion pedals and 
things for that and so I though distortion was a fairly static effect. 
It wasn't until the Axe-FX I got to experience the breathing and 
interaction between volume and frequency and how distortions can move 
around and live in the signal. It was eye opening. If you want this, and 
you should, the Fractal products are amazing. If the Axe-FX is out of 
your budget, the FM-3 is killer and for a synth person should be a must 
buy. I have an FM-3 on my Rhodes and it is on my playing out rig. The 
Axe-FX stays in the studio. Seriously though, go get a FM-3. It's the 
cost of 2 nice pedals and offers way more capability in that price point 
than anything I can think of. Fractal should make either a single space 
rack or a smaller format desktop unit of the FM-3 aimed at synth and 
home studio people. Give it two stereo analog inputs and it would be 
gold. It has a mono in and a stereo in which is a bit annoying. Should 
have been 2 stereo but I digress.

Once we leave the guitar realm though, things are decidedly less great. 
The quality of the algorithms vary, I'd say its on par with my KSP8 but 
I don't think it's as good as the Eventide or my older Lexicon when it 
comes to pitch shifting, reverbs, and chorus. And while it emulates lots 
of classic effects, the emulation of studio versions of those effects 
are kind of OK at best. The emulations of guitar type verbs especially 
spring and plates are quite good on the Axe-FX. No real complaints 
there. The rooms are good to better but not amazing. Once we get to 
larger verbs, I find they just do not sound particularly good. They are 
fine, but nothing someone is going to hear and go "wow." There is magic 
voodoo sauce in the Lexicon and Eventide large verbs. The Lexicon verbs 
have this amazing "chorus"y undulation and movement that make them magic 
and Eventide verbs with their superiority in pitch shifting are all 
about sprinkles, sparkles, and infinite tones. The Axe-FX just isn't 
there yet and the big space type verbs on it have enough parameters that 
you think you should be able to get it dialed in but never seem to quite 
get there. Eventide just dominates pitch shifting so it's really not a 
knock on the Axe-FX, it is what Eventide does best. Their amps and 
distortions are largely garbage so there. Chorus is an interesting one. 
The Axe-FX emulates lots of vintage chorus pedals very well but not 
studio ones so much. I have or have had lots of studio chorus rack units 
through the studio and the Axe-FX just doesn't do them very well. It's a 
fine guitar chorus for that particular famous guitarist you are trying 
to emulate but not for that studio rack you are going after. Same holds 
for the delays. You want an emulation of an analog delay pedal? Axe-FX 
is great. Want to mimic a 2290, SRE-555, AMS Delay, etc? Nope. The tape 
delays in particular I've been disappointed in from both a sound and 
parameter quality. I've heard better emulations in the Strymon and Boss 
pedals than in the Axe-FX. The other area that I would like to have more 
of is in terms of modulation. The Axe-FX has a decent number of 
modulators, but they are more designed with a "what knob do I want to 
turn" perspective than what parameter do I want to modulate perspective. 
I am often frustrated to find that some parameter isn't available, or 
that things don't modulate the way you expect. The way random is 
implemented also is odd which can make it frustrating to add "wiggle" or 
drift to parameters. Further, the LFO are implemented strangely for time 
parameters in particular. Time is modulated by the slope of the curve, 
not the value of the curve. Therefore, you can't use a S&H type LFO to 
modulate time since the slope of all samples is 0. That's just plain 
weird. It's things like this throughout the unit that are frustrating. 
They seem like edge cases but I seem to bump into things like this all 
the time while programming.

Then we come to my last complaint. Guitar gear knowledge. Because of 
copyright and trademark, all the emulations in the Axe-FX are code names 
for the actual pieces. This is fine if you are a guitar wonk and know 
every pedal and cabinet ever made, but if you aren't, you are going to 
be frustrated. There is so much in the Axe-FX that just trying to find a 
basic or general FX you are looking for can be daunting. This is part 
because of this code naming but also because of the modeling. Say you 
want a flanger effect, you click on the spot in the chain where you want 
it and pick flanger. Now you are presented with a list of flangers. You 
want a Cuda, Scion, Pop, Spirit, Starship, or one of the other 31 or so 
models? Don't know the implications of those choices? Ok, just pick one 
and tweak away. Fiddle around with the model and you will soon realize 
that because it is a model of an actual thing, you get all the 
capabilities of  the model (at least ideally) but you also get the 
idiosyncrasies and quirks.  You've been fiddling around for a bunch of 
minutes on this flanger and now realize this is not what you are going 
for, and the model won't get you where you are trying to go. Pick 
another flanger model. Repeat. A day goes by. The depth and accuracy of 
the Axe-FX models are a double edged sword. If you know you really want 
that Electro Harmoix Electric Mistress Flanger and therefore also know 
that it's the Electric Mystery model on the Axe-FX, then all is good. 
Except, when it isn't. That might not be the flanger soundvyou are 
looking for and no amount of tweaking the parameters is going to get you 
where you want to be. Now something like the Eventide etc. has a more 
general flanger algo that will get you into the area or character of the 
flange you have in mind but not give you a good emulation of the actual 
EH Electric Mistress in particular. Sometimes, an emulation isn't what 
you are going for, but a general effect. It a general vs specific 
problem and in the studio, I generally find I want general FX solutions 
(except when I don't ) rather than a particular emulation. This problem 
exists throughout the Axe-FX because of the guitar focus. It isn't a bad 
thing necessarily. If you want those specific emulations you are gold. 
There are times though I just want a phaser, flanger, etc. I don't 
particularly care which pedal or rack specifically. This is just a 
personal workflow thing that clashes with the Axe-FX thinking. I can go 
the KSP8, Fireworx, Lexicon, etc. and get what I'm after pretty easily 
for that but the Axe-FX makes it less straight forward. Horses for 
courses and all...

So, all in all, the Axe-FX is amazing for the very particular things it 
does. Other than a few quibbles about particular models or algos here 
and there, it is a staggeringly powerful unit. The editor app is 
fantastic and you will not run out of capability on the Axe-FX unless 
you are really a super intense FX programmer and need things like VSIG 
and like to roll your own from scratch (although the AXE-FX has some 
primitive blocks that do allow you to do that). However, as a general 
purpose studio FX, it has limitation and problems. Most notably, the 
digital IO seriously hampers it to the point that it is essentially a 
stereo FX unit and the price point makes it a very expensive one indeed. 
If you run your studio sends as analog, this won't be an issue and there 
is more than enough analog IO for that. 8 ins and outs is plenty. The 
general algorithms are good to OK but not great. The amp and pedal 
emulations are great to amazing. It really is an example of a product 
that has been refined and adapted to its primary user base to high 
degree. So, if you are not this prime focus user group, there is going 
to be friction with the unit. Personally, I wish the Axe-FX would get a 
studio makeover because it could be an amazing studio piece but it 
definitely would not be a trivial undertaking. Things like the IO are a 
fairly trivial engineering technical change, but the other issues would 
require Fractal to engage heavily with a different user base and to 
rethink how to bridge performing guitarists and studio users for a 
workflow and user experience perspective through out design and 
implementation. This would be a fairly substantial undertaking. For most 
people, the FM-3 would be a nearly perfect fit but it also has minor IO 
issues. It has a mono and a stereo input. This really should have been 
two stereo input sets and two stereo output sets so it could be run as 2 
stereo chains which would make it an amazing live FX unit. It is a hair 
under powered to run as two independent stereo units, you def will run 
out of DSP but not cripplingly so. I've found for most general purpose 
stuff I've been able to get by on it. I typically have reverb or delay 
pedals available to augment it so it's been workable. The FM-3 should be 
in every synth rig though. I can't think of anything more competent in 
the price range despite my IO and DSP quibbles with it - they are just 
that quibbles. So, I love what the possibility of the Axe-FX represents 
which makes my disappointments without so much more sharp as there is so 
much potential left on the table. It's hard to complain so fiercely 
about something so great. I have enormous respect for Fractal and the 
Axe-FX isn't leaving my rig. My complaints are largely from a very 
particular user and use case which admittedly, Fractal are not trying to 
fill. That's not a failing on their part. It's not what the Axe-F was 
intended for. However, it certainly COULD be with changes and therein 
lies the frustrations and why I'm considering other units to fill in the 
voids and leave the Ae-F as my stereo amp, cabinet, stomp box chain 
thing and not use it as my main general multiFX in the studio.


Joost Schuttelaar wrote on 9/20/2022 3:56 AM:
> On 20 Sep 2022, at 04:35, James Coplin <james at ticalun.net> wrote:
>> As far as the Axe-FX III is concerned, it's brilliant, I have one, 
>> and it's not going anywhere thanks to a really great guy on this list 
>> Everyone should get one and I'm sure Chicago Tony shares this opinion 
>> with me.
> I was under the impression that a modern FX like the Axe-FX III does 
> everything the H8000 can do, and more? Modern beefy chips, et al.
> Or are there still some secret sauce algorithms out there, that are 
> not covered? It can’t be about patents anymore (like the physical 
> modelling, autotune & FM stuff in the past)...

Matt Picone wrote on 9/18/2022 11:02 AM:
> I have a lot of experience with the H8000. I was one of the beta 
> testers during its development. What are you going to do with it?
> /(Shameless plug: have you checked out the Axe-Fx III?)/
> On 9/17/22 6:55 PM, James Coplin wrote:
>> Thinking of selling my Kurzweil KSP8 and replacing it with an 
>> Eventide H8000fw. Anyone have first hand knowledge about the H8000fw? 
>> It's a bit of a budget stretch and I don't want to get it and then 
>> dislike it.
>> James
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