David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
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location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: Electro-Harmonix, Eventide, comparison, echo, effects, @musings info

Electro-Harmonix SMMH vs. Eventide TimeFactor

I'm in the midst of purging my underutilized gear. Because I have a weakness for echo effects, I've given careful consideration to which ones to keep and which ones to sell. One of the more interesting comparisons is between the $400 Eventide TimeFactor and the $215 Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai. I'll spare you the suspense: I'm selling the Eventide.

The two units couldn't be more different, right from the time you open their respective boxes. The TimeFactor comes packaged in a large glossy cardboard box with a glossy multicolor decorative sleeve. Inside the box the TimeFactor and custom power supply nestle in tightly-fitted foam insert along with a glossy offset-print manual.

The SMMH is packaged in a plain corrugated cardboard box with two-color printing. Inside the box the pedal and a Boss-compatible AC adapter nestle in bubble wrap with a thin manual that's just one step above having been photocopied and stapled.

Where the TimeFactor's cabinet is an attractively-sculpted and finished casting with an anodized faceplate, the SMMH is in an ordinary rectangular cast aluminum box with unfinished back and sides and a not-particularly-durable silkscreened panel. The TimeFactor has a large "billboard-style" display that continuously advises its user about operational status. When you turn a knob the billboard changes to show the parameter value. The SMMH has LEDs to indicate mode and tempo.

In a fashion contest the Eventide would win hands-down. But what about functionality?

These are both digital units with what seem to be decent A/D/A converters. The noise floor on both is undetectable in my use with the units in front of a low-gain amp. Both units have stereo I/Os that fall back to mono depending upon how you connect them.

The TimeFactor has a multi-mode bypass system. You can program it to use true bypass (in which the inputs are connected directly to the outputs via a relay) or to always pass the signal through the unit, with or without preservation of echo tails when the unit is switched to bypass. The SMMH has an old-school "hard" bypass: the inputs are connected to the outputs via a switch, but the inputs remain connected to the input circuitry of the unit.

The SMMH expects guitar-level inputs. The TimeFactor's inputs and outputs are independently switchable for guitar- or line-level signals.

Both units feature multiple programs. The TimeFactor has nine stereo delay effects and a mono 12-second looper. Two of the TimeFactor's delays include modulated filters and one is a ducking delay. The SMMH has seven stereo delay effects and a stereo 30-second looper. Where the TimeFactor has a ping-pong delay program, the SMMH will ping-pong all of its delay programs if you use a mono input and stereo outputs.

One thing that's especially interesting about the TimeFactor is that it is actually two parallel delay units. Each must run the same program, but you can change all other parameters independently. There are only two routing options for the pair of delays: they're mixed in parallel with mono I/O connection or assigned to individual outputs with a stereo output connection. You can't cross-connect feedback paths from one delay to the other. Neither can you chain the two delays in series.

The TimeFactor has (in its version 2.0 firmware) twenty banks of two presets. Bank selection is cumbersome: you can only scroll through the banks in one direction. You can, however, limit the number of accessible banks. The SMMH has just one preset for each of its programs.

The TimeFactor's firmware can be upgraded over a USB connection to your computer. The process is perhaps more complicated than strictly necessary: you must register your unit's serial number on the Eventide website and use a special program (available for Macintosh and Windows) to perform the upgrade. On the other hand Eventide seems to have anticipated most things that can go wrong during a firmware upgrade. There's always a way to get your unit working without sending the unit to Eventide. (Boss should take a lesson from these guys.)

On the SMMH you can set tempos using either the tap-tempo footswitch or the delay time knob. Whichever one you've used most recently prevails. The TimeFactor requires a mode change to select either tap tempo or a dialed-in time. On the other hand, the TimeFactor has a broad selection of beat subdivisions available in its tap-tempo mode; combinations of these can produce some interesting effects when using both delays.

The TimeFactor has MIDI connections on the side of the unit and many options for parameter assignment and program control. If you don't want to deal with MIDI there are rear-panel jacks for an expression pedal and footswitches; these are also assignable. In fact, the expression pedal can be assigned to control any or all of the parameters simultaneously. The SMMH has no programmability beyond its single preset per program.

At this point you may be thinking that the TimeFactor has looks and brains; why not keep it and ditch the SMMH? The answer is quite simple, actually. The SMMH is more like a toy. Not in a pejorative sense, but rather in the sense that it's fun to use. The SMMH manual is chock full of useful suggestions and a detailed explanation of how the unit functions.

The TimeFactor manual reads more like a reference book. The unit is incredibly deep. If it was just a matter of documentation, the TimeFactor's problems would be surmountable through persistence and diligence. But the problems go beyond that. I have spent quite a bit of time with the TimeFactor. There are some great sounds in there. But programming the unit eventually becomes an exercise in frustration. I kept running into limitations: I couldn't program some of the sounds that I wanted. For example, there's no fundamental difference among delay, chorus and flanger effects: they're all implemented using a time delay mixed with the dry signal and perhaps some feedback from the delay's output to input. The only difference is in the length of the delay and the speed and amount of modulation applied to the delay time. Theoretically I should be able to dial in all three effects on the TimeFactor. I'd like to be able to dial in a chorus on one delay and a modulated delay on the other. But I can't get a satisfying chorus out of the TimeFactor. Maybe it's due to a limitation of the control resolution. Maybe it's an intentional limitation to protect sales of the companion ModFactor.

The sheer number of controls and modes on the TimeFactor makes on-the-fly changes difficult. It's almost as if each mode constrains you to a preprogrammed "box" having a certain range of sounds. The programs on the SMMH have fewer constraints, simpler controls and more in common with each other. Even though you don't get paired delays as on the TimeFactor, you do get a continuous range of settings that realize the full potential of the architecture: everything from flange through chorus through long delays. The SMMH looper is also a separate function, not a mode as it is on the TimeFactor. The SMMH's looper follows the delay, so you can loop effected sounds.

I find all of the SMMH programs appealing, whereas many of the TimeFactor sounds seem a bit gimmicky. Combine that with the SMMH's ease of on-the-fly tweaking, and there's no contest: the SMMH stays; the TimeFactor goes. Eventide has some good features in their product, but Electro-Harmonix seems to understand guitarists better.

June 23 2008 05:16:14 GMT