Hands-On Review:DigiTech HM2 HarmonyMan Intelligent Pitch Shifter
The world's first intelligent three-part harmony generator for guitar!
By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
I’m not sure what ethical violations have occurred, but I for one am glad that DigiTech cloned Brian May (of Queen), miniaturized the clones, and put them in an effects pedal so that guitar players everywhere can generate instant, intelligently harmonized guitar solos. Okay, I know the whole Brian May clone thing sounds a bit creepy, but it’s the best analogy I could come up in extolling the capabilities of this amazing pedal. In fact, this is the pedal every potential Brian May has been waiting for.
Welcome to harmony central
The DigiTech HarmonyMan is the world’s first guitar pedal that generates harmonies based on chord progressions in real time. HarmonyMan lets you combine up to two distinct voices in any combination to accompany your solo part. It features four types of pitch shifting: Triad-Centered Shifting, which creates harmonies based on root, 3rd, 5th, and inversions; Scalic Shifting to create harmonies in the current key; Fixed Chromatic Shifting, which applies the same shift to a note regardless of key; and Detune Shifting, which applies a small amount of pitch shifting (up or down) to produce a thicker sound.
HarmonyMan has the solid build-quality of a boutique stompbox. Its rugged and attractive casing finished in metallic maroon protects a brain with a very high IQ—musIQ, that is, the intelligent harmony-generating algorithm that has made DigiTech’s new line of vocal processors some real jaw-droppers. The top of the unit has two pedals, a “Circle of Fifths” key signature display (major and relative minor) with LED indicators, musIQ and preset store switches, plus a rotary mix knob for blending voices. For the temperamental tone snobs among us (you know who you are), the pedal features a true analog bypass, so your signal remains clean and pure as the driven snow, untouched by human hands.
The left pedal is the Harmony on/off switch and holding it down grants access to the onboard tuner. There are two knobs over the left pedal labeled Voice 1 and Voice 2 that let you dial through the pitch-shifting options to create your presets, which you can store in up to four memory locations. The right footswitch steps between presets in its normal operating mode, and lets you set the key signature. Above the right pedal are the musIQ and Store buttons, plus a Mix knob that lets you blend voices. Back-panel I/O is all 1/4" and includes Clean Input, Distortion Send/Return, Sidechain In/Thru, and L/R stereo outputs.
Holding down the right pedal and strumming a chord or progression will set the key signature. Or your rhythm guitarist can connect to the Sidechain input for realtime chord recognition and use the Thru output to send signal back to his amp. The HarmonyMan will read the chord changes and select the appropriate harmonies while you play. This is the best way to go since most chord progressions in rock are really momentary key changes. Also, DigiTech has thoughtfully included a ground-lift switch on the Sidechain section to eliminate possible ground loops.
Here at “Studio Van Rhuehl” we have one Rhule that we live by; never read the manual. Real men don’t read manuals. Manuals are for boy-men. If we real men can’t get a good sound out of a box without reading the manual, it sits on a shelf, never to be heard from again. Needless to say, I’ve yet to read the HarmonyMan manual, but that hasn’t stopped me from having hours of fun with it. My first discovery was the detuned pitch shifting—this was a real find for me. Just prior to testing it, I was at a studio in Nashville where we used a preset from a $12,000 studio effects system to give a clean, arpeggiated guitar track a wider stereo field. I was wondering how I would duplicate that effect without dropping $12K. Enter the HarmonyMan detuned pitch shift. It gave me a beautiful chorus effect that filled the stereo field. All I needed to do to emulate the aforementioned high-end preset entirely was to add an 11ms delay to the left channel (you need a separate delay unit for this). For me, that detuned pitch shift alone was enough to sell me on the unit (particularly since it saves me $11,695). But wait kids, there’s more—much more! It was time to put the musIQ intelligent harmony generator to the test.
If he were to hear the HarmonyMan in action, I think Brian May might be persuaded to abandon his complicated setup of delays that reproduce his three-part studio harmonies live. To emulate the May sound, I used the distortion send and return connected to my DigiTech RP350 set to the “Woman” preset (any smooth distortion sound will do), and voilá, instant Brian May. With the ability to switch between unison and harmonies, another three-part solo I found mind-bogglingly simple to pull off was the one from Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.” Cover stuff aside, I also used the pedal to come up with some muy-cool sounds of my own. For example, an 18-string guitar; a doubled guitar with pseudo Nashville Tuning (set Voice 1 for Detune 1 or 2, and set Voice 2 up an octave); for power chord reinforcement, I set Voice 1 an octave down and Voice 2 up a fourth (or fifth, depending). Of course, that’s just for starters. There are loads of options to explore.
DigiTech strikes a chord
If you’ve always wanted to do cool harmonies on guitar but are the band’s only guitar player or are a little short on music theory, your day has come. With a HarmonyMan, classic rock bands with two guitarists can add songs to their repertoire that they might normally shy away from—and without spending countless hours rehearsing or trying to figure out harmonies. As for me, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of DigiTech, which in and of itself says something, because I am very hard to impress. (It’s a skill we learn at Juilliard.) After playing with the HarmonyMan, I’m thinking that I may as well just set up a DigiTech auto-pay on my bank account and call it a day.
Features & Specs
- Cutting–edge pitch detection engine delivers fast, accurate shifting
- Plug-and-play 3–part guitar harmony, no music theory required
- Intelligent harmony voicing, fixed chromatic voicing, and detune voice settings
- Edit, store, and recall 4 memory presets
- Sidechain connection lets you solo while your rhythm guitarist provides the recognition source
- Built-in guitar tuner
- Pre-harmony Distortion loop