Hands-On Review:Electro-Harmonix 2880 Super Multitrack Looper, Bi-Filter, & NY-2A Tube Optical Compressor
EHX sonic sculptors for the studio
By Ara Ajizian & Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writers
The latest batch of product samples for review from Electro-Harmonix posed a bit of a problem for me. The 2880 Super Multitrack Looper I could wrap my head around, but the Bi-Filter, a rackmountable analog filter processor, and the NY-2A, a vacuum tube optical compressor, are both high-end studio tools that I wasn't sure I'd be able to do justice to. Thankfully, I'm not the only writer on staff, so I recruited our resident recording expert Darius Van Rhuehl to help out. Darius evaluated the Bi-Filter and NY-2A in his studio while I spent quality time with the 2880.
2880 Super Multitrack Looper
Incredibly powerful as both a performance and recording tool, the 2880 Super Multitrack Looper is reminiscent of the multitrack tape recorders that once dominated home recording, but with the power of an all-digital unit.
Thanks to its smart, minimalist interface, it wasn't out of the box for long before my creativity was at a fever pitch. Anyone who's used one of the aforementioned tape multitrack units will get right to work, but even if you haven't, spend a little time with the manual and you'll be up and running in minutes. All the controls and sliders are laid out logically, making it exceptionally easy to start creating.
The 2880 has four mono tracks that can also be used as two stereo tracks. It records at CD-quality (16/44.1) onto Flash media up to 2GB in size. A 1GB card is included, giving you up to 31 minutes of recording time per track. When you've recorded to all four tracks, the Mixdown function bounces them to a stereo master. The faders and pan knobs can be used in realtime during mixdown, allowing you to perfect your mix on the fly. Once mixed, you've got four fresh tracks to continue working with!
Killer extras include reverse looping, an octave feature, tempo control for creating cool pitch-bending effects, click track, simple punch-ins, loop quantizing, on-the-fly level/panning during mixdown, and full MIDI control over each parameter . . . the list goes on and on. What you get with the 2880 is a creative powerhouse, whether it's at a late-night writing session or performing in front of a crowd. Add the optional 2880 footswitch and you've got a mini-studio with complete, expressive control right at your feet!
Bi-Filter Rackmount Dual Analog Filter Processor
The Bi-Filter is a pure analog modulation instrument boasting exquisite tone and hands-on control. It combines two versatile "all analog" envelope and LFO controlled filters in a configuration that enables complex and interesting filter sounds. Bi-Filter is organized into three main sections: The first is the Drivers section, which provides the control signal sources to sweep the filters. The next section comprises two identical state-variable, voltage-controlled filters. The filter sections can be used in serial or parallel with different tonal sweeps that react individually or interactively. And finally, the Output Mixer section allows mixing of both filter outputs with the input signal, as well as switchable options, including phase invert for further tonal contouring, and bypass for filters and external effects loop.
The back panel has individual outputs for each filter, mixed output, instrument input, and effects send and return. In addition, there’s an external CV (Control Voltage) in or Expression Pedal in, for controlling the filters with external devices; footswitch pedal input; and two CV outputs that enable audio triggering from each filter.
While it's not an instant-gratification box in terms of being able to scroll though presets, if you follow the examples in the manual and read about each section’s control functions, you can get a feel for what it does rather quickly. As I got the hang of it, coming up with new sounds and variations was fun and engaging. And variation came from so many sources including changing my guitar’s input level. Plugging in a synth yielded even more interesting results, especially when changing the Bi-Filter’s sliders in real time. This makes it a great addition to a DJ rig, as well as in the racks of sound designers and musicians looking for something unique. If you like the feel of sliders, pure analog tone, happy accidents, and the ability to make global, realtime changes in the heat of inspiration, the Bi-Filter is for you.
NY-2A Stereo Vacuum Tube Optical Compressor
While the NY-2A is a modern answer to vintage tube levelers such as the LA-2A, there’s nothing else quite like it. Built to the highest standards, you’ll find Lundahl transformers; 8 super-linear, low-noise gold-pin vacuum tubes; and military-grade components under the hood.
The NY-2A lets you select from three different opto-couplers; electroluminescent (EL), LED, and incandescent lamp, each offering distinct attack, release, and compression characteristics for each channel. Linkable stereo operation, true mechanical relay bypass, a 600-ohm termination switch that allows it to be used in a home studio with consumer-level equipment, and standard VU and rapid ballistics magic eye metering extend its professional feature set.
The controls are straightforward: input and output gain, which feature high-quality detented potentiometers for repeatability; compression amount; and toggle switches for bypass, stereo link, and metering mode. There are also toggle switches; Squash for EL mode, which clamps down on high frequencies; and Attack, which provides a slower attack in incandescent mode. To accommodate mastering needs, there are also fine adjustments for both gain controls.
In use, I found that its output was incredibly precise across both channels—great for mastering. EL mode has the fastest attack, the most consistent behavior, and has a de-essing effect with the Squash control engaged that benefits vocals immensely. It’s also great for taking the harshness out of cymbals while preserving the sizzle. The LED mode is the most transparent and flat in its response. I preferred it for parallel drum compression, while its peak-limiting response was best for overall mix compression on aggressive rock. If you want a solid, in-your-face kick drum or snare, incandescent mode rules, plus, it brought out the natural room ambience. A nice bonus is the added euphonics from the tubes that you get just by running signal through the unit. If you’re looking for something unique, with depth and spatiality for your mix, you’re going to want an NY-2A.
What's your sonic strategy?
Now more than ever, musicians can have the same level of powerful tools at their disposal as world-class studios. And not just processing units like the NY-2A compressor, but instruments to enhance the creative passions of both musicians and producers like the 2880 Super Multitrack Looper and Bi-Filter. Discover why pros of every stripe proudly use EHX gear in their rigs and unlock your own passion for making music.