Mar 7

INTRODUCING THE TC HELICON VOICELIVE 2 VOCAL HARMONY BOARD

 

You can’t get away from the fact that Vocals are one of the most important aspects of music. There is nothing to compare with the Human Voice and we all wish we could sing and sound like our favourite artist whose recent recording has made them sound unbelievable but at the same time believable. These include artists like the lovely Imogen Heap who are continually pushing and shaping the vocal sound to new limits creatively using every form of effect processor out there, including many that were not designed for the voice and they demand new technologies to find their next new sound.

Fortunately, there are a few manufacturers who are aware of this demand and continue to tempt us with some great hardware and software algorithms to make us sound super-human or like a massive multi-voice group. One such company is TC Helicon who of late have given us a variety of small vocal products, some of which cover just one particular job. I want to look at one of their larger vocal marvels – The VoiceLive 2 floor-based vocal processor. It has been with us a couple of years now but still comes highly recommended. It replaces the original VoiceLive and carries over many of its features but also incorporates many new features found in the VoiceTone pedal series. It has been completely redesigned to be much easier to use.

THE VOICELIVE 2 OUT OF THE BOX

The VoiceLive2 is nicely packaged and a good size unit – 13.8 inches wide by 8.5 inches deep and 3 inches high and it weighs 5lb. As you take it out of the box and feel its extruded aluminium and steel chassis, you know it is built extremely well to take the hardship of ‘live’ work on the floor. It is nicely curved to take your footwork and the noiseless footswitches are well spaced and suitably sensitive enough for you to make problem-free changes with your feet. Overall I would say it has a very professional look and instantly gives you a feeling of user-friendliness. It comes complete with User Manual, Mains Power and USB cables. Like their other Voice products, there is a CD to download TC-Helicon software to provide updates to your Voicelive 2.

CONNECTING UP THE VOICELIVE 2

 

There are many connections on the back of the Voicelive 2 divided under four main sections – Inputs, Outputs, Digital In and Out and MIDI. The Input section has five inputs which contain an XLR Mic and a quarter-inch Line Input. (The Manual informs you that you need to hold the Reverb switch down to adjust the gain and also that you should only have one input connected at a time). For the Guitarist you then have quarter-inch Guitar ‘In’ and ‘Thru’ Inputs. The Guitar ‘In’ allows you to guide harmony and mix the Guitar signal into the main output whilst the ‘Thru’ allows you connect to you Guitar Amp and remove the Guitar from the main mix output. The fifth input is a stereo 3.5 min-jack connection where you can also mix the signal into the main output or use to control harmony.

The Output section has five output connections starting with a stereo 3.5 min-jack connection for headphones, two XLR outputs, and two quarter-inch outputs one is L(Mono) and the other is R(Dry). If you want you can connect both of these as they provide you with the same balanced output.

The Digital Section provides S/PDIF ‘In and Out’ and the S/PDIF Out is always ‘Active’. Between the Digital Section and the MIDI section is a footswitch input to allow for a standard expression pedal to be connected and control the level of the Harmony and Doubling voices.
The MIDI section has THRU, OUT and IN (in that order) and finally a USB I/O to connect to your PC or Mac (for updates, backups etc.), a power connector and Power Switch.

THE FRONT PANEL – JUST A FOOTSWICH AWAY

 

Well this is where it all happens so let’s start with the 10 footswitches. The first two are straightforward enough – Preset Up and Down switches. Here you can navigate forward and backward through the 205 Presets. To accelerate through this large selection just hold down either switch – easy.

The next switch is called ‘Shortcut’ which is not such an obvious title. This footswitch extends the capabilities of the current preset. It could allow you to engage Harmony Hold, set the tempo for the Delay or turn on the Choir effect. What I found is that some shortcuts require you to hold down the switch like ‘Harmony Hold’ and some of them you can just tap it e.g. ‘Delay tempo’. I must say my first little niggle is that I would like to have seen a constant tempo displayed and a means to adjust it with ease. I don’t want to think about menus, editing or whether or tempo is appropriate to the patch or not. If I am working in 125 bpm then I want to set this unit to 125 bpm.

Under the ‘Shortcut’ switch is the ‘Step’ switch which is very useful as you can really sort out a whole performance here because you can create effect changes associated with a preset and then step-forward through these changes. For example you may want increase the delay or reverb in your song and then bring it back down again and then change to another preset’s effects. You can also step-backward through the changes with the use of Preset down arrow switch. Some of the factory presets are already configured with Steps and I had a bit of fun trying these out. I would recommend that you try these to get a good idea of the potential here. Steps are really quick and fast to set up. Just press the Step switch and then select the effects that you want and then press the Step switch again and that will save it as Step 1. Carry on the process for as many Steps that you want (up to 50 can be used) – easy.

The next six switches are basically On/Off type switches taking the effect off and on. There is the micro-modulation switch – ‘µMod’ to give you those classic thick detune, chorus, flange, tube resonance and psychedelic sounds. Under this is ‘Harmony’ switch where you can add or mute the Harmony voices created by your voice and VoiceLive 2. Then we have ‘Delay’, ‘Double’, ‘Reverb’ (with some great new reverb algorithms) and finally FX (where you can have things like Pitch Correction, Hard Tune, Distortion and Megaphone effects etc).

The panel above the 10 switches you will find 10 buttons, 4 mixer knobs and the LCD and a large data wheel. The top three global buttons Tone, Pitch and Guitar FX are very useful and you may find that you have some or all of these on most of the time. This is because the Tone button gives you such a great sound (see paragraph on automatic features below). The Pitch button gives you instant subtle Pitch-Correction. The Home, Setup, Wizard, Store, Edit and two navigate buttons are all relatively self – explanatory but obviously the Edit button will take you into the depths of how much can be fine-tuned here.

The LCD is a 192 x 64 Blue STN LCD with a White Back light. This is not a bad size and works well on stage for the changes that you need to see. When deep editing however, the size means that a lot more information is packed together. Lastly, the four Mixer knobs allow you adjust four elements – the levels of the Harmony or Doubled voices, the level of Delay and Reverb, your Guitar and the overall output.

PRESET HITS, GENRES AND STYLES

The 205 presets cover quite a selection to cover all genres and styles. You may want to find something to either sweeten your voice or warp it into something unrecognisable. Amongst the 205 you will find Reverbs, Delays, Distortions, Doublers, up to eight part harmonies, auto-tune, megaphone, EQ, Choirs, Chants and Country Girls. Although you can accelerate your search it is not always the fastest way to find what you are looking for. The VoiceLive 2 provides you with a WIZARD button to search for presets by “Tags” which are preset attributes. If you select a single tag, it will give you a broad search. By adding up to 3 successive tags you can narrow down your search.

AUTOMATIC FEATURES ON THE VOICELIVE 2

As I have said earlier, you can automatically set the Mic gain. First turn down the volume control, press and hold down the ‘Reverb’ switch and then sing into the Mic for five seconds with peaks to your highest level that you plan to sing. You will see that 3 of the footswitches light up – iMOD, DELAY and REVERB, and that they correspond temporarily to 3 messages on screen – RENEW, CANCEL or ACCEPT. If you click the REVERB switch to ‘ACCEPT’, your Mic Gain is set. There is also an Auto-Gate feature which I found to be very clever. When you are not singing it automatically adjusts to stop any possible cause of feedback or any noise from any effects – that is very useful – excellent idea.

Another good idea which allows you to concentrate on your performance rather than worry about settings is something called ‘Adaptive Tone. Just click the Tone button and you get a really nice studio-quality EQ, compression, and de-essing, smoothing out dynamics and giving you that ‘recorded’ sound in a ‘Live’ situation.

Lastly there is some automation for Reverb and Delay that is equally as clever. I set ‘Ducking’ to ON and started to sing. What I noticed here is that the delay was reduced whilst I was singing and at the end of my phrase it automatically returned to the delay level that I had set. I tried recording this and you get this ‘Wet’ sound but my vocal line was a lot clearer than when I have used a similar effect in the past which did not have this Ducking option.

VOCAL HARMONY ON YOUR VOICELIVE 2

VoiceLive 2 cleverly detects which note you’re singing and adjusts the harmonies. If I sang the root note in D major, I would get harmonies based on that chord but if I then sang an E it would look to the harmonies based on E minor which is appropriate to the key.

The Harmonies on the Voicelive 2 can give you anything from a single harmony at a pre-determined interval above or below your note to a full choir. There are also doubling effects that thicken your sound by doubling your own input signal with a slight delay (although technically I suppose this is not a harmony) and there is an octave-only harmony.

The input of a Guitar or MIDI keyboard means that the instrument connected is automatically configured to control all of the Harmonies on every preset. If you do not have an instrument you can edit the harmonies manually to a particular key or scale. If you press the Edit button, you will find a whole range of parameters relating to Harmonies. For example you can adjust the Voicing Interval, Gender, Voice Pan, Vibrato, Harmony EQ, Doubling level or the amount to ‘Humanize’ the sound providing greater realism.

LOOP THE LOOP AND RHYTMIC VOCAL FUN

The VoiceLive 2 has a built-in looper that lets you sample in Mono for up to 30 seconds or in Stereo for up to 15 seconds stereo. This is so that you can sing over the top. I recorded me clapping to make the loop and then made some vocal drum sounds over the top – great fun.

Version 1.2 of VoiceLive 2 added three main further enhancements by way of something called Rhythmic Stutter, Rhythmic Gender and Rhythmic Sample. Rhythmic Stutter allows patterns and waveforms to control the level of the voice to create tap tempo gating effects. This is great fun, but I would say don’t over-use it. Rhythmic Gender gives you randomized gender patterns. I found this one to give some very strange twists to your sound. It is not the case of someone listening and who are not sure what gender you are – it is more a case of taking Hard Tune a stage further. Lastly Rhythmic Sample lets you create ‘delay-freeze’-style effects for freezing parts of your vocal sound. TC use the example of Fat Boy Slim’s Praise You to give you an idea of what this is like. Please note that as I write this Version 1.4 is the current version of the VoiceLive 2 which added Mic Control with TC’s microphone the MP-75 which meant that you could control Shortcuts by means of a switch on the Mic. It is always worth checking TC’s site for updates and great support.

CONCLUSION

This is a great and incredibly powerful Stompbox giving you easy access to six effect blocks and it packs such a big punch that I have hardly scratched the surface with this review. It has a solid build, really looks the part with its recessed rubberized handle and natural curves, is very portable and has high quality effects. My worry when using Voice processors is that I end up sounding like ‘Micky Mouse’. Whilst this is possible on the VoiceLive 2, after a little use you soon discover that there is a wealth of professional effects to give your performance, the clarity, punch, interest and creativity that your voice deserves and also some gentle pitch correction if you need it. I particularly love the automatic features and many of the presets, although they were not all to my taste but to be fair there are 205 presets and use of effect steps for whole song creativity can take you vocal sound out of this world if that is where you want it to be.

The Heart of the VoiceLive 2 lies in the quality of the Harmonies that it can produce. They are very convincing and provide you with the confidence that you are singing along with a large choir and not only this but you have the benefit of real-time operation and can control them from a variety of input sources. The editing is deep, which is good in one respect in that you can do so much with it, but there is a bit of a learning curve and you may have to do more than just read the manual to make User Presets for your own particular tastes and style. Once you get passed the point of just using the presets you find your time and effort exceedingly rewarding.

This unit is not cheap because there is so much packed in it but it is strange how we still manage to spend more money on keyboards and guitars when our vocal is the most important instrument. Go on, spoil your voice today – go out and buy one.

Absolute Music

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