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TC-Helicon VoiceTone Synth
Vocal effects pedal
Published in PM January 2010
Reviews : Effects Pedal
The latest in TC-Helicons range of dedicated vocal processor pedals takes us into the realm of deliberately unnatural sounds, such as the ubiquitous Cher effect, gender changing and vocoding.
TC-Helicon now offer a range of six compact, pedal-format dedicated vocal processors based on their multi-effect and pitch-shifting technology. The latest model, VoiceTone Synth, being specifically designed to create special, unnatural vocal effects. The processes are arranged as three sections — HardTune, Vocoder and Transform — and the user picks the desired effect from each section, with all three being able to be used simultaneously.
HardTune produces the familiar hard pitch-quantizing vocal effects that seem to dominate the kind of music played in clothing stores! This works either according to a user-definable key, or it can pick up the correct scale from a musical instrument input, and because it corrects the pitch very quickly, it strips away the normal modulation of human vocal expression to produce a deliberately electronic-sounding effect.
VoiceTone Synth also includes a sophisticated vocoder that has its own voice-controlled synth, in which the second input source for the vocoder may either be the internal synth waveform or an external instrument. Other effects include distortion treatments tailored to vocals and speaker simulations to recreate megaphone, telephone and radio effects. A USB port is included for updating the operating software or patches via TCs VoiceSupport software, and unlike many small format pedals this one allows the user to set up and save 10 preset patches.
Physically, the pedal follows the lines of others in the series in the way that the very solid, square metal case has two momentary action footswitches at the front and a small number of control knobs and buttons above them, teamed with a preset and parameter display section that shows which effects are currently active. In normal operation the left footswitch steps through the patches and the right acts as a bypass. Power comes from an included adaptor with the usual consumer-style connector while the audio output is on a pair of balanced XLRs — one dry for feeding the monitors and one processed for feeding the PA. This is important as theres nothing more off-putting when singing than to hear pitch-corrected vocals in your monitor. Theres a mic input on a balanced XLR, plus In and Thru jacks for the instrument input with a small ground lift button to help avoid ground loops. Theres no dedicated phantom power switch, but holding down the Vocoder and Transform buttons will switch on standard 48V phantom power if needed for use with capacitor microphones; a status LED illuminates when the phantom power is active. Before going into further details about the operation, it is worth taking a closer look at what the individual effects have to offer.
HardTune produces the familiar electronic vocal sound produced by abusing AutoTune on that Cher record, along with countless others since. For the effect to sound musical it needs to quantize the vocal pitch to the nearest note in the musical scale of the song or section, which is why it is necessary either to select a scale (major or minor in any key) or to rely on the pedals ability extract the necessary information from a polyphonic instrument input, such as a rhythm guitar part. The dry voice can be mixed with the processed voice and theres also provision for octave pitch-shifting and formant manipulation to change the vocal character. The effects options are Unity, Up octave, Down octave, Character 1 (deeper) and Character 2 (higher), all of which have HardTune applied. Major and Minor buttons are used to select the scale type, while holding down the right footswitch allows the key to be changed. A separate key button may also be used to step through the keys with the value being shown in the display. Holding down both Major and Minor buttons switches to the chromatic Auto mode, quantizing the pitch to the nearest semitone, while plugging in and playing an instrument invokes Instrument mode. A rotary control above the HardTune section allows the unprocessed vocal to be mixed with the processed vocal. A single button below each of the effects sections is used to step through the user choices or to bypass the section.
Vocoder is based on something that TC-Helicon call Massive-Band, which allows the user to choose between a vocoder with a high number of frequency bands (which equates to good intelligibility) or a vintage analogue sound, emulating a vocoder with a relatively small number of frequency bands. Both have their own artistic charm. While most vocoders require a harmonically rich carrier signal (the second source) , this one can produce good results from relatively clean sources such as acoustic guitar, especially when the high-resolution vocoder is selected. The Voice-controlled Synth part of the vocoder tracks the vocal pitch and generates a synth-like waveform that may be used as the carrier signal in the absence of an instrument input. User-selectable options comprise four alternative synth settings, a robot voice (with a fixed carrier frequency) or instrument input.
The final section provides tonal colourations where the options are two varieties of megaphone, two types of distortion, telephone and radio speaker. Further timbral variation can be applied to any of these settings using the Modify knob, though I found the effect of this to be fairly subtle. Pressing the Tone button brings in TC effects (dynamics and EQ) to smooth and brighten the voice, and when active, these settings pertain even when the other treatments are bypassed using the On footswitch. There is scope to edit these if they dont suit your voice or PA system and you can leave them bypassed if you dont want to use them at all. Storing presets is accomplished by pressing and holding the left footswitch, while tapping it steps through the ten available presets.
Starting with HardTune, this really nails the popular cliché and tracks impressively well from a clean guitar source if you dont want to work with a fixed scale. Almost all natural articulation is stripped away, just as when setting a too fast pitch correction on a traditional pitch corrector. The octave versions are also very usable, in a surreal kind of way, as are the gender reassignment Character settings. It is, however, essential to have a clean monitor feed as hearing a pitch that differs slightly from the one youre singing can wreak havoc with your performance!
The Vocoder is truly excellent, especially the high-resolution version, although the vintage low-res version really captures that asthmatic whos just swallowed a harmonica vibe of the old analogue units. Whats really clever is the way that the integral synth tracks the vocal pitch but is then quantized to semitone steps giving a very traditional vocoder sound without the need to play a keyboard at the same time. The different waveforms include octaves and parallel intervals giving a usefully wide range of tonal colours while the fixed-carrier Robot setting is perfect for emulating Cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica series. Using an instrument input produces the expected traditional vocoder sound, though the ability to produce intelligible results from a clean carrier source such as a guitar is impressive.
Finally, the distortions and odd speaker emulations work exactly as they should, imparting a very believable character to the sound, should you wish to sound as though youre singing through a megaphone, telephone or very small portable radio. These processes seem to use harsh filtering and compression, so you should be sure to check your levels with these active during soundcheck to ensure you dont run into feedback problems. The same is true of the Tone setting, which adds subtle brightness and compression. Both distortion settings add the necessary angst without killing intelligibility and the control knob allows a range of timbral adjustment tailored to each process, though I found that I could hear very little difference when adjusting the Modify knob and singing at the same time. Though all three sections can be used in combination, in most instances one or two sections at a time are more than weird enough!
Operationally the pedal is refreshingly straightforward and, though you can only step through the presets in one direction, the fact that there are only 10 makes it easy to find the one you need very quickly. The quality of the integral mic amp, which has a gain control and signal-level status LEDs, gives no cause for concern in the context of live performance. The availability of phantom power is also very welcome as it allows capacitor mics to be used. The connectivity is all you need for integration into a serious sound rig, but as the power comes from a consumer-style power adaptor it would be safest to mount the unit on a pedalboard rather than leave it loose on stage.
Given the relatively low cost and lack of operational complexity, the VoiceTone Synth is capable of some first-class vocal effects and is highly recommended, especially if you dont want to get bogged down with menu-based programming. 0
Published in PM January 2010
VoiceTone Synth £255
The TC-Helicon VoiceTone Synth is a really well thought out, well-engineered pedal that gives fast and easy access to all your favourite vocal excesses!
+44 (0)8009 178926
TC-Helicon VoiceTone Synth
Balanced XLR, input impedance: 1kΩ.
Power input: 12 VDC 300mA, tip negative.
Output impedance: 40Ω.
Instrument Thru output impedance: 270Ω.
Frequency response, max gain -1.5dB @ 40 Hz, +0/-0.3 dB.
Instrument In to Thru dynamic range >119dB.
Tuning mute attenuation >100dB.
48kHz sample rate.
Dimensions (WDH): 130mm x 132mm x 41mm.
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