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  • TC-Helicon VoiceLive 2 Vocal Harmony and Effects Processor

    TC-Helicon VoiceLive 2 ($800 street)

    Vocal Harmony and Effects Processor




    The VoiceLive 2 is TC-Helicon’s top-of-the-line vocal processor, incorporating selected technologies from the company’s entire product line of vocal-oriented effects. Though its name seems to designate it a successor to the original VoiceLive, the model 2 comes with significantly smoother and more powerful processing capabilities, many more features, a new form factor, and added workflow routines that include Live Engineering Effects and a search wizard.



    Before we get to the specifics of the VoiceLive 2—and to spare you the suspense—I can report that it is an other worldly experience to hear intelligent harmonization done so well. The VoiceLive 2 produces harmonies that are not only rich and accurate in all their chord-tone glory, but completely free of artifacts (noise, weird conversion glitches, etc.). The VoiceLive2’s extraordinarily realistic sound, ease of use, and powerful harmonizing intelligence put it at the top of hardware-based vocal processors—and make it completely addicting.



    <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
    Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
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  • #2
    At just under $800 street, the VoiceLive2 (check it out here, on TC-Helicon’s website) is not inexpensive, but it is one of the smoothest vocal harmonizing units I’ve used. “Smooth” here doesn’t just apply to the sound quality, either, though that is certainly one of the characteristics of its vocal processing. Rather, I’m referring to the entire process of working with the VoiceLive 2, from setting levels to dialing in a preset to effects selection to editing. It’s powerful, but not in a complex or confusing way. Through its good use of setup wizards, user interface, and display technology—and almost clairvoyant algorithms that produce appropriate harmonies for any situation—the VoiceLive 2 is the perfect live-performance tool for vocal performers who need high-quality harmonies along with fast and easy realtime control over editable parameters.
    <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
    Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
    Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

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    • #3
      The VoiceLive 2 is a floor-based processor, sporting a compact, rugged housing, high-quality footswitches, and a large and bright LED display. There are lots of dedicated switches (one footswitch each for Delay and Reverb, for example) and knobs, all of which go a long way when making realtime changes.







      The curved, sloping front is more graceful and homogeneous looking than its predecessor’s, and the back panel features a healthy complement of I/O, including all manner of audio (digital, analog), MIDI (I/O/T), and control (USB, external footpedal). The VoiceLive 2 allows you to insert a guitar, keyboard, or audio device with which to supply the source for the harmony algorithms to do their thing.



      <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
      Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
      Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

      Comment


      • #4
        At the core of the VoiceLive 2 is the vocal processor that provides up to four separate intervals (which can be unison doubled) when triggered from an audio input (guitar, keyboard, or mp3 input) or up to eight discrete voices when MIDI-triggered. Each voice can be specified by register, interval, gender, level, and pan position.



        Additionally, voices can be panned, doubled, choired, humanized, vibratoed, portamentoed (sliding into and out of notes), smoothed, and EQ’d. Besides prescribing the musical role of each individual voice, the VoiceLive 2 has effects—lots of them—and different operation modes. In this way, the unit operates similarly to a multi-effects processor for vocalists, so guitarists familiar with high-functioning floor-based controllers will be very at home here.
        <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
        Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
        Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

        Comment


        • #5
          The basic layout of the VoiceLive 2 has two footswitches for advancing programs in either direction, a Shortcut and Step switch (for accessing user-defined preset chains), and six dedicated footswitches that toggle the on/off statuses of microMod (an effects block that produces chorus, microtuning, flange, and other exotic effects), Harmony (the harmony voices), Delay, Double, Reverb, and FX (other effects that the user designates per program).







          Those conversant with multi-effects pedals will recognize that the unit works in both “program” mode (where stepping through the pre-programmed memory locations changes entire setups) as well as “stompbox” mode, where individual effects within a program can be toggled on and off. The Shortcut and Step switches act as an in-between mode to this paradigm, allowing users quick access to additional functionality within a preset but not available as a dedicated switch. (More on these later.)



          The one slight disappointment to the otherwise stellar build of the unit is the power supply: a lightweight, outlet-hogging wall-wart with a short cord (a little over 6', putting the converter block squarely between your mic stand and the backline).
          <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
          Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
          Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

          Comment


          • #6
            Above the footswitches is the editing region and display. Dedicated buttons on the left of the unit invoke Tone, Pitch, Guitar FX, Home, Setup, Wizard, Store, and Edit. Pressing and holding any of these buttons calls up the appropriate pages and tabs on the display.







            The generous complement of dedicated buttons here ensures that all the expected editable parameters are included underneath. A dedicated Home button is a particularly nice touch: It means wherever you are you can go to the first page, without having to step back through nested pages. What’s more, each button remembers where you were, should you leave and go to another parameter. When you re-hit the button, you’re returned to where you left off. Nice.



            The middle and right side of the front panel show the display, which is quite large, well-illuminated, and readable at any angle, distance, and under all lighting conditions. Underneath the window are four soft encoders that align with the various on-screen parameters that show up, and on the extreme right are left/right cursor buttons and a large rotary encoder. All buttons and knobs here are well spaced and have a good feel. You can easily edit the VoiceLive 2 in your socks!



            There are more aspects to the switches, buttons and soft knobs, all of them versatile and good, but suffice it to say that in having worked with the unit for a couple of months now, I can say that I’ve never encountered a better implementation of a front-panel interface. This is admirable in its own right, but especially significant because this unit is designed to be used almost exclusively in a live situation.
            <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
            Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
            Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

            Comment


            • #7
              As soon as you plug in and begin to set levels, the VoiceLive 2 goes to work. To work to best effect, the unit needs to hear you and make decisions about your voice, based on the mic you’re using, your volume level, your dynamic range, your sibilant tendencies (chiefly over-emphasized “S” sounds), and the overall tonal quality.



              For this it uses an auto-setup routing (called the “Live Engineer Effects”) which continually analyzes and then makes adjustments using a suite of tools consisting of EQ, compression, de-essing, and gating. It’s helpful to know what the tools are, but you don’t really need to know what they’re doing; they all make your voice sound better. If you want to do something different, you can always go into edit mode and make manual adjustments.



              Once you have your mic input optimized, you're ready to go to town. You simply start singing and playing, and the unit creates harmonies based on the notes you sing and the chords you play. That may be simplified explanation, but that’s how it works. Step through the presets and you hear the range of harmonies and effects programs available. I started out with stuff I knew, to give me a familiar benchmark. So I sang Eagles, Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Doobie Brothers, and other pop and classic rock stuff that featured harmonies. Prince's "Purple Rain" was particularly fun.



              I sort of lost myself at this stage, spending day after day, session upon session, just acclimating myself to the existing programs and finding material appropriate to the harmonies and effects within the programs. I sang myself hoarse and into the night on many occasions.



              One of the biggest benefits I found in working with the VoiceLive 2 is that it can make your own voice sound better, simply by employing its Live Engineer Effects and the voice pitch correction (again, incorporated from previously developed TC-Helicon technology). This automatically produces a stronger vocal performance—sonically optimized and pitch-corrected. So if you’re the rhythm guitarist backing up a lead vocalist with a counter-melody or “ooze and oz,” you can provide stronger, more accurate harmonies by having passed through the VoiceLive 2’s tools first.



              Another very useful mode--also of interest to guitarists, harmony singers, and everyone except the lead singer--is the VoiceLive 2’s Lead Mute feature. This allows someone other than the lead singer to provide the harmonies by singing along in unison with him or her. You simply mute the lead, and you’re left with the harmonies.



              This way, the harmonies track with the lead singer, but not quite exactly, in case he or she wants to throw in an improvised flourish or trill that would sound gimmicky and robotic if doubled. This also lets the lead singer worry just about singing lead expressively and emotionally, rather than singing to produce the background harmonies.
              <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
              Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
              Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

              Comment


              • #8
                To hear some folks who sing a lot better than I do, check out TC-Helicon product specialist Tom Lang, and his video demo of the VoiceLive 2 here:



                Tom Lang video demo







                __

                Here’s another one where Laura Clapp, working for TC-Helicon at the 2009 Musikmesse show, demonstrates (singing a cappella) the choir feature and harmonies, at about 17:



                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkqFnY5egfE



                _

                Each video shows off different aspects of the VoiceLive 2 nicely, I think: Tom with a guitar singing some iconic harmony examples we can all relate to; Laura with a beautiful, a cappella segment that highlights the smooth, rich sound of the VoiceLive 2.
                <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

                Comment


                • #9
                  As I do with all reviews of a certain complexity and power, I recommend you download the manual and any other documentation the manufacturer provides (list of presets, etc.). TC-Helicon provides its manual and preset lists in pdf form, and you can find them here:



                  http://www.tc-helicon.com/voicelive2support.asp





                  ____________________________________









                  Note that the preset list includes a column called “Assigned Tags.” When creating and editing presets, you can enter in keywords of your choosing, allowing you to search presets with this additional criterion. For example, I created a trio harmony with a female vocalist above and one male below—I call it “AlisonK” after Alison Krauss and Union Station, which also uses this scheme whenever Alison, Dan Tyminski, and Ron Block are singing in three-part harmony.



                  BTW, there are 250 presets; this is just a screen capture of the first 25! (And you're not limited to just two entries for tags, either, but this is all that would fit on the screen!)
                  <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                  Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                  Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Though the VoiceLive 2 is extensively editable as far as its effects, panning, routing, and recording and MIDI options (all of which we’ll explore), it is at its heart a vocal harmonizer. The core of that function lies in the Harmony tab in the Edit menu. From any preset, you simply hit two buttons (Edit/Harmony) and you’re there.



                    The VoiceLive 2 uses a short-cut system called “Styles,” where 15 pre-configured setups are used as the kernels to produce its onboard 250 factory programs (and however many user programs you create). There’s no “default” or otherwise zeroed-out Style, so you have to look for the one that most closely matches the harmony you’re building. For example, if I wanted to create a simple same-sex (male, in my case), two-voice, close-harmony arrangement in the style of Simon and Garfunkel or the Everly brothers, I’d choose the Style named “1 Voice Above.” If I was a woman singing melody with a man singing harmony, I’d choose “1 Voice Below” (men typically sing an octave lower than women, even when singing the “higher part”—the most-common choice in two-voice harmony).



                    The 15 Styles are named intuitively and somewhat progressively:







                    I wish this list were presented in the manual somewhere, because to me, it’s the obvious place to begin when you’re setting up a program from scratch. And I’d like to see not only the list, but the most important editable parameters under that Style, such as interval and gender. If you’re a vocal arranger, or otherwise skilled in the ways of harmony, this will be your first stop if you want to understand what’s going on musically with the harmony scheme. It’s a simple task, though, to make your own list for quick reference.



                    To illustrate, I took a four-voice harmony, which uses all four available voices, displayed as four columns of parameters in the Edit/Harmony menu. Below is a table I constructed that shows how the Style called "2 Above 2 Below" lays out. Note that I footnoted parameters that require additional explanation (and are some of the most powerful that the VoiceLive 2 offers); all other categories are fairly intuitive.



                    VoiceLive 2 Edit/Harmony screen:





                    Varying the qualities like "Porta" (the sliding in and out of notes), "Humanize" (subtle time and pitch variations), "Smooth" (which, along with some portamento, helps to soften note-to-note transitions unless a robot-like effect is desired), and others yields a more natural, human feel, eliminating that tell-tale "robotic lock-step" effect that many lesser vocal processors have.
                    <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                    Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                    Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      It's important to note with regards to the above screen on the Harmony parameters that you can derive eight separate voices (intervals) through MIDI input.



                      On the other end of the NaturalPlay spectrum, the VoiceLive 2 will derive harmonies from an Aux Input. This means you can hook up your mp3 player, sing along to the song, and have harmonies generated for you! If you have grooves, backing tracks, or instrumentals already on CD or in your mp3 library, this would be a fantastic place to start. It's also a boon to folks who don't play an instrument, but who want to generate harmonies.



                      So the NaturalPlay modes run from the ultra-prescriptive (MIDI Notes) to the totally automatic (Aux Input). The "in between" modes are Auto Input Sense (the most typical setting), Guitar, MIDI, Scale, and Shift.



                      For using MIDI to generate notes instead of audio or a pre-programmed Scale, you can use two modes MIDI Notes and MIDI 4 Chan. When using MIDI notes, you can break the "lock step" tendency of vocal harmonizers in general by having the Voice Live 2 follow your keyboard or guitar. So for example, if you hold a MIDI note while singing a moving line, the harmony will not move until you change the played note. Conversely, you can sustain a sung note while moving the MIDI notes underneath--playing, an arpeggio, for instance. The mode called MIDI 4 Chan. puts each voice on its own separate MIDI channel, to allow for independent vibrato, pitch bending, etc.
                      <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                      Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                      Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        When I record, I'll often overdub my own vocals to create harmony. But it occurred to me that instead of overdubbing, I could use the VoiceLive 2--even though it's really designed to be used as a live performance tool.



                        When you route the harmony output to a different track from the lead, and you employ the MIDI Notes mode to define the harmony exactly, this becomes a reality.



                        Well, I found out quickly that it was problematic for me to play a harmony line on my MIDI keyboard while singing. I could do it without hitting wrong notes, but it took me a couple of tries and I realized I was concentrating too hard on playing the notes correctly--sacrificing some feel.



                        Then it occurred to me: Why not just record the lead vocal first, and then run the output through the VoiceLive 2 while playing the MIDI part? It's the same process as overdubbing, but I'm not actually "playing" second part; I'm merely supplying the pitch information. It's more akin to what guitar players do when re-amping.



                        This worked amazingly well, and I was able to generate quickly specific harmonies in both four-voice hymns (such as the chorale arrangements of Bach, Praetorious, etc.) and barbershop quartets.
                        <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                        Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                        Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          In the chart that lists the Harmony parameters above, there's one row that possibly requires explanation: Guitar Chords/Accept Dom7.



                          Here's how they explain it in the manual:

                          GUITAR CHORDS

                          This parameter changes the harmony note response to DOM7 guitar chords only. At the default setting; ACCEPT DOM7, whenever you play a dominant 7th chord and the combination of your singing note and harmony voicing is set to produce a 7th harmony, you’ll hear the 7th.



                          In a song composed largely of DOM7 chords, it’s not that easy to sing a melody composed of all of the 7ths and thus, many harmony singers move to the chord root instead. Broadly speaking, this is also a difference between a “Pop” sounding harmony and a more “Bluesy” harmony sound.This is what the IGNORE DOM7 setting does. A good song to play and sing to check out the difference is “Michelle” by the Beatles.
                          The other choice is "Ignore Dom7," where the unit harmonizes only the triad of the chord--in this case dom7s would be major.



                          I'm not quite sure why they chose to cite the song "Michelle." In the verse, there's only one dominant seventh chord, and it comes at the end, like this:




                          Code:

                          D         Gm        C                    Bb          A7    Bb   A7
                          Michelle, ma belle, these are words that go together well, my Michelle.

                          You'd think to really hear the difference well, you'd play a tune where the accompaniment has all dominant sevenths, like a blues. And it might be because in a blues (I7, IV7, V7), the 7ths of the I and IV chords are non-diatonic. For example, in C blues, the 7th of the I chord, C, is Bb; the 7th of the IV chord, F, is Eb; So the unit can't use its usual scheme of deducing the tonic of the key.



                          Still not sure why "Michelle" illustrates this, as A7--the only 7th chord in the verse, is actually diatonic. But I'll check it out and see.
                          <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                          Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                          Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

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                          • #14
                            Hey Jon - thought I'd check out what you're doing I've been interested in hearing more about the VoiceLive 2.



                            Have you tried the VoiceLive 2 with any signal sources other than voice? Not that I'm expecting miracles, but I remember trying a harmonization device once with toms, and it sounded fabulous. I know you have other things to cover, but maybe you could indulge me with a few experiments when you get a chance.
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                            • #15






                              Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
                              View Post

                              Hey Jon - thought I'd check out what you're doing I've been interested in hearing more about the VoiceLive 2.



                              Have you tried the VoiceLive 2 with any signal sources other than voice? Not that I'm expecting miracles, but I remember trying a harmonization device once with toms, and it sounded fabulous. I know you have other things to cover, but maybe you could indulge me with a few experiments when you get a chance.




                              Toms! That's inspired. That might be a case for the "fixed scale" mode, where you define the key and scale for the source to operate in. So I would determine (as close as possible) what the "fundamental" of the tom is.



                              Or not.



                              In any case, I'll try routing a couple of sources through the Voice Live 2--saxophone to start, and moving to toms and other off-beat choices--just to see what happens.



                              Stay tuned!
                              <div class="signaturecontainer"><font color="blue">Jon Chappell</font><br />
                              Follow me on Twitter: <font color="blue"><a href="http://twitter.com/jon_chappell" target="_blank">http://twitter.com/jon_chappell</a></font><br />
                              Check out my website: <font color="blue"><a href="http://jonchappell.com" target="_blank">http://jonchappell.com</a></font></div>

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