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Anderton

DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 (VL4)

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Don't you just LOVE BBS software? I started the review and copied over some of the excellent posts on the VL4 that were in the VL2 thread, and something happened during one of the copy operations that nuked the VL4 thread. So I'm starting over...major apologies to those who had submitted such great tips, I'm really sorry the BBS killed them. I'll try to see if there's some way to recover them later tonight.

Anyway, back the VL4, which thankfully was not programmed by the same people who did the BBS software! The image shows an overview of the piece. You'll note there's a MusIQ switch to turn off the function that ties harmonies to your guitar playing, which means you can specify particular scales and keys. You'll also notice four footswitches instead of the two on the VL2: Effects, Harmony, and preset up/down.

The other obvious difference is that there are a lot more editable parameters -- you'll see the familiar DigiTech "matrix of parameters" printed on the front panel. You have five knobs to tweak these (AFAIC a big improvement over the one knob/increment-decrement button approach), and three mix knobs.

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Given how much people liked the VL2, and how much of the basic functionality of the Vocalist Live series we covered in the VL2 Pro Review, I think these are the main questions we need to address regarding the VL4:

1. Despite the added sophistication, is the VL4 easy to use?
2. Does it hit the "sweet spot" of price, features, and flexibility?
3. Is the extra functionality compared to the VL2 worth the higher price?
4. Despite it being intended for live use, can it work in the studio?

Let's investigate further. My band EV2 is going to have a rehearsal in a few minutes, so I plan to set this up and see what happens...I'll keep posting photos until then.

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Here's a close-up of the MusIQ switch section. If you turn it off, the harmony no longer tracks the audio input from your guitar, but you can enter a key and scale, like A Major. Of course, we'll be getting more into this later.

I've also attached an image showing the four footswitches, and also, the three mix controls for vocal level, harmony level, and guitar level.

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Okay, I'm going to go set it up now. I've decided to do this without looking at the manual just to see how far I get smile.gif I'll report back when the rehearsal's over.

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Well, one thing I found out right off the bat: The ability to specify a scale is really handy. There are a couple tunes we do that pretty much stick to a key, so programming that in removes any variables. Also, you can save the key as part of the preset.

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Quote Originally Posted by ihateyouguys View Post
Question for anyone who can answer it:

Can the effects from the guitar effects section be applied to the 'guitar thru' signal?
As far as I can tell, no...guitar thru is just to pick off the guitar signal then send it along to your subsequent amplification system.

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Craig,

Thanks for all your hard work. It really makes a difference to a lot of people. Bummer about the BBS problem. Now I am really glad I printed out the VL2 Thread (about 100 pages) a few nights ago.

I have a question regarding "hiss" reported by a few people using the VL4. Have you encountered the same problem?

I have read the manual a few times and found it interesting that when it comes to setting the guitar level we are encouraged to get green LEDs flashing but when setting the vocal input level on page 7 it says, "Sing into the mic while gradually turning up the Vocalist Live 4 Mic/Line Input Level knob until the Vocal Signal LED lights amber most of the time." On page 13 it goes on to reaffirm this and adds, "and only briefly turns red on the very loudest vocal sections. The Vocalist Live 4 will normally prevent the vocal harmonies from clipping, even when the LED is red, but for optimum voice quality the LED should turn red only briefly or not at all."

I have a Fishman Aura Imaging Blender and in the Aura troubleshooting section it mentions that "Hiss" can be caused by the input level being set too low and can be corrected by increasing it slightly. Could the same gain structure issue be the source of the hiss reported by some people using the V L4? In other words, could the hiss be coming from the vocal input level actually being set too low?

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Michael

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I don't know which posts were deleted, but you may be able to find them for awhile on google's cache. Just search for DIGITECH VOCALIST LIVE 2 - NOW WITH CONCLUSIONS AND VIDEO CLIPS! Page XX and you'll find it there. But be sure to do it ASAP because the cache could be overwritten soon with the new spider results.

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Since we lost some posts, I'll re-post some questions/comments:

1) What is the desired way to share a VL4 across two guitars, each with different downstream amp paths? Right now, I am thinking install an A/B switch downstream (on the guitar thru output) and just unplug and replug the two guitars. Anyone got a better idea?

2) Any way to route un-processed vocals to your board's monitor channel, short of splitting the signal before it gets to the VL4?

3) What exactly is stereo about the stereo outputs? Near as I can tell, its a straight splitter.

I wish the VL4 had separate "guitar thru" and "vocal thru" outputs. That would be nice. They assumed that people would be using the VL4 as a mixer. I'd rather not. It would be nice if the sound guy could bring up the harmonies (eg) without my having to bend down and adjust the mix.

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Thanks Anderton for starting this review... and even though is early in the review, can anybody upload some demos of the vl4 and how it sounds?

Hope this could happen! soon....

Thanks wave.gif

Omar thumb.gif

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Michael,

Regarding the "hiss", in the VL4, I assume you've already tried engaging the ground lift switch? My Guitar Thru cable gets sent to my Super Chorus stompbox and then to my PA system.

I'm hooked into a Roland SA-300 which is a 350 watt stage amp with its own mixer. I do get some background noise but it appears to be from the Super Chorus' modulations. Nothing I haven't heard before. Anyway thanks for posting this. My VL4 is still on backorder but I already have the VL2 and think it's great. So far I am not inclined to cancel my order based on what I've read. That could change though!

SoloArtist

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Quote Originally Posted by ihateyouguys

View Post

I don't know which posts were deleted, but you may be able to find them for awhile on google's cache. Just search for DIGITECH VOCALIST LIVE 2 - NOW WITH CONCLUSIONS AND VIDEO CLIPS! Page XX and you'll find it there. But be sure to do it ASAP because the cache could be overwritten soon with the new spider results.

 

Wow, thanks...but unfortunately, the cached version only goes up to page 18. Oh well. The one thing I can say is that everyone on these threads has been so helpful, I'm sure that any information people need will re-appear.

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Hi SoloArtist,

My VL4 is on back order too. I was referring to hiss reported by one of the members in the VL2 thread regarding his VL4.

From everything I have read and it has been a lot there is NO WAY I am not getting this thing. It seems to be a truly remarkable piece of equipment. I am just curious if others have experienced the same hiss he had reported.

My initial response to him was to mention the ground lift switch and he said it helped with hum but did nothing with the hiss. He did say that how he set the Gate did seem to have an affect on it but I am most interested in learning if increasing the mic input level has any affect on reducing the hiss.

By the way, it was not reported as being a major problem, especially live. More of a concern in the studio.

Also, he did mention he was using power line conditioning and his system was clean in terms of doing an A/B comparision using mic into his board (no hiss) versus mic into VL4 (hiss).

Anyone else experiencing a similar problem? Have you found any work around solutions? Any constructive feedback on the matter would be appreciated.

Thanks.

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Quote Originally Posted by Omaha View Post
Since we lost some posts, I'll re-post some questions/comments:

1) What is the desired way to share a VL4 across two guitars, each with different downstream amp paths? Right now, I am thinking install an A/B switch downstream (on the guitar thru output) and just unplug and replug the two guitars. Anyone got a better idea?
I think what you want is a variation on "effects loop" technology. I would advise a DPDT switch, mounted in a box, with six jacks. Hopefully the attached schematic will do the job for you! It switches the source guitar to the VL4 Guitar In, and the destination amp from the VL4 Guitar Thru.

2) Any way to route un-processed vocals to your board's monitor channel, short of splitting the signal before it gets to the VL4?
If there is, I haven't found it.

3) What exactly is stereo about the stereo outputs? Near as I can tell, its a straight splitter.
The harmonies are output in stereo.

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Quote Originally Posted by Michael Angel View Post
I was referring to hiss reported by one of the members in the VL2 thread regarding his VL4.

From everything I have read and it has been a lot there is NO WAY I am not getting this thing. It seems to be a truly remarkable piece of equipment. I am just curious if others have experienced the same hiss he had reported.
I didn't have hiss issues with the VL2. I've only used the VL4 in a band rehearsal context, and if there was hiss, the guitar and drums did an excellent job of masking it smile.gif However, I do hit the levels fairly hard, and that may be the solution - just turn up the gain. As I record audio examples of the VL4, it will go under the microscope a bit more and we'll see what we find.

I don't know how the metering in the VL4 works, but many LED meters will "hold" transients for a short period of time. So, even a 2 ms spike that you would never perceive could end up indicating an overload condition. Although LEDs are useful, I still end up adjusting my ear, and using the LEDs to confirm.

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I ended up using the VL4 during rehearsal today, and found it both simple and difficult to figure out. Simple because it was easy to set up, and get a good major 3rd harmony happening. I turned off MusIQ as the song was pretty basic, so the harmonies were perfect whether I played guitar or not.

The difficult part is that there are a lot more options! For example, I've never encountered a "Persona" parameter before so I really did need to crack the manual to find out what this was all about. There are a LOT of novelty/totally out there sounds along with the usual suspects, and I bet some of them are really useable once you figure out a context. I didn't find the Unison option like on the VL2 immediately, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere...I just added some chorus and short pre-delay.

It appears to me (and someone from DigiTech is welcome to chime in if I'm wrong) is that the VL4 is designed for two major contexts:

1. As a super version of the VL2 with presets, more options, pitch correction, more algorithms, etc. In other words, a major league voice tweaker for live use.

2. An "all-in-one" box where a solo performer can do the above vocal tricks, but also add in guitar processing. For my purposes, I'm not going to get rid of my GNX3000 or PODxt any time soon in favor of the effects in the VL4, but I would imagine this could really simplify life for a lot of live performers.

One thing is clear: With the VL2, I used it more or less as a set-and-forget box. I plan to exploit the VL4 much, much more for the band.

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To those that already have the VL2 or VL4:

Sorry if these seem like silly questions.

I have fellow band members poo-pooing the idea of the VL2 or VL4 on the basis of "poor sound quality ie: electronic, artificial sounding....even though they have never heard one or even read any of the reviews.
I'm convinced from what I've read in these threads that they're ok, especially live.
But just for some additional reassurance before I spend the bucks for something my band won't want to use:

For live band use, is the quality of the harmony vocals good?
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate them compared to "real" live
voices?

Also, How much of a problem do you encounter, if any, when the guitar needs to stop playing chords to play riffs and such. Say for a Power Trio type band with only one guitar. I'm trying to figure how much of a problem this would be in the context of the songs we do and how often it would even happen compared to when harmonies are needed, but that's pretty difficult to calculate especially since I play bass. I know it would depend on the particular song etc....I just mean in general.

Lastly, how preoccupied does someone in the band need to be regarding when to hit the footswitches on and off? Who does this in your band? If you have a front person/vocalist only do you make them responsible? Wouldn't that detract from whoever is responsible's ability to "be part of the show" so to speak?
Just wondering how others handle this. I can't help but see this as a potential nightmare that could take SO much of the fun out of playing.

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Caveat on these comments: I am the lead singer/guitar player in a working classic rock cover band. I've had the VL4 for a couple days, and have experimented with it for a total of about six hours in my studio at home. I haven't used it with the band yet, and I haven't run it through our full PA (just my little Marshall AS50R practice amp).

Quote Originally Posted by pickinatit View Post
For live band use, is the quality of the harmony vocals good?
Compared to what? It really comes down to the band. If you have three or four good singers that can consistently hit their harmonies, I wouldn't bother with the VL4.

But my experience is that that's pretty rare. Most bands are lucky to have one decent singer singing leads. In those cases, the VL4 seems like a great option. Its not going to be the equal of having a cadre of pro's singing backup, but for the average working band, its going to be a huge improvement over where they are currently.

One other consideration is that the VL4 will allow you to get new material performance-ready much more quickly.

Also, How much of a problem do you encounter, if any, when the guitar needs to stop playing chords to play riffs and such. Say for a Power Trio type band with only one guitar.
Good question. I don't know the answer. But I will say this: I had heard that the VL4 struggled with fingerstyle, preferring chords to glean the key. I tested that, and found that it actually did a pretty good job. Plus, depending on the harmony voices you are using, it may or may not be a disaster if it misses a key change (or is late).

Lastly, how preoccupied does someone in the band need to be regarding when to hit the footswitches on and off?
In our band, I'll be operating the VL4. As I said, I'm the lead singer.

Playing around with it, I think I prefer the "hold the switch down to engage harmonies" mode, rather than toggle mode. But I'll wait until we have a few gigs with it to finalize that decision.

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Regarding pitch correction, I am curious how it works with harmonies.

The section of the manual dealing with PC is simple enough. From what I can tell, in the real world, you will set it to "CHROM"atic scale, set the window parameter to 99, set to rate to 30, and set the amount to 99. From what I could see, those were the settings that Digitech used for all the presets that had PC turned on.

But how does that effect harmony voices?

For example, p19 of the manual lists a bunch of harmony options, among them:

U - Unison. Creates a copy of the lead vocal.
UC - Unicon corrected. Creates a copy of the lead vocal with pitch correction.

That's where I get confused. Suppose you have PC turned off on a given preset, but select the "UC" harmony. Is only the harmony voice corrected (leaving the original vocal unaltered)? If so, what parameters are used for the harmony pitch correction?

It also says : "Turning on ...pitch correction requires the use of a harmony voice".

Suppose I turn PC on, but have all harmonies off. What happens? Is pitch correction occurring? Is it a blend of the natural signal and the processed signal?

I am also sending this question to DigiTech directly. I'll post any response I get.

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I've been corresponding with DigiTech on these questions. Here's what I've learned:

The harmonies are generated after the pitch correction occurs. Therefore if you have pitch correction turned on, the harmonies will be corrected automatically:

"Raw Vocal" --> "Pitch Corrector" --> "Harmony Generator"

But I was never able to get an answer to how the UC harmony works. If I have PC turned off, and am using the UC harmony, what happens?

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Quote Originally Posted by Michael Angel View Post
Hi SoloArtist,

My VL4 is on back order too. I was referring to hiss reported by one of the members in the VL2 thread regarding his VL4.

From everything I have read and it has been a lot there is NO WAY I am not getting this thing. It seems to be a truly remarkable piece of equipment. I am just curious if others have experienced the same hiss he had reported.

My initial response to him was to mention the ground lift switch and he said it helped with hum but did nothing with the hiss. He did say that how he set the Gate did seem to have an affect on it but I am most interested in learning if increasing the mic input level has any affect on reducing the hiss.

By the way, it was not reported as being a major problem, especially live. More of a concern in the studio.

Also, he did mention he was using power line conditioning and his system was clean in terms of doing an A/B comparision using mic into his board (no hiss) versus mic into VL4 (hiss).

Anyone else experiencing a similar problem? Have you found any work around solutions? Any constructive feedback on the matter would be appreciated.

Thanks.
Gottcha! Hum or Hiss, if its audible it needs to be corrected. I've switched to condenser microphones which of course take phantom power right from the VL2. I had to adjust the gain and nearly everything else because that thing howled like a banshee when I started singing!

Regarding our backordered VL4's, I'm willing to take a chance even if I read something negative here. We may actually not experience what someone else has. If we do, well, back it goes! So while I read everything here, I don't assume I will have the same problems as there are variables according to equipment and acoustics.

Thanks,

SoloArtist

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Quote Originally Posted by Omaha View Post
If I have PC turned off, and am using the UC harmony, what happens?
Answering my own question based on DigiTech's e-mail, the answer is that you get a straight unison without any pitch correction.

Which still makes me wonder why there is a "U" setting and a "UC" setting...It makes no sense.

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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton View Post
I didn't have hiss issues with the VL2. I've only used the VL4 in a band rehearsal context, and if there was hiss, the guitar and drums did an excellent job of masking it smile.gif However, I do hit the levels fairly hard, and that may be the solution - just turn up the gain. As I record audio examples of the VL4, it will go under the microscope a bit more and we'll see what we find.

I don't know how the metering in the VL4 works, but many LED meters will "hold" transients for a short period of time. So, even a 2 ms spike that you would never perceive could end up indicating an overload condition. Although LEDs are useful, I still end up adjusting my ear, and using the LEDs to confirm.
I'm the dude with the hiss comments. I've tried the gain and loop adjusts but find you will get distortion as you raise it up to the green/amber levels - this when harmony is kicked in. I posted more about this on the old thread and believe that DigiTech has programmed in a boost of sorts (akin to some effect pedals when you stomp on you get a boost on level). That makes level adjustments very critical.

I went back and listened to the on-line demo of the unit and I can hear some of this in that demo actually. It's just a clipping of sorts when the harmony is on. It's especially noticeable with the VL 2 and an issue beyond hiss. Try the test yourself. Set up your level with no harmony and it will sound fine. Sing your favorite tune. Then engage the harmony and sing it again - you'll hear the boost and subsequent distortion. Playing with compression et al can help to some degree but you will find you have to lower your levels at the unit to avoid this altogether. What I've found is this: guitar signal needs to be green green green ... vocal level needs to be just nudging green as in mild green flicker not constant or amber.

RECORDING AND HISS
When I refer to hiss I am talking recording here. I expect as quiet a signal as possible and when you can hear the unit over and above room noise it is not a good thing. So, I think I'd conclude that the TC Helicon is better when it comes to recording from the hiss standpoint. I said about a 3 or 4 as opposed to 5 or 6 for the DIgiTech (where 10 is horrible and 1 is quiet).

I guess everyone has their own threshold where it becomes an issue but I have done demos using the Helicon and now with the VL 2 and VL 4. Both the DigiTech products are giving off more hiss without even starting anything. You can hear it on the quiet parts of songs or really when you just bring up the pots.

I especially find the gate opening and closing on the VL 2 very annoying - you don't have the same control of the gate as on the VL 4. I'm finding I can't use the compressor/gate at all when recording with the VL 2. With the VL 4, I've been trying the gate control at different settings but I mentioned in a previous post how the sweet spot isn't quite there. It rasters in 10s (I posted 20s in the old post by memory error). So the mid ground between 40 and 50 would seem better than 40 or 50 dead on but you can't get there in between. A lot of my material goes form loud to quiet and it's at the quiet points that you get the bad stuff coming in such as the gate opening and closing off from your guitar playing. This from "off-the-floor" demos.

LIVE NO ISSUES
However I want to reiterate that live ambiance covers virtually all of this. No one is going to notice any of the problems using the unit(s) live.

I'm being very picky on the recording aspect since I feel most listeners will not expect to hear hiss at all in your demo (like you used to get on cassette demos). The digital age has spoiled a lot of people myself included. I'm curious whether everyone else will agree/disagree when they get into recording with these units. Maybe I'm being overly critical.

In side by side test with DigiTech vs. Helicon, the Helicon is quieter. Same set up for the tests using SM 58 mic. In fact, when you read the specs on the two units (much more info is supplied for the VL 4 to compare with), it does read as better for the TC Helicon. I think the TC Helicon people have a stronger background with making "recording rack mount units" in this field and that may account for a tougher (higher) standard.

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Quote Originally Posted by SoloArtist View Post
Gottcha! Hum or Hiss, if its audible it needs to be corrected. I've switched to condenser microphones which of course take phantom power right from the VL2. I had to adjust the gain and nearly everything else because that thing howled like a banshee when I started singing!

Regarding our backordered VL4's, I'm willing to take a chance even if I read something negative here. We may actually not experience what someone else has. If we do, well, back it goes! So while I read everything here, I don't assume I will have the same problems as there are variables according to equipment and acoustics.

Thanks,

SoloArtist
An excellent point. When you read lots of reviews you do get some wild differences don't you? Some people will hate it while others will praise it. I guess that's why it is good to describe what you do with the items and what you like or expect. It becomes easier to gauge whether or not you are reading someone of like mind or not. A recent comment to one of my posts talking about chipmunk settings confirms this where the person uses the setting in his gigs for kids. I had said "what a waste" but there is a good example of where having it available is a value for someone else!

I have to say though that I have found the gang here to be generally tolerant of everyone's "thing" and in no way making one feel like they are stupid for doing something or not knowing something. Very nice!

The discussions back and forth are also great as it helps a process that we all go through on new pieces of gear.

Cheers to 'ya'll!

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