MINDPRINT EN-VOICE

The En-Voice is an elegant, single-channel voice processor, from the German company MindPrint (distributed in the United States by Steinberg), that combines
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The En-Voice is an elegant, single-channel voice processor, from the German company MindPrint (distributed in the United States by Steinberg), that combines a high-quality mic preamp, 3-band equalizer, and tube compressor in one unit. The En-Voice offers a wide variety of tone-shaping options and is designed as both a front end for digital recorders and a processor for prerecorded analog and digital signals.

GET INTO ITYou have plenty of choices when it comes to inputs and outputs on the En-Voice. The back panel includes a balanced XLR mic input, as well as XLR and 11/44-inch input jacks for connecting balanced or unbalanced line-level sources (see Fig. 1). Phantom power is available for the mic input, but the button that engages it is inconveniently placed on the back panel. A switch on the front of the unit toggles between the mic and line inputs.

Guitarists and bassists can plug directly into the 11/44-inch instrument input jack located on the En-Voice's front panel. The input impedance of this jack has been optimized to prevent overdamping of the pickups, thereby keeping the sound as bright as possible. Inserting a cable into the instrument jack overrides the rear-panel mic and line inputs.

A switchable bass cut allows for filtering out frequencies below either 50 Hz or 100 Hz, at a slope of 6 dB/octave. A 12-segment LED meter can indicate either the input or output level. (Care must be taken not to boost the input to the point that the red LED lights up, because the sound gets nasty rather quickly.) Another button toggles between analog and digital input when the optional DI-MOD 24/48 digital interface is installed (see the sidebar "The DI-MOD Digital Interface"). The unit I reviewed did not contain the DI-MOD, so I was unable to test it.

The output of the En-Voice is at line level, and the balanced XLR and 11/44-inch outputs are simultaneously active. If a mono 11/44-inch cable is inserted into either the line input or output, the jack automatically switches into unbalanced mode and terminates the signal coming through the XLR connector.

THE SHAPE OF THINGSThe En-Voice's EQ section, consisting of semiparametric high and low bands and one fully parametric midrange band, is capable of both subtle shaping and drastic warping of sounds. Each band provides up to 15 dB of boost or cut and has its own on/off switch with an LED to indicate when the section is engaged. As is the case with all of the on/off switches on the En-Voice, bypassing a particular section actually removes it from the signal path to ensure the cleanest possible audio route.

The bass EQ covers a frequency range of 20 to 300 Hz. The bandwidth is preset to be wider on boost and narrower on cut, which is generally considered to be the most musical approach to equalization. Although not as precise as a fully parametric low band, the bass EQ works well in most cases, especially with microphone signals.

The fully parametric mid EQ covers a very broad range, from 100 Hz to 11 kHz. The bandwidth is variable from a third of an octave to six octaves for either boosting or cutting frequencies. Unfortunately, the bandwidth markings are a bit confusing: the Q settings are labeled 0.15 to 3, with the smaller value corresponding to the broadest bandwidth and the larger value corresponding to the narrowest. If this doesn't seem to make sense, just use your ears and turn the knobs until it sounds right.

The high EQ band covers a frequency range of 1.6 to 22 kHz and intentionally employs a fixed, wide bell-shaped filter rather than a shelving-type EQ. The engineers who created the En-Voice did it this way to allow high-frequency boosting without affecting the midrange frequencies as drastically as a shelving EQ might.

Overall, the EQ in the En-Voice is musical and quite capable of enhancing most signals. It can be harsh and hard sounding with certain microphones, so it is best used judiciously when recording. I was pleasantly surprised by how good a direct bass guitar sounded when recorded through the En-Voice with small amounts of the bass and mid EQ sections applied to the signal.

PUT ON THE SQUEEZEThe tube compressor section is the heart of the En-Voice. Using the Tube Saturation knob, you can set the degree to which the 12AX7 tube saturates signals. Oddly, the LED that indicates the saturation level is not in the compressor section, but to the right of the output section. The Tube Saturation LED color is normally green, turns yellow as saturation begins, and becomes red as distortion occurs.

A 12-segment LED indicates the amount of gain reduction the compressor introduces. If you want to just add tube coloration to a signal without compressing it, leave the compression ratio at 1:1 and adjust the Tube Saturation knob to taste. As with the EQ, the compressor's markings are somewhat confusing, with the ratios indicated in reverse of U.S. norms and the reference 1 designation omitted altogether. For instance, the compression ratios 2.5:1 and 5:1 are indicated as :2.5 and :5, respectively.

The attack and release times of the compressor are preset to either fast or slow envelope settings. A single button toggles between the two speeds, which affect the attack and release simultaneously. At the fast setting, the attack time is set to 15 milliseconds and the release to 60 milliseconds. Activating the Slow button increases both envelope times by a factor of ten. The preset envelope settings worked well on most of the signals I compressed.

The En-Voice also employs a fixed-frequency sidechain filter that, when engaged, causes frequencies under 300 Hz to have less influence on the compressor. This helps prevent dulling in the mid and high frequencies from overcompression.

An Effects button in the output section engages or disengages all of the effects. The Output Level knob adjusts the amount of processed signal, allowing you to compare the original and processed sounds at the same relative level. When the Effects button is disengaged, the Output Level knob is bypassed. Once again, the markings are not as clear as they could be; they're simply numbered 1 through 10, with 5 being center-detented. I would have preferred decibel markings, but the end result is the same: the En-Voice allows you to tweak the output level to match the recording device of your choice.

CHAIN, CHAIN, CHAIN...In the personal studio, entire multitrack projects are often recorded through the same signal path. The more tracks you record, the more the character of your recording chain-whether good or bad-becomes apparent.

One of the cool things about the En-Voice is its ability to change its sonic signature through the amount of processing applied to a signal. Because you can remove each effect component from the signal path altogether, the En-Voice suffers much less from that "everything sounds alike" vibe that you get with other voice processors and channel strips. The En-Voice can sound cool or warm, bright or dull, even big or small depending on the settings (especially in the compression/tube saturation section).

The En-Voice can sometimes impose too much aural personality. I noticed that certain microphones sounded really good matched with the En-Voice, while others didn't work as well. In particular, using a tube mic with the En-Voice was never pleasing to my ears; all those tubes just seemed to be too much of a good thing.

VOCAL WARM-UPSOne of the primary purposes of the En-Voice is to record vocals. The signal path is indeed clean, even with low saturation levels selected. However, I noticed that there is not much headroom in the preamp section, and hitting any of the red LEDs at all creates ugly distortion. At first, I struggled to keep the LEDs out of the red while recording a very dynamic male singer. Once I backed off the Input Gain, though, things went smoothly. Fortunately, the En-Voice signal path is quiet overall, so lowering the level didn't hurt the signal-to-noise ratio, even though the meters read a little lower than I would have liked.

Once you get the input level set properly, the rest of the En-Voice is easy to use. I found the preset bandwidths for the bass and high EQ modules to be perfectly acceptable for vocal recording, and I never had a problem with them. The fully parametric mid band is more than capable of adding any necessary filtering, but as long as I was using decent microphones, I was able to make most of my subtle EQ tweaks with the bass and high bands.

The compressor's preset envelope speeds also posed no problems for recording vocals. Depending on the transient nature of the vocal performance, one of the two settings always worked well. In most cases, it's a good idea to take it easy on the compression while actually tracking vocals. When used judiciously, the En-Voice tames the peaks and allows the tone of the voice to blossom while maintaining the dynamic nature of the vocal performance.

In situations in which I had to utilize heavier doses of compression, I often found it helpful to engage the sidechain filter. This restored some life to the performance by not dulling the highs as much.

The Tube Saturation function can be both a blessing and a curse. To my ears, it goes from subtle to extreme coloration rather quickly, so you'll have to get a handle on when and how to apply it. Of course, the first time I recorded a vocal through the En-Voice, I poured on the saturation to check it out. Later, I determined that I had overdone it-a little goes a long way. Luckily, I was recording a scratch vocal at the time, so there was no harm done.

DIRECT INJECTI recorded some mono keyboard parts through the En-Voice and found that it worked well on certain sounds. Samples of oboes, French horns, and synth leads all matured with a combination of EQ, compression, and tube saturation. Polyphonic instruments like piano and organ, however, didn't fare as well. These instruments tended to overdrive the input too easily. Even when the input level was set properly, I wasn't crazy about the results.

The instrument input on the front panel makes it a snap to process guitar or bass. You can run an electric guitar through your pedal effects and straight into the En-Voice. You're likely to get enough sonic improvement to make simple setups-such as a clean Fender Stratocaster with chorus and delay-sound good going directly to the recorder.

I really liked the way the bass guitar sounded when plugged directly into the En-Voice. The compressor and tube stage gave depth to the tone, while eliminating that typical undesirable DI sound. If you need the bass to take up a little more space in the recording, you can dial in a touch of tube saturation. Take care not to use too much, though, as it can remove the focus of the bass tone. I sometimes wished for more control over the envelope parameters when using the compressor on the bass, because the preset speeds didn't work well with many styles of bass playing.

Electrified acoustic guitars sound really good through the En-Voice as well, because the processor restores some of the life that can get lost through the guitar's pickups. The EQ works well for tone shaping, and the saturation stage gives the guitar sound added body and character.

EN-VOGUEThe En-Voice packs a lot of processing into a single rackspace. The unit is well built, and the signal path is top-notch. The EQ sounds good and is easy to operate. The compressor's tube stage adds character to the signal, especially when tracking with microphones to a digital recorder. The extra fullness it imparted to female vocals was very appealing, and I liked dialing in just a taste of saturation to smear the details a little. Although I would have liked more control over the compressor's envelopes, the presets worked well for most applications.

The En-Voice's ability to handle mic-, line-, and instrument-level signals makes it flexible and convenient to use. And with the addition of the optional digital I/O, you can process tracks that are already digitized. The En-Voice is a clear winner in the field of voice processors.

The DI-MOD 24/48 ($249) is a 24-bit digital interface for MindPrint's En-Voice, Para-Q, and T-Comp processors. The DI-MOD's high-quality 24-bit D/A converters give you a direct connection between your digital recorder and the analog circuitry of the En-Voice.

The DI-MOD 24/48 can handle sampling rates of 44.1 or 48 kHz, and it automatically syncs to the rate detected at the digital input. It comes equipped with S/PDIF I/O as well as analog I/O on 11/44-inch balanced jacks. This allows you to plug a second En-Voice into the converter to send a pair of signals back to the recorder.-Mike Levine