Roland VP-7 Review

Roland''s VP-7 ($549) is a vocoder and harmonizer, with a handful of expressive sampled-voice presets thrown in for good measure. The unit is clearly aimed at the performing soloist or small ensemble that may need a boost in the vocal department.
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Roland''s VP-7 vocal processor houses sampled voices, automatic vocal harmonizing, and vocoding in a great-sounding, easy-to-use desktop unit.

Roland''s VP-7 ($549) is a vocoder and harmonizer, with a handful of expressive sampled-voice presets thrown in for good measure. The unit is clearly aimed at the performing soloist or small ensemble that may need a boost in the vocal department.

Because the VP-7 sports only basic controls, your programming options are somewhat limited, but on the positive side, I rarely needed to refer to the manual. You do get a clearly written manual, an illustrated quick-start pamphlet that covers the basics, and a tutorial DVD.

The VP-7 can sit on a desktop or synthesizer''s top panel, or you can purchase a stand mount. You connect your MIDI controller to the VP-7''s MIDI In jack on its rear panel. There is no MIDI Thru, which would be handy to daisy-chain another synth or MIDI gadget.

The supplied headset microphone wraps comfortably around the lower part of the neck, with plenty of flexibility to adjust the mic''s placement. The mic is hard-wired to a thin but sturdy cable outfitted with an XLR plug, and there''s enough length to stand and move comfortably. The unit''s combo jack accommodates either ¼-inch or XLR plugs and supplies 48V phantom power so you can use your own mic. Another ¼-inch jack accepts a footswitch, used to bypass the unit.

The VP-7 offers three functions: sample playback (called Human Voice), harmony processing (called Vocal Designer), and vocoding. Each section has its own presets. Only one processor can function at a time, so there''s no real-time layering of harmonies with Vocoder or sample playback.

Volume, Mic, Harmony, and Ambience knobs control the sound. The Volume knob sets the combined output of vocals and processed sound. The Mic knob adjusts microphone input; if it''s set too low, tracking is intermittent, whereas if it''s set too high, the output distorts and lacks dynamics. The LED level indicator to the left of the knob will turn bright red if your mic signal is too hot, and will turn green if the input is too quiet. The Harmony knob blends vocals with harmonized output, adding voices as the knob is turned clockwise. Turning the knob to the far right replaces the live voice with a processed version, which is handy for adding a bit of thickening. The Ambience knob controls the depth of the built-in reverb.

You get four sample-playback presets: Female Choir, Kid''s Choir, Gregorian Choir, and Jazz Scat. Seven variations are available for the sample-playback and harmony-processing functions. These are accessed by pressing the Vocoder button along with Preset buttons. Although external MIDI Control Change messages let you alter attack and release rates, there is no provision for storing your own presets.

The factory presets sound great, with no obvious looping and generous enough mapping to mask any evidence of stretched samples. Expressive velocity switching adds realism. The Female Choir layers voices singing a breathy Hoo at lower velocities and singing Hah with more forceful playing. The Jazz Scat preset offers a soft Ooh at low velocities and graduates to Bop and then Dow with increasing velocity.

The main attractions are the Vocal Designer and Vocoder sections. A duo and a trio with two choices for stacking the harmony make up the Vocal Designer presets. Without benefit of MIDI, the Duet and first Trio presets stack the live voice at the top of the harmony, and the second Trio preset moves one voice a fifth above the melody. Add MIDI note messages, and the harmonies adapt to the keyboard voicing. Any MIDI controller will do, and my Axon AX 50 MIDI guitar worked quite well. The harmonizations are intelligible though a tad darker than the real deal. With the mic properly adjusted, they tracked my every pitch (despite the many swoops and glides caused by my lack of vocal precision); it all sounded thoroughly professional.

The sonic distinctions between the three Vocoder presets are not major. The second preset is an emulation of vintage vocoding: a bit warmer and slightly less intelligible than presets 1 and 3. The third Vocoder preset is the brightest sounding and is monophonic, with a last-voice-played priority. I love vocoders, and the VP-7''s presets did not disappoint. My preference was for the first preset; it generated, rich, bright, and buzzy chords from my utterances (see Web Clip 1).

There''s no denying the usefulness and fun of a plug-and-play desktop vocal processor. Roland''s VP-7 strikes a successful balance among complexity, out-of-the-box musicality, sound quality, and just plain fun. Check one out.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 3
Roland VP-7 Product Page