For the longest time, if you wanted to control onstage vocal effects while singing live, you had very few options. Fortunately, last year TC-Helicon introduced VoiceLive, the company's superpro take on live vocal effects in a sturdy black floor pedal. But at $995 list, it wasn't exactly chump change.
Next in line are VoiceLive's little twin brothers, the VoiceTone Correct and VoiceTone Create — TC's means of splitting one powerful core into two smaller feature sets at a more manageable price. The Correct gives you control over pitch, compression, EQ and de-essing, while the Create is all about the reverbs, delays, distortions and a bunch of other solo and combination effects.
BACK ON THE CHAIN GANG
Naturally, you can use the pedals independently, but for this review, I chained them together. As the manual suggests, I hooked up Correct first in the mono chain, plugging in the mic's XLR cable to the Mic input and chaining a second XLR from the Main out of Correct to the Mic input of Create. A final XLR goes from Create's Left out to the P.A. mixer.
Be sure to turn Correct's Input knob all the way to the left; keep Shape, Compress, De-ess and Pitch at the center detents; and turn the Input, Patch, X, Y and Mix knobs on Create to the left. I hastily forgot and was rewarded with an awesomely loud feedback when I turned up mixer's master volume. When you're ready to test the levels, use Correct's Input knob to set the gain, and remember to bypass the EQ on your mixer. The pedals' outputs are hotter than what comes from a typical microphone, so make sure to set the volume on your mixer lower than you would for a standard microphone to avoid feedback.
The pedals are considerably smaller and lighter than VoiceLive. However, they each come with separate wall-wart power adapters that can take two or three spots on a power strip, as opposed to VoiceLive's single-space AC cord. But VoiceLive has its own burden. This may be a positive for some, but VoiceLive has more sounds and functions than I could dream of wanting. If you want to crack up your friends, try one of its many bizarre effects such as “Arnold,” which makes you sound like Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. There are also barbershop quartet-style harmonies that sound amazing, but are a little phony for a live show. I mean, where are the backup singers?
I admit I'm hesitant to use pitch correction live. I'd rather practice and take voice lessons than do the Cher thing for the audience to hear. But what's interesting about Correct is that you can route a Main output to the front-of-house mic input while routing a Guide output to your monitors, so that you can hear the pitch-correction effect separately.
Another plus is that Correct doesn't take a music degree to figure out. With VoiceLive, you select the Root and ScaleType in the parameter settings to tell it what your target notes are, and you pick a Window, Attack and Amount level to tell it how much, how quickly and how subtly or aggressively to make the changes to your tone. If you've got a lot of music theory under your belt, that will be easy. If you don't have the time to set pitch parameters for every song, or if you don't know that you're singing an F Min2 (harmonic minor) scale, this is daunting.
The automated Correct simply goes by the chromatic scale. Set the Display and LE effect buttons on, turn up the Pitch knob, and the Input meter will tell you how far you're straying from pitch, while the Output meter reveals how much it's correcting pitch. The manual suggests keeping the knob set between 10 and 2 o'clock for natural pitch correction, but one downside I discovered is that even before 12 o'clock, I heard a fair amount of bubbling artifacts. This is where that Guide output could come in handy, as you definitely don't want your audience hearing that. And if you think of the pedal as a guide rather than an effect that just “fixes” your voice, Correct makes more sense. Turned on, you'll hear a chorused sound — your natural pitch, as well as the corrected pitch along with it. The manual suggests that you try to sing exactly along with the corrected pitch so that you'll self-correct whenever you get off track. The downside is that it's tough to connect with your audience while you're staring at a pedal on the floor. And the bubbling artifacts will definitely get distracting if you turn up the Pitch knob too high.
As for Correct's other effects, the Warmth button boosts low end, and the De-ess knob diminishes your esssss sounds. Meanwhile, the Shape and Compress functions can run in either Adaptive or manual mode. For the Shape EQ, Adaptive will “adapt” to your voice, making it brighter and less boomy. (You can also hold down the Warmth and Shape buttons simultaneously for two seconds to manually change the High Boost or Low Cut.) Using Adaptive Shape, my voice sounded brighter and more present, just how I like it. Likewise, Adaptive Compression will “adapt” to your voice and even out the variances in your volume, so certain words don't get lost and others don't spike. But the compression deadened my voice in a way that was a bit too much for my taste.
Moving on to Create, I have to admit my bias and say that the effects are what I came here for. In this little box, you get 99 presets, and you can tweak a combination of two parameters for each preset via the X and Y knobs.
What's nice about the presets is that they're based on what you can use rather than what will freak out your friends (I'm looking at you, VoiceLive). Cartoon voices are fun, and VoiceLive has everything and the kitchen sink, which is great, but it also gives you more to navigate. With Create, the first 20 presets are reverbs, the next 10 are delays, 10 thickeners, 10 transducers and so on. Like with VoiceLive, you can run Create in stereo (for the PingPong Rooms delay/reverb and other stereo effects). Other presets are separated by genres: pop/R&B, rock/metal, country and jazz/ballad. At the end are special effects such as Perculating Robot and Bathtub Cylon.
One nitpicky complaint is that the Patch knob is sensitive and moves very quickly between presets, easily skipping past the one you want. It would have been nice if the knob had detents for each preset or at least a bit more resistance.
SOME LIKE IT SIMPLE
These pedals are way easier to navigate than their big-brother predecessor, but for Correct and Create's cheaper price points, TC-Helicon made some sacrifices. For example, I would have liked to see a MIDI In. My band's keyboardist runs a laptop with backing in Ableton Live. Our drummer syncs his click with a MIDI cable from the laptop interface to his “drum lair,” which also connects out to my VoiceLive's MIDI in, giving me delay synced to tempo. Create does have a tap-tempo function, but that's not always convenient. I also use VoiceLive's MIDI In signal light to count the first four clicks and start singing before the music kicks in. The only way to do that with tap tempo is to have the drummer play a click, which takes away from the impact of the intro.
To be fair, these pedals are really aimed at people who need pitch correction, EQ, effects, etc., but don't want or need to deal with a complicated setup. If you're going to get all mad scientist onstage, stick with VoiceLive. However, if you'd like easy control of basic vocal treatments and effects in stompboxes that are superlight and easy to throw in your pedalboard case, the VoiceTone pedals may be right up your alley.
VOICETONE CREATE > $345
VOICETONE CORRECT > $345
Pros: Lightweight. Intuitive navigation. Automatic pitch correction. Correct has a nice vocal sound. Good amount of usable effects in Create.
Cons: No MIDI. Cumbersome wall warts. Pitch correction causes bubbly sounds if turned up too high. Input gain is fairly hot.