Stompbox system love for vocalists
TC-Helicon staked a claim years ago as “the vocal processing company,” and never looked back. During that time, it’s produced vocal processors for stage, studio, and both, but the VoiceTone Singles (coupled with the MP-75 mic) represent a new—and clever—way of dealing with vocal processing.
There are four Singles-series stompboxes: T1 Adaptive Tone and Dynamics, C1 HardTune and Correction, D1 Doubling and Detune, and R1 Vocal Tuned Reverb. Each has an XLR input with non-defeatable phantom power, XLR out, footswitch, and various controls; the mic gain control is on the side and recessed, so it’s hard to hit accidentally. The packaging is sturdy—a rubber, non-stick base and die-cast metal top. You can daisy-chain the audio to create an effects chain, but each stompbox requires its own included AC adapter
The always-on phantom power isn’t much of an issue. Condenser mics need it, and dynamics aren’t harmed by it. Although rarely used for vocals, older ribbon mics can be damaged by phantom power; newer ribbons can cope better, but overall, I’d recommend staying away from ribbons—and not using any of the pedals as “hardware inserts” for DAWs that accommodate external hardware.
Each unit also has two unusual features: A USB port on the back that communicates with TCHelicon’s VoiceSupport software (Figure 1), and a Mic Control on/off button. The latter works in conjunction with TC-Helicon’s MP-75 mic, which lets you control effects from the mic itself—let’s look at that next.
Mr. Microphone, the Control Freak
The MP-75 is a dynamic supercardioid mic designed specifically for singers. It’s comfortable to hold, and has an internal shock mount for the capsule; breath and pop rejection is very good, even without a pop filter, and handling noise is also kept under control. Compared to an SM58, the output is hotter, with a crisper high-frequency response. Although I didn’t have any gigs scheduled during the time of writing this review, the company claims good resistance to feedback.
Okay, so it’s a really good vocal mic with a reasonable price, but there’s also a recessed pushbutton switch for controlling your effects. Control is limited to toggling enable/bypass, but if several Singles are daisy-chained, the switch works with multiple effects. As it’s a toggle, if one effect is enabled and another bypassed, hitting the switch bypasses the enabled effect and enables the bypassed one.
I was kind of hoping that something like holding the button or double-clicking would perform some other function, but the concept is young, and it’s easy to update the firmware for TCHelicon gear, so who knows what tomorrow may bring. . . .
Software for Stompboxes
And the mention of firmware brings us to the cross-platform VoiceSupport software (Figure 1). This provides a way to do firmware updates, and is a gateway to online access of manuals, tips and tricks, etc. When I first opened it, the program immediately downloaded new firmware for TC-Helicon devices (including the VoiceTone Singles) as well as a variety of content. For TC-Helicon gear that supports presets (the Singles don’t, of course), VoiceSupport also lets you maintain a preset database, and download new presets.
Fig. 1 The VoiceSupport site isn’t just about downloading new firmware for TC-Helicon gear, but includes a lot of useful information.
I updated the firmware, subscribed to a couple of their newsletters, and checked our their forums. There’s a lot of content, and the whole concept is extremely cool. TC-Helicon gets major props for figuring out a new and different take on the concept of customer support.
T1 Adaptive Tone and Dynamics
Now to the effects. The Adaptive Tone part of the T1 analyzes your voice and does magic mojo stuff to enhance it, apparently by reducing lower mids and giving a highfrequency lift. The Shape control varies between a bassier and brighter timbre, and the analysis thing isn’t hype; it takes a few seconds after adjusting the control and singing into the effect before the EQ kicks in. The effect doesn’t hit you over the head— it’s fairly subtle, but if the result is too bright, a Warmth button brings in some low end without getting muddy.
The remaining control provides compression and deessing, and again, it’s subtle— don’t expect to hear compression pumping. Overall, T1 gives some pleasant shaping and lifting to your voice. It’s sort of the vocal equivalent of a push-up bra; it accents what’s there rather than adding an artificial quality.
R1 Vocal Tuned Reverb
I’m generally not a fan of added reverb for live performance; there’s usually enough from the hall ambience, although for smaller spaces, reverb can wrap your vocal in a warmer, friendlier sound. And for those applications, the R1 does indeed “tune” the reverb in an intelligent way. Looked at through an analyzer, most of the eight reverb algorithms concentrate their energy in the 100 to 650Hz range, above which the response starts rolling off but has another peak around 1.3kHz (vocal range—I’m sure that’s no coincidence).
There are some variations on this theme. For example, the plate has a bit of a lift around 4kHz, as do the Ambience and Room options because they represent smaller spaces with less damping. In addition to the reverb algorithm selection rotary switch, there’s also a Dry/Wet balance control. If you’re going to use reverb on your voice, the R1 is a honey.
D1 Doubling and Detune
This is extremely cool. There are eight algorithms, which range from tight and loose doubling, to a multi-voice chorus effect, to simple detuning and thickening. These are, like the VoiceTone Singles in general, relatively subtle and designed to support your voice, not overwhelm it (although you can dial in full-wet if you want to take it further). However, the remaining three algorithms are pretty wild: Octave Up and Octave Down do what you expect, but what you might not expect is how well they work and how natural they sound. Another option, Shout, adds an octave-higher voice in addition to enlarging the sound.
This is a “don’t leave home without it” effect if you want to make your voice sound like more than it is, and the implementation is superb.
C1 HardTune and Correction
You want that sound? You got it, and a few others as well. This box has three controls. One handles gender, from low and Darth Vader-y, through standard, all the way up to a chipmunk effect. Another determines the correction’s “hardness.” The final control selects your key of choice (or 12-step chromatic), but there’s also an instrument input for guitar to guide the harmonization, as well as a “thru” jack for the guitar as the instrument input needs to be fed by a dry guitar signal.
There’s not much more to say except that this does an excellent job of performing the pitchcorrection tricks that you hear on so many recordings (whether you want to or not!).
Those who plan to use all four Singles might be a little put off that each needs its own AC adapter; if you want to use a pedalboard-type power supply to circumvent this, note that the pedals require 12V/ negative tip, which isn’t all that common. However, TC offers the Singles Connect Kit with a single adapter, as well as cables for daisychaining both XLR and power cables—very considerate.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with these effects, although I’ve always been favorably impressed with TC-Helicon’s vocal processors. Probably what’s most striking is that the Singles are quality pedals; they have the “TC sound,” which tends toward a clean, defined character, and the effects are extremely well-implemented. They’re sturdy, fill a really useful need for vocalists, and the price is right. What’s not to like?
MP-75: $210 MSRP;
T1: $179 MSRP;
R1: $205 MSRP;
D1: $205 MSRP;
C1: $235 MSRP;
SINGLES CONNECT KIT:
Compact and sturdy. Refined sound quality. Reasonable cost. Very easy to use. MP-75 mic isn’t just about control, but is definitely tailored to vocals.
Mic switch only controls effect enable/bypass. If you get all four, factor in the cost of the Singles Connect Kit if you want a neat stage setup. Phantom power can’t be defeated.
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