Sculpting a great vocal track is often key to creating a great piece of music. To that end, the good people at TC-Helicon bring you the VoiceWorks, a 1U rack-mountable, all-in-one pitch-correction, harmony-generation and performance tool, as well as an effects unit and a mic preamp. The unit is touted to work equally well in both studio and live-performance environments by providing as many as four voices of natural-sounding harmonies, real-time pitch correction, thickening/doubling, dynamic processing and effects.
THE OLD IN-OUT
The VoiceWorks includes an XLR input (with switchable +48V phantom power), a balanced ¼-inch input (which also works with an unbalanced connection), stereo ¼-inch outputs, S/PDIF I/O, MIDI In/Out/Thru and a ¼-inch footswitch connection. The front panel is broken down into five areas: a line-input control; an LCD; voices and effect controls; global controls, including a jog wheel and cursor keys; and a mic-input section that boasts gain control, a phantom-power switch, a -20dB pad and a mic-input selector.
There are two basic setups for the VoiceWorks. For studio work, you can insert the unit as you would any channel-insert or external effects. The manual recommends using the S/PDIF connections between the user's audio interface and the VoiceWorks. For use in a live setting, the setup is essentially self-explanatory: Run a mic to the unit, and run one or both of the analog outputs to the mixing desk. (You also use it as a board insert.) In both instances, however, a MIDI keyboard is required to fully take advantage of the unit's ability to respond to real-time program changes and to craft harmonies based on MIDI notes. Also, for live performance, users can use a standard footswitch to toggle between different presets.
NOT THE @#*&ING CHER EFFECT!
The VoiceWorks' pitch-correction functions will be familiar to anyone who has used similar software-based tools. Users are able to select the song's key and scale or constrain the pitch to a specific set of keys. The interval at which an out-of-tune note is pulled to a particular note in the scale is easily adjustable. The responsiveness and amount of pitch correction can also be tailored to specific vocalists and applications. The pitch correction also occurs before the harmony stage; thus, all of the harmonies will be correctly pitched, as well.
Several options are available for creating the backing harmony voices, including Scale, Chord, Fixed Interval and via MIDI note messages. Each is, again, fairly straightforward. With the Scale and Chord modes, the harmony voices fit into the key or chord pattern that the user has selected (major, minor, melodic minor, seventh, ninth and so forth). With the Fixed Interval mode, the harmonies are locked into specific positions regardless of key or scale. And, of course, with the MIDI mode, the harmonies lock onto specific MIDI note numbers.
The first thing that impressed me about the unit was the preamp. Although many continue to whine about the missing warmth of solid-state mic preamps, in testing the unit, I found the pristine, transparent nature of the VoiceWorks preamp pleasing and well-suited to electronic-music production. I ran a Røde NT1 and a Blue Ball through the unit, and I was impressed with the results of both.
My next test involved running some prerecorded vocal tracks through the VoiceWorks and engaging the pitch-correction and harmony functions. The unit allowed me to go from subtle to extreme without a problem. You can move a vocal down a full octave, and it still retains a good deal of its original character without sounding overly robotic. The same goes for the harmony and thickening functions; each of the additional voices sound natural, and the thickening function should be particularly attractive to live-sound engineers and performers.
The VoiceWorks is marketed as a complete vocal-production tool, and I can't argue with that claim. I would love to a see a future version of this product with discrete outputs for each voice, but that's the only tweak I could suggest. For general or extreme pitch-correction chores, as well as recording or augmenting a vocal performance, the VoiceWorks is an excellent tool.
VOICEWORKS > $799
Pros: More natural-sounding pitch-correction technology. Harmony voices lock to any scale, interval or MIDI note. Excellent mic pre.
Cons: Limited number of outputs.