TASCAM TA-1VP Review

VOCAL PROCESSOR/CHANNEL STRIP WITH ANTARES AUTO-TUNE AND MIC MODELING
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The TA-1VP, essentially a hardware “channel strip” optimized for vocalists in both live and studio contexts, crams multiple processors into a single rack space unit: mic preamp with pad and +48V phantom power, compressor, noise gate and de-esser, over-achieving 2-band EQ, mic modeling, tube warmth, and Auto-Tune Evo pitch correction that can range from transparent to “hard,” highly-processed pitch correction.

The straightforward user interface gives each major “module” its own complement of front-panel controls and meters, which work with a data knob and Page/Save controls to navigate through the various parameters, change values, and store edits. For example, need to change the compressor''s attack time? Just push the front-panel ATK button in the compressor/gate section, then adjust the value to taste—super easy. I do wish that the front panel offered a dedicated mic preamp volume knob, but otherwise the interface is outstanding.

You can run the TA-1VP “inline” between your mic and PA as a live vocal channel strip, with a mixer''s insert points or aux send/returns, or as an external “hardware plug-in” for DAWs that support this kind of routing. The documentation is very helpful regarding setup for both vocal and instrumental use; while vocal processing is the main attraction, several of the factory presets are geared toward drums, bass, and other instruments. I was even able to tweak a weak-sounding upright bass part with questionable intonation into a useable track, thanks to the pitch correction, mic modeling, and EQ tools.

THE MODULES
The mic preamp has a 20dB pad and up to 30dB of gain trim, yielding a decent enough range for vocals. I noticed some audible, but not necessarily objectionable, hiss at higher gain; it''s fine for live, but for critical studio applications I preferred using the TA-1VP as a line-level processor, preceded by a high-end outboard mic pre.

Regarding dynamics control, the downward expander/gate is smooth on vocals, and works well to help reduce background hiss and noise. The compressor has variable knee, along with attack and release controls, and is very effective whether controlling dynamics due to extreme changes in singing levels, or fattening the sound. The de-essing option makes it easy to control sibilance without removing any more highs than necessary.

I really liked the 2-band EQ. You can individually select the filter type for each band—fully parametric peaking, high- and low-pass filters, shelving EQ—it''s all there. While two bands of EQ is usually plenty for either shaping tone or solving problems, I occasionally wished for a third band when processing instruments, or when I needed simultaneous tonal shaping and a surgical EQ fix.

THE ANTARES CONNECTION
Antares is famous for their pitch-correction and modeling plug-ins. Their mic modeling does make a noticeable difference, and the selected models provide a pretty wide range of useful timbres. The snare and kick mic models in particular hint at the TA-1VP''s ability to serve as a channel strip for processing other audio sources, including instruments. While there are a limited number of both source mics and modeled types, generic models such as “handheld dynamic” and “large-diaphragm condenser” work with practically any source mic. Also, TASCAM encourages experimenting with different source mics—even “mismatching” them, which can lead to some cool-sounding results.

Based on Auto-Tune Evo''s “automatic” mode, the pitch correction lacks the precision of the computer plug-in''s “graphic” mode, but for on-the-fly pitch correction, it works well as long as you specify the right scale and the vocalist is “close”—more than 50 cents off from the “right” note is problematic (then again, a singer who''s a quarter-tone off is problematic, too). As with any pitch correction, it''s best if the singer monitors the “dry” vocal; most singers will be thrown off pitch if they listen to the corrected output while performing.

The Auto-Tune Evo version''s improved pitch detection makes the TA-1VP a definite improvement over the earlier Antares AVP-1 regarding pitch-correction accuracy and transparency, but if you want you can get that “Cher effect,” too—just crank up the speed and sensitivity controls. Less-sensitive and slower settings produce more natural, transparent pitch correction.

A double-tracking effect can feed a second stereo output jack for separate panning and processing, or you can mix it in at any ratio up to 50% with the main output. But that''s it for time-based effects; you''ll need to provide your own echo, modulation, or reverb.

WRAPPING UP
With Auto-Tune, I liked the TA-1VP best as a post-recording insert effect, as I could control the speed via MIDI, as well as choose which words and phrases needed fixes. This kind of precision gives greater realism than just processing everything, although of course in live performance, you don''t have the luxury of using the TA-1VP this way, so the ability to have relatively transparent pitch correction is welcome. Of course, if you want the Auto-Tune to serve as an “effect,” the TA-1VP does that too.

I love that a standard 1/4" footswitch jack can be assigned to the Comp/Gate, EQ, Auto-Tune, Mic Mod and Double Track enable/bypass; the main bypass; or to increment presets. It''s even possible to bypass just a couple of effects (such as the EQ and Auto-Tune) with the footswitch, then kick them in as needed. In a “live” setting, this let me get a more “produced” sound on the choruses while leaving the verses more stripped down.

For studio use, a good preamp and plug-in processing with full automation will be inherently more flexible than a hardware processor like the TA-1VP. However if your focus is live performance, but you also need a unit that''s suitable for the studio—and as a bonus, lets you dial in sounds quickly—the TA-1VP is an excellent choice. It really does a great job of turning plain, basic vocals into fully produced and polished ones.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the TASCAM TA-1VP product page.