It was at last year's NAMM show that I saw the VoicePro for the first time. One of the engineers from TC walked me through some of the features and gave me a demo on a beta unit. The box was designed to do one thing really well: process the human voice. I realized very quickly that the combination of voice-trained pitch detection, voice modeling, and voice-optimized time-stretching-and just as important, a well-designed and efficient UI-makes it an extremely compelling product. Both in terms of usability and promised performance, it seemed years ahead of any plug-ins I'd seen. It was the most gee-whiz product I saw at the show. I asked if I could get one right away. Six months later one ended up on my doorstep. I immediately took it down to my NYC studios, and handed it over to über-producer Neil Mclellan, whom I introduced to Tape Op readers in issue #49 with his review of the Dynaudio Acoustics BM5A/BM9S monitoring system. He spent a couple months with the VoicePro, and I asked him to tell me what he thought. His stream-of-consciousness comments follow. Pretend you have crooked teeth and a "ciggy" in your mouth, and read his words in an excited but half-whispered British accent to yourself, as if you're sharing revelations with an unenlightened friend. Afterwards, visit the TC-Helicon website, and download some of the MP3 audio demos. For each effect, I'd suggest listening first to the effected file before listening to the dry. Some of the demos will have you rolling on the floor with laughter! Also, keep in mind that you'll be hearing low-bandwidth MP3 artifacts (like comb- filtering); the VoicePro sounds much better in real life! Anyway, here are Neil's comments.
($3495 MSRP; www.tc-helicon.com) -AH
Amazing pitch correction keeps the natural sound of the original voice even when it's at "number 11." It does not remove the "life" out of the performance by sounding like a synth, which I feel the Antares TDM Auto-Tune does have a tendency to do.
There are three ways you use the Pitch correction. Scale- based auto mode is the fastest way of getting results. Just type in the key of your tune and off you go. Depending on whether or not one is at the shallow end of the vocal talent pool, this will or will not work. If not, don't panic; there is mode 2. This is scale-based as well but with the ability to manually override the scale using a MIDI note. This is my favorite setting for me as I like to get more of the performance from my vocal takes (warts and all) and fix them later. I find that with the music I produce, once the vocal performance is too coached, I loose vibe. So in mode 2, with the capability of bending the really whack notes in tune-or if there is a section where multiple singers or backing singers are in tune, then the lead has to be too-the MIDI input combined with automatic mode is the King for me. Mode 3 is for when one has the sort of artist that can't sing, can't dance, but looks great (and will probably go a long way in music!!!!). All the tuning is programmed over MIDI. This is a labour-intensive method; do this at home rather than in an expensive studio. There is also a way of modifying the vocal speed to slow down and speed up the vocal in real-time, but I did not find a use for this function as I tend to move my vocals in Pro Tools.
Okay now for more cool bits. In terms of vocal production, we as producers/engineers often have to give thin-sounding vocals more "warmth" or depth. Normally, the quickest way is to EQ it and Bob's your uncle. I found a really, really, really cool way of doing this. Use the Resonance setting to completely change the character of the vocal without changing the pitch or using EQ. I swear this is an amazing tool and think this is as useful as pitch correction. I really found this so cool when using the lead singer to do backing vocals; I removed all similar traits from the lead vocal so it gave me the depth I would get from hiring in a session singer but still with the tightness of the original singer. Imagine having a vocalist backed up by their brothers and sisters; you would get that tightness but with different character.
The other really cool function is the Spectral EQ. Folks, you are gonna love this one. Need air on the vocal without turning the esses into sharp knives to chop off your ears? Then this is it. POPTASTIC. You get high without any side effects, which in my books is a ten out of ten. At last! Free at last!!!!!!! There is also the ability to add or subtract vibrato on the next page called Inflection, but I must confess, I did not have a use for this as I used VocALign in Pro Tools to keep all my vocals tight...Sorry. There are a couple of cool effects in the Breath section I use sparingly, and it's cool, but in my situational use I did not feel comfortable using this setting. Although as an effect, it is wickid. It really makes the vocal whisper, and not in a hackish way, but in a cool, almost frightening way-really cool for atmospheric effects.
The harmonizer programs when used in moderation really give me a depth to my lead vocals-but mix them really quietly. You must try the intelligent harmony setting where in conjunction with a MIDI keyboard and sequencer, the unit creates up to four harmony parts based on the MIDI notes. I found this really, really cool and totally fresh sounding-very Imogen Heap and fresh as you like. This effect really made the unit rock for me, and aside from the pitch correction, it's a major plus and a good reason to buy this unit.
The unit is also really cool for double-tracking the lead vox. Instead of using small delays with modulation and slight constant de-tuning, or comping another lead vox to run in the background of the mix, this box seems to detune the lead vox in really small and musical increments. It sounded not as natural as using a real double but again did not sound so artificial so that I could not use it. (It's normally a really hard thing to get this particular effect right without having some degree of phasing with the lead.)
On to the studio effects side of this beast. By this I mean reverbs, delays, chorus, flanging, and combinations thereof. Now to a regular Joe Bloggs like me, I normally get freaked by all of these effects happening in one box and then having a small screen to navigate all of this stuff; it can lead to trouble in a fast pressure situation. I normally stay off the bleeding edge of new gear as I don't want to look like a knob on sessions, so I normally go with tried & tested, old-school methods. However, I think I took a brave pill when I was recording Angie Mattson (singer-songwriter from LA). I found this box great for my big standard effects to help vocals along. The reverb ducking was really cool; it had a much more dynamic effect than just delaying the reverb. In general, the reverbs reminded me of the TC Electronic M2000; however, the tails seem to be really improved. Also, having MIDI control over the reverb lengths gave me a very fast way of adding rich texture and ambience to the vocals. Overall, a good sounding reverb- nothing unpleasant or "metal" in this. I felt that the flange was a bit "metal" or "digital" sounding. Not great on vocals but really amazing when I fed my KORG MS-20 through it. It really was so usable that it will go in my next remix, deffo. I haven't checked out the chorus as I did not have a chance to use it.
The key to this whole side of the box is the matrix section. This is where all the effects are, and one can turn blocks on or off pending on what one requires. There are blocks for harmony, compressor, de-esser, delay, reverb, EQ, pitch, breath, spectral-basically everything that the unit is capable of is separated into blocks so that I can go back to my childhood and assemble Lego sets. I love this. It's like being in front of a bantam patchbay with 40 cords resting round your neck and a spliff in your mouth looking at the bay thinking, "Right what can I chain together to make this the most wickid sound on the planet." Well that for me is the matrix section minus the cables and spliff!!!! A really creative point to be able to do what you like where you like. It rocks!
All of these blocks have to end off somewhere, and you need control over the levels and routing just like on a regular mixing desk. Graphically, this is well laid out and is easy to use. One has the Dry Lead-this sends the input just through the dynamics and EQ blocks of the unit. Then there is the VirtuaLead-this is the output after pitch correction, character, and resonance type of effects. Then there is the μMod-this block deals with delays, reverbs, flange, and chorus type effects. These virtual blocks have, as on a regular mixing desk, aux sends so I can send all my pitch-corrected vocals to an aux which then goes to the right amount of reverb, delay, etc. I found this mixer page really fast and practical.
Overall I was really impressed with this unit. I am so glad mainly to have a much better sound than Auto-Tune. It not only works more effectively but does not robotize or remove all the performance that one spends a long time coaxing out of the artist. I would recommend to everyone that they try this out for the correction alone. Not one of my mixing mates has spotted the pitch correction on my mixes yet!!!! Normally they can spot all the heavy Auto-Tune points as we all can-well, not anymore!!!
The menu system took me a few minutes to get into, mainly because we all use big screens nowadays, so having a small window freaked me slightly. I wish there were a way of running this unit on a bigger screen with a cool remote. [The VoicePro's backlit, color TFT screen is relatively large for a rackmount processor. And there's a downloadable editor application for Mac and PC. -AH] The Help menu has been invaluable to me, and I am so happy it actually provides help rather than just telling you what a particular function does. Thank you.
I tested this unit at length on projects with Angela McCluskey (Blue Note artist and vocalist for Télépopmusik and Wild Colonials) and Hannah Robinson (songwriter and session singer whose writing credits include Dannii Minogue, Carl Cox, Pascal Gabriel), and I used it to mix The Ping Pong Bitches "Rock Ya Body" coming out on Mark Moore's (S'Express) label in the UK. Check this box out. Happiness might just be a box called VoicePro.