TC Helicon VoicePrism

Jul 1, 2001 12:00 PM, BY GEORGE PETERSEN

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Formed 18 months ago, TC Helicon was a joint venture between TC Electronic and IVL Technologies. By taking the technology that IVL developed a decade ago for DigiTech's award-winning Studio Vocalist Series to the next generation and combining it with TC's proven expertise in studio products, the new partnership has created its first innovative vocal processing tool — VoicePrism.

VoicePrism is a single-box voice formant and pitch processor. Designed primarily for use on vocals, VoicePrism is strictly a mono in/stereo out processor. Features include line- and mic-level inputs (a built-in preamp with phantom power is standard), compression, gating, dual parametric EQ, 4-voice harmony (with individually adjustable gender controls and humanizing parameters), fifth-lead doubling voice for automatic double-tracking, and two separate post-effects blocks with chorus/flange, delay and reverb, and harmony libraries. Harmony effects can be created by “reading” the input signal or may be driven by a MIDI input from a keyboard or sequencer, allowing for super-accurate harmonic doubling or for creating multivoice chords and textures that simply can't be sung.

Part of VoicePrism's appeal comes from its ease of operation. The two-rackspace, slanted front panel makes controls easy to see, while the four “soft knobs” below the LCD screen, dedicated edit buttons that link directly to page menus, large datawheel and four individual level pots for adjusting lead/harmony/effects/input levels help get the sound you need, fast. The rear panel has MIDI in/out/thru, balanced TRS input and outputs (-10/+4 dB switchable), co-ax S/PDIF digital output (24-bit/44.1 kHz), ¼-inch footswitch jack and an expansion slot for the optional VoiceCraft card. An additional aux input bypasses the harmony section, allowing the unit to be used as a “conventional” reverb/effects box, as well as providing an input to add a feed from external processor or source into your harmony mix. An IEC AC cord socket (no wall wart!) connects the unit to any 100 to 240-volt AC power supply.

VoicePrism splits the vocal input into separate lead voice and harmony effect channels, with the option of assigning EQ or compression to each. These two channels can then be treated with separate effects processing, such as delay, chorus, flange and reverb. The lead channel has a thickening algorithm for double-tracking effects. The harmony channel features four independent, formant-corrected pitch shifters that derive natural harmony voices from the vocal input. Independently adjustable parameters for each voice include gender, vibrato, timing, randomizing and scooping. Parameters can be switched mid-song — say, going to different modes for verse or chorus — a useful feature if you're short on tracks or inputs.

I started checking out VoicePrism's 128 presets and was impressed with what I heard. The unit offers a ton of sounds that are immediately useful in either live or studio situations: parallel third up; thirds and fifths; doublings; vocal stacks; choirs; and multipart harmonies. Some presets just cry out for specific applications — “female choir” has a nice B-52's sound; “wide 4-part” sounds like it walked off the last 'N Sync album; and “tight 4-part” has a smooth big band/Modernaires-style sound. Some of the vocal doublings are really nice: The “mixed doubling” and “country 2x” are perfectly suited for all kinds of material. The soft knobs provide quick access to parameters or alternate scales (modes) to easily create custom sounds. A wide range of parameter adjustments and a number of offbeat presets — such as “scary voices,” “can't sing” (random key changes) and “bassman” (an instant Popeye-style effect) — allow VoicePrism to be used for sound design or other non-singing applications.

For me, the most important feature of any product is the sound. Though VoicePrism's algorithms are not always perfect and minor glitches are occasionally audible, the harmony effects are the best I've heard from any such product. But as well as it works, the unit is still reliant on the quality and intonation of the vocal material coming into the input — the tighter the original performance, the better the results. Another point is context. For example, vibrato needs to be adjusted to each application — it works better when subtle, just as in real life. From an audio standpoint, VoicePrism's overall performance is excellent. The effects are stellar, and the preamp, compressor and EQ are surprisingly good.

Perhaps the best part of VoicePrism is yet to come, with its VoiceCraft HVM (Human Voice Modeling card), which adds AES/EBU and S/PDIF I/O, as well as real-time reshaping and resynthesis of the human voice, with parameters such as breath, growl, rasp, inflection, and head and chest resonances. The VoicePrism is $1,299; the optional VoiceCraft card is $599; and VoicePrismPlus (with the card pre-installed) is $1,898.

Dist. by TC Electronic Inc., 742-A Hampshire Rd., Westlake Village, CA 91361; 805/373-1828; fax: 805/379-2648; www.tc-helicon.com.






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