|TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX
Summary: Great vocal processing PLUS great guitar processing all in one convenient box.
Pros: Superb vocal processing giving the singer powerful processing tools and very natural harmony voices. Guitar processing is top-notch. Output is super-quiet with no line noise whatsoever.
Cons: With such excellent sound quality, my only con is that there aren’t more harmony voices. Though of lower quality, the DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 has four voices of harmony, which opens up lots of possibilities. But note that this is just a nit, and definitely not a deal-breaker for me.
Price: $349.00 Street
Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 ~ Used this unit all weekend long, and despite my minor misgivings about having only two harmony voices max, the sound quality of this unit beats the crap out of my DigiTech Vocalist Live 4.
I’m tired. Three gigs in three days, and some coin in my pocket, and I’m a pretty happy man as well. But I didn’t realize I was as tired as I was until I sat down for a little dinner and started writing this article. Part of me not noticing my exhaustion is due to the inspiration I got from using the fantastic TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX. It’s amazing what good sound quality can do for sparking inspiration. For the first time in the hundreds of solo gigs I’ve done over the years, I was completely satisfied with my sound.
Guitar-wise, I was already covered, but vocally, I always knew my rig was lacking. But it was usually good enough, and I knew that the real solution was to simply add some other gear like adding a side-chain to my PA and insert vocal processing units. But being a solo artist, the thought of lugging more gear around just didn’t appeal to me, so I did my best with what I’ve had for several years, hoping that someday I could get a unit that had all the vocal processing I needed in a box. That someday arrived on my doorstep last Wednesday.
I didn’t get a chance to start playing with it until last Thursday night, and I spent a couple of hours dialing in a few presets that I would use for my gig on Friday. And after my gig, though I knew I had to make a couple of tweaks to the presets, I was completely sold on the unit. One of the servers at the restaurant that I work at on Fridays is also a professional singer, and she commented that my sound was “different” than usual. When I queried what she meant by that, she said, “It sounds so much better. So clear and present. It’s gorgeous.” That was all the affirmation I needed!
The first thing I noticed when I started my gig was the three-dimensional quality to my sound. I use a Fishman SA200 SoloAmp as my PA and acoustic guitar amp. It’s a six-speaker array that has great sound dispersal. But Friday night was the first time I felt that it was being used to its full effect. As I mentioned, there was a three-dimensional quality to my sound. I didn’t have to even turn up very loud. The sound was being dispersed as it should be. I think a lot of that had to do with the compressor in the unit. With effective compression, the “tighter” sound seems to project much more, and that is exactly what was happening as my signal issued from the SoloAmp. I didn’t even have a lot of compression dialed in; only 2.7 to 1, which is pretty light, but it was enough to squeeze my sound just enough to make my sound much more full and rich.
Fit and Finish
The VoiceLive Play GTX is a really small unit, measuring about 8″ X 6″ X 2.” It’s uncanny how much power this unit packs with such a diminutive footprint. But I absolutely DIG that it’s so small because it fits in my cord bag! This means that unlike my DigiTech Vocalist Live4, I don’t need a separate gig bag to transport it! On top of that, the metal housing is absolutely rugged, so this unit is totally gig-worthy, and for the amount of gigs that I do per year – I do over 100 gigs a year – I have no doubt that the unit will stand the test of time and the rigors of gigging.
The switches are top quality, and they’re extremely smooth; maybe a bit too smooth. I wish that the toggles had just a little snap. The problem that I have with smooth switches is that it’s easy to press the switch and not know that you’re pressing it. I had a similar issue with my previous unit. But I can understand the reasoning behind it in that in a quiet environment, a the click of a toggle might be a bit distracting.
The LCD screen is very easy to read, though as with any LCD, it can be a bit difficult to read in direct sunlight.
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Presets
One thing the manufacturers tout with their vocal processing units – and TC Helicon is no exception – is the number of “artist-inspired” presets. My DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 had 50 factory presets and 50 user presets, which were essentially copies of the factory presets but were editable. To me, that was fine because it gave me enough examples to use a reference points for editing. The VoiceLive has 235 presets, and the demonstrators do a great job of showing what the presets can do. But frankly, I don’t give a crap about the presets. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, I’ve got great amps and I know what I want out of them. The amp models in the VoiceLive are actually quite good, but I personally would never use them. Same goes for guitar effects. There are some very nice guitar effects in the unit, but I have some incredible pedals like my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay that simply kick ass over onboard effects.
As far as the vocal settings are concerned, being experienced at recording, every singer requires different settings to optimize the qualities of their voice. For instance, I’m a second tenor/baritone, so while I can sing fairly high notes, my tonal color is darker than a full tenor. From a mixing standpoint, I almost always have to have the lows rolled off slightly and require less compression. Presets rarely, if ever, work for me because they’re set for an average. So given all of that, I end up editing a few presets, and use just those in my performances. Such was the case with the VoiceLive Play.
Ease of Use
From my perspective, ease of parameter editing is the “secret sauce” of the VoiceLive Play GTX. TC Helicon must be so confident of this that the only documentation they include in the box is a connection diagram. The user manual and preset list can be downloaded from the TC Helicon site, but for basic setup, you don’t need a manual. The only thing I used the manual for was finding out how to get to the fine controls for the effects, and that just takes pressing the Effects “soft” button twice. Other than that, the editing interface is easy. The LCD screen layout is below:
To access an editing screen, you simply press one of the six buttons, called “soft buttons” on either side of the screen. That will bring up the screen associated with the soft key. Most screens have multiple pages which you can scroll through using the arrow keys. Parameters are adjusted with the control knob in the center. Once in a parameter editing screen, you enter edit mode for the parameter by pressing the soft key next to the parameter. Parameters show up as labeled rectangles on either side of the screen. What absolutely cool though is that the soft keys will light for only the parameters you can edit, providing a great visual cue that indicates what’s editable and what’s not.
As if making it incredibly easy to set up and dial in, the sound quality of the unit incredible! I already described the three-dimensional nature of the sound, but on top of that, there are no errant artifacts or line noise that issue from the unit. It’s dead quiet. But to protect against that, the unit also has a little ground lift switch on the back to protect from ground loops or differing ground references in power sources. Here are a few example clips I recorded direct into my DAW:
Eagles: Peaceful Easy Feelin’
Beatles: In My Life
James Taylor: You’ve Got a Friend
If you do hear any noise, it’s from my microphone pickup ambient noise, but there is no line noise whatsoever. Note that in all the clips, it is the raw sound of the unit. No processing occurred in my production software at all. In the last clip, I noticed that it sounded a little processed. That was fixed at my gig on Friday by removing the chorus effect on the vocals.
I’ve evaluated several vocal processing units, and occasionally sounding like chipmunks with the high harmonies is unavoidable, but I found that the VoiceLive does a much better job of blending vocals than other units I’ve used in the past and generally has a much more natural sound to the harmony voices.
Save for only have two harmony voices, which I also said wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, this unit ROCKS THE HOUSE! I’m simply blown away by sound quality, but also from the fine control over all aspects of the presets. This unit is going to go on my list of game changers for sure!