Posts Tagged ‘tc helicon’


Trimming the fat from my rig…

For the past 15 years, I’ve gigged between 150 to 200 times a year. I should clarify that I’ve actually been gigging for twice as long, but it was 15 years ago that I started playing venues where I had to bring my own equipment. Prior to that, I only played gigs where I could plug into a board, or more accurately, all the gigs I played just happened to have a board. But then I started getting gigs in other venues where I had to provide my own sound.

I first started out with a Soundcraft GigRac 300 powered mixer that drove two passive Yamaha monitors. Combined with my pedals, guitar, mic and music stand, that was a couple of hundred pounds of gear that took up to a few trips to lug in, depending upon where I was playing. I played with this set up for several years.

Then a few years ago, I discovered the Fishman SA220 SoloAmp PA that combined mixer and a 6-speaker array into a single unit that weighs only 25 pounds. Now I could do everything in a single trip! But being all about efficiency, I was still looking for ways to trim the weight from my rig. Enter the TC Helicon Play Electric.

Before I moved to the excellent TC Helicon Harmony G XT, for years I played with the VoiceLive Play GTX, and though the GTX had on-board effects, I just didn’t like how they sounded, so I still ran the guitar signal into a few effects boxes. But all that changed when I started using the Play Electric. With the TonePrint models for chorus, reverb and delay built into the unit, I’ve had no need to lug my pedal board.

You see, the most important thing for me when playing live acoustic through a board is to not get that flat, mid-rangy,  and dead plugged-in acoustic guitar sound that seems to be so prevalent with plugged in acoustics. I’ve found that the way to avoid this is to use effects like chorus, reverb and a bit of delay to make the tone more rich and do some tone shaping. It takes away some of the natural tone of the sound, but it sounds a hell of a lot better than my guitar being directly plugged right into a board.

But until recently, I could only achieve that by lugging around my own modulation effect pedals. The Play Electric’s effects models completely solve that issue, and along with the acoustic amp simulator that I’m using, there is just no need to lug my pedal board to a solo gig. Now, all I bring along is a bag of cords that I also can use for the Play Electric, and another bag to carry a couple of songbooks and my iPad, plus my SoloAmp if needed. That’s a serious reduction in lug weight and bulk.

Crystal-clear vocals and guitar tones

As far as the unit’s performance is concerned, I couldn’t be happier with the tone from both the vocals and guitar. Granted, I spent a few hours getting the tones for both vocals and guitar dialed-in, but I would’ve done that with any unit. The point though is that it was all worth it. At the restaurant that I play at two to three times a week, a challenge is volume. I need to be loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that it’s overpowering to the diners. The compression for both vocals and guitar performs quite nicely, and allows me to get my sound out in the restaurant without turning up the gain faders on the restaurant’s board. What I noticed is that my sound gets great distribution with the compression, but also, the sound is very clear, especially with the guitar.

Harmony tracking, as expected, is awesome with the Play Electric, though the harmony voicing seems a bit clearer than with other units. That’s a good thing, but it also means that harmonies stand out more, and if I’m even slightly off, you can tell the difference. One thing that is actually kind of weird, and something that no one has figured out is harmonies when playing an F#m chord. I’m not sure why this is, but every unit I’ve ever played, be it the DigiTech VocalistLive I used to play or any of the TC Helicon units seem to act a bit quirky with the F#m chord; specifically with the Eagles’ song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” The transition from the A to the F#m always gives a really quirky harmony. Oh well, other than that, the harmonies are awesome.

As I mentioned in my review of the unit, the only thing that hurts this unit is the short looping time. For most of the songs I play with a loop, it works just fine, but there are some songs where I need a bit more looping time, so it looks like I’ll have to use my BOSS RC-2 for the longer loops. It’s not a big deal, but it is mildly inconvenient.

All-in-all though, for the sound Play Electric produces, it’s a winner in my book!

Read Full Post »

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


  • 200+ song & artist inspired presets for vocals & guitar
  • Dedicated guitar effects processing from TC Electronic. No amp required
  • Key for harmonies and pitch correction set automatically from guitar input
  • Plug in your MP3 player to the AUX input and sing along using Vocal Cancel feature
  • Built like a tank
  • Fine control over parameters for both voice and guitar
  • Output: Stereo, Mono, Dual Mono

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.

Sound Quality

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.

Overall Impression

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!

Read Full Post »

Can you say Yowza?!!!

This is going to be a quick report, but all I have to say is that I’m totally sold on the VoiceLive Play GTX! I used it last night at my weekly restaurant gig where I play on the front patio of the restaurant in a rather expansive breezeway. The sound was incredible!

First of all, it was an absolute snap to set up, and a HUGE plus was the dual mono output setting that allowed me to have independent control over vocals and guitar. That was always an issue with my DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 when using it alone. Getting the right volume balance was always an issue, so I invariably had to run out of the guitar thru into the PA to control my guitar volume.

Even with light compression, my sound projected out and filled the space. It “felt” so much fuller and richer than with my old DigiTech Vocalist Live 4. I still have to tweak the presets’ reverb amounts a bit (they’re a little low for my liking), but I’m at a good starting point.

As far as the guitar processing was concerned, it’s good, and more importantly, good enough to use without having to run out to a pedal board. I’ll still probably run out to pedal board anyway, but there’s really nothing to complain about with the guitar sounds.

Read Full Post »

The other day, I received a shipment of a few pedals from TC Electronic to evaluate and review. I wrote a review of the MojoMojo Overdrive Pedal yesterday and this evening started evaluating the TC Helicon VoiceLive Play GTX vocal and guitar processor. Out of all the pedals I received from TC Electronic (I received four total), this pedal – or should I say unit – was the one that was going to be real important to me, because I use a vocal processor for my solo acoustic gigs for harmonies. For the last few years, I’ve been using at DigiTech Vocalist Live 4, and I still love it. But it’s showing its age now, and is pretty beat up, considering I gig with it weekly, and I’ve been getting nervous using it as of late.

My interest in the VoiceLive comes not only from needing a new unit, but also from listening to the demos out there, and also seeing/hearing its sibling, the VoiceLive Touch in action at a live demo done by Christine Havrilla, one of TC’s American demo artists (she’s the chick with the great voice in all the demo videos). What struck me about the VoiceLive technology then was how natural the harmony voices sounded. While I dig my VocalistLive box, I have to admit that the harmonies can sometimes sound almost chipmunk-like; but I wasn’t hearing any of that with the VoiceLive. So I was absolutely excited to receive the shipment because I finally had a chance to try out the unit myself, and see if I could get it dialed in so I could use in my gigs this weekend (I have three).

I “cheated” a bit before I hooked up the unit this evening by reading the manual online earlier this afternoon to get myself familiarized with the control possibilities; there are LOTS! But as I messed around with it tonight, while having read the manual was useful, with how easy it is to access all the parameters, I could’ve saved myself some time. It really is that easy to use!

The VoiceLive Play has 235 presets based upon various popular songs.  Presets aren’t my thing, so instead of using the, I paged through presets and found three presets that would work with acoustic guitar. I then edited them, removing most of the vocal processing (I did keep some compression because that’s always a good thing), then tweaked the modulation effects so all the normal voicings would be the same. I would then construct harmonies for the “Hit” button. I also matched the guitar settings for two of them so I could switch between them in a single song. For instance, one of the presets has a single vocal harmony with “Hit” activated, while the second preset has two voices of harmony plus a doubling voice.

I edited these so I could switch between them mid-song, as some songs have sections that only require a single harmony voice, but other sections may requite more. A good example is the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feelin.'” I recorded a sample of that:

I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the ability to switch presets mid-song while keeping “Hit” active as I was able to do that with my Vocalist Live 4. But the fact that I can do that with the VoiceLive is a HUGE plus. In fact, that might’ve been a deal-breaker for me if I couldn’t do that because having to tap dance from the preset selector to the Hit button would make things difficult while playing.

With respect to sound quality, the VoiceLive absolutely shines. The problem I’ve always had with my Vocalist Live 4 is that the guitar processing absolutely stunk. Admittedly, I’m not too impressed with the dirty amp models in the VoiceLive, but I’d never use them. But the mere fact that you can finely adjust the guitar sounds is absolutely huge for me because it means that I can choose not to use my pedal board with the unit. Sometimes I play in places where real estate is a premium, and having a couple of floor units – however small – takes up valuable space. For my larger venue gigs, I’ll probably still bring my board because my modulation effects are way better than the onboard effects of this unit. But the effects here are good enough. This coming weekend, I’ll be playing three gigs, and even though there will be space, I’m going to make it a point to not bring my board. From what I can tell so far from this unit, it’s going to work just fine with my Fishman SA220 SoloAmp.

Another place where this unit shines is in vocal doubling. With my old unit, I never used it because it did not sound at all natural. You can tell that a lot of work went into getting the VoiceLive’s vocal processing to a very high quality. Even recorded direct into my DAW, the vocals sound natural. Plus, there are all sorts of params that you can adjust that affect vocals; a big one for me being compression. Apparently, TC modeled their compression after a very well-known compressor (don’t know the name, but they mention it). I personally don’t use much compression, maybe 2.1 – 3.2 to 1 compression so I can retain dynamics, but it’s a necessity to have at least some, especially when playing in an open environment. Here’s a short clip of the Beatles’ “In My Life” that demonstrates the fantastic doubling and light compression:

All in all, my initial impression is simply this: I see a VoiceLive Play GTX in my immediate future and beyond!

Read Full Post »

Just got a news release the other day that I just had to share:

VoiceLive Play GTX is the world’s first multi-effects unit dedicated to rocking the world of the singing guitarist. Pro-level TC-Helicon vocal effects and state-of-the-art harmony processing is just half the story. With VoiceLive Play GTX, you also get top-of-the-line guitar effects from TC Electronic. Quite simply, as a singing guitarist you will feel like you have a dedicated vocal producer and an experienced guitar tech sitting inside the box.

I’ve been looking for a great harmonizer to replace my DigiTech VL4 for quite awhile now. I originally was looking at the VoiceLive Touch, but didn’t like the fact that it had a separate switching unit. With the VoiceLive Play GTX, it’s an integrated unit, which is very appealing to me. And at $349.99 when it comes out this spring, I think I’ll have found my next harmonizer unit. Add to the fact that you have great TC Electronic effects, and I think we’ve got a winner!

The unit also has 10 different amp models. I’ve never been a big fan of amp modeling, so I’ll reserve judgement until I test the unit out. But for now, as a regularly gigging musician, this is fantastic news!

Read Full Post »

My trusty DigiTech Vocalist Live 4 is pretty much on its last legs. It has lasted four years of regular gigging – at least two gigs a week – and things are starting to become loose or not function at all. That’s okay because it was expected, so I’ve been slowly saving my pennies for a new TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch. This is a great harmonizer that not only will harmonize using guitar, but also keyboard; something that my Vocalist Live 4 could not do. It also has a built-in looper, which I had the opportunity to see in action a couple of months ago at an in-store demo with singer/songwriter Christine Havrilla. Check out this link in which Christine shows how she builds up a song using the VoiceLive Touch.

Pretty cool, huh? TC Helicon has placed A LOT of emphasis on the VoiceLive Touch’s looping capability. Even during the demo I saw, Christine focused on the looper. Now I’m not knocking it, but using a looper can be somewhat limiting, especially if you’re looping a chord progression. I have a small looper that I use occasionally, but I typically just use it for creating underlying rhythms. In that respect, it’s VERY useful. I’ve tried to use it with chord progressions for songs, but it’s difficult because songs have different parts, so it can be a bit impractical for that.

But as a harmonizer, this unit rocks! It has over 200 factory presets, and customizing harmonies on the fly is a snap. You simply hit the buttons on the right side of the unit to add or subtract harmonies. Very cool! The keyboard harmonization is a huge selling point for me, as I can hook up a digital piano and get harmonies that way as well.

All in all, this is a great little unit, and at $499, it’s pretty affordable, considering what it does – though you do have to pay an extra $50 for the foot switch controller, which is an absolute necessity for live work. I should be getting one of these within the next couple of months.

Read Full Post »