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This article was originally published in issue #31
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With the VE-2 Vocal Harmonist, the guys at Roland Boss have made it even easier to get a great vocal sound in a compact and (very) affordable format. Although primarily aimed at guitarist/singers, this is for anyone looking to add effects and real-time harmonies to their vocals without spending ages on set-up or wading through manuals and menus. With its simple layout, this unit can help you achieve a polished vocal sound with the minimum of fuss, but has some extra functions up its sleeve too.
Size-wise, the VE-2 has roughly the same footprint as two of Boss’ regular stomp pedals, with all the functions accessible from the top of the red, brushed metal panel, which wraps around the sides of the plastic casing for a rugged feel. Pride of place is given over to the large harmony on/off, bypass switch, which occupies almost the entire bottom half of the unit. Far from stealing any ‘real estate’ from any of the other controls, there’s plenty of space for all the other dedicated knobs and buttons and in action, lets you concentrate on your performance, rather than keep looking down to make sure your foot is in the right place or not.
To the left, the ECHO knob controls the effects section. The effects are split onto three sections, with each effect increasing in volume and intensity as you turn the knob through REVERB, REV/DELAY and DELAY. This is a simple fixed parameter affair, but the sounds themselves are good and very usable.
Next up are three further knobs and a row of seven LEDs to navigate you through the harmony section. BALANCE controls how much of the added harmonies that you hear in relation to your own voice. The TYPE knob is a continuous controller, which scrolls through the 12 different harmony choices indicated by the row of LEDs above. There are one or two harmonies available at the same time from a choice of two above plus octave and two below plus octave. The final knob in the section is KEY, which lets you define which key signature you’re playing in, through an octave including all intervals. Although accurate, this can be fairly limited if you’re playing extended inversions of chords, or (God forbid) you hit a key change!
The unit however comes into its own when the ‘Auto Harmonist’ feature is engaged - this is activated by the dedicated backlit button, or comes on automatically when a guitar is plugged into the guitar input on the rear. In this mode, the key signature choice is bypassed and the additional harmonies are chosen relative to the key of the incoming guitar signal - this works extremely well and even a held note will change from, say, major to minor if the guitar chord changes. This is not to say that the singer has to be the one playing the guitar themselves - you could take a feed from the guitarist and the singer can kick in the effect as and when they want. There is a further option, where you have a combination of the two modes - the unit listens to the guitar input and then reverts to the chosen key signature when there is no guitar signal present (good for break downs or when the guitarist is getting the drinks in…yeah, right).
A VARIATION button gives you a further 12 harmony effects. These are not additional notes, but more of a fatter and wider version of the previous set. I’m not exactly sure what the technology being used here is, but it sounds a little like a chorus/detune process that just makes the backing vocal section a little ‘bigger’.
Concentrating on the direct signal, a dual function ENHANCE button adds a subtle compression and EQ circuit to cope with on stage dynamics and get a good vocal sound from the start, while a second press activates a gentle pitch auto-correct function, which also helps produce more stable harmonies. Once you’ve got the desired setting for your own voice, key and choice of one or two harmony parts, the unit has three memories for storing your favourite settings (all of which can still turn harmonies on/off independently). These can be recalled and stored (much easier) with an additional footswitch.
The rear panel is equally well laid out, with mic input (incl. phantom power and sensitivity knob) and output (incl. ground lift) on balanced XLR connectors. As mentioned, there is a guitar input jack and a thru output to go to an amp/pa, as well as a mini jack for phones/line out. Along with the ubiquitous Boss adaptor connector, the unit can also be powered by four standard or rechargeable AA batteries. Finally, if that lot wasn’t enough, there’s a USB type B port for transmission of audio in and out - a welcome and unexpected utility on an affordable pedal like this.
This is a very useful piece of kit and does what it does extremely well - if you want control over more functions and more presets and memories, then you’ll have to look elsewhere, or further up the Roland Boss range. If you’re a solo guitarist/singer, or a singer in a band that wants to improve your current vocal sound and add a harmony or two, then the VE-2 is a great place to start.