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This article was originally published in issue #33
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The VE-20 is the latest in the BOSS Vocal Effectsrange, giving you a compact and affordable way to add extra effects and harmonies to your vocal performance. Although packed with features, the VE-20 is small enough to go into a side pocket of a guitar gig bag and can run on six AA batteries, or an external power supply. Essentially for single vocal live use, there is a balanced combo-jack/XLR connector (with phantom power +48v) for mic input, stereo balanced XLR outputs (which can be set up as stereo, or one mono FX/one dry) and an additional line/phones out on stereo 1/4” jack.
The unit has two pedals and looks like two regular Boss guitar pedal stomp-boxes, side by side with roughly the same footprint, so would easily sit on a pedal board if needed. The metal housing and build quality is rugged and what you’d expect from Boss. Nestling between the pedals are 4 LED lights that indicate power, Harmony on/off, Loop Play and Loop Rec status. Above the pedals, there is a large LED display which shows the per-set name and number in play mode and, when in edit mode, the current parameter and value. The large knob below the LED in the centre scrolls through sound pre-sets and adjusts the current parameter during editing. Cursor buttons either side move the cursor for parameter selection. Moving further out to the left there is an Exit button, which returns you to a previous screen or cancels a function. Last on the left is the Phrase Loop on/off button and status LED to let you know it’s active. Out to right, is the Menu button to get you into editing sounds/pedal setup and finally a Reverb Level button for quick access to the global Reverb return level during performance.
All of the VE-20's six effects blocks are available at the same time and any combination can be saved and named as one of the 50 user pre-sets. These are: Dynamics - a compressor and EQ enhancer, Pitch Correct - adjustable for chromatic, or according to key setting and gender, Tone/SFX - incorporating, distortion, chorus, flanger, three-band semi-parametric EQ and stutter-like effects, Double/Harmony - two part harmony or double tracking effect,Delay - up to four seconds and Reverb - including Ambience, Room, Hall and Plate. The Modulation effects and Reverb all sound good, as you’d expect and have quite a lot of parameter adjustment to get just the right thing you’re looking for. A nice touch is being able to assign some or all of these effects to the harmony pedal for each pre-set, so if you don’t need harmony, but want add some delay and distortion for a chorus, you can.
The two part harmony section works well enough, but you have to specify which key you are in beforehand as there’s no external mic or input to determine the current key, although this can be set for each pre-set (so if there’s a key change in your song, you’ll need two pre-sets). Changing the gender setting gave some cool results and can get you away from the harmonies sounding like another two of you!
The left hand pedal controls the Phrase Looper with up to 38 seconds available. This is a single track, overdubbing style looper and once stopped, the recorded phrase is erased. This worked really well and, like most of the Boss looping products, has an intelligent transient detection system that makes it very easy to keep things in time. The input of the looper comes after the effect section, so every new overdub can be through a different pre-set (and corresponding effects), which expands the possibilities. Conversely, you can change to looper to ‘Check’ mode where the recording is dry and you can audition pre-sets and adjust parameters without having to constantly sing through the unit - a nice touch. If you’re new to looping, or just want to set up a simple rhythm or vocal loop, then this will perform admirably and the sound quality is great. If you need to drop things in and out, or start and stop, then you’ll need to look at a dedicated looping pedal.
All in all, the Boss VE-20 is a great FX pedal for a solo performer looking to add a little something to their set-up, but is equally at home being used as a global reverb/delay effects unit in a band situation. It's definitely one to audition.