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This article was originally published in issue #37
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Around a year ago, whilst tap-dancing my way through a number on the VoiceLive 3, a little voice way in the back of my head asked if there was a way that I could do all the patch and effects changes just the once…
It looks like I wasn’t the only one that had that thought and the answer to that request is the VoiceLive 3 Extreme, or VL3X as TC Helicon calls it (and I will from now on). Due to the complexity and choices on offer by the original unit, there’s definitely a tipping point where the amount of physical input needed to effect all the changes begins to detract from the artist’s performance. So, the guys at TC Helicon have kept the same internal engine as the original VL3, but made changes and additions that are all about making your live performance easier.
By far, the most significant new feature is the ability to record effect automation synced to a backing track. In effect, with its expanded memory (four times the original) you can import up to 100 WAV or Mp3 files into the VL3X via a USB stick and assign one to any of the 250 presets. This is now ‘locked’ in to that preset, or song and you can pre-programme all your effects changes in advance, in rehearsals or at home. This can then free you up to concentrate on your performance on a gig, knowing that the overdrive on the guitar on the chorus, the backing vocals on the middle 8, or the ping-pong delay that you wanted on the last line of the bridge (but could never get right), will be there on cue, every time, every gig. The Backing track page in the LCD screen is very well laid out, with an overview of the whole track and REC, OVERDUB and UNDO features, all assigned to the corresponding footswitches on the unit. (N.B. the UNDO feature is limitless until the data is saved to a Patch - although you can overwrite an effect change on a subsequent pass)
This is surely a welcome addition for many solo performers, but this can only happen when playing along to an imported track as it uses the liner data to record and reproduce the changes - if it’s just you, then it’s back to manual patch and FX changes. Another caveat is that the extensive 3-channel Looper and the Backing Track feature playback are NOT exclusive, so you have to choose one or the other - I imagine however, that using the Looper would become a kind of backing track for a song anyway, so an acceptable trade off, in my opinion.
On the rear of the unit, there is now a second, standard sized USB socket. As well as being used for importing tracks, it can also be used in the other direction for recording your complete performance on the VL3X. This is set up by a two-button press on the top of the unit and records exactly what you hear from the balanced outputs. This is perfect for recording gigs/rehearsals, or even making CDs of your own copyright material.
The floor unit is the same shape and size as its predecessor, but has traded the brushed aluminium casing for a sleek black version with an ‘Extreme’ black-on-black decal. The screen and button layout is identical too - this was a great design in the first place and no need for change in my book.
For those completely new to this unit, what we have here is a complete vocal and guitar performance unit. On the vocal side, there are 11 simultaneous effects, including Harmony accompaniment (up to 8 voices), TC Electronics quality Reverb and Delay, Hard-tune, Vocoder, Transducer (for distorted or filtered sounds) and more. The guitar section is just as jam-packed, with over a dozen Amp models, Boost/Drive, Compression, TC Electronics quality Reverb, Delay and Chorus and more. Within each FX section, there are often two pages of parameter editing for minor editing.
The button layout on the front has two distinct layers and the LED lights around each effect button glow BLUE for Vocal editing and RED for guitar. A third, PURPLE colour around a footswitch, shows that this will have an effect on both vocal and guitar when pressed. The magic ‘HIT’ button, front and centre can be assigned to turn on or off any vocal or guitar parameter on the fly - so you could turn off the delay and add some crunch to the guitar and add a three-part harmony with chorus to the lead vocal, all with one press of a button.
The rear panel is very comprehensive and can accommodate any permutation of set up. The guitar input has a through output, so can be used for just analysing the key of a song (to set up harmony recognition for the vocals) and then put into an amp on stage. If you are using the guitar section of the VLX3, but want extra level control, then these have their own dedicated, processed outputs. The main/vocal outputs are on balanced XLR and can be set to mono/stereo, dry/FX or complete mix for both vocals and guitar. Input for both Mic/line is on a combo Jack/XLR and can have phantom power switched via the set-up page. Along with MIDI in/out there’s an aux input and headphone output, both on mini jack.
I’ve been using the original VoiceLive 3 for a while now as a dedicated guitar processor and it holds its own with the big boys (in fact on a recent tour, it had a couple of onboard functions that some others had to buy extra pedals to produce!). As a vocal processor, it’s top-notch and can get you a slick, Country style three part harmony with chorus and delay, a Kanye West ‘Auto Tune’ effect, then a nasty metal distorted and filtered effect all at the switch of a button.
Add the new features to all these and TC Helicon have another winner.