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Gear review for SL musicians - Boss VE-2 harmony stompbox

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I haven't seen many musicians talking about gear on here - maybe I can start a trend :)

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome on stage my new backing vocalists, Vic and Eddie, the Stompbox brothers...

I've always looked a bit askance on "vocal effects" but when you make the transition from performing as part of an ensemble to being a solo performer something has to give... This is also true for those of us that stream music live because while dual streaming is possible it really is a pain to do it anywhere close to right.

Particularly in my genre where vocal harmony is so much an integral part of many tracks, it was time to bite the bullet and see if a vocal harmony stompbox could cut the mustard. My plan was to get one then run it through one set of batteries in familiarisation, rehearsals, letting some buddies mess with it and potentially a live set or two. At that point I'd know if it was a keeper or not and could decide if I wanted to buy in the other bits and pieces to use it right or pack it away for either return or an eventual departure to CraigsList. Short answer, the VE-2 is a keeper.

Let's start with the thing most of us get this for, the harmonies:
When they are working at their best they sound awesome, tracking a guitar input or a preset key extremely well and sounding clear and natural. If you're a tenor guy or a lass you're pretty much set for anything you might be singing. However if, like me, you're a baritone, be careful. The lower harmonies do get a bit robotic in the lower part of your range - but that's usually fine because if you're using this as a bari you probably will be using the upper harmonies most anyway. Another caveat for baritone and bass voices is that the lower-pitched your vocal range the more sensitive the device is to the slightest inaccuracy of your singing pitch. I vaguely remember something about the math of the fourier transform that makes this almost inevitable but to me it's just another example of the shocking injustice that has all the best tunes for adult male voices written for tenors. Seems the decent gear is built for tenors too!

The "preset key" harmonies, I found to be a little lacking. They do track the key you set well but sometimes the box gets confused whether you are singing in a major key or its relative minor without an instrument input to follow. For the same reason the "hybrid mode" (use the preset key when the instrument input is silent)  can produce some unpleasant surprises. Because of this I would not recommend the use of this device on songs you perform a capella. Let it track an instrument along with your voice and you'll have much better-sounding results.

The reverb and delay:
There's really nothing much to say about this feature. Does "exactly what it says on the tin" and does it well enough.

The enhancements:
The built in EQ/compression surprised me with its quality. Other than standalone units patched into the desk and being handled by a decent engineer you're not going to get much better, its single preset seems to work well for most voices - provided you *want* compression on your vocals, of course.
The pitch correction, on the other hand, YUCK! Do not touch this with a bargepole. Not only is it a "feature" that really ought to be accomplished with actual vocal skill, it sounds really screwy - doubling over your voice rather than actually "correcting" anything. I tried deliberately singing a little off key and I could clearly hear both in the mix, making the vocal deviation more strident and obvious. With any kind of chops as a vocalist you should never need this and if you *do* need it, it does the exact opposite of helping. If that light is ever green, you're doing it wrong.

The build quality is first-rate, like everything else carrying the Boss brand. It's solid as a rock.

So, what are the negative points? Only one, really. I wish it had the option to double up an octave harmony with one of the others. The only combination of two harmony voices featuring octaves is 8Up+8Down. You can do 3Up+5Up but not either 3Up+8Up or 5Up+8Up. As a bari, I'd rarely use the 8Down voice at all but I suspect a lass might notice the lack of 3Down+8Down and 5Down+8Down in the options as much as I do the higher ones.

Other notes:
DO take the time to set up the memory presets for your setlist, because while nobody can actually see you bending down to adjust the settings on your stompbox, they can hear the break in your performance's flow. It's surprisingly noticeable to a listener. With memory presets set up (the three presets plus "as set on the dials" should be enough for a set, since you won't be using the harmonies on every track and one preset can often serve more than one track) that's one button press to switch between them instead of fiddling with a few knobs. If your budget runs to it, seriously consider adding a footswitch for cycling the memories - if you perform IRL as well as streaming online this quickly becomes a must-have. You can switch between memories using the boxes built-in main switch but it's a fiddly multi-press process that will break your flow as badly as leaning down to apply new settings.


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