I am not much of a singer, and it turns out that most people that do karaoke aren’t either. There are rudimentary effects built into my mixers, but it often takes a little more to church up people’s voices so that sober people’s ears don’t burn too badly. Using guitar reverbs for vocals are a recipe for disaster, and many dedicated vocal effects are priced out of reach of the mortal man. This makes the Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer a lifesaver.
Boss is a division of the Roland Corporation and is the #1 builder of effects pedals in the world. They are most famous for their guitar effects, which perform as advertised, are very sturdy, and are backed by a great warranty. Boss’ reputation is safe -- the VE-20 Vocal Performer is a really neat piece of work.
This Boss unit has the usual bunch of effects that most vocalists would want, including harmony (up to 3-part), double-tracking, dynamics, reverb, delay, and distortion. Special effects include radio (that megaphone sound), robot, and strobe. The VE-20 can also provide real-time pitch correction and there is a built-in phrase looper with 38 seconds of mono recording time.
The VE-20 has a metal chassis and is in the standard double-wide Boss format (Twin-Series, I think they call it), so it will fit perfectly onto your pedal board. Its actual dimensions are 2-1/4" H x 6-13/16" W x 6-1/4" D, and it weighs in at a sturdy 2 pounds, 7 ounces (without batteries).
Hooking up this pedal is not too difficult. On the back of the unit you will find the input which is a multi jack that will take either a ¼-inch TRS plug or an XLR. By the way, there is 48V DC phantom power for the XLR, in case you plan to use a condenser microphone. Outputs include a stereo ¼-inch line/headphone jack and stereo XLR outs.
The top of the unit has the controls, which include two pedals -- left for ON/OFF and loop recording (hold for 2 seconds), and the right for harmony bypass and preset selection (hold for more than 2 seconds to scroll through the presets). The right pedal can also be customized to turn any one or a combination of any of the other effects ON simultaneously. There is a knob that allows the user to quickly scroll through the presets to find one that they like, and their names who up on the amber-backlit LCD display. There are also a few LEDs that indicate whether the power is ON, the status of the harmony pedal and if the unit is recording.
I mentioned presets, and there are a total of 80 preset spots on the VE-20 including 30 factory-assigned presets and 50 spaces for the user to make their own. The 30 that come from the factory are actually pretty good, and if you just want the basic you could probably get away with just using theirs. But if you want to make your own it is not a big deal, but it does take a little time.
I have tried out the VE-20 with my usual microphones – SM57, SM58, SM58 Beta and SM58 wireless, and they all sounded fine through this unit. There was no added noise or coloration other than what was asked for, and the vocals were as clear as a bell.
This pedal is great for adding harmonies. Just by pressing the right footswitch you can add preset level (like thirds or fifths), or make up your own. You will need to set the key signature for the harmonies to work, but it is not too hard to do. Also the harmonies can be customized to sound more masculine of feminine. There is also a neat Double Track feature which replicates your voice so it sounds thicker. All of the harmony features work well, and it seems to be very accurate.
The other effects are not jaw-droppingly good, but they are certainly good enough for live sound. The delay, reverb, distortion and chorus are all very usable, and I am glad that Roland thought to include these features.
I have never used looping very much, but had a blast trying it out on this effects processor. It would come in handy for coffee shop gigs or one-man shows so you can make your sound more complicated. Unfortunately, you cannot save your loop – once you stop playing it back it is lost, which is kind of a hassle. It would be nice if there was a USB port so you could save your looping work…
The pitch correction is fun, and would be great for karaoke. There are four different types to choose from, including soft (very natural sounding), hard (abrupt correction), electronic (pure Correction), and robot, which makes you sound like a robot.
All of these features work really nicely, but this is still kind of a complicated piece of equipment, and you are going to want to make sure that you have your presets figured out before your gig. You are not going to want to be on your knees fiddling around with the knobs and buttons during a gig. Do your homework before you take this thing out of the house.
In other news, the VE-20 is a huge power suck, and it takes 6 AA batteries that will run down in a little under 8 hours of use. If you are going to buy one of these you should pony eighteen bucks up for the Boss PSA-120S AC adaptor. It will pay for itself in no time. If you are looking for an aftermarket adaptor, this unit draws 190 mA at 9V DC.
Of course, quality is not cheap and the Boss VE-20 Vocal Performer is a quality piece of equipment. It has a list price of $381.50 and a street price of $279.99, so with a PSA-120S adaptor you are looking at $300 for this thing. It is worth every penny…