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« Cool hardware vocoder »

Published on 04/08/12 at 19:34
This is an unusual hardware vocoder. It does simple vocoding fairly well, probably digitally because there is a noticeable delay before the onset of the envelope opening. But it has a lot of other tricks up its sleeve. First off, you can tune the formants either high or low, adjust the Q and the number of sampling bands from the front panel. This gives straight forward vocoding.

Next, you can tune the center frequency of the vocoder from two octaves below to two above the notes you're playing. This is combined with some distortion with low frequencies for a fairly aggressive effect. Tuning it higher does a kind of chipmunk, girlie man thing, pretty cool and probably even more useful if you're using something other than voice as a formant generator.

It's stereo in/out and there's no word in the manual about mixing, not sure if it's truly two channels or not.

There's a gain knob for the input, and one of Electrix traditional "scroll buttons" to choose inputs from mic to line, to auto, which will choose an input depending on which is active at the time. Could be cool for blending vocals and recorded music.

There's a blend knob and a kill dry switch (which doesn't actually kill the dry, just drops it down another 12 dB or so). Since I'm using this mostly with guitar/microphone, the idea of blending the clean signal with the vocoded signal isn't as useful, but there's also a bypass footswitch to allow turning it on/off for those epic solos. Also, you can hit a button or a footswitch to "freeze" the formant, allowing a fixed wah kind of effect where the envelop stays open.

It also has a tuneable synth generator and a noise generator so that you can use them for carrier or blend them with your input signal for more radical synth effects.

It does have midi connections, which should allow sequencing of all controls, with the possibility of animating and midi syncing them. Pretty straight forward using CC messages.

UTILIZATION

Since it's all knobs, the interface is crystal clear. This is more along the lines of a throwback hardware vocoder, although it is digital. It took me less than 5 minutes to figure out all I needed to know, reading the manual clarified what was happening with a few things (like the kill dry only cutting from 90% to 20% blend, vs the midi ability to set it to 100% or 0%). Very well done.

SOUND QUALITY

As I mentioned, using guitar as the carrier and voice as the formant generator. It's pretty easy to get a Frampton kind of sound, it's just as easy to take that and run with it into some pretty strange territory, with whistles and quacks and so on. Frequency response is listed at 14kHz (18 bit, 32kHz sampling) so it's going to lose a little bit of air/brilliance but not enough that I can hear it. I don't own any other hardware vocoders, but I'd guess that it's fully as flexible and cool as most of them. And I'm not aware of any digital vocoders with this level of control from the front panel. And with the midi control, you can trigger any of the functions from an envelop generator, aftertouch, pitch, note on/off or whatever you can think of.

OVERALL OPINION

There's a lot of quibbles that it doesn't do traditional vocoding very well, I'd say the few msec lag between beginning to speak and the onset of vocoding is my only problem there. At the original $300+ price they weren't very practical, but for the current $150-200 they're cool and at the $120 I spent, how could I lose! The only other hardware vocoders I've seen have been a LOT more. Highly recommended if you can find one cheap.
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