After having delighted singers with their Voicetone pedals, TC Helicon is trying to seduce guitarist/singers with a pedal capable of simulating vocal harmonies that follow your voice and guitar playing. Extraordinary as this may sound in theory, does the Harmony G keep its promises in practice? That’s what we'll see in this test ...
You won’t feel so alone anymore
Setting up live vocal harmonies has always been relatively complicated. A bad balance between the main speakers and the monitoring speakers will often cause out of tune vocals which will quickly get on the nerves of any audience. But there are worse situations! How do you get harmony vocals when you‘re alone on stage? Even if you have all the talent and determination in the world, your voice is still monophonic. Fortunately, TC-Helicon was thinking of singer/guitarists and singer/ pianists who play solo when they created two pedals allowing them to be, as if by magic, accompanied by two virtual singers who even know the set-list by heart! But how is this possible? It’s simple: the pedal, thanks to the guitar or keyboard that is plugged into the device, follows the chord progression, analyzes it and figures out the vocal harmonies that go along with your voice. That’s, roughly, the idea behind the Harmony G (guitar) and Harmony M (for MIDI, the keyboard is connected via MIDI). Sounds tempting doesn’t it? Being a six-string enthusiast myself, I naturally chose the Harmony G model for this test.
So I eagerly opened the nice looking box with the TC Helicon logo …
Opening the box
As usual with this brand, the packaging is perfect. It’s looks good and nothing’s missing. The manual is complete and divided into two parts: for beginners and advanced users. But, rest assured, the device is easy to use and most of my colleagues managed to understand the main features in a few minutes (not without a little difficulty for some, all the same).
At first glance there’s no doubt that we’re dealing with a quality product; the details don’t lie: it’s robust; it weighs quite a bit for a pedal this size (720 grams), with rubber pads that keep it firmly in place. The two footswitches are made to withstand the blows of the most wild musicians and the knobs are firm but easily turned without being too loose. The LEDs are visible from a distance and the various XLR and jack connections at the back of the pedal seem solid. In short, all good in terms of construction quality.
In terms of connections, it has a jack guitar input, a guitar 'through’ to send the signal from the guitar to your favorite amp, an XLR microphone input, two symmetrical XLR outputs, and of course the slot to plug in the power adapter. You can’t escape the latter, the pedal doesn’t work on batteries.
Now let’s take a look at how it works…
Settings and Features
After connecting everything, the first thing to do is adjust the voice input level via the ‘Input’ knob located at the top left of the pedal. A small LED will turn red if you clip the input. The ‘Guitar’ knob lets you quickly adjust the balance of the guitar and voice; note that there’s also an ‘auto’ mode when it’s set to 12 o’clock, in this case the pedal will automatically set the balance in real time. Very handy when there’s no sound engineer available! To the right of that is an ‘FX’ knob that balances the level of the effects (for example, to insert more or less reverb into the signal ). And finally, a ‘Harmony’ knob which adjusts the vocal-harmony level generated by the pedal.
A 'Tone’ button activates three different effects that will be applied to your voice: an adaptive compression, a de-esser and an equalizer. This is designed to make your voice louder and to sound better without worrying about settings, convenient for people who are allergic to editing their effects, and actually it works quite well …
The 'Preset’ button will let you select the preset number (there are 5, with an A and B preset for each) and another button letting you go into manual mode. This method is useful when the guitar is playing complex harmonies; the Harmony G may have a hard time detecting the key of the song. In that case, it’s simple: select manual mode, press on both footswitches, play a C chord if the song is in C, and then the pedal stays blocked in that key. You can save up to 3 keys, the pedal will automatically select the appropriate one.
The ‘Double’ button lets you double your voice with … your voice, as if your twin was singing the same notes as you. It’s practical for thickening your sound and giving it a more powerful aspect. The FX button lets you choose between the device’s 6 effects: Hall, Room, an echo, a slap echo, a combination of delay and reverb and SFX (a flanger).
This pedal is quite effective and the learning curve is very short. Indeed, for basic use, the settings of the Harmony G are very intuitive and it gets quick and convincing results . However the user needs to dive into the manual for more advanced features. It’s possible to adjust effects settings, to choose alternative ‘tone’s, to add a ‘Detune’ effect on the guitar, or even change the number of presets (3 to 10). This is practical for adapting the Harmony G to your needs and to avoid confusion in a concert setting. Lastly, it’s possible to deactivate the automatic mix modes for voice, harmonies, and effects and let your sound engineer manage it. You can therefore have lead voice with no effects on one side and the vocal harmonies with effects on the another. And as icing on the cake, it’s possible to use tuning references other than the usual 440 Hz just by pointing the microphone that’s plugged into the pedal towards the reference instrument playing a note. Handy when playing with an instrument tuned to some rare diapason!
There are, however, a few details that aren’t very practical: to use the manual mode, you have to press the 'Manual’ button (so far, so good), then press both footswitches together before playing the chord of the desired key. This isn’t so easy to pull off due to distance between both footswitches, even when you’ve got size 13s (like myself)! In addition, it’s impossible to save, in the preset settings, the guitar/vocal balance, and the harmony and effects levels. This is a shame and forces you to manually change settings of the pedal between certain songs …
The quality of the onboard effects is beyond reproach and its reverb is perfect for a live setting. The ‘Tone’ setting is also very effective, providing compression, a de-esser and equalization which do the job in most cases. As for the preamp, it has a more than satisfactory reserve of gain and very respectable sound quality: vocals are clear and sharp. The high-impedance instrument input is also top-notch and the sound is very good, even with an entry-level preamp or piezo on your guitar. In short, this pedal is a small magic box that makes everything that enters into it sound good, without any hassles. This small Harmony G will definitely have an effect on the audience when activated. It’s up to singer/guitarists to resist the temptation of putting it everywhere, which will kill the element of surprise it creates. It would probably be better to use the harmony feature from time to time, on choruses for example. Another small detail: remember to turn off the harmony feature when you talk to the public between songs or you’ll sound like an extraterrestrial!
Here are two examples: an exerpt of a song from our friend Robert Zimmermann where you can hear the pedal hang slightly when the vocal note is held during the change from the D chord to the A minor chord. I left all knobs at 12 o’clock, and a second audio example. I suggest taking a look at TC Helicon’s site where they have very good video presentations of the Harmony G.
TC Helicon strikes another strong blow by allowing singer/guitarists to have 2 virtual singers at their command. With its effects and its integrated tuner, the little box is like an audio Swiss-army knife. It will undoubtedly attract many musicians thanks to its ease of use, sound quality, solid construction and very realistic vocal harmonies. The Harmony G also offers small features which have been intelligently thought out (changing the reference tuning or Manual mode) and its few defects are quickly overlooked in light of how enjoyable it is to use. Watch out Crosby, Stills & Nash!
[+] Convincing vocal harmonies
[+] Very good mic preamp
[+] Quality effects
[+] Solid construction
[+] 48 V phantom power
[+] Guitar through
[+] Automatic mix of voice and guitar
[+] Tone mode
[+] Integrated tuner
[-] The balance of guitar, harmony levels and effects not stored in presets
[-] Needs AC adapter
[-] Pressing both switches at the same time is not so easy
[-] Sometimes hangs when changing chords