You don’t normally think ‘Vocoder’ when you think about Electro Harmonix do you? The company is renowned for its incredible manipulation of guitar and bass tones, but hadn’t spent a lot of time in the singer’s territory until the VOICE BOX came along. With 256-band operation along with six harmony and two octave modes on top, it’s full of potential. It probably shouldn’t matter that it looks neat too, admittedly, but I’m a bit of a sucker for EHX’s branding. Lets take a look at how it’s all put together, then!
As fans of these techno-wizards will likely be expecting, there are your expected, sensible controls, and there are your mad ones. I’ll point out now, though, that this is a particularly professional unit, and a powerful one too, so don’t worry about it being in any way gimmicky – it’s simply a case of the sound being as mad as you’d like it to be, or not.
At the core of the unit, you’ll most likely be getting your hands on the Voice Mix dial first. It can switch between third, fifth and octave harmony sounds, and can also add whistle and octaving to your unison modes. The latter is important because while the harmony possibilities are very impressive, they’ll possibly be one-shot during a gig unless you’re getting into serious country-singer ideas, and you’ll want to use them sparingly to add ornamentation to specific peaks in your songs. The unison modes are going to be used a lot more, and actually I started to get used to them being there pretty much the whole time, using the blend control to keep it gently in the background. It just adds weight, especially when you’re performing solo, and you miss it when it’s not there.
You generate your harmonies, of course, by playing your guitar, keys or whatever other source in through the jack input on the chassis. I have a toppy guitar, which seemed to stick well to the tracking of the VOICE BOX – it picked up nuances quickly, even when I got a bit liberal with blue notes. However, beware using an instrument that’s not got a lot of top, because that appears to be where this technology does its stuff – a growly humbucker didn’t fair too well, whereas a P90 with the tone full was fine. Keyboard sounds too fared better when there was a clear top anchor present – hanging around on the low notes was a lot less fruitful endeavour.
This isn’t a deal-breaker though, and in terms of your songwriting and performing you’ll just have to be slightly mindful of where your chords are falling. Remember inflections etc are fine, it’s just a case of making sure that you’ve got enough high end to tell the box ‘major, minor, jazz’.
So yes: the blend control decides how much of the wet signal will be present, and unless you’re getting a bit psychedelic (all power to you if you are) then as you might expect less is definitely more. Gentle backing harmonies float nicely without jarring against chords and even the whistle kicked-in can add some pleasant joviality to your sing-alongs. You can adjust high/low/blended octaves to get the sound you need, and you can use it as a harmonic enhancer and treble EQ.
The reverbs, too (and there are two), will be go-to for many. They have a deep resonance too them, and again I think you’ll likely get the best out of these with a measured approach for sure. The reason that there are two is that you can add your ‘verb to either the dry signal or the harmony signal, or both. It makes for some incredibly haunting echoes when applied solely to the harmonies, and you can get positively ethereal if both are cranked.
Gender Bender is a fun control as well – as it sounds, you’re able to significantly modify your signal to create more masculine or feminine vocal harmonies. We’ve seen this idea before and it doesn’t always come up too well, but in the case of the VOICE BOX it’s actually great in the mix, especially when adding in a touch of reverb.
The box has phantom-power on the XLR mic input by the way, and there’s a lo/hi selector for getting it right with your specific model choice. It’s all housed within a sturdy chassis as you’d expect from EHX, and you head out to the world via a balanced XLR (effect-only output) and a jack to send the instrument to the amp. It all makes good sense; it’s all easy to set up.
I think overall you have to know what you’re getting into with the VOICE BOX. You need to be a clear singer to get it to understand the harmonies, but if you are, the clarity of the effect itself is spellbinding – the quality is so good that it’s not a gimmick you’d be embarrassed about using even at the highest-level gigs – it’s a true enhancement of your sound. It might prove perfect either for the singer songwriter who wants to flesh out what they do on their own, or for some full backing harmonies that can add a lot of weight from just the one mic. There are a huge number of ways to use this pedal, it’s up to you whether you can polish up enough to make it really work. I hope you do, because this is something rather special.