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Current setup: SM58 straight into a Ibanez Troubadour TA35 via balanced input.
My vocals are basically crap. Im working on improving that at the vocal end but would also like some help from a vocal effects processor. Ive taken a quick look at whats on offer but there seems to be a massively broad choice and its difficult to get traction on whats what.
Im not looking for fancy vocal effects - I want some thing that will basically improve the sound of my voice. What should I be looking for in a box (harmony, pitch correction, ???). TC-Helicon seem to offer a broad range of pedals any suggestions? Boss also have a few. Any broad or specific suggestions welcome.

Update: As Ive said in the comments to Antons answer Im really looking for something more sophisticated than just delay, reverb or chorus. E.g something that will actively FATTEN the voice e.g by adding higher/lower frequency components, virtual overdub, auto harmony etc. I.e something really tailored to voice expansion rather than standard post effects.

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I own TC-Helicon's VoiceLive2, which pretty much has all of their smaller boxes wrapped up into a single unit. I'll admit it's a little pricey, and you probably won't use all the features (unless you're into some pretty extreme stuff), but I'll go through some of my favourite features and recommend something in a lower price-point.

Voicelive2 image http://c1.zzounds.com/media/fit,2018by3200/quality,85/VoiceLive2_persp01-fe8398eaad445023d5853e56f34af6fc.jpg

Just for context, you plug your mic into the pedal, and optionally an instrument as well (guitar or keyboard).

The "Tone" and "Pitch" buttons in the top left are probably my favourite features, mainly because they improve the vocals without a noticeable effect. Automatic compression, EQ, gating, de-essing, and very small (or large) pitch correction is added to the vocals when these are engaged.

Reverb, delay, double, and uMod is handy on this board as well if used tastefully in small amounts. It's capable of pretty extreme stuff, so you have to be careful not to overdo the effects.

The harmony feature is really cool. It generates voices in 3rds and 5ths above or below your own voice, following the chord changes that you play on guitar or keyboard. Although it's fun to play with, it doesn't follow perfectly all the time, and one wrong note makes for some really bad sounding voices so it can be risky to use this feature live. I would say it's more of a novelty to whip out an impress your friends rather than live use (however, it works beautifully with a keyboard running through MIDI).

This board does lots of other stuff (including looping), but I'll stop here and move on to recommendations.

Let's say my board broke tomorrow and I had to replace it with something else, I would get the TC-Helicon MicMechanic MicMechanic image http://smhttp.41820.nexcesscdn.net/8016262/magento/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/t/c/tch-vtmicmechanic_1.jpg

It has all of my favourite features and effects that are actually useful for most genres, and they are exactly the same as the ones used in their Voicelive series.

As Anton mentioned, great mic choice with the SM58, however the biggest improvement you could probably make to your vocals right now would be a PA system of some kind. Your voice might be sounding thin due to the way the amp is reproducing lower frequencies of your vocals.

  • Ive put this as accepted answer because the VoiceLive2/3 products look really complete in terms of features - unfortuneately a bit out of my price range. The Harmony G-XT good balance between features and price though - see my answer below for details. – Ricibob Dec 8 '15 at 21:16
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This sounds like a live setup so I'd say the SM58 is an excellent choice of microphone for the purpose.

I'm more concerned about the amplifier. A bit of research tells me this is an acoustic guitar amp which can also take a vocal microphone and although I haven't heard this model that setup is hardly ideal. Might be OK for practicing but if you're playing in a club, try and make sure they have a proper PA.

Proper microphone technique is also key to good sound. Always keep the mike a few centimeters from your lips and make sure you sing straight into it.

As for vocal processing there are a few standard types of processors that you might want to try.

  1. Compressor. A compressor will, if set up correctly, make the difference between your loud and quiet parts smaller. Vocals can often have a very large dynamic range and a compressor can keep everything together. You might want to research a bit about how a compressor works and should be setup. Although its operation seems simple compressors are often misunderstood. One you've set it up it's close to "set and forget" and always on so no real need to have this in pedal form. Since you'd probably, in your setup, would insert your mike directly to the compressor you'll want something with microphone level XLR inputs. Otherwise I'd recommend something like the FMR RNC which is a simple and moderately cheap but high quality unit.

  2. Reverb. A reverb, in its most common application, simulates a room or space and how sounds bounces back and forth between eg walls. I'd bet your amp already has some form of reverb but if you're not happy with how it sounds there are a lot of alternatives. Avoid the very cheap, they will probably not sound very good. Aforementioned TC Electronics are generally good at reverbs and have some cheaper options that might work for you. Wether you want this in pedal form of not depends on how you want to use it. You can probably, in your setup, use your amp's effect loop so guitar pedals should work fine as well. Don't overdo reverb (unless you're doing it for effect), you usually don't want to sound like you're in a Cathedral.

  3. Delay. Delays are echo effects, like a very simple reverb. Used right they can be very effective, essentially adding an extra layer to your vocals. This might not be something you want to use on every track so here a pedal would be recommended. If there's a separate effect loop dedicated to only the vocals you could put it there, meaning you may use guitar pedals. You generally don't want delay on your a acoustic guitar. There are a LOT of delay units or there, from very cheap and simple to very advanced. Consider a pedal you can tap the tempo with your foot. If you don't feel like you need a lot of features you can get something really cheap. It's a simple effect so most sound ok.

Also consider a mixer with some built in digital processors. If you decide to scale up and invest in a proper PA you can then use it in that.

  • Tks Anton for reply. There is reverb on the amp and this is Ok. As for delay and compression I have tried those through a guitar effects rack - but I had to sacrifice the the balanced input which resulted in a much flatter/muddier sound. Also the real issue is my voice is THIN and these effects don't add much to that. What Im really looking for is something a little more sophisticated that is really going to add better depth to vocals by adding overtones, overdub, hamonies etc. Chorus on the guitar rack helps but Im really looking for something that will really FATTEN voice. – Ricibob Dec 1 '15 at 17:47
  • The TC-Helicon Harmony G-XT looks interesting - it claims to "Add overdub-style voical doubling feature to add richness to your voice", and "Adds one or two hormony voices directed by guitar playing". Plus reverb and delay etc. Will look in more detail at the many other TC-Helicon offerings and try to decipher there pros and cons over this unit. – Ricibob Dec 1 '15 at 17:51
  • Down the track I do intend to get a mixer - your suggestion to look at what that might offer is a good one. I'll follow up on that. – Ricibob Dec 1 '15 at 17:52
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In the end I went for the TC-Helicon Harmony G-XT. It is somewhere between the 2 TC-Helicon products mentioned in Johannes answer in both features and price. Having taken the time to look at all the TC-Helicon products in detail I like the look of the VoiceLive2/3 products but they were a bit out of my price range. The voice expanding features I was looking for that really drew me to the Harmony G-XT where:
1. Tone: Adapts studio-quality compression, de-ess and EQ to your individual voice to bring out your most exciting vocal tone")
2. NaturalPlay: listens to your guitar, keyboard or mixed music track and figures out which chords are being played. From the chord information Key/Scale can be determined, which allows Harmonies and HardTune effects to be perfectly fit to your music) - which the MicMechanic doesn't have.
3. Doubling: Doubling creates an effect that makes your voice sound “larger” in the mix.
4. Harmony: Creates up to 8 voices of harmony (varies by product), based on your vocal input and surrounds you with professional sounding backup singers.

Price:
MicMechanic: 130€
VoiceTone Harmony G-XT: 200€
VoiceLive2: 360€

I ended up with an as-new Harmony G-XT from Ebay for 130€ - which Im very happy with.
To choose what box suits you really requires a couple of hours in the TC-Helicon comparison page looking at differnt boxes in the 3 available slots. Heres a screen shot of the 3 metioned above: enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

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First, please try to avoid doublers, pitch correction, choir and harmonizer effects. These are the scourge of modern music production; they may feel reassuring and initially impressive, but the effect wears out quickly and ultimately you'll just sound like everybody else who can't sing.

(Disclaimer: if your aim is to make commercially successful records, my advice may not be the best. But but hopefully you also care about not ruining music...)

Of course, the most important thing to a good vocal sound is the voice. It doesn't need to fat, it doesn't need to be pitch perfect, it doesn't need to be, erm, good, to be... good. But it should be you. Try to find the register where your voice works best. Keep experimenting, be it with acoustic guitar or with a band. If you always find just the right expression and character, then it shouldn't matter as much whether your voice itself is thin.

That said, if your voice is simply too weak to be made audible properly, in the context you want to sing in, then some electronic assistance is necessary and probably also not problematic.

First, you need a PA that's loud and clear, without any nasty resonances. Acoustic-guitar amps can sound ok for this purpose, at least for monitoring purposes... but they're scarcely really sufficient as a PA replacement. A couple of semi-decent active speakers will definitely serve you better.

Loudness brings some new problems with it:

  • Feedback is always a risk live; the louder you amplify, the more. Generally, the more linear your PA's response, the less feedback you'll get. Beyond that, feedback destroyers can help a bit.
  • Some parts of the voice, you probably do not want that loud. In particular,
    • Boosting the bass range is usually not a good idea, because it results in a boomy, undefined sound. In fact, with a good PA you'll probably want to cut the low end. For that and a lot of other tweaks, you should have a good equaliser at hand. Modern digital consoles come with good fully parametric eqs, those are ideal. Graphic equalisers can also be useful, but they're also often used badly.
    • Some peaks may come out too loud, and either overburden the PA or just sound annoying. Well, that's what compression fixes. You may think this doesn't add much to the voice, but that's because a good compressor acts very subtly. In fact, a compressor can make a voice sound a heck lot better in a mix, while still staying very faithful to the voice itself.

Apart from that, there's one thing that can significantly fatten up voice in a very useful way: smooth nonlinear saturation. This is best known from traditional analogue recording equipment, mostly tape machines and tube preamps. The latter are still a really nifty thing to use, even live.

Finally, reverb and delay. You'll always want at least a little bit reverb, but don't overdo it: if there's too much reverb, the voice will in fact start to sound more distant and feeble!
And delay is really nice as a space effect, to highlight some song parts. But if you're always followed by an echo, it'll seem a bit ridiculous.

  • Some very good advice here - thanks. Im aware that improving vocals at the vocals is the prefered thing to do - but its not always easy. I also agree that some of the doubling effects can get a bit heavy e.g the tchelicon Doubling and Harmony - but the other two (Tone and NaturalPlay) do seem to improve things for me. Note that the "Tone" fx does add some "adaptive compression". I dont have a mixer or PA i.e Im just using SM58 straight into the Troubadour balanced input - which might not be ideal. I plan to get a digital mixer (eg Behringer X18) for recording - might give more flexibility – Ricibob Dec 9 '15 at 11:19
  • If I get time I'll post some samples of the tchelicon boxes different effects. There are some sample videos ont their site but that are all with really GOOD singers - which isnt a fair test. – Ricibob Dec 9 '15 at 11:22
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Get a condenser mic would probably help with recorded quality way more than an effects pedal. That said, depends on exactly what sound you're going for.

  • This would possibly help in a recording situation but I think the question is about a live or practicing setup where SM58 is a good choice. – Anton U Nov 29 '15 at 2:40

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