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Electro-Harmonix V256 Vocoder, ($290 MSRP, $218 street, www.ehx.com)

September 1, 2010
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V256c_nrWhat: Okay, it’s a pedal, not a rackmount—so sue me. The V256 does the flavor-of-the-month pitch correction effect, but more importantly, does vocoder and drone effects—and a lot more—that give it real staying power should the pitch correction fad fade.

Why: I’m a big fan of vocoders—although I rarely deploy them for voice, preferring to use something like drums as the modulation signal to “chop up” synth or bass sounds. The V256 does all this and more, although to use signals other than a mic for modulation, you’ll probably need an adapter as there’s no line in for the modulation signal.

Packaging: This is the usual EH tabletop box/floor pedal packaging that can survive a lot if you exercise even minimal care. It’s small enough to be unobtrusive in the studio or for a stage setup.

Installation: You need a mic modulation signal for the XLR mic in (which also provides switchable +48V phantom power), and a carrier signal for vocoder effects. This can come from an internal synth (playable via MIDI; the V256 overachieves by including a 5-pin DIN MIDI input) or an external instrument feeding a 1/4" line level phone jack. There are two outputs—XLR balanced out for the effect sound, and 1/4" phone jack that carries the instrument signal.

What’s hot: Well, the whole box, actually. There are nine modes and seven unique ones, so let’s count ’em down. Three of the “robo voice” modes are identical, and provide standard vocoder effects (from funky old-school 8 band to 256 bands) with either the internal synth, external synth, or both mixed together. Why three? So you can save three different presets using this mode. Next up are three “drone” options (major chord, minor chord, “robot” single note). These have a more natural kind of sound, and work great with the internal synth although you can also use an external instrument for standard vocoder effects. The Transposition mode, not surprisingly, transposes the incoming mic signal by up to plus or minus one octave, leaving the vocoder aspect out of the picture. You can play this in real time via MIDI, and add a sort of portamento effect if desired.

The Instrument Control mode lets you sing (or speak) a note, and change its pitch from an external audio source (i.e., the vocal takes on the pitch of the external source). For me this was the least useful option, as using the internal synth and MIDI works great for this kind of sound. The final mode, Reflex-Tune, does pitch quantization/correction (either chromatic, or based on the notes from an external instrument signal) with variable correction speed, and can also quantize to a variety of scales.

The various controls have different effects—sometimes as expected (e.g., pitch changing pitch) and sometimes not (in drone mode, pitch determines not just pitch, but at extreme settings, whether the internal synth is silenced or note). And while the “gender” control (which is active in several modes) tends more toward the Mickey Mouse/Darth Vader tonal option, with female voices, the male gender is scary close.

But wait—there’s more! If you’re lusting after that cool Freeze pedal EH showed at Summer NAMM, use only the instrument in and out, and whenever you hit the Mic Bypass footswitch you’ll freeze what was playing when you hit the switch.

Conclusions: No question, this totally rocks. But don’t lose the manual, because the interface is only partly intuitive—you’ll need to read up on the “secret sauce” functions. Overall the V256 is versatile, well-built, inexpensive, sounds good, and best of all, messes with people’s minds. If you want lots of really good vocal processing effects for cheap, this is a no-brainer. Two thumbs up; three if I had ’em.


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