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TC-Helicon Perform-V

Vocal Effects Processor
Published May 2016
By Paul White

TC-Helicon Perform-V

This powerful vocal processor puts its controls right where you need them!

While having a proficient sound engineer to look after all your sonic needs is the ideal, that isn’t always a practical proposition when you find yourself playing in a cramped corner of the local pub. Fortunately, TC-Helicon have a history of finding solutions to such problems, the latest being the Perform-V. This is a compact vocal processor that clips to your mic stand and provides effects including reverb, delay and vocal doubling, as well as intelligent tone shaping (combining EQ, compression, de-essing and gating), anti-feedback and chromatic pitch correction. It draws most of its elements from existing TC products and puts them into a very easy to operate, compact package.

The Perform-V includes a mic preamp with switchable phantom power, automatic preamp gain setting, and a tap-tempo button for setting the delay time. You can store three presets for instant recall via dedicated number buttons, and there’s a headphone output that can drive in-ear monitors or be used for rehearsing to backing tracks. (To set the mic gain, just press the Set button and sing your loudest note: job done.)

But there’s more — a lot more. An inbuilt RoomSense mic allows for practice without connecting your stage mic, but this is also used for perhaps the unit’s most ambitious feature, which is auto harmony. Using the appropriate preset (see box), the Perform-V can track and analyse the music backing via the inbuilt mic or the aux input, and then create a suitable vocal harmony. Of course, auto harmony is nothing new to TC, but being able to leave it up to the integral mic to figure out an appropriate harmony interval from whatever it hears is pretty impressive.

For practice purposes, a visual pitch display can be turned on to help with voice training, and shows whether you are sharp or flat. To activate the Pitch Guide, you press and hold the Pitch button, whereupon the LEDs around the dial act as a very effective flat/sharp meter.

Beam Me Up

That built-in mic has yet another purpose: it can receive ‘beamed’ presets from your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, via the free-to-download Perform-V app. The presets can be sorted by style, song or artist, and up to four additional effects can be conjured up using the app, including megaphone vocals, ‘hard-tune’ pitch correction and the aforementioned intelligent harmony generation.

iOS 8.1 or later is required to run the app. If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet (or if your ancient iPhone 4 or earlier won’t run iOS 8.1, as my iPhone doesn’t), another way to access library presets is to use TC’s VoiceSupport application (available from http://tc-helicon.com/products/voicesupport and compatible with Windows and Mac OS X), where presets can be added via a drag-and-drop interface from TC’s online library, and sent to the device via USB. Fortunately, my iPad could run the app so I was also able to check the beaming operation.

When using beamed presets, TC have added a feature called Hit, though this has nothing to do with propelling you to the top of the record charts. The idea is that you can turn on or off one or more effects within the current preset using a single button press, so it’s almost like having two presets in one. For example, you may have a preset that has just basic reverb added, but when you hit the Preset button again, other effects such as a harmony preset get activated instead. The practical application here is to ring the changes between verses and choruses. To flip Hit on or off it is necessary to press the Preset button so that its backlight changes from green to blue. In addition, there is also a Talk button, which bypasses all effects other than the tone shaping when making announcements.

An aux input mini-jack can accept signals from mobile audio players for practice or playing backing tracks, but there is a design decision here that I’m rather confused about. When rehearsing with headphones, any audio played in via the aux input is passed through to the main output and to the headphones, but with a slight delay (something to do with the pitch-analysis process). This is not a problem for practice or for playing backing tracks but, as the manual points out, it makes it unsuitable for carrying live instruments. However, during performance it seems you should be able to take a DI feed from the back of, say, an acoustic guitar amp to the aux input, to allow the harmony pitch tracking to work without being distracted by spill, as could occur when using the internal mic as a source. But if a delayed version of the aux input is still going to be mixed with the mic signal fed to your PA system, it isn’t going to sound that great... So why not give the user the option to stop the aux input also appearing at the XLR output, so that it can be used purely as a pitch reference input?

Getting Physical

The rugged plastic case clips securely onto a standard mic stand, though if you have a non-standard one with a thicker-than-usual upper section the clip won’t fit. The rear panel has input and output XLRs for a balanced microphone in and a balanced out. There’s also a quarter-inch pedal jack (for TC’s optional Switch 3 and Switch 6 controllers) and the 3.5mm aux jack. A mini USB connector allows for software updates or direct computer connection, while power comes from a universal-voltage external PSU with a pedal-style push-fit connector.The mic in and out are presented on XLR, while the aux input is a 3.5mm jack socket.The mic in and out are presented on XLR, while the aux input is a 3.5mm jack socket.

The headphone jack is again a 3.5mm mini socket, this time on the front edge of the unit. All of the sloping top panel is given over to illuminated function buttons as you can clearly see from the photograph. What you probably can’t see is how incredibly bright they are at in dimly lit gig! In the centre is a data dial surrounded by an ‘amount’ readout.

Setting up the three presets based on the default effect settings is easy enough. Select the preset you want to edit, then activate the effects (Double, Delay and Reverb) you want to include in your preset. Holding down an effect button allows you to adjust its level using the dial. What may be less obvious is that if you turn the dial past the end of its range in either direction when adjusting an effect, it will move onto a different variation of the current effect and the meter LEDs will change colour. There are four variations for each of the three onboard effect types: three preset ones and one that can be replaced by a setting beamed in from the app. There’s no need to save any changes as any adjustments are saved automatically.

Anti-feedback, Tone and Pitch (chromatic pitch correction) are switched on or off globally. Anti-feedback is active when its button shows blue and then, when you ring out the system, its LED shows red to denote that it is active. However, if you use up all of its filters the light will blink, which means you need to turn down the system gain and start over.

Sensibly, the 48V phantom power button has to be held down for a couple of seconds to turn it on or off, so changes are unlikely to be made by accident. The same applies to accessing the auto-level mode, and if you press and hold the Talk button, it will flash, lock the controls and mute the outputs so you can go and have a beer during the break without worrying about somebody messing with your sound (press and hold again to unlock). If you have a TC-Helicon MP75 microphone, there’s the option to activate Mic Control mode, so that you can use the top button on the mic to cycle through the presets (though there’s a routine for assigning the switch to a different function, such as killing the reverb, if you prefer).

Quality

The analogue mic preamp works over the range -28 to +2.8 dBu, producing an EIN of -128dB (A-weighted), which puts it on a par with a typical mixer, and conversion is 24-bit, 128x oversampled. The output impedance is 30Ω unbalanced or 60Ω balanced, which means long cable runs are not a problem, and the frequency response is impressively flat at 20Hz to 20kHz within half a dB.

As to the effects themselves, TC have a strong reputation when it comes to delay and reverbs so no worries there — the reverbs cover a useful range of small to medium reverb times with different timbres, but nothing excessive, while the delays include eighth- and quarter-note delays with feedback, and also a slapback, rockabilly-style delay. Any delay times set using the tap-tempo button are stored in the current preset. The doubling effect, meanwhile, creates a subtle but effective artificial double-tracking (ADT) effect by adding a short delay and some pitch change to a copy of the original sound.

The TC manual recommends that you leave the Tone button active all the time, but I found that with a good-quality PA system, it produced slightly too dramatic a change of timbre. As well as taking away more of the lows than might be strictly necessary to avoid popping, it also imparted a fairly strong treble lift that gave the highs a somewhat ‘over-airy’ quality and could lose you some of the ground that the anti-feedback has claimed for you. Some way to dial back the strength of this (or to beam in alternatives) as you can with the other effects would be desirable, but at the moment it is strictly on or off. Still, there’s always the option of a firmware update in the future. So I’d recommend either leaving it off (unless you have a dull-sounding PA system or vocalist), or countering the top boost with a little top cut on your mixer.

In Practice

For testing the harmonies, my initial experiment used an unplugged acoustic guitar, with a lot of vocal from the speakers also being audible at the Perform-V’s location, and that still proved to be surprisingly reliable. I found the default harmony levels to be a bit on the high side, but you can hold down a button to adjust the level. The quality of harmony is comparable with that from other TC-Helicon products so, again, no worries there as long as you don’t set it too loud.

A second test at a pub gig with amplified acoustic guitar, electric guitar and cajon confirmed the unit’s worth under battle conditions. We only used the harmony feature on a couple of songs, but it didn’t seem to get confused and the vocal effects worked really well. We even left the Tone switch on, but backed off the high end slightly on the mixer.

The feedback suppression also worked without fuss; the filters are very narrow and have negligible effect on the overall sound. However, you ideally need to set these up by ringing out the system before you play, as if you leave them to work during performance, any system ringing can get quite audible before the filters step in and kill it. This is true of pretty much all anti-feedback systems that work using tracking notch filters, however.

V For Victory?

In most respects the Perform-V is a very practical processor that’s easy to use, easy to set up and ergonomically ideal, other than the lightweight external power supply. I have some issues with the preset Tone function being a little too lively, and I can’t understand why you can’t kill the aux signal’s contribution to the output if you simply want to use it as a pitch reference, but other than that, the Perform-V is the perfect instant-gratification vocal treatment tool, while its mic-stand-clip design puts the controls where the singer can easily reach them.

Alternatives

Most vocal processing devices that can also generate harmonies are made by TC or DigiTech. There’s already a choice of pedal or rackmount units, but the Perform-V’s stand-mounted format is both novel and practical.

The Presets

The Perform-V app features an extensive collection of presets based on a number of songs and genres.The Perform-V app features an extensive collection of presets based on a number of songs and genres.The library of presets is essentially based on a very wide range of different songs arranged by genre, plus a few standard one- and two-part harmony settings such as ‘harmony above’. In some cases you can call up different preset harmonies for the verses and choruses of specific songs — such as for Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’.

Beaming patches from the iPad proved easy enough, though it turned out to be vital to have the volume set to maximum and to hold the iPad speaker right next to the mic on the Perform-V. There’s more than enough scope here to cover most eventualities, though I did rather wish there was the option of a simple editor program as well.

Published May 2016