Recording

Choosing the Best TC-Helicon Device for Your Sound

Every year, gear manufacturers flood the market with revolutionary products. We’re currently experiencing the golden age of home recording and live performance technology, and TC-Helicon is at the head of the pack.

Acts like Bon Iver, Lambchop, and many others use TC-Helicon products for the studio and live performance. With 25 vocal processing products, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for you.

It really depends on what you need, but the TC-Helicon VoiceLive 3 is hands down one of the best vocal processing products available on the market. Whether you’re a singer-songwriter or a Platinum-certified vocalist, the VoiceLive 3 can do just about anything you could ever want.

What you choose to buy depends on your budget and the features you’re after. We’re going to discuss the VoiceLive 3 and some of the other models below to help you find the best fit for you.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
VoiceLive 3
Probably the most effective and affordable tool for vocalists on the market right now$589.18
TC-Helicon Mic Mechanic
Give you complete control over your vocal performanceCheck on Amazon
TC Helicon Play Electric/Play Acoustic
Players will appreciate the amp modeling and effects capabilities of the Play Electric unit$349.00
VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
Usually combine 2 or 3 specific effects for a simplified setup that just gives you powerful core features.$187.23
Perform-VK
Straight-forward interface with many of their most powerful features$249.99
VoiceTone Correct XT
Useful for singers who like a loud monitor mixOut of stock
VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
Option of selecting from preset intervals for two harmony voices$187.23
Harmony Singer 2
3 reverb settings and the tone option for compression, de-essing, and gate control$199.00
VoiceTone C1
Provides the best features of popular vocal tuning plugins$129.99
VoiceLive 2
Has over 200 presets, looping, pitch correction, and 4 harmony voices$368.00

Top Pick: VoiceLive 3

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In terms of price and features, I think the VoiceLive 3 is the clear winner. It has a variation of nearly every feature that TC-Helicon offers, ample looping time, practical usability, and effects for both vocals and instruments. The main thing that sets this unit apart from some of the other products is the ability to use an instrument.

Not only that, but the amount of things it can do with (and to) your guitar can really save you a fortune in effects pedals. For instance, maybe you don’t want to buy a dedicated chorus pedal but you want a good-sounding chorus on one or two songs. Just by having the VoiceLive 3, you can save $100 here and there on a variety of effects that you may not need too often in the first place.

If you’re a vocalist, even if you don’t play an instrument, the VoiceLive 3 is a bargain compared to the individual stompboxes. For the price of 4 or 5 individual stompboxes, you can have access to substantially more features than an entire arsenal of stompboxes. For that reason alone I would say that the price tag is justified and the unit can be viewed as an investment.

The in-depth menu options and the range of parameters you can control make the VoiceLive 3 a great value to anyone, regardless of whether or not you play an instrument. Realistically, there are only a few things you’re missing out on, and honestly, I think the features you don’t get are not the most practical of features in the first place.

The bottom line is that the VoiceLive 3 is probably the most effective and affordable tool for vocalists on the market right now.

Runner Up: TC-Helicon Mic Mechanic

Credit: TC-Helicon

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Working in the studio is one thing, but using an old laptop with live plugins is risky business. (Ask my keyboardist friend who experienced infinite sustain on his midi keyboard at one of our concerts.) The singer of another band I played with used the TC-Helicon Mic Mechanic; this was my first exposure to TC-Helicon products. Since then, I’ve been looking at their products to find the most natural, authentic, and practical device for me.

As a guitarist, I grew up being skeptical of multi-effects units. When multi-effects units first gained popularity among amateur musicians in the 90s, they were truly awful, so I’ve always been biased against them.

However, after thorough testing, reading hundreds of reviews, watching hours of demos, having countless discussions on forums, and discovering that some of my favorite artists use their products, I’m convinced that TC-Helicon knows what they’re doing.

Multi Effects Floor Units

TC-Helicon currently produces 6 multi-effects floor units aimed at different kinds of players. They’re mainly for people who play an instrument and sing, but they also have dedicated vocal units across their different product lines.

TC Helicon VoiceLive 3/VoiceLive 3 Extreme

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View VoiceLive 3 on AmazonView VoiceLive 3 Extreme on Amazon

These two products are dream for any guitarist behind a mic. Both models offer over 500 presets, live looping, and a wide array of effects for your guitar and voice. The pitch correction and harmony features give you complete control over your vocal performance, and the guitar effects section features some of the most popular sounds from the TC Electronic guitar effects line.

You can create up to 4 harmony parts and use pitch correction that ranges from subtle to robotic. While other floor units let you program sounds for your guitar and voice, these units let you control specific parameters live, like delay and harmonies, rather than just scrolling through presets.

The two most feature-heavy products in TC-Helicon’s product line differ in a few important ways. The VoiceLive 3 Extreme offers 5 hours of looping time with a limit of 8 minutes per track; the VoiceLive 3 gives you 45 minutes of looping time. If you’re the kind of player who likes to improvise loops live, then the VoiceLive 3 is probably adequate.

For musicians who like to save loops for flawless performances, the VoiceLive 3 Extreme is probably more up your alley. The VoiceLive 3 Extreme also allows you to automate effects by syncing to a prerecorded track, so that you don’t have to worry about stomping on switches while performing. On top of this, the VoiceLive 3 Extreme can record your performance to a USB key in 24-bit audio.

RoomSense is also an amazing feature that’s included in the VoiceLive 3 units. The devices include 2 small microphones built into the unit that listen to chords being played in the room. The unit takes the information it hears to give you more accurate harmonies. This lets you play songs with key changes and accidentals without having to switch to a different preset.

Honestly, most musicians probably won’t need the additional features of the VoiceLive 3 Extreme. It seems specifically geared towards professional musicians playing along with prerecorded tracks.

The price tag difference is only about $150 if you decide you want the additional memory slots, more looping time, and the recording function, but I personally don’t think they would be useful to me. To compare the features and specs of any TC-Helicon product, you can visit TC-Helicon’s Comparison page.

TC Helicon Play Electric/Play Acoustic

Credit: TC-Helicon

View Play Electric on AmazonView Play Acoustic on Amazon

These two units present players with many of the same features as the VoiceLive 3 models, but with a more affordable price tag. These units uniquely cater to electric and acoustic players’ needs.

Electric guitar players will appreciate the amp modeling and effects capabilities of the Play Electric unit, and acoustic players will appreciate the Play Acoustic’s powerful EQ options for creating warm, natural sounds when plugged directly into a PA. That being said, there are some major drawbacks to these units.

Both units offer up to 1 minute of looping, so this might be considered a major step down from the 45 minutes of the VoiceLive 3 and the 5 hours of the VoiceLive 3 Extreme. This shouldn’t worry you too much though since looping in the context of a band is pretty impractical in the first place.

The harmony section can deliver up to 2 additional voices, which is probably enough for most singers. These models lack the Choir feature of the VoiceLive 3 models, but I really think this feature might sound inauthentic in most settings.  Just like the VoiceLive 3 models, these two units both offer the RoomSense and pitch correction features to guarantee your lead vocals and harmonies will always be perfect.

The biggest difference between the Play Acoustic and Play Electric is the effects section. The Play Acoustic’s effects section features reverb, modulation, and EQ. Compare that to the Play Electric, which features reverb, delay, modulation, distortion, compression, EQ, and amp modeling.

Of course, most acoustic players don’t use things like distortion, so the disparity in effects is probably not a deal breaker for acoustic players. However, if you switch between guitars, then your best bet is to go with one of the VoiceLive 3 models.

The great news is that the Play Acoustic and the Play Electric can both be found for about half the price of the VoiceLive 3 Extreme. The Play Acoustic is a little more expensive than the Play Electric, but they’re still incredibly affordable considering the powerful features they offer.

Stompboxes

VoiceTone Harmony-G XT

Credit: TC-Helicon

View VoiceTone Harmony-G XT on AmazonView VoiceTone Correct XT on AmazonView Mic Mechanic 2 on AmazonView VoiceTone T1 on Amazon

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of one of the bigger effects units, you can opt for one of the more affordable stompbox units. The stompboxes usually combine 2 or 3 specific effects for a simplified setup that just gives you powerful core features. So if you find yourself just wanting 2 harmonies and the doubler effect, this can be a much more affordable solution for you.

Many of TC-Helicon’s stompboxes offer pitch correction and reverb, so it can be a little confusing. For instance, when I was looking into them, I kept asking myself, “How are these two pitch correction pedals different?” The answer was usually something like one having delay and the other having harmonies.

The VoiceTone Harmony-G XT is a really good option for guitarists who want vocal harmonies, pitch correction, doubling, and reverb. There’s also the VoiceTone Correct XT, which is geared primarily towards singers. The VoiceTone Correct XT gives you a lot of tonal control over your voice, but it lacks harmonies, reverb, and doubling.

The Mic Mechanic 2, one of TC Helicon’s newer products, is a solution for people who want reverb, pitch correction, and echo at an incredibly affordable price. Many singers also praise the VoiceTone T1 as a must-have for singers. It provides the same EQ, compression, de-esser, and warmth controls as the VoiceTone Correct XT, but with limited features.

The only thing you’d need to be careful about with the single pedals is pedal order. Just like with guitar pedals, pedal order can have a huge influence on your sound. The thing with the TC-Helicon pedals is that if you put a harmonizer pedal in front of a pitch correction pedal, it may not work correctly.

Trying to auto-tune a signal with reverb may work occasionally, but most likely it won’t be 100% functional. Ideally, you would use something like the VoiceTone T1 into a pitch correction or harmonizer pedal into something else, like a reverb pedal.

If you’re still confused, TC-Helicon this helpful video:

Mic Stand Mounts

Perform-VK

Credit: TC-Helicon

View Perform-VK on AmazonView VoiceLive Touch 2 on AmazonView Perform-V on Amazon

For performers who don’t want to want to tap dance during their performance, TC-Helicon also has mic stand-mounted units. These units are more aimed at singers who don’t play instruments, though they recently introduced the Perform-VK for keyboardists.

It does seem like it would be difficult to juggle keyboard or guitar duties while using your hands to press buttons, so I’m not convinced that these are the most useful options available. They do sell footswitches that you can use with various TC-Helicon units, but needing to accessorize to use a product well is a minus in my book.

The best of these mic stand-mounted units is the VoiceLive Touch 2, an update to the previous VoiceLive Touch, which seems to only be available used. It has some really great features, like looping, NaturalPlay and RoomSense for pitch correction and harmonies, and the slider fx control.

Honestly though, for the price of this unit, I think it’s sort of the “VoiceLive 3 for dummies” option. Buying the slightly more expensive VoiceLive 3 unit would be worth the price for the usability factor alone.

There’s also a cheaper option that offers everything most regular singers would need for a live show. TC-Helicon designed the Perform-V with a straight-forward interface with many of their most powerful features. Singers can touch simple buttons to control reverb, pitch, harmonies, delay, and anti-feedback.

This is the ideal option for singers who want something that “just works.” One of the best things about this unit is that you can actually use a smartphone app to download sounds and “beam” them to your unit’s presets. This feature is only available for the Perform-V and Perform-VK models.

The Next Best Things:

If you decide the VoiceLive 3 isn’t for you, there are some other great options from TC-Helicon.

VoiceTone Correct XT

Credit: TC-Helicon

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This is a great option for dedicated vocalists. It offers pitch correction, anti-feedback, dynamics, and EQ options for great-sounding live vocals. It corrects your pitch based on a chromatic scale, so it doesn’t rely on your playing to correct the pitch.

The Correct XT is a really great tool for singers who are already pretty good.  If a singer hits a sour note, it will still be sour, but it will be a perfectly tuned sour note. This is one of the few units in TC-Helicon’s product line that offers anti-feedback controls, which is useful for singers who like a loud monitor mix.

The dynamics controls add warmth and compression to your vocals to increase the tonal quality of your voice, as well as prevent volume spikes in your singing. Even if you don’t play live, this is a great tool for the at-home musician who needs to record or just practice.

VoiceTone Harmony-G XT

Credit: TC-Helicon

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If you’re wanting to play guitar and sing at the time, the VoiceTone Harmony-G XT is definitely something to consider. The NaturalPlay feature is included to make sure your voice is pitch-corrected based on the chords you’re playing on your instrument.

If you want, you can also just set the key of the song you’re playing for accurate pitch correction. As the name suggests, you also have the option of selecting from preset intervals for two harmony voices. If that’s not enough, you also have a delay and reverb section for your voice and reverb for your guitar.

Harmony Singer 2

Credit: TC-Helicon

View on SweetwaterView on Amazon

The new Harmony Singer 2 is a solution for singers who want harmonies, but don’t necessarily want pitch correction. This unit gives you two harmony voices that are controlled by a guitar. In addition to this, there are 3 reverb settings and the tone option for compression, de-essing, and gate control; so this is a slightly less expensive version of the Harmony-G XT.

It lacks the guitar effects of the Harmony-G XT and some of the controls, but provides a lot of the basics. As of writing this, the Harmony Singer 2 has not been released, so you may have a hard time finding it right now. It is, however, scheduled for a January 2017 release.

VoiceTone C1

Credit: TC-Helicon

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With key selection, hard pitch correction, and a gender knob, this is a really unique product. It essentially provides the best features of popular vocal tuning plugins.

The key selection knob ensures you’re in key with the song you’re singing. The pitch knob lets you adjust the subtleness of the effect and can range from barely there to a hard-tuned robotic voice. The gender knob changes the tonal qualities of your voice to let you sound like anywhere between Barry White and a chipmunk.

This is less subtle set of features than some of the other products, so be sure to try it out and check out some videos to see if it’s a good choice for your sound.

VoiceLive 2

Credit: TC-Helicon

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The VoiceLive 2 is actually still really advanced compared to other products on the market, even though it’s the previous generation’s model. It still has over 200 presets, looping, pitch correction, and 4 harmony voices. It mainly differs in terms of the extent of the looping capabilities and the guitar effects section.

It can still do more than all of the stompbox units combined, so don’t get the impression that this unit is somehow outdated. There are fewer features than the VoiceLive 3, but it’s also priced accordingly, making it a great value. Check out the used market to get an even better deal on one of these units.

Sources
  • Artists | TC-Helicon. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.tc-helicon.com/en/artists/
  • Comparison > Products | TC-Helicon. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.tc-helicon.com/en/products/comparison/
  • Connecting multiple TC-Helicon VoiceTone pedals. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyZo4F5fMpQ
  • Deusner (Interviewer), S., & Wagner (Interviewee), K. (2016, April 18). Q&A: Kurt Wagner On How Hip-Hop & Audio Technology Inspired Lambchop’s FLOTUS – Stereogum. Retrieved from http://www.stereogum.com/1894278/qa-kurt-wagner-on-how-hip-hop-technology-inspired-lambchops-flotus/franchises/interview/
  • Justin Vernon’s Guitars, Amps, Pedals & Other Gear | Equipboard®. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://equipboard.com/pros/justin-vernon/#studio-equipment
  • TC-Helicon Harmony Singer 2 – Battery Powered | Sweetwater. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/HarmonySing2
  • What is NaturalPlay? – TC Helicon Support. (2016, September 28). Retrieved from http://support.tc-helicon.com/hc/en-us/articles/228167347-What-is-NaturalPlay-
  • What is RoomSense? – TC Helicon Support. (2016, September 28). Retrieved from http://support.tc-helicon.com/hc/en-us/articles/228167487-What-is-RoomSense-

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