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Microphone Month

Roland VP-550 Review

The VP-550 is ultra-simple, reliable, ruggedly built, and sounds almost other-worldly.

The Roland VP-550 is a product without peer in the realm of harmony processing gear. There are a multitude of boxes out there that can auto-harmonize with your voice based on what chords you play on either a guitar or keyboard. While they are convenient, and many do produce excellent results, they are somewhat limited in their functionality. They use artificial intelligence to produce harmonies at pre-programmed, fixed intervals. What if you want to vary those intervals in real time? What if you want more than four harmonies at a time? Short of some gee-whiz-mad-scientist programming, it is practically impossible to do.

This is where Roland stepped in. The VP-550 leaves the artificial intelligence out of the equation and puts the control back where it belongs – in YOUR head. It does this by letting you manually control the harmonies that come out of it – intuitively enough, through a keyboard. And it couldn’t be easier to use. I was able to get up and running in very short time without looking at the manual once. Every function is obvious and has a button or knob – there is no hierarchy of menus to get lost in.

The first controls you’ll likely reach for are the mic level and direct blend. It allows you to adjust the gain of the microphone and how much the direct, un-manipulated sound of your voice will blend in with the harmonies you play. Next, you’ll notice SIX different harmony algorithms. They range from classical choirs to gospel, pop and vintage vocoders. Experimentation is the order of the day here.

You can also augment your voice and harmonies with “ensemble” sounds that can even be set (with one button) to respond with the volume envelope your singing, making even more lush soundscapes possible. Add a great sounding reverb with simple one-knob control, and optional bass notes to split on the left-side of the key bed, and you’ve got a versatile box.

How does it sound? Let me put it this way – all I had to was play (or sing… which is it?) the opening strains of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for my colleagues before I saw a multitude of wide eyes and ear-splitting grins. I personally was so enraptured with the sounds I was getting that I lost a good part of a night’s sleep experimenting with it when I first got it. I made a recording with it and shared it with my friends, who all were dumbfounded at how “cool” it sounded. Suffice to say it has that “WOW” factor that will make for a captive audience, whether in a live show or a home-listening situation. It has immense “cool” factor.

And the VP-550 isn’t limited to voice. It works well with any monophonic instrument. It can also be used for sound design. Think monotone cybernetic zombies…. Your imagination is really the limit.

This product is a sheer joy to use. It is ultra-simple, reliable, ruggedly built, and sounds almost other-worldly. I recommend it to anybody who is looking to add serious spice to their live or studio vocals, as well as anybody who is looking to expand their palette of sonic tools.

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