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Digitech MV-5 MIDI Vocalist Vocal Harmony Processor (part 1)

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I like the look of this unit. “Why?”, you ask, “It looks pretty
ordinary to me” In fact, compared to many effects units it is extraordinary
on two counts. The first is that it doesn't have an LCD display. The second
is that it has large, illuminated, user-friendly buttons. These two features
tell me that the Digitech MV-5 MIDI Vocalist is going to be friendly not fiddly
to use, that I am going to get results with it quickly, and that I am going
to be able to exploit it to its fullest potential. Maybe it's just me going
through a phase since I threw out my studio computer (shock horror!) and started
listening to the music I was trying to create, but I really do feel the
time has come for manufacturers to concentrate on giving us the features we
need in a unit rather than simply making the feature list as long as
possible, with the result that many pieces of equipment are so complex that
95% of their features never get used. Let me put it on record from the start
that this unit does what it does cleanly and simply. You do need the manual
to get started because it performs tricks other effects units cannot, but once
you have about ten minutes experience under your belt then you can let your
creativity take over and have fun!

The Digitech MIDI Vocalist is an intelligent pitch changer. This means that
it 'understands' the rules of harmony and can add harmonies to a lead vocal
appropriate to the key of the song. Brian May soundalikes may substitute 'guitar'
for 'vocal' in the previous sentence. As an intelligent pitch shifter, and one
bestowed with a certain amount of good taste, this is not a unit for weird delayed
feedback pitch shift effects, although you can certainly get these sounds with
the aid of a delay unit and a little bit of mixing console know how. Up to four
harmonies are allowed in four distinct and useful modes of operation. Taking
a look at the front panel first, the most obvious feature is the group of six
buttons set into a musical staff with a treble clef. If you were thinking that
the positions of the buttons on the staff meant something then you had been
fooled too. It's just a design feature, but the fact that they slope at an angle
does represent the relative pitches of the harmonies, if not the actual
notes. These six buttons allow the user to select four harmonies spaced above
or below, or in unison, with the input note. It's a quick and easy way to create
the harmony voicing you are looking for and the MV-5 will select the actual
pitches for you. Bypassing for the moment a group of six buttons which select
the mode of operation and the key of the song – more on these later – we come
to three rotary controls which set the input level, the output level of the
lead vocal (the input signal) and the level of the harmonies. It's so simple
it couldn't be simpler. A front panel XLR is provided, without phantom power,
for a microphone input. For those of you who are as interested in the back of
equipment as in the front panel, the principal features are a line input, stereo
outputs and the normal trio of MIDI sockets. A socket is provided for the Digitech
FS-300 footswitch which can control the Set Key, Harmony Mode and Bypass functions.
A single momentary action footswitch may be used to control Bypass only. Also
on the back is the input for the wall wart power supply. I'll continue to complain
about these devices as long as manufacturers use them because, as well as being
inconvenient, I know that the easiest way to destroy equipment is to get your
warts mixed up, which seem come in an endless variety of voltages and polarity.
There is a fortune waiting for the inventor who can come up with a powering
system that is as convenient for the manufacturer (who can sell identical units
worldwide) as a wall wart and works for the user too.

Now that we have got the hardware out of the way, let's look individually at
the four modes of operation…

David Mellor

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David Mellor

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