The Focusrite Platinum VoiceMaster ($675) has a wide range of signal processing specially tailored for vocals. It provides – all in one rack-space – a noise gate/expander, saturator (distortion), compression, EQ and a de-esser. The unit is intended mainly for vocal use, but it can be used on any signal.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast production
Key Features: Single channel voice processor, noise/gate/expander, compression, EQ, de-esser and saturation; XLR and balanced 1/4-inch I/O
Contact: Focusrite Audio Engineering/ Digidesign at 800-333-2137 Web Site
Connections to the VoiceMaster are flexible. You can use the processor with a mic signal or a line level signal from tape or sound card, permitting one to process during mixdown as well as during recording. On the back, an insert jack allows the user to insert another processor (a favorite EQ or compressor, for example) between the VoiceMaster mic pre and the rest of its processor blocks.
The unit handles both -10 dBV and +4 dBu levels in and out, as well as balanced or unbalanced signals. XLR connectors and phone jacks make it easy to connect. Each processor section can be switched in or out.
The Discrete Transistor Input is the input gain stage, which accommodates a wide range of levels. Signal presence and overload LEDs help you set the level correctly. An adjustable high-pass filter can be used to reduce rumble or microphone proximity effect. Also included are a polarity reverse switch and a phantom-power switch.
The Noise Reducing Expander drops the volume of quiet parts of the performance. Use it to reduce leakage, tape hiss, air conditioning noise so on. Controls include threshold (the level where noise reduction begins), depth (amount of reduction) and gate (more abrupt than the expander). An LED meter shows the amount of gain reduction.
According to Focusrite, the Vocal Saturator simulates tube and tape distortion. A drive control varies the sound – from clean to distorted – while a tuning knob sets the range of frequencies that are subjected to the saturation effect. The “full bandwidth” switch allows the effect to be applied to the entire audio band.
The Opto-Compressor rides the gain on vocals, keeping them at a more constant level. Controls include threshold, release time, output (make-up gain), fast/slow attack, hard/soft compression ratio and treble. The latter control restores the highs that compression seems to attenuate. An LED meter shows the amount of gain reduction.
Voice Optimized EQ is where you will find sweepable low-frequency EQ, and fixed-frequency mid and high EQ. The frequencies are chosen to work well with voice. An “absence” knob reduces vocal harshness by attenuating the upper mids.
The Opto De-Esser acts as a compressor for high-frequency sibilance; the De-Esser removes overly strong “s” and “sh” sounds from vocals. At the end of the chain is the Master Fader, the master volume control. This matches the unit’s output level to the input level of the device it is feeding. A peak output level meter completes the package.
I connected the VoiceMaster to a clean headphone amp and plugged in a microphone. After setting levels, I began to experiment. The VoiceMaster sounds clean and neutral. All the controls work silently. The range of control adjustment is well chosen and can handle any situation.
The unit’s sweepable low-cut filter is more useful than the fixed low-cut filter (or no filter) found in many mixers. And the noise reducing expander works very well, gently bringing the gain down during pauses, but letting fast attacks through without pops, clicks or missed speech. It effectively removes foot taps and room noise whenever the singer stops.
The vocal saturator is fun to play with. At the twist of a knob, add some grunge to just the mids or highs – or the entire range. With the saturator you can create the sound of an overdriven tube microphone even if your vocal mic is solid state.
Compression is frequently needed on vocals, and the opto-compressor in the VoiceMaster does a fine job. Its effect can be varied anywhere from subtle to outrageous. The Treble knob is a nice feature that brings back the highs lost during compression.
As for the Voice-Optimized EQ section, it acts much like console EQ, with sweepable lows (warmth), and fixed-frequency mids (presence) and highs (breath). Focusrite included a useful Absence switch, which cuts the upper mids a little to reduce harshness.
The Opto De-Esser is my favorite feature. It tames those harsh “s” and “sh” sounds without dulling the tone, as a high-frequency EQ cut can do. I have recorded many singers whose voice needed a high-frequency boost to stand out over an instrumental background, but this boost often caused too much sibilance. The de-esser lets you hold down the sibilance without losing high-frequency clarity.
The manual is excellent – easy to understand, full of useful tips and well illustrated. In fact, it borrowed an illustration and some text from one of my books!
Summing up, the Focusrite Platinum VoiceMaster is a powerful, flexible processor that offers fine sound and great creative potential. Plug it in and have fun!