Gear Review: Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer

Review: Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer

Something’s got to go in between your microphone and your PA system! Over years of working with doo dads and widgets, I can testify, there are many devices that belong nowhere in your setup. But if you find that thing that goes after the mic and before the speaker, it may turn out to be more important than either the mic or speaker!

Of course, you can plug your mic directly into your PA speaker. I’ve done this many times. If you have a good quality mic and PA speaker, it will sound exactly the way it should! The sound of your voice will be amplified to your heart’s desire. In a bare bones way, you’re done! You can perform, practice, make money and lots of new friends!

But There’s a Better Way!

Often, a mic plugged directly into a PA system is used when a person is giving a speech at a podium. I know, that doesn’t sound fun. It doesn’t “sound” fun at all! But if you added the right thing in-between somewhere … might that help?

Some of the people up at the podiums are probably unsalvageable, so let’s talk real fun, singing! When people start singing, other people start snapping their fingers, and if the wind is blowing in the right direction, dancing! Suddenly, a microphone plugged into a PA speaker went from deadly dull to powerfully purposeful, and fun!

While we’re here, having fun, think back a bit about the system. Think about the boring speaker at the podium. It probably would have been more interesting if you could have heard what he was saying, but there was feedback and howling sometimes, and other times he just leaned back too much and it sounded like mumbling. That doesn’t help. There was no consistent volume. Forget about actual enunciation. That’s a typical auditorium-setting high school graduation. If it’s in a gymnasium, subtract 100 points for potential good quality sound!

It’s not fun, and it’s getting painful!

Then, think about dancing, out at night, with a band playing. Think about how some bands are better than others. I’ve even heard cover versions of songs that were better than the originals! There’s competition in this auditorium; it’s a completely different sandbox!. You’re not being paid to mumble into a microphone; you’re on stage with an entertainment group, and if it doesn’t fly, you’re out of business! You’ve got to make it entertaining, review your performance and get critiques, and improve, not linger, and you’ll never get the chance to blame bad results on a bad PA system no-one was in charge of, like the guy at the boring podium event could!

The Pressure is Building!

Is it the mic? Nope, got a great one. I’m using a Shure Beta 87A, which I discovered at a club open mic; I like the way my voice sounds through it. Is it the PA? Nope, everything else sounds perfect through my QSC 10.2 monitors, which have EQ and a small mixer panel right on the back, and are dual amplified and very adequate!

Not much left. I’ll work on my voice and presentation.

When you get there, here … where I am … your voice and presentation will improve, hopefully, as you practice. I practice every day and notice improvement every day! But you know how this goes. There’s a curve. There’s a limit to really what I can do with only a mic and a PA speaker, especially when the other bands are at least adding chorus or reverb to their microphone. There are several ways I can plug things in, and it’s not hard to find I have reverb on my mixer or in the PA system rear panel, and some people use outboard “apps” and iPhone attachments which put effects inline. It’s probably safe to say professional singers use reverb and chorus (and delay) on their voices routinely. That’s where most singers are. To suit their needs, they look for something that sounds good, and is convenient and not too bulky.

That first one’s a doozy!

Almost any reverb or “hall” effect on a vocal will make it sound better. That doesn’t mean it’s the best sound, now that you’re in this sandbox. Now you’re a singer who needs to understand effects, spend time and money to find what you need in a sea of colorful choices, and bring the new gear to your gigs and make it work. There’s often a learning curve, and many singers are not comfortable getting too hands-on, when dialing in electronic, synthesized mojo isn’t what they’re trained to do!

But in this sandbox, the singer is paid to make the audience happy, so anything that makes the performance better is a good thing. It’s not an easy situation to escape from. Welcome to technology!

I play guitar and sing. The opportunity for me to get to know all about guitar pedals has lingered around me my whole life, but I’ve easily resisted, because that’s not what I do. I play the guitar. And until recently, pedals were not made for anything but guitar, certainly not for singing. So I happily don’t know what’s going on when I look at a pedal board a guitarist is using. It’s pretty and complicated and … seems WAY more than I need.

Still, as a singer and guitarist, devices are my friends. I long for the perfect performance, and have no qualms with running chorus, reverb, loopers and any other kind of jingle or jangle to make the audience happy! I’ll kick a pedal if I need to, and probably even know what I’m doing, but until now I’ve never found anything, that goes between the microphone and speaker, that impressed me enough to learn it!

Lights, Guitar, Microphone, Action!

Enter the Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer. It’s a vocal pedal. Yup, it’s a guitar pedal, but it’s also for vocals. And that’s not a gimmick. If you look at Boss’s pedal lineup, they’ve basically taken their best effects pedals for acoustic gigging, effects for guitar and effects for vocals, pedals that cost $150 each and accumulate quickly into a mess of power cables and cartooney-looking little boxes with tiny screens and flashing lights … and placed them neatly into a golden gigging device that belongs in my audio chain. This thing is designed so well it’s up and running before any doubt enters your mind. When it’s inline, it does nothing. Nothing more than make you sound better.

My Boss Acoustic Singer VE-8

It has memory mode. You don’t have to use it. In fact, it’s secondary in the design, and doesn’t get in the way at all. This is notable, along with the blatant lack of any tiny screens that require you to don reading glasses and fumble though tiny back-and-forths on a Flintstones-designed menu. There are zero of those menus. Everything’s a knob, a beautiful, easy-to-see, easy-to-understand, easy-to-troubleshoot, eyeglasses-not-required, knob. There’s a tiny screen but it’s just going to show you numbers, values for your reference, and it’s used for some system settings you won’t muss with once your show starts.

It has a looper that’s as good as any, and “any” costs $200, so there’s that. It’s just one of the many great things built into this magical golden box. The looper has a trick, too. While it’s easy to use (standard clicking on a big round footswitch makes everything happen), it’s not like the others. You have a guitar and mic plugged into the back of this bad boy, and you can loop either your voice, or guitar, or both, at the same time if you want! Boss commissioned the lovely KT Tunstall as a public-facing demo video girl, and what she does is stunning.

Need a mixer? Nope! Need more vocal? There are two knobs on the top right – output volume knobs for guitar and vocal. Grab one and turn it up. And yes, there is phantom power for condenser mics.

The Sweet Details

There are three sections. The third is the looper. It’s over on the right.

First section is guitar, and in the middle is vocal. Enable or disable effects by pushing the big black button.

Let’s go through “guitar.” It doesn’t really matter if you’re playing an acoustic or electric guitar. I don’t think people would realize without it being pointed out, you can plug an electric guitar directly into this box, leaving your heavy guitar amplifier at home, and it will sound really good (this assumes you have a good-sounding guitar!). I plugged a Fender tele-style (G&L Bluesboy) electric guitar into this “Acoustic Singer” device (which is designed for acoustic guitars), and it sounds so good I’ve had the device for a week and have yet to try an acoustic.

In the “guitar” section, you can dial up “acoustic resonance.” This will essentially apply a slight compression to your guitar and enhance some frequencies (that’s my best guess, anyway). I dialed it to halfway and never looked back. The difference is impossible to notice unless you toggle the switch (or just look at the smiles on the faces of people listening); it’s subtle and precise, and with that small amount of compression, suddenly you can hear, without turning it up, and without being drowned by the vocal, every nuance of every tiny note you play.

That’s what you need. That’s the “edge.” That’s the thing you need between your guitar and PA speaker.

Still in “guitar,” you’ll also have, right there with a friendly dialy-knob, reverb and chorus. Nothing left to be desired for basic great sound! There’s an uncomplicated total of four turny-knobs in this section, and the fourth is a notch filter, which you would use to dial in a frequency to dull, to reduce feedback. Under this knob, there’s a button that will simply turn your sound waves upside down (reverse polarity, or “phase”). When you do this, often much or all of your feedback is washed away. These controls are simple to use and very effective.

The Boss with his Beat Buddy

In the “vocal” section (middle section), there are four more knobs; the two top ones are for “enhancement” and reverb, just like the guitar section. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two enhancement filters are aware of each other and have a frequency-evening function, to enhance guitar and vocal to “fit” together and not fight with each other, along with compression. To the ear, it sounds like nothing, until you bring your PA system into a large space and turn it up. Especially with an audience and a challenging space (outdoors included), you’ll suddenly hear everything. Your singer will be enunciating. His efforts to sing will drive him to perform well as he hears every tiny detail in his monitors loud and clear, nothing getting stepped on in the mix.

Below those two knobs are two controls for harmony. This is a gift, a feature completely separate from what we already have, which is a great-sounding box. With these controls, you can add a virtual background harmony. It can be delayed in milliseconds, long or short, and you can have the harmony sing with you higher, or lower, or both, and snap the effect on and off with the footswitch, for example, if you just want emphasis on the chorus.

That Was Easy!

In the spirit of simplicity, I have not used the looper yet (but I’m familiar with them and they have a learning curve of their own), so I’ve set the knobs on this thing and over the past week that’s it. That’s how simple it is. The entire third section is some looper stuff, the looper pedal and a few buttons for system parameters. One of the buttons will put the box into memory mode, where you can tell it to remember settings, name them, change their order, recall them. But there are not a zillion different ways you’re going to use this box; it’s quite likely many players will sit down with it, as I have, once, love it, and barely touch the thing any more. You’ll be able to toggle reverb on and off for the guitar, and harmony for the voice, with the big round foot buttons. But I haven’t even done that. I have guitar set and it sounds amazing, and vocal with no harmonies. I’ll play with that later.

The point being, this is not a device you spend a career learning how to use. It’s a box that makes everything sound better by placing it behind your mic and guitar, and before your PA, and it’s not needy of your attention. Its handling of signal-compression, with excellent-quality reverb for both channels (and real stereo operation possible, and an “aux” input for a music player), gives you a cornucopia of essentials, the best of Boss and in my opinion some of the best quality effects available, all in one box. It’s not menu-driven, which takes away all the complication. If you want to do more on the fly, there’s a breakout two-pedal additional footswitch.

Always at your convenience, there’s the looper, which is better than most with its vocal/guitar dual citizenship, along with feedback reduction (that works well), harmonies for vocals, and the ability to memorize settings. This thing will, if you want it to, keep you busy all weekend!

But not me! I’m going to play my guitar and sing! Hit the power button on that golden box of musical joy!

At a street price of just under $350, this is not the cheapest pedal out there, but it may be the only one you need, and you may not realize just how true that is. The Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer is essentially the proper way to mate a good voice and good guitar to a PA system; don’t let its lack of spaghetti-like wires and aggravating little menus throw you off. It’s all here. I think one of these belongs in every rig!

One of these days I’ll plug an acoustic guitar into it! That’ll be a kick!

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Mark Urso
mark@markurso.com

@MusicVidNet

 

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