If you play electric guitar, it’s perfectly acceptable to add effects pedals. In fact, it’s expected that you do. With vocals, it’s less common to add effects. Some think they sound artificial – some even say that using one is cheating.
But here’s the thing: used in the right way a vocal harmonizer can give your vocal performance something extra.
In this article, we’re going to cover what you need to consider when buying vocal harmonization equipment. We’ll touch on ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ features as well as things to avoid. We’ll discuss how to set up the pedals, and we’ll suggest some models to look at based on your needs.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary of the products we review further down the page (however, I recommend you read the article all the way through so you make the right decision).
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 8 Best Vocal Harmonizers Available
- TC-Helicon Harmony Singer 2
- Digitech VLFX
- TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
- Boss VE-2
- TC Helicon VoiceLive 3
- Roland AIRA Series VT-3
- Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer
- EarthQuaker Devices Pitch Bay Polyphonic Harmonizer
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Ok, the goal of this article is to give you all the information you need to make the right buying decision. We’re all different, with varying needs, so read through and make sure you make the right choice.
Here’s what we’ll cover.
- What Is Vocal Harmonization?
- Which Artists Use These Pedals?
- Buying Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Vocal Harmonizer
- So Which Should I Buy?
What Is Vocal Harmonization?
Vocal harmonizers work as pitch shifters on your voice. Standard pitch shifters make your voice higher or lower and alter the original signal. However, these vocal effects processing devices keep both the original and the altered sound.
As a singer, this means that you can hear your part sung at its correct pitch, while also hearing a vocal line which complements it.
These devices usually come as a foot pedal. They’re designed so that on stage you can activate them with your foot, and between performances, you can alter the settings with small knobs using your hands.
These pedals are widely used in the popular music scene, and there are several reasons why.
Avoids Having to Find an Accompanist Singer for the Solo Performer
If you’re a solo performer, accompanist singers are often tricky to locate. Getting another singer on stage with you might not fit your act either – or you quite simply might not like their voice. These pedals let the solo performer ‘fill out’ there vocal without needing to add addition singers.
Takes the Pressure Off Reluctant Band Members
If you’re the lead singer in a band, and your songs need that harmonic layer to rock, you might find yourself asking your bassist or drummer to try them out. However, your band members might lack confidence and may, let’s face it, suck at singing and harmonizing. That’s not going to do your band any good.
Makes Your Solo Performances More Interesting
Adding an extra layer to your vocal line often gives choruses the oomph they need to stand out, and the two-voices-coming-from-one-voice effect tends to intrigue and inspire audiences. Many pedals also include pitch correction to help you stay in tune.
When You Need a Weird Or Wacky Sounding Voice
Maybe you’re an electro-performer, and you crave low pitched or robotic voices in your performances, which come from your mouth instead of samples. Or perhaps you want to sound like Darth Vader to entertain your kids 🙂
Another great thing about vocal harmonizer pedals is how they allow you to learn about harmony as you experiment with it. There’s no need to know what key you’re in, how a fifth sounds, or exactly which interval you require your harmony to be. You can fiddle with knobs and pre-sets until you find out what you like. Then, remember it for next time!
Which Artists Use These Pedals?
Before we go on, let’s check out some musicians who use harmonization. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver uses harmonization a lot (check out his track 715 – Creeks below), Frank Ocean’s Close To You, and Francis and the Lights, Using harmonization equipment on vocals isn’t new, though, and Imogen Heap used the effect very obviously in her hit ‘Hide And Seek’.
Buying Guide – Key Considerations
Before we look at our favorites, let’s review some of the essential points to consider before you go purchasing one.
Which Type Is Best Suited To You?
Some have presets which will appeal to those who like to keep things simple – settings like high, higher, low and lower – or electric, dirt and double. For those who know what they want and would like to achieve it in the easiest way possible, pedals with pre-sets are the obvious choice.
Oftentimes, vocal harmonizer effects come as a part of a package with other effects. There are vocal pedals which combine reverb, delay, pitch shifter (often called ‘auto-tune’), and harmonizer effects. These are great for the singer-on-a-budget who doesn’t want to make multiple purchases. They sometimes lack the quality of purpose-built pedals, but they’re generally reliable and an excellent introduction to effects.
What Range Do You Need?
You might want to make it sound like you’re singing a duet with a member of the opposite sex. To do this, you will need a pedal that is effective at ‘gender shifting’ (when the extra vocal layer created by the harmonizer can sound like a female or male singer is accompanying the original voice) and has a sizeable harmonic range. Tied in with this is the ability to pitch shift your voice. Going too far with this can make you sound like a rubbish Darth Vader clone, but done right it can kick some more extra range to your singing abilities.
Look for how many octaves it can shift your voice by when you’re checking out the specs.
Many of the products here are ‘smart’ and have an automatic key-recognition feature that harmonizes to that key you’re in. Providing your instrument is in tune, your vocals will harmonize beautifully to match the key that the instrument’s playing in. You select high or higher, and the pedal makes sure it’s in key — pretty neat!
Wet / Dry Controls
You might not want your harmonized vocal to be as loud as your lead vocal, or you might want it to be louder. Similarly, you might wish for there to be more reverb on the harmonized vocal than on the lead vocal, or vice versa. Getting one with wet/dry controls is essential to ensure a performance you’re happy with.
Additional Functions (Reverb, Delay, Looper?)
Some of these devices come packed full of other features, such as a looping capability or effects like delay and reverb, while some are very minimal. But beware: make sure your harmonizer pedal actually focuses on harmonizing. This might sound obvious, but getting a vocal processor with a harmonizing feature (rather than it being the primary function) can end up being unable to fulfill the role you need it to play.
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Vocal Harmonizer
TC-Helicon Harmony Singer 2
One of the easiest to use and most versatile of the list, the TC-Helicon is a perfect starting point if you’ve never used a harmonizer before and especially good if you sing and play guitar at the same time. If you plug it in after the guitar, it picks up on the key from the guitar and ensures that the harmonies it creates fit in with it. Neat, eh?
When used sparingly it can sound super sweet, so it’s perfect for the singer who wants to sound like they’re singing with another, in the odd chorus here and there. It’s the classic stompbox design so built to fit in alongside your other guitar pedals
- Your guitar controls the intervals of harmony, so your voice matches your guitar well
- Three reverb settings and additional tone adjustment can help you to nail exactly the right power you want the vocals to have, whether it’s filling a hall or a cozy club.
- A very intuitive interface makes using it without instructions straightforward.
- Can add a ‘robotic’ sound that shatters the illusion of having back-up singers by making it digital, but this can be mitigated by choosing the right settings for your organic vocals.
- Not cheap, but if you view it as an investment then you might not be as concerned with this factor.
- Will struggle to keep up with ‘interesting’ chords, so you might have to take a hard look at the guitar chords used in any original songs if you plan on relying on this harmonizer for your performances.
A little more complex than a harmonizer stompbox, this one has a few extra features to play with, so you can start to play with the vocals in your live performances.
The harmonizer feature uses the highly advanced musIQ, which allows for superior pitch detection. There’s also a pitch shifter, a delay effect, and a reverb option!
As well as these features, the pedal features a looper and a guitar tuner. Perfect for those who would otherwise be buying separate loopers and tuners!
- It has a vast range of different effects besides harmony and reverb, which makes it a good option for experimenting.
- Has a 70-second looper for adding backing vocals when you’ve only got one singer.
- Loaded with presets for instant use.
- Not great for the budget conscious.
- Although it’s not the most complex piece of gear you’ll buy in your music career, the manual is frustratingly opaque for non-techies or those just beginning their journey.
- Multiple buttons spaced closely together makes it easy to press the wrong one with your foot accidentally.
TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
A vocal processor that’s got an emphasis on getting harmony done properly, thanks to TC Helicon putting in the technological know-how. It’s a little more sophisticated than the Harmony Singer, but that doesn’t mean one is inherently better than the other.
There are inputs for both guitar and vocals, and this smart box ensures that the vocal harmonies it creates fit well with the chords you play on the guitar.
There are also a variety of effects including echo and reverb, so you really can have fun multiplying your voice in a style of your choice!
- Takes input from both the vocals and the guitar chords to generate a strong harmony.
- Allows selection of up to 2 harmony layers.
- Has a bunch of presets (that need a little tweaking to get away from the gimmicky effect) that can add flair to your performance.
- In crowded venues with no room to keep the audience, amps and other noisy things at a distance from the mic, the VoiceTone will start to apply some bizarre sounding distortions as all of the input is mixed in with your singing, and not in a good ‘experimental’ way either.
- Complex chords will throw this thing off, meaning it might not be the best pedal for you if you prefer to play jazz.
- For the same price as the Digitech, it lacks a lot of the extra features.
For a singer looking to improve on natural talent, this is a great little kit. If you’re looking to recreate the sound of multiple singers, or give your tone a different ‘feel’ or even to give it some extra depth through a little reverb, this is a superb choice. On the other hand, if you like playing with effects and want to push past what a natural voice sounds like, this isn’t the way to go.
Like some of the other pedals, this Boss box has a key-keeping function, so you can sing with the confidence that it will harmonize in tune (as long as your guitar is in tune!).
It’s easy to use and not too wild.
- One of the most natural sounding harmony voices on a pedal.
- Easily adjustable reverb and delay with simple knobs for dialing to the perfect point.
- Keeps harmony without needing to continually play a chord, as it ‘remembers’ the last one chord used.
- More expensive harmonizers have a lot of extra capability, which limits the use of a Boss VE-2 to those who are just starting out and want the best of a limited budget. It is excellent for the price!
- It’s easy to overshoot with the reverb setting, as the range is much higher than the size of the knob would suggest. You’ll have to be careful when using it to make small adjustments or make sure you’ve already set it up correctly in advance
- Not ideal for use with keyboards, although if you only want something that can work alongside a guitar, this won’t be a problem.
TC Helicon VoiceLive 3
A high-end harmonizer built for professional usage, this is going to be out of reach for hobbyist musicians. If you aren’t already playing music for a living, you’ll probably want to wait until that point before considering this one.
An impressive amount of features mean you’ll need to spend some time with the manual before you can get what you want from this pedal, but it will be worth it.
- Multi-track looping.
- Eleven vocal effects and can add effects to a guitar too, making it an excellent multi-effects pedal.
- Dedicated outputs for vocal and guitar tracks, letting you separate what happens to each channel and even enabling a whole band’s worth of music in a track to be created by one musician in a live setting.
- You’ll need to be serious before getting this, as it’s nowhere near as cheap as the basic models.
- Can suffer from feedback issues, so you’ll need to take the time setting up and testing in venues to smooth these out. Unfortunately, they’re not always the easiest thing to fix and require multiple solutions.
- Because it’s so sophisticated and can handle so much, you’ll need to take the time to learn how to use it properly. If you lack a proper understanding of the nuances, you won’t be able to get the best out of it.
Roland AIRA Series VT-3 Voice Transformer
The Roland AIRA VT-3 is great for those who are after weird and wonderful sounds.
It can easily make your voice sound alien-like or robotic, but it might not be the pedal to go for those looking for a more subtle harmony.
You can turn your voice into a synth or a bass easily, too, which is fun as well as liberating for the person who has sounds in their head but isn’t an instrumentalist — one for the more ‘out there’ musician.
- Easy to use live
- Great for electronic musicians who want Robot voices, synth sounds, and anything out-of-this-world
- You can save your three favorite settings for instant recall
- Wet and dry signals get mixed, so your original voice will always be there as well as the affected voice
- Can make sound quality muddy, so it’s not ideal for use when recording
- The ‘Lead’ and ‘Bass’ controls don’t seem to make much difference however you alter them, which can prove to be misleading and disappointing
Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer
This pedal is perfect for the singer who wants ultimate control over their vocal, as well as the option to add harmonising voices.
There are lots of presets to choose from – all the way from double track vocals to robotic or radio voices, and this product also benefits from an ‘enhance’ effect which improves the clarity of your voice.
Once again, there is the function to harmonize along with the key of your guitar, or you can set it to a specific key.
There’s also a looper function on this one!
- Multi-track looping
- Includes pitch correction for a worry-free live performance
- Dedicated outputs for vocal and guitar tracks, letting you separate what happens to each channel and even enabling a whole band’s worth of music in a track to be created by one musician in a live setting
- It’s not as simple to use as some of the others here, so it may take a bit of time to get the hang of using it
- There’s no option to delete the last loop, so if one loop doesn’t go to plan, you have to start over
- To stop the looper, you have to double tap, which can take some getting used to!
EarthQuaker Devices Pitch Bay Polyphonic Harmonizer
As it’s advertised as appropriate for “anything you can plug in,” it’s hard to say who this pedal was designed for: guitarists, keyboardists, singers… However, if we had to guess, we’d say guitarists. Largely due to the stomp-box style appearance. That said, you can have a blast through this pedal if you’re a vocalist. Sure, it’s nowhere near as hi-tech as some of the other ones, but if you are looking for a small and simple pedalboard friendly harmonizer, look no further!
- Designed to suit a multitude of instruments
- Easy to use and to make adjustments
- Capable of some unique, original sounds
- The retro look and sounds might not be to everyone’s taste
- Maybe better suited to instruments like guitar and keyboard than vocals
- There aren’t presets: you have to control the sounds yourself!
So Which Should I Buy?
For its exceedingly natural tone, the Boss VE-2 takes the cake. It’s one of the easiest to use in the market and does precisely what you want it to be able to. It does lack some of the crazier effects of others, but if that’s what you’re looking for then, perhaps the Digitech or the Roland models will suit your needs better.
As we’ve seen, the Digitech VLFX, The Boss VE-8 and the TC Helicon Voicelive 3 all have a looping function. If you think you might require this, then the choice has to be between those three. You’ll only kick yourself afterward if you end up buying two separate pedals which could have been combined into one!
Finally, if you’re a singer who plays guitar, then the TC Helicon Harmony Singer takes some beating.
Now it’s over to you. Happy harmonizing 🙂
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.