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 Best Vocal Harmonizers Available
- Boss VE-2 (Best Overall)
- TC-Helicon Harmony Singer 2 (Best Budget)
- TC Helicon VoiceLive 3 Extreme (Best Premium)
- Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer
- Digitech VLFX
- TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
- Roland AIRA Series VT-3
- 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.
Table of Contents
- What is Vocal Harmonization?
- Which Artists Use These Pedals?
- Buyer’s 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.
So what’s so great about these gizmos then? Let’s take a look…
Fill Out Vocals
If you’re a solo performer, accompanist singers are often tricky to locate. Besides, getting another singer on stage with you might not fit your act. These pedals let the solo performer ‘fill out’ their vocals without needing to add additional singers.
Avoid 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.
Interesting Solo Performances
However competent you are as a singer, 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 sounds pretty great. Many pedals also include pitch correction to help you stay in tune.
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.’
Buyer’s 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 extra vocal 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
The Boss VE-2 is a great solution for all singers, particularly those that perform with guitar.
You can manually add one or two harmonies to your voice, up to an octave below or above, and mix and match them to get the sound you want.
What sets this apart though is the Auto Harmonist function that works in combination with a guitar. With your guitar plugged in, it will choose the best vocal harmony based on the chords you’re playing. It cleverly picks a harmony to match the notes you’re singing in context with the guitar.
This makes for a relatively ‘hands-off’ experience while you’re performing, and gives your vocals a natural, interesting accompaniment.
Another nice touch is how the footswitch works (the big black button). Rather than just switching on or off, it lets you toggle between ‘states’. Press it once (so the orange light appears) and you just get the reverb and delay effect, which is perfect for verses. Press it again (so the blue light comes on) and you get the full harmonizer effect (reverb, delay, and harmonizer) to give you chorus some real oomph!
- 24 types of harmony effects
- Auto harmonist feature detects chords and harmonizes your voice
- One of the most natural-sounding harmony voices you’ll find
- Easily adjustable reverb and delay (worth the price of the pedal alone)
- Easy connectivity (via USB) to a computer for home studio set up
- Lacks some of the fancier effects found on higher-end products
- Only for guitars-based singers
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.
- It 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.
TC-Helicon VoiceLive 3 Extreme
When it comes to high-end vocal harmonizers, the Voicelive 3 Extreme from TC-Helicon is the cream of the crop.
A high-end harmonizer built for semi-professional usage, this puts vocal effects and technical know-how (that was typically the domain of the sound engineer) into the hands of the singer.
The staggering amount of features mean you’ll need to spend some time learning the ins and outs of it, and plenty of trial and error.
You can import backing tracks and the onboard FX will adapt accordingly. There is automated & reactive gain control (so no clipping), and their proprietary ‘Roomsense’ technology dynamically guides harmonies in real-time.
If you want to sound like the Eagles just by yourself, then this is the one!
- High-quality audio processing
- Backing track import with fx automation
- Multi-track looping
- 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.
- Because it’s so sophisticated, you’ll need to take the time to learn how to use it properly.
- Cost prohibitive for many musicians/singers
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 harmonizing 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!
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.
- It 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.
- 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.
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
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?
If you’re on a budget and want something simple to use, try the TC-Helicon Harmonist.
For its mix of features and affordability, the Boss VE-2 is our top pick.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, TC Helicon Voicelive 3 is incredible.