Ideal tool for pro-level vox
Speaking as someone who cannot sing exceptionally well (great way to start a review about a vocal tool, right?) I have never been overly burdened by my lack of ability to play guitar and sing at the same time. I have, however, always envied those who can. Particularly those frontmen and women who not only have to carry the songs vocally but also have to ensure their ‘other’ role, i.e. guitar, is completely on the money.
Look at someone like James Hetfield, from Metallica, as an example. While everyone knows the famous Hetfield vocalisms that make Metallica, what’s even more impressive is the way he sings in full flow while also galloping away on tight, complex riffs at the same time. It’s a heck of a skill to have.
It stands to reason, therefore, that if you’re concentrating on both playing and singing at the same time, you’d be interested in hearing about a tool which makes the vocal part sound incredible. Thus leaving you one less thing to worry about. Here, in our Boss VE-500 Vocal Performer review, we’ll explain exactly how you can achieve this.
If you’re a guitarist already, you’ll be familiar with the concept of pedals, footswitches and other floor-based trickery. The Boss VE-500 fits nicely into that niche, meaning you should already feel comfortable with the process of controlling a performance using your feet.
The unit is large enough to give you confidence in its rigidity and suitability for a life on the road. And it’s here that the VE-500 excels. It’s likely that, in a studio environment, you’ll have access to dedicated vocal recording facilities like booths, pop-shields, and outboard effects. While these are fantastic options to have, they’re not exactly suited to live performance. Good job the Boss VE-500 is then!
All in the box
Physically, the VE-500 is much the same as any other large effects unit. Across the top sits an LCD screen, three rotary knobs for parameter control. Plus, a selection of buttons to control functions like patch saving, effect selection, and system tasks.
Under them sit three dedicated footswitches, built to the usual high Boss standards. Thus, allowing you to switch between patches on the fly and also enable the harmony effect – more on this later.
The VE-500 is pleasingly weighty, which you’d expect from a Boss unit. To the rear of the unit sit your connection points, and it’s here where the VE-500’s vocal capabilities become evident. What you get are an XLR input for a microphone, two XLR outputs for connection to a PA or monitoring system, two 3/4″ jack inputs for instruments, a MIDI in/out for connecting to a wider MIDI-based rig, and a USB connector for access to the unit’s computer-based companion app.
The real purpose of the Boss VE-500 is to give your vocals a layer of extra sheen. So rather than a dry signal being pumped into a PA system, you now have a series of expert tools that give you complete control over what the audience hears from your voice.
While there are some crazy in-built modulation effects to keep the experimentalists satisfied, the real value comes in the shape of a set of effects which wouldn’t normally get the heart racing, but those who know wouldn’t do without.
Things like compression, which evens out the peaks in volume, and EQ ensure your voice sits properly in the overall mix. Reverb adds in a pleasant warmth and airiness to the signal. A de-esser removes unwanted clicks and pops created by sibilance. All worthy additions, which any studio recording would have as standard.
As well as all that worthy-but-not-very-exciting stuff, the Boss VE-500 does also have a few party tricks up its sleeve. A built-in looper gives the performer chance to start layering up vocals to create atmospheric soundscapes, while the harmonizer does a superb job of mimicking the effect of multiple vocalists for a fuller, more rounded sound.
There’s also the inclusion of an auto-tuner. This is neat because you can ask the unit to attempt to mimic the notes being played by a guitar and ensure the vocal pitch matches it. For backing vocalists, in particular, this is fantastic. You could also, if you’re that way inclined, have the VE-500 carry out that famous ‘hyper autotune’ setting made famous by Cher and other artists. However, like my mother used to say, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should…
Also of note is the included Boss librarian functionality, accessed via the USB connection at the rear of the unit. By hooking the VE-500 up to a computer, you are able to create new patches, change existing ones, create setlists and much more. This removes some of the faff of the initial setup, and means settings can be changed at a deep level whenever you need to.
What you get with the Boss VE-500 is a set of well-considered, superior quality effects and tools for use with vocals. These often-quite-subtle effects add a layer of professional gloss, bringing your live performances closer in standard to studio quality.
For singers who also have an instrumentalist role within a band or act, the VE-500 takes away the worry about the singing side of the deal. With the Boss VE-500, you’re free to concentrate on giving your performance the energy and emotion it deserves, without fretting that your last note was a semi-tone out or that you can’t recreate the magic of the studio version.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.