Roland's VP-550 Vocal & Ensemble Keyboard is much more than a traditional vocoder or harmonizer, the VP-550 uses Roland's breakthrough vocal-modeling technology to bring the highest-quality, interactive vocal sounds to a dedicated instrument. It literally lets you create a virtual choir, solo or background vocal track using your own voice. Connect a mic, select a sound, and play. The VP-550 generates expressive, interactive vocals in real time, like classical choirs, soulful gospel choirs, pop and jazz voices, male & female ensembles, vintage vocoders, and lush string/vocal hybrids.
The instrument is actually quite simple to use. It features two main sections: Vocal Designer and Ensemble. In the Vocal Designer you can select from solo or lead vocal types including: Classic, Male/Female, Gospel, Pop or Vocoder 1 and 2. This section allows you to create stunning virtual vocals modeled from your own voice. Can't sing? No problem, choose a voice type and play the keyboard and your words will come out in tune! The vocoders offer classic sounding robo-vocoder effects too. The Ensemble section lets you select Strings 1 or 2, Jazz Scat, Mixed Chorus, Boys Choir or Humming. The Ensemble section makes it possible to sound like a larger group of singers (or like singing strings). You can even play Vocal Designer and Ensemble sounds simultaneously.
Every feature has a dedicated button or slider that's clearly labeled and easy to reach. A little Ambience can be dialed in with a simple Depth control (choose from one of three reverb types). An on-board D-Beam controller in addition to the pitch bend & mod wheels gives you plenty of options for performance effects. The D-Beam can be set to modulate the filter, pitch or expression. The microphone input is XLR type and there is also a 1/4-inch external input jack (for vocoding). Other features include a basic Bass & Percussion section and a Sound Check function that records the output signal for 10 seconds and plays it back.
The early vocoders, like their synthesizer counterparts, may not have been very successful in their original design concept--synthetically recreating the human voice or acoustic instruments--but because they had a unique sound all their own, they became famous for their effect. The VP-550 seems to break out of that box, and finally do what the original concept of vocoding was intended to achieve. Rather than create a neat robo-sound, the VP-550 is truly a vocal processor and synthesizer that uses your voice to create stunning virtual vocals. With the VP-550, it's more than just a cool effect, it really is a Vocal & Ensemble Keyboard!
Demos & Media
Ensemble types: Mixed Chorus, Jazz Scat, Boy's Choir, Humming, Full strings, Slow strings
Images from Roland-US.
Reviewed August 2008.