Korg Digital Voice Processor
Whilst the race is on to MIDIfy every effect under the sun, Korg suddenly leap ahead of the rest with their DVP-1. Ian Gilby delivers an exclusive preview of this unique rack-mounting device that combines a vocoder, harmoniser and pitch transposer with MIDI control.
The application of digital electronics and MIDI to those functions performed by what are generally regarded as 'fringe' effects - vocoders, harmonisers and pitch shifters - has produced a versatile, new device from Korg: the DVP-1. Ian Gilby brings you an exclusive preview of this latest programmable processor due for release early in the New Year.
Effects companies in general seem to be taking a long time to wake up to the potential application of MIDI to their products and are losing potential sales to the more enterprising 'giants' in the synthesizer field like Roland and Yamaha, whose production of MIDI controllable effects units is breaking new ground. To add insult to injury, along come Korg with a unique design that I feel sure will bring a smile to a lot of faces.
The Digital Voice Processor is a 2U, 19" rack-mounting signal processor with a difference! It combines the functions of a vocoder (remember them?), a harmoniser and a pitch transposer in a single unit and brings them under MIDI control for the very first time. It'll be interesting to see how the market place takes to this unit, as past use of vocoders was more or less limited to twee robot voice impersonations on gimmicky pop records.
Used creatively and with subtlety, they are capable of wonderful treatments. Take a listen to 'In The Air Tonight' from Phil Collins' Face Value album, for example. Excellent use is made of a vocoder to process Phil's double-tracked harmony vocal line at the point when the music swells up and he sings the words "I remember".
As this is a preview, I can only tell you what the Korg device has to offer. Value judgements I'll reserve until I've tested one out in the studio.
The DVP-1 functions in one of four basic modes: Vocoder, Internal Wave, Harmoniser and Pitch Shift, selected via front panel pushbuttons. Each mode gives access to a considerable number of parameters which are displayed one at a time to enable their values to be edited. 64 programmable memories are available that store the settings of the mode, parameter, chorus and unison controls and there's a handy memory write protect safety switch to prevent accidental erasure of your programs.
The XLR socket allows connection of the required microphone when operating the DVP-1 as a vocoder, but in other modes it acts also as a line input with input level switchable between -10dB and +4dB making the unit compatible with both budget and pro equipment. Both direct and effect signal outputs have their own level controls in addition to the master input/output.
In vocoding mode, the DVP-1 allows access to and control over far more details of the vocoded sound than any previous unit. By moving the central harmonics that form part of vowel sounds via the Formant Shift parameter, for instance, vocal characteristics can actually be modified. As a vocoder is essentially a network of bandpass filters, you can control the width of the band of frequencies it acts on with what is termed the Window Length. Reducing the length narrows the frequency band and cuts out more of the natural vocal sound leaving the synthesized voice.
The same parameters are available in Internal Wave mode. Eight waveforms are stored in the DVP-1 enabling it to be used as a vocoder without requiring an input from an external source. Along with the built-in pitch and amplitude envelope shapers, you can synthesize your own vocal sounds to create choral effects that can then be played from a MIDI keyboard. MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets are provided on the rear panel as well as direct and mixed signal outputs. You can even programme pitch-bend, portamento and modulation from the DVP-1.
Polyphonic harmonising is possible (up to five notes) with the maximum harmony being one octave above or below the original note's pitch. The level of the pitch change can be controlled again by a MIDI keyboard if desired. An interesting function is the Chord Memory, which allows you to preset the harmonic intervals between the generated notes (1 to 5), though the literature failed to point out whether you could store Chord Memory settings in the 64 program memories. If that is possible, it overcomes the inherent problem of previous harmonisers (ie. the musical interval remains fixed throughout the duration of a song).
In straightforward pitch shift mode, any input signal (monophonic or polyphonic) can be transposed up or down in pitch without the duration of the original sound being altered. The Value Editor nudge buttons allow you to accurately modify the pitch one cent at a time (100 cents = one tone) within a range of -1200 to +1299 cents - that's just over an octave at the top.
To cap it all, the DVP-1 also functions as a digital chorus unit with full speed, intensity and level controls: There's also a unison mode and a built-in noise gate to minimise extraneous noise pick-up when the vocoder mic is not in use. And finally, there's a footswitch 'freeze' facility which takes out a preset frequency from the input sound and creates a loop - whether this too can have its pitch controlled via MIDI I'm not sure. We'll have to wait and see.
That concludes this tantalising rundown of the new Korg DVP-1's facilities. The good news is that the unit will retail at £799 inc VAT when it becomes available in January and if the sound quality matches the specifications, then Korg look to be on to a real winner.
Preview by Ian Gilby
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