Mu Technologies Mu Voice
Jan 5, 2009
For those of us who have ever spent time in a studio situation attempting to give a vocalist a crash course in harmonies, or having a loop that we wished had a three part harmony, or the performer that wants backing vocals but does not have the resources or funds to support such a group, Mu Voice just might be the plug-in for you. Mu Voice is also different from outboard harmonizing gear of the past as it has full sequencing capabilities and well as a MIDI controller interface for live performance effects.
Mu Voice installation was very easy. Download the software; download the license from the ILok site. Install the plug-in, put your ILok in the USB port and start your DAW.
Mu Voice is relatively easy to start using, as there are 36 nice presets provided. The doubling and tripling presets do a good job of simulating a multi track vocal part. Once you start to delve deeper you find the real strength of Mu Voice, the variety of harmonies that are possible as well as the programming capabilities. Reading the manual will definitely help unlock all the power of Mu Voice as it is well written and logical.
First I would like to explain how I tested Mu Voice. Since I was right in the middle of tracking vocals on a song I decided to test the presets on my main vocal track. I also took the time to track one harmony part so I would have a guide as to how I wanted the backing vocals to sound with Mu Voice. The test would be to try and get Mu Voice to replicate the backing part I had in mind and then use it as a replacement for the "human" version. All of this would be done utilizing the automation elements of Mu Voice as well as the presets that had been modified to my specifications.
Mu Voice has five sections to the interface each serving a distinct purpose in the overall functionality.
Let's discuss the Mu Voice preset section, which as mentioned earlier ships with 36 presets. The presets range from doubling and tripling effects to duets, trios, and quartets. There are also a series of comb filter presets that cover everything from EQ's to pitch shifts. In my case I was looking for a "doubled" vocal track on the verses that would then split into a harmony part on the choruses. I found that the doubling preset would do the trick with a small bit of tweaking to some of the parameters, which I will cover shortly. I also chose one of the "trio" presets for the choruses.
By looping my vocal it was very easy to select a preset for both elements of the song in a matter of minutes. Saving the modified versions of created presets is as easy as making your adjustments and then depending on your OS using the copy command, find an empty preset space, select, and paste. Rename your preset by clicking the field and re-naming the preset. In my case I created preset 37 and 38. Presets are saved globally in the .xml file so remember to save your .xml file also. The nice thing about the .xml file is that you can have an entire set of presets for each song.
|The Harmony Channels|
Modifying the presets is done in what Mu Voice calls the "Harmony Channels". Much like a small mixer each "channel" has it's own independent volume control as well as panning. The big difference is that unlike a channel mixer each has variables that allow you to shift the pitch into a harmony group. You can simply view this area as the members of your backup singers. The first channel is typically where your main vocal is retained, but even then you have the ability to shift the pitch if needed. For review sake I am going to leave this as the main vocal track. The one thing to note is you have the ability to bypass the processing on the first channel leaving the lead vocal unprocessed. You can also mute the lead vocal to key in on the harmony parts in channels two, three and four.
Without getting too technical, the second through forth channels are where you can build your harmonies, and/or effects. By using the "Formants" slider you can effectively simulate a secondary voicing. "Formants" is a very detailed and technical area in the users manual so for the sake of this review I am going to suggest, "using your ears". If you spend a couple minutes with this slider you will hear the sweet spot you are looking for. The "Shift" slider will work in conjunction with "formants" color to set the pitch of voice you are creating. "The "Humanize" slider will help avoid tones that are too close together. By using the slider you will be able to add distance and variation to the other channels that will create an overall pleasant and realistic sounding performance. The "Filter" and "H.EQ" buttons at the bottom include 10 presets that allow you to harmonically alter the channels individually much like you would if you had equalization and comb filtering in a standalone mixer. Unlike the typical "pan" you would find in a traditional mixer, Mu Voice uses "binaural spatialization" for a realistic placement of voices.
|The Analysis Section|
The "Analysis" section handles most of the global settings. The range setting is the response setting for the analyzer and based on the manual this setting is most commonly set to low for most voices and instrument processing. I did not have a need to alter anything in this section, other the master volume. The default chromatic tuning mode seemed responsive to most everything I tested including glissando and vibrato vocal parts.
|The Chord Section|
The "Chord" section requires a bit of theory to pull the "presets" together with the automation aspects of Mu Voice. The Presets work best if you know the key that your song is in. While I am not going to give a tutorial in music theory I will say that if you can find the root key of the song you are working on Mu Voice will give you a series of chords within the key to simplify things. In the case of my example the Key never left B flat, yes it was a simple song, but for practical purposes it was perfect for testing the presets of Mu Voice. Beyond the basic chords Mu Voice provides the ability to handle sus4, 6, 7, and 9, harmonies.
|The Chord Scheme Editor|
The Chord Scheme Editor is really where the magic happens in Mu Voice. It is a very logical matrix type device, that once understood will automate the entire chord structure as well as the vocal presets. First you figure out the chord structure of the song and insert the appropriate chords in progression. Once you have the structure you simply click on the chord in the matrix and insert your saved preset from the "preset" area. In my case this was preset 37 and 38. Once you have the chords and the presets into the Chord Scheme Editor it is very easy to automate the changes to the song. There are two modes of time representation to chose from: time and note. These are strictly a matter of preference and you can switch back and forth between either. To program the switching of the presets during the song you would activate the "write" button, play the song, and using the arrow keys next to "time" move between the cells at the appropriate time in the song progression. Once you have reached the end of the song you would then activate the "read" button and play back your song. You can still modify the presets as the song plays, which allows you to make final touches to the preset and placement in the mix.
While I did not take Mu Voice on stage, I did test the functionality and it works as described. You can use any controller keyboard to switch keys and presets in a live environment.
|Summary and Conclusion|
In my opinion Mu Voice has created a very useful tool for musicians, engineers, producers, and performers. While it does take a bit of effort to learn this application, once you do, it becomes a very easy to use interface. In general, I was very pleased with the sound results of Mu Voice and found it a quick solution for simulating vocal harmonies and effects. If you are looking to beef up vocal support for your studio, or need that back-up group for you're live performance then Mu Voice may just be the product you are looking for.
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