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I like the look of this unit. "Why?", you ask, "It looks pretty ordinary to me" In fact, compared to many effects units it is extraordinary on two counts. The first is that it doesn't have an LCD display. The second is that it has large, illuminated, user-friendly buttons. These two features tell me that the Digitech MV-5 MIDI Vocalist is going to be friendly not fiddly to use, that I am going to get results with it quickly, and that I am going to be able to exploit it to its fullest potential. Maybe it's just me going through a phase since I threw out my studio computer (shock horror!) and started listening to the music I was trying to create, but I really do feel the time has come for manufacturers to concentrate on giving us the features we need in a unit rather than simply making the feature list as long as possible, with the result that many pieces of equipment are so complex that 95% of their features never get used. Let me put it on record from the start that this unit does what it does cleanly and simply. You do need the manual to get started because it performs tricks other effects units cannot, but once you have about ten minutes experience under your belt then you can let your creativity take over and have fun!
The Digitech MIDI Vocalist is an intelligent pitch changer. This means that it 'understands' the rules of harmony and can add harmonies to a lead vocal appropriate to the key of the song. Brian May soundalikes may substitute 'guitar' for 'vocal' in the previous sentence. As an intelligent pitch shifter, and one bestowed with a certain amount of good taste, this is not a unit for weird delayed feedback pitch shift effects, although you can certainly get these sounds with the aid of a delay unit and a little bit of mixing console know how. Up to four harmonies are allowed in four distinct and useful modes of operation. Taking a look at the front panel first, the most obvious feature is the group of six buttons set into a musical staff with a treble clef. If you were thinking that the positions of the buttons on the staff meant something then you had been fooled too. It's just a design feature, but the fact that they slope at an angle does represent the relative pitches of the harmonies, if not the actual notes. These six buttons allow the user to select four harmonies spaced above or below, or in unison, with the input note. It's a quick and easy way to create the harmony voicing you are looking for and the MV-5 will select the actual pitches for you. Bypassing for the moment a group of six buttons which select the mode of operation and the key of the song - more on these later - we come to three rotary controls which set the input level, the output level of the lead vocal (the input signal) and the level of the harmonies. It's so simple it couldn't be simpler. A front panel XLR is provided, without phantom power, for a microphone input. For those of you who are as interested in the back of equipment as in the front panel, the principal features are a line input, stereo outputs and the normal trio of MIDI sockets. A socket is provided for the Digitech FS-300 footswitch which can control the Set Key, Harmony Mode and Bypass functions. A single momentary action footswitch may be used to control Bypass only. Also on the back is the input for the wall wart power supply. I'll continue to complain about these devices as long as manufacturers use them because, as well as being inconvenient, I know that the easiest way to destroy equipment is to get your warts mixed up, which seem come in an endless variety of voltages and polarity. There is a fortune waiting for the inventor who can come up with a powering system that is as convenient for the manufacturer (who can sell identical units worldwide) as a wall wart and works for the user too.
Now that we have got the hardware out of the way, let's look individually at the four modes of operation...