Wednesday, 4 October 2017

TC Helicon Play Acoustic Review

The Play Acoustic is a great sounding, compact and high quality vocal harmoniser and guitar effects pedal that gives you great value for money, including both a looper, an effect to give your guitar a richer sound and a built-in DI.

I've been using the Zoom G3X for acoustic guitar for a while. It's been great and is still great but I often play on my own in worship and at events, so in order to boost the overall sound I thought it would be interesting to get a harmoniser pedal as an experiment. I also play at places where they don't have a PA person or effects such as reverb on the channels, meaning that the ability to have your own reverb and other options is useful. (I also play where I do PA and worship so that can get interesting!)

Play Acoustic

Seeing that the TC Electronics Harmoniser pedal alone costs around £175 or more and that the harmoniser from TC Helicon (the sister company) was around £200, I thought I'd pay a bit more and try the Play Acoustic which offers vocal and acoustic guitar effects and options!

The Play Acoustic in the words of TC Helicon... 

  • - Professional vocal effects and tone
  • - Natural sounding vocal harmonies guided by your guitar
  • - Guitar FX styles from TC Electronic®
  • - BodyRez™ Filtering and Onboard EQ and DI for impeccable acoustic guitar tone
  • - Version 1.2 Firmware offers a TC guitar delay plus per preset Guitar FX storage

How does all this promotional prose stack up in the real world?

Well first of all, here's how it works. You plug your mic (via XLR) and your guitar (via jack) into the Play Acoustic. It then has an output for each channel to your desk via XLR with the guitar output effectively acting as a DI.

Back of the Play Acoustic

The Play Acoustic picks up the key of the song via the guitar input, meaning that before you use the vocal harmonies, you'll need to at least strum a bit on the root chord - unless you pre set the key of the song within the Play Acoustic guitar FX menu beforehand.

With the latest firmware installed (via USB), both the guitar and the vocal effects can have various presets applied by scrolling through - or you can manually edit most of the settings within the 'Vocal FX' and the 'Guitar FX' menus. You can also create your own presets.

You can also assign controls via an external foot switch (any appropriate one is fine - I bought the Digitech FSX3). By default this controls things like setting the key, scrolling, delay on and off and guitar 'boost' mode. You can change what the pedal is assigned to within the Setup menu options.

The guitar presets are around reverb, delay and 'mod' effects like chorus or flange. Again, there are varying types of reverbs included and you can set the amounts, which is highly useful.

The guitar also has a 'BodyRez' option which gives the guitar a 'fuller body' sound. Again, you can turn this on and off and set the level and type, so if you don't like it or prefer a true bypass output, this is also possible.

There is also a Looper (recently had its time limit extended so don't go by early reviews saying the loop time is too short). This is accessed by pressing the 'up' and 'down' foot switches at the front of the Play Acoustic. You can use the external foot switch to control the looper (at least you can with TC Helicon's Switch-3 pedal so I'm sure it's the same for any external foot switch). You can loop guitar, vocals or both depending on how you setup the looper. It's a fairly basic one so it's not going to allow you to bring parts in and out like a dedicated looper, but it's a great option and one I use to strum basic chord progressions and then play over during 'ministry' times.

The vocal effects presets are wide, varied and are a slightly motley mix from 'high' harmonies to 'low and high' harmonies, to radio sounding presets and others that you'll only use if you're messing around. In fact, I'd say that the majority of the presets are very unlikely to be used. You aren't able to change the pitch of the harmonies which is a minor irritation but have to stick with the various presets. For example if you normally harmonise above on the 3rd, you can't specifically change the Play Acoustic to harmonise above on the 5th etc. But you can at least find workarounds and use the presets to suit your needs.

One of the vocal FX presets - use the arrows to scroll through options and buttons to access submenus

The vocal FX come with various types and varied levels of delay, reverb and more. Each of these is useful to tweak your settings and to get the right types of sounds you like. I turned down the level of the overall harmonies on mine so the harmonies didn't overload the vocal mix generally.

The vocal harmonies have the reverb on all the time (again you can adjust the levels) so just be aware of this.

To use the vocal harmonies, you click on the front left foot switch labelled 'Hit'. Click again to switch off the harmony selected. If you hold your foot on the 'hit' foot switch it will bypass all the effects and give you a straight flat signal. This is useful during the times you want to talk!

Hit me baby one more time...

Yes, yes but what does it sound like?

Play Acoustic with the BeatBuddy. Space at front for iRig Blueboard to trigger pads from OnSong

In short the Play Acoustic is brilliant. The BodyRez bit on the acoustic can really lift your guitar. I've got a built-in tube amp on my Takamine, but it even gives that sound a real boost. It really does work in giving the acoustic a fuller and richer tone.

The vocal FX are also pretty good but I would use them very sparingly and minimally. I only use the higher harmonies generally and have turned down the harmony level - but it is useful and gives you another voice (albeit your own at a higher pitch!) Now you can set it to an autotune type 'Cher' sound but it's optional and otherwise doesn't sound too fake.

However (and this is a big one), it only tracks what you sing so if you're out of tune, your harmonies are out of tune. It really has helped me 'up my game' in terms of singing in tune!

Overall, I use the Play Acoustic and may start to phase out using the Zoom G3X. However that does have a volume pedal (sometimes sporadically working) but that would be a useful addition to a mini pedal board. The argument (conversely) is that without a volume pedal, you won't forget to turn your guitar up (as I have done with the Z3X!)

Using this with BeatBuddy (and programming in MIDI beats with bass and/or synths/piano) plus triggering Pads from OnSong via the iRig Blueboard, you've got some serious thinking, foot tapping and band sounding potential at your finger and foot tips...

A good solid investment if you're looking to get a harmoniser and guitar effects unit. Boss do the VE-8 which is their competitor in this market and this also has many good reviews. Go online, go to Youtube and ignore the snide comments you often see and decide which one works for you. Better still, thank the guys doing Youtube reviews for their time and efforts!

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