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VocaLive for iPhone, iPod touch review [updated]

Sections: iDevice Apps, iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod touch, Reviews

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VocaLiveCategory: Music
Seller: IK Multimedia
Requirements: iOS 3.1.3 or later
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch
File Size: 44.9MB
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Price: $19.99
Age Rating: 4+

VocaLive bills itself as “The first professional vocal live performing and recording processor for the iPhone.” That’s something to consider, because although VocaLive is fun to use, it’s not meant to just be for fun. It’s very powerful and has a lot of features. As, such you’re going to need a strong knowledge of audio to really get the most out of the app.

VocaLive serves as both an effects processor and a recorder. With your $20 purchase, you get one recording track. For an in-app purchase of $4.99, you can buy Recorder, which will expand this to four tracks for backing vocals and harmonies. I’m not sure I fully understand why IK Multimedia didn’t just roll this in and charge $25 for the initial purchase, as only providing one track up front hamstrings the recording process. If you intend to use this for recording vocals, plan on spending $25. If you just want the effects, you’re good at $20.00.

Now, let’s talk about the effects. You get the pitch fix, choir, morph, de-esser and double vocal effects built into your purchase, along with seven studio effects: reverb, delay, parametric EQ, compressor, chorus, phazer and envelope filter. These can be used in conjunction with one another to create a rather impressive little portable vocal studio, provided you also have a decent microphone (which I’ll get to in a bit).

VocaLiveTo activate one of these, tap the FX button in the top icon row and then select the desired effect. Tapping Pitch Fix, for example, will pull up the pitch fix interface icon, which you can turn on and off with the button next to the icon. Tap the blue arrow to the right, and you get the full controller, which you can use to adjust the mode, scale, key, etc.

The button controls are fine, but the knobs are awkward to use. IK Multimedia compensates for this by allowing you to tap the knob and then adjust the setting by sliding or tapping the level indicator at the right of the interface, but there’s little to indicate which knob is active. Adding a glow to the active knob would solve this problem and still fit in with the interface.

That minor gripe out of the way, you really can see just how powerful VocaLive is here. Select your key, select how much fixing you’ll need, then sing away. Select soft, and you’ll just get some barely distinguishable adjustments, provided you’re close to begin with. Select hard, and you’ll sound like Rebecca Black, but at least you’ll be in tune. When you get a setting here (or in any of the effects) that you particularly like, you can save it as a preset for easy recall later on.

The other effects are generally handled the same way, and there are far too many to cover in detail here. I had a demo of VocaLive at Macworld Expo 2011 and another over the phone while working on this review. You likely won’t have those options, but a downloadable PDF manual is now available at the IK Multimedia website.* Before, you could only access this manual by tapping the question mark icon inside the app. In addition, registering the app will give you access to their mobile website that offers details on VocaLive’s many features.

VocaLiveWhen you’re ready to record, VocaLive gives you a cassette recording interface to write into one track if you just have the $20 version or four tracks if you ponied up the extra $5. The interface is easy to understand here if you’re familiar with tape recording, but again, you’ll want to access the help options to work your way through the nuances. Once you’ve got it down, recording your own harmonies with the four track version is a joy.

Once the recording is done, you can export the track for additional processing or use in GarageBand. However, there’s no direct integration with GarageBand; you’ll have to export from one and import into the other, rather than kick it straight over from directly within the app.

I do want to make you aware of some other nice features, including vocal warm-ups and a metronome to help you prepare for your recording session or performance. You can also import your favorite songs and use the vocal cancel feature to basically go karaoke. Depending upon the track your using, VocaLive will range anywhere from okay to surprisingly effective at pulling off this trick.

And finally, you can record into VocaLive directly with your iDevice microphone, but that would just be silly. These are professional level features, so you should be using a quality external mic. IK Multimedia will, of course, recommend their iRig Mic, and I do to. Check out our iRig Mic review for full details.

VocaLive demands a lot of power out of your iDevice, and is therefore prone to crashes. During testing, if I powered down my iPhone 4 or iPad 2 and turned it back on before launching VocaLive, I never had a problem. If I forgot, it would occasionally shut itself down. That’s something to consider, as it could kill an otherwise productive recording session.

Also, VocaLive needs an iPad version. The interface looks terrible in X2 zoom mode, but you’ll want to do that anyway to make the buttons easier to use.

Still, whether you’re aiming to record music, add cool effects to your podcasts or bring some impromptu karaoke to your next party, VocaLive can handle it. Consider it GarageBand for vocalists.

Appletell Rating:*
VocaLive

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* Update (4/18/11): After we posted the initial review, IK Multimedia pointed us to their downloadable manual and in-app help system. As such, we updated the review to reflect help availability, and altered our rating (originally 4 out of 5) to account for the removal of our main complaints in the original review.

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