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By Liz Hill
I have never been able to hear myself the way I want to onstage. I usually use a big floor monitor, but I have to turn it up really loud in order to hear myself, which creates stage wash and feedback problems. Plus I hate lugging it around. In-ear monitors always make me nervous (unless I use the expensive kind with limiters), because a transient could come through and damage my hearing. Also, they make me feel too isolated from the crowd and the rest of the band.
TC•Helicon has worked with vocalists for many years and learned that not being able to hear your voice when performing was a big problem. I’ve always been impressed with TC•Helicon’s vocal processing gear, so I was excited to take their new VoiceSolo Personal Vocal Monitors—nearfield monitors optimized for live vocal use with easy, versatile setup—for a spin.
I received the active VSM-200 monitor, the passive VSM-200P, and the active VSM-300 with advanced connectivity and personal mix controls to test for this review. The VSM-300 includes a floor box with mic, stereo instrument, and aux inputs, plus pass-thrus of each input to send direct sound to a front-of-house engineer. A subwoofer output and a stereo link output are also included with the VSM-300 for easy system expansion.
Right out of the box, I noticed how rugged and well built these monitors are. They’re constructed of cast aluminum, so they won’t break like wood or suffer from the cabinet resonances of plastic cabs. These monitors are really small and portable due to the concentric tweeter design, and their light weight combined with a sound port that doubles as a handle makes them easy to carry with one hand! Multiple positioning options come in handy in a variety of applications. The monitors rock back in a sequence of three different angles to use on the floor, in addition to mounting on your boom stand.
I took the VSM-300 with me to a weekly two-piece show at a local restaurant, where I play acoustic guitar and sing with a friend of mine backing me up on the keyboard. I was amazed at how quick and easy it was to set up the VoiceSolo. All I did was attach two pieces of hardware to my mic stand—which I only had to attach this one time—and the monitor could then be instantly popped on and off. TC•Helicon used a sturdy tapered nut so that the speaker won’t move—it felt really sturdy. Then I plugged my mic into the back panel (which also has a line input) with the phantom power switched on, and that was that.
The first thing I noticed about the monitor was the big sound it put out. TC•Helicon had told me the 150W BASH amplifier with a built-in limiter is a popular and proven design that’s both lightweight and efficient, and I was sold—this thing puts out plenty of power. The 2-band EQ helped shape my voice, which didn’t sound too trebly or boomy like on other monitors. The smooth-edge tone sounded clear and helped me sing in tune.
The ICT (Inductively Coupled Transducer) driver technology keeps the monitor small with a big sound, thanks to the tweeter being mounted inside the LF driver. The highs and lows come from the same place, so I could get really close or far away without a change in the directionality of the signal. The drivers reproduce the human voice in an intelligible and natural way that sounds smooth and articulate.
The next night I played with a four-piece rock band at a bar where I always have trouble hearing myself over the other players and all the background noise. I decided to use it as a floor monitor at the farthest angle so the sound could come straight up without bleeding into my mic. I was ready to use the VSM-300’s volume control liberally. TC•Helicon told me the ICT driver is connected via non-electrical methods, which meant that I couldn’t blow the tweeter no matter what. I could hear myself loud and clear in the midst of a high-volume show and the EQ controls helped me shape my sound. It was like having a mini PA for one.
According to TC•Helicon, the VoiceShape filter helps reduce the proximity effect and increases the intelligibility and naturalness of the human voice. I could tell my voice sounded more like it does with a studio microphone than it usually does through my dynamic. I could finally hear myself the way I wanted.
The next morning, I sang with my church band and brought along the VSM-200 since we have a sound engineer. The setup was simple, I just popped it on my mic stand like the VSM-300 and the sound was just as good. The stage seemed a lot less crowded without my big floor wedge in the way.
It was so nice to have my own "more me" knob within reach, so I could really crank it when I needed to. The volume knob didn’t affect the level going out to the mixing board, so it was really my own personal volume control. No more signaling to the sound guy—usually without much success—to turn me up. The VSM-200 put me in control.
I never want to go back to using floor wedges again after trying out the TC•Helicon VoiceSolo nearfield monitors. They sound articulate, with plenty of power in the active models and a super-simple setup. They free up the stage and allow me to hear myself better at the same time. As a bonus, I can actually carry them around easily. The VoiceSolo’s aluminum construction and non-electrically connected elements will ensure a long life and the VoiceShape circuit, BASH amplifiers, and ICT drivers all make it clear that TC•Helicon knows what vocalists want to hear. More of ourselves!
VSM-200P Passive Monitor:
VSM-200 Active Monitor:
VSM-300 Active Monitor