I’m very proud to announce the release of BV-X Multimode Vocoder, a brand-new Rack Extension that is a modern take on the classic vocoder effect. There might be many questions like “How is it different from BV-512? What are some of the coolest things it can do? Why did we choose to make a vocoder anyway? How did we come up with the design?”. I’m here to answer those and then some. I really love this device so this blog post is going to be a bit verbose. I apologize in advance. With that said, let’s dive in!
We always have plenty of ideas for new devices that we think are both exciting, useful, and sonically interesting. When planning out the year we spent a long time figuring out what made sense to build. What are people asking for? Are there any trends in production? Any exciting new technology? We quickly identified that we wanted to create one or two new effects this year, our strength is already in instruments and a lot of music makers love using effects to treat sounds they’ve recorded. After a lot of discussion, we realized a vocoder made a lot of sense.
A vocoder is like a steppingstone between instrument and effect, so we could leverage our instrument know-how for it. Music of all genres also use vocoders, from classic synth pop, EDM and electro to hip hop, soul and chart-topping pop. It’s something you don’t see that often in the plugin world, too. Reason’s classic vocoder BV-512, while still excellent, is quite old and can frankly be a pain to wire up. We decided to modernize the vocoder, and identified three main areas: ease of use, sound quality, and control. With this in mind, we got to work!
One of the first things we decided what that the vocoder needs to have a built-in Synth Carrier and an Auto Play mode. This makes it much easier to use than BV-512 and classic vocoders that require two inputs, the carrier and the modulator, and MIDI input. Co-founder and DSP guru Peter started doing research on how to code high quality and efficient algorithms for the vocoder, synth, and pitch analysis. He ended up building them as part of the same algorithm rather than separate things, and this proved amazing. We got both great sounding results and interesting things like modulating vocoder parameters per voice of the synth—for example, you can assign the MIDI note played to the Formant parameter to get different voice characters on high and low notes. Try it with big chords, it’s really cool!
With this in place, we started expanding the feature set both for usability and depth. Peter had a lot of great ideas here that are quite unique. For example, just like in BV-512 there’s a Vintage and Modern mode where Vintage is a classic filter bank and Modern is FFT based. Of course, they both sound much better but we wanted to improve them even more. With classic filter bank vocoders, I had identified a common problem: if the singing is lacking bass frequencies you would get very little bass even if you played big synth chords. Peter implemented an additional low-pass filter to the traditional band-pass configuration in the Vintage mode which made rumbling bass possible even with falsetto singing. Make sure you try that out, it’s an amazing sound that you can often hear in for example Jacob Collier’s use of his custom harmonizer.
Speaking of harmonizers, the Modern mode can sound incredibly natural and is great for backing harmonies. To spice it up, we also added a frequency transfer curve function. If that sounds like crazy science, don’t worry. The simplest way to describe it is that it’s what happens when you plug the output of a vocoder band to the input of a vocoder band in BV-512. In practice, we change the frequency of specific frequencies. A good and understandable example of why this is cool is the first transfer curve. It basically lets you shift the upper frequencies up or down, which is like letting you control the formant without affecting the lower frequencies.
Like I mentioned before, while BV-X should be easy to set up we wanted to give a lot of control over the sound to the user. This is done in a lot of ways, but one of the main things is a traditional mod matrix. It might seem mundane, but a mod matrix is deceptively powerful in a device like this. To allow much more dynamic vocoding, there are several modulation sources taken straight from the incoming audio. Try using Modulator Level to control any of the parameters and you can end up with amazing stuff, from simple things like more reverb when you’re singing loudly or crazy synth modulation and formant sweeps. Pitched/Unpitched is another great modulation source derived from the analysis, letting you turn any parameter up or down depending on if it’s a held note or a consonant like your S, T and P.
I could go on like this about every single feature in BV-X to be honest—it’s a really powerful device that I love—but there’s both a live stream and several videos planned where you can learn much more, so I’ll digress for now. In the end, we set out to modernize the classic vocoder in three areas: ease of use, sound quality, and control. Having used BV-X during the months of development, I can confidently say we succeeded. Try it out and I’m sure you’ll agree.
BV-X Multimode Vocoder is available to buy now in the Reason Studios Add-on Shop for any existing Reason user and is, as always, included at no extra cost in the Reason+ subscription. I can’t wait to hear what you’ll create with it!
Mattias Häggström Gerdt
Music Making Product Manager