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Electro-Harmonix Stereo Talking Machine Pedal Review

Electro-Harmonix Stereo Talking Machine Pedal Review

Electro-Harmonix’s Stereo Talking Machine does an impressive job of getting those legendary talk-box tones and much more.

To say that the human voice is the most

dynamic instrument of all is a cliché,

but it’s also pretty hard to deny. As an

instrument, it may be supreme—the inspiration

for all instruments, in a way—and

that’s why emulating its qualities can be

so compelling in the right contexts. The

Sonovox, developed in the 1940s, used

modulation of the voice to shape the tones

of audio signals. In the late 1970s, funk

all-stars Zapp and Roger used the talk-box

effect on keyboards to shape their distinctive

groove. The most widely known use of

the mouth as a guitar effect is from Peter

Frampton’s array of hits featuring the Heil

Talk Box. The effect has even infiltrated the

domain of digital recording—the Antares

THROAT VST effect plug in allows singers

to change their voices in a manner similar

to talk boxes.

Electro-Harmonix’s latest pedal, the

Stereo Talking Machine, isn’t the first Mike

Matthews-related affair to seek after those

voice-like qualities—Matthews’ Soul Kiss

effect from the early ’90s clipped onto your

strap and had a wired mouthpiece controller

for achieving wah-like sounds—but it

does an impressive job of getting those legendary

talk-box tones and much more. Like

other recently introduced EHX pedals, this

stompbox has modern features such as preset

management and 24-bit/46 kHz digital

conversion. It also has a fuzz circuit and a

wealth of controls beyond what you see on

the surface.

Open up and Say …

To grasp the basic premise behind a talk

box, you need only understand one of the

oldest and simplest instruments, the mouth

harp: When you place it in your mouth

and pluck its tiny metal reed, the resulting

vibrations are altered by shifting the shapes

formed by your lips—just as in speech.

Low-pass filters, wah pedals, and talk boxes

were all attempts at mimicking and mechanizing

the mouth’s sound-filtering capabilities.

When applied to a guitar tone, talkbox

effects produce a range of vowel sounds

and frequency peaks and valleys called formants

that can be amazingly expressive.

The Talking Machine comes in a

medium-sized case with Blend, Voice,

Attack, Decay, Sensitivity, and Presets

knobs along the top. It also has two footswitches

for Preset and buffered Bypass,

as well as a stereo output, an effects loop,

and an expression-pedal input. The Talking

Machine runs on a 9-volt DC adapter only

and stores nine programmable presets, each

indicated by an independent LED.

The Preset knob is the key to accessing

auxiliary functions for each knob,

including Volume, Fuzz Tone, Fuzz Gain,

LFO Rate, and LFO Shape. EHX makes

the wealth of controls and features fairly

accessible, however.

Vocal Chords

Plugging in my Fender Strat and cycling

through the presets, I quickly familiarized

myself with the Talking Machine’s various

voice types, which include OW-EE,

AH, I-A, AH-OO, AH-I, EE-ER, and EE

(yes, they are actually listed as such on the

unit). There are also two additional filters:

WAH simulates just what you’d think, and

the other, BB, simulates the distinctively

nasal EHX Bassballs pedal. As the names

of these Voice types indicate, the envelope

follower in the Talking Machine sweeps

from one vocal formant to the next, producing

a variety of natural vocal gestures.

Impressively, the Talking Machine’s filters

did not leave the Strat’s tone sounding

thin or harsh, even when I used the Blend

knob to set the effect at 100-percent wet.

The envelope filter detected each pick stroke

accurately, and the Sensitivity knob lets

you adjust the envelope follower to suit any

attack or pickup level. The same control

also enables changes in direction of the filter

sweep from EE-ER to ER-EE.

One of the more notable aspects of the

various Voices is that they all have different

tonal colors. For instance, EE-ER has an

overall dark and smooth/soft tone, while I-A

sounds midrange-heavy and very resonant.

The fact that EHX designed these formants

to have such unique tonal palettes contributes

significantly to the versatility of the Talking

Machine. In addition, the Attack and Decay

knobs facilitate detailed control over the

speed at which the envelope ramps up and

down. A short Attack and short Decay can

produce a cartoony, bird-like chirp that’s

great for funky hooks and lead lines. Slower

settings can produce undulating filter sweeps

perfect for creating a psychedelic backdrop

with atmospheric chords. Plugging in an

expression pedal allows complete manual

control over the sweep direction and speed

between formants. And if this weren’t enough

flexibility, the Auxiliary controls—accessible

by pressing the Presets knob—enable you to

control the filter sweeps with a triangle or

sawtooth LFO. A Fuzz circuit with Gain and

Tone controls is also accessible via the Aux

controls. While it’s not remarkable as a standalone

fuzz, the effect is very midrange focused

and useful in conjunction with the filters.

The Verdict

Electro-Harmonix has always aimed high

when it comes to be the versatility and eccentricity

of their products. In that sense, the

Stereo Talking Machine is classically Electro-Harmonix. With a wide variety of voicings,

multiple means of controlling envelope sweeping,

preset storage, a distortion circuit, and

sensitivity controls, it will be a hit with any

musician who’s well versed in envelope filters.

But given its musical versatility, it could also

attract players otherwise on the fence about

something as colorful as a talk-box effect.

If you have little experience with envelope-filtering

effects, a chat with the Stereo Talking

Machine may yield a world of surprises.

Buy if...
you love the idea of getting versatile vowel sounds without having a plastic tube in your mouth.
Skip if...
all the knobs and multi-function controls are more daunting than a mouth tube.

Street $215 - Electro-Harmonix -

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