Review: The Boss VE-20 Stompbox

This vocal effects unit faces some stiff competition -says Chris Kennedy

Type:Vocal Effects Unit

Item:Boss VE-20

Price:US: $249.00, UK: £175.00

Mic Scale:

At a Glance: The Boss VE-20 is a pedal controlled effects unit aimed at vocalists. It has an XLR in for a mic and connections for output to a PA or headphones. The VE-20 includes a wide range of effects, harmony generation, phrase looping and auto-tune all designed to enhance your vocal performance on stage at home.

High Notes: The unit has a range of presets to get you started that you can then adjust to suit your sound or you can create your own presets from scratch which can be saved and instantly recalled at a later date. Unlike other similar units, the VE-20 can run on either mains power or batteries. Its included ‘Phrase Looper’ can record up to 38 seconds of your voice which you can then loop, stop, start, and sing over – this can create many creative possibilities for live use as well as being useful for practice at home. The unit includes several standard vocal effects such as reverb and delay, however it also includes a selection of ‘Special FX’ (such as distortion, radio and strobe), real-time pitch correction for tuning your vocal performance and up to 3-part harmony generation.

Off Pitch: The large range of editable parameters and sounds may be a plus for some people, however there are also people who will find all the options a little complicated compared to the ease of use of other similar devices. Also, some of the included ‘Special FX’ are possibly a little gimmicky and may not be of much use to the majority of singers. As the unit does not have a guitar/keyboard input like some other units do, pitch correction and harmony generation is made harder to use as you have to manually select the key for each song. This also creates an added problem, for example, with minor keys where you want a sharpened 7th in the scale when moving to chord V, the device will only allow you to select a natural minor and, as such, will produce the wrong harmony part or tune your vocals to the wrong note.

A VoiceCouncil Reviewer Says: Overall the Boss VE-20 is a very useful piece of kit for gigging vocalists. The quality of the effects is far better than found on most mixing consoles and will help you achieve a more professional sound on stage. Compared to other similar units the sound quality VE-20 stands up well, however the lack of guitar or keyboard input makes things a little trickier for live use as you will often need to set up a separate preset for each song. The unit faces stiff competition from similar devices from TC-Helicon and Digitech that are arguably a little easier to use and have inputs for guitar or keyboard, allowing greater accuracy for harmony generation and pitch correction.

Boss Website

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  • Pfarley10

    I had this unit and returned it. They need to work on pitch correction and other aspects for this unit. My TC-Helicon CORRECT and DOUBLER Ran rings around it.

  • jen.I

    I have one of these along with my voicelive 1, and voicelive 2, and I must say it has a good quality mic preamp and the reverb’s not bad, but its no good on stage as you have to bend down between songs and put the next key in manually for changing the harmony, which is crap as you don’t have time on stage to do that.

  • Pfarley10

    This unit was a large disappoint me for me.  It required 2 much attention to use on a daily basis.  You had to set the key for every song and the affects just could not keep up with the TC-Helicon Correct and Doubler I had been using and still use today.  Since it was a Rolland/Boss unit I expected a lot from it.  I am guessing they will release a new version before long.  Nowadays company’s seem to keep selling the old one right up to the day it releases a newer version.  I did own it for about 3 weeks but sent it back.  I am very grateful to the staff at Sweetwater for taking the paper weight back. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been thinking of getting one of these just for a slight added 2nd vocal harmony… I’ll only use it for a handful of tunes, so setting up separate presets shouldn’t be too much work.
    Now, should I choose the VE-20 or somethning from TC Helicon or Digitech…?

  • Chris

    it depends… if you play guitar or keybord when sing then you’d be better off getting a device with an instrument input as you will get more accurate harmony parts

  • Anonymous

    That’s another thing… I rarely hold full chords while I sing. I basically use the guitar for fills between the song lines.
    So it would be no problem for me to punch in the right key before the song starts.

  • Chris

     If you’re not worried about the guitar chord analysis you may want to also look at the TC Helicon VoiceLive Play. This has a more major and minor scale versions than the Boss unit, making it more likely you’ll be able to generate the right harmony parts. The biggest problem with using a harmony generator that does not analyse the backing chords is that of finding the right key. I mentioned the example in my review about the problem with sharpened 7ths in minor keys, but there are also a multitude of proplems in major keys too. Take the song Sweet Home Alabama for example – the song is essentially in D major, however the second chord in the song is a C, which means if you set the key on your harmony device as a straight D major scale it will get confused and try to put in a C# if you sing an E (which would sound awful). What you would need to do to correct this is to put the scale as a D mixolydian, which most units, like the Boss VE-20, won’t let you do.

  • Anonymous

    Good point, Chris!
    Thanks again.

  • Cliffsgreatesthits

    You can preset the key in several resets and hold the right pedal for 2 seconds and then run up and down the banks with the pedal without bending over on stage. See page 14 of the owners manual.

  • Seasidejimmy

    The looper is a cool addition over the other harmony units BUT Having to change the key for every song potentially is just too much of a drawback for me to justify getting this unit.   I wish the Helicon had an xlr input for the guitar and a looper then all would be well in the world.  My Taylor sounds best when plugged direct xlr to the board.

  • Hiten

    How and where can I return it after 2 years of zero use and keeping it in a cool place?

  • Tracy

    I own this Boss processor. It works great during practice but has failed on stage. I can’t control the feedback and have had to bypass during every live show. Has anyone else had this problem? Do you have any suggestions? I have created my own presets just so I can lower the levels but I’m still getting horrible feedback.