• Pros: The Digitech Jamman Vocal XT looper is clear and simple, has a user-friendly layout, great sound quality and all of the key features you need to get looping.
• Cons: No spots to store your loops, no auxiliary input, no USB connection, no rhythm backing tracks and a higher price than comparable pedals.
• Overall: Could be a great first looper for vocalists and singer-songwriters, but it ultimately pales in comparison to others on the market.
For most of their history, looper pedals have been largely aimed at guitarists. The appeal of looping for a guitarist is easy to understand: having a tireless jamming companion and being able to turn yourself into a one-man band opens up a wealth of possibilities. But if you sing, or you play an acoustic instrument, many of the available looper pedals don’t have much to offer you. However, the Digitech JamMan Vocal XT is one of the few options – also including the Boss RC-202 and the TC Electronic Ditto Mic – that was created with vocalists in mind. The question is: does the looper offer enough to make it worth the investment?
The Classic JamMan Style, For Vocalists and More
The JamMan Vocal XT looper has the classic Digitech-blue coloring, a microphone decal on the body and a less cluttered control panel than many of their other loopers – it’s a lot like the Express XT but designed with vocalists in mind. Standing a couple of inches off the ground and having a 4.8 by 3.4-inch (12.2 by 8.6 cm) face, it’s pretty compact, but with just two dials and one footswitch on the front face, the result is a looper pedal that doesn’t look too daunting for newcomers to looping.
The pedal is so simple that the manual is a tiny 19 pages in length, with most of the stuff you’ll actually need fitting in less than 10. Experienced loopers won’t need the manual at all, and for any newcomers, the key points can fit into a short paragraph: you plug in, set your mic level, and then press the footswitch to record your first “phrase” (which repeats to form your loop). Hit the footswitch when you’re done and the loop will start playing back, then hit the footswitch again to record an overdub, which you can do as many times as you like. To stop playback, just double-tap the footswitch. This is really all you need to start looping.
The back of the Jamman Express XT has all the ports you need to get connected up. Alongside a jack on the side for the included power supply, there are XLR ins and outs on the back for a microphone (with phantom power for anyone using a condenser mic – the switch labeled “+48 V”) and two jacks for the input and output for JamSync, which is a method for linking multiple Digitech loopers that include the feature.
You connect your mic to the Vocal XT using the in XLR jack, and send the output directly to your mixer. Setting the mic level is pretty painless: you adjust the control (to the right of the “Loop Level” dial) until your very loudest notes make the LED turn red, with most remaining green and the slightly louder ones turning it orange.
Although the Jamman Vocal XT is intended for vocalists, it should go without saying that you can use any instrument you can record over a microphone, with anything from a violin to a trombone being easy to incorporate into your loops. This gives the pedal a lot of potential for multi-instrumentalists, but there is no 1/4 inch jack that would have also opened up the pedal to electric guitarists and bassists.
The JamMan Vocal XT’s (Limited) Features
The JamMan Vocal XT is all about the simplicity, but unfortunately this often means being light on features. The most crucial feature that wasn’t mentioned in the basic introduction above is the undo/redo feature. This allows you to remove the most recent overdub on your loop, which you do by holding down the main footswitch for two seconds while the loop is playing back. This is great anytime you mess up a note, but you can also use it as a tool in composition and songwriting, since it allows you to bring the top layer of your recording in and out at will.
The only other real feature on the Jamman Vocal XT is JamSync, which is basically MIDI but without the wide compatibility. Your Jamman Vocal XT can work as a master or a slave device, and can be connected to other Jamman Vocal XTs, Express XTs and JamMan Solo XTs so you can have more than one musician looping at once. This is really great if you know people with other recent Digitech pedals, but we can’t help pointing out that adding MIDI would have been so much more useful.
Although not exactly a feature, one great thing about the Jamman Vocal XT is the sound quality. Your loops are recorded in 24-bit, with a 44.1 kHz sampling rate, and it has a dbx mic preamp, which combine to give the whole pedal crystal-clear audio. Many loopers stick to a bit depth of 16-bit, so this is a definite plus-point for the Vocal XT.
However, like on the Express XT and the competing Ditto Mic, there are no storage slots for your loops on the Vocal XT. It gives you up to 10 minutes of looping time (plus unlimited overdubs), which is twice as much as the Ditto Mic, but without even a single storage slot for your loops, it’s hard to see how you could possibly need 10 minutes of recording time, unless you’re working on the most epic song in history.
The massive improvements that would come from something as simple as adding a handful of memory locations, doubling the maximum recording time and adding a USB port so your loops can be exported to (and imported from) your computer are hard to overstate.
As it stands, the JamMan Vocal XT offers you an audio “whiteboard” to express your creativity, which can be great fun, but like a whiteboard, if you want to draw something else you have to wave goodbye to your old creation. Offering dedicated storage spots is more like giving musicians a collection of canvases: once you’re done, you can switch to a new, blank canvas, but you can always dig out something you worked on before to admire again or even add to. Dropping the metaphor, if you want a practicing and jamming companion, it’s great, but this limitation really stings anybody who wants to build up a catalogue of loops or work on a set list.
Does the JamMan Vocal XT Beat the Competition? Is it Worth Buying?
Like the JamMan Express was in competition with TC Electronic’s Ditto series, it’s hard to avoid the point that the direct competitor to the Vocal XT comes in the form of TC’s Ditto Mic, which has the same basic focus and style, but for a much cheaper price. This alone is a bit of an issue for the Vocal XT, because the Ditto Mix offers essentially the same set of features, has similarly crisp and clear audio and is just as easy to use.
But the problems really start when you go beyond the direct competition. Consider the JamMan Stereo from Digitech themselves. The recommended price (at time of writing, March 2017) is only $20 more than the Vocal XT.
And what do you get for your money? Four pedals, which makes things a little busier on the looper but makes hands-free and live use much easier, 99 internal memory locations (with 35 minutes to play with, which can be expanded via SD card and backed up to computers), rhythm sounds built-in, an auxiliary input (so you can play tracks from your MP3 player or cell phone), features like reverse mode, one-shot playback and more, and dedicated switches so you can change to a new loop hands-free. And it also has an XLR input. There’s no XLR output and it isn’t phantom-powered, but I trust you get the point: if you aren’t using a condenser mic and can live without the XLR output, even Digitech offers a far superior pedal (in terms of features) for barely any extra money.
Similarly, Boss has the RC range of loopers, such as the RC-202, which are designed for vocalists specifically and still have tons more features than the Vocal XT. It might not have the XLR output that the Vocal XT and the Ditto Mic offer, but the difference in price isn’t as big as you’d think.
The overall point is simple. Considered separate from anything else on the market, the Vocal XT is a pretty solid looper: it sounds great, is easy to use and handles the core functions of looping really well. But as soon as you start to consider the alternatives, the benefits quickly vanish. The Ditto Mic is incredibly similar – minimalist but with great sound quality and very user friendly – but about half the price. And many, many looper pedals have XLR jacks – at least inputs – but come with tons of storage locations, more memory and more features than you know what to do with.
The upshot is that if you’re looking for something easy-to-use and uncluttered, the Ditto Mic beats the Vocal XT on price alone, unless you have friends with other JamMan pedals and JamSync is an important feature for you. If you’re just looking for a looper pedal you can use as a vocalist, there are so many great options that are suitable (albeit usually intended for use by guitarists) that you should seriously consider how many features you’re willing to miss out on for the sake of saving $50 or so and having a dedicated XLR output.
The Jamman Vocal XT is a solid looper, but it really falls flat in comparison to most others on the market.
Specs available here