Big Al’s Big Article

This article is the first in a series written to provide you, the reader, with all the information you need to know about each English VOCALOID voice. All the information in this article is either from the Internet or, as is more often the case, from the opinion of the author. If you find any incorrect information, please tell us by leaving a comment and we will correct it as soon as possible.

  • Who’s Big Al?
Big Al is the mascot character representing the second VOCALOID voicebank released by PowerFX Systems AB. It was designed to be used with VOCALOID2, but it is theoretically compatible with the VOCALOID3 engine as well. He is also the fourth English-language-only VOCALOID2 voicebank.
Big Al was originally designed for release in 2007 or early 2008, but after scheduling conflicts between original voice-provider Michael King and PowerFX, they was forced to re-record the bank with new voice-provider Frank Sanderson.
  • What makes Big Al different?

There are usually two things that a first-time listener to Big Al will notice immediately.

The first is his undeniably masculine voice. Prior to Big Al’s release there were only three male VOCALOID2 voices, two of which capitalized on their higher, more feminine vocals, while the third had been released less than two weeks prior. When compared to these other voices, Big Al’s voice comes more or less as a shock (though many had been prepared by earlier demos with his first voice-provider). It is both naturally deeper than his Japanese counterparts’, and in addition, harder and rougher. Overall, it has an immediate impression of masculinity.

The second thing one might notice about Big Al is his American accent. While most English VOCALOID voices have a neutral or British English accent, Big Al’s is the first to have phonemes recorded so as to sound American in origin (while this was by choice or happenstance is unclear). This accented bank is one of the things that makes Big Al’s voice very unique among the Engloids. While it can be counted as both a blessing and a curse, it is a major point of definition for Big Al in either case.

  • What kind of voice does Big Al have?

Big Al’s voice can be described as “bassy”, meaning it has a lot of bass-frequency sound to it. This means that he has a booming voice which is, more often than not, in need of equalization to make manageable. While these bass tones are what give him his masculine sound, they are sometimes also a contributing factor to his difficulty to understand when coupled with a backing track.

Despite the extra bass in his voice, Big Al’s most natural ranges are actually not that low. In fact, as his voice goes lower, it reaches a threshold where it begins to develop a raspy quality (around C2 for many phonemes). This rasp is, like his accent, either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you intend to use Big Al’s voice.

  • What makes Big Al difficult?

Because Big Al’s accent is, at the moment, unique, he has a few phonemes which are notorious for being difficult, or just different.

1.) eI (which rhymes with “day”)

Firstly, this phoneme has a wide range of pronunciation, depending on the surrounding phonemes. This can lead to problems with such a significant variation between two consecutive instances of “eI” that it begins to sound wrong.

Big Al phoneme “eI”
“A, play, hay, pray”

The above example shows how four words that should presumably have the exact same vowel sound, still sound very different from one another.

2.) aI (which rhymes with “sky”)

This phoneme, while not as problematic as “eI”, does have an over-pronounced sound to it. In addition, its sound mutates into other sounds as Big Al’s pitch goes up. At times it can reach the point of sounding like a different phoneme or combination of the two. In the example below, the vowel sound in “fly” changes more and more as pitch increases.

Big Al phoneme “aI
“I fly, I fly, I fly”

The first “fly” has the cleanest pronunciation, with the second sounding like “Fluh-ai”, and the third easily mistakable for “floy”.

3.) @r, Q@, e@, I@, O@, U@ (all the “er” sounds)

Because of the differences between American English and British English, Big Al is the only VOCALOID voice to have a different sounds associated with these six phonemes. Instead of having British English’s blended-R sounds into the previous vowel sound, Big Al uses the more common American separation into distinct sounds.

While these phonemes do not usually need to be switched out, they may cause significant problems when converting lines sequenced for Big Al into another voice, or vice versa.

  • So now what?

Now you know everything you need to know about Big Al. Is there more to know? Yes. So very much more than I could possibly put into a single article, or even a series of articles, with more information coming every day!

You can do any number of things with this knowledge.

Do you feel like you want to become a VOCALOID Producer? Now you have a place to start, with Big Al’s solid, stony voice at your command, should you choose to purchase the software. Are you interested in hearing what other people have done with it? Check out YouTube! Plenty of people are dying to hear what you think of their music, whether they be Original works or covers.

If you want to learn more about the Engloids, be on the lookout for more articles in this series.