What I find most fascinating about Antares Auto-Tune is that everyone and their mother knows what it is, despite the fact that it's just another digital audio plugin used in bedroom and professional studios alike. Even people who have no clue what an EQ or compressor does somehow at least know of the word 'Auto-Tune' and even the general effect it has on the human voice.
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But even though Auto-Tune has evolved to become this cultural phenomenon, very few artists or producers truly understand how to get it to sound like the way it sounds on major records.
In case you don't know what it is, Auto-Tune, in a nutshell, is a pitch correction software that allows the user to set the key signature of the song so that the pitch of the incoming signal will be corrected to the closest note in that key (and does so in real time). There are other pitch correction programs out there that do similar functions: Waves Tune, Waves Tune Real-Time, and Melodyne (which is pitch correction, but not in real time), but Auto-Tune seems to have won the standard for real-time pitch correction.
Auto-Tune traditionally is used on vocals, although in some cases can be used on certain instruments. For the sake of this article we will be discussing Auto-Tune and its effect on the human voice. Listen to this early example from the 'King of Auto-Tune,' the one artist who did more to popularize its effect than any other, T-Pain.
Working as a full-time engineer here at Studio 11 in Chicago, we deal with Auto-Tune on a daily basis. Whether it's people requesting that we put it on their voice, something we do naturally to correct pitch, or even for a specific creative effect. It's just a part of our arsenal that we use everyday, so over the years we have really gotten to know the ins and outs of the program—from its benefits to limitations.
So let's delve further into what this software really is and can do, and in the process debunk certain myths around what the public or people who are new to Auto-Tune may think. If you were ever wondering why your Auto-Tune at home doesn't sound like the Auto-Tune you hear from your favorite artists, this is the article for you.
To set the record straight, as I do get asked this a lot of times from clients and inquiring home producers, there really are no different 'types' of Auto-Tune. Antares makes many different versions of Auto-Tune—Auto-Tune EFX, Auto-Tune Live, and Auto-Tune Pro—that have various options and different interfaces, but any of those can give you the effect you're after. Auto-Tune Pro does have a lot of cool features and updates, but you don't need 'Pro' to sound pro.
I wanted to debunk this first, as some people come to me asking about the 'the Lil Durk Auto-Tune,' or perhaps that classic 'T-Pain Auto-Tune.' That effect is made from the same plugin—the outcome of the sound that you hear depends on how you set the settings within the program and the pitch of the incoming signal.
So if your Auto-Tune at home sounds different from what you hear on the radio, it's because of these factors, not because they have a magic version of Auto-Tune that works better than yours at home. You can achieve the exact same results.
In modern music Auto-Tune is really used with two different intentions. The first is to use it as a tool in a transparent manner, to correct someone's pitch. In this situation, the artist doesn't want to hear the effect work, they just want to hit the right notes. The second intent is to use it as an audible effect for the robotic vocals you can now hear all over the pop and rap charts.
But regardless of the intent, in order for Auto-Tune to sound its best, there are three main things that need to be set correctly.
The correct key of the song. This is the most important part of the process and honestly where most people fail. Bedroom producers, and even some engineers at professional studios who might lack certain music theory fundamentals, have all fallen into the trap of setting Auto-Tune in the wrong key. If a song is in C major, it will not work in D major, E major, etc.—though it will work in C major's relative minor, A minor. No other key will work correctly. It helps to educate yourself a bit about music theory, and how to find the key of a song.
The input type. You have the option to choose from Bass Instrument, Instrument, Low Male, Alto/Tenor, and Soprano. Bass Instrument and Instrument are, of course, for instruments, so ignore them if you're going for a vocal effect. Low Male would be selected if the singer is singing in a very low octave (think Barry White). Alto/Tenor will be for the most common vocal ranges, and soprano is for very high-pitched vocalists. Setting the input type correctly helps Auto-Tune narrow down which octaves it will focus on—and you'll get a more accurate result.
Retune speed. This knob, while important, is really all dependent on the pitch of the input source, which I will discuss next. Generally speaking, the higher the knob, the faster it will tune each note. A lower speed will have the effect be a bit more relaxed, letting some natural vibrato through without affecting a vocalist's pitch as quickly. Some view it as a 'amount of Auto-Tune knob,' which isn't technically true. The amount of correction you hear is based off the original pitch, but you will hear more effects of the Auto-Tune the faster it's set.
So let's say you have all of these set correctly. You have the right key, you choose the right range for the singer, and the retune speed is at its medium default of 20ms. You apply it on the singer expecting it to come out just like the pros. And while their voice does seem to be somewhat corrected, it's still not quite corrected to the right pitch.
Here's why your Auto-Tune doesn't sound like the pros:
The pitch of the vocalist prior to Auto-Tune processing must be close enough to a note in the scale of the key of the song for Auto-Tune to work its best. In other words, the singer has to be at least near the right note for it to sound pleasing to the ears.
Whether you're going for a natural correction or the T-Pain warble, this point still stands. If the note the singer originally sings is nowhere near the correct note in the key, Auto-Tune will try to calculate as best it can and round up or down, depending on what note is closest. And that's when you get undesirable artifacts and hear notes you weren't expecting to hear. (Here is an example of how it sounds when the incoming pitch isn't close enough to the scale, resulting in an oddly corrected pitch.)
So if you put Auto-Tune on a voice and some areas sound good, some sound too robotic and a bit off, those are the areas that the singer needs to work on. Sometimes it can be difficult for non-singers to hear slight sharp or flat notes, or notes that aren't in the scale of the song, so Auto-Tune in many cases can actually help point out the problem areas.
This is why major artists who use Auto-Tune sound really good, because chances are they can sing pretty well before Auto-Tune is even applied. The Weeknd is a great example of this—he is obviously a very talented singer that has no problem hitting notes—and yet his go-to mixer, Illangelo, has said before that he always uses at least a little bit of Auto-Tune on the vocals.
If you or the singer in your studio is no Weeknd, you can correct the pitch manually beforehand with a program like Melodyne, or even with built-in pitch correction tools in your DAW, where you can actually go in and change the pitch of each syllable manually. So if you find yourself in a situation where you or an artist you are working with really want Auto-Tune on their vocals, but it's not sounding right after following all the steps, look into correcting the pitch before you run it through Auto-Tune.
If you get the notes closer to the scale, you'll find the tuning of Auto-Tune to be much more pleasing to the ears. For good reason, T-Pain is brought up a lot when discussing Auto-Tune. Do you want to know why he sounds so good? It's not a special Auto-Tune they are using, its because he can really sing without it. Check it out:
Hopefully this helps further assist you in your understanding and use of Antares Auto-Tune, and debunk some of the myths around it. Spend some time learning some basic music theory to help train the ear to identity keys of songs, find which notes are flat and which notes are sharp. Once you do, you'll find you'll want to use Auto-Tune on every song, because let's face it—nearly a decade after Jay-Z declared the death of Auto-Tune on 'D.O.A.'—it still sounds cool.
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Today we bring you a rundown on the very best Autotune Plugins (VSTs) available right now in 2020 for your DAW or Beat Maker. We will review their cost, which ones are free Autotune VST plugins, their pros and cons, pricing and our recommendations for purchase.
Before we get started, let’s clarify what Autotune is and how this is different to a Vocoder.
What is Autotune (aka Audio Tuning or Auto Tuning)? The Autotune definition is an Autotune program that corrects any pitch issues either in post-production or in real-time whether you’re in the recording studio or performing live.
This auto tune effect is widely used by many studio personnel and usually comes standard as part of the production workflow in modern pop music no matter the vocalists’ natural abilities.
So how does autotune work? Well, in simple terms it takes any audio file and measures it’s pitch perfect and key through a software audio processor device and measures it against a specific key and pitch, altering it (correction) so that the pitch of a vocal or auto tune voice is matched to an instrumental music recording or performance.
How to use Autotune? Whether you’re using it to subtly fit slightly off-tune vocals into place or using it to achieve the obvious autotune software effect used in many popular records and trap songs heard on the radio today, you’ll be sure to learn a lot in our rundown of the best pitch correcting plug-ins on the market.
How is an Autotune device different from a vocoder?
Vocoders and the vocoder effect, on the other hand, are techniques used primarily in electronic popular music and Hip Hop, to give the voice sound a synthetic fine tuning sound by setting an instrument such as a synthesizer as the input to a filter bank and this being blended with the vocal recording.
There are many plug-ins on the market that can achieve this effect and many daws come with stock plug-ins that have a vocoder preset available such as Logic’s classic EVOC 20 synth.
1. ANTARES AUTOTUNE PRO by Antares Audio Technologies
Pricing – $399 Standalone Plug-in
Considered by many to be the best auto tune and pitch correction software, Antares has been at the top of the game for decades. Their software is used as the standard go-to when it comes to the big leagues in many of the top recording studios worldwide due to its ease of use and trusted reputation, Afterall, Antares do own the trademark “Autotune”.
It all started with them back in the mid-’90s after it was launched by Andy Hildebrand, a PhD specialist in digital signal processing and it became an instant hit. It quickly grew to fame & notability after it was used on Cher’s 1998 classic “Believe”. And has since been the go-to plug-in for many music producers & recording artists.
– User-friendly interface
One of the best features of the auto tune program is its ease of use and how simple it is to figure out while achieving a super high level of accuracy and a natural tone. It’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye but beneath the surface, it’s a machine.
– Autokey included for faster workflow
Trying to figure out the key of a song can be a time-consuming challenge for the many artists who haven’t yet developed knowledge of music theory or those who lack the skill to tell by ear.
With this challenge is eradicated as the software comes with Antares Autokey which automatically detects the key of the song with high accuracy and sends it to the processor for a streamlined workflow.
– Has the option to switch to classic mode
Some of us just like to stick with what we know when it comes to the way something functions, it makes things easier as its muscle memory.
The OG users can switch to the classic auto mode they’re used to all while reaping the benefits and high-quality processing Pro has to offer.
As with anything, quality comes at a price. At almost double the price of Logic Pro X, $399 is steep for a standalone plugin, but you can rest assured it will get the job done with no hiccups.
2.WAVES TUNE REAL-TIME
Pricing – $69.99 Standalone Plug-in & Bundle
Although not quite as notable as Antares Autotune, Waves Tune Real-Time is still one of the classics and is used primarily for live vocal performances due to its accuracy, precision, and ultra-low latency.
It boasts the ability to achieve studio-quality, pitched vocals in a live setting without the need for manual post-editing and is the go-to for many singers on tour.
– Super-low latency ideal for live use
Great for live performances on tour, this plug-in has super-low latency and can deliver an outstanding result. You can also set your own presets for different songs, or for different parts in the same song.
Hey, you can even fall offstage in like Travis Scott if that’s your thing, although, please don’t actually do this, a far too extreme auto tune EFX.
– High-quality audio processing for natural sound
Set your retune speed to 0.1 milliseconds or have it slow, however harsh you want your effect you can be sure to always have pristine human-like sound with no artificial artefacts getting in the way of the performance.
– Requires low latency computer system for live settings
Although the plug-in itself causes little to no latency issues, it does require a low latency set up to achieve its full potential. If you or your labels budget allows, It’s worth having a separate MacBook for live audio & production purposes only.
– The interface can be hard to learn
You’ll want to make sure you’re aware of how the plug-in operates and what the parameters actually do to be able to get the most out of the software, it’s not as simple as just pressing one button and it doing the job for you, but this can also be a good thing as it allows further manipulation of sound.
3. CELEMONY MELODYNE
Pricing – €99 – €699 Standalone plug-in
This plug-in is used by many studio engineers and producers due to its advanced capabilities such as being able to create superb background vocals from a single vocal take, along with its melody building & time stretching functionalities.
It’s highly advanced direct note access feature also allows for singular manipulation of individual notes within chords and polyphonic recordings.
– Multiple Algorithms
Choose from a selection of advanced algorithms designed for different instruments and types of audio including percussive, melodic or polyphonic to fit your recording and enable the best possible editing experience for whatever you’re working with.
– Ability to adjust timbre and shape sound
Use the “formant” tool and sound editor to colour the tone and adjust the characteristics of your recording while maintaining an authentic sound.
– Most of the best features only available in full version
If you’re paying the lowest price for the basic version, you’re gonna get the most basic version. There are no free rides with Melodyne and if you want the best features and updates you’re going to need to splash out. Is it worth the investment? We certainly think so.
4. REAPER REATUNE
Pricing – $60 DAWGitx for mac sierra.
Not a standalone plugin, but a great feature for those on a budget looking to increase the quality of a take and achieve a more professional sound. Whilst it isn’t a free autotune plugin, it’s the cheapest one available.
If you’re new to this software it may be worth reading our beginners’ guide to Reaper for an easy to understand but a detailed rundown of what this daw has to offer.
Reaper Reatune can be used to create harmonies as well as fix out of tune vocals. This is a great alternative to Antares Harmony Engine for those on a budget who want big-sounding harmonies and choruses without needing to spend $100 and upwards for a stand-alone plug-in to do the job.
– Low CPU load
Another CPU friendly option for those with busy sessions and a lot of heavy processing. This is great for the low price Reaper comes at, not to mention all the other amazing features the daw has to offer.
– Good for users on a budget
What you’re getting for the price is impressive, not to mention you get to trial the full version of reaper for 60 days to see if it’s a good fit for your needs and how you work.
Free Vocal Auto Tune
– More noticeable tonality
The biggest downside to Reaper’s Reatune feature is the audibly noticeable artefacts that start to pop up when pitch correction is applied. This is okay for beginners diving into audio production who just want to get good at what they’re doing on a mechanical level but not so great for audio engineers looking to achieve pristine, natural-sounding vocal effects or instruments.
– Lacks more advanced features
Again, you get what you pay for. Sure you can do what it says on the tin and knock off-tune vocals where they’re meant to be but you can’t go all out with gain, tonality, vibrato and pitch drift edits the same as you can with some of the more high-end plug-ins.
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5. LOGIC PRO FLEX PITCH
Pricing – $199.99 DAW
One of Logic Pro’s most popular features is its flex tune mode, capable of advanced audio manipulation. It has many different algorithms for different types of audio signals and instruments.
For vocals, this is flex pitch. Visual representations of notes can be moved into place, cut, glued and time-stretched. There’s also the option to smooth or increase vibrato in the voice or change the drift from each word in or out of one another as well as the gain.
For a tool this advanced that comes with logic, it’s well worth the price for the entire daw.
Vocal Audio Recording Free With Auto Tune App
The only downside is it’s processing abilities and tonality. It’s great for changing a few problem areas in a take but once you start moving things around too much you start to notice the decrease in audio quality. If you require a plug-in or tool that has better processing abilities it may be better to go with a standalone option.
– Great for the price
As opposed to Reatune, what Flex Pitch has to offer is actually far greater in terms of how far you can go with sonic manipulation. You can also use Logic’s Flex tool to time-stretch using separate algorithms for different types of audio, similar to what Melodyne offers but on a more basic level.
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– Noticeable audio artefacts
Flex Pitch has been prone to bugs and glitches in the audio, especially in earlier versions of the software that have since been mostly smoothed out. Logic has since come a long way but if you do too much editing or lower the vibrato any lower than 60% the audio still starts to develop a robotic tone (robot voice).
The algorithm is less advanced and can mistake breaths for words or splits single words into two causing a pop sound.
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If you want to make the most of Flex Pitch correction plugin, make sure to have a dry and clear of a recording to work with from the offset as possible, although this should go for all recording in general.
Ultimately, whatever option you choose to go with really comes down to your budget, what your set up looks like and your requirements.
With this being said, Waves Tune Real-Time really does give you the best value for money and is a good option for both those starting out in music as well as experienced studio professionals and experienced artists.
Some notable artists that have had big hits through the use of the VST are Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and Cher’s 1998 hit “Beleive”.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post and that it has given you some indication as to what plug-in or DAW to go with for getting you or your artist’s vocals to sound their best.