FIG. 1: One of the improvements in Auto-Tune 4 is the Virtual Keyboard, which shows the currently detected pitch (blue key), scale notes (white and black keys), bypassed notes (brown keys), and removed notes (gray keys). Scale notes can also be input from the keyboard.
Auto-Tune 4 is the most powerful, flexible, and user-friendly version yet of Antares's popular pitch-correction plug-in. It offers numerous new tools and functions, an improved ergonomic layout, and support for sampling rates up to 192 kHz.
It runs as a VST, MAS, RTAS, and TDM plug-in on the Mac, and as a DirectX or RTAS plug-in in Windows. (According to Antares, a TDM version of Auto-Tune for XP should be released by the time this review is printed.) I reviewed version 4.1.2 in MAS format under Mac OS 10.2.8 and OS 9 (running Digital Performer 4.12 and 3.02, respectively), using a dual 867 MHz G4 loaded with 1.8 GB of RAM. Installation was straightforward, and authorization used the challenge-and-response method.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with Auto-Tune 3, the software is designed to correct inaccurate pitches in monophonic vocal and instrument performances. It has two modes of operation: Automatic mode, in which notes are corrected based on a user-selected, preset or custom scale; and Graphical mode, in which notes are displayed as lines in a graphical display and can be corrected by being manually redrawn.
Many of Auto-Tune 4's improvements consist of refinements and helpful additions to existing features. For instance, in Auto-Tune 3 you can define scales by playing them on a MIDI controller while using the Learn Scale From MIDI function. Alternatively, you can target specific pitches on the fly by playing a MIDI controller in real time while using the Target Notes Via MIDI function. But these features, which are also in version 4, are inaccessible to users who lack a MIDI controller or who have DAWs that can't send MIDI data to plug-ins. Auto-Tune 4 adds a virtual keyboard (see Fig. 1), which can be played with a mouse in Automatic mode to define target notes for correction.
The virtual keyboard spans the plug-in's pitch-detection range. Its black-and-white keys turn blue to indicate the pitch of the audio as it plays, providing useful visual feedback. If you click and hold your mouse on the Hold button (located just below the pitch-change indicator), the blue detected-pitch indication on the virtual keyboard will freeze along with the display on the pitch-change indicator. The latter indication can be especially useful for determining how far out of tune fast-passing notes are, and the intensity of Auto-Tune 4's corrective action.
In older versions of Auto-Tune, you removed or added scale notes using the Edit Scale display. Although that feature has been retained, Auto-Tune 4 lets you accomplish the same thing by clicking on individual keys on the virtual keyboard. The newer method allows you to edit the Remove and Bypass status of target notes of the same name but that are in different octaves. (Removing a note takes it completely out of a scale so that any input note on or close to it would be corrected to the nearest remaining scale note. Bypassing a note allows pitches on or close to it to remain unaffected.)
FIG. 2: Auto-Tune 4's Graphical mode includes useful new tools for the Pitch graph and the Envelope graph, and a better-organized layout of navigation controls.
This octave-specific treatment of notes is now available when using Auto-Tune 4's MIDI-input functions. While using the Learn Scale From MIDI or Target Notes Via MIDI functions, you can click on the Octaves As Played button to determine target-note behavior in specific octaves, or the All Octaves button to do the same throughout Auto-Tune 4's usable range.
Both Momentary and Latching modes are available when clicking on the virtual keyboard with a mouse. Latching mode toggles the Remove or Bypass status of a note each time you click its corresponding key. Momentary mode, on the other hand, changes the Remove or Bypass status of a note for only as long as you click and hold the mouse on its corresponding key, providing an easy way to treat isolated notes on the fly while leaving the pitch-correction setup for the rest of the phrase or track intact. The virtual keyboard is active only for major, minor, and chromatic scales, but that covers most popular-music applications.
Auto-Tune 4 has useful new scale-editing shortcuts to supplement the Set Major Scale and Set Minor Scale functions. The Set All button deletes all current Remove and Bypass settings to return an edited scale to its default state. The Remove All button removes all notes from the scale in all octaves, while the Bypass All button bypasses pitch correction for all notes.
Auto-Tune 4 has improved controls for creating vibrato. In addition to the Shape, Pitch (called Depth in Auto-Tune 3), Rate, and Onset Delay controls for pitch modulation, Antares has added new virtual knobs for modulating amplitude and formants (timbre).
A new Onset Rate control allows you to fade in pitch, amplitude, and formant modulations (after the Onset Delay time has expired) to reach maximum effect after the elapsed time you set. Yet another new control, Variation, sets the amount of randomization for all modulation-depth and modulation-rate controls, which gives a humanizing effect. Together, these controls let you add more realistic vibrato effects to vocal tracks and are an outstanding addition to Auto-Tune's feature set.
FIG. 3: Auto-Tune 4''s preferences, such as the Graphical mode''s color scheme, the number of Undos, and the buffer size, can be set from the Options dialog box.
Also new is a defeatable Improved Targeting function, which prevents the wide pitch variations in excessive vibrato from whip-sawing pitch correction back and forth between neighboring notes. Improved Targeting is not always effective, but it's a welcome addition.
One of the few disappointments I encountered with using Auto-Tune 4 is that it does not support automation of plug-in parameters in Digital Performer. (The automation did work when tested in Emagic's Logic Pro running the VST version of Auto-Tune 4, converted to an Audio Unit with Fxpansion's VST-Audio Unit Adapter.)
Auto-Tune 4 offers more new tools — plus enhanced functionality for legacy tools — in Graphical mode (see Fig. 2). The Pitch graph now automatically scales its display to include all tracked audio, foregoing the need to scroll around in search of the generated pitch curve.
Pressing your QWERTY keyboard's Shift key while drawing with the Line Tool causes your generated line to snap to the nearest semitone. Double-clicking with the Arrow tool can now add (or remove) handle points on existing lines, depending on where you click.
A new Scissors tool breaks an existing line in two, so you can manipulate each of the two new lines independently. A new Hand tool drags the Pitch and Envelope graphs to show the area you want to work in. A new Vibrato Scaling function allows you to increase or decrease the amount of vibrato for audio selected with the I-Beam Tool while preserving the original shape of the vibrato curve.
When using Auto-Tune 4's Graphical mode in Digital Performer 3.11, I discovered that the plug-in works as an insert only from the mixer window. It doesn't work if you try to use DP's file-based (destructive) processing from the Audio window. I didn't encounter this problem in DP 4.
Auto-Tune 4 offers 20 levels of Undo and Redo in Graphical mode, giving you plenty of room to experiment. You set the maximum number of Undos desired in the Options dialog box (see Fig. 3), where you can also set preferences such as buffer size, color scheme, and knob control (to allow changing parameter values with vertical, horizontal, or radial mouse movements).
Auto-Tune 4 brings powerful new tools and expanded functionality to the party, gift wrapped in an improved user interface. I got better results in a shorter amount of time than when working with previous versions. Auto-Tune 4 is a winner.
Michael Cooperis an EM contributing editor and the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Oregon. Cooper's studio offers recording, mixing, and mastering services.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: OS 9 or OS X; VST, MAS, RTAS, or TDM compatible host
PC: Windows 98, 98SE, NT, 2000, ME, or XP; DirectX-compatible host (8.0 or later); Windows XP: RTAS-compatible host
Auto-Tune 4 (Mac/Win)
pitch-correction plug-in native versions $399
TDM version $599
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0QUALITY OF SOUND4.5VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Virtual Keyboard expands editing and real-time pitch-correction capabilities, especially for non-MIDI users. Greatly enhanced vibrato functions offer more realistic effects. Notes can be edited independently in different octaves. Graphical mode has been substantially upgraded to provide a speedier and more powerful interface.
CONS: Does not support automation of plug-in parameters in Digital Performer. Graphical mode doesn't work as a destructive plug-in Digital Performer, version 3.11 or earlier.