Fig. 2. Melodyne transforms audio into editable “blobs,” much like a MIDI piano roll editor. Pitch
Center and Pitch Drift are being lightly corrected for the selected group of notes toward the left.
Format: VST/AU/RTAS, cross-platform
Price: $349 MSRP, $300 street
The Melodyne line consists of several products: Assistant (pitch correction and processing essentials), Studio (editing on multiple tracks, with arranging and mixing), and Editor—the subject of this review. Editor works in stand-alone or plug-in mode, and is the first Celemony product to include their DNA (Direct Note Access) technology. DNA can extract individual notes from polyphonic material for editing, which isn’t really relevant to vocals but—with certain limitations—can work miracles with guitar, piano, and other instruments.
We won’t dwell on DNA here, because of the focus on vocals. To summarize, though, it works better than expected, because I wouldn’t expect this kind of technology to work at all! Depending on the source material, DNA requires “prepping” the file before Melodyne can work its magic. This can be anything from minimal—with classical guitar, I was shocked at how effortlessly DNA did the job with no prepping whatsoever— to impossible, as there was no way to separate out the notes from a distorted power chord. It seems DNA likes distinct, defined notes with clearly identifiable harmonic structures and start times, and wants to work on a single instrument at a time. Within those constraints, and if you’re willing to do any required preparations, DNA is more like science fiction than a plug-in.
Note that in addition to DNA, Melodyne Editor has algorithms for melodic and percussive material. I used the melodic algorithm for vocals.
Melodyne has a reputation for retaining excellent sound quality when shifting pitch, but part of that is due to an inherent advantage: Unlike most audio plug-ins, it doesn’t process in real time. Instead, you record the audio you want to process into Melodyne (the “transfer” process), which analyzes the audio. You then work with the audio in Melodyne; when you start playback on the host, transferred material plays back through Melodyne. This process happens in real time, without hiccups (I moved the original audio just to prove to myself that I wasn’t hearing it instead).
After analysis, Melodyne displays the notes as audio “blobs” that not only resemble MIDI piano roll notation, but can be manipulated in the same ways: transpose, move, change start time, lengthen, and shorten (Figure 2). There are also audio-specific tools that work “inside” the note; two of my favorites are the Pitch Drift and Pitch Modulation correction tools.
Pitch Drift linearizes pitch changes within a note. For example, if the pitch sort of drifts flat toward the end of the note, you can lessen (or even eliminate) this drift. Pitch Modulation can increase vibrato or flatten it—and even change the vibrato’s phase. Other tools include change amplitude, change formant, and even copy/paste so you can build harmonies and doubling based on the original vocal.
It’s possible to work on anything from individual notes to groups of notes, but the important point is that—like “quantize strength” commands in MIDI—you can make subtle or obvious edits. For example, if you select Correct Pitch, you can nudge the notes a little closer to pitch, or quantize them precisely to pitch—it’s the same with Correct Pitch Drift.
Full disclosure: When I contacted the company for a copy to review, I was upfront and said I really wasn’t that interested, because I rarely use pitch correction. Also, I had used some very early versions of Melodyne, and while impressed by the technology, it seemed awkward to use. I also had doubts about whether DNA could actually work, so I reviewed this more out of a sense of duty to the readers than personal interest.
Well, I stand corrected. Melodyne was easy to use, and gave zero problems. The classical guitar DNA experience was very impressive, and when modifying vocals, the sound quality was far more natural than I expected; with relatively minor edits, you cannot tell edits were made. But I also liked that I could completely transform voices if I wanted to, and make no-apology alien voices. When you couple all those capabilities with a clean interface and excellent documentation, and solid online support, you have a winner.
This isn’t just about pitch correction; it’s also about vocal processing. After spending some quality time with Melodyne, I think I’m going to give it quite a bit of use in the future.
The Great Big Vocal Roundup
Realistic Pitch Correction With Auto-Tune Evo
Ten Do’s And Don’ts For Solid Vocals
Bruce Swedien’s Six Tips On Recording In Small Rooms
Bruce Swedien On The Proximity Effect And Directivity
The Vocal Tips Roundtable