In just five short years, Celemony's Melodyne has grown from a simple and intriguing application — originally available only for Mac and capable of treating static audio more like liquid than any other program at the time — to a formidable cross-platform powerhouse. Its highly accurate pitch, time and formant tools, together with powerful multitrack arrangement capabilities, have made it the secret weapon of many remixers and composers. On everything from minor correction of intonation to extreme pitch-shifting, and from subtle modification of grooves to drastic time-stretching, Melodyne's time-independent approach to audio editing — treating sound as a continuum — has truly set it apart from the rest. The bummer until now, however, has been that only monophonic vocal and instrumental parts could really benefit from Melodyne's much-admired editing facilities. Version 3 changes all that.
NEW AND IMPROVED
At its heart, Melodyne3 employs an all-new Polyphony algorithm, which is an extension of the existing Local Sound Synthesis technology that has always made Melodyne tick. The Polyphony algorithm now allows Melodyne3 to work with chords and complex signals rather than being limited to simple melodies. That means that full harmonic program material such as rhythm guitar or piano parts can now be transposed without altering the tempo, slowed down or sped up without altering the pitch and quantized. What's more, all that is possible in real time, making editing audio about as easy as working with MIDI data.
Melodyne3 also features a new audio-analysis engine that makes note detection fully automatic, with more reliable results and faster delivery than in previous versions. Indeed, speed is a common theme in version 3; faster processing, a simplified user interface, streamlined workflow and other new options help you get your ideas down quicker than before.
Originally, Melodyne was a stand-alone application, which made access from a DAW awkward at many stages of the production process. In response to that, the MelodyneBridge plug-in came out in stages throughout version 2, tightly integrating Melodyne to any host application that supported VST, RTAS, DXi and Audio Units, as well as offering ReWire, MIDI In/Out, SMPTE and much more. That integration has been completely reworked in version 3 to reduce processor demands and work more reliably from a technical standpoint. Melodyne3 can also now read third-party sound libraries created using Melodyne technology, such as those from Ueberschall Liquid Instruments.
Celemony also recently announced support for the Intel Core Duo processor within the latest Apple computers. This adaptation to the Universal Binary technology required by the Core Duo's architecture will be integrated into version 3.1. Registered users should be able to download this update from the Celemony Website by the time you read this review.
There are two editions of Melodyne3: Cre8 and Studio (reviewed here). Among the differences between the two are that Cre8 has a maximum of eight tracks at 24-bit/96kHz resolution, while Studio allows unlimited tracks and as high as 32-bit/192kHz resolution. More importantly, only Melodyne3 Studio allows editing of polyphonic (multipart) and complex material, including time-stretching and pitch-shifting of entire mixes. Finally, for Pro Tools users, only the Studio edition allows Digidesign Direct I/O (Mac only) in addition to CoreAudio and ASIO2; Cre8 supports only CoreAudio/ASIO2.
There are now two separate playback algorithms in Melodyne3: the original Melodic mode and a new Poly/Percussive mode. Melodic mode is still the algorithm of choice for any monophonic material such as vocals, speech or solo instrument lines. Poly/Percussive mode makes it possible to work with virtually any other material, such as percussion, drums and noises, as well as any sounds consisting of homophonic block chords, polyphonic oscillator voicing and full mixes containing many arbitrary sounds. Melodyne doesn't actually dissect polyphonic or full-mix material into its harmonic chord tones, oscillator voices or individual tracks — that may never be possible. Rather, it is capable of changing the pitch, length and sound character of polyphonic audio in a much more accurate and musical manner than it previously could with melodic detection only.
When an audio file is opened, Melodyne automatically distinguishes whether it is monophonic or polyphonic and sets its playback engine to the appropriate algorithm. It also detects whether the material is more polyphonic or percussive in nature and configures an initial set of user-adjustable parameters.
Just as with the melodic algorithm in previous versions, Crisp and Smooth settings can be used to determine the sharpness with which the polyphonic algorithm renders the audio. From a creative standpoint, that is important when working with percussive or polyphonic material because the Smooth setting more favorably treats sustained chords, while the Crisp setting is desirable for making drum loops and percussive/arpeggio-type sounds cut through. Poly/Percussive mode also offers a Transients parameter that further determines the intensity of the attack phase of the notes in the audio file: Move the slider to the left, and the transients are less pronounced; move it to the right, and the sound becomes more percussive. Because Melodyne3 is so smart in that way, the Formant Shift Character, Stretch Position and Stretch Shape controls of old have been dropped because stretching can now be performed unobtrusively at any place along the audio, and it is no longer necessary to configure Melodyne note-by-note.
The new procedure of loading an audio file in preparation for editing is quite significant. Previously, you had to initiate the Detect Melody process manually, but now note recognition is completely automatic whenever you open a new audio file. Melodyne instantly analyzes the file, tracing the pitch and locating the breaks between notes with far greater accuracy than the previous version. Melodyne then automatically opens the Editor window in an almost transparent fashion — a real time-saver and improvement in workflow ported from the basic Melodyne Uno edition. On Pentium 4 3.2GHz and Mac G5 dual 2GHz computers, a four-minute, full-mix song was analyzed and ready for editing in less than 15 seconds. Comparably, a short vocal from a song's chorus took less than a second. Since Melodyne stores its analysis data in a separate .mdd file, subsequent loading of the same audio file is instantaneous because all the work is already completed.
As in the previous version, purely melodic material is displayed in the editor, with Melodyne's famous note blobs positioned at various heights depending upon the pitch-center and amplitude envelope of each note. With polyphonic or percussive material, on the other hand, the blobs are displayed at the same height as though they are of the same pitch. Note recognition is far more reliable in version 3, and its dividing of note lengths is extremely accurate to the beat.
Even polyphonic audio gets divided into blobs according to transients, and the tempo is freely variable throughout the recording. You can now quantize the timing or alter the rhythm of polyphonic instrument tracks and an entire mix. The notes of each chord, of course, are not detected individually, so you can't turn a minor chord into a major chord. What you can do, however, is drag an entire chord within a track upward or downward, so that C Major, for example, becomes D Major or A Major.
Editing is greatly simplified in Melodyne3. In fact, there are no longer any tools in the Arrangement window and fewer tools than before in the Editor window. By integrating functions directly into the user interface and combining tools sensibly, no functionality has been sacrificed. For instance, in typical use, the cursor acts as a context-sensitive Main edit tool that changes its function based upon its position relative to the nearest blob. In the middle of a blob, it becomes the Edit Pitch tool; positioned at the beginning or end, it becomes the Edit Time tool; and positioned above or below a blob, it becomes the Note Separation tool. Right-clicking (or Control-clicking on a Mac) on the cursor, however, unleashes a wider set of combi tools that efficiently streamlines the editing of deeper parameters such as pitch modulation, formant, amplitude, position and note length.
Arrangement editing has received several shots in the arm as well. Melodies can be edited directly on their tracks, and track sorting has been improved due to a simple nudge up/down mechanism. A separate mode is newly available for tempo editing and tempo definitions in the Arrangement window, making those procedures more transparent than in previous versions. Global tempo parameters are now located in the Transport pane, as well as a new Autostretch function that makes it very intuitive to lock edits dependent or independent of tempo control.
Another pair of brilliant features snagged from Melodyne Uno are the Correct Pitch and Quantize Time macros, which — by performing a couple mouse-clicks — can automatically correct the most common intonation and timing flaws in vocal and instrumental recordings. The Correct Pitch macro lets you snap slightly out-of-tune notes precisely to their correct pitches or, if you prefer, closer to the correct pitch. What's handy here is that the macro allows for individual setting of Correct Pitch Center and Correct Pitch Drift using sliders. Pitch-center can be thought of as the axis around which natural vibrato may occur; setting it to 100 percent produces a mechanical-like perfection, whereas lower, more conservative values can sound more natural and musical. Pitch-drift, on the other hand, is an incredibly powerful distinction in the macro that follows and corrects, for example, the poor breathing technique of a singer who, on long notes, consistently loses his wind and goes flat or overcompensates and becomes pitchy. Because it understands between vibrato and drifting, the two are adjustable completely independently of each other and to varying degrees. That is a powerful feature for any vocal perfectionist.
The Quantize Time macro gives you a quick and convenient way to correct timing and note-length errors in one swoop, with various groove references and a creative quantize/requantize timebar. Another time-saving tool worth mentioning is the new batch processing in the Melody Manager, which allows you to trigger the analysis of an entire folder, including any subfolders, for audio libraries you have on disk. If you are processing a set of files of the same type (such as the same singer or guitar session), you can also create and store your own recognition templates containing detection filters and parameter restrictions.
MILD TO WILD
Melodyne excels at improving and improvising vocals and instrument tracks. It even handles note transitions and phrasing intelligently as you shuffle things around, so you're not likely to have any oddball jumps between blobs (unless you're after that notorious Cher/Autotune effect, which Melodyne can perfect as well). Creating doubles, ensembles or harmonies from a single track is a snap, and you can really become entranced for hours on end trying out different voicings that would surely drive “real” performers around the bend.
In addition, Melodyne shines as a twisted sound-design palette and effects generator for remixing, especially with its new polyphonic features. For example, you can stretch a minutely short note or audio glitch to such an extent that it is transformed into a fascinating, soft, round, minute-long sound continuum. Melodyne has always been able to reproduce detected melodies as MIDI data, retaining accurate pitch, dynamics, tempo and phrasing in the conversion. But now, specific response contouring parameters are clearly laid out in a dedicated inspector that can be made always visible at the top of the Editor or Arrange window. Using that facility, I fine-tuned the Velocity and pitch-bend parameters to suitably double a recorded electric lead guitar with a grating Nine Inch Nails — style patch on a Clavia Nord Rack 3. Tracking was stupendous, and the provision to choose between three types of pitch algorithms made selecting one that most favorably tracked the pitch glides of the guitar a breeze. It was also fun making the amplitude of a dynamic vocalist control the filter cutoff and LFO speed of a crazy synth pad sitting behind the lead vocal track. The beauty of this type of control in Melodyne is that as you move, pitch and stretch the audio from the time you begin your project until the time you finish, you don't have to worry once about re-recording or mirror-editing your synth tracks; the conversion is always done in real time.
On the flip side, almost all Melodyne parameters are controllable and automatable via MIDI. For instance, you can play notes in step-time — causing the audio to jump to the melody you enter from a keyboard controller — or force audio to follow the melody of an imported MIDI track. Hooking up and mapping a hardware control surface under MIDI Remote Control mode opens many cool avenues to explore.
After discovering how beautifully smooth the Poly/Percussive algorithm sounds, it didn't take long to start messing with the scrub feature to see just how well the program could track under critical extremes. On a remix, I took a nice-sounding, sustained blob portion of a female vocal and slowly scrubbed through it, performing back-and-forth motions by sliding the mouse across the time ruler and using different start and stop points on each pass. That produced a lush, animated pad-type sound, but with the familiarities of the singer and song. I could then set that scrub automation into a loop and play a melody on that pad, controlling its pitch and formants. Stalling a scrub and allowing a full polyphonic audio blob to hang on a single formant in time, and then slowly ramping it back into motion, was a great trick. Imagine the possibilities of creating unusual transition elements or alternative breakdowns from entire mixes that way. It's the 21st century version of the reverse-grains effect — only 1,000 times smoother and more musical.
It was also a pleasant surprise to see (and hear) that heavily processed tracks don't throw off the accuracy of note detection. That is a major advancement from previous versions, where even the slightest hint of reverb on a track could confuse its processing. That said, there's always the chance that an erroneous detection can still occur from time to time, or that Melodyne won't quite “see” the music the same way that your artistic side does. But you can adjust for such errors without any interruption to your workflow.
BUY IN A PITCH
On the wish list: Melodyne's current intelligence should allow it to split generally melodic and harmonic elements away from generally rhythmic elements of an audio file into two workable entities. Such a feature would be extremely powerful and useful in many contexts. More advanced audio-editing features would also be welcome. Currently, it's impossible to do simple things such as reverse, crossfade or apply envelopes to audio blobs; you can maneuver only the detected pitch and amplitude curves, which emphasizes the need for a pencil tool for drawing in curves for creating vibrato where none exists.
Melodyne3 is close to being the ideal remix producer's toolkit. On its own, it holds its ground as a self-contained, multitrack production environment while taking the pain out of working with audio tracks from disparate tempo and pitch/key sources — something remixers do on a daily basis. Its penchant for inspiring creative sound design is invaluable to electronic music producers.
MELODYNE3 STUDIO > $699
Pros: Outstanding time, pitch and formant shifting. No longer limited to simple melodies. Works with full polyphonic and textural-rich material. Automatic analysis of the audio material. Powerful macros for the correction of intonation and timing errors. Improved graphic interface. Faster than before.
Cons: Unable to create new pitch and amplitude modulation contours. Could use more advanced audio-editing features.
Mac: G3/400 MHz; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.3.9 or later; CoreAudio-compatible hardware
PC: Pentium III/400 MHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows XP; ASIO2-compatible hardware