Since its introduction six years ago, Celemony Software's Melodyne has earned its place in the pantheon of pitch- and time-processing software. And although still not cheap, Melodyne Studio 3.2.1, the company's flagship product, costs roughly a third less than version 1.0, which EM reviewed in the July 2002 issue (available online at www.emusician.com). It is also a far more sophisticated product.
Melodyne Studio 3 is standalone software, but it integrates with other audio software in three ways: It can act as a ReWire host or client. You can use the included Melodyne Bridge plug-in to route audio between Melodyne Studio and your DAW, a process similar to using ReWire but with 2-way audio linking. Finally, you can use the new Melodyne plug-in to perform Melodyne's more basic monophonic functions completely within your DAW.
FIG. 1: Melodyne's Editor window displays notes as Blobs that can be relocated in pitch and time.
Up and Running
The standalone software and its attendant plug-ins are available for Windows XP and Vista as well as Mac OS X, including Universal Binary. The Melodyne Bridge plug-in comes in AU, VST, and RTAS formats, and the Melodyne plug-in additionally supports DXi on the PC. For this review, I installed Melodyne Studio 3.2.1, the Melodyne Bridge 3.2.1 plug-in, the Melodyne 1.0.2 plug-in, and Melodyne ReWire 3.2.1 on a dual 2 GHz Power Mac G5 running Mac OS X 10.4.8.
Authorization is accomplished online using the Melodyne Activation Assistant the first time the program is launched, but you can authorize offline if necessary. The authorization attaches to you rather than your computer, so if you change computers, you can request a new license. You can also choose to transfer your license to an iLok key.
Although pitch-shifting, time-stretching, and formant manipulation are at the core of Melodyne's technology, these processes are only the beginning. In addition to monophonic, melodic material, you can process both polyphonic parts and unpitched material such as percussion. Furthermore, the standalone program is a multitrack audio sequencer, and although it is rather limited compared with most professional DAWs, its multitracking is perfect for creating background harmonies for a melody and for pitch- and time-matching different audio parts.
The Intrepid Blob
Whichever approach you take — standalone, ReWire, Bridge, or plug-in — you start by loading or transferring audio to the program for processing. It then presents you with a pitch-and-time analysis of the audio that you manipulate in an Editor window. Audio events are represented by Blobs in the Editor (see Fig. 1).
For melodic material, a Blob's vertical position indicates its average pitch, and a thin line within the Blob indicates transient pitch changes such as scoops, falls, vibrato, and so on. The vertical width of the Blob represents instantaneous amplitude, so the Blob is, in effect, an amplitude envelope. Blobs are arranged horizontally on a timeline with vertical lines connecting adjacent Blobs.
The resemblance to a MIDI piano-roll editor is no accident; you have much the same control over audio events as you have over notes with MIDI. For example, notice the transcription of audio to score at the top of the Editor window in Fig. 1. That turns out to be uncannily accurate, and you can export it as a MIDI file or use it to play virtual instruments directly in the standalone program.
You get tools for editing all aspects of a Blob. You can move a Blob vertically by semitones or cents, you can reshape its pitch transients, you can alter its amplitude envelope, you can move it in time, and you can time-stretch it from either end (adjacent Blobs adjust automatically). You can also effect key changes, pitch correction, tempo changes, and quantization. For a quick fix, you'll find tools in both the standalone and plug-in versions to automate pitch correction and quantization.
FIG. 2: Melodyne's Arrangement window is laid out like a basic multitrack audio sequencer.
All Together Now
One of the program's best tricks is quick creation of thickening tracks — multiple parts with slight variations in pitch, timing, and timbre. In any multitrack instance of the application (standalone, ReWire, or Bridge), doubling a part with small random variations on a new track is as easy as selecting all its notes in the Editor window and then Alt-Shift-clicking. Alternatively, you can drag-and-drop the Blobs vertically to create a harmony part, and you can even force the notes to stay within a designated key signature. In any case, the new part is placed on the closest empty track in the Arrangement window for multitrack playback. Repeat the procedure several times, and you have an instant horn section or background vocals. Creating new parts this way is never quite as authentic as separately recording parts, but a little hand editing of formants and pitch transients can add a lot of realism (see Fig. 2 and Web Clip 1).
You can easily double a part with a synth track by routing Melodyne's audio-to-MIDI analysis to a virtual instrument track in the standalone application. But the most flexible approach is to export the MIDI track and use it in your DAW, because Melodyne does not offer MIDI editing. Alternatively, you can route MIDI in real time using ReWire or an internal MIDI bus, but latency issues make that the least convenient approach.
Melodyne Studio works surprisingly well with polyphonic material, including complete mixes. It does not detect individual notes within chords, so their relative pitches always remain the same. But it does now offer formant correction for polyphonic material, and the results are surprisingly good. You can shift the pitch of chordal loops such as guitar, piano, horns, and strings up or down a few semitones with barely noticeable artificiality (see Web Clip 2). With some material, you can even shift whole mixes. That's enough to add life to your worn-out loop library.
Not by Pitch Alone
Melodyne's time-stretching is exceptional compared with most DAWs' built-in time-stretching as well as with that of other dedicated time-manipulation software. I was usually able to make melodic, polyphonic, and percussion parts at least 30 percent longer or shorter without noticeable artifacts. The range is somewhat lower for ambient material and a bit higher for tight, unpitched parts, which I was often able to double or halve in tempo.
You can create tempo changes in a multitrack arrangement, but you can't draw smooth tempo curves. One alternative is to save a tempo track from a MIDI sequencer (your DAW, for instance) and have Melodyne extract its tempo changes from that. But it's probably easier to use one of the methods of integrating the program with your DAW, in which case it will follow your DAW's tempo changes. I tested that process with a 4-track arrangement in Ableton Live 6 using a separate instance of the Melodyne plug-in for each track. The results were better sounding than with Live's already excellent time-warping, and the added CPU drain was negligible.
Because the program treats audio events like MIDI, you can also quantize and modify their timing in other ways. Although you can do this one way or another in most DAWs, Melodyne makes it almost a no-brainer.
FIG. 3: With the Melodyne plug-in, you can directly process individual audio tracks in your DAW.
By Any Means
ReWire is the most straightforward way to integrate the program with your DAW. For one thing, it's a familiar process: two standalone applications, each loaded with its own project, are linked in terms of audio, MIDI, tempo, and transport.
Melodyne Bridge goes a step beyond ReWire in that it transfers audio from your DAW to Melodyne tracks. You edit the audio in Melodyne Studio, and then Bridge takes care of playing it back in your DAW. You do not need to load and position audio tracks manually, but the process of transferring the audio is akin to real-time recording, and when you move audio around in your DAW, you need to transfer it again. Once I got used to the process, I preferred using Bridge to using ReWire when I wanted to access the full power of the application's multitrack editing from within my DAW.
The third alternative is the new Melodyne plug-in (see Fig. 3 and Web Clip 3). The plug-in inserts a single track of processing in a DAW audio channel and does not launch or rely on the standalone application. That's the easiest way to accomplish basic pitch and formant correction. When I wanted to process multiple tracks, for example to follow a tempo track, I often found that using several instances of the Melodyne plug-in was still the quickest and most transparent solution. The plug-in is included with Melodyne Studio, but if it is all you really need, you can purchase it separately for $299.
This and That
I might quibble about the lack of some convenience features in its implementation of multitracking, but that's ancillary to the program's main purpose. The printed manual and online documentation are excellent. Earlier versions came with a CD of demo sounds from the Ueberschall Liquid Instrument collection, developed in conjunction with Celemony. These are handy but not essential for learning the program, and the titles in the collection are now available from Celemony as the Melodyne Sound Library.
Melodyne Studio is a standout product. It is priced at the high end for vocal-processing software, but it also goes well beyond basic vocal processing. From tracking to mixing to postproduction and remixing, I can't think of a part of the musical process that wouldn't benefit from its presence in your arsenal.
Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful and free refreshments, visit his Web site atwww.swiftkick.com.
GUIDE TO EM METERS
5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed
Melodyne Studio 3.2.1
pitch- and time-shifting software
FEATURES5EASE OF USE4AUDIO QUALITY5VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Top-quality pitch and time manipulation. Plug-in convenience or standalone operation. Excellent printed manual. Generous authorization policy.
CONS: Rudimentary multitracking implementation. No MIDI editing.