Review: Auto-Tune Pro

The most famous plugin ever is back with both new and old sounds!
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It’s been a long time coming — about three and a half years — but Antares finally released Auto-Tune Pro (VST, AU, AAX), the new version of its industry-standard vocal-tuning plugin. Highlights include a redesigned look and some cool new features, a returning legacy feature, and even a new helper plugin called Auto-Key. So let’s dive right in.

Besides a new look and new features, Auto-Tune Pro offers a helper plugin called Auto-Key (shown at top).

Besides a new look and new features, Auto-Tune Pro offers a helper plugin called Auto-Key (shown at top).

IN THE DARK

When you first open Auto-Tune Pro, you’ll see a vast difference in the look of the GUI compared to the much lighter-colored Auto-Tune 8. The new background is dark grey, almost black, instead of silver, the essential knobs are much bigger and the overall design is more contemporary.

As with Auto-Tune 8, Auto-Tune Pro lets you choose from two different workflows. Auto-Mode (formerly Automatic Mode) offers a more passive approach but works in real time to correct the pitch of a vocal. Graph Mode has a more similar workflow to Celemony Melodyne, in that you must first capture the audio in real time, and then edit it. Graph Mode requires more user participation to get good results, but is considerably more powerful, and even facilitates limited time correction.

GLOBALIZATION

A selection of Global controls is visible no matter which mode you’ve set. These include Input Type, for setting the type of voice (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Low Male, Instrument, Bass Instrument); Key and Scale, which are essential to configure correctly for the best results.

Other global parameters include the Formant button, which automatically ensures that notes that are shifted by large amounts don’t suffer from the chipmunk or Darth Vader effects, but rather stay as natural-sounding as possible. If you want to add such effects or more subtle timber changes, the Throat button lets you access Antares' Throat Modeling processes.

Another Global control lets you turn on the “new, old” feature, Classic Mode, which recreates the Auto-Tune 5 sound – the one that defined the iconic sound of Auto-Tune as used by T-Pain and others. Because many of Auto-Tune Pro’s features had not been invented in the days of Auto-Tune 5, Format, Throat Length, Transpose, Flex-Tune and time correcting are all disabled when you turn on Classic Mode.

MODALITIES

With Auto-Tune Pro, Antares offers two different view options for Auto Mode: Basic and Advanced. The former is simplified, and contains the four most essential parameter knobs for real-time tuning: Retune Speed, Flex-Tune, Humanize and Natural Vibrato.

For those unfamiliar, Retune Speed determines how quickly Auto-Tune corrects a note. The faster it’s set, the quicker Auto-Tune’s correction is applied to a note, and the closer you get to the “Auto-Tune Sound.” That’s the T-Pain-style vocal effect that has become a cliché of modern production.

If you’re going for a more natural sound, you need to set the Retune Speed as slow as possible while still correcting the off-key notes. It also helps to turn up the Flex-Tune, a feature added in Auto-Tune 8. With Flex-Tune set at 0, Auto- Tune starts to correct a note as soon as it detects it. Higher settings tell Auto-Tune to wait to apply correction until the note is closer to the pitch. This keeps it from acting on scooped notes and other flourishes by the singer, which would otherwise be corrected, potentially removing the personality of the performance.

The Humanize parameter automatically slows down the Retune Speed on sustained notes, which otherwise are more heavily corrected than shorter notes. It’s harder to maintain transparent correction on sustained notes, so if those are causing the track to sound “Auto-Tuned,” it’s helpful to turn up the Humanize setting.

The final parameter knob in Basic view is Natural Vibrato, which reduces or exaggerates a vocalist’s vibrato. In the Advanced view of Auto- Mode, you can even create vibrato using sine- and square-wave modulators.

ADVANCING FORWARD

The new Advanced view not only offers the main parameter knobs from Basic view but adds vibrato-creation features and the ability to specify notes to bypass or remove from the correction. These can both be critical settings depending on the situation. If you Bypass a note, Auto-Tune will leave that note unprocessed. This could be really useful if there’s one part of the song where the singer always approaches a note in a way that you want to preserve but that would be negatively impacted by Auto-Tune’s correction.

The Remove setting is also critical because it lets you tell Auto-Tune to never correct a specific pitch. I found it really helpful when processing an upright bass part. The player’s intonation was often a little bit shaky when sliding from F to G, which in this particular song, he did a lot. With the correction on, that F often got corrected to F# by Auto-Tune Pro. By removing F#, the F notes that were a bit sharp were always corrected to F rather than F#, and the part sounded a lot more in tune.

Advanced Auto-Mode also houses the options for controlling real-time MIDI input, so that you can use your MIDI keyboard or other controllers to tell Auto-Tune what pitch to correct a particular note to. These are not new features, they existed in previous versions, but are hidden in Basic Mode in Auto-Tune Pro, making it more of an “idiot-proof” mode, for lack of a better word.

IN GRAPH WE TRUST

FIG. 1: Graph Mode, which gives you manual control over pitch and time correction, has been given a larger display and six zoom presets, making its workflow easier.

FIG. 1: Graph Mode, which gives you manual control over pitch and time correction, has been given a larger display and six zoom presets, making its workflow easier.

Graph Mode (see Fig. 1) is Auto-Tune Pro’s most powerful and flexible editing environment, allowing you to apply correction manually, and even use entirely different settings for each note, if need be. You do first have to capture the audio in real-time, allowing Auto-Tune Pro to make a copy of it upon which you edit, but once you do, you’re ready to access all the Graph Mode features.

You can drag notes around in pitch, draw in correction curves, adjust Retune speed on a note-by-note or section-by-section basis, and more. If you use the Time and Pitch option to capture the audio, rather than just Pitch, you can even do a limited amount of time correction. The Time Correction is a little tricky to learn how to use but can be useful for lengthening and shortening notes, within a reasonably small range, to match those in other tracks.

Although Auto-Tune Pro didn’t add any new correction features in Graph Mode, it’s been redesigned to have a more efficient and user-friendly workflow. The Graph window itself is larger than that in Auto-Tune 8 and it now features Zoom State buttons, which are zoom presets that can be custom assigned by the user. Assigning a zoom state to one of the buttons is as simple as holding down Option (Alt on Windows) and clicking on one of the buttons.

These buttons are extremely helpful because in Graph Mode you frequently have to change both vertical and horizontal zoom settings as you’re working. But even with the presets, I still found Graph mode to be frustrating from a visual standpoint, because not only did I have to zoom in and out often, but I had to scroll backward and forward to keep notes in sight after zooming. I don’t know how hard it would be to implement, but a scalable GUI like you find in FabFilter’s plugins or in Melodyne would make editing in Graph Mode a lot more comfortable.

ARA AND AUTO-KEY

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Auto-Tune Pro’s VST3 version supports Audio Random Access (ARA) technology, which is currently not found in many DAWs. It allows you to skip the capturing step for Graph Mode. The audio data is automatically populated into Auto-Tune.

I was able to test this out in Studio One Three, and it worked well. It did require that I open the plugin as an Event FX, which you do by dragging the VST3 version of Auto-Tune Pro into the track you want to process while holding down the Option (Alt) key. If you’re only working on a couple of tracks, the ARA support is not that consequential, but if you had to correct a large number of tracks, it could be a real time saver.

Auto Key is a new helper plugin that comes with Auto-Tune Pro, and it serves two functions: First, it’s a key and scale detector that can be used on a track in your project, or an external audio file. Secondly, and more importantly, it can send the key and scale info (which you can also enter manually into it) to all instances of Auto-Tune in your session. So, if you’re processing a lot of tracks, it’s really convenient.

TUNING IN, TUNING OUT

While Auto-Tune Pro’s new feature list is a little bit on the sparse side, considering it’s been over three years since Auto-Tune 8 came out, the new features that have been included are useful and well implemented. The new GUI is more comfortable on the eye and better organized, and the new Basic Mode will appeal to those who just want to throw Auto-Tune Pro onto their vocal tracks with minimal settings and let it do its automatic thing. The new Graph Mode workflow features are helpful, especially the Zoom presets. For those who’ve longed for the Auto-Tune 5 sound to come back, Classic Mode will be much appreciated.

Overall, Auto-Tune Pro is a supremely powerful tool for tuning vocals or monophonic instrument tracks. While it doesn’t offer the polyphonic and multitrack support of Melodyne Editor, it does what it does really well, and is a lot less expensive. Upgrade pricing is available for owners of previous versions.

STRENGTHS
Effective vocal and instrument pitch correction. New design of GUI is sleek and functional. Basic Mode makes correction easy. Graph Mode offers powerful, manual pitch correction. New Zoom presets improve Graph Mode’s workflow. Classic Mode brings back Auto-Tune 5 sound. ARA access convenient when working with supported DAWs. Auto-Key simplifies sessions with multiple instances of Auto-Tune Pro. Reasonably priced.

LIMITATIONS
Graph Mode display needs to be bigger. Time-correction range limited. Only works on monophonic audio. Can’t edit multiple tracks in a single window.

$399
Upgrade pricing: All Previous Auto-Tune Versions (Except VST LE) $129.00
Auto-Tune VST LE $299.00
Auto-Tune Live $149.00
Auto-Tune EFX $269.00
Antarestech.com

Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from the New York area, and is the Technical Editor — Studio for Mix. Check out his website at www.michaelwilliamlevine.com.