Fig. 1. The Vocalizer has an uncluttered layout; while most controls will be familiar, the Primary and Second Voice sections open up new possibilities for vocal processing.
Format: VST/AU/RTAS, cross-platform
Price: $149.99 MSRP, $100 street
Think of it this way: The guy who invented “Auto- Tuning the news” walks into SONiVOX and says “I need to take this to the next level. I want weird resonances, and processing, and the ability to get fairly standard vocal sounds or really twist things around. Oh, and I want to be able to put other instruments through this processor too; the warbling vocal fad won’t last forever. And I don’t want it to be too expensive. Can you do it?”
If this is what happened, then apparently SONiVOX said “yes.” It’s been ages since I ran into a product where I had no idea what some of the parameters were actually controlling, but the Vocalizer is not like any other processor. If pressed, I’d relate it to a vocoder; but that’s only one of the possible sounds it delivers, not the technology behind it. Even the term “Vocalizer” isn’t very descriptive, as it works with signal sources other than voice, and creates effects that aren’t necessarily vocal in nature.
The Vocalizer is a MIDI-controlled audio processor, and different DAWs handle this type of plug-in differently. For example, in Ableton Live, you insert the Vocalizer as a processor in an audio track, then create a MIDI track and assign its output to the audio track. In Sonar, you need to use the Plug-In Manager to specify Vocalizer as an instrument, not just a processor. You can then insert it in an audio track as you would an audio effect, and create a MIDI track whose output “sees” the Vocalizer’s MIDI input.
The interface has four main sections (Figure 1), along with a virtual keyboard along the bottom. Let’s look at three familiar sections first.
· Time-based effect, with delay up to three seconds and chorus on separate tabs. The stereo delay is fairly conventional, aside from the inclusion of lowpass and highpass filters. Each delay can have its own sync-to-tempo. The chorus has the standard initial delay, feedback, LFO, and mix controls. The long delay should delight looping fans.
· Four-band EQ. The outer bands are low and high shelves, with two parametric stages. The frequency control for all stages covers from 20Hz to 20kHz.
· Primary Voice filter. There are two “voices,” and this filter affects one of them. It has five different filter responses, velocity control over frequency, saturation (nice), and LFO.
There’s also a non-polyphonic portamento control for the MIDI keyboard.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY VOICES
This is the fouth section and the Vocalizer’s heart, which is definitely uncharted territory. The Secondary Voice by itself is the most “vocoderlike”— speak into a mic, play the keyboard, and whatever you “say” is transformed into “sung,” including harmonies. The only controls are Volume and Tune (Coarse and Fine). The sound is rather resonant, like a vocoder with a lot of bands, and any words are quite intelligible unless you drop pitch considerably. You’re going to hear this on a lot of hits.
The Primary Voice is—well, just turn the dials and listen to what happens. Some settings resemble a flanger set for a long delay but with no sweep, others like some strange digital filtering, and one setting made my voice seem as if it had been morphed with some kind of Harmonium, both of which had ingested a potent psychedelic. There are two identical sets of controls (Scale, Position, and Spread), and if those labels don’t make sense to you, don’t feel bad—they don’t make sense to me either. The Primary voice gives useful effects all by itself, but also provides interesting layering with the somewhat more conventional Secondary voice.
I’d like to see a MIDI learn option for the controls, because you can do amazing effects by altering parameter values in real time. One workaround is automating a parameter, then tying the automation to a MIDI controller. There are also no “tooltips” to show parameter values as you alter them. For example, the Secondary Voice Tune control has markings at –12, 0, and +12; double-clicking returns to zero. After that, you’re on your own. You can always listen, but for finding a particular pitch fast, better calibrations, tooltips, or adding a modifier key to quantize to semitones would be helpful. Finally, the delay has only one dotted value—quarter note. I’d like to see at least a dotted half-note option (I’m sure a lot of other DJs would, too) and dotted whole note; of course, you can always add a delay plug-in afterward for other delays.
But these are relatively minor points—the bottom line is that the Vocalizer is big fun. With voice, it can do amazing effects for dance tracks, commercials, background vocals, alien voices, and a lot more; check out the SONiVOX site for examples. It’s also intriguing with other instruments—I’ve posted eight examples with drums on the EQ magazine site.
Overall, the Vocalizer is one of the most original and unusual effects to come across my path in a long time—I plan to use the daylights out of it before everyone else does.
The Great Big Vocal Roundup
Celemony Melodyne Editor
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