Celemony Melodyne editor (Mac/Win) Review

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FIG. 1: Celemony Melodyne editor''s Note Assignment mode and notation view. Here, the plug-in''s initial transcription of polyphonic audio shows too few notes as being active (fundamental pitches).

One of the most highly anticipated product releases of the year, Celemony Melodyne editor adds to previous versions of Melodyne the ability to alter the pitches of individual notes in polyphonic audio. In doing so, the software promises to be able to tune chords and counterpoint arrangements that were previously recorded with out-of-tune instruments. Legacy functions—pitch, time, formant, and amplitude manipulations of melodic (monophonic) and percussive (nonpitched) audio—have also been greatly enhanced by an expanded feature set in the new release.

The cross-platform Melodyne editor comes in both plug-in (AU, RTAS, VST, and VST3) and standalone versions. I tested Version 1.0.11 of both the standalone and AU versions (the latter in MOTU Digital Performer 6.02) on an 8-core 2.8GHz Mac Pro running Mac OS X 10.5.4. My review focuses mainly on what''s new in the plug-in version of Melodyne editor.

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FIG. 2: Dragging the orange icon (below the tool palette) slightly to the right makes more notes active in Melodyne editor''s editing area. The notation view also reflects the changes.

Gene Therapy
Celemony dubs its polyphonic pitch-processing technology DNA, or Direct Note Access. To use DNA, you first transfer audio into Melodyne editor exactly as you have with previous versions. Melodyne editor then displays all notes it was able to identify on the familiar pitch and time grids. Transcribing polyphonic audio is an extremely complex task, and Melodyne editor will virtually never get it exactly right without considerable help on your part. A new Note Assignment mode lets you edit Melodyne''s display to more accurately depict what notes were actually played.

In Note Assignment mode, fundamental pitches are shown as solid blobs (Active Blobs, in Melodyne parlance), whereas harmonics and atonal components (for example, frequencies generated by the scrape of a violin''s bow) are shown as hollow blobs (called Potential Blobs; see Fig. 1). You''ll notice some fundamental pitches are incorrectly shown as harmonics, and vice versa. Some of the notes that were played might not be displayed at all. Melodyne editor''s Note Assignment tool lets you correct these transcription inaccuracies.

A few bars of polyphonic material can be displayed as scores of fundamental notes, harmonics, and atonal artifacts in Melodyne editor''s display. To simplify and hasten your Note Assignment mode edits, the program offers several helpful functions. Directly below the tools palette are two controls (depicted by orange and crescent-shaped icons) situated along a slider. Moving these changes the number of notes that will be displayed and how many will be shown as active blobs, respectively (see Fig. 2). By dragging the pair of Venetian Blinds vertically along the pitch grid, you can delimit the range of pitches across which Melodyne editor will make any blobs active (see Fig. 3).

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FIG. 3: Dragging the Venetian Blinds delimits the pitch range in which notes can be activated, facilitating note assignments.

Failure to accurately edit Melodyne editor''s note assignments can result in unintentional editing of the pitch of a harmonic instead of a fundamental. Melodyne editor offers an onboard tone generator (the Monitoring Synthesizer) to let you hear each active blob as a synthesized tone instead of as the recorded sound during playback. That can sometimes make it easier to analyze whether you''ve made the proper note assignments. Enabling Melodyne editor''s Notation view (a legacy feature) helps schooled musicians analyze the program''s transcription at a glance, including whether blobs were relegated to the correct octave range. That''s especially important because there''s no pitch reference such as A440 marked in the pitch ruler to help you determine which octave contains the blobs for fundamentals.

Once you''re certain that Melodyne editor''s transcription of polyphonic material is correct, leave Note Assignment mode by selecting any tool in the program''s palette. Now you can correct the pitch, pitch modulation, pitch drift, formant, and so on for any note in the editing area just as you would with monophonic material.

Here again, Melodyne editor offers some terrific new features for facilitating your work. It lets you monitor the sound of individual or multiple selected blobs while your DAW''s transport is stopped, effectively soloing them. Or create a loop in Melodyne editor''s bar ruler to cycle-play selected blobs within a portion of the timeline. You can even scrub playback of selected blobs while your DAW''s transport is stopped.

DAW Shucks
Blob monitoring, cycling, and scrubbing may not work in Digital Performer (DP) because of the way that DAW optimizes CPU resources. DP theoretically mutes the output of all plug-ins when its transport is stopped. But strangely enough, I was able to use all of Melodyne editor''s blob monitoring, cycling, and scrubbing functions in DP 6.02. Your mileage may vary. In any case, you can always use the standalone version of Melodyne editor to access these functions.

You transfer audio into the standalone Melodyne editor by dragging and dropping its file into the display. (You can also record audio directly into the standalone version.) You can specify that bar 1 of the standalone program''s timeline begins at the start of the file, including any silence that precedes the first musical note played. That way, you can edit the material to your heart''s content and rest assured that it will sync perfectly to other tracks once you import it back into your DAW.

Whether you use the plug-in or the standalone version of Melodyne editor, editing the pitches of polyphonic material is inherently more daunting than doing the same for melodic content. Melodyne editor provides a bevy of new selection tools that aid immensely. Clicking on a note in the pitch ruler selects all notes at that pitch, allowing you to tune them all at once by the same amount (this is the virtual equivalent of turning a tuning peg on a guitar, for example). Shift-click in the pitch ruler to add blobs at additional pitches to your selection. Or click and drag in the pitch ruler to select all blobs across a contiguous pitch range. A new Snake Selection function lets you paint over blobs at different pitches with your mouse to select them. Melodyne editor offers many more new selection commands.

If an instrument was tuned sharp or flat overall compared to A440 standard tuning, Melodyne editor will suggest one or more new reference pitches in its Reference Pitch window. You can also type in your own reference pitch. Once you make your choice, Melodyne editor''s entire pitch ruler and grid will shift to reflect the new pitch centers. This makes it a lot easier to adjust the intonation of instruments that are not tuned to A440, as is intentionally the case for some classical music.

Acid Test
Like previous versions of Melodyne, Melodyne editor needs clean, undistorted audio to work optimally. I intentionally detuned a couple strings on my Strat and then recorded two bars of my strumming, using a clean tone with no distortion or effects. I then attempted to tune the polyphonic recording with Melodyne editor.

Polyphonic pitch correction was, in a word, difficult. Half the challenge was determining which note assignments needed to be activated or deactivated after the program''s initial transcription of fundamental pitches, overtones, and atonal artifacts. Schooling in music theory (specifically harmony) and ear-training are imperative if you hope to tune musical arrangements with which you''re not familiar.

Once I was certain my note assignments were correct, I attempted to tune my guitar track. I had limited success. Even after working for a couple of hours with Melodyne editor on my two-bar wonder, I couldn''t get it to sound perfectly in tune. My results were considerably improved, but still unsatisfactory to my ear (see Web Clips 1 and 2). The pitch-edited track sounded slightly phasey and exhibited less air and depth. But my main concern was that while monitoring individual blobs whose pitches I had edited, I noticed their overtones were often discordant with their fundamental pitches.

Still a Great Program
Melodyne editor''s handling of melodic and percussive material is vastly improved because of the addition of terrific new features (available also for polyphonic editing). Parameter-specific undos allow you to null one or more parameters without affecting the others'' settings. For example, when I went too far pitch-correcting a vocal into lifeless submission, the Reset Specific Edits > Pitch command restored the original pitches without undoing any of my edits of pitch modulation, drift, and transitions on the same blobs. What a lifesaver! In addition to pitch reset, similar null commands are available for pitch modulation; pitch drift; formants; amplitude; and transitions for pitch, formants, and amplitude.

The horizontal and vertical sliders for the editing area are now segmented to create three separate scrolling and zooming handles for each slider. These handles made it much less likely I would accidentally scroll when I wanted to zoom, and vice versa. Another slider lets you make blobs bigger without zooming the pitch and time grids. I found this immensely helpful when editing a quiet vocal track. The Show Blob Info option displays a miniature pitch ruler next to blobs you hover over with your mouse.

Where lead vocals were copied from the first chorus and pasted into other choruses of a song, I could also copy and paste to the same sections the blobs I edited for the vocals'' first chorus. Gone are the days of laboriously repeating the same edits elsewhere in a song for exactly the same parts.

I gave Melodyne editor a 3 rating for Ease of Use and Audio Quality because its polyphonic pitch processing is inherently difficult to use and sounds flawed, yet its melodic and percussive editing capabilities are better than ever and arguably unrivalled. The raft of new editing features—including parameter-specific undos, numerous selection commands, and copy-and-paste capabilities—make upgrading to Melodyne editor from previous versions a no-brainer.

Hopefully Celemony can more artfully execute polyphonic pitch correction in a future version. Regardless, Melodyne editor is still a must-have program for everything else it does so incredibly well.

EM contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore. Visit him at www.myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording.

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