Fig. 1 Auto-Tune 7: It''s not just for making Katie Couric sing her news report.
That''s right—Antares'' Auto-Tune is the best-selling audio plug-in ever. I''ll skip the philosophical discussion over what that says about both our collective desire for pitch perfection and our inability to obtain it without digital help—many engineers are finding ways to use Auto-Tune (and other pitch-correction software) both to solve problems and create new effects for vocals as well as instruments. And I''m certainly not referring to the well-known, wildly overused extreme-setting application, which is, remarkably, well into its second decade of making purists cringe.
The Auto-Tune 7 GUI hasn''t changed much from Auto-Tune Evo (reviewed in the October 2009 EM). By far, the biggest enhancement in Auto-Tune is the addition of Time Correction tools, which allow altering a performance''s timing from within the Graphical interface window. Auto-Tune''s two modes—Automatic and Graphical—each open their own panes underneath the global settings. Automatic Mode works its magic in real time (although with 2,660 samples of latency at 44.1kHz in Pro Tools), while Graphical Mode entails recording audio from your track into the plug-in, which then takes over playback of the tracked audio from the host. (This happens in different ways, depending whether you use Time Correction; see below.) Aside from enhanced pitch-detection algorithms for both modes, Auto-Tune 7''s new features deal almost exclusively with Graphical Mode functions.
Installation is quite easy, but requires an iLok account and dongle ($50). I''ve been running Auto-Tune 7 in Pro Tools 9 on my 2.2GHz MacBook with 4GB RAM, obtaining up to five simultaneous instances before encountering processor errors. (I can get a few more instances in my Pro Tools HD 8.1 studio setup on an 8-core Mac Pro with 6GB RAM.) On both systems, I experienced a couple of crashes when using the line tool to pencil in extensive pitch-correction data, but overall, the software has been quite stable. (Neither Antares nor other customers have been able to reproduce this crash, so it''s likely system-specific.)
LET'S GET GRAPHICAL
Loading the audio into the Time Correction engine is simple; the audio records into the plug-in in real time, giving you a highly useful overview of the waveform''s amplitude behind the editing display''s familiar pitch-tracking curves. Another amplitude display below the editing window can be either a zoomed-out overview of all tracked audio, or a direct mirror of the editing window''s time selection. The bottom display splits into two waveforms during Time Correction, displaying the original timing on the bottom and the corrected timing on the top. This is extremely handy for quickly seeing edits.
There are two tools for making those timing changes. The Move Point tool selects a length of time wherein you do your editing; you can then drag a single time event earlier or later, while sympathetically compressing and expanding the surrounding audio within the selection. The Move Region works similarly, except that you make a second region selection within the initial time range. Whatever audio falls within that region stays intact relative to itself against the rest of the selection when dragged into place. I found both of these tools incredibly easy to operate, and could make very transparent timing alterations. I also sometimes enjoyed abusing these controls to extend short notes into artificially long ones, yielding interesting “unnatural” artifacts.
The new split display at the bottom of the Graphical window clearly displays time-correction edits.
When using Time Correction, note that after loading the audio into the correction engine, your DAW''s visual waveform may no longer represent the actual playback''s timing, which can be a little confusing. Also, actions performed on your DAW''s audio—such as editing, muting regions, or destructive DSP processing—have no effect on playback unless you deselect the Time Control Enable button. Of course, any plug-ins following Auto-Tune are still in play, so Auto-Tune must be the first insert in a chain when using other plug-in processing on time-corrected audio sections.
Another Time Correction pitfall is that it''s impossible to return only a portion of the corrected audio back to its original state. An Undo button specific to the Time Control engine can step backward in time up to 20 levels, and a Clear All button can erase all correction for an entire instantiation, but you can''t easily return to a single section of the audio''s original timing unless it was the last edit you made. A workaround is to bounce the audio to a new file, and swap the section out with the unaffected track, but that''s a little cumbersome.
Other enhancements to the Graphical interface include improvements to the vibrato controls, an auto-scrolling option for the graphical audio data, individual Throat Length settings for each correction object, a bars and beats timeline view, and the ability to make pitch correction follow a MIDI performance (either live or from a sequenced part). Vertical zooming in the edit window has also been expanded down to one-cent-per-pixel, although I do feel the horizontal zoom could still get a little closer in to the action.
CONVERTING THE DUBIOUS
I''ve had great luck using Auto-Tune 7 on multiple pitch-correcting applications (See my web clips at emusician.com), but one standout was when a distinctly non-Auto-Tune-style band forgot to tune their bass guitar during one song. When the vocalist did his overdubs, he sang only with the bass—but as the G-string was rather sharp, so were the vocals. I put Auto-Tune on the bass in Automatic Mode, and spent about 30 minutes working on the lead vocal in Graphical Mode, fixing it to everyone''s satisfaction. The band realized that Auto-Tune can work transparently, and overcame their previously held Auto-Tune-phobia (web clips 3 and 4).
Auto-Tune 7—particularly the Graphical Mode—seems slightly less intuitive than other pitch-correction software. But once you''ve scaled the learning curve, it''s incredibly powerful and flexible—subtle when you want it to be, extreme when you don''t, and highly effective. Auto-Tune fans will be greatly impressed by the various improvements, while newbies will be blown away by the range of applications at which Auto-Tune excels.
Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Auto-Tune 7 product page.