Antares Auto-Tune 5
Industry Standard Pitch Correction Software
Is Better Than Ever!
Review by: Scott Kahn
|Features Usability Sound Documentation & Product Support Price
Contact Info Overall Rating—Product Summary
There are a few constants in the universe today. One is that you’ll find Pro Tools running in just about every major commercial recording studio worldwide. The other is that in all of those studios, you’ll find the Auto-Tune plug-in at work correcting pitch (good) and making vocalists sound like Cher on her hit single, “Do You Believe” (um, not good?). [Don’t worry if you’re running a Logic studio or other recording platforms — Auto-Tune isn’t limited to the Pro Tools environment.]
Being first to market with pitch correction software certainly gave Antares a huge advantage over the competition — it’s safe to call their plug-in an industry standard at this point, but Auto-Tune wouldn’t remain at the top of the pitch correction heap had Antares not continued to improve the product with an ongoing stream of refinements.
Auto-Tune 5, the latest incarnation of this popular plug-in, sports improved automatic pitch correction, a completely revised user interface, and features that will help you make your pitch correction “less perfect” should you find yourself losing the human element in your recordings.
Assuming you haven’t yet invested in pitch correction for your project studio, Auto-Tune 5 packs a great punch. Its automatic mode worked perfectly with all the studio vocal tracks we threw at it, and its battery of manual controls enable the sound engineering freak in you to have complete control over the tiniest details of your pitch correction.
If you’re an engineer still relying on an older version of the plug-in, now would be a great time to upgrade. Antares has made an already great plug-in better in numerous ways. Noteworthy is the ability to run multiple instances of the plug-in in Graphical Mode simultaneously, whether or not the plug-in window is open, and a new vibrato adjustment feature makes easy work of enhancing or reducing vibrato depth in a vocal performance. The new Humanize feature simplifies pitch correcting certain types of vocal performances.
Antares Auto-Tune 5 is a plug-in designed for correcting problems with intonation, typically in vocal performances, but useable on other monophonic instruments, too. Because of the manner in which it corrects pitch, Auto-Tune also makes a useful tool for creatively altering pitch ala the “Cher effect.”
Auto-Tune 5 is available in the Native version that supports RTAS, VST, and AU formats, and separately in a TDM version for Pro Tools HD systems. There’s also a version for use with Roland hardware-based DAWs.
In Automatic mode, you select a key, a scale type, and a vocal range (alto, soprano, etc.) and let Auto-Tune correct vocal performances on-the-fly.
The Retune Speed function lets you adjust how fast or slow pitch correction is applied to the audio source. Faster settings are useful in pitch correcting vocals with short words/notes, while the slower settings are better for use with long-held notes and performances with portamento.
Bypass and Remove buttons let you select notes in the selected scale to either remove (thus causing a note to be pitch-corrected to the nearest remaining note in the scale) or to bypass correction, leaving certain notes unaffected by pitch correction.
Pitch doesn’t have to be corrected to a predefined scale. Not only can you define custom scales, but with Auto-Tune 5’s MIDI capabilities, you can either play notes to match the vocal performance or you can supply the “proper” vocal melody via a keyboard sequence and have the vocal audio pitch corrected to the performance.
A Targeting Ignores Vibrato button enables a feature that attempts to discern vibrato in a vocal performance and not pitch correct it.
Scales can be detuned from standard A-440 Hz pitch in case you’re working with a performance matched to an out of tune instrument (like an old organ or piano).
The Humanize feature exists for use with vocal performances that incorporate a mix of short words and long-held notes. If you set the Retune Speed to optimally treat the short words, it could render long-held notes a little sterile. The Humanize feature lets you apply slower retune speeds to only the sustained notes.
The Natural Vibrato feature lets you increase or decrease the depth of vibrato in a performance. Note that this only works if there is vibrato in the performance – it doesn’t magically create vibrato (for that, turn to Graphical Mode, or better yet, find a new singer).
In Graphical mode (manual operation, so to speak), you set the plug-in to analyze sections of audio, which get displayed visually on a time-based graph, and then using a variety of graphic editing tools, you manually draw corrections to the performance where you want. This provides the most direct control over exactly what you want the plug-in to do to your audio, but requires the most effort to utilize depending on the corrections you’re attempting to make.
If Auto-Tune had a steep learning curve, it wouldn’t be so widely utilized. In fact, it’s so easy to use (in Automatic mode, particularly) that lazy engineers and second-rate producers (not our readers, of course) aren’t pushing their vocalists hard enough to deliver great performances. It’s really easy to “fix it in the mix” if your vocal problems are minor.
We used the Native RTAS version of Auto-Tune 5 in Digidesign Pro Tools LE 7.4 on an Apple Power Macintosh G5. Installation was a simple affair, and as with many of the plug-ins we’re running, required iLok dongle authentication.
The Automatic mode worked great for us on a variety of audio samples. We loaded up vocal performances from multiple vocalists in various styles of pop and rock music tracks and set Auto-Tune to work.
Virtually all features within Auto-Tune can be automated, and this is key to making effective use of the plug-in. You don’t want to try a “set and forget” approach with the plug-in, particularly if your song changes key from one section to another. If you stop paying attention, you might not even notice that Auto-Tune simplified the richness of your original vocal performance!
Tip #1: Assign the plug-in bypass, key, and scale features to your DAW’s automation system. Then, enable the plug-in only for sections where you need to apply some corrections and bypass it in the other sections in order to make the most transparent use of Auto-Tune.
Tip #2: If you need Auto-Tune enabled for the entire audio track, re-record your vocal track, and if the singer can’t nail his/her own parts, get a new singer!
When working in Graphical Mode, we experienced a few usability issues. To use Auto-Tune in this mode, you first locate a region of audio, engage the Track Pitch button, and then hit the DAW’s Play button to record the audio into the graph.
When we looped a region of audio for auditioning and experimenting with pitch correction and enabled the Track Pitch button, the graphic display kept running, scrolling our audio content off the computer screen instead of returning to the start as expected.
Manually correcting pitch was very straightforward in the Graphical mode using the pen tool, and if you plan to edit most of your audio this way, a pen tablet like the Wacom Intuos or Graphire series tablets work far more accurately than drawing with a mouse.
Our chief frustration came when we made mistakes in the editing. Undoing our correction required hitting an Undo button — ProTools doesn’t pass the standard CTRL-Z keyboard shortcut through to plug-ins. Obviously the situation would be far worse if Antares hadn’t been thoughtful enough to build an actual Undo button into their interface for Pro Tools users!
Antares Auto-Tune 5 sounds great! If you’re just cleaning up an already-solid vocal track, its subtle pitch correction remains transparent, and when applied only in random locations throughout a performance, nobody would have any idea that the vocalist had a little help from this digital friend. And when it’s time to salvage a bad take that you’re stuck with, Auto-Tune does a remarkable job of preserving vocal quality without sounding overtly artificial.Auto-Tune 5 also makes a useful musical tool in its own right. If you’re producing some creative music tracks, purposely messing with your vocal tracks pitch can lead to some very interesting effects – and we’ve all heard the commercial chart success that this kind of experimentation leads to. Of course if you’re really determined to make big changes to your vocal track, be sure to check out the equally impressive Antares AVOX Vocal Production Toolkit.
Documentation and Product Support
The product documentation supplied with Auto-Tune is excellent, and explains the vast feature set quite well. Additionally, a video tutorial on the installation CD did a fantastic job of introducing us to the range of features and their basic implementation.
Chapter 4 in the Owner’s Manual has excellent tutorials, but the tutorial audio files were missing from the installation CD. Further investigation of this problem with Antares revealed that the “Rev. 2” CD (printed on the disc) was missing the Tutorial Audio folder! The current CD (Rev. 3) includes the folder, but if you purchase a boxed copy in a store that has the older CD, don’t worry. We were able to locate the files in a download section of the Antares web site (look for Auto-Tune updates).
Tip: If you’re an experienced user of earlier versions of Auto-Tune, take a few minutes and skip straight to Chapter 5 in the manual — it’s a quick start guide to the new features and changes made to the program. You’ll want to unlearn some old habits for editing audio as the program has really undergone some nice improvements in usability.
There are some nice creative tips in the manual, too, but no specific advice regarding track automation features and their usability.
Antares Auto-Tune 5 Native (MSRP $399) sells for around $319, and the more expensive TDM version (MSRP $649) sells for $519. We think both prices are on the high side, and generally feel that there is no longer any reason for manufacturers to charge more for the TDM version of their plug-ins (since you can now easily run RTAS plug-ins within a Pro Tools HD system).
For the home studio user, dropping the price another $100 would make this a must-have purchase, while the high price of the TDM system makes that version only affordable to the actively booked pro studio. Now that Pro Tools HD systems can be purchased for under $10,000, there are many home and project studio engineers investing in the TDM-capable hardware, and they shouldn’t have to pay pro-studio prices for (effectively) the same plug-in.
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