We check out Antares’ latest fine‑tuning of their flagship product.
It’s hard to underestimate the impact that Antares’ Auto‑Tune had on the world of music production when it was launched in 1996, when it broke the link between pitch and time changes, made pitch correction quick and convenient — and created the warbly ‘Cher effect’ that’s been used by countless other artists since. Its name quickly made the transition from proper noun to popular verb! Of course, it’s now far from the only game in town, and competition has increased to the point that both real‑time and offline pitch‑correction processors are bundled with most serious DAW software. Nonetheless, Antares have continued to refine Auto‑Tune and expand its capabilities, as well as embedding the algorithms in various hardware products, and recently the company released Auto‑Tune Pro‑X, the latest iteration of the software/plug‑in version. Does it offer anything your DAW doesn’t already? Let’s find out...
We’ve reviewed several iterations of Auto‑Tune over the years, including the first to be given the ‘Pro’ suffix in SOS October 2018. And while there are certainly improvements, this latest release takes a similar approach to what’s gone before, and can best be viewed as an evolution of the already impressive feature set. So there remain two main modes of operation, called Auto and Graph.
Auto provides the familiar ‘auto‑tune’ insert process/effect, its carefully chosen control set enabling you to apply just as much automatic pitch correction as you desire. That control set has been expanded over the years, and now offers considerable flexibility, especially when you dip into the Advanced view, as well as a low‑latency configuration to allow for live pitch‑correction effects (obviously the latency of your audio interface must also be taken into account).
Graph mode lets you dig considerably deeper, and offers far more precise control. It provides a sophisticated graphical interface with very useful visual feedback and all the tools needed to fully finesse your vocal’s pitch (and timing, if required) in the finest of detail. It’s already both flexible and impressive, and the quality of the underlying pitch‑shifting can be very transparent if ‘invisible correction’ is your aim, though there’s still plenty of scope for more obviously creative effects.
Antares have made a number of changes to the GUI. For example, the plug‑in window is now fully resizeable and its high‑resolution vector‑based graphics scale perfectly. Assuming you have the screen real estate available, squinting to see Auto‑Tune’s finer details is a thing of the past. The GUI can now also be switched between Light and Dark modes, to match your personal preference or the current lighting conditions. Both the Quick Settings and Preferences menus have undergone a redesign, which make for easier operation, and new users will benefit from the more comprehensive advice offered by the revamped Tooltips system (this can, of course, be toggled off if it’s not required).
Some new global controls have been added. These include undo/redo buttons, a global bypass button and, interestingly, a Mix knob, and all of these are found in the top‑right region of the main window. I found the first of these particularly useful: the ability to step backwards/forwards through your history of control adjustments means you’re much freer to experiment, since you know you can return to the safety of an earlier configuration should your adventures lead you astray.
Apple Silicon hardware is now supported, of course. Also new is the Input Type Learn button: press this and Auto‑Tune will ‘listen’ to your input signal, after which a machine‑learning process attempts to identify the best settings (and underlying Auto‑Tune algorithm) to use. In addition, Antares have included a collection of presets created by artists who use Auto‑Tune, and these provide some useful starting points for both corrective and creative (including ‘that’ effect) applications.
In terms of general workflow improvements, one of the most interesting and useful new options to me is Multiview, which allows you to access any instance of Auto‑Tune in a project from the GUI of any other, courtesy of a drop‑down menu in the top left of the GUI of every instance. This means there’s no need to close/open each individual instance or navigate between tracks. So, for example, you could have it inserted on a whole stack of backing vocals and work on the tuning of all from a single GUI. It’s a very clever idea and a potentially a great time‑saver.
The Auto mode offers levels of subtlety well beyond the clichéd Cher/T‑Pain‑style hard tuning. In Pro‑X, Auto mode retains the choice between Classic (based on the Auto‑Tune 5 processing algorithms, upon which many producers originally built their creative vocal processing sound) and Modern styles of processing. But features such as the Flex Tune and Humanize controls mean that, even when letting Auto mode do the heavy lifting, you can finesse the processing to obtain a more ‘natural’ outcome.
In Auto mode you can, as before, confine yourself to the Basic view, with its intuitive and minimalist control set, or you can pop open an Advanced tab in the lower half of the window. The contents of this tab have been revamped for Pro‑X, and it can now be toggled between views of either the Vibrato or Scale controls. The available controls and options are not necessarily new, but they do seem to me to be better organised. In short, they provide very flexible scale settings (including user‑customised scales), and both corrective and creative options for vibrato control.
The Auto mode might be an ‘automatic’ mode, then, but it’s beautifully conceived, delivering a scalable amount of control that provides something suitable for almost any level of user. And, while you can just set‑and‑forget the Auto mode controls so they apply to your whole track, do bear in mind that the settings can also be automated in your DAW. So if you do need to apply Auto mode’s processing in a more selective fashion at different parts of your vocal performance, it’s perfectly possible to do that.
Graph mode is an offline process that’s intended for those who require a more surgical approach to pitch manipulation. For this level of editing, Auto‑Tune again has plenty of competition, most notably from Celemony’s Melodyne but there’s plenty more from the likes of Synchro Arts, Waves and, of course, similar functionality is deeply embedded within many DAWs (for example, Cubase’s VariAudio and Logic’s Flex Pitch processes). All of these platforms are now mature enough that the underlying algorithms are of a quality that make them capable of transparent pitch‑shifting over a several‑semitone range, and what most marks them out as different is their tool set and what they can offer in terms of workflow improvements.
To my mind, Auto‑Tune undoubtedly has some very appealing elements to its Graph mode workflow, and these have been refined further in the Pro‑X release. This includes something of a graphical overhaul of the UI — largely improvements in the way the tools are organised but, thankfully for existing Auto‑Tune users, all the familiar options are still present, correct and easy to find. One of Graph mode’s most appealing features is the ability to work with different types of Correction Objects: Notes, Curves or Lines. These provide targets for Auto‑Tune’s pitch correction and are applied to the original pitch of the audio (shown as a red curve on the display). These different types can be mixed and matched within a single editing session, such that each section of your audio can be a different object type, and collectively they provide considerable choice as to how you’ll approach your manual edits. Lines are perhaps best reserved for special effects, while Notes provide a means of rapidly re‑pitching sections of audio, whether for correction or to attempt something more creative, like re‑writing a melodic phrase. Curves let you dive deep into the pitch processing, in a very precise fashion; if you need detailed control over a specific note or phrase, this is the way to go.
Long‑time users will often develop a preference for working mostly with Notes, Curves or Lines, so it’s great that Pro‑X now has the option to automatically create your preferred Object type after your audio is tracked; this is configured in the Preferences panel. Meanwhile, the new zooming options provide for improved navigation in Graph mode, in which editing often requires you to get up close and personal. There are also a number of new helpful customisation options in terms of the Graph mode display (for example, the ability to toggle on/off the red input pitch curve or to show the waveform within a Note Object).
Pitch correction/manipulation tools come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some focus on easy‑to‑use ‘auto’ processing, while others place greater emphasis on more detailed editing capabilities. And some, including Auto‑Tune Pro, offer the flexibility of both approaches. So, is Pro‑X the best of both worlds in a single plug‑in?
Even if you prefer not to explore the depth and power of Graph mode, you can still accomplish a great deal in Auto mode.
When it comes to the automated pitch‑correction process, Auto‑tune is undoubtedly the original but I think it’s also pretty easy to make a case for it being the best. If your vocal just needs a little gentle nudge, it really is a process anyone could accomplish. And even if you prefer not to explore the depth and power of Graph mode, you can still accomplish a great deal in Auto mode, whether you’re after corrective processing or creative effects. This was probably the case before Pro‑X, but this latest version enhances Auto mode’s workflow in ways that will benefit both existing and new users. And while it’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, personally I’d see that as a positive rather than a negative; there’s no point breaking what already works very well, if you can simply refine and improve it.
I think it’s also true to say that when you do need a more surgical approach, Graph mode has all the tools you could require. While Pro‑X delivers some useful UI and workflow refinements to this mode too, the case for ‘best in class’ is perhaps less clear here, given the seriously strong competition and, of course, Melodyne’s polyphonic capability. Nonetheless, if detailed graphical editing is something you turn to for those particularly difficult phrases that automatic correction can’t quite resolve, Pro‑X is very capable and will certainly get the job done. Having the option of both Auto mode and Graph mode within a single plug‑in is also very appealing.
If you’re looking to buy your first professional‑level pitch‑correction plug‑in, Auto‑Tune Pro‑X is undeniably a seriously good option. The only real downside is a fairly hefty price tag for the perpetual licence, though you can try before you buy (Antares offer a free 14‑day trial of their full product range) and there are more affordable subscription options too, which include other goodies (see box). If you’re serious about your pitch‑correction, Auto‑Tune Pro‑X is certainly worth exploring.
The subscription model for music software has pros and cons, but that’s a debate for elsewhere. If you’re happy with this approach, Antares offer a couple of different plug‑in bundles and Auto‑Tune Pro‑X is included in the larger of them. Called Auto‑Tune Ultimate, this starts at $14.98 per month for an annual subscription. You get more than Auto‑Tune Pro‑X, though: the bundle includes a number of other versions of Auto‑Tune which are streamlined for specific tasks, as well as Antares’ full‑suite of vocal plug‑ins, such as Articulator, Aspire, Choir, Mic Mod and Harmony Engine, and the Vocal EQ, Slice and Vocodist plug‑ins.
Paul White was impressed with Vocodist back in SOS November 2021. Vocal EQ is a multiband dynamic EQ, in much the same vein as FabFilter’s Pro‑Q 3 or Cubase’s Frequency 2 plug‑ins, but with an important twist: Vocal EQ includes a pitch‑tracking feature rather like that of Sound Radix’s Surfer EQ. This allows you to lock a specific frequency band to the fundamental pitch of the notes within the performance, or a selected harmonic of that fundamental pitch. It then tracks the frequency of the fundamental (or harmonic) as the input note changes. Like any novel processing approach, it can take some time to work out how to use it, but the potential is obvious, particularly if you want to tame a specific harmonic (or harmonics; different bands can be assigned to different harmonics) within a vocal.
Slice is a virtual instrument designed for slicing and playback of vocal samples. You can, of course, load your own sample content, but the user also gets access to a library of vocal samples in a range of musical styles, some of which have been provided by name artists (for example, Bon Iver and Junior Sanchez) and with new content being added regularly. While lots of DAWs now include some element of slice‑based sample playback, with a feature set obviously designed for vocal processing, a set of 14 in‑built effects, and some powerful playback features/options to explore, Slice is a powerful means of revamping existing vocal recordings to create new performances. And just as importantly, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to use!
- Pro‑X brings a number of useful UI and workflow refinements.
- Auto mode is impressively flexible for natural, transparent pitch correction.
- Yes, you can still create ‘that’ vocal effect and you even get artist presets to help you do it.
- The temptation to create ‘that’ vocal effect!
- Other than the considerable investment for a perpetual licence, nothing else — this is powerful stuff.
Pro‑X is a worthwhile evolution of the top end of the Auto‑Tune line. The most flexible all‑round automatic pitch correction available combined with powerful graphical editing when you need to use it.
Antares Auto‑Tune Pro‑X perpetual licence $459 (includes one‑year subscription to Auto‑Tune Unlimited). Upgrades from earlier versions also available. Subscriptions which include Pro‑X start at $14.58 per month.
Antares Auto‑Tune Pro‑X perpetual license $459 (includes one‑year subscription to Auto‑Tune Unlimited). Upgrades from earlier versions also available. Subscriptions which include Pro‑X start at $14.58 per month.
- Cubase Pro 12.0.52
- Auto‑Tune Pro‑X (v.10.0.0 x965)
- iMac running Mac OS 10.15.4, 3.5GHz Intel Quad Core i7, 32GB RAM