Although it's now been around for two decades, Melodyne is still the stuff of science fiction. In our exclusive review, we explore version 5's new superpowers.
Since its launch 20 years ago, Celemony's Melodyne has joined Antares' Auto-Tune in that realm of ubiquity where people use its name as a verb. When producers talk of vocals as having been 'Melodyned', they are usually implying the use of non-invasive pitch‑correction. 'Auto-Tuning', by contrast, often suggests the use of pitch processing as a special effect.
Of course, both packages are adept in both fields, but Melodyne has some unique capabilities. It remains one of very few programs that can perform pitch‑correction on polyphonic sources, and the Sound Editor introduced in Melodyne 4 provides a huge palette of resynthesis and processing possibilities. Version 4 also brought forth some amazing tools for manipulating the tempo of entire multitracks. New versions of Melodyne don't come along that often, but when they do, they are usually worth the wait!
More than four years on from version 4, Melodyne 5 also offers an impressive selection of new features. In this review, I'll assume that you are familiar with the basic operation of Melodyne and with the main features of version 4: if you aren't, check out our review of that version in the February 2016 issue.
The basic architecture of the Melodyne product line is unchanged in version 5. There are still four editions, with Melodyne Studio at the top and Melodyne Essential the most affordable, and the program is still available both as a stand-alone application and as a native plug‑in. There are no major changes concerning the integration of Melodyne into your DAW of choice: if your host program supports the Audio Random Access (ARA) protocol, you can work with Melodyne within the arrange page, but the streamlined plug‑in developed for version 4 still works very well in other DAWs.
A slightly unheralded aspect of the program that took a huge leap forward in version 4 was the online documentation. This has now been developed even further by having the documentation tailor itself to your specific use case. Two pop-ups labelled Edition and I'm Working With let you specify which of the four Melodyne variants you own, and whether you're working stand-alone or in a particular DAW. You'll then see only those elements of the manual that relate to your specific circumstances. This is a brilliant idea and much more user-friendly than having to scroll past great screeds of text to find the relevant sections.
When it comes to invisibly putting that which was out of tune into tune, many devotees feel that Melodyne has no peers. However, if you've ever watched a Melodyne ninja at work, you'll know that this could be quite a labour-intensive process. Seasoned users often head straight to the Note Separation tool and step through a vocal take chopping the auto-detected notes into much finer divisions.
This is tedious, but improves the results in two ways. If there is pitch variation in the course of a sustained note, Melodyne defines its pitch centre as an average value; so when you snap the entire note to the pitch grid, there's no actual guarantee that any individual section of it will be perfectly in tune. Chop it into smaller pieces and quantise each of these separately, and they'll usually be closer to perfect.
The second reason for going behind Melodyne's back and chopping up notes manually is that not everything detected by Melodyne actually has much pitched content. Sibilants, fricatives and many other consonants are primarily noise-based, and if you start trying to 'correct' their pitch, you'll achieve nothing except an increasingly obvious degradation of the sound. For the most natural results, then, it was often worthwhile to snip them out as individual 'blobs' so that they could be excluded from pitch manipulation. This had the added benefit that the Amplitude tool could subsequently be used as a very effective, albeit painstaking, means of reducing any obtrusive esses in level.
Celemony have been paying close attention, and some of the biggest...