Can Dreamtonics really deliver a session singer in software?
Virtual musicians, in the sense of virtual instruments with powerful performance elements, are now a fixture in the workflows of countless composers, producers and recording musicians. However, while the drummer, bassist, keyboardist and guitarist of your virtual session band can now undoubtedly produce the goods, what about the vocals? Well, Dreamtonics might well suggest that their flagship product — Synthesizer V — can do just that. Session singer in a software‑shaped box, anyone?
Voice In The Machine
The human voice — spoken or sung — is a hugely complex instrument, making the technical challenge of synthesizing it a very considerable one. A number of brave developers have tried, though, and for solo voices, perhaps the most widely known product is Yamaha’s Vocaloid. While the potential of the technology was clear to see when SOS reviewed the Sonika voice database for Vocaloid 2 in March 2010, the workflow was somewhat laborious. Backing vocals or obviously processed EDM vocal styles were possible (and became a thing in their own right) but creating a lead that might fool the listener into believing it was a ‘real’ voice remained out of reach.
Of course, in music software terms, 2010 is a long time ago. While Yamaha have continued to move Vocaloid forwards, over that same time span, competition has also appeared. One of these newcomers is currently gaining a lot of interest; Dreamtonics’ Synthesizer V.
Dreamtonics are also based in Japan, and Synth V is very similar in concept to Vocaloid. Running either standalone or as a plug‑in, the software has two main components; the synthesis engine and a selection of voice databases for individual ‘singers’. The most recent iterations of the engine include AI elements with machine‑based learning to improve the realism of the end result. The current selection of voice databases (built from recordings of real singers and available individually as separate purchases) include native Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and English singers. I had access to a number of the native English voice databases for this review but, for newer voices, the engine does enable them to switch between these three languages.
Two versions of Synth V are available. The Basic version is free‑to‑try with some function/feature limitations, but does at least allow you to experience the synth engine in action. The paid‑for Pro edition obviously removes any limitations and, as described more fully below, provides an extensive list of editing and style options that can be applied to the synthesized voice.
It’s also worth mentioning that — at the time of writing at least — the available documentation is lagging somewhat behind the development of the software itself. Dreamtonics are actively working on improving matters on this front, but it did leave me unsure whether I fully understood all the features during the course of the review. Watch this space...
Sing Something Simple
Synth V’s UI contains three key elements. First, a vertical strip of buttons (far right) allows you to toggle open/closed a series of sub‑panels, each focusing on a specific set of command options and that can be placed (by dragging) either on the left or right sides of the overall UI. Second, the Arrangement panel provides a DAW‑like ‘project window’ containing a vertical arrangement of the tracks within your current project and a bar‑based timeline display. Mini note displays along this timeline provide useful visual feedback for the overall arrangement.
A project can contain multiple synth voice tracks based upon one or more of the voice databases you have installed. Very usefully, you can also add audio tracks (termed Instrumental Tracks) into the arrangement. In the standalone application these might most obviously be used for an instrumental mix as musical context for your synth voice creation. All the tracks — voice synth or audio — have volume, pan, mute and solo options. There are no effects options but it’s perfectly adequate for the core task of creating the synthesized vocal(s).
Third, for the selected voice track in the Arrangement panel the Piano Roll panel shows the MIDI‑like note ‘blobs’ that represent the melody and timing of the sung performance. The display also shows the engine’s AI‑generated pitch curve, with features such as pitch slides between legato notes and vibrato on sustained notes. However, these properties are fully editable, and the Note Properties panel can be used to specify the pitch transition and vibrato settings for individual (or selected groups of) notes. The Piano Roll also shows any lyrics you have added for each note blob (just double‑click on a blob and type the word you want) and the phonemes the engine has assigned to these words to generate the appropriate pronunciation.
At the base of the Piano Roll panel, you can pop open further sub‑panels that allow you to create modulation curves for key properties of the voice. These include Pitch Deviation, Loudness and Tension, amongst a few others, and, as with any virtual instrument, modulation can add considerable expression and realism to the performance.
You can add notes into the Piano Roll editor manually, via a MIDI file or by recording them from a MIDI keyboard. New notes are given a default ‘la’ lyric and, if you enable the Instant Mode button (top right of the Piano Roll panel), Synth V automatically revises the vocal waveform as you add or edit notes. The note editing toolset is very much like a MIDI editor, allowing you to change pitch, position and length very easily. Keyboard shortcuts are also supported, and you can check the default configuration for these in the Settings panel.
Having added a voice track and assigned the required voice database, generating a sung vocal requires you to enter/create a pattern of MIDI‑like notes and type in the lyrics for each note. As you enter or edit notes/lyrics, Synth V works away in the background generating the resulting vocal, and you can see the calculated waveform within the Piano Roll panel. You then simply hit the Play button to audition the result.
Whatever Dreamtonics are doing with their AI‑based algorithms under the hood, it is very, very clever indeed.
The first few times you use Synthesizer V, you may find yourself staring at your studio monitors with your jaw smacking off the floor. Yes, the odds are that there will be some...
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