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Vochlea Dubler 2

The Play view, which is where you’ll spend most of your time once you’ve set everything up to taste.The Play view, which is where you’ll spend most of your time once you’ve set everything up to taste.

Not everyone can play keys or guitar, so how about contolling virtual instruments with nothing but your voice?

Making music with computers can be frustrating if, like me, you’re not a great keyboard player. There are various alternative controller options, not least for guitarists like me, but I’ve long been interested in the idea of using my voice to control instruments and effects. It’s not purely laziness, either: the human voice is a uniquely expressive ‘instrument’ and most of us have a decent degree of control over it. I’ve tried various audio‑to‑MIDI systems over the years — both real‑time and offline types — but, as much as I’ve enjoyed exploring them, I’d not hit upon a single program that made it easy until very recently.

Several months ago, I found myself contemplating Vochlea’s Dubler, which promised to turn my voice into expressive MIDI performances, in real time, with low latency. Better still, it claimed to track not only the pitch and level, but to include a dedicated beat‑boxing facility, to trigger chords and, best of all, to create MIDI data from different vowel sounds. So I contacted Vochlea, who sent me their Studio Kit 1 for evaluation, while asking if I might review their more ambitious Dubler 2, the release of which was near.

Dubling Up

It’s worth starting with a quick summary of my experiences with Dubler 1, which was available only in the Studio Kit, comprising the Dubler 1 software and Vochlea’s USB dynamic mic. Compared with most real‑time pitch‑to‑MIDI systems I’ve used, it was impressive in many ways, and it was undeniably fun to play with. But it didn’t really meet my needs. The beat‑boxing was particularly reliable, but the voice tracking was, if anything, too precise; I’m sure skilled vocalists coaxed better results from it, but I tended to find that my own, slightly pitchy efforts too often triggered bum notes or unwanted bends, and there was only limited scope in the single‑screen interface to hone its response to compensate for my lack of vocal control.

Available for Mac OS and Windows, Dubler 2 is a significant step forward for people like me. Significant enough, in fact, that I’m now using it quite often to ‘sing in’ ideas, not least if I want to experiment with adding strings and the like to my rock/pop arrangements — I can just sing, hum or whistle simple parts very easily. It’s available in the Studio Kit 2 or, new in version 2, as software only. Vochlea recommend their own mic, which was used when refining their algorithms and is automatically recognised by Dubler 2 when connected, but any dynamic mic with a ‘professional’ audio interface (for Windows, that means one with an ASIO driver) will work. If Vochlea’s mic isn’t hooked up, an idiot‑proof setup wizard configures Dubler for use with your mic.

Trigger Happy

Dubler 2’s GUI is very different from that of Dubler 1, with the single screen replaced by five tabbed pages. It never feels busy or daunting, though, and once set up you’ll spend the vast majority of your time in the Play tab. Accordingly, Dubler 2 opens in this tab which, as the name implies, is the main performance view. It’s divided into two sections: a pane on the left for beat‑boxing, and a bigger one to its right dedicated to the pitch- and vowel-tracking.

In the Train tab, you can teach Dubler 2 to map beat‑box sounds to its Trigger pads, or you could use it with other sources too, for example to generate snare rimshots to trigger electronic sounds.In the Train tab, you can teach Dubler 2 to map beat‑box sounds to its Trigger pads, or you could use it with other sources too, for example to generate snare rimshots to trigger electronic sounds.

Click a Trigger pad on the left and you’re taken to the Train tab, where you can ‘train’ the software to recognise the beat‑box sound you want to map to the pad. Training is a really intuitive process with good visual feedback, whereby you record up to 12 versions of the sound in one pass. You can name each pad (‘kick’, ‘snare’ and so on), assign it different sounds from the onboard 808‑style drum kit or a different MIDI note (Dubler presents itself to your DAW software as a MIDI device), or both, and can specify whether the output should be dynamic or play back at a single velocity. Up to eight pads can be created per profile (you can save and load different Profiles, which is helpful if you want to use different mics, or want a regular collaborator to use Dubler), and then it’s back to Play view to start your...

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