This enduringly popular vocoding plug‑in has been treated to much more than a graphical refresh!
We reviewed the earliest incarnation of Orange Vocoder, then made by Prosoniq, way back in the year 2000 — so this has to be about as close to ‘classic gear’ as is possible for a plug‑in to be! It’s come a long way since then, though, and today, in the hands of developers Zynaptiq, it has been transformed into a seriously impressive sound creation tool. In fact, Orange Vocoder IV stretches way beyond the boundaries of conventional vocoding — it can be used to create sci‑fi voices, ethereal vocal washes, drones and much more besides.
As well as the vocoder section having been expanded considerably (there are now 24 different vocoding algorithms), there’s a host of other toys, including pitch correction (now included as a separate processing module), a new formant shifter, an audio freeze feature and a comprehensive synthesizer section, tailored to the needs of vocoding. There are vocoding algorithms based on analogue modelling, independent component analysis (ICA), LPC filtering and wavelet transforms, plus there’s the addition of unison and monophonic legato synth modes, numerous modulation options, and even an intelligent preset generator that uses ‘smart randomisation’. A new filter bank release/reverb parameter called Traces also adds to the creative side of the processing.
All of this advanced processing does come at the cost of relatively heavy CPU use. On a modern machine you should be fine, but if you’re in any doubt about the capability of your computer you can always try the free time‑limited demo to see how well it fares (and it’s worth remembering that increasing buffer size can reduce the strain at the expense of some additional latency). AU, AAX Native and VST 2.4 and 3 plug‑in formats are supported and authorisation can be to a physical iLok dongle or a specific computer. Mac support is for OS 10.15.x or newer running on an Apple Silicon or an Intel CPU (two cores or more, i7 or better recommended), and for Windows it’s version 10 or newer running on a CPU with at least two cores (again, Intel i7 or better recommended).
There are actually two versions of this plug‑in; both are included in the purchase price, but this isn’t the usual case of ‘full fat’ and a less feature‑rich ‘light’ version. One is called, simply, Orange Vocoder IV, while the other is Orange Vocoder IV SC, the last two letters being an abbreviation of ‘side‑chain’ and they cater both for the different MIDI and audio routing systems of various different host DAWs (for example, you need the SC version to route MIDI to the plug‑in in Logic Pro) and for when you wish to use an external stereo signal as carrier for the vocoder, in place of the in‑built synth. When you wish to use a mono signal as external carrier, the regular, non‑SC variant of the plug‑in can use its stereo input as a dual‑mono configuration, with the left and right channels carrying the modulator and carrier signal.
Following the lead of some other Zynaptiq plug‑ins, the GUI hosts a series of separate tabbed pages and the first, called Overview, shows how everything’s connected. Other tabs are called Synth, Vocoder and Mix & FX, which offer more detailed editing of the modules shown in Overview. A piano keyboard is shown across the bottom, with a selector at the left to switch between entering notes on the GUI keyboard or playing from a connected MIDI keyboard.
In Overview, the user can switch modules in or out of the signal path, and has direct access to a limited number of key parameters. It’s also possible to solo or mute the various modules from here.
A Quick Setup button at the top opens a graphical menu, with a choice of ready‑made Vocoder, Pitch Quantizer, Synth, Vocoder with Pitch Quantize, Synth plus Pitch Quantize or Dual Input Vocoder routings. A three‑input mixer just prior to the Mix‑FX block takes its sources from different places, depending on the selected routing; for example mixing the input voice with the synth sound and the vocoded sound or, in other modes, being fed from the pitch corrector or the Freeze module. A familiar dice button allows for random sub‑presets to be loaded into the Synth, Vocoder and Freeze modules.
In each tab, you can click the name of a module box to navigate to its edit controls. Unused modules are greyed out and each module has access to its own sub‑presets via a menu. When a sub‑module is opened to show additional controls, an orange line appears around it when the cursor is hovered over it and, for example, in Synth view the bottom of the GUI changes from the keyboard view to show the additional controls.
The two‑oscillator synth can run up to 64 voices, and offers a number of analogue‑style waveforms as well as some vintage digital waveforms.
The two‑oscillator synth can run up to 64 voices, and offers a number of analogue‑style waveforms as well as some vintage digital waveforms. A unison mode supports up to eight layers as well as Detune and Cluster modes, while Mono Legato with glide is also supported. The synth waveforms may then be processed via two types of ring‑modulation, hard‑sync, through‑zero FM, and no fewer than seven types of polyphonic distortion. The synth also features a resonant low‑pass filter stage with slopes of 6‑24 dB/octave. Modulation options include both mono and polyphonic LFOs that can be cranked up into the audio range if required. There are also attack‑decay envelopes and envelope followers, as well as more esoteric offerings such as zero‑crossing trackers. Additionally there’s a four‑destination macro function to allow multiple parameters to be controlled simultaneously.
Most of us will be familiar with Auto‑Tune‑style automatic pitch correction, whereby incoming audio is forced to the closest scale note, but the processor included here has five operational modes. The less familiar Enforce and Polyforce modes use what’s described as a wavetable‑inspired approach, and they benefit from zero latency — importantly, this makes them practical to use in a live performance situation — and I achieved some lovely textural choral sounds using Polyforce mode, without even firing up the vocoder. Once active, the pitch correction is controlled by the incoming MIDI or the entered keyboard notes and includes any mono legato and glide settings.
The Freezer module, in the Mix & FX tab, comes with a range of preset ‘frozen’ sounds, but can also freeze the audio feeding the plug‑in when you click the snowflake button. This locks the instantaneous timbre of the sound (until you unfreeze it) and, helpfully, there’s the ability to save frozen timbres that you might want to use again. Also, as the Freezer comes before the Pitch‑Q (quantiser) module, it’s possible to play melodies based on the frozen sound. This frozen sound can be mixed with the synth or vocoder too, which often creates interesting textures that you wouldn’t normally expect from a vocoder. While not offered as a routing option, mixing the freeze sound with the unprocessed main input is also possible, but only if the signal being fed into the aux input is the same as that fed into the main inputs.
In addition to its choice of algorithms, the vocoder section includes formant‑shifting, expansion and stereo operation. Auditioning the various algorithms is straightforward, as you hear what each one sounds like while you move the cursor over its icon — you don’t have to click to hear it. Once you find one you like, you can select it to load it. This ‘hover and listen’ approach is also used elsewhere, such as in the pitch quantiser, where it’s handy for quickly auditioning the various modes. Simple controls adjust the formant as well as allowing variable amounts of high‑frequency and unvoiced sound to be added to the output, which improves speech intelligibility. The unvoiced signal is actually synthesized, while HF Thru is a high‑passed version of the modulator input. A small button in the lower left corner of the Vocoder box activates a compressor to help even out the levels.
The main purpose of the expander found inside the Vocoder module is that vocoded sounds can have a strongly reduced dynamic range — using the expander, it’s possible to restore the original vocal dynamic contour, which can help the sound to sit better in a mix. This has a simple amount control and can be placed before or after the Traces section of the vocoder. The Traces section has controls for Time and Tone, increasing the release time of the vocoded sound to create a type of reverb‑like, blurring effect. There’s also a graphic‑style EQ for shaping the sound.
Describing the ‘sound’ of this vocoder is really difficult, because it’s capable of such a wide range of different effects. Obviously, any vocoder has first and foremost to nail the classic vocoding effects, and if that’s what you want I have to say that the intelligibility you can get from Orange Vocoder IV is outstanding. But this is not just a vocoder: it is a powerful sound‑design toolkit wrapped up in an intuitive user interface, and you can take it far beyond vocoding.
When something more experimental is called for, you can set up voices that sound variously robotic, grainy, demonic, ghostly... and so on, while the freeze and pitch quantise sections add a new dimension, and can help create some wonderfully ambient textures, washy pads, drones, vocal harmonies and tuning effects. Being able to mix three sources at the output adds to the versatility, and if you need effects, you can add chorus and reverb to your sound too. Even the intelligent randomise feature is useful: it generally offers up usable results (which can’t be said of all random dice buttons!). In short, Orange Vocoder IV has really impressed me.
- Excellent range of vocoding effects and much more besides!
- Impressive pitch and freeze effects.
- Very intuitive.
- You’ll need a powerful CPU!
Orange Vocoder IV is a special effects powerhouse that offers much more than most vocoders. Despite its depth, Zynaptiq have managed to make it all really easy to use.
Available separately (€149) or as part of the ZAP III bundle (€329). Owners of any previous version can upgrade to version IV for €119. Prices include VAT.
Available separately ($159) or as part of the ZAP III bundle ($299). Existing users of any previous version of Orange Vocoder can upgrade to version IV for $99.