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QUICK PICKS: ANTARES Auto-Tune 1.6 (Mac/Win)

May 1, 2000

How many times have you laid down a great track, only to discover that it's out of tune and useless for the final mix? Time for another take, right?

Not anymore. With Antares's Auto-Tune plug-in (from $299-$599, depending on the host platform), you can correct the intonation problems of mono audio tracks after they've been recorded. The plug-in is available in several formats: DirectX, VST (Macintosh only), TDM, MAS, and, by the time you read this, RTAS. I reviewed the DirectX version. Antares also offers a dedicated Mac program called AudioStream that runs Auto-Tune as a stand-alone application.

Tune InThe official pitch (no pun intended) is that Auto-Tune automatically corrects out-of-tune notes without introducing any artifacts or otherwise altering the sound. You can constrain your melodies to different scales and keys, and you can even delete notes from the provided scales to limit the pitches on a track.

Auto-Tune offers two modes: Automatic and Graphic. Automatic mode lets you simply choose a scale and apply the effect to a track. You can use major, minor, and chromatic scales, as well as a host of ancient and modern tunings. In addition, you can easily create your own note collections and save them as presets.

In Automatic mode, the Retune slider controls the rate at which pitch correction is applied. With a fast setting, for example, notes are "snapped" to the nearest entry in the scale that you are correcting to. This quantizes the pitch and can produce effects such as those found in Cher's "Believe." (In fact, Auto-Tune is one of the tools used to produce the effects in that song.) As you move the slider toward the opposite extreme, an increasing amount of the natural portamento is retained in the track; at the slowest setting, there's no correction at all. You can also use the Vibrato option to add pitch variations of your own (they can follow a sine, ramp, or square curvature).

Automatic mode offers many useful parameters to tweak. Nonetheless, you can get good results just by using the default values and setting the scale to "chromatic." In Graphic mode, Auto-Tune reads a selected track and displays its pitch graphically. Using functions such as line- and curve-drawing tools, you can precisely trace the tuning action that Auto-Tune will apply to the selected audio. Your audio is displayed as a waveform, so you can easily see where the changes will occur. Although Graphic mode is more complicated than Automatic mode, it offers exacting control over the tuning and enables you to create interesting pitch shifts and other effects.

Tune UpHow well does Auto-Tune perform? I tested the software on several electric-guitar, vocal, and synth tracks. In general, I was impressed with its ability to tune the tracks smoothly without adding unwanted artifacts. Auto-Tune works best on sustained notes, but with a little effort it can be useful in rapid note passages, too. The large number of scales, which include microtonal offerings as well as standard Western pitch collections, is a bonus.

The only unpleasant effect that I noted was an occasional pitch-sliding sound, which I was able to correct to some extent by adjusting the Tracking control. Running the processed audio through an external tuner, I found that Auto-Tune has virtually perfect pitch. In the few cases where the program wasn't initially effective, I improved its performance by editing the undesired notes out of the scale.

Tune OutOverall, Antares's Auto-Tune is a great tool that improves the intonation of mono tracks without compromising sound quality and reduces the number of takes needed for a session. Although learning to apply the effects correctly takes time, using Auto-Tune has obvious benefits; Antares should be praised for creating a truly unique product.

I have some minor quibbles: my version occasionally gave me incomplete onscreen text, and the current release ships on floppy disk. (According to the company, all future releases will be on CD-ROM.) But I have no major problems with the software. Auto-Tune is more expensive than some PC plug-ins, but Mac users will find the price pretty typical. In any event, the hours it will save you easily justify the cost.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4

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