Melodyne is a very different type of audio editor. Instead of crudely chopping up lengths of recorded sound, the idea is that you work with the musical content itself; bending, squeezing and twisting melodic material as if it were Blu-Tack.
This might imply that Melodyne is best suited to the creation of strange avant-garde music, but the truth is that you can use the software to edit and manipulate traditional acoustic recordings far more naturally than with any other application.
The big new feature in Melodyne Studio 3 is the polyphonic detection algorithm. But don’t expect the heavens to open up with a choir of angels singing Hallelujah just yet – the Holy Grail has yet to be found. The ability to reliably extract notes from a mix – even as MIDI data – is still a few years away, and separating different sounds from within a mixed audio file may not be possible for decades.
So, no changing of prerecorded major chords into minor ones, but you do get top-notch beatmatching, timestretching and pitchshifting of complex composite material. Although you’d usually avoid processing a full stereo mix in this way, Melodyne can – with some manual tweaking – outperform many other systems.
The results on individual tracks (such as piano or guitar) are often flawless. What the upgraded technology in Melodyne Studio 3 does enable you to do is take each individual track of a song (for example), and transpose it into a completely different key without any audible artefacts. You could even take a fast, up-tempo rock multitrack and convert it into a slow, jazzy number with a lazy swing feel.
This includes the lead vocal too, and it’s fair to say that you can get results that are of top quality.
Also, the recognition of pitches, note boundaries, tempo and even the type of material (melodic, rhythmic or polyphonic) is now completely automatic. Existing users will certainly appreciate the numerous operational improvements in the Edit Window too.
On the downside, much of the user interface remains clunky and primitive, something that could come as a shock to new users. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and in this respect, Melodyne still lets itself down.
And there's more
Don’t be put off by Melodyne’s slightly ugly appearance, though – it’s a powerful product, and offers unrivalled options for manipulating sound. You can use an unlimited number of tracks, equalisers and insert points, and there are group channels that can be routed to any soundcard output.
Melodyne 3 adds support for virtual instruments, and it’s now possible to turn audio tracks into real-time MIDI output. Record a vocal and Melodyne will play it on your soft synth; pretend to be a human beatbox and Melodyne will play your spoken beats in your favourite drum sampler and even quantise them for perfect timing.
Unfortunately, Melodyne 3 also feels a bit preliminary and buggy. There are many areas where it falls short, and loading virtual instruments is painfully slow and unreliable. There are lots of compatibility issues (not all of which are Celemony’s fault, it should be said) and when these occur, Melodyne can crash or completely lock up your computer, requiring you to literally pull the plug on it.
Virtual instrument integration was probably not a good move on Celemony’s part. It detracts from the main purpose of the app, and the resulting compatibility issues could take many months to resolve. It’s also unnecessary: instrument hosting is far better handled inside a MIDI sequencer bridged to Melodyne, with the MIDI input being routed via a freeware virtual MIDI cable like Maple.
Like nothing else
Melodyne 3 is impressive and unique. There’s no MIDI sequencing or automated mixing, but these features are not required since Melodyne works best when bridged or ReWired to a full-on sequencer.
The real problem with the software is its public image – it isn’t graphically attractive, and you won’t be able to understand it without investing hours of learning time..