Despite the presence of several other excellent plugins in its catalogue, Antares will always be known as the company that kickstarted the automatic tuning revolution with the seminal Auto-Tune way back in 1997.
The new version, Auto-Tune Pro, replaces Auto-Tune 8, which was released in 2015. Considering that’s a three-year development period, the amount of new features added for the latest and greatest is actually rather meagre. However, we didn’t review Auto-Tune 8, so here we’ll take in the plugin as a whole, and point out the new additions as they come up.
In the simplest terms, Auto-Tune Pro - like all Auto-Tunes before it - takes an incoming monophonic signal (vocals are the primary target) and automatically corrects any wayward pitching within it - ie, it puts your out-of-tune singer in tune. It can do this transparently, or with the ‘Cher/T-Pain’-style sudden jumps in pitch for which it became infamous, depending on how it’s set up.
It’s operated in either of two modes: Auto and Graph, the first enabling real-time parameter-driven automatic repitching, the latter for detailed ‘offline’ manual editing of pitch and timing (See Graph out loud). With AT Pro, the interfaces for both modes have been given an attractive (and long overdue) new look, and are completely reconfigured, layout-wise. More importantly, however, Auto mode now offers two distinct views: Basic and Advanced.
For quick, easy and beginner-friendly automatic correction, Basic view comprises only the most essential of Auto-Tune Pro’s controls. Choose a voice type (Soprano, Alto/Tenor, Instrument, etc), select the key and scale you want your repitching to target, and set specific pitches for removal from the scale (or leave unchanged) by lighting up keys in the keyboard at the bottom. Alternatively, insert the new included Auto-Key plugin into any in-key chordal track in your project to have it automatically detect the key and scale of the audio thereon, and transmit the results to all running instances of Auto-Tune.
Auto-Tune’s Graph mode provides the means by which to edit the pitch and timing of a captured audio clip in fine detail. The capture process is quick and painless (and avoided altogether in the ARA-compatible Presonus Studio One - see main text), and once it’s done, the waveform appears in the background of the piano roll-style interface, positioned correctly in relation to the host DAW timeline. Fully manipulable “correction objects” are then automatically generated (based on the detected pitch profile of the source material) or drawn into the graph, defining fixed horizontal blocks, curves or straight lines that control the nondestructive retuning and timestretching of the audio.
For Auto-Tune Pro, Graph mode has been redesigned and enlarged, and added to with a bank of six user-definable Zoom State presets. The UI feels noticeably more responsive than it did in previous versions, too.
Graph mode has never matched Melodyne for editing depth and power - and still doesn’t - but that’s not really what it’s trying to do. Rather, it serves as a deeper corrective processor for those occasions when Auto mode doesn’t quite hit the mark, and a relatively intuitive workspace for remedial or creative manual repitching.
With the key and scale settings established, tweak the action of the repitching algorithm with the Retune Speed, Flex-Tune (per-note correction range or ‘tolerance’, for a more natural sound; added with v8), Humanize (varies the Retune Speed depending on the length of the note) and Natural Vibrato (exaggerate or suppress vibrato) controls. The top bar houses buttons and knobs for automatic Formant correction, Throat modelling, transposition and detuning, and - new for AT Pro - reverting the engine to the still-loved sound of the Auto-Tune 5 algorithm (Classic mode).
A different ’Tune
Advanced view is simply a refresh of Auto-Tune 8’s Auto mode, so here you’ll find everything from Basic view, plus a few extras. The Create Vibrato section applies an LFO to the pitch, amplitude and formant characteristics of your vocal, with optional fading-in and randomising of the modulation signal. Handled with care, it’s an effective system for adding a bit of wobble to overly flat performances.
While the keyboard at the bottom of the UI facilitates removal from the scale and bypassing of individual notes across a six-and-a-half-octave range, Advanced view’s Edit Scale Display lets you semi-permanently customise the loaded scale by doing the same thing for all octaves at once.
The Set Major/Minor buttons instantly remove all notes that don’t belong to the major or minor scale, and Set All returns the scale to its default state. The Target Notes and Learn Scale buttons above open AT Pro up to MIDI input. In Target Notes mode, incoming MIDI notes determine the repitching target at any given moment; while Learn Scale mode removes all notes from the scale, so that they can be reactivated via MIDI - play a chord or melody to define the scale.
In either MIDI mode, incoming notes can be switched ‘as played’ or across all octaves. AT Pro also introduces assignment of MIDI CCs to many of its controls - including Retune Speed, Flex-Tune and all eight Vibrato parameters - for hands-on tweaking.
For users of the ARA-compatible Studio One DAW, among the most welcome of AT Pro’s new features will be the addition of Audio Random Access support. With this, all audio data is passed directly to the plugin from the host DAW in Graph mode, rather than having to be manually recorded into it. A great timesaver.
AT Pro is Auto-Tune in its most powerful, usable incarnation yet, and it easily maintains its position as one of the two best retuning solutions available; the other, of course, being Celemony’s Melodyne. While Melodyne is more powerful when it comes to graphical editing, Auto-Tune Pro clearly has the edge in terms of real-time correction and ease of use - and it’s Graph mode isn’t exactly shabby, either.
Existing owners of Auto-Tune 8 don’t actually get all that much new stuff, though, so unless they’re using Studio One, desperate for the AT5 sound or feeling particularly constrained by the design of the Graph editor, the $129 upgrade fee might need thinking about.
Enamoured owners of Auto-Tune 7 and earlier, on the other hand, shouldn’t hesitate to make this purchase; and for those entirely new to the retuning game, who want to keep the process as simple as it can be, Auto-Tune Pro may well prove to be the ultimate pitch-manipulating toolbox.