Vocal effects are huge and don’t look like going anywhere soon. Alex Holmes reviews the iZotope VocalSynth with four for the price of one…
Synthetic vocal effects have been around in popular music for quite some time now, and there have been multiple software solutions and hardware units that make these sounds possible. However the iZotope VocalSynth plug-in represents the first time several of the most popular techniques have been combined in a single, easy-to-use product.
iZotope VocalSynth Overview
At its heart are four engines; the Polyvox can change the formant of the voice or create organic, layered harmonies a la Imogen Heap; the Vocoder creates classic talking-synth sounds like Daft Punk; the Compuvox is a Speak & Spell-style computer voice, and Talkbox creates melodies in the style of Chromeo or Tupac.
These four units sit in the middle of a clear GUI (with a resemblance to NI’s recent Reaktor plug-ins) with volume controls for each. This is one of the big draws of the software, as you can blend all four engines to create rich new textures, although some panning controls would have been nice to help with separation.
The Vocoder, Compuvox and Talkbox each have 10 different wavetables for the carrier, which track the pitch of the incoming signal meaning there’s no complicated setup needed to get instant results.
The input can also pass through a Pitch Correction module to tidy tuning or create hard-tuning effects, with the ability to constrain to a key. On top of the waveform selection, each engine gives you fairly limited control over three main parameters for things such as formant, drive and bit reduction, plus a type-selector switch with three settings.
Special mention should go to the specially-crafted dial called Bats, which makes any signal sound like a gravelly Christian Bale! At the top of the GUI you also have volume and dry/wet controls, plus a flexible X/Y pad that allows you assign parameters from a long list to each axis.
Alternatives to the iZotope VocalSynth
There’s not really anything out there that has all of these FX in one plug-in. However, for high-quality vocoding, you could check out MeldaProduction’s MVocoder (€49), or for Compuvox effects there’s Sonic Charge’s Bitspeek ($33). Alternatively, Madrona Labs’ Virta ($89) is a more complex and flexible synth that can be controlled by your voice, but it lacks the retro vocal FX sounds found in VocalSynth.
To round things off, there are five effects at the bottom that run in series called Distort, Filter, Transform (with eight convolution speaker models), Shred (a stutter effect), and Delay. They lack deep controls but have been fine-tuned to get quick, good-sounding results. The final section allows you to add up to three additional voices and tune each one up or down in semitones or octaves for rich-sounding chords.
By default, the plug-in runs in Auto mode and tracks the input’s pitch, but the real fun comes when you put it into MIDI mode and start playing the keyboard. This turns VocalSynth into a much more expressive instrument allowing you to play polyphonic chords, or monophonic melodies.
You can also send it a sidechain signal and use that as the carrier, which opens up endless creative sound-design possibilities. We tried out a bunch of different vocals and sidechain signals and came up with a few great riffs, but also struggled a little to get intelligible results.
Maybe if there was more control over the sidechain and the actual oscillators then you might be able to fine-tune things to improve this. Also, it would be nice to have portamento and the ability to change the pitch-bend amount for the MIDI tracking for better expressiveness.
If you could use retro vocoder and talkbox sounds, or overly pitched R’n’B-style harmonies, this is perfect to get you started. Or, if you’re willing to get experimental and creative but aren’t worried about intelligibility, then it’s a great sound-design tool.