A purist might complain that vocal pitch correction rakes the natural feel out of a performance. I, for one, am a self-professed techno junky. I have never seen a violin growing on a tree and thus view almost everything – from musical instruments to vocal processors – as useful tools! For its part, t.c. electronic addresses the ethical question of vocal correction with the following:
“Very often the strongest energy and timing occurs during the first two or three takes. Further tracking just to nail a few out-of-pitch notes often kills the initial energy and fresh feeling. Keep the good track and use the Intonator to correct the few out-of-pitch notes there might be.” This is, in fact, the best way to use this product. It won’t make your grandma sound like a diva, but it might help polish an evolving diva nonetheless!
The Intonator ($1,500) is a single rack unit with a bright blue display, eight comfortable knobs and 19 buttons on the front face. Twelve of the 19 buttons actually form a small, one-octave keyboard that can be used in the pitch correction process. There is an analog input adjustment knob, a multi function alpha dial, a large pitch-adjusting dial; dials for cent-pitch adjustment, attack and release; and knobs for de-essing and frequency control for the low cut filter.
Product PointsApplications: Vocal pitch correction
Key Features: Automatic and manual pitch correction modes; built-in de-esser; adaptive low-cut filter
Contact: t.c. electronic at 800-288-5838.
Plus: Natural sound, Small learning curve,Good integration with MIDI sequencers
The Score: If you do a lot of vocal recording, it is worth its weight in gold!
There is also a standard memory card slot. On the rear panel are stereo balanced analog XLR I/O and digital I/O in ADAT, AES, S/PDIF and TOS flavors. There is a word-clock sync input and MIDI I/O/thru. The Intonator can sync digitally to 44.1, 48, 88.2, or 96 kHz, although the ADAT I/O only works at 44.1 or 48 kHz. The built in de-esser and adaptive low-cut filter are nice additions that help smooth out vocal pitch adjustments. You can dither the outputs to 8-, 12-, 16- 20-, 22- or 24-bit.
There are two modes to choose from: normal mode sends the stereo signal through the pitch correction, then the de-esser and then the low-cut filter. Dual mode is best used on a mono vocal, thus making the left and right inputs separate channels – one to go through the pitch corrector, the other to go through the de-esser/low-cut filter.
In dual mode you can print two versions of a vocal – one with pitch correction, one without. You can then slice and dice with your DAW to compose a final vocal. Since many people will use this on a mono lead vocal source, this is a handy feature that offers more flexibility and control over the sound. I found it easier to use the Intonator after the recording session rather than recording a vocal through it.
I set the Intonator up through the S/PDIF I/O on a Digidesign 882/20 to get signal to and from my Pro Tools hardware, running Logic Audio 4.04 as the software front end to the Digidesign hardware. I tried the Intonator on both male and female vocals and it worked as advertised, with very little hassle.
To make pitch corrections in automatic mode, let the Intonator know what key you are in, including whether it is major, minor, chromatic or even a custom scale you create. Next you need to tailor the pitch correction by adjusting the Window, Attack and Amount parameters. The Window parameter adjusts the range of cents within which the Intonator will make adjustments. The Attack and the Amount parameters adjust the speed and intensity with which the pitch correction is applied.
I liked that you can really use your ear with these three simple parameters and tune in the vocal using more or less of any parameter, depending on the specific circumstances of the performance. I found it handy – several times – to record the output of the Intonator back into logic to then cut and paste between several corrected performances and the original performance. This allowed me to create a composite final lead vocal.
Believe it or not, this was not as time-consuming as it sounds. I had the feeling that I was tweaking the filters on a synth, rather than making fine adjustments to a vocal performance. It was a musical experience.
Manual mode offers even more control. Here you can push the pitch of any out-of-tune note with the manual pitch knob or by hitting a key on the one octave mini keyboard on the Intonator itself. You can also do this from your MIDI controller. There is also visual feedback – you can see in the display how far off the original performance is. You can then set the trouble spot to loop, practice your manual adjustments and then print a new track when the out-of-tune section has been perfected.
The MIDI implementation is impressive. All the knobs on the front panel transmit MIDI controller data, which allows you to record knob movements into a sequencer and tweak the pitch adjustments with whatever MIDI editing environment you desire – cool!
Can the Intonator be used in a live performance situation? Not really. It would take quite a bit of time to set up the automatic mode to the keys of each song. You would have use program changes via MIDI to change parameters for key changes within songs and you’d need to know how the singer tended to go off key to set the Window, Attack and Amount parameters for each song. This tool is much better suited to the studio. (According to the company, the chromatic mode would let one use the Intonator in a live setting-Ed.)
I liked this product much more than I thought I would. I’ve used some software-only pitch correction plug-ins in the past and I found the Intonator much easier to use, as well as very natural sounding. Even some odd pitch corrections made in manual mode, where I tweaked the pitch too much, created usable and musical results. Those people who do a ton of vocal recording will find this product useful and, ultimately, time saving!