What Is a Vocoder?
From their humble beginnings as a manner of condensing the human voice for transmission via cables underseas, the vocoder has had a protracted and storied historical past which included use in World War Two as a type of cryptography before it made Kraftwerk and Bambaataa sound like futuristic robots.
The vocoder spurs the creativity of thousands and thousands. Let’s dive into the vocoder, the way it works, what it does, and the way it’s been utilized in pop and electro music at this time.
What are vocoder effects?
The vocoder was created in the 1920s, and also you’ll hear them on many records from the 1970s period. Vocoders had been additionally used extensively by artists equivalent to Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Stevie Wonder, and Daft Punk.
In the event you’re studying this post, you’re most likely got to make use of them in your music – because of their resurgence in pop music. Initially, it’s vital to notice that you’ll discover both hardware and software-based vocoders.
How does Vocoder work?
A vocoder works by analyzing the sound of a modulator signal, which is often a human voice. The modulator signal is broken up into many frequency bands. The extent of every band is distributed as a signal to a corresponding bandpass filter.
The filter is set to the identical frequency that was analyzed. A sound source, known as the carrier, is distributed via the bank of filters. The extent of every bandpass filter is robotically adjusted to that of the corresponding frequency within the modulator signal.
In this manner, the carrier is filtered in order that the harmonic material that passes through is much like that of the modulator signal.
How do you make my vocoder sound good?
To get nice outcomes out of your experimentation with vocoders, you’ll most likely wish to use a carrier wave that’s wealthy in harmonic content. In the event you present the vocoder with extra harmonics, the modulation effects can be rather more evident and intelligible than, say, a sine or triangle wave.
We’d suggest starting with a saw wave or saw-based synth patch. It’s additionally not a foul concept to compress and/or saturate your carrier signal on its way into the vocoder; an extra restricted dynamic range will assist intensify the effects of the filter bank.
Now let’s speak in regards to the modulator. Whenever you’re singing or speaking right into a vocoder, don’t be afraid to over-articulate.
Pronounce the phrases more clearly than you often would; for the reason that harmonic traits of your voice can be very completely different, your diction is vital to an intelligible vocoder effect (assuming that’s what you’re going for).
The pitch doesn’t actually matter when singing right into a vocoder, so give attention to making the other traits of your voice as attention-grabbing as possible.
What are a vocoder’s parameters?
Listed below are just a few parameters generally discovered on vocoder plugins and hardware that may help guide your inventive process:
This refers back to the variety of frequency bands into which the modulator signal is broken up. Basically, you may consider this as a resolution. Classic vocoders tended to have fewer frequency bands, so strive to utilize a setting of 8 – 12 bands for an extra traditional sound.
This refers to the higher and lower limits of the frequency within the carrier signal accepted by the vocoder. To extend intelligibility, try to elevate the higher limit of the frequency range in your vocoder above ~5 kHz.
Some vocoders provide a formant parameter (typically also known as “shift”). It will enhance or decrease the frequencies of the filters, which makes the outcome sound brighter or deeper, respectively.
These are nice for blurring the lines or changing between “male” and “feminine”-sounding vocals. The truth is, some vocoders also have a “gender” parameter devoted to this!
Unvoiced sounds happen naturally in human speech. Also called plosives, these sounds are produced after we make a consonant that requires blowing air through the lips, equivalent to “p” or “b.”
Many digital vocoders are able to detect these airy, noisy sounds, which span a definite frequency range from pitched, vibrating vocal cord sounds.
For instance, on Ableton’s Vocoder audio effect, the Unvoiced knob permits the consumer to combine a noise generator with the carrier wave to make sure that these unpitched transient sounds stay present in your vocoded audio.
We just want to let you know that we’ll list these hardware vocoders in no particular order. They’ll be randomized as we don’t wish to sort them from best to worst.
Listed below are our Top 5 Hardware Vocoders for 2023:
1. Korg microKORG S Synthesizer and Vocoder
The Korg MicroKorg is a 37-key synth. It’s really a digital synthesizer, as a substitute for an analog one. In the event you’re undecided about what the difference between a digital and an analog synth is, permit us to clarify.
Analog synths push signals referred to as waveforms by circuitry may be modified and filtered to make completely different sounds, frequencies, and so on. A digital synth simply replicates this whole process.
Some argue that digital synths, because they copy the sounds, aren’t as genuine or pure as analog synths. And we believe to an extent they’re right. There’s one thing about creating sounds via the onboard electronics that simply sounds completely different, extra “classic” sounding.
However, in our view, there are some digital synths that achieve this effect that you’d never know the distinction. Our experience with the MicroKorg S is limited, as the polyphony on it. It is a good starting point if you wish to learn how to use a vocoder and a synth in one unit. The keyboard keys are small and not suitable for bigger hands, but aside from that, it is simple and it has a compact design that is easy to understand.
The MicroKorg S is a synth that has a whole lot of appeal on the market. And whereas there could be a studying curve, for those who’re already within the mainframe to acquire this synth, then we believe it’s seemingly that you’ll be fairly pleased with your buy.
- 256 Programs – 192 presets / 64 Users
- Audio Input
- Stereo output
- MIDI: In / Out / Thru
- Great Design
- Really Affordable
- Bunch of Presets
- Battery Possibility
- Limited Polyphony
- Small Keys
2. Arturia MicroFreak Vocoder Edition
A brand new wavetable oscillator lets you load up your individual wavetables, and the synth will ship with a bunch of ready-rolled wavetables to get you in your way.
The sequencer is now able to work in each chord and unison mode in addition to monophonically, and now you can additionally alter the wave, timbre, and shape parameters extra quickly by holding down the shift whereas turning the related encoder.
The brand-new MicroFreak Vocoder Edition options 14 digital oscillator modes, analog filters, a plethora of modulation/randomization controls, and a strong vocoder engine. The MicroFreak Vocoder has a 16-band mode to remodel your voice, with three waveforms, timbre, and shape knobs to regulate the response of the 16 frequency bands.
The obvious distinction to the original – apart from the gooseneck mic, after all – is the daring white makeover. Apart from the aesthetic variations and new mic, the MicroFreak Vocoder’s inner workings will be simply as familiar to customers as its predecessor.
Particularly, it is an analog filter with digital and wavetable oscillators, a poly-aftertouch PCB keyboard, an arpeggiator, and a sequencer. This is a neat and compact vocoder that might get you great results and our brief experience with it was great. The only thing that lacks is a better mic input, but anything else is well sorted out for such a small machine.
- MIDI In / Out: 3.5 mm TRS Jacks
- USB Port
- Dimensions: 311 x 233 x 55 mm
- Weight: 1.02 kg
- 25 Touch Keys
- Really Portable
- Better Mic Input
3. Novation MiniNova 37-key Synthesizer with Vocoder
The Novation MiniNova sits at around $400, which to some could come off a bit too cheap. Nevertheless, we used to be impressed with what this synth had to supply at such an affordable price.
Cosmetically, it has an exquisite blue coat with wooden completed panels. It has blue and red LED lights, and the pitch wheels glow blue. The knobs are additionally an excellent size and make it simpler for one to get around.
The MiniNova was designed to be a travel synth with its portability and small dimension. That’s why it has solely 37 keys and they’re smaller than your regular piano key. We are not a fan of small keys like this, however as we used to be playing scales up and down, we felt it was one thing that just about anybody might get used to.
The MiniNova comes with 256 onboard presets which you could tweak and warp by playing or utilizing the vocoder. It makes use of the identical synth engine as its bigger brother, the Novation Ultranova. It has a voice tune and conventional vocoder effects. You’ll be able to layer up to 5 voices and tweak these sounds in real time.
A big producer friend of ours has this one and while we were at his studio, we saw the performance of this unit. We were blown away! Everything is neatly sorted out, the design is impeccable, and the vocoder functionality is amazing. The only thing that lacks is battery powering, but we are going to overlook that based on what this beast packs!
- Patch Select knob
- Pitch and Modulation wheel
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 560 x 75 x 250 mm
- Weight: 2.52 kg
- Bunch of Presets
- Affordable Price
- Great Vocoder Overall
- No Battery
4. Waldorf STVC String Synthesizer and Vocoder
Enter the STVC (brief for String Vocoder, we think). Built-in a really stable all-metal enclosure, very much within the mold of their different keyboard synths (such as the Blofeld), the STVC is once again supreme. Machines that mixed a string machine alongside a vocoder were very elegantly designed machines, with charcoal gray clean paintwork.
The keyboard is a really nice feeling four-octave affair and in addition, has an aftertouch. Having aftertouch (particularly when vocoding) is an actual bonus because it permits you to modulate sounds without having to leap to the wheels.
Though it weighs simply 7.5kg, the STVC’s thick metal case is sort of hefty, and the lips on both sides are perfect for live use, making it simple to carry it out and in of cases and onto stands. Equally, the full-sized, four-octave, velocity, and strain delicate keyboard feels stable and has a surprisingly firm feel.
Given the character of the STVC, there could be a notion that it’s going to only enchantment to musicians desirous to hark back to a bygone age of digital music. Compared to the other units, this one is bigger and the mic sits on top of the keyboard. The vocoding is amazing as expected from Waldorf.
It’ll handle all of the basic classic string sounds with utter ease, and that might be enough to promote it, however, the vocoder part may be very capable and really elegant, and whereas vocoders are not all the time in high demand, it cuts a mighty swagger in both the basic and up to date uses.
The strings on it are great and that is another thing that separates it from a classical vocoding unit. Even though it has a modulation matrix board, we would really like that it was designed to be a tad bigger. Overall, amazing unit worth every penny!
- USB 2.0 connector
- Stainless steel control knobs
- 6.3 mm Sustain pedal connection
- 6.3 mm Expression/Ext. Signal connection
- Great Design
- Amazing Strings
- Beautiful Vocoding
- Small Matrix Board
- Not a budget item
5. Roland JD-Xi Analog/Digital Synthesizer with Vocoder
In the last 30+ odd years, we’ve seen packages starting from well-known TR model drum machines, and sturdy analog synthesizers to a number of the most forward-thinking digital synth applied sciences of our time. To commemorate their succession, Roland introduces the JD-Xi mini keyboard which explores an uncommon mixture of all these aspects in what they coin as the brand-new interactive analog/digital crossover synthesizer.
Designed as a miniature polyphonic powerhouse, Roland has amalgamated a monophonic analog part with their patented ‘SuperNatural’ digital synth engine for a brand new hybrid synthesizer, drum machine, and groove box. In the event, you’re on the lookout for sonic variety at an inexpensive price point in a small transportable package
Regardless of the uber-plastic casing and financial feel of the encoders and buttons, it’s a robust synthesizer. 128 digital voices, shared between 2 PCM-based digital synths, a drum half (26 voices), and 1 analog voice for a grand whole of 129 voices throughout 4 components.
The JD-Xi has a 3-octave miniature keyboard (velocity-sensitive however no aftertouch) with tiny pitch and mod wheels. For short sketching out concepts on a PC, there’s a built-in 32-step sample sequencer with real-time, TR type, and step recording.
There’s quite a bit happening underneath the hood and contemplating the price level you get a whole lot of bang for your buck. We can see the JD-Xi being a worthy touring companion for live performances because of its tiny footprint, simple connectivity, multi-functionality, and plentiful sound selection.
We actually only saw this one in a store and were asking more about it. After detailed research, we shared what we think are the best features of it. Personally, I really like the futuristic design and the vocoding appears to be satisfactory. The only downside is that there is no battery option and that it has small keys, nothing else!
- Built-in arpeggiator
- LCD Display
- Dimensions (W x D x H): 575 x 245 x 85 mm
- Weight: 2.2 kg
- Compact and Modern
- Great Effects on it
- Amazing Polyphony
- No battery and small keys
Vocoders 2023 Additions
Unfortunately, there are not many hardware vocoders designed this year. We will be following the market very closely and will update this article once there is something new out there.
On the other hand, there are a bunch of new vocoder plugins that you can pick from and use in your DAW. Below we will mention some of them, but we will only share their names and let you do the additional testing after that:
- Zynaptiq Orange Vocoder IV Plug-in
- Antares Auto-Tune Vocodist Vocoder Plug-in
- Cherry Audio Rackmode Signal Processors Bundle
- MeldaProduction MVocoder Plug-in
If you are on the lookout for a synthesizer with vocoder options, these 5 models we listed will give you everything you need in order to have a great experience when it comes to vocoders.
There are various plugin models that you can reach for in case you want something completely digital and in your DAW. This article was dedicated to the hardware models and the actual hands-on experience.
If you are having any questions in regards to this topic, feel free to shoot us a comment below and we’ll gladly answer it!
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