VocalSynth 2 is iZotope’s second release of their vocal effect toolbox, offering both retro and modern vocal processor and effects. They’ve included five different vocal processors: Vocoder, Compuvox, Talkbox, and new in version two, Biovox.
In our VocalSynth 1 review, my colleague Andy found the plugin “a lot of fun to play with”. However, the original VocalSynth was sometimes criticized for not sounding good enough to really be usable, so let’s see if the second iteration can produce more convincing content.
The new Biovox vocal module emulates the sonic qualities of the human vocal tract. It sounds pretty synthy (in a good way) until users turn up the Clarity knob, which really lets through the annunciations of the singer and lets the listener pick up on actual words and pronunciation of the original vocal. The Shift parameter simulates formant shifting (or lengthening of the ‘vocal tract’), making the perceived voice deeper or higher. The Nasal parameter makes the mids less present and makes the voice very nasally, think the opposite of pinching one’s nose. The Breath parameter brings out the whispers and high end of the original vocal, generally attenuating the mids and lows in compensation. In the advanced panel, users can adjust the vowel in real time to increase intelligibility.
The advanced panel for the modules allows users to access synth parameters that weren’t in VocalSynth 1.
Biovox excels, and in many ways sounds great sonically. With Clarity maxed and the other parameters at zero, users can quickly dial in a voice that is intelligible (the Mr. Square synth preset) as some of the synth presets are more ‘out there’ than others. Movie sound designers rejoice: There are saw voices, bit sounding voices, ghostly voices, creature-like voices, wheezing sounds, ready to enhance and affect dialogue and monster sounds in your projects.
The Vocoder sounds a good bit cleaner than it was in VocalSynth 1. It has Hard, Vintage, and Smooth modes, changing the number of bands (11, 10, and 8 respectively). These allow for a good amount of variation in the textures of each synth voice.
In the new VocalSynth 2, users can adjust volume and panning for each harmonic band produced by the Vocoder.
Being able to adjust band volume on the vocoder is key, it can help you really clean up the sound from the source instead of having to equalizer it later. You can hollow out the mids by diminishing the middle bands or make it sound like a retro vocoder by sloping each band down in volume as they increase in pitch. Many synth presets sound similar to how they sound in Biovox. Users can save additional presets to their liking, which are then accessible in each individual vocal module. It’s unfortunately a bit difficult to get the Vocoder to sound intelligible on its own in pitch tracking mode, though it’s great for layering. If you do have to use Vocoder in Auto mode, I recommend keeping the pitch correction speed high, to maximize intelligibility. However, it really shines in MIDI mode, where users can play the notes they want the vocoder to “sing” on the keyboard. This type of effect can be heard on Chance the Rapper’s “Summer Friends feat. Bon Iver”.
Chance the Rapper’s “Summer Friends feat. Bon Iver,” you can hear Bon Iver playing different notes on the keyboard while singing into a vocoder in the introduction of the piece.
The clarity and textures you get from the Vocoder in MIDI mode are rich and deep, so much so that they remind me of Imogen Heap. It’s pretty easy to fit the vocoder into a mix than it was in the original, and would excel at all kinds of genres from hip-hop to funk to indie rock to electronic.
Compuvox is a modelled from handheld talking and teaching toys of the 80’s, and will remind many of Stephen Hawking’s iconic text-to-speech speech-generating device. Bits and Bytes knobs can help increase digital distortion, while the Bats effect can pleasingly increase a certain grittiness and high-frequency clarity. Compuvox can sound harsh quickly, and certain modes and synth settings can create high-frequency artifacts and tones that you’ll want to send through the built-in lowpass filter, or eliminate later down the chain at some point. Most of these synth presets and settings sound fairly intelligible, but they also tend to sound quite robotic. Good if that’s the effect you need (especially for sci-fi sound designers), otherwise it might be better suited as more of a background voice layer. This is probably the weakest sounding module for everyday music.
Pete Drake and his talking steel guitar, an early talkbox.
The Talkbox module, like the Vocoder, is also quite a bit cleaner and intelligible than in the original VocalSynth. It also sounds more like a real talkbox. This module sounds great in both Auto and MIDI modes, and responds to an impressive degree to the dynamics, pitch, and mouth position of input voice. The Drive knob can help thicken up the sound, especially in the mids, increasing harmonic distortion. Being able to control the synth parameters is new in VocalSynth 2, and it gives users a necessary added customizability to get really creative and fine tune the synth powering the vocal. You can pitch the oscillators against each other to make more complex harmonic combinations, and create impressive harmonies to accompany a singer or stand alone. Like the vocoder, it’s another great module for all kinds of genres of music.
VocalSynth 2’s new X-Y pad allows for easy automation and manipulation of two parameters at once.
Talkbox can also make for composition with your voice – users can make sounds by singing into it that mimic the sonics of real live instruments. Basic Syntax from the synth presets in Talkbox in Auto mode is great for making basses and wah-bass guitar sounds with your voice. This could be very useful for songwriters to produce demos quickly, they can sing their basslines.
Polyvox is a polyphonic pitch shifter, great for natural to computerized vocal harmonies, similar to a human choir or more computerized like Imogen Heap’s effects. Polyvox in Auto mode sounds the most similar to the original vocal when pitch tracking speed is on low. It generally can sound a bit ghostly on its own, but layered behind a vocalist or with the others, it can add some pleasing high frequency sparkling. This unit doesn’t have the synth controls the other four modules have, so it has less tweakability. As a result, often to be usable in a mix I would recommend using it at low volume levels mixed in or heavily EQ’ed to remove some harsh artifacts that can occur. It’s excellent at subtle high-frequency harmonies and background chorus vocal effects, fitting into many genres from pop, hip hop, r&b, rock and everything in between.
While alone one unit might not be convincing enough, combining two or three units can quickly make VocalSynth’s response more intelligible.
VocalSynth 2 gives its predecessor a run for its money. The pitch-tracking algorithm feels much improved, and the overall sound can fit in a mix easier than original could. The seven effects sound pretty decent, as with much of iZotope’s software (and Shred can lend itself to some interesting rhythmic possibilities.) With respect to the modules, the Vocoder and Talkbox are more usable, and sound far richer than before, and the Biovox is a welcome, unique new addition. Compuvox and Polyvox are the weaker of the modules, with a bit less usability and accessibility, and less impressive sonics. VocalSynth 2 fits well for many different music genres and boasts moderate usability in film post-production environments, and especially, the new MIDI-mode sounds fantastic. Overall, it’s a strong second iteration, a necessary upgrade compared to its predecessor, from the folks at iZotope.