Melodyne vs. Auto-Tune: Which tuning software is best?

melodyne vs autotune

The debate between Melodyne vs. Auto-Tune has been ongoing for years. While they have many similarities, they also have some critical differences. Let’s dive in to how they work and see which one is right for you.

Here’s everything you need to know.

A History of Pitch-Correction

In the golden days of analog, pitch correction was a fairly tall task to achieve. There were few studio tricks you could use to cover up a shaky performance. You could slow down or speed up the tape that the track was on, but that introduced a lot of headaches. Modulation effects like chorus or flange could help, but imparted a specific sound that might not fit the song. Double tracking was a common technique going all the way back to the recordings of the Beatles, but was really only useful at hiding inconsistencies in vocals.

Then, in 1975 the Eventide company introduced the world’s first digital pitch-shifter – The Harmonizer. This made things a little easier, but not perfect. It was most commonly used on guitars, and many of the most iconic guitar gods of the 80’s had one in their rack at some point. As digital audio technology progressed, so did the ability to more accurately fix tuning issues in a studio performance.

Eventide H910 HarmonizerThat brings us to the modern plug-in technology of today. There has been a lot of controversy over pitch-correction plug-ins. Some say they’re a total crutch, while others are less polarized by them. No matter what your ethics on the concept are, the reality is that pitch-correction is a production tool just like equalization or compression. And it can do much more than just provide cover up to a poor performance.

There are a number of tuning and pitch correction applications to choose from, but Celemony Melodyne and Antares Auto-Tune remain at the top of the heap. And for good reason. They are both fantastic tools that provide exceptional results via different methods.

Why Use Pitch Correction at All?

Pitch correction has a number of applications. Of course, it can be used to fix a pitchy performance, especially on vocals. Sometimes you get a take with the perfect energy, but there are flaws and you can’t quite capture the magic with another take. Or an instrument was slightly out of tune and you just need to give it a little something. There is also cost associated with being in the studio, and if you don’t have the budget or time to re-record a track, pitch correction can be a cost saver. Sometimes, pitch correction isn’t used to correct a performance at all, but rather as an audible effect or stylistic decision.

The Biggest Difference

There is a fundamental difference in how the Melodyne and Auto-Tune process audio. The key difference between the two plug-ins is that Melodyne is nonlinear, whereas Autotune processes audio in real-time in a linear fashion.

To be more specific, Melodyne records the audio it is to process into the plug-in. Then you are able to go in and manually fine tune (pun intended!) each note. You are able to correct any miscalculations made and create the most accurate result. It is more tedious but also more accurate.

With Auto-Tune the audio is instantly processed. This lends itself to a faster workflow, but can create more errors. Sometimes the plug-in can’t accurately identify the note and will tune it incorrectly making it sound even more off pitch than it was originally. This isn’t too bad though if the original intonation of the note isn’t far off the mark. There is a way to correct things after it’s processed, but since the audio is processed in real-time it’s not an ideal fix. Artifacts are created that make the audio sound artificial which gives Auto-Tune its signature sound.

Melodyne can also process polyphonic audio, whereas Auto-Tune is strictly monophonic. For sources that are only producing one note at a time – like vocals and lead guitar – this might be fine. But what if you are working with a slightly out-of-tune piano, or an acoustic guitar?

With the polyphonic processing provided by Melodyne it actually separates the notes in the audio and tunes them individually. This feature is only available in the more expensive versions of the program and doesn’t always provide the most perfect results.

You can also think of Melodyne as a more precise, transparent post-production tool and Auto-Tune as more of an effect — though both can be used for both situations. The first two artists that probably come to mind when thinking of the Auto-Tune effect are Cher and T-Pain. This effect is definitely over the top but still widely sought after in popular music.

Studio vs. Stage

Another consideration to take is how you want to use pitch-correction. In the studio, Melodyne really has no competition for accuracy, but if you need tuning in a live scenario you need something that processes the audio in real-time so Auto-Tune is your only choice. Since Auto-Tune’s processing is zero latency, to achieve absolutely no latency whatsoever you’ll need a powerful enough computer to run it.

In conclusion, pitch correction is a powerful tool that if used appropriately, can really take a track over the top. Here is a brief summary of the biggest differences between the two:

Celemony Melodyne

Celemony Melodyne is up to its 5th version, and it’s often referred to as the more natural-sounding service. In reality, both of these products can be used to create relatively natural effects, however some prefer the more intricate graphic editing on offer by Melodyne to the automatic approach that Auto-Tune takes. Melodyne usually takes a linear, recorded approach, rather than the real-time tuning on offer by Auto-Tune. Melodyne also works on polyphonic sources, but can only really be used in the studio, not in live situations.

Melodyne is available in a number of different versions. Here’s a rundown of the different types, and for more information, you can check out Celemony’s website.

Melodyne 5 Essential

Melodyne 5 Essential is the cheapest version of Melodyne, coming in at only $99. The service is built to offer easy pitch correction and timing, and while it doesn’t offer the extra features on offer by some of the more expensive versions of Melodyne, it’s still a great product, and you’ll get the main tool to edit pitch center, position, length, and note separation. You won’t, however, get more specific tools for pitch, vibrato, and so on.

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Melodyne 5 Assistant

Melodyne 5 Assistant is the next step up from Melodyne 5 Essential, and it’s a serious improvement. This is where you’ll get the more granular controls over things like pitch, vibrato, pitch drift, and so on. Features that are missing include multi-tracking and multi-track note editing, the ability to quantize to reference track, and so on, but many won’t need these features in the first place. Melodyne 5 Assistant comes at $299.

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Melodyne 5 Editor

Melodyne 5 Editor is where the serious professional tools start to kick in, and the price of the plugin reflects that. For Melodyne 5 Editor, you’ll pay $499 — but in return, you get Celemony’s DNA algorithm, which makes basically allows you to edit polyphonic audio with different algorithms for things like pianos, guitars, string quartets, and so on.

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Melodyne 5 Studio

Last but not least is Melodyne 5 Studio, and it’s the most expensive of the bunch, coming in at $849. That’s more than any version of of Auto-Tune, but in return you’ll get all of the features that Melodyne has to offer, including the ability to edit choirs, instruments of all kinds, and so on. There’s even a multi-track editor built in to Melodyne 5 Studio, making for an easier workflow.

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Antares Auto-Tune

Auto-Tune is available in a range of different products. Generally, compared to Melodyne however, it offers a faster workflow considering its real-time approach, however some Auto-Tune products do offer some editing tools. Many considering it to be a little less natural as an effect, however you can create natural effects with both these days. One advantage to Auto-Tune is the ability to use live, which Melodyne does not offer. For more details, you can check out the Antares website.

Auto-Tune Access

Antares Auto-Tune Access

Auto-Tune Access is the cheapest version of Auto-Tune, making it great for those who want the basics without needing any extras. This version of Auto-Tune comes at $99, and offers basic real-time protection and a simple-to-use interface. You won’t, however, get features like real-time pitch shifting, real-time MIDI control, and so on.

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Auto-Tune EFX+

Antares Auto-Tune EFX+Auto-Tune EFX+ is aimed at those who want a little extra from Auto-Tune. Added features include real-time pitch shifting and adjustable throat modeling, plus you’ll get 6 different rack effects. Those features do come at an added cost though — and you’ll have to shell out $199 for Auto-Tune EFX+. You still won’t get some features like graphic time editing and graphic pitch editing.

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Auto-Tune Artist

Auto-Tune Artist steps things up a little. Unlike EFX+, Auto-Tune Artist includes features like the ability to create and adjust vibrato, plus it gives you real-time MIDI control for more versatile control. You’ll even get “Classic Mode,” which offers that Auto-Tune 5 sound. Auto-Tune Artist comes at $299, and while great, you still won’t get some features, like graphic time editing and graphic pitch editing.

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Auto-Tune Pro

Auto-Tune Pro offers the big guns. This is where you’ll get everything you would want from Auto-Tune, including all the awesome features on offer by the other versions of the software, and some extras. You’ll finally get graphic time editing and pitch editing, which could make the editing process a while lot easier. Of course, it does come at a cost — you’ll have to pay $399.

Buy here: Plugin Boutique | Sam Ash