If singing is at the heart of your music production, then you’ve probably considered using the best autotune plugins to either tweak your vocals so they are in tune, or to produce the synthetic vocal effect made famous by Cher on the track ‘Believe’ back in 1998.
Tuning vocals is now easy with software and many tuning apps are also capable of that ‘autotune’ effect which is still incredibly popular across many music genres. In this round-up we have the best autotune plugins and apps, all capable of both naturally tuning your vocals to perfection or for creating that distinctive synthetic vocal sound.
The autotuning effect was originally produced on the aptly-name Auto-Tune plugin by Antares. With well over two decades of popularity, it’s not surprising that the effect can now be produced by a host of other plugins and apps from many other developers. Where the original Auto-Tune is still right up there in terms of features and slick workflow, the growing list of similar plugins can massively range in price and feature set; some are dedicated to just that effect while with others it is just one of many audio processing features.
In this best autotune plugins and apps buyer’s guide we’ll be looking at plugins for both types of automatic tuning scenarios: those which excel at natural, invisible vocal tuning, and those that can produce the more robotic effect.
Some DAWs come with these kinds of plugins built-in. Logic has Flex Pitch, for example, which delivers great results. Steinberg’s Cubase also has its own plugin, VariAudio, which can easily handle all your tuning needs. However, in our buyer’s guide we are only including third-party plugins that are available for every DAW or those which can run as mobile tuning apps.
Best autotune plugins and apps: MusicRadar’s Choice
If you want that ‘autotune’ effect then the original is still, in many ways, the best, with Antares Auto-Tune (opens in new tab) still doing its thing in an even more slick environment some 24 years after Cher made it famous. The Pro version gets you all the bells and whistles and ‘live’ tuning for onstage, and instant tuning on vocal recordings.
For another cheap route to robotic vocals – and some other neat effects along the way – Soundtoys Little AlterBoy (opens in new tab) impresses us with its simplistic but beautiful approach to not only Auto-Tune style effects, but brilliant male to female and female to male formant editing and more.
For more refined pitch editing, Celemony’s Melodyne (opens in new tab) will always be the black magic plugin that impresses with its abilities. But it does cost, so if you are after its basic functionality and a whole lot more, we have to throw iZotope’s Nectar 3 Plus (opens in new tab) in as a great option, which gives you module upon module of vocal editing options, the miraculous Vocal Assistant feature and even a version of Melodyne!
For mobile voice manipulation, one of the best to audition – and it’s free to start with – is Voloco (opens in new tab). It offers a lot of mobile fun and is cross platform so is available for desktop music production too.
Best autotune plugins and apps: Product guide
Antares kickstarted the automatic tuning revolution with Auto-Tune back in 1997. Like all Auto-Tunes, Pro takes an incoming signal and corrects any pitching, so puts an out-of-tune singer in tune. It can do this transparently, or with the famous ‘Cher/T-Pain’-style sudden jumps in pitch.
It’s operated in either of two modes: Auto and Graph, the first enabling real-time automatic re-pitching, the latter for detailed manual editing. You also get two views: Basic and Advanced. With Basic, choose a voice type, select the target key and scale, set specific pitches for removal (or leave unchanged). You can also use the Auto-Key plugin to detect the key and scale of the audio in your track, and transmit the results to all running instances of Auto-Tune.
Advanced view has a few extras like Create Vibrato, ideal for adding a bit of wobble via an LFO, plus options to set minor and major modes, edit across multiple octaves, and MIDI input editing features.
Auto-Tune Pro is the most powerful, usable incarnation of this standard yet, and easily maintains the software’s position as one of the best retuning solutions available, and may well prove to be the ultimate pitch-manipulating toolbox.
Read the full Antares Auto-Tune review
Like other tuning plugins here, bx_crispytuner has Auto-Tune in its sights and is capable of both authentic and robotic tuning. It can be run ‘live’ so that vocals are processed with zero latency for either live vocal recording or onstage performances. Or you can simply play your vocal into the plugin for an analysis and all of your notes laid out across a piano keyboard for your offline editing.
bx_crispytuner works best with bx_crispyscale (included free of charge), the latter allowing you to determine and apply a scale to the former, although crispyscale is by no means essential. Using the two in tandem, however, will allow you to apply a scale to multiple instances of crispytuner, which is great for large vocal sessions.
bx_crispytuner is very similar to Auto-Tune in that it has similar timing controls to make your tuning more natural or more synthetic. They even retail for the same price, although crispytuner is perhaps the slicker looking plugin of the two. And in terms of creating that synthetic vocal effect, it almost out-autotunes Auto-Tune. Subtle it isn’t, but that might be just what you are aiming for.
Where Waves Tune processes existing recorded audio with ease, the newer Waves Tune Real Time takes advantage of up-to-date computer power to take the automatic tuning processing up a few notches by doing it ‘live’. You can simply use it like Waves Tune and insert it on your audio track to enjoy some great vocal pitch correction, however its real benefits lie in tuning live vocals, whether that be in the studio or onstage.
In order to perform this live tuning, the plugin operates with ultra low latency, so that even though the audio needs to go through your DAW and computer’s routing, it can still be monitored in real time. This means you as the singer, or your monitoring engineer, can hear what is happening as it happens and can make adjustments accordingly.
While some of the UI features are shared with Waves Tune, which is its non real-time sister plugin, the interface is somewhat more modern and slicker. It features a live tuning meter which shows the pitch as the vocal passes through, and as with Waves Tune, there are controls for Speed, Transition Tolerance and vocal Range. The central keyboard also indicates the notes of the audio passing into the plugin and here you can set the range of ‘allowed’ notes.
The Speed dial can, as with so many plugins of this ilk, be set to fast (zero) for the robotic Cher effect should you wish. Used in conjunction with the Transition dial, both can easily be used to create that effect, only this time you are doing it on live vocals. Waves Tune Real Time is therefore probably the first choice of the Waves Tune plugin range for that more unnatural effect, whereas the standard Tune will get you more natural results with ease.
If there’s one plugin that comes up more often than any other in our producer interviews as an all-time favourite, it’s Soundtoys Little AlterBoy. This simple but cheap plugin only boasts a few controls but can deliver wide-ranging results on any audio, but is specifically aimed at vocals for both pitch and formant editing.
You get three main modes from left to right: the main controls for Pitch and Formant, three Mode options (Transpose, Quantize and Robot) and then a Drive and Mix area. The Pitch control alters the incoming audio by semitones but the beauty of AlterBoy is that you don’t get the kind of high-pitch chipmunk effects you get with some pitch shifters – it’s a far more natural shift (unless you want to make it more extreme).
The Formant option can, again very naturally, sweep a male vocal into a female, or vice versa. It’s pretty incredible to hear it in operation because one of AlterBoy’s main attractions is the fact that it does it with no nonsense, one dial with all the science bits hidden away. It just gets on with it, with brilliant results.
The central Modes are where things get even more interesting. After a simple Transpose option, you get Quantize, where notes are forced to the nearest semi-tone for that Auto-Tune like effect. It works well and incredibly simply, although you’ll probably get more finesse and tweakability out of the real-deal Auto-Tune. However, for no nonsense results, this is great. Finally here you also get Robot Mode, where the pitch is frozen to one note, no matter what the original input is singing. This pitch, and indeed the formant, can still be changed with the left hand dials.
Add in saturation via a Drive option and AlterBoy is a wonderful, diverse plugin that does the job and does it very well. Great for beginners and superb value.
Where Antares has made the ‘Cher sound’ famous with Auto-Tune, Celemony’s Melodyne brings more natural tuning to vocals – and indeed, anything else. You can even get in and edit polyphonic material, black magic technology that Celemony has been fine-tuning since 2009. And with the latest versions – there are several price bands you can buy into – integration with your DAW has never been better.
Recent additions include a Melodic algorithm that allows editing of noise-based sibilants to be carried out separately from pitch-based parts. Vocal pitch editing is also now incredibly natural due to features like a Levelling Macro that balances quiet and loud elements, and even the tiniest of pitch deviations can be tweaked.
Melodyne 5 Studio offers the full panoply of multitrack polyphonic editing options, but, if you mainly work with monophonic material, the more affordable Melodyne 5 Assistant still delivers many of the essential features. Whatever version, Melodyne is powerful and remains an exceptional tool for manipulating vocals and other audio in functional and creative ways.
Read the full Melodyne 5.1 review
Nectar is a powerful one-stop vocal processing shop. It’s become a go-to plugin for the professional producer looking to easily get vocals of all kinds – from sung and rapped to dialogue and voiceover – sounding their best. It utilises an array of reorderable modules to apply voice-optimised dynamics shaping, EQ, pitch correction, harmonisation, de-essing, distortion and effects to your audio.
One of Nectar 3’s many highlights is a machine-learning driven system for automatically setting the plugin up based on analysis of the input signal. Called Vocal Assistant, it creates a custom preset to make your vocal sound objectively ‘better’ and more mix-ready.
Select Assist mode, point the algorithm in the right direction by choosing Vintage, Modern or Dialogue as the source ‘Vibes’, and Light, Moderate or Aggressive as the processing ‘Intensity’. The input signal is analysed for a few seconds, during which the modules are set up in the background to correct for dynamic fluctuations, resonant peaks, sibilance, and even adjust pitch correction and reverb mix.
In Unmask mode, Vocal Assistant clears space for the vocal by applying equalisation to any other track that’s fighting with it for space. The results are invariably well- judged and thoroughly effective, giving the vocals a perceived lift that’s almost always beneficial. This feature has also been enhanced for Nectar 3 Plus, the latest incarnation of Nectar.
With many other great features and modules plus a souped up EQ, Nectar 3 sounds incredible and flows beautifully, and we can’t recommend it highly enough to any vocal-wrangling producer. However, if you are just after simple tuning or that robotic vocal tuning effect, it may deliver much more than you need and there are cheaper alternatives out there.
Read the full iZotope Nectar 3 review
Voloco describes itself as a mobile recording studio, although it really focuses on automatic tuning, harmony creation and vocoding. It comes with 50 effect presets spread over 12 packs covering all sorts of vocal effects.
You can go from simple noise removal through harmonisers and alien effects to some of the most famous autotune styles. Here you get everything from Daft Punk to T-Pain, although artists are not named directly (Bon Hiver, Duft Pank and P-Tain anyone?). Once done you can then apply some decent effects – compression, reverb and EQ – to the results for extra polish.
On top of this you get a free beat library, rudimentary multi-track recorder and the ability to import your own beats and export any creations you produce as WAV or AAC files, or share your efforts with other users.
Voloco is a huge amount of fun and also yields impressive results. It’s free but various subscriptions – up to $50 (£35 approx) a year – unlock extra import, multitrack and effect features, although what you get for free is still impressive.
Where VocAlign (below) is SynchroArts’ plugin for vocal (and other audio) processing, Revoice Pro is a standalone application with more features. It adds a pitch editor and also allows you to create double tracks from a single voice and then import the results into your DAW. You can also get in and manually adjust the pitch, timing and alignment of groups of track simultaneously. You can therefore home in and align the timing, pitch and vibrato of backing vocal tracks, for example.
APT (Automatic Performance Transfer) lies at the heart of what makes Revoice Pro so special. Having done your tuning work on the selected tracks, you simply call up the APT dialogue and select one of the presets (you can also make your own), tell it which is the guide and apply it to any track you wish to edit. This is great for backing vocals, for example, where you can add tracks and align not just the pitch and timing but also the dynamic.
Compared to the simpler plugins here, both VocAlign and Revoice Pro are perhaps aimed at the more professional user; pro producers and mixers will save countless hours in the studio with both tools. They do cost that bit more than other plugins here, so if you are just after simple tuning and the ‘autotune’ effect, you will find simpler and less expensive alternatives in this guide.
VocAlign is a long-established market-leading tool that adjusts the timing of an audio file (Dub) so it matches that of a source (Guide). It works well with any audio and is used for many music and post-production tasks. However it is particularly in demand for vocals and speech, where accurate pitch and timing alignment can be crucial. VocAlign Ultra sits between the affordable but basic VocAlign Project and Synchro Arts’ flagship processor, Revoice Pro 4.
The software has three core processors – Match Timing, Match Pitch and Formant Shift – each accompanied by a parameter control to determine how loose or tight the matching processing is. It has great visual feedback with the three zoomable views – waveform, pitch and signal energy – allowing you to see timing and pitch both before and after processing. The display can be used to add manual Guide/Dub sync points or establish protected areas that won’t be processed – handy for more creative applications.
You can use VocAlign Ultra without delving too deeply into the advanced features. In that respect, we managed to tighten all manner of doubled and layered vocals. The results are very impressive and in many cases pleasantly transparent. It’s also very easy to adjust the amount of timing and pitch correction, and loosening things a bit is often the key to getting the most natural results.
VocAlign Ultra is a great vocal and audio processor. It’s a bit pricey but if you do a lot of editing and aligning it will improve your productivity considerably.
Read the full Synchro Arts VocAlign Ultra review
Waves Tune is just one of many Waves plugins we could have included in this buyer’s guide (the company’s live version of this plugin and the more creative Vocal Bender (opens in new tab) appears elsewhere in this guide, while OVox (opens in new tab) takes vocal processing to another level entirely). Tune gets a place because it competes well with Antares’ Auto-Tune and gets right to the heart of vocal processing, fast.
You insert the plugin on an audio channel just like any other effect, play your audio and it will map it across a piano keyboard after scanning it. (This is as opposed to the real-time processing of Waves Tune Real Time – see above.) An orange line shows the original recording and you can then drag and drop the constituent parts onto the correct notes. Once done, a green line shows the corrected notes.
Controls allow you to select vocal type, root of the scale and scale type. There are also a couple of speed controls that determine how quickly the plugin takes effect so you can go natural or robotic, your choice.
There’s also an LT version of Waves Tune that greys out some of the features of the main plugin. It retails for less (often around £30/$37), but since the full version is usually on sale (at the time of writing just $36/£29), we’d recommend shelling out the extra on it. It does the job of tuning without any fuss and very accurately, and focusses well on natural vocal tuning – although you can get more extreme effects should you wish.
Waves has some great plugins for vocalists – particularly in its bundles like Waves Silver (reviewed here), which includes the classic De-Esser and Doubler. However Vocal Bender is, like the other two Waves Tune plugins in this buyer’s guide, all about the pitch and formant editing. It presents these features in a newer and slicker environment and can therefore be a little more creative than the Tune plugins as a result.
There are two knobs, Pitch and Formant, controlling the central tone of the human vocal and the resonant frequencies that shape the timbre of the vocal. A Flatten button allows you to force the input to snap to a predetermined note, a speedy tool for building up augmented choruses and harmonies.
Experiment with the modulation and automation options, and vast creative scope presents itself. Automation can be a superb way of introducing vocal effects (such as sudden pitch drops) that activate based on the volume of the input signal, so the intensity of your performance can be the triggering factor.
The aim of the game with Vocal Bender is really getting that professional-sounding vocal manipulation at speed and with no processing lag. It is certainly one of the slickest vocal plugins we’ve experimented with – best in class for quick-fire, modern pitch manipulation.
Read the full Waves Vocal Bender review
Voice Synth has been around for a while – around a decade – and as such comes with just about as many vocal features as you could wish for, including the obligatory T-Pain and Daft Punk style autotune processing.
One of its big draws is that you can play the instrument with your voice, or if that is shaky, play within set pitch parameters with tuning set up for you with its Auto Pitch Tracking.
There are an incredible number of presets to get you going – over 250 covering harmonies, autotuning effects, formant shifting, alien vocoder voices and more rhythmic effects. These all utilise Voice Synth’s more pro-end effects like a 24-band EQ, auto-gain compressor, 8-octave pitch shifter, arpeggiator and analogue modelling vocoders.
You certainly get a huge variation in sound and, even though it’s a decade old, Voice Synth still has a lot to say – or you can say it too with its integrated sampler. That all said, the iOS version scores much better than the full desktop Mac version on their respective App Stores, so this is a good mobile but less attractive desktop proposition.
With Qneo’s Voice Synth being iOS only, here’s an autotuning app to satisfy Android users. Tune Me utilises its Auto-Pitch technology which you can set at a maximum, just like the timing features used in the full-blown desktop options in this buyer’s guide, for maximum T-Pain synthetic damage.
You get 500 beats included with the app which will play in time with your vocals – yes it sorts both your timing and pitch out – and in this respect it delivers the goods fast. It’s a bit geared towards that one-trick synthetic style, with hip-hop and R&B being its focus, but it is free so well worth a download.
There is a Pro version, but at just $3.99/£3.59 it’s not much of an outlay for extra multitrack recording features, more effects and, of course, less ads.
Best autotune plugins and apps: Buying advice
Choosing the best autotune plugin for your needs
When it comes to buying a plugin specifically for vocals (check out our guide to the best vocal plugins for more insight), you need to decide what your needs are from the many issues vocalists have. It might well be that a simple EQ is all you require, just to bolster certain frequencies to give your vocal more body, or remove mid and high frequencies to reduce overall harshness.
Some of our buying choices, particularly the mobile entries, also focus on other more out-there effects. Some of the other vocal processes you will come across in these include formant shifting, where you might turn a male voice into a female (or vice versa); harmonising or doubling, where a single voice is doubled or more to produce a group of voices singing together; and vocoding, where a standard voice becomes a more robotic voice not dissimilar to the extreme pitch and time settings in automatic tuning software.
However, aside from these more extreme vocal effects, it’s more likely that you will have tuning issues with your singing and that’s where this buyer’s guide really comes into its own. Vocal tuning is, of course, an essential application. Even if you are – or are recording – the world’s best vocalist, you or they will always have an off day, and it might not be possible to do a vocal retake. Vocal tuning applications to help tweak the vocal into tune post-recording are therefore incredibly popular, and this process can be very straightforward and transparent. You, your vocalist and audience need never know such processing has taken place.
Or you might want the opposite! You might want everyone to know just how much processing you’ve done by utilising the famous and much more obvious ‘autotune’ effect. The effect, made famous by Cher in the late ’90s and the producer T-Pain the 2000s, is essentially derived from the mother of all automatic tuning plugins, Antares’ aptly named Auto-Tune. This software was originally intended simply to help vocalists or producers get voice recordings in tune.
The almost robotic-like vocal effect is produced when that (or a similar) plugin is used in a more extreme setting. Here its tuning effect – produced in Auto-Tune’s case by way of the Return Speed parameter – is at its quickest setting. It therefore retunes any incoming vocal signal at the fastest speed resulting in an inhuman effects where you can hear the jolt as it knocks the vocals in tune. You suspect that Auto-Tune was never really intended to be used at this setting on purpose but, as with many music production principles, if used at an extreme setting, happy accidents occur!
So when buying your automatic tuning plugin, you simply need to decide whether you want to go natural or robotic, or would prefer a plugin that is capable of both. In our best autotune plugins buyer’s guide we have plugins capable of both, and some like iZotope’s Nectar that are capable of much more.
Finally, of course, decide on your desktop or mobile needs. Most of our recommendations run as third party plugins within standard Mac and PC DAWs, although we have also included app options for the mobile Android and iOS platforms. Only one, Voloco, sits in both mobile and desktop camps so could be used to transfer your mobile vocal experiments to desktop with ease.