Antares Auto-Tune ATR-1: HARDWARE-BASED PITCH CORRECTOR

Feb 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Scott Colburn

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Antares introduced the Auto-Tune pitch correcting plug-in for Pro Tools about two years ago, and the masses went mental. Because it (as well as the subsequent PC version) corrected the pitch of vocals and solo instruments without altering the expressiveness of the performance, Antares was asked to put the same processing in an outboard unit. Voila!

As the title indicates, the ATR-1 (list price $1,199) is a 1U digital processor that allows for precise control over the parameters surrounding pitch correction. It's quite easy to use and program: Thirteen basic preprogrammed scales (chromatic and A-G major and minor scales) and 37 user-programmable banks make it possible for users to create their own scales or songs. What's more, this unit is extremely portable and roadworthy, which most engineers and producers will appreciate wholeheartedly.

The ATR-1 detects and measures the time length of the repetitions of the input waveform (it works best with periodic sound sources that include vocals and other solo instruments), calculates the frequency of that repetition and matches it to a known frequency of preprogrammed notes, ranging from A0 to C6, then shifts the incoming pitch to its nearest matching frequency, in less than 4 milliseconds.

The ATR-1 is very simple in its layout, offering four balanced and unbalanced inputs as well as MIDI in and a footswitch jack. The front panel features an LCD screen, a data entry knob, a few buttons plus a vertical LED meter indicating the input signal (input must be high enough for effective pitch correcting, but not so high as to cause distortion), and a horizontal LED meter indicating pitch change in cents (10, 30, 50, 70, 90), in both the sharp and flat directions. One could even use this unit as a tuner.

The ATR-1 has two modes: Program mode is useful for pieces that use only one or two scales; Song mode is useful for precise control of individual parameters, allowing one to preprogram precisely which notes in a scale will be pitch corrected, how much (if any) vibrato will be added, how sensitive the unit will be to variances in pitch before correction occurs, and how a series of these settings will be saved for live or MIDI playback. Song mode is especially helpful in live performance situations-each page of a song structure can be programmed and changed with a footswitch.

MIDI-CONTROLLABLE PARAMETERS The Scale parameter allows you to modify notes in a particular scale (either user-defined or preset) and define what the ATR-1 will do with each note: Tune selects which notes will be pitch corrected; Bypass will skip pitch correction of particular notes, allowing the input signal to pass through unchanged; Blank allows you to take a note out of the scale in order to tune it to a specific scale or set of notes. One good example is provided in the well-written owner's manual: Say a vocalist likes to drop the pitch of the last note of a phrase by three semitones (think Sinatra!). The ATR-1 would normally want to correct the last two notes, but if the unit is programmed to ignore them, everything comes out fine and you don't end up in the river.

The ATR-1's Speed setting is important. When I tested this unit on a jazz swing piece with vocals, the default setting for a chromatic scale worked pretty well for the lyrics, save a few slides, but bringing the speed up a few notches allowed those slides to come through unscathed. It would probably be best to leave the ATR-1 off during scat points, but I just had to push those limits, so I left it on. The unit had to work quite hard. If the speed was set slow (15 to 25), vibrato or slides were left intact, yet the main pitch was corrected. If the speed was set fast (0 to 10), the unit corrected pitch virtually instantaneously. This worked on short pitch durations but could sometimes remove natural vibrato.

Speaking of which, you can actually create vibrato with the ATR-1! Vibrato settings include Sine for smooth variance of pitch, Square for sharp variances, and Saw for slow incline and sharp decline. You can also control the depth of pitch variation (0 to 100 cents), rates from 0.1 to 9.7 Hz and delay (from 0 to 3,500 milliseconds after the attack note has sounded).

The ATR-1 is a fine addition to any professional studio-no wonder the hordes stampeded to buy the original software version. This box is fascinating technology, but I wonder if its use will so distort the audience's impression of what music is supposed to sound like that live music, with its beautiful flaws and personality intact, will be a let-down. Use with discretion.

Antares Systems, 464 Monterey Ave., 2nd Floor, Los Gatos, CA 95030; 888/332-2636, fax 408/399-0036. Website: www.antarestech.com.






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