Review – Melodyne Editor from Celemony

Every now and then you find a company with a product that leaves all competition in the dust. Can Celemony make that claim with Melodyne Editor? Find out more in this review.

by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2014

Celemony are the makers of Melodyne Essential, Assistant, Studio, and Editor.

Melodyne first came on the scene about twelve years ago, and since then has been used by many of major musicians and producers around the world. It has won numerous awards, including two SOS awards, and a Technical Grammy. Since its first release, it has gained many additional features over the years.

Celemony’s top product, called Melodyne Editor, uses both DNA (Direct Note Access) and ARA (Audio Random Access). The DNA polyphonic functionality is only available in this Editor version.  I’ll explain a bit more ARA and DNA later on.


The Power of Melodyne Editor

To manipulate audio data, usually you’d import a waveform into some type of audio editor. You can then cut the waveform into different parts, and move those around, delete them, etc. Digital technology is great isn’t it?  I could do that on my Amiga 2000 back in the early ’90s. Well, it’s a lot better than that these days.  Light years ahead, actually.

With Melodyne Editor, when you load in the waveform, it is displayed on a grid. The waveform is broken into separate pitches, instead of one whole waveform, and you can see what the note values are along the left side. It’s a bit like a piano-roll view.

In its most basic form, you can drag each little section (Celemony calls these “blobs”) up/down/left right, and it will change the pitch and/or timing. You have nearly unlimited control over the content you’ve brought into Melodyne Editor.


Getting Started

There are a couple of ways to start using Melodyne: If you use the standalone version, you would load up an audio file and go ahead with editing.  If you have loaded it in as a plugin, you use the “Transfer” button to be able to use it on the audio.

Some quick notes about ARA: it is an extension that adds on to the capabilities of the plugin and your DAW (if your DAW supports it) and lets them communicate in a new way. Pitch, rhythm, tempo and more can be passed between the two easily, as if Melodyne Editor was actually another part of your DAW that’s built-in.

If your DAW supports ARA, you just click “Transfer”, select a section of audio, and start playback. When you get to where you want it to end, stop playback in your DAW, and then edit away in Melodyne Editor.

When it is first loading in the audio, Melodyne needs some time to analyze it. That’s why it can’t be used like some other real-time plugins, such as reverb, chorus, or delay. After it’s loaded in, then there is no delay, and you can move/edit blobs right away.

In Melodyne Essential, the basic version available from Celemony, you can edit monophonic or rhythmic/unpitched types of audio. With the Editor version, you get the huge advantage of DNA. 

DNA (Direct Note Access) lets Melodyne Editor display and edit polyphonic audio. You could also change it yourself to a different mode, after it has loaded up the polyphonic audio, so it will use a Melodic or Percussive mode. It will take a little time to process the audio data again if you switch to one of those other modes. 

Melodic mode is good for a single instrument, such as a guitar playing a melody, or a singer’s voice. The Percussive mode works well with percussive type of sounds such as drums and/or drum loops.

If Melodyne analyzes the audio and determines it’s basically not of the melodic type, then it will switch automatically to Percussive mode.


Editing Your Audio

One of the many useful features included is the ability to replace original sounds. You can copy/paste the blobs of sounds you want into the spot you’d like them to play. You can then edit each blob’s attack, note length, and volume, if needed.

Say you just selected a blob, and copied it. If you click on a different blob, and click Paste, your selected blob of audio will then be replaced with the one you had just copied. It will then match up to the original’s place in the timeline, and its length is adjusted automatically.

One way you could use this: if you have a decent drum loop loaded but just want to change its snare sound, you can load in a different one to replace it.  You could also do this with a flubbed note, by copying and pasting in the same note, or by using one that’s close to it in pitch, and drag it up or down a bit with your mouse after copying/pasting it there.

If you are using a DAW with ARA functionality, it’s really simple to export MIDI data from your audio, converting it into a new track of MIDI data. You can then have that MIDI data play on a synth or sampler plugin. Since you then have the notes right there, it can also help with transcribing music, so you can see where the notes are yourself.

A scenario you might run into: say you already have an audio clip on one track, and you add Melodyne Editor to that same track; you can just drag the audio on to a synth or sampler’s track. That audio you just dragged down to the other track will then be converted to MIDI notes for you.

It will occasionally have some overtones mixed in, as it is looking at the overall sound.  It depends on the source audio you’ve loaded.  You may have to do a bit of editing to get rid of those extra blobs where it thinks something is a whole separate note on its own, when actually it’s just a bit of an overtone.  This isn’t difficult though.

To edit a blob, you can left click on it and you can drag it up/down, left/right.  You can have it set to “Scale Snap”, which forces it to only move to notes that are in the key’s scale.  For example, if it’s in D Major, the blob is on D, and you drag it upwards to a higher note placement, it will land on E, and not D#.

You can also set it so it has a “Chromatic Snap”, so it could land on those other notes, such as D#.  The “No Snap” setting means you can drag it smoothly where you want.

To delete a note, you can just click on it to select it, and then either hit the Delete key on your keyboard, or right-click on the blob.  It will bring up a menu where you can delete it.  That right-click also presents more useful features.  You can change the pointer to a “Scroll” tool, or a “Zoom” tool, and there are also some other very important tools found there.  I will get back to them later.

After you select the “Zoom” tool, you just click and hold the mouse button down, then drag up/down to increase/decrease the vertical magnification amount. Dragging left or right will increase/decrease the amount of horizontal magnification.

You can also zoom in by using the bars at the bottom or right side of the screen. Clicking and dragging the end of either of those bars zooms the view in or out. As you would expect, the bottom bar controls the horizontal amount of zoom, and bar on the right side controls the vertical zoom. Double-clicking near the middle of either bar zooms all the way out of each respective view.


Pitch, Formant, Amplitude, and More

The “Pitch” and “Formant” tools can be used to manipulate the pitch and spectrum of the audio.  Dragging a blob using the Pitch tool will move the exact pitch up and down, while using the “Formant” tool can make the audio seem higher or lower, but won’t change the notation the way the “Pitch” tool does. This can be used to double a vocal section, making one vocal have a higher tone than the other.

The “Amplitude” tool changes the volume of the blob(s) that you’ve selected. After clicking on a blob, if you click/drag the mouse up or down, its volume will increase or decrease.

The “Timing” tool controls let you change the position and length of your notes. Clicking and dragging will move a blob horizontally, following the time grid. You can also hold down Alt while dragging so it doesn’t follow the grid, and get it exactly where you want.

If you click on either end of a blob with the “Timing” tool, and then drag left or right, it will stretch or compress the timing of the blob. You can select Alt-drag, and it will ignore the time grid.

Time handles can let you control how much time the different parts of a blob take. You can add many handles if you’d like, and each of those would then control that certain part of the blob. The overall timing or length of that blob will not change, just the parts inside of it.

Under the “Timing” tool, there is also the “Attack Speed” tool. This lets you change how fast the attack part of the sound occurs. 

The “Note Separation” tool has the ability to split-up notes, and even whole chords all at once. In older versions of Melodyne Editor, chords had to be edited this way one note at a time, but not any longer. You can just select all of the blobs you want, split them apart, and then edit them whichever way you’d like afterwards.

You can get to these tools at the top of the screen, or even by right-clicking on the screen itself. Sometimes this is quicker, as it can be accessed from the screen wherever you are working at that particular time.


Scales and Tuning

A quick way to sharpen up the pitch is by using the “Correct Pitch Macro”. Just click the “Correct Pitch” button at the upper right, and you’ll see this screen:

As you move the “Correct Pitch Center” slider (its range is 0-100%), it will move all the notes/blobs selected to the closest semitone, depending on how far you move that slider. With the “Snap to (key)” selected, it will not move any blobs that are outside of that key. If it’s in C major, but a blob happens to be on C#, it will not be moved.

The “Correct Pitch Drift” slider will lessen any drifting-away from the intended note. If the notes seem to vary a bit over their duration, try this one out, and it may help.  There is also an option to include manually edited notes, as normally this macro will ignore the notes you have edited yourself.

Clicking the “Quantize Time” button brings up a macro to fine-tune the audio’s timing. You can select a timing of 1/4 for instance, and it will move the beginning of each selected blob to the nearest 1/4 note beat.  The amount they move depends on how far you move the “Intensity” slider to the left or right.

Using the “Scale Detective”, Melodyne will figure out what scale is used in a piece of music. You can then save it if you’d like, and then later apply it to another section of audio you’ve loaded in. You can get to this function by clicking on the left side, right above the pitch ruler. 

If you have just a few measures selected, it will look only at those blobs in that selected area to try and figure out what the scale is.  If nothing is selected, it will take into account everything that is there to best determine the scale.

One easy way to use those scales that you like: You can take advantage of the “Scale Pool”.  This gives you the option to keep certain scales ready to go, ready to apply them to another section of audio if needed.

Tuned instruments are great, but what if you’re working with something like a grand piano? These are tuned of course, but they have slightly sharper notes at the high end, and flatter notes on their low end. It is basically stretched from low to high. To compensate for this, you can use Melodyne’s “Stretch Tuning”.  This will keep it all sounding more realistic, especially as you progress from the lower notes and on up to the highest ones.



Changing Preferences

The Preferences menu lets you change the overall settings to the way you prefer.

On the “Settings” tab, you can pick from five different languages, including English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese. There are also three pitch-name languages available: English, Latin, and German.

The “Look” setting lets you pick from four different sets of colors/shadings. It basically gives it a new contrast setting, and can help with varying types of monitors that usually have brightness/contrast levels of their own.

You can also change the amount of undo levels here, as well as the cache amount. If the computer has an internet connection, it can automatically check for new versions of the application online. 

On the “Audio” tab, you can change the audio device, sample rate, and buffer size.


Final Thoughts

The user interface of Melodyne Editor is very nice; not finicky at all, and very intuitive. I can’t really think of anything that it is missing.

I tried to cover most of the important features Melodyne Editor contains, but I couldn’t really cover every single part of it for this review. There are many helpful articles and videos over on the Celemony website, located here:

Melodyne Editor retails for $399 USD. It is available for the Mac or PC, in stand-alone and plug-in formats, including VST, AU, AAX, and RTAS.

It’s easily worth it for this price, as you can save much crucial studio time by quickly and easily fixing your audio. Celemony has a 30-day demo version available, which is a generous amount of time to check out this great application. If you currently have Melodyne Essential (which is included in Sonar X3 Producer) there is an upgrade path available.

Melodyne Editor has countless options for manipulating audio. It has become the industry standard for this type of work.  It should be in every studio. It’s sonic wizardry that is ahead of its time, and the possibilities are nothing short of fantastic.


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