Vocodex by Image Line
Did you know that Vocodex comes also in VST form? It’s simple, not too expensive, yet still a very effective tool for making your synth sounds pop or adding some robotic nuances to your music.
by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2016
I presume you know what a vocoder is and what it can be used for. You can transform a human voice into a robotic one, or even change the pitch of a recorded voice, giving the effect of some sort of singing synthesizer. In vocoder vocabulary, an audio clip (usually containing human voice) is a Modulator, while the sound from the synthesizer is a Carrier. A series of band pass filters analyzing the modulator signal in real time control the frequency spectrum of synthesizer sound, letting only the frequencies that are presented in the modulator to get through the filters. All other frequencies are gated out. The end result is a blended sound of a voice and a synth line. The quality of the vocalized voice is in close connection with its carrier source, the type of sound that you choose for a carrier.
If a vocoder doesn’t have an integrated internal syntheszier then setting it inside the DAW can be a bit tricky. You should insert a group channel, panning modulator to one side of the group and carrier to another, experiment with synthesizer presets and similar joyful things to get usable results. Thankfully IL Vocodex has an integrated carrier synthesizer, so all you need to do is set it as an insert effect of the audio track (modulator) and set the output of a MIDI file to “Vocodex MIDI in” MIDI input, setting the modulator value inside Vocodex to 0. Then you should set wet signal to maximum, adding any synthesizer sound source from the lower part of main Vocodex graphical interface (or just use any of the Immediate presets, as they all already use some sound source from the Synthesizer sound source menu). So as you can see, it’s not complicated at all, right? … Errr actually, wrong is the correct answer. I spent two days figuring this out, at first I even tried with a group channel, but thankfully figured this out by reading the manual, trying to get some conclusions out of some facts. Setting up in other DAWs (Vocodex is a part of Producer and Signature versions of Image Line Fl Studio) is not mentioned in the user manual, also there is only one video on the topic that is not precise enough to give you a straight answer. Dear Image Line, you have a million video tutorials on your Youtube channel – I would be thankful if you can also make one on how to set this up in Cubase, Ableton Live, Studio One, etc., etc. … Thanks in advance.
The main advantage of Vocodex, aside from it being relatively cheap, is the user-friendly interface that makes it very simple to operate. It is adorned with various self explanatory symbols, so you don’t need a PhD to set it right. One man in the picture means center mode, while two men means stereo. The male symbol is for lower pitch, female for higher pitch. Also, in the upper left corner is an info line that gives you a short explanation for each controller as you pass over a button or knob with the mouse. The main graphical interface is neat, clean and very well-organized. There are actually just a few sections with various controllers. If you need a more detailed set of controllers then maybe this is not the right vocoder for you. This one is built with one main purpose: to be user-friendly and to achieve great results with as little effort as possible.
At the top is a mixer row. The most prominent thing on the whole interface is a big knob for setting the wet/dry ratio for the input signal. The next row has a slider for setting the “Soundgoodizer” level. According to the manual this is some sort of compressor that prevents signal clipping. Then we have sliders to set the input level for the modulator and carrier, along with a slider for setting the “Noise pass through” level. The Draft and Threaded options are for preserving CPU usage and there are also a few “Contour” options for determining envelope volume of the carrier or detecting the consonance of the modulator. If it ain’t broken, don’t try and fix it. I didn’t touch most of these things, but it’s nice to have them all the same.
Envelope Follower and Band Distortion
The next row contains the Envelope follower set of controllers. In this section we can find knobs for Hold, Attack and Release for taming the modulator signal, along with an RMS/Peak switch and low and high pass filters. No strict rules here: tweak and try. The most interesting knob is Freeze, a snowflake symbol freezing the current settings as long as you press it. Cool solution for some end phrase special effects. If you run into any glitches check if Min Times is selected, as this function ensures that bands will be open just for a short time.
In the same row, on the right-hand side we find the Band Distortion section dedicated to controlling the width and level of the input filtering bands. At the bottom left of this section we can set the number of bands, from five to 100. The more bands you use, the more CPU will be used, and the more natural and clear sound will be. Of course, if you are after a robotic sound then you will use fewer bands. Also, more bands doesn’t automatically mean a better sound. Around 50 bands is a good starting point and I suggest you to try both extremes.
Along with setting the band width there is also a controller for setting the level of the bandwidth multiplier and modulator pitch shift, making the output sound more male by lowering the pitch or more female by setting it higher. The last in the row is band unison panning and unison order, from one to five voices.
Under those two sections is a big graphic-equalizer/frequency-band window showing you modulator frequency/level activity.
At the bottom of the main graphical interface is a carrier synthesizer with a virtual keyboard. On the left we can choose between various carriers – from Saw and Robotic Saw, through various Pulse, Organ, Car Horn, to the Elderly, Panner and PWM. One way or another, try them all, and you will find the one you’re after. The good thing is that they are quite different, so the end result is not just a variation of one sound but gives quite a wide spectrum of sound. From helium inhale to deep distorted.
I presume that reading about all these controllers gives you the impression that it’s quite complicated to set it right, but the truth is that great results can be achieved just by choosing the right carrier inside the synthesizer and slightly tweaking a few of the left-hand sliders in mixer section along with playing a bit with Band Distortion – and that’s it. IL Vocodex sounds great. It’s really simple to operate, being blessed with a graphical interface where the more important controllers are most graphically exposed. So tweak what you see first and you’ll soon be there. It also brings a huge number of presets and a big number of internal carrier sounds. It offers great value for money and it will not break your brain, leaving you enough time to make music and without needing to read the manuals, trying to figure how to make it work.
It comes as a VST effect (unfortunately Windows only) and it will cost you €89 EUR.