online version

Antares introduced the Auto-Tune Pitch Correcting Plug-In for ProTools (TM) about two years ago, and the masses went mental. Because it corrected the pitch of vocals and solo instruments without altering the expressiveness of the performance, Antares was begged to put the same processing in an outboard unit. Voila!

As the title indicates, the ATR-1 is a pitch correcting black box that allows for precise control over the parameters surrounding pitch correction. It's quite easy to use and program: Thirteen (13) basic preprogrammed scales (Chromatic, A-G Major and Minor scales) and 37 user-programmable banks make it possible for the user to create their own scales or songs. What's more, this unit is extremely portable and road worthy, which most engineers and producers will appreciate wholeheartedly.

The ATR-1 detects and measures the time length of the repetitions of it's input waveform (it works best with periodic sound sources which include vocals and other solo instruments), then calculates the frequency of that repetition and matches it to a known frequency of preprogrammed notes, which range from A0 to C6. The ATR-1 then shifts the incoming note to it's nearest matching frequency. This all happens in 1-10 milliseconds.

The ATR-1 is very simple in it's layout, allowing for balanced and unbalanced inputs as well as MIDI IN and a foot switch jack. The front panel has a viewable LCD screen, a data entry knob, a few buttons and two meters. The vertical meter indicates the input signal (input must be high enough for effective pitch correcting, but not so high as to cause distortion), and the horizontal meter will indicate pitch change. This meter is particularly interesting in that it indicates whether the incoming note is sharp or flat. Each successive LED is labeled in cents (10, 30, 50, 70, 90), in both the sharp and flat direction. One could even used this unit as a tuner.

The ATR-1 can be operated in two modes: Program Mode is useful for pieces that use only one or two scales; Song Mode is useful for precise control over all the 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 (*whew!*). Song Mode is especially helpful in live performance situations - each page of a song structure can be programmed and changed with a foot switch.

The Parameters

SCALE -- Whether you use the predefined scales or set your own, this parameter allows you to modify notes in a particular scale and define what the ATR-1 will do with each note. Your choices are TUNE, BYPASS and BLANK. TUNE selects which notes will be pitch corrected. BYPASS will skip pitch correction of particular notes, allowing the input signal to pass through unchanged, which is helpful when you have a singer with perfect pitch except for one or two notes. 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 owners manual: Say a vocalist likes to drop the pitch of the last note of a phrase by three semitones (think Sinatra). If the last note were D and then the singer dropped it three semitones, the ATR-1 would want to correct the last two notes, but if the unit is programmed to ignore those notes, everything comes out fine and you don't end up in the river. When you have a very specific case in which you know exactly which notes need to come out, then Blank it; the three semitone swing will be intact yet other notes will be corrected - it can be as complicated and precise as you desire.

SPEED -- How fast the ATR-1 begins correcting notes is very important. When I tested this unit on a jazz swing piece with lyrics and scat, 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. Unfortunately, it didn't know what to do with the scat. Since scat is an ultra expressive singing style, it would probably be best to leave the ATR-1 off during scat points, but you know me - gotta push those limits, so I left it on. It had to work quite hard (I think smoke came out the back!). If the speed is set slow (15 to 25), vibrato or slides will be left intact, yet the main pitch will be corrected. If the speed is set fast (0-10), the unit will correct pitch instantaneously. This is good for instruments which have a short duration of pitch, such as clarinet or oboe pieces, but setting the speed too low may cause the ATR-1 to remove natural vibrato. However, this unit allows the user to add or replace vibrato!

VIBRATO -- Yes, you can actually create vibrato with the ATR-1! 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 .1 to 9.7hz, and delay from 0-3500 milliseconds, which determines when the vibrato will occur after the attack note has sounded. One interesting application for this option is to feed a single note from a synth into the ATR-1 and set the vibrato for square wave with maximum depth and a wide pitch variation. The result is instant two-note variation (ABABAB).

All of the above parameters can be controlled and programed in a MIDI environment, which allows precise control over each parameter. This is quite beneficial when your tracks need serious help and your artists don't have time to learn how to play their instruments.

The ATR-1 is a fine addition to any professional studio - no wonder the hords stampeded to buy the original software version! However, I must say that I am a bit horrified by the need for this equipment. I think my friend Adam McCollom (guitarist for the Young Composers Collective) said it best as I gave him a demonstration of this unit: The fashion industry and Hollywood have painted such a distorted picture of what people are supposed to look like that real people are a comparative disappointment. This box is facinating 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 it's beautiful flaws and personality intact, will be a let-down. Use with discretion.