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
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.
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
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
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.