Online Review: Melodyne v1.1 Studio Edition,
    by Celemony (Mac and Windows).

Melodyne meets larger users group

Melodyne is on the market since mid-2001, but stayed somewhat unknown to the larger studio users group due to firm pricing and maybe not so adequate marketing policy. Well, that's my opinion: I must confess that I had heard of Melodyne before, but that did not ring a bell immediately.

But since the Musik Messe at Frankfurt 2002, all changed. Celemony presented there a new and affordable cut-down version, called Cre8 (mono files only), and made the full featured Studio Edition handle stereo files. These smart moves, combined with more interesting pricing, brings this audio manipulation application within the reach of a larger users group. So we found it time to pay some extra attention to this "renewed newcomer", and we invited Celemony to send the new version 1.1 of the Studio Edition for reviewing.

For those of you who never heard of Melodyne, I'll try to explain briefly what Melodyne can do. You can manipulate audio files and arrangements of several audio files in several flexible ways: pitch shifting, fine tuning, time stretching, formant editing, audio quantizing, among others. With Melodyne, you can completely change the "color, nature and timing" of audio recordings, thus creating complete new arrangements. Yes, even creating complete new sounds if you know how to handle this software. We'll give you an example further on in this review.

Melodyne is equipped for this kind of radical audio re-editing, but it is also very good tool for doing some smaller corrections, e.g. when a singer was slightly out of tune in just one phrase, but the rest of the recording was too good do redo the whole thing. I know: punch in punch out works too, but I think the Melodyne's method is much better and -above all- easier and faster. And more accurate. Provided that the small part, you want to edit, is not that much bad, if you get what I mean. The following screenshots give you some of the major features.

Arrangement editing.

* The Melodyne main screen.

* The buttons in the main screen (upper left), where you switch between functions.

Four buttons in the main screen give you access to melody definition, time editing, tempo editing and tempo definition. Here you determine the overall image of your composition and subsequent parameters like measure grid and quantization. All settings can be done by dragging with the mouse, or by typing values, which gives you very precise control over what you're doing. Good.

Track editing.

* The Melodyne track screen.

* The buttons in the track screen (upper left), where you switch between functions.

When you double click on a track in the main window, the track window appears. In the track window, six buttons give you access to a wide range of functions and sub functions. This is where you edit individual tracks, change color and sounding, pitch shift parts of the track, and the like. The six buttons from left to right: selection tool, pitch shifting tool, formant position tool, amplitude editing tool, time editing tool and segmenting tool to split a segment of the track into one of more parts.

Each button has a drop down menu with even more buttons. Example: when you press and hold the pitch shifting tool, you get three more buttons for changing phrasing in a note, the pitch of transition between notes, and a simple play note.

The main buttons already give you a world of possibilities. The dropdown buttons add an extra dimension to what you can do with the audio tracks. Very strong concept.

It would go too far to mention all sub buttons here, but we can assure you that this button collection provides you with enough "handles" to edit the recording to something totally different if you like. And this is exactly where the strength of Melodyne is. Melodyne gives you a very strong and versatile tool for creative audio editing and correction. From the finest correction tuning to going audio wild sky high. Wow, if that will not keep you busy for a wehile... A very interesting combination, that will keep me going with Melodyne for a long time. Very good.


* The Melodyne Mixer.

Of course, Melodyne has its weak points too, though in fact it is only just one shortcoming: the mixer. It is -to my opinion- too simple. It provides just enough functions to produce a final mix directly out of Melodyne, but the user interface is not very smooth. A big improvement would be numbering the sliders according to the numbers of the tracks. Now we had to count manually to pick the right slider for a specific track. Sorry guys at Celemony, but improve this in the next version please. Of course, when you save all tracks as separate files (which is possible too), you can leave this mixer where it is (hidden) and use the mixing functions of the post production software you use in next step.

An example.

We decided not to test Melodyne is a real time production as we normally do, as it's learning curve to the level of true professional results is rather long. We did not trust ourselves enough with this software yet to test it in a real time environment. So we decided to take some of the sample files that come with Melodyne and "play" a production with those files. We randomly picked two files that came with the software as lessons material: a Bavarian band, and a singer. Two totally different a
rrangements. Our goal: makes these two match.

First we give you a MP3 file with just plain the two tracks of the two totally different arrangements. No changes. You hear the Bavarian band, and the singer that seems to have trouble to keep the songs tempo and line. Not her fault of course ;-):

Wow, a pain in the ear, right? So we decided to tune in the lady into the German musicians. We changed the vocal line melody somewhat, altered it's length and timing, rearranged some of the timings between two notes, and tuned the total to the length and rhythm of the Bavarian band. This is what you get after about 30 minutes of work (when you get more experienced with Melodyne, this work will most probably take less time. But since this was our first exercise it took us some extra time, mainly reading the f.... manual ;-)):

Ah, that sounded much better. Then we decided to give the singer some company: a second voice was added by copying the first voice into a new track. We rearranged the second voice into some harmony:

Get the idea? The borders of audio creativity have become far much wider with Melodyne. OK, let's add another trick. We send the two lady singers out of the studio, and invite two daughters and an uncle. They are brought to life using the formant option of Melodyne. After some shifting and lowering of formants we get following result:

Oh yes, you may have noticed that the final chord of the Bavarian band sounded much better in tune in the last example. In the first three, this chord sounded like the band had taken a bit too much beer, a regional problem so to speak ;-). We corrected all pitches on all tracks in the final chord, so now the chord is in tune. A small improvement in the recording, just to show you that Melodyne is a very good tool for that kind of smaller corrections too.

We are pretty sure that you can gain much better results once you know all the tips, tricks, ins and outs of Melodyne. This software needs some -what the Germans like to call- "Fingerspitzengefuhl". Which means something like "You have to get it in your fingers", if that is a good English expression. I think you get what I mean. The results we showed you here took all together about 45 minutes. We saved all these files as a stereo final mix, straight out of Melodyne, without any changes afterwards. And converted that mix to MP3 for this website. You also can choose to save the audio tracks separately, so that you can edit and finalize your work with other software later. This feature gives you an extra dimension in creativity for the products you get out of Melodyne. It keeps the route open for the finishing touch, if you need one. Good concept.

This software is usable all the way from small corrections up to complete arrangements. It's like a painters palette, where you can add and mix the "colors" of the audio track. It's a bit like painting with sound so to speak. The user interface is very clear on such complex tasks. It took us less than 10 minutes to understand the logics behind it. Very impressive design.

Melodyne comes in two flavors: the one that reads and produces mono files only (Cre8), and the Studio Edition that reads and produces stereo files. We strongly recommend the Studio Edition, obviously for it's stereo capabilities. It runs under both Mac OS9 and Mac OSX, and you get a Windows version included on the CD. Both versions (Mac and Windows) are functional identical.


Though already on the market for about a year, we consider Melodyne as a strong "newcomer". It jumped out of its not-marketed hole and surprised the audio market. Celemony this time definitely succeeded in getting the message loud and clear to the market. And that message tells: this is a very good and strong tool for those who want to produce perfect detailed audio stuff, and for those who have an eye for detailed corrections. No more, but most certainly no less.

Melodyne takes some time to really understand and master, and it takes some more time to get the best results. When you some exploring hours with this software, and you understand it's potential, you're ready for -what we call- "sound painting" in true sense. From highly creative work to small but fine corrections. Melodyne is equipped for both and all in between.

If you are in for that kind of audio work, Melodyne is an absolute must for you. For us it is anyway: we're very glad that we can keep this software in our studio as reference when questions come in. We most certainly will use it a lot for making interesting sound paintings and recording corrections. Our rating? A very well deserved
9+. A second + will be added when the mixer is fixed up ;-).

More detailed product info can be found at the web site of Celemony.

All reviews in are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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