• Kate Brunotts

What’s The Best Autotune Plugin? Tuning Plugins Compared

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Tuning plugins are some of the most essential tools for mixing engineers. Autotune plugins can help any vocal shine, but they can also help you tune other instruments, or could even be used for some creative automation.


In this article, we’ll break down 4 of the most popular autotune plugins so that you can find the perfect match for your needs. Not every plugin is created equal, but this deep dive should help you narrow down the tuning best plugin for you amongst the main contenders. Let’s jump into it!


Is Autotune Cheating?

Before sharing our comprehensive autotune plugin evaluation, we have to address the elephant in the room: Is using tuning cheating? Should you just look for a better singer if you need to use autotune?


At Controlla, we answer a hard “No.” to both of these questions. For one thing, even the most skilled vocalists utilize tuning plugins. It’s only that the plugins are performing in such a way that you can’t identify that that autotune is being used. Most audiences only deem autotune as “cheating” whenever they can detect it, which is rare.


This isn’t your goal to begin with, unless you’re using autotune aggressively as a stylistic choice. Even then, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re covering something up. Contrary to popular belief, T-pain has an amazing voice:





In my opinion, using tuning is no different than using common effects like distortion, reverb, or delay. After all, these effects (tuning included) can all affect the pitch of a sound, so it feels silly to draw a line at tuning.


In short, let yourself experiment with tuning plugins! The rest of the music industry will continue to do so whether you choose to or not.


Where Do You Place Autotune In A Vocal Chain?

This is subjective, but it’s probably best to place autotune after you’ve done any subtractive EQ processes and potentially small amounts of compression. This could be using a high pass filter to cut out unneeded low-end frequencies, or using a Q filter to sweep a signal and mitigate any harsh tones.

Autotune should be placed before spatial processes like reverb and delay, along with more stylistic effects like distortion, phaser, echo, etc.


Generally speaking, you should place tuning in your vocal chain whenever you have the “cleanest” version of the vocal possible. Spatial and stylistic effects should the processing of your tuned vocal after the fact.


4 Best Tuning Plugins Compared

Without further ado, here is a comprehensive comparison of the 4 best tuning plugins available:

  • Metatune

  • WavesTune

  • Melodyne

  • Autotune Pro

For comparison sake, here is the original vocal snippet we'll be using to do demo each of the tuning plugins:




And the backing instrumental for a key reference:




To make this as controlled of an experience as possible, we kept the key set to A minor for each tuner with 50ms tuning speed.


It's worth noting that I recorded on a ribbon microphone and have a deeper, sometimes warbly voice that may make it more difficult for these plugins to detect individual pitches. Just keep in mind that my experience with my vocal isn't representative of a whole data set.


With that out of the way, let's jump into our comparisons!


Metatune: Most Efficient

Metatune is the new kid on the block and is a vocal powerhouse with exclusive features like a built-in doubler, negative tuning speeds, and group processing options for backing vocals and beyond. It's built for efficiency, providing users with multiple interfaces including a heat map keyboard and "the orb", to provide you with most efficient tuning experience possible.


While you're still only utilizing this tuning plugin's main speed, amount, and sustain controls for the most part, this plugin is great for creating subtle and stylistic tuning.







Cost: $199 Perpetual License or $9.99/month


Processed Vocal:




PROS:

  • You can dynamically adjust retune speed for longer sustained notes

  • Note stabilizer can fix those unintended retunes that happen during vibrato or note transitions

  • Groups can sync settings between many instances in a project so you only have to change them in one place

  • Heatmap above keyboard shows how close to the output pitches you are

  • Built in doubler controlled with an XY pad


CONS:

  • You'll need an iLok USB that's 2nd generation or newer to use this powerful plugin

  • Can take some tweaking for a more subtle tuning experience


Final Thoughts:

On a first pass, Metatune is incredibly accurate. You may have to go through some fine tweaks to produce a polished vocal (note the tuning peaking through at 0:10-0:14 above), but this plugin makes it easy for you to achieve properly tuned audio. The embedded group settings are also great for vocal layering, which seems pretty exclusive amongst the world of tuning.


WavesTune Real-Time: Most Affordable

WavesTune Real-Time does not get included enough in the discussion surrounding vocal tuning. This ultra-affordable autotune plugin provides subtle yet smooth tuning to catch any slight missteps in the vocal in a matter of seconds.


The plugin provides formant and vibrato correction, as well as parameters for different ranges, making it extremely versatile for use amongst multiple vocalists. This low-latency plugin also provides quick tuning without hogging your CPU, making it excellent for studio and live settings.




Cost: $45


Processed Vocal:



PROS:

  • Provides subtle, barely there tuning that's perfect for lead vocals

  • Super easy to use, simply set your key and let the plugin do the work

  • Customizable range for use with a variety of singers

  • Allows MIDI export

CONS:

  • Not the best for stylistic tuning

  • Older interface

Final Thoughts:

This plugin may not be the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch, but it's well-worth it's impressively affordable cost. Waves Tune real-time provides subtle tuning that's hardly detectable, making it a great fit for processing lead vocals. This may not be your go-to vocal effect plugin, but if you just want subtle vocal correction, this tuner is your best friend.


Melodyne: Best For Surgical Tuning

Melodyne is an editor in its own rite, serving as a surgical tuning suite. This software doesn't just allow you to adjust pitches in finite detail, but you can also change the duration or position of individual notes.


Notes can also be broken into multiple parts for serious vocal surgery or stylistic effect. With multitrack editing, you can also edit a lead vocal in context of the backing or harmonies. This software is well-loved by many for good reason.



Cost: $99-$699


Processed Vocal:






PROS:

  • Provides a detailed re-pitching editor that can be difficult to find elsewhere

  • Individual notes can be broken into separate notes

  • Adjust phrasing, quantization and timing all within Melodyne

  • MIDI roll interface makes it easy to see which notes are out of key

  • There a multiple versions to meet various engineer price points


CONS:

  • This software can be relatively tedious, though many engineers appreciate this attention to detail

  • Editor takes some getting used to

Final Thoughts:

Melodyne is certainly capable of producing smooth, properly tuned vocals that aren't obviously altered to listeners. While the interface can be a little clunky, this is the perfect tuner for any engineer who wants as much control possible over the tuning process.


Autotune Pro: Best For Stylistic Tuning

Autotune-- The one that started it all. This tuning plugin isn't exactly new, but it's earned its place amongst the most reliable tuning plugins available. With automatic tuning, this pitch correcting plugin is accessible to beginners and experienced producers alike.


You also have multiple views making it easy for you to customize your pitch processing experience. It's compatible with MIDI controllers for easy automation, and provides auto-key detection for streamlined tuning in any session. Plus, classic mode makes finding that stylistic "autotune sound" easy if that's what you're into.



Cost: $399 or $24.99/a month


Processed Vocal:





PROS:

  • Flexible viewing modes make this plugin super approachable

  • Auto-key detection

  • MIDI compatible

  • Great for stylistic tuning

  • Provides smooth tuning for lead vocals

CONS:

  • Not ideal for processing group vocals

  • Had a bit more lag than other tuning plugins

Final Thoughts:

Autotune is the best of both worlds, providing plenty of stylistic tuning opportunities, while still providing users with an approachable way to fine tune vocals in a flash. You won't want to process group vocals with this plugin alone, but it's great for lead vocals, and creating funky stylized audio.




What Can You Use Tuning Plugins For?

There’s no denying that tuning plugins can get pricey, but they’re certainly worth investing in as a producer or mixing engineer. Here are a couple of ways that you may find yourself utilizing tuning plugins in your sessions.


  • Tuning Instruments: Instruments can be temperamental, especially since their tone can vary greatly depending on where they are being recorded. Autotune can help you have more control over the tone and pitch of pre-recorded instruments making for a more cohesive track.

  • Tuning Vocals: Obviously, you can use tuning plugins to tune vocals, but this should be acknowledged as one of the most powerful capabilities of these tools. While you’re typically only adding subtle tuning to vocals, this extra polish can help your mixes seem more professional and crisp.

  • Vocal Effects: Autotune can also be used stylistically, a la T-pain or Kanye West. This use case is becoming increasingly popular with the advent of new genres like hyperpop and Soundcloud Rap.

  • Creative Automation: Tuning plugins are an untapped source of creative automation. Experiment with automating the pitch knob on your tuning plugins and see what you can create.


Incorporating an autotune plugin into your workflow can take your mixes from promising to polished. Hopefully, this makes it easier for you to find the perfect tuning plugin for your needs. Happy tuning!






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