VocAlign Ultra - Resolution Magazine - June 2021
"Do people still roll their eyes at things like SynchroArts’ VocAlign plug-ins? Do people still show disdain for technology that turns ‘studio magic’ into a sleekly-workflowed ‘process’, and reduces a task that used to take hours to little more than a few mouse clicks? I don’t know, ‘cause I’ve stopped listening to them, to be honest - and I don’t hold much truck with that thinking.
I get it. If you’ve toiled over the task of wrangling tight vocal stacks and backing vocals, are blessed with perfect pitch, or even come up with your own creative solutions, I can see why it would feel like a shortcut. It is.
Ultimately, I’m quite lazy, though - and see technology being used to make onerous and/or repetitive tasks easier as the epitome of progress. Modern production methods demand modern solutions, too. Ultimately, though, this review isn’t the time or the place to debate the merits of the audio-industrial complex and its ways of doing things, or my penchant for an easy solution so I can spend more time on stuff I actually enjoy.
So, we come to the new iteration of VocAlign: Ultra. For me, once installed and licensed via iLok, it became available in Pro Tools’ Audio Suite menu for use within the DAW. For VST3 and AU users it can sit on an insert slot of the track to be altered. Either way, its new, blue, interface offers three windows to the left that outline the operation.
At the top is Guide, where the reference track sits; below that is Dub, or the track to be aligned to the reference; and below that Output, which provides a graphic representation of the changes VocAlign has made to the Dub track by displaying the new altered waveform inside an outline of the Guide. This makes it easy to see alignment changes, though the view can be switched by buttons below to show pitch or energy information - the latter being the display method of older VocAlign versions. The new pitch operations that second option displays are really the big addition here - features ported from the company’s ReVoice suite to offer an all-in-one workflow for (relatively speaking) basic pitch alignment tasks.
Any part of the Output waveform can be assigned ‘Safe’ areas, denoted by shields positioned in a drag and drop manner in the area below that window which covers the waveform in red. These will force VocAlign to ignore either pitch or timing alignments, should they be causing problems for the algorithm’s work. The Guide and Dub tracks can be provided with Guide points in a similar manner, to aid alignment.
A Guide track is created by selecting an audio region in the Pro Tools edit window and pressing the blue capture button; the process is then repeated for the Dub - at which point VocAlign will create an Output according to either the Preset selected from a wide range in the Preset menu (covering vocals, rap, and speech options for ADR/dubbing), or the settings options on the right-hand side of the interface. The three states are monitored from speaker switches on the bottom right before being rendered back to the target track (automatically set as the dub source location in Pro Tools).
Out of controls
In Basic mode, you get on/off buttons and a single-knob control for Timing, Pitch and Formant shift. Switching to Advanced allows more under-the-hood tweaking of operation parameters and algorithm selection. There’s nothing too granular here, you’re simply making changes to how the system’s ‘black box’ does its thing - here be no dragons.
In the nicest possible sense, VocAlign isn’t a ‘creative’ tool. It’s a tool in the same way an electric drill is - it doesn’t perform any task that can’t be done manually with other tools given the requisite amount of effort and time; ‘There’s nothing you can drill that can’t be drilled’, as The Beatles never said.
It is, however, a tool that does hard work very well, with ease in fact, and allows you to spend time being creative elsewhere by greatly simplifying your life. If you’ve already decided to stack vocals, or are mixing in the wake of somebody else who’s decided to do that, this takes the donkey work out of polishing up them up. Ditto if you need to do a redub, or have a problematic ADR performance, or a guitar line with a double that needs to be a bit tighter. Want to formant shift some backing to fill out the sound? No problem. Pitch down an octave to add a low-level bit of body to lead vocal? Sorted. Fix minor pitching issues on backing_vocal26? No problem,
The addition of the pitch and formant tools from ReVoice is little more than a nice bit of icing on the cake here, to be honest. That they mean you don’t have to go elsewhere represents a time-saving bonus, though, which is what this software is at heart.
It ain’t what you got…
As with all pitch and timing tools, VocAlign needs to be applied with nous if you want transparency. The more you ask it to do, the more cracks in the facade you’ll perceive. This, though, comes down to astute and circumspect use of its feature set, not any problem inherent within the software itself. Break your tasks up into well-thought-out packets, and you can whizz through them at speed and get transparent results using just the basic controls and options. Its operation is opaque, lacking the granular tools of more involved software, but the do-it-for-you algorithms are robust when used well - and that’s not why you’d go for this software.
To be honest, it’s a joy to whistle through a stack of vocals on a chorus that would usually take a frustrating amount of time to manually edit or fettle with effects. I went back to an early version of a mix I once spent a long time sorting out with Liquid Audio, and blasted through it. Providing your Guides are optimised and tuned, and your dubs are in a ballpark in terms of pitch, time or both, it’s hard to imagine it being much simpler to create anything from a silky unison to a nicely aligned ensemble of voices without giving all the decisions to the software.
Like any good power tool, how and where you apply VocAlign Ultra is the real issue, not its ability to perform.
- Super-slick workflow for repetitive alignment tasks
- New pitch options create an all-in-one solution
- Super simple to use
- Resizable GUI
- You could wish for more pitch editing options, maybe"
Thanks to Resolution Magazine for the review!