Today I will take a comparison of two very popular vocal tuning plugins. I have used both now for a number of weeks and instead of getting into a ton of details. I have chosen to give my honest and straight forward view as to which one I prefer to use and why. These two vocal tuning plugins could be regarded as the top-heavy weights in the industry. The DAW of my choice at SoundBurst Studios that I tested both of them on is an iMac quad core i7 27-inch computer running Pro Tools 12. I found the CPU draw from both the antares Auto-tune 8.1 and Waves Tune Real-Time to really not be a factor; they both ran fine on my DAW and without a single crash, however the most vocal tuning plug-ins I ran at one time was four, with a lot of other plugins running as well.
OK, so before we get into a comparison I must say that my interest is mainly studio minded and NOT live performance minded, so keeping that in mind lets get into a brief comparison of these two fine vocal tuning plugins. The first thing that I liked about the Waves Tune Real-Time vocal tuning plugin was the ability to push the pitch of the note directly to the desired note either forward or backwards through an arrow directly located above the piano keyboard layout on the GUI which is real nice and simple to use. The plugin has ease of usage and low latency to give performers some real nice pitch correction if needed while they are recording in a studio or in a live performance setting. But in my view I prefer to have the singer do their best to hit all the notes to begin with without a vocal tuning plugin. My thoughts are perhaps old school, but I can see both sides, the singer in a studio situation might want try to hit a higher or lower note if the plug-in is assisting them while in a real time singing mood. But what is really important to me is the quality of the sound once it is processed, does it sound real? Can you tell that a plugin was used? I thought in my opinion that the Waves Tune Real-Time plugin colored the sound in the lower mid and mid range areas. The coloration was getting me thinking about using an EQ to offset it. Now don’t get me wrong, I use A LOT of Waves plug-ins and I believe that they are a top-notch company with great sounding plug-ins. The coloration was subtle, but when it comes down to studio work, for me the sound is extremely critical.
Now taking a look at the antares Auto-tune 8.1. The folks over at antares have been doing this for around eighteen years now and the experience shows. There are a lot of really great features on Auto-Tune 8.1 Their graphic setting for drawing in pitch and now timing adjustments is the industry standard. Auto-Tune 8.1 also now features a low latency setting for recording and live performing much like Waves Tune Real-Time does. I will say one thing, that the features and algorithms used with Auto-Tune 8.1 do sound more realistic than Waves Tune Real-Time. When it comes down to sound and realism with vocal tuning, antares has Waves beat in my opinion. Auto-Tune 8.1 was really great on the automatic plug-in setting side as well making it just as easy to use as the Waves Tune Real-Time plug-in. I tired both plugins on a solo violin that I recorded at SoundBurst Studios and the Auto-Tune 8.1 handled it fine, the Waves Tune Real-Time plugin could not, the pitch wandered. I also found that when the singer was pretty close on the pitch but just needed a subtle tightening here and there that both Waves and Auto-Tune worked about the same with ease, but Auto-Tune 8.1 sounded more real. The addition of a feature called Flex-Tune on the Auto-Tune 8.1 is a game changer. It worked great with the humanize feature and on several different genres of music that I was mixing too. I tend to make my adjustments by ear and there are options with Auto-Tune for that.
To me both Plug-ins did what they said they would do and that is to fix pitch problems. Auto-Tune 8.1 is roughly twice the price of Waves Tune Real-Time. Auto Tune 8.1 will run you about $400.00 USD and Waves Tune has an introductory price of $100.00 USD then it will go up to $200.00 USD. I think that if you all about the studio sound then stick with Auto-Tune 8.1, however, if it is a live performance tool that you are looking for I would suggest try both Auto-Tune 8.1 or the Auto-Tune Live for lower cost of $249.00 USD. But for studio work Auto-Tune 8.1 sounded much better and realistic as well as gave me more control over the vocal sound than the Waves Tune Real-Time plug-in. Melodyne is another option in vocal tuning, but I do not have enough experience with it to give it a fair shot, I have only used it once.
Drew Puzia is a multi-award winning Mix Engineer at SoundBurst Studios in Las Vegas. Drew is certified in Audio Engineering from the world renowned Berklee College of Music. His experience spans over three decades in the music industry and he has recorded and mixed countless musicians in many genres of music.