Autotune vs Melodyne – The Real Differences

Autotune and Melodyne are both pitch correction tools, but they’re different for three reasons. Autotune can be used live in real-time, whereas Melodyne can’t. Autotune is monophonic, while Melodyne is polyphonic. Finally, Autotune is more obvious and creative, whereas Melodyne is more transparent.

Before further analyzing these three fundamental differences, it’s important to understand what a pitch correction tool is. In music production, pitch correction is the process of changing the intonation of an audio passage. By default, pitch correction tools help in the detection of atonalities and correct them, so they can be tuned according to equal temperament.

Pitch correction (pitch modulation) tools can be applied to any sound source, but they’re most commonly used for tuning vocals. While Autotune and Melodyne can both be used as standalone music programs, they’re more powerful if used as plug-ins inside a digital audio workstation (DAW).

Nowadays, pitch correction plugins are as indispensable for producing vocals as compressors and equalizers, so you should have at least one in your VST folder. Below, you should find all the information you need to choose between Autotune and Melodyne. Here’s a spoiler for you, though: ideally, you should get both!

Two essential pitch-correction classics

Arguably one of the best VSTs in the world, Antares Auto-tune is undoubtedly the most famous. Ever since Cher used it in the hook of her classic track “Believe,” Autotune’s characteristic sound has become a music-production standard.

Autotune’s one-of-a-kind robotic effect was later popularized by artists such as T-Pain and Daft Punk. Nowadays – and particularly due to the popularity of trap music – pretty much everybody knows what Autotune is.

Celemony Melodyne isn’t as embedded in pop culture as Autotune, but it’s been around since 2000 and is probably the most complete and versatile pitch correction tool in the world. Melodyne is the VST you need if your goal is to tune vocals without anyone realizing it.

Melodyne is seen as an essential studio tool for producers across a wide variety of commercial music genres.

Fundamental differences between Autotune and Melodyne

1. Autotune is real time and can be used on stage, Melodyne is for the studio

One of the things that set Autotune and Melodyne apart is the fact that the first can be used in realtime, whereas the second cannot. In other words, Autotune is an automatic pitch-correction tool, while Melodyne is manual. To better understand the biggest difference, it’s important to look at the way Autotune and Melodyne function.

To use Autotune in your DAW of choice, you just need to drag it to a track and hit play. Choose the key and modes (graphic mode, classic mode, etc.) that better fit your song, adjust the Retune Speed to get a more-or-less robotic sound, edit the vibrato according to taste, and you’re good to go!

Autotune is so fast and simple that it can be used effortlessly on stage; you can perform live with Autotune with little to no latency using nothing but a microphone and an audio interface.

To use Melodyne, you first need to record audio into the plugin. This means that you need to open Melodyne in your DAW of choice and then hit record inside Melodyne’s interface for it to capture an audio passage. Only then you can access the VST’s many editing features.

The original track will be replaced by the edited audio track inside Melodyne and can later be recorded as a separate audio file. Melodyne also supports flawless MIDI extraction, which is a very useful feature on its own.

Since it requires audio to be recorded before processing, Melodyne cannot be used on stage. Trying to perform using Melodyne is also impossible. For this reason, Autotune is the standard pitch-correction tool for live performances, whereas Melodyne should be exclusively viewed as a studio program.

2. Autotune is monophonic, Melodyne is polyphonic

Antares, the company behind Autotune, worked hard to develop polyphonic pitch-correction alternatives such as Harmony Engine. However, it’s hard to conceive a polyphonic pitch-correction program more powerful, with more depth, and more well-built than Melodyne. If you’re working with audio files that include recordings of a children’s choir (or any other polyphonic singing), then you must get Melodyne.

Antares Autotune is monophonic, meaning it can pitch-correct one note at a time. Melodyne, on the other hand, can separate different notes in full chords almost magically and correct each one individually. Melodyne can do so thanks to its groundbreaking Direct Note Access technology, released in 2009. The possibilities are endless.

From a professional audio engineer’s standpoint, Melodyne’s polyphonic editing makes it a must-have tool. Imagine you’re working with a rock band and that one of the guitarists is playing with an out-of-tune string. With Melodyne, you can pitch-correct the notes produced by the out-of-tune string without affecting the other notes. Direct Note Access works flawlessly with choirs, pianos, guitars, and any other polyphonic sound source, taking Melodyne to a whole different level.

3. Autotune is often obvious, Melodyne can be a lot more subtle

Saying that Autotune is obvious is not the same as saying that Autotune is bad. On the contrary, Autotune’s “obviousness” is what allowed it to become one of the most popular VSTs in the world. Its characteristic robotic sound isn’t pleasing for everybody (just ask YouTuber Rick Beato), but it has already been at the center of so many number-one hits that it’s almost impossible to count them!

If obvious is what you’re looking for, just get Autotune and tweak that Retune Speed knob to the top to get that classic Cher effect. If not, you should consider Melodyne. While Autotune can also be used subtly, Melodyne is the go-to tool for making unnoticeable pitch corrections, especially in professional vocals.

Before the heyday of Autotune, pitch correction wasn’t something producers wanted to hear. They used pitch correction to correct notes that were slightly out of tune, ensuring that a great vocal take could make it to the final recording even if the singer got just one or two notes a bit wrong. 

Nowadays, it’s safe to assume that pretty much all commercially-released tracks feature some sort of transparent pitch correction. For this kind of effect, Melodyne is the superior choice.

Autotune vs. Melodyne: which one should you get?

As annoying as it seems, it’s all up to what you want to do. Autotune and Melodyne are both excellent VSTs that have been around for ages, so you can’t go wrong with either of them. If you have to pick just one of them, maybe this table can help to clear things up:

You should get Autotune if:You should get Melodyne if:
You want to use pitch-correction live.You want to pitch-correct recorded tracks.
You’re looking for an obvious pitch-correction effect.You don’t want people to notice you’re using pitch correction.
You’re working with rappers and pop music artists.You’re working with classical, jazz, and folk singers.

Verdict: or why you should get both Autotune and Melodyne

If you’re working with a tight budget, it’s understandably hard to get both Autotune and Melodyne. But if music production is something you want to take seriously, having the two in your VST folder is almost mandatory. You can try to create robotic pitch effects using Melodyne, and you can surely try to use Autotune as a transparent pitch-correction tool; in the end, though, you’ll have a hard time doing it.

Getting great results as a music producer or audio engineer is about your skills and hard work, and that’s something I truly believe in. However, it sure helps a lot to have the best tool for the job. In Autotune and Melodyne’s case, nothing beats incorporating both in your workflow, especially if you deal with vocals.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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