Vocoders for your vocal ventures: 7 of the best vocoder plugins
By The Article Master on
Who doesn't love a vocoder? These devices can transform signals, most notably the human voice, into a variety of sounds, from robotic to musical. They have been used in many genres of music, from electronic to hip-hop, as well as in film and television.
The origin of the vocoder dates back to the 1920s, when Homer Dudley at Bell Labs invented a device called the Voder (Voice Operating Demonstrator), which could synthesize speech by using a keyboard and a foot pedal to control the pitch and amplitude of 10 band-pass filters. The Voder was demonstrated at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where it amazed the audience with its ability to produce human-like sounds.
However, Dudley's main goal was not to create a musical instrument, but to improve the quality and efficiency of telephone communication. He developed another device called the Vocoder (Voice Coder), which could analyse and encode speech into a series of signals that could be transmitted over long distances using less bandwidth. The Vocoder also had military applications, used in the SIGSALY system for encrypted voice communications during World War II.
The Vocoder remained a secret until the 1960s, when it was declassified and became available for commercial use. Around the same time, electronic music pioneers such as Robert Moog and Wendy Carlos started experimenting with vocoders as musical instruments. They used synthesizers or other sound sources as the carrier signal and modulated them with their own voices or other instruments. This created a distinctive sound that blended the characteristics of both signals, resulting in a harmonized, robotic, or futuristic effect.
One of the first musical uses of the vocoder was in the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), composed by Wendy Carlos. She used a custom-built 10-band Moog vocoder to create eerie vocal sounds for the film's dystopian setting. The vocoder soon became a staple of many genres of music, especially disco, funk, pop, and electronica. Some famous examples of vocoder use in music include:
- Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" (1977)
- Kraftwerk's "The Robots" (1978)
- Boards of Canada - "In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country" (2000)
The technology of vocoders has also evolved over time, from analog hardware devices to modern digital plugins. Check out a few of our current favorites below, two of which you can pick up for free.
Arturia's Vocoder V is a virtual emulation of Bob Moog's original 16-band voice box built in 1978. From Giorgio Moroder to Daft Punk to Wendy Carlos, its vocal-morphing, synth-warping, texture-weaving abilities can be heard on countless albums and soundtracks including some of John Carpenter's iconic soundtracks..
A massive upgrade to the original classic, Prosoniq vocoder, ORANGE VOCODER IV combines 24 high-tech vocoding algorithms, multi-algorithm pitch tuning effects, a powerful virtual analog synthesizer, flexible routing, and a fast and fun workflow with no-compromise sound quality, optimized for maximum presence, punch, and intelligibility.
VocalSynth is a veritable toolbox of experimental vocal FX including a very capable vocoder module, which can be blended with the other fx engines to create electronic vocal textures, robot sounds, computerised harmonies, vocoder and talkbox effects, and more.
Softube Vocoder hooks the imagination with the look and feel of vintage vocoders. MIDI capability enables you to record and reproduce the notes that the carrier synth will perform. Create everything from full-spectrum synth sounds to android exclamations and more.
XILS 5000 and XILS 201 Vocoder are two emulations of the some of the finest vocoders ever created. XILS 5000 is inspired by the EMS Flagship Vocoder, the EMS 5000 from 1976, and XILS 201 models the Sennheiser VSM 201 Vocoder from 1977.
TAL-Vocoder is a vintage-style vocoder with 11 bands that produces the sound of vocoders from the early 80's. Analog-modelled components are mixed with digital algorithms to create an outstanding vocoder sound. The plugin has an included synth with a VCO (Voltage Controlled Oscillator) to create classic analog waveforms. Did we mention it is also free?
Another free offering to get you started with using vocoders, the Full Bucket Vocoder FBVC is simulates the classic KORG VC-10 Vocoder from 1978.