Antares has just upped its game by releasing a lower-priced version of its Auto-Tune [Tape Op #126] line of pitch correction plug-ins called Auto-Tune Access. I have been a user of Auto-Tune since the '90s, beginning with the ATR-1 Auto-Tune hardware box and I've owned every version of Auto-Tune software since then. I can honestly say that quite of few of my productions would not have seen the light of day were it not for the power of Auto-Tune. When I use Auto-Tune, it's mostly in an invisible way, where even the artist may not notice that they have been pulled a bit more in tune, but I'm also quite comfortable using Auto-Tune to smash a vocal into a robot a la Cher or T-Pain (my apologies to Steve Albini). Other tuning programs have become popular over the years, but Auto-Tune remains my go to plug-in for quickly and gently tuning lead and background vocals, and also for creating unusual or extreme tuning effects. One of my favorite uses of Auto-Tune is to place it on the input of a delay plug-in to create a vocal delay throw that occasionally plays a different note than the singer actually sang.
Auto-Tune Access, the most recent release from Antares, provides the necessary controls to use Auto-Tune effectively, without all the knobs and settings that rarely get used by the average user. In probably 90% of my sessions, I only touch two or three settings on the Auto-Tune plug-in in order to get it to do what I need. Auto-Tune Access provides controls for Key, Scale, Retune Speed, and Humanize. The Retune control has been simplified to only three settings of Fast, Medium and Slow, which I found to be effective during my use, and the Humanize function helps deal with maintaining or removing natural vibrato and pitch drift. Auto-Tune Access also offers a Hold button, which freezes what's being shown in the Note Read Out Display. The fresh display shows, in real-time, the note that is being detected, along with the amount of tuning being applied.
Antares touts low latency with low CPU load for this plug-in, and I found that to be true. On my 2013 MacBook running Pro Tools 12, I opened a mix with about 20 audio tracks and a few effects tracks. When I added Auto-Tune Access to eight vocal tracks, the computer didn't even notice. I found the sound of Auto-Tune Access to be as transparent as I could expect from any version of Auto-Tune, and while I could also make it glitch pretty hard, it was perhaps not as hard as the classic Auto-Tune 5 robo-voice. I would recommend Auto-Tune Access to anyone with the caveat that it does leave out the Scale Detune knob, which is often useful for performances where the acoustic instruments are not exactly tuned to A440. This, however, rarely happens in synth-based or programmed music tracks.
I really like the updated look of the new Auto-Tune products and find the controls much easier to read than the older plug-ins with light-colored backgrounds. Also new to Auto-Tune Access is that no iLok is needed, as it uses the Wibu software licensing system. Auto-Tune Access does not provide Throat Modeling, Formant Correction, or MIDI Control, so if you need those features, you may need to upgrade to Auto-Tune Pro. Auto-Tune is a mature product with an experienced user base, but I find that Antares could do with a bit more information in their downloadable user manuals, as the manuals provide only basic control descriptions. I would like to see information about automation settings, MIDI setups, and maybe some basic setting suggestions. The plug-in does provide a help button and pop-up tooltips for users that wish to avoid reading the manual.
Along with Auto-Tune Access I also tried out the new Auto-Key plug-in (included with Auto-Tune Pro), which is compatible with Auto-Tune Access, Pro and EFX+ versions. Auto-Key, when inserted on a musical track or master fader, will automatically detect the key of a song, and by pressing one button on the plug-in, it will set any Auto-Tune plug-in in your session to the correct Scale and Key. Additionally, Auto-Key can directly examine a sound file on your computer and determine its Key and Scale. This plug-in saved me a bit of time on a few mixes, where I didn't produce the track, nor did I have a guitar or keyboard handy to figure out the key. Auto-Key is only used to determine the key, after which it can be removed from the session. Handy!