We all know that beloved vocoder sound, don’t we? Whether you’ve been bumping some Daft Punk lately or have come across any random song that transforms their voice for a catchy chorus…there’s something about that sound that will always hold a special place in our hearts. Do people still use vocoders nowadays? Yes, of course. However, we know many who have switched to using FX plugins for these types of sounds and effects. But what about those who still want a genuine piece of hardware that synthesizes our voice the old-fashioned way? We found a few gems that are still available in the market to look for today when searching for the best vocoder.
What is a Vocoder?
A vocoder is a piece of music equipment which allows us musicians to analyze and synthesize a human voice into audio data, which can then be compressed, multiplexed, encrypted, or used in other ways we use data. Most common associations we may think of with a vocoder are those “robot voices” we’ve heard through out our listening experiences. They don’t always have to be completely “robotic”, however. You can minimize this effect greatly for just a slight tweak, or use plug-ins and synths in other ways to warp your voice completely until it’s recognizable.
If you’ve ever heard a few songs by Daft Punk, or perhaps “California Love” by Dr. Dre (the chorus), you’ll recognize that sound pretty easily. The possibilities are quite endless because we’re essentially taking our voice and creating data out of it, which can be then used traditionally in any type of MIDI controller, synthesizer or effects we have at our fingertips.
The Best Vocoders
The phrase “best vocoder” may depend on our readers, so up first we wanted to recommend a pick that comes with the complete package. Novation has become very well-known in recent years for their versatile range of synths having a history of much-loved products by customers. The Ultranova is a super popular vocoder but merely synth in general, and this particular model is a step above from its previous version with plenty of new accessories and tricks users can enjoy. Not only is this vocoder aesthetically pleasing, its logistics are up to date with its modern competitors filled with new techs and specs that are enjoyed by its users. Its moderate price range gives musicians an affordable product to begin with or add as an accessory to your already set-up studio rig.
The UltraNova is able to demonstrate an array of sounds from booming bass spots to higher lead pieces with a slight analogue sounding to the pads and also comes with an arraignment of presets as well as a very versatile analogy system for users to perform mixes that would compare it to competitors. The UltraNova comes complete with a built-in vocoder, the best of its previous versions giving a greater clarity of sound and a greater distribution of synth options. The software editing capabilities of the vocoder are decent but quickly become limited with the absence of a large screen, it’s clear that Novation limits the products market away from advanced users who use hardware only rigs, but you can easily set this up with your digital setup and get going quickly. To compensate for this weakness in the keyboard, the Ultranova includes a software editor and patch system as a plugin to the user’s software. The built-in vocoder has become a major selling point for the Novation UltraNova being able to create anything from classical vocal effects to modern sounds, inducing robotic sounding effects.
Lastly, the effects don’t stop with the vocoder, the technology allows for collaboration of distortions, delays, reverb, phase and EQ features. The pairing features form the systems to the user’s hardware shows it’s far above the competition with its fast adapting syncing system. The software also contains a Novation Automap allowing functions to be used easily with your DAW. This is definitely one of our favorite picks as the best vocoder.
As another one of the best vocoders in the market, the MicroKorg is slightly different form its predecessors, switching to a digital program instead of analogue system but keeping its 37 key appearance. The digital system allows the synth to replicate waveforms and different sounds and frequencies form the analog system keeping up with modern technology although not strictly authentic. Its small frame certainly packs a powerful kick with new keyboard controls that can utilize the whole synthesizer. The equipment is relatively low in price point which nevertheless gives customers a lot of user freedom in mix options and unique preset options.
The miccoKorg includes presets determined by genres such as electronic, trance, hip-hop etc. then allowing to select patch numbers with great sound combinations. The preset sounds are easily tweaked with knobs above the keys allowing you to customize the attack, release, tempo and other formations. Its digital features differ from an analog system so that you don’t have to hunt down individual’s keys and knobs, instead allowing for easy changes to the main knobs which makes things a lot easier. This vocoder also includes a built-in choice synthesizer, one of the best vocoder technologies that have been released in recent years. The detachable microphone allows for easy access to the vocoder with heaps of vocal settings that all have distinct sounds, which allows the user to be able to sing and perform in real-time articulating each note on the word chosen. This could only be possible with the digital format.
The Korg microKorg comes with 128 program settings and assignable settings to filter the sound to the user’s leisure and to be able to choose form an array of different templates that could be set up. The 4 voice polyphony also allows the user to simultaneously combine different effects, forming individual melodies that are able to harmonize with each other creating a unique sound. There is also a control arpeggiator that gives the user the freedom to hold notes or chords and arpeggiate the sound in real-time. The arpeggiator and polyphony features give sequencers a new experience in combinations that is unlike previous version seen before, making this by far the best vocoder for the money.
The Boss V0-1 is a compact designed vocoder that is a bit different from our previous two picks, this time coming in as a guitar pedal that is a bit more of a vintage model compared to its competitors. The look of the device has tubing around the exterior giving a strange look to the device, however the technology provides powerful effects. The vocoder technology covers the traditional features of a vocoder in regards to sound with the addition of new effects that are a step above previous models.
The Boss V0-1 is quite simple to use, with a standard side mounted input, it’s simple to turn on and be used just as a guitar effects pedal. The pitch and sound manipulating features synchronize with the user’s input to adapt a great sound. With low-end price point, the Boss V0-1 is definitely worth its time for novice sequencers. The Layout is pretty easy to understand which includes volume and blend functions that allows for a change in a range of tones effecting the brightness and color of sounds. The vocoder also contains a vintage mode that differs from its classical mode and can blend the vocal signals with a unique style which differs to its advanced function giving a really modern sound.
The talk box nails classical vibes mixed with a guitar, bass and keyboard providing an authentic sound especially coupled with distortion. The vocoder features are some of the best work of the Boss V0-1 offering great classical, rock, funk and electro sounds. The device then falls short when obtaining deeper, swirling and reverb tones, not something that is a problem given the price. Its compatibility with most equipment is a strong feature that gives a well-rounded approach to mix, and is definitely the best vocoder if you’re a guitarist.
Electro Harmonix V256
Up next, the V256 presents a very simple design with easy to find blend controls, control label bands and envelope followers to begin making simple mixes. The device depicts easy to follow instructions and easy to identify keys and effect knobs and switches. Harmonix’s primary control is the blend control which mixes the signal affected to the dry and also controls labelled bands depicting the amount of bands in each filter. Each component is processed by an envelope follower which gives the V256 a pretty unique sound by mixing different signals with different envelope followers. This also gives the vocoder a remarkable sound when used producing a distinctive range of robotic sounds.
The tone controller assists when rolling off highs during mixes, creating an arpeggio-like sound. There is also a Gender bender feature inbuilt to the vocoder allowing the user to mimic the voice of the opposite sex which can be altered further by the use of a pitch knob (why not?). There are a total of nine modes ranging from the standard robotic synths to transposition modes of instrument control. The user may begin with the standard vocoder settings to produce certain mixes but the device is certainly more capable once the user learns to play with the board. Pulling back the pitch controller will allow for the inner synthesizer to be activated really pushing distinctive robotic tone, the best vocoder sound system EH has produced thus far. Minor feedback issues could be experienced to which the user can switch to a lower setting to offset the feedback loop and continue from there.
The V256 is definitely known for its usefulness and its portability and its relatively low price point and unique sound really sets it apart from its competitors and a versatile synth model. In comparison to the older model this new version is much more capable to queue out sequences due to its easily manipulated keys and knobs. However, its low price point comes at the cost of a good overdrive and delay features but the Electro-Harmonix V256 still remains a decent beginning and intermediate mixer device as another of one of our favorite picks to be the best vocoder out there right now.
Up last but certainly not least, the Roland VP03 offers a clear sounding tone to the effects with unique features to the device. The exterior is an all metal casing with secure knobs and sliders offering a reassuring experience when mixing with the device. The fader tops of the device are illuminated just as previous models giving a nice visual reference point which are space apart quite well. The VP-03 offers a handy 16 pattern and 16 step sequencer being able to sync to external devices quite easily. Other features such as shuffle functions, polyphonic tones, edible lengths and scale orders are key functions to the technology as a step above its predecessor.
The chord memory function is also a plus which allows the user to use the 16 step sequencer with memorized chords to create a unique loop effect. The ensemble effect has once again made it with the newer version which allows the user to tweak the effects and widen the sound with the push of a button. The featured can then be layers with a human voice live recording to give the robotic voice sound significant to modern mixes. Presets to the device offer a mixing of both male and female blends giving a more choir like sound and defining layers.
The keyboard offers well outlying keys that tend to be a little small but definitely a versatile piece of equipment. In comparison to the original model it’s pretty faithful although fairly limited to new functions making it a tad overpriced even for a median price range. However it’s quite faithful to other Roland devices and appears as a safe option for intermediate mixers also. The Roland VP-03 is definitely considered the best vocoder by many and is best used with in conjunction with classical guitar strings and a voice that can mimic to every voice quite easily.