A vocoder is an effect we’ve heard in music from the ’70s to the present day. It’s frequently described as the ‘robot voice’ heard in songs like “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys. Like everything else, vocoders have gone software in the age of digital recording. These are several of the best vocoder plugins 2021 has to offer.
Best Vocoder Plugins 2021: What is a vocoder?
‘Vocoder’ stands for voice encoder. It takes your voice and splits the signal into multiple frequency bands which are then sent to individual bandpass filters. Typically, a vocoder splits the signal into anywhere between 8 and 20 bands. The more bands used, the higher quality the sound will be.
The voice is what we call the modulator signal. We also have a carrier signal, which is a sound source sent through the bank of filters. Each filter automatically adjusts to the modulator’s frequency.
For musical purposes, vocoders use a synthesizer as the carrier. That way you can pitch it to specific notes. As with most of the synthetic sounds of the late ’60s and ’70s, we have Robert Moog to thank. In 1968, he broke ground on one of the first solid-state musical vocoders!
Now, we can easily achieve similar effects in our own music using vocoder plugins.
- Related: A Short History of the Vocoder
Popular songs featuring a vocoder
- Beastie Boys – “Intergalactic”
- Kraftwerk – “The Robots”
- Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”
- Stevie Wonder – “Send Your Love”
- Earth Wind & Fire – “Let’s Groove Tonight”
- John Legend – “All of Me”
- Michael Jackson – “P.Y.T.”
- Taylor Swift – “Delicate”
- Daft Punk – “Around the World”
- Coldplay – “Major Minus”
Research before buying
If you’re looking at vocoder plugins, you probably have some idea about the sound you want to create. A quick search might help you determine what your favorite artist(s) used to generate their wild vocal effects. Lots of times it will be some vintage hardware that has now a corresponding plugin emulator.
Best Vocoder Plugins 2021
This is perhaps one of the most in-depth vocal processing plugins currently available. The iZotope VocalSynth 2 is actually 4 separate vocal modules in one, including a vocoder and a talkbox.
The vocoder panel itself is what you should expect: you can absolutely use it to create those classic robot effects. You can also choose from a huge selection of vocoder modes to create different sounds from vintage to futuristic.
This is a plugin emulation of EMS’s 5000 vocoder from 1976. The original EMS masterpiece is considered one of the most detailed vocoders ever made.
The XILS 5000 emulates the filtering techniques and complex circuitry of its analog counterpart. The result is the same precision and clarity of the EMS unit, with modern improvements.
The user interface keeps beginners in mind, with everything laid out in front of you. Of course, veterans can take advantage of more advanced features to synthesize wild sounds.
The XILS V+ is a reproduction of one of the most beloved vocoders ever made — the Roland VP-330. It features a vintage 10-band vocoder section, a strings section, a human voices section, and the ability to layer all three.
The vocoder works much like the original, and it includes the delay-based ‘ensemble’ effect that made the original a classic. Even the string section is great, and some have called it the best sounding ’70s-style strings they’ve ever heard in plugin form.
The Waldorf Lector is a 100-band vocoder with a synthesizer section on the left and an effects section on the right. It’s understandably a comprehensive vocoder with a wide breadth of sounds from its feature-rich control set.
Lector can do the classic vocoding thing, and it can definitely do the robot voice. But it can also take other input sources and musically warp them in creative ways. For instance, you could take a drum loop and turn it into an atmospheric pad. Features galore!
The Waves Morphoder is a simple take on the classic vocoder. Bringing it into the 21st century is the ability to combine different audio signals to create totally unique sounds.
You can use Morphoder in a musical context, or to generate wild effects for sound design in post-production.
TAL-Vocoder is a vintage early-’80s vocoder emulation with 11 bands. At its core, it includes analog-modeled components optimized for voice processing.
As far as free vocoder plugins go, this one is easy-to-use and a great representation of classic ’80s vocoding effects.