What Is a Vocoder?: Which Ones Should You Try

Discover the power of vocoders – the futuristic vocal processors that transform human voices with synth-like effects. Unleash creativity now!

Are you ready to discover the magical voice-shaping wonder of a vocoder? Dive into the sonic realm where machines blend with vocals, creating harmonies and grooves that will captivate your ears. Let’s unravel the mystery and explore the world of vocoders together. Get ready to add a touch of futuristic magic to your music production journey.

In this blog, we will discuss the inner workings of the vocoder and explore its history, application, and artistic potential. Whether you’re a passionate music enthusiast or a budding producer, this exploration of the vocoder’s secrets is sure to captivate your imagination.

What is a vocoder? A vocoder is a powerful audio processing tool that combines a modulator signal, often a vocal input, with a carrier signal to produce unique synthesized sounds, adding depth and character to vocals, drums, and transitions in music production.

What is a vocoder?

One of the most well-known effects in popular music is the vocoder. If you’ve ever heard a robotic-sounding voice in a song, it was probably a vocoder. A vocoder analyzes the sound of a modulator signal, which is often human speech. The modulator signal is divided into several frequency bands. Each band’s level is provided as a signal to the associated bandpass filter.

Image of a man playing a keyboard and using a microphone with vocoder.
Image of a man playing a keyboard and using a microphone with vocoder.

The filter is set to the same frequency as the investigated frequency. The carrier, or sound source, is routed via the bank of filters. Each bandpass filter’s level is automatically adjusted to match the frequency of the modulator signal. The carrier is thus filtered so that the harmonic content that passes through is similar to that of the modulator signal.

With the same “frequency contour” as the original vocal, you receive a similar but “synthesized” signal. As you can see, the more bands you have available, the closer you’ll come to the original vocal. The carrier part is generally integrated into vocoder plugins.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is a vocoder? : which ones should you try | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Where does the vocoder originate from?

Surprisingly, the vocoder’s beginnings are unrelated to music. Its principal function at the time was to send secure radio messages. The vocoder originated from the invention of Homer Dudley at Bell Labs, which laid the foundation for the channel vocoder, which was later used as a voice codec for telecommunications, conserving bandwidth during speech coding.

Its application in secure radio communication became prominent by encrypting control signals and sending only envelopes of the bandpass filters, ensuring secure transmission. This method of encryption required the receiving unit to be configured with the same filter settings to re-synthesize the original signal spectrum.

The military quickly recognized the potential of this technology and utilized an enhanced version of the vocoder during World War II to secure communication signals over longer distances. By disassembling human speech into a smaller number of bits, the vocoder enabled transmission via narrow bandwidth copper cables across the Atlantic Ocean.

…the vocoder played a significant role in shaping the sonic landscape and leaving a lasting impact on countless tracks.

Beyond its initial purpose in telecommunications, the vocoder found extensive use as an electronic musical instrument. Artists and musicians recognized its artistic potential and employed it to create distinctive robotic and synthesized vocal effects. From electronic music to pop and hip-hop, the vocoder played a significant role in shaping the sonic landscape and leaving a lasting impact on countless tracks.

The Voder broke down speech into multiple bands, retaining only the necessary components for speech intelligibility and allowing telephone conversations to remain audible while requiring less copper wire. Its principal function at the time was to send secure radio messages.

What is the fundamental concept of a vocoder?

A vocoder works its magic by combining a modulator and carrier signal. But what does that even mean, you ask? Well, let me break it down for you. The modulator signal, which is often a vocal input, provides the expressive and melodic content that we want to manipulate. It’s like the star of the show, bringing its unique flavor to the mix. On the other hand, the carrier signal acts as the foundation, generating the sound that the vocoder will reshape and transform.

The Modulator Signal: Vocals Take the Spotlight

Imagine your favorite singer belting out a powerful melody. That’s the modulator signal at work! It’s the voice that grabs your attention and provides the input for the vocoder. This signal carries the emotional essence, the pitch, and the expression that you want to infuse into your music. Whether it’s a smooth R&B vocal or a catchy pop hook, the modulator signal sets the stage for the vocoder to work its magic.

This signal carries the emotional essence, the pitch, and the expression that you want to infuse into your music.

The Carrier Signal: The Unsung Hero

While the modulator steals the spotlight, the carrier signal is the unsung hero, playing a crucial role in the vocoder’s output. Think of it as the musical canvas on which the modulator will paint its sonic masterpiece. The carrier generates the core sound that the vocoder will manipulate and reshape according to the modulator’s input. It could be a simple synth waveform or any other sound source you choose.

So, the next time you hear a mesmerizing vocal with that distinct vocoder effect, know that it’s the result of the harmonious collaboration between the modulator and the carrier. These two signals intertwine to create a captivating and unique sound that adds depth and character to your music. Keep reading to discover how MIDI information and synthesis come into play in the world of vocoders.

Do’s and don’ts when using a vocoder

The below guidelines can help you make the most out of your vocoder usage and achieve captivating and innovative vocal effects in your music.

Experiment with carrier and modulator combosRely solely on presets
Use a high-quality microphoneOveruse the vocoder effect
Adjust settings for desired soundNeglect mixing and balancing
Layer and mix with other effectsUse excessive modulation
Practice and refine vocal performanceForget to save settings and presets
The do’s and don’ts of using a vocoder in your music

What are the main parameters of a vocoder?

To truly understand the inner workings of a vocoder, let’s explore its main parameters and how they shape its sonic output. Brace yourself; we’re diving into the technical realm!

Carrier: The Generator of Sound

The carrier is the musical powerhouse that generates the sound in a vocoder. It acts as the foundation upon which the modulator signal works its magic. Here are a few things to know about the carrier:

  • It can be a simple synth waveform or any sound source of your choice.
  • The characteristics of the carrier signal heavily influence the overall sound of the vocoder’s output.
  • Experimenting with different carrier waveforms can yield exciting and unique results.
Image of a novation ultranova with vocoder microphone.
Image of a novation ultranova with vocoder microphone.

Frequency Bands: Shaping the Sound Spectrum

The concept of frequency bands is essential in shaping the sound produced by a vocoder. Think of frequency bands as different slices of the audio spectrum. Here’s what you need to know:

  • A vocoder divides the frequency spectrum into bands, allowing independent processing of each band.
  • Manipulating the frequency bands can create different tonal qualities and textures.
  • Adjusting the balance between different frequency bands affects the clarity and intelligibility of the vocoder’s output.

Now that we’ve explored the carrier and frequency bands, get ready to uncover the remaining parameters of a vocoder. Remember, experimentation and creativity are key when delving into the world of vocoders.

Top five popular vocoder plugins

Vocoder plugins are essential for creating unique vocal effects and adding a touch of futuristic sound to your music production. Here, we present the top five vocoder plugins, each offering its own unique features and sonic capabilities.

Fruity vocoder: Unleash your creativity

If you’re a fan of FL Studio, you’re in luck! The Fruity Vocoder is a popular choice among producers, offering a range of features and a user-friendly interface. Get ready to explore its capabilities and create mesmerizing vocal effects like your favorite artists.

Ableton Live vocoder: Shape your sound in real-time

For those using Ableton Live, the Ableton Live Vocoder is a go-to option. With its seamless integration into the Live environment, you can easily manipulate vocals and other sound sources to create captivating and expressive textures.

TAL-Vocoder (free): Quality sound at zero cost

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option without compromising on quality, check out the TAL-Vocoder. This free plugin offers a host of features and produces impressive vocoder effects, perfect for experimenting and adding that futuristic touch to your tracks.

Arturia Vocoder V: Vintage vibes and modern flair

Are you a fan of vintage sounds? Arturia’s Vocoder V might be just what you need. This plugin combines the classic vocoder sound with modern functionality, allowing you to explore a wide range of sonic possibilities.

Ovox Vocal ReSynthesis by Waves: Transform your vocals

Waves’ Ovox Vocal ReSynthesis brings a new dimension to vocal processing. With its innovative technology, you can completely transform your vocal tracks, creating unique and otherworldly textures.

Discover the popular vocoder plugins; compare and choose the perfect one for your creative needs.

Fruity VocoderFruity Vocoder is a vocoder plugin that offers vocal processing capabilities within the FL Studio environment.
Ableton Live VocoderAbleton Live Vocoder is a built-in vocoder effect included in the Ableton Live software.
TAL-VocoderTAL-Vocoder is a vintage vocoder emulation with 11 bands that emulates the sound of vocoders from the early 80’s.
Arturia Vocoder VArturia Vocoder V is a vocoder plugin that enhances the classic 16-Band Vocoder with additional synth, sampling, and modulation features.
Ovox Vocal ReSynthesisTAL-Vocoder is a vintage vocoder emulation with 11 bands that emulates the sound of vocoders from the early 80s.
A data table comparing the description for the above vocoder plugins.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you sing into a vocoder?

Because the carrier is imposed with the voice characteristics rather than the voice pitch, to make your voice sing,’ you talk into the vocoder and generate the needed notes by adjusting the carrier’s pitch, maybe by playing a keyboard.

Is autotune a vocoder?

Although both auto-tune and vocoders can be utilized creatively to add an unnatural, synthetic tone to a singer’s voice, they are very different beasts. Auto-Tune was originally intended to fix pitch, allowing vocalists to sound more “in tune” throughout their performance transparently and naturally.

What is the difference between a vocoder and a talkbox?

Vocoders may be more versatile than talkboxes. Remember that a talkbox creates talking effects using an instrument such as a guitar, whereas a vocoder utilizes a synthesizer to “play” the human voice. Even though they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years, both provide wonderfully distinct sounds.


Vocoding is a versatile approach that can fulfill various creative goals, whether you’re looking for a classic synth-pop sound or crafting cinematic robot vocalizations for a sci-fi film. I hope you found this article useful in learning about the history of vocoders, how they function, and how you might use them in your own music.

Remember to experiment and have fun with these plugins to unleash your creativity and create standout vocal effects! If you have any questions about vocoders, let me know in the comments below (I read and reply to every comment).Thanks for joining me on this groovy journey. Until next time, keep tweaking those vocals, and may your music always be in harmony!

Key takeaways

This article covered vocoder in music. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Vocoder plugins are essential for creating unique vocal effects and adding a futuristic touch to music production.
  • They utilize the spectral content and formant structure of one sound source to modulate another, resulting in blended and robotic vocal effects.
  • Top vocoder plugins include Fruity Vocoder, Ableton Live Vocoder, TAL-Vocoder, Arturia Vocoder V, and Ovox Vocal ReSynthesis by Waves.
  • Vocoder plugins offer a wide range of capabilities, including vintage vocoder emulation, synth and sampling features, analog modeling, real-time vocal manipulation, and unique vocal synthesis engines.

Helpful Resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

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