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From layering in heavily effected vocal tracks to serve as background texture, to setting robotic, synthesized vocals at the forefront of a mix, vocoder VST plugins can be used in a variety of creative ways to add color and interest to your mixes.
Vocoders may have originally been developed for radio and military purposes, but the moment some inspired soul saw that it could be just as useful in music, the floodgates opened. Even artists like Herbie Hancock are famous for using vocoder effects in their music.
In this guide, we look at the best vocoder VST plugins to inspire you.
XILS 201 Vocoder by XILS Lab – Best Overall
Modeled after a hard to find, and prohibitively expensive hardware vocoder, XILS 201 Vocoder brings intelligibility and sound quality back into the equation.
XILS 201 Vocoder features two filter banks with 20 frequency bands. Both filter banks can process the income signal (in addition to voice, drums, and just about any other signal). That’s 10 more frequency bands than the Roland VP-330 had.
The internal analog synthesizer can be used as the carrier, though XILS 201 Vocoder also gives you the flexibility of using any other incoming signal, such as an external synthesizer or another voice.
Also aboard is a multiband frequency dependent Envelope Follower engine. This is great for percussive or rhythmic audio material as it will shape the signal gain based on its harmonic content.
If that wasn’t enough, this unit comes with multiple analog modeled effects, including chorus, phaser, delay, and a classic “digital” reverb. Custom effect routing and order are also possible. That ought to cut down on your vocal chain processing.
Alternatively, XILS 201 Vocoder can be used as a multi-effect on keyboards, strings, and other material. The built-in filter bank, chorus, phaser, delay, and reverbs are well suited to a variety of purposes.
Altogether, the 20-band filter XILS 201 Vocoder comes with per band bypass, addition, and bridging, one internal sound carrier based on one oscillator and noise generator, four effects with their own input routing, automatic input gain control, pitch tracker, external carrier input, MIDI controllable parameters, two filter banks, silence bridging, and more.
We find this to be a great sounding vocoder with a bit of warm analog flavor. While there are other contenders for the best overall spot (we thought long and hard about this one), we simply couldn’t deny the overall classic sound characteristics and customizability of the XILS 201 Vocoder, complete with convenient built-in effects.
If you’re looking to go beyond, and find a vocoder with more modern features, though, you’ll want to check out some of the other options mentioned in this guide.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Vocoder V by Arturia – Best Premium Option
Arturia’s Vocoder V takes the classic 16-band vocoder and enhances it with an advanced synth, sampler, and modulation features. What makes it especially unique is that it combines carrier and modulator – synth and voice analyzer – into one.
The inclusion of the dedicated sampler means you don’t need to sing if you don’t want to – you can instead process a sound of your choosing and explore a variety of sonic possibilities without having to record anything new.
Further, Vocoder V makes it possible to transform vocal stems into analog FM basslines, drum loops into synth chord sequences, ambient samples into harmonic drones, and a great deal more.
Vocoder V’s synth controls include hold, oscillator 1 and 2 (with triangle, saw, square, and noise waveforms), envelope controls, expression controls, chord mode, and ensemble (analog-style chorus).
The vocoder patch bay and modulation section come with vocal and synth level controls, times, frequency levels, bands, patch bay (16 bands of analysis and synthesis frequencies from 50 to 5080 Hz), as well as high freq and noise controls.
Overall, Vocoder V is a 16-channel vocoder with an integrated synth section (dual oscillator with FM, waveshaping, hard sync, fixed frequencies, chord and glide, ensemble), external voice input, pitch tracking, integrated sample player engine (play up to 12 samples, 700+ included, time-stretching), vocoder bands rerouting from patch bay, advanced modulation, 11 effect types, macro controls, and over 250 presets.
So far as Vocoder V being our premium pick… really, it was a close call. But there simply is no other option that combines vocoder effects with an advanced synth and sampler, as well as extensive modulation features. So, we simply couldn’t choose anything else.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
MVocoder by MeldaProduction – Best Budget Option
For all types of mixing and mastering virtual effects, MeldaProduction is a very reliable source. No surprise, then, that they’ve got their own vocoder module in the form of MVocoder.
This baby promises to be easy to use, versatile, and great sounding, with robotic voices, singing synthesizers, audio morphing, and other powerful features.
MVocoder is a true analog filter-based vocoder with up to 100 bands, up to order-10 filters, band matrix, band distribution, resonance graphs, morphing, various vocoding modes, and more.
This plugin takes advantage of an external sidechain. That means you can feed in any source with up to eight surround channels.
You can further tweak the sound with extensive modulation options – LFO, envelope generator, audio level follower, randomize, or pitch detector.
MVocoder is the perfect solution for robotic vocals, and with formant shift, you can even make your voice sound deeper or higher (change gender). With other deep customization options, vocoder nerds will get a kick out of this VST plugin.
For the price, MVocoder offers up a nice set of features, going beyond what is expected of a standard vocoder VST plugin. That makes it our best budget options.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
VocalSynth 2 by iZotope
More than a mere vocoder, iZotope’s VocalSynth 2 is a powerful vocal processing tool, with plenty of stompbox style effects integrated. VocalSynth 2 features several types of vocoder and vocal effect types, including Vocoder, Compuvox, Polyvox, Talkbox, and the brand-new Biovox feature.
Biovox utilizes scientific modeling of the human vocal tract. That means you can tweak subtleties like nasality, vowel shapes, and formants. Whether it’s making your voice “pop” in a mix or mangling it to oblivion to make it unrecognizable noise, iZotope puts all the power at your fingertips.
The drag-and-drop vocal effects chain feature was designed to look and feel like a stompbox playground, with seven effects – shred, ring mod, chorus, distort, filter, transform, and delay. Each effect has a few basic parameters you can tweak to keep things simple.
VocalSynth 2 also features three modes (Auto Mode, MIDI Mode, Sidechain Mode), and inter-plugin communication with Neutron 2’s Visual Mixer and Masking Meter, as well as Tonal Balance Control.
For those looking for a modern, flexible, innovative take on a classic vocoder design, VocalSynth 2 may well be the best overall option. From visualization and experimental effects to pitch detection and multiple voice processing options, there’s simply no denying that VocalSynth 2 is fun, powerful, and maybe even a tad revolutionary.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
XILS Vocoder 5000 by XILS Lab
XILS Vocoder 5000 was inspired by the EMS Vocoder 5000, one of the most powerful and complex vocoder effects ever created.
Using it on voice is bar none the most popular application of a vocoder, but whatever you might be looking to add a bit of analog flavor to – drums, percussion, guitars, synthesizers, or otherwise – XILS Vocoder 5000 can spice things up.
With rarely matched clarity, with the XILS Vocoder 5000, English, German, and even Japanese come out sounding clear and intelligible.
With a single panel view, the user interface has been designed with simplicity in mind. There are plenty of presets to explore, and should you want to take things further, you can even leverage the Logo Center Panel, which will give you access to loads of advanced parameters.
XILS Vocoder 5000 also features plenty of features not possible with classic analog gear – bands number, filter types, filter’s emphasis, emphasis ponderation, slew rate mods, Freeze mods, two LFOs, detailed FM and PWM, more oscillators waveforms, improved input detector, and gate input.
All in all, XILS Vocoder 5000 features a matrix patch area (22×22 or 20×20), two synthesizer core, two oscillators per core (modeled after the EMS VCS3 oscillator), one noise per core, two LFOs per core, VCA-ADSR per core, one 22 band filter vocoder, and one 20 band filter vocoder.
You also get stereo analysis and synthesis capabilities, sidechain, virtual keyboard, pitch tracker, input gate, Voice / unVoice detector, full output mixer, frequency shifter effect, MIDI controllable parameters, and multiple presets.
Overall, this is a very warm sounding vocoder. It’s quite versatile, and it puts a variety of sound possibilities at your fingertips. Check out the video below to hear it in action.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Vocoder by Softube
No messing around with the naming here. Softube’s Vocoder, though, was inspired by the original vintage vocoder units created for obscuring military messages during World War II.
Vocoder features a six-voice carrier synth with MIDI capability, Attack Hold Decay Envelope, and a Freeze section.
The carrier synth features four waveform types – Saw, Square, Noise, and Pulse. You can freely alter octave adjustments, pitch modulation, and Pulse Wave Modulation for added fine tuning.
The easy-to-use Attack Hold Decay Envelope replaces familiar ADSR controls. And the Unvoiced section gives you control over high frequency consonants and plosives to improve listenability.
Plus, the Freeze section lets you make a rhythmic hold of certain formants, or DAW sync to set subdivisions of a beat.
All in all, Softube’s Vocoder comes with a six-voice polyphonic carrier synth with four selectable waveforms and MIDI capability, Attack Hold Decay Envelope function, Transpose Chord Mode, Unvoiced section, stereo widening, Spectral Tilt, variable band selection (four, eight, 12, 16, and 20 bands), Freeze section, Shape section, and Pitch Modulation section.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Vocodex by Image Line
Image Line has their own vocoder effect FL Studio users will probably be familiar with already – it’s called Vocodex.
The developer claims it’s one of the best sounding vocoder effects available. Vocodex does come with some great features, but at the end of the day, you can be the judge as to whether you think it’s the best sounding.
Vocodex comes with speech enhancement contouring of noise or modulator pass-through, modulator noise reduction, voice doubling, reverb, built-in Soundgoodizer (limiting and warmth), up to 100 bands individually locatable in the spectrum, band unison, sidechain charrier or modulator input, carrier synthesizer powered by Sytrus, and other per-band effects.
Overall, Vocodex is a very capable, great sounding effect.
Note: Vocodex is only compatible with Windows and will not work with Macs.
Learn more: Plugin Boutique
Morphoder by Waves
Waves’ Morphoder has been around a while. This eight-voice stereo synthesizer comes with formant control, modulator with linear phase EQ, as well as MIDI control.
Morphoder’s presets set a bit of instant gratification at your fingertips. The sounds are very usable as is, but of course you can further tweak them to achieve desired results.
Morphoder is best used in tandem with a compressor for added clarity, as your audio signal can sound a little thin post-processing.
Check out the video below to hear how this baby sounds:
Learn more: Waves
What Should I Look For In A Vocoder VST Plugin?
If you’re into vocoders, it likely means you like to transform, mangle, and effect vocal tracks in creative ways.
Know it or not, you can do this in a variety of ways – from the subtler doubling and stereo widening effect of chorusing, all the way over to the degraded, glitchy sounds of bit crushing. You can even achieve a telephone style effect quite easily with the right EQ settings (I use this technique quite a bit myself)!
But if you’re sure that a vocoder is the effect you need – and I’m not here to plant doubt in your mind – then a vocoder is what you shall have.
It’s a specific type of vocal effect with a specific sound, but depending on the beat, EDM track, or pop project you’re working on, it truly can be the perfect fit. And it’s certainly better to have a quality vocoder in your toolset than not, especially when the perfect sound you’re going after seems just inches away.
Your DAW probably has a stock vocoder effect, by the way, but it probably isn’t anything special.
I remember using a vocoder in an older version of Waveform (then Tracktion) back in the day, and while it worked okay, it didn’t sound anything like the plugins mentioned in this guide!
Anyway, there isn’t too much to fuss over so far as vocoders are concerned, but of course there are some basics worth considering. Here are the main factors we like to examine and explore when shopping for a competent vocoder VST plugin:
- Sound Quality
And here’s what we have to say about each of these factors:
When considering a virtual effect or instrument, in almost 100% of cases, sound quality ends up being a key consideration. So far as vocoders are concerned, most would say it’s the top consideration and we agree.
No two vocoders sound exactly alike, even if they are quite similar in form and function. So, personal preferences are going to play a big part in your buying decision. And it’s okay to put your own preferences first.
Broadly, there are basically two types of vocoders – vintage and modern. Vintage vocoder effects are generally emulating classic hardware units, where modern vocoders might come with a bit of a twist – additional voices, effects, parameters, and so on.
It’s fair to say even modern vocoders got their inspiration from somewhere. So, generally they are classic vocoders with added flexibility, but in some rare cases might feature their own unique algorithms / techniques.
Each vocoder VST plugin featured in this guide can certainly hold its own. Each of them has a great sound, subtly – or in some cases significantly – different from the other. To that end, it’s worth listening to each, because the more you listen, the more you’ll discover.
Videos demos, reviews, and audio samples aren’t hard to find. Comparing each plugin should be a relatively simple task and shouldn’t take up too much of your time.
There are some other sound related nuances that might be worth exploring, depending on how you intend to use the vocoder in your own mixes.
The most significant one, at least as applied to vocoders, is intelligibility. How intelligible is the vocal post-processing?
If this isn’t much of a concern for you, then you don’t need to crowbar this factor into your broader considerations. But if you’d like to be able to hear what’s being said (or sung) post-processing, you would do well to remember this.
Of course, there are always some tricks you can pull to ensure better intelligibility. For example, you could mix in a clean vocal sound with the processed vocal sound. When you start thinking creatively, you’re only limited by your imagination.
Either way, I thought I would point out some of the things you might consider as you listen to different plugins. At the end of the day, you’ve still got to be the one to decide, though, because you’re the one that’s going to be using the plugin.
We really live in outstanding times, don’t we?
Now, classic hardware units are still treasured by many, and while VST plugins are getting better at capturing that classic analog warmth by the day, in some cases they simply cannot live up to the gear they’re emulating.
You’re certainly going to sacrifice some functionality, but sometimes hardware is the best option.
VST plugins though, like vocal VST plugins, inevitably offer way more functionality. Whether it’s an effects chain, advanced synthesizer controls, built-in samplers, or added vocal effects styles, there’s so much more you can get out of a vocoder VST plugin like Vocoder V or VocalSynth 2. Plus, they really do sound good.
When exploring features, it’s worth thinking about how much power you ultimately need.
Not everyone will require an entire effects chain. Not everyone wants a vocoder with added synth and sampling functions. Enhanced features can be fun, but if you’ve already got a sizable VST library, you can perform a lot of the same functions without relying on an enhanced vocoder to do it all.
Of course, the counter to that is if the vocoder has most of the features you need built into it, your CPU will suffer less.
When it comes to vocoder VST plugins, features are a significant consideration. It may not be quite as important as sound quality, but if you want more control over the timbre and tones of the processing, the right parameters can make a big difference.
Some plugins come with more features. Others come with less. Some are aiming to be more thorough vocal chains. Others are emulating a classic vocoder effect and little more.
Most of this comes back to the type of projects you’re planning to work on and how much flexibility you need. If you can view features through this lens, choosing a vocoder should prove easier.
If the plugin is well matched to application, in many cases, it is the right choice.
I think about guitar tone the same way – it’s not about sounding great all on its own – it’s about what sounds great in a mix!
Vocoder VST plugins generally land themselves in the $50 to $200 range. Nothing too crazy.
You do get what you pay for, but in this instance, you can get a perfectly competent plugin in the $50 range and be quite happy with it.
Plugins on the upper end are usually enhanced and bundled with additional features that would naturally make them more of a premium option. These are well worth the asking price too, though, if you want even better sound quality and sound shaping capabilities.
How much to spend on a VST plugin (or multiple plugins) is ultimately up to you, with one note of caution – we always advise spending responsibly. Don’t go into debt for any musical purchases.
Top Vocoder VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Who knew there was so much musical history around vocoders? If someone hadn’t recognized their musical potential, it’s possible we wouldn’t have vocoder VST plugins, and by extension auto-tune!
For warm, robotic style vocals, vocoder VST plugins are still the go-to, and they can sound exquisite in the right situation. Use them subtly, use them liberally, it’s totally up to you, but our best advice – always use a vocoder tastefully.
Now, go and download and install your new purchase(s) and have some fun. It’s the best way to learn the ins and outs of your new toys!