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Written by v on August 13, 2009 – 8:18 pm -

The vocoder is a very polarising device – it drives some people wild, it drives others nuts, but everyone who’s listened to modern music in the last three decades or watched cartoons had heard one. This is the effect used to produce a robotic voice or talking instrument.

Traditionally, vocoders have been dedicated units – boxes, with two audio inputs – a sound source and a microphone. It analyzes the human voice to measure the formant characteristics  and superimposes them over the tonal qualities of the input sound.

It is very similar in effect to the talk box, where a sound source is fed down a pipe into the user’s mouth and the user moves their mouth, jaw and tongue to modify the sound. The vocoder is also commonly confused with autotune – the quite recently developed pitch correction technology that can also be used for artistic effects.

Nowadays, vocoders are often built into synth keyboards like the Korg MS-2000, Radias and Microkorg series. They are also implemented in software in digital audio workstatation packages including Reason and Ableton Live.

In this article, we’ll talk about the history of the vocoder, how it works, its use in popular culture and how you can use one.


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