Digital Brain’s Voxpat ($159 standard price, $119 intro price until April 30th) is a piece of real-time FX software intended for creating monster and robotic voices for use in film and video games.
It can be used for music as well, and is essentially a multi-effects processor, though a very different one from the music-oriented effects that producers are used to. It’s a 32-bit standalone application for Windows and Mac.
Voxpat takes incoming audio – from files (which can be played at any speed from 10% to 400%), from one or two live microphones, and/or from a VST plugin – and runs it through an array of parallel effects. That’s one big difference between Voxpat and typical multi-effects, which almost always have their effects in series. There are, in essence, eight effects with more or less exotic names like “Noiser” or “Mammal”. The manual does a very good job of explaining what they do, so if you are familiar with terms like pitch shift, ring modulation, convolution and white noise, it should all make sense.
One general class is convolution effects – the “Noiser” uses blendable white/pink noise and FM noise, the “Mammal” uses a mammal throat emulation procedure, the sample convolver uses up to four samples, the plugin morpher uses a VST plugin as the carrier signal, and there’s also a dual ring modulator. These are generally your scary animal or humanoid monster effects, however the ring modulator and plugin morpher tend to be more robotic.
There are also several variations of pitch shift effects – a six-band granular pitch shifter with different dynamic thresholds for each band, a spectral pitch shifter which only shifts selected frequency bands, and a delay pitch shifter which shifts the sound further every time the delay feeds back. These all shift by integer numbers of semitones, so there’s no microtonal pitch shifting or supersaw effects, but on the other hand it’s quite easy to set the shifts to “musical” values. In general, the pitch-based effects are more useful for supernatural or alien creatures, as well as robots.
In addition to those two general effect categories, there’s also a four-slot sample player which can follow the volume of incoming audio, two VST effect slots (which can be run in parallel or in series with each other), and four convenient preset effects with only a volume control – fear, beast, roar and burst. Each effect has its own EQ which is good for removing muddy or harsh frequencies created by more extreme processing. All these parallel tracks can be mixed with a dry signal and then sent to a master rack with two more plugin effect slots, EQ, pitch shifter, delay (with optional pitch shift) and simple high/low pass filters.
Applied to some growling, hissing and other scary voice sounds, whether human or animal, Voxpat turns them into classic movie monster sounds. Deep roars, demonic whispers and even exotic alien chirps are all easy to do. Metallic robots are also possible, but a really bright, very metallic robot sound seems pretty difficult to achieve without using third party VST plugins – maybe because none of the effects here use LFOs, and a metallic flanger with a slow LFO seems like a big part of many 70s-80s classic robot voices.
Because the effects are applied in parallel, many settings don’t really sound like one voice after processing, but rather like multiple voices or a chorus. This adds thickness and richness, although it should not be overdone if you’re aiming for utter realism. I will admit that movie or game audio isn’t really my area of expertise, but I certainly had no problem getting a big roaring dinosaur sound, or turning the provided mooing cow sample into high-pitched comedy. If you need your monsters to speak clearly intelligible dialogue, that takes more care, although sounds can get transformed quite extremely while still remaining understandable. This also means that one voice actor can do several creatures’ voices without sounding recognizably like the same person.
If you want to use Voxpat for music, there are certainly many ways it could be done. Making strangely effected vocals for many kinds of dark music is a pretty obvious use. It can also be used to mangle pitched instruments – I had great fun loading an accordion (of all things) into the plugin instrument slot and just cycling through the provided presets, though of course if using this in a track I’d have to be careful to avoid pitch-shifting the notes into dissonant clashes. My favorite use, though, has to be making drums, either one-shots or loops, sound dirty and harsh. While playing with the settings, more than once I found myself thinking “this sounds like 90s industrial music”.
For its intended use of making creature sounds, Voxpat is amazingly well thought out and easy to use. There are no unnecessary complications and everything is remarkably intuitive. About the only thing I found myself wishing I could do was to put the plugin effects before all the others, so that I could apply a global effect to a voice (especially shifting formants in one direction and pitch in the opposite with RoVee before applying everything else to it. So, if you want to apply these effects to, say, a pitch-corrected vocal, you’re going to have to pitch-correct your file and import the pitch-corrected file first. Everything else monster-related is quite convenient, though, and the ability to have VST effects as both one of the parallel effect slots and as master effects is very useful.
The interface is not the fanciest-looking in the world, but it is very functional. The most recent update adds the ability to drag and drop files into all the sample or preset slots. Adjusting things while growling into a microphone or looping a file is very easy, and there’s even support for touch controls using a smartphone. The regular software’s controls aren’t too small to use with fingers on an 18″ Windows tablet either, which is nice to see. It is possible to move multiple faders simultaneously using Lemur/TouchOSC via tablet/smartphone. I hope that a future update will add more XY pads to the individual effect controls, so that it would become even more touch-friendly. Of course, if you have a MIDI controller with assignable knobs or faders, you can use that as a controller as well. There must be really interesting potential for avant-garde live performance here.
It seems like all the built-in effects are always running, since CPU usage hovers around 20-30% on my machine, regardless of whether I’ve got all the effects cranked or turned to zero. This actually makes mixing them really smooth – moving the fader up from zero doesn’t require anything to turn on. Everything seems to run in real time, including the batch processor. While an entire folder can be processed at once, if it contains 15 minutes of audio, it will take 15 minutes to process, no matter how simple the processing is. The batch processing also adds a small bit of silence to the beginning of each file, apparently due to latency.
For music, the main inconvenience is that this is standalone software, which means you’ll either need to import and export your files or route it to your DAW – Jack Audio and Soundflower are supported for this, though I haven’t been able to test how well it works. The latency in the batch processing is also a bigger issue with music, because if you want to process a drum kit you’ll have to either account for the latency when using them, or trim all the files after processing. This is OK with a hip hop kit of one shot samples, but trying to process an entire piano or drum kit would mean hundreds or thousands of files. This kind of workflow awkwardness is to be expected when using software that was originally meant for something completely different, of course. Whether the sound-mangling power is worth the trouble depends on how you like to work, and also on how much the music you produce needs weirdness and dirt.
While it’s designed to turn Dr. Jekyll’s voice into Mr. Hyde’s, Voxpat itself is very much like Jekyll and Hyde. If you want to use it for making monster voices, it gives you the standard effects you need in a very smooth and efficient workflow. If you want to use it for music, it becomes the complete opposite – unusual effects that are very much not standard, but take more work to use than your typical effects. In both cases, though, it’s a powerful tool for making sounds dark and weird.
More info: Voxpat ($159)
If you want to use Voxpat for making monster voices, it gives you the standard effects you need in a very smooth and efficient workflow. If you want to use it for music, it becomes the complete opposite - unusual effects that are very much not standard, but take more work to use than your typical effects.