vochlea dubler

REVIEW: Vochlea Dubler pitch-to-MIDI converter

A simple and effective way to convert your voice (or other audio) into MIDI data and thus achieve musical world domination? Music technology lecturer and author Stephen Bennett delivers the Audio Media International verdict on the Vochlea Dubler pitch-to-MIDI converter… 

What is it?
The Dubler microphone and software combination allows anyone to make music without all that tedious mucking about practising.

Whats great?
It really works, with almost imperceptible latency. Can be used with pitched, percussive inputs and other audio sources to generate MIDI data.

Whats not?
Short USB lead, no microphone clip supplied.

The bottom line
Use your voice or utilise the contents of your kitchen to play MIDI Virtual instruments.

Using your voice – or other pitched instruments – to control electronic instruments has a long history. The ARP 2600 and Korg MS20 (as used by Goldfrapp) synthesisers both have pitch to Control Voltage (CV) processors, but the analog electronics are glitchy at best. Things improved when digital processing came on the scene—which is why pitch tracking on MIDI guitars has improved over the years. The latest take on this technology is the Dubler from Vochlea, a system consisting of a dedicated microphone and a software package.

Real time pitch processing is not trivial and requires extremely quick processing to avoid latency—and this is especially important in a product that just cries out to be used in a live setting. Dubler is really easy to use. You just download the software, plug in the microphone, allow your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to receive Dubler’s data—the Vochlea’s website has clear instructions for all the main DAWs—and you’re good to go. For pitched sounds, you can set the root note and scale which, along with a pitch ‘stickiness’ slider, helps keep your warbling in key.

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You can adjust the octave and pitch bend ranges and the desired MIDI channel. The software can also output three Control Change parameters which can be mapped to your voice’s Ah, Eh and Oh vowels sounds and an envelope CC that responds to input level from the microphone. There’s also a Chord switch will let you play triads that are defined from the root note and scale settings.

It’s not all about the pitch though as you can also map the input from the microphone to percussive sounds by defining these as triggers in the software. These need to be ‘trained’ as to what note (or sound) will trigger specific MIDI notes. You need to make sure each input sound for each MIDI note is distinct, but’s all pretty easy to set up and the Vochlea website is full of helpful tutorials and videos. You can set up different profiles for different uses – i.e., different setups for triggering percussive instruments or pitch to MIDI processing.

Build quality
The microphone itself is a nice solid design with a USB B connection on the bottom and the Dubler software comes as a download from the Vochlea’s website. The microphone itself appears to have a tight cardioid response, which certainly helps keep extraneous triggering from happening, and can be used handheld or in a stand. My only beef is that the supplied 1.2m USB A to B cable is too short for any vigorous physical performance.

I’ve been using Cycling 74’s MAX/MSP for this sort of thing for years, but the Dubler is more effective and lot easier to implement in practice. There are a lot of Smartphone utilities, such as Sonuus’ G2M that do excellent pitch to MIDI processing, but Dubler’s advantage is that it integrates so much better into a DAW. The pitch tracking is excellent and latency low and being able to load up an VSTi in Logic Pro or Pro Tools and just whistle a tune to play it is an extremely fun way of getting the creative juices going. I found Dubler the most effective when using it to create MIDI data that was destined for orchestral instruments and guitar lead lines as well as drums and percussion.

Daily use
You don’t need to set up an infinite number of trigger sounds to create complex percussion tracks. To build up beats, I recorded bass and drum into my DAW, training Dubler with two specific sounds. Then, to overdub more percussion, I just changed the MIDI notes outputted by these triggers to hi-hats and crash cymbals.

I also managed to produce some excellent Flugel horn lines by using ‘The Trumpet’ VSTi and mapping the various parameters therein to Dubler’s vowel and ENV controls. Dropping some previously recorded audio into Dubler by bypassing the Vochlea microphone allowed me to iron out some of my, let’s call them, vocal quirks with Celemony’s Melodyne, and so improve the pitch consistency of the input.

I also tried controlling some of my modular synthesiser stuff via a MIDI to CV interface—a sort of reverse blast from the past. I found it easiest to use when wearing closed-back headphones to minimise the amount of my own voice I could hear.

The verdict
I’ve never been a good enough drummer to effectively use a MIDI drum kit, while finger keyboard percussion can never generate the right feel. I have discovered however, that I’m a pretty decent beatboxer—at least when the actual percussive sounds come from a sampler. The pitch tracking is spot on and the setup simple enough to make it plug and play. Vochlea’s Dubler is great fun and a genuinely useful tool whatever your musical competence. I can’t wait for the brain implant version.