Many music producers and sound engineers utilize vocoder effects in their mixes. For some, it represents a rather critical part of their VST library.
Vocoder effects can be heard in a variety of musical styles. These days, it is often heard in EDM, pop, or even hip-hop tracks, but it has also been utilized by the likes of Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Phil Collins, Jackson 5, Daft Punk, and The Beastie Boys, among many others.
In this guide, we’ll look at the best free vocoder VST plugins to help you create unique sounding vocals.
TAL-Vocoder By TAL Software
The beautifully designed TAL-Vocoder is a vintage style vocoder emulation. It features 11 bands, and it comes with analog modeled components combined with digital algorithms such as Short Time Fast Fourier Transform (SFFT).
A lot of vocoders tend to make a direct convolution of the carrier and modulation of the signal. This VST instead comes with an envelope follower for all 11 bands.
The TAL-Vocoder has been built with voice processing in mind, and it includes consonant algorithms to make voices more intelligible (this can be tricky to get right in the studio).
The carrier signal is a Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO) with Pulse, Saw, Noise, and SubOsc, but you can also use the left stereo input. This allows you to use every sound source as a carrier signal.
This VST is ideal for classic vocoder vocals and the sounds coming from it are pro quality.
TAL-Vocoder is available in a variety of formats for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: TAL Software
FBVC By full bucket music
full bucket music has created a lot of great free VST plugins, but this time? it feels like they went above and beyond.
I mean, just look at that interface… I know it’s not ultra-realistic, but it sure looks good. It’s basically free VST design at its best.
FBVC is a 20-band full stereo vocoder that comes with a 64-voice polyphonic built-in Tone Generator section, accent bending and vibrato effects, optional WAV file playback, fully tweakable Analysis/Synthesis section, tweakable ensemble effect, and double precision audio processing.
You can achieve a variety of vocal effects using FBVC, from a robotic vocal effect to making speech sound musical, this is a super flexible VST. Give it a try and see for yourself.
FBVC is available in 32- or 64-bit Windows and Mac formats.
Download: full bucket music
Vocovee By g200kg
The oddly colorful and playful (makes me think if Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) Vocovee is Japanese developer g200kg’s (probably best known for their KeroVee pitch corrector VST) digital vocoder engine.
Vocovee with an eight-voice polyphonic 3-OSC 2-LFO synth construction, and features a six-band graphic EQ, as well as delay, chorus, and reverb effects.
The additional effects can obviously come in handy, as these are commonly applied to vocoded vocals.
Vocovee does not come with sidechain routing but at least it has a low latency design.
You can get Vocovee for Windows at KVR Audio Software.
Download: KVR Audio Software
VSMINI By WOK
Joining the ranks of the impeccably designed vocoder VST plugins is the simplistic looking VSMINI.
VSMINI is a 20-band vocoder effect with an internal carrier signal source with saw or noise and optional MIDI control.
An external signal can be used as the carrier on one channel of the stereo input while the other channel gets the modulation signal.
You also get an integrated noise generator for sibilance to improve articulation.
As you can see, it comes with controls for speech, replace, out mix, L/R, ext/int, noise/saw, filt/off, freeze, unvoiced, white/pink, MIDI, and pitch.
For all those times you need a quick and dirty vocoder, VSMINI should give you exactly what you need.
Download: KVR Audio Software
Sonicism Vintage Vocoder By Sonicism Digital Audio Solutions
While it’s not going to win any design contests, the Sonicism Vintage Vocoder comes with a ton of features.
Sonicism Vintage Vocoder offers screaming analog style filtering with cutoff frequencies from 0 to 11kHz, variable resonance (Q factor), low pass, hi-pass, and band-pass modes, as well as pre-post filtering options.
The Filterbank allows you to choose between one and 256 frequency analysis bands with an analysis range of 0 to 11 kHz, and configurable modulation factor.
The onboard tone generator is used as the carrier signal. It allows you to use up to eight oscillators, comes with triangle, square, sawtooth, and sine wave shapes, as well as individual pitch, fine tune, volume, wave shape and mute controls per oscillator.
Sonicism also lets you use the left audio input as the modulator and the right audio input as the carrier (or the other way around).
Once you get used to it, it’s not hard to use at all.
Sonicism is available as a free download for Windows on KVR Audio Software.
Download: KVR Audio Software
Vocoder Extreme By 4ormulator
This one kind of caught our attention and… how could it not? It’s a rather unique looking VST (with an 80s style design), and besides, it’s called Vocoder Extreme.
But what exactly makes it so extreme, and what makes it stand out?
The short version is that this isn’t just a vocoder. It’s more like a vocoder, pitch shifter, and vocal effects suite.
It allows for pitch augmentation, sympathetic drones, re-synthesis, formant effects, voice disguisers, multi-band ring modulation, vocoder effects, robot voices, talking instruments, sub-harmonic bass generation, sci-fi style effects, and more!
This baby comes with resonance control, harmonic stereo effects, up to 520 BP filters, 12 db/oct and 24 db/oct, vocoder modes, glide control, internal wave generation, 32 effects per bank, virtual and octave keyboard, and sequencer and LFOs.
As you should be able to tell from the demo, you can create all manner of bizarre effects with Vocoder Extreme, and that alone makes it worth a peek.
Fragmental By ndc Plugs
Fragmental has an eye-catching, cartoony pastel flat vector style design that catches the eye. But it’s not just its exterior that’s unique – its guts are quite surprising too.
This is a complex multi-effects plugin with delay granulator, three phase vocoder effects, reversinator, and three types of modulation source.
It also comes with a flexible routing scheme that allows for serial and parallel effects routings, as well as a modulation routing based on a pie chart style representation.
Some users said they thought this plugin was capable of everything a premium plugin could do. It might take some experimentation to find your sounds, but it’s hard to argue with that kind of positivity.
Fragmental is available as a Windows VST but you can also download the source code.
Download: ndc Plugs
La Voz Cantante By MV’s Plugins
Here’s a vocoder that looks like it was probably designed in the early- to mid-2000s. Again, it might not win any design contests.
La Voz Cantante is an FFT based 1,024-channel vocoder.
It comes with stereo inputs for carrier and modulator, optional MIDI input to drive internal synth as carrier, polyphony with unlimited voices(!), up to three voices per note with adjustable relative detuning and stereo width, octave, semitone and fine-tuning controls, natural sounding sibilant processing, built-in soft knee limiter with color-coded LED indicator, built-in stereo reverb, master volume control with output clipping indicator, and LED indicators for input and outputs (to check signal routing).
La Voz Cantante can help you achieve capable robotic effects, classic vocoder sounds, as well as layered synthesizer style sounds. The demos, which you can find on the website, sound quite amazing. La Voz Cantante may not be a versatile vocoder, but what it does, it does superbly!
Download: MV’s Plugins
Stempel Spectral Vocoder
Most vocoders use band pass filter and signal followers in the frequency domain. Stempel Spectral Vocoder instead utilizes the time domain. This allows you to apply a saturator using the “variable parabolic” shape, and a standard chorus with a good quality delay object.
Download: FREE VST PLUGINS
Ranon By Trubia Labs
Ranon is a simple eight-band vocoder.
That said, it does offer quite a bit of control over the effect, and comes with sine, saw, ramp, triangle, pulse, white noise, and pink noise filter options.
You can get Ranon on PLUGINS 4 FREE as a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Gangnam Vocoder By SyncerSoft
We cleared away the cobwebs and dusted off the digital shelves of the internet to uncover this vocoder, and we think it was well worth the effort.
And even though it might be old school, you’ll find that it has a nicely designed graphical user interface. Someone put a lot of love and care into this project.
The Gangnam Vocoder by SyncerSoft is a vintage style 10-band vocoder with extended modulation capabilities.
It comes with four analog style filters for synthetic voice sounds. The detune module lets you create some oddball sounds as well.
The plugin is comprised of four sections – vocoder, filter, LFO, and full MIDI learn.
Check out the video and you will see for yourself. You can get a lot of weird sounds using the onboard options.
Gangnam Vocoder is available as a 32-bit Windows VST only.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Vocotron By novaflash
While we were busy combing through the internet archives, we also came across a couple of novaflash vocoder effects that were relatively well received by the producer community.
The first is Vocotron, which is a simple vocoder/voice processor. It comes with controls for input (gain), split (bands), range (low, high), tweak (tail, shift, hrmncs), bender (source, attack, decay, amount), and output (width, effect, vol).
Although I don’t find the onboard sounds to be super high quality, it’s worth a look if only because of the many odd sounds you can create with it.
Vocotron is a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Erzatz By novaflash
Erzatz is another novaflash project worthy of mention, primarily because it’s like a hybrid vocoder/pitch shifter.
Erzatz splits the signal up to 32 bands and re-generates it as a sinus stack.
You’ve got controls for morph (time), band slice (bands, min, max, width), regenerator (level, decay, shift), and output (DW, volume).
If you’re looking for something with some pizzazz to it, you can grab Erzatz as a 32-bit Windows VST.
Download: PLUGINS 4 FREE
How Does A Vocoder Work?
It depends on the vocoder, but most of them consist of the carrier and modulator.
The carrier is the synthesized element of the vocoder, while the modulator is an audio source, typically a vocal.
Modulators are run through multiple filter bands to create amplitude mapping of its key characteristics. More filter bands can make the carrier sound more detailed.
The amplitude map is used to remove unwanted carrier frequencies, which gives you a mix of the two sounds. And thus, you end up with a vocoded sound.
Is A Vocoder The Same As Autotune?
I sometimes get this question, so I thought it might be worth answering here.
Vocal effects have risen to popularity in the last couple of decades, so there tends to be some confusion around which effects do what.
Strictly speaking, no, a vocoder is not an autotune effect. You can affect the pitch and even the notes that are being sung (or spoken) using a vocoder, to a degree, but it isn’t technically designed to correct your pitch.
Can you create a “robotic wobble” style effect with a vocoder, like what you can create using autotune? Yes, absolutely. And, in instances where you don’t need autotune per se, vocoded vocals might be a better choice.
A vocoder, also strictly speaking, is not a pitch shifting effect. It can do some things that sound a bit like pitch shifting, but it’s not generally designed to make your vocals sound lower or higher.
Sometimes, the three effects are bundled together. Certain elements of a vocoder, pitch correction/autotune, and pitch shifting effect might be present in a single VST plugin, like Graillon 2.
That said, the three effect types certainly aren’t the same, tend to be used differently, and are useful in different situations.
You would be well served finding at least one high-quality vocoder, and a separate, high-quality pitch correction/pitch shifting effect.
The rest depends a lot on what you’re trying to achieve.
If the intention is to give your vocals a robotic, harmonized, synthesized quality, then vocoders are up to the task.
But there are so many other great effects to use on vocals – reverb, delay, chorus, compression, EQ, and even stereo widening effects. So, don’t forget that you can do a lot with a rather standard set of effects to enhance vocals.
Hardware Or Software? Which Is Better?
Obviously, this guide’s focus has been on free, software VST plugins.
And, for “in the box recording” and general purposes, a high-quality vocoder VST or two is more than enough.
That said, you might start to wonder whether it’s worth upgrading to premium plugins or hardware vocoders.
First, there are some amazing premium vocoder plugins out there. I wouldn’t say that all of them are worth it, but there certainly are a few that can do more than their free counterparts. If at any point you’re looking to upgrade, do a bit of homework first. It will be worth the effort.
Second, you will find that hardware vocoders complement software vocoders quite nicely. They can even boost your overall inspiration. That said, they are generally more expensive than premium VST plugins (they can still be cheaper than a lot of hardware synths though).
In total, hardware isn’t necessarily better than software, and software isn’t necessarily better than hardware. But they do complement each other quite well, especially if you want to broaden your creative options.
And the biggest difference maker in your production is often going to be hardware, based on how amazing it can make your recordings sound.
What Are Some Creative Ways I Can Take Advantage Of Vocoders?
So, you’ve heard vocoder effects on some of your favorite songs by your favorite artists. Maybe you’ve even messed around with vocoder style effects in your own tracks.
The question, then, is what are some creative uses of vocoders? What can you do with them? Are there possibilities beyond the obvious?
The answer, of course, is “yes.” The truth is, there are so many possibilities that we can’t quite cover them all here!
But we’d still like to leave you with a few tips, tricks, and techniques to make your musical projects fun and exciting using vocoder effects. So, let’s get into it.
Over-Articulate & Compress
This is more of a tip than anything.
But maybe you’ve tried recording your own vocals or the vocals of your clients, only to find that the finished result is kind of unclear and hard to make out once the vocoder effect is applied.
The more experience you have with vocoders, the more you’re going to start to figure this out.
But the first step to navigating this challenge is over-articulating the words you’re singing. You can be completely over-the-top with this, especially if the finished product is going to be obscured by the effect anyway.
If you plan to mix and match or even layer natural vocals with vocoded vocals, then just record two separate tracks – one with the exaggerated enunciation/pronunciation, and one with a more natural delivery and approach.
As an added tip, try adding compression to the modulated signal. Some syllables naturally come out quieter than others, making them less articulate post FX. Adding a compressor before the modulated input can help achieve more clarity overall.
Experiment With The Number Of Bands
Classic vocoder effects were generally created using 12 bands or less. If you want to create a subtle effect, the less the bands, the better. Four bands can be more than enough in certain instances.
If you want a more exaggerated effect, though, it’s best to take advantage of more bands (especially for Daft Punk style effects).
Try Different Vocoder Filters
Sawtooth based carriers are the most common and will give you familiar results. If you want to create more unusual effects, you should try other filters.
For instance, single bass sawtooth was common for old school hip-hop vocoder effects.
If you have the option, try different filters to create more unusual, creative sounding results.
Also try using narrow filter bandwidths to create Grand National style sounds.
With an envelope or LFO modulated filter on white noise, you can create interesting sounding sweeps with chords and leads.
Top Free Vocoder VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Feeling inspired yet?
Then take what you’ve learned and start applying it right away.
There is more to vocoders than meets the eye, and they have been used in most musical styles and genres. Of course, there’s still plenty of room for experimentation and even innovation.
Download a few vocoders, mess around, and see what you can come up with. Have fun, and practice lots!