Formant Shifting: The 6 Best Plugins To Transform Your Voice

Vocal Production
Formant Shifting: The 6 Best Plugins To Transform Your Voice

Formant shifting is one of most classic effects from the early era of vocal processing.

If you’ve ever heard a robotic, gender-swapped vocal that sounds both uncanny yet oddly familiar, you might already know what it can do.

But what really is formant shifting, and how is it used in music production?

In this article, I’ll break down what formant shifting is, explain how it works and suggest some plugins to use to get its effect.

Let’s get started.

What are formants?

Formants are distinctive resonant peaks that occur across ranges of frequencies in the human voice.

Formants are distinctive resonant peaks that occur across ranges of frequencies in the human voice.

Often associated with vowel sounds, they’re a result of the acoustical resonance of the human vocal tract.

These resonances amplify the intensity of certain frequencies in spoken or sung vocals and contribute to the unique qualities of each person’s voice.

Formants play an important role in determining how we recognize distinct voices and sung timbres.

What is formant shifting?

Formant shifting is a technique that manipulates the resonant peaks of the formants without affecting the pitch of the vocal track.

It works by analyzing the signal to identify areas where spectral energy peaks. With the formants identified, the algorithm shifts these specific frequency bands to new positions, either higher or lower in frequency.

Formant shifting is often used for the “gender-swap” vocal effect or to create vocals with unnaturally deep or shrill qualities.

Here's our best vocal mix tips.

Here's our best vocal mix tips.

This works because of the stereotypical length difference between the male and female vocal tract.

By shifting formants up or down, these plugins can simulate a change in the vocal tract length, thus altering the perceived gender of the voice.

Decreasing formant frequencies can give a female voice a more masculine characteristic, while increasing them can make a male voice sound more feminine.

That said, formant shifting plugins allow producers to push the formants beyond the natural range that a human vocal tract can produce.

A voice can be made to sound unnaturally deep by lowering the formant frequencies or attain a very high, shrill quality by greatly increasing the formant frequencies.

Best formant shifting plugins

Here's 10 free vocal plugins we love.

Here's 10 free vocal plugins we love.

With the basics out of the way, here are some top choices for formant shifting plugins to try in your mix.

1. Soundtoys Little AlterBoy

soundtoys little alterboy pitch shifter

Little AlterBoy is a classic vocal effect from SoundToys’ popular creative effects bundle.

Based on a beloved hardware vocal transformer, little AlterBoy is a one-stop shop for spaced-out vocal effects.

You can manipulate the pitch and format independently and create hard-tuning and robot effects from a single interface.

2. Synchro Arts RePitch

Synchro Arts RePitch is one of the newest pitch correction plugins to hit the scene.

Its powerful new technology enables natural sounding vocal correction as well as creative manipulation of pitch and formants.

Try it if you need the hands on control of a visual vocal editor for your formant shifting.

Get RePitch and 30+ plugins with LANDR Studio subscriptions

3. Antares Throat

Preview of youtube video

Antares’ Vocal Effects bundle contains a unique formant editing tool called Throat.

Based on a physical model of a real human vocal tract, Throat gives you a realistic simulation of how formants influence vocal texture.

4. Your DAW’s built-in formant tools


Many DAWs come with great built-in plugins that can tackle plenty of common production tasks.

You might find a formant shifting plugin lurking in your DAW’s native plugin folder.

Logic has Vocal Transformer, Pro Tools has AIR Talkbox and Ableton has a Formant tool built-in to the Complex Pro warp mode in the clip editor.

Chances are you won’t even have to download a third-party plugin to try formant shifting.

5. Auburn Sounds Graillon

auburn sounds graillon

Auburn Sounds Graillon is one of the few free vocal tuner plugins currently available.

You’ll see it often in our lists of best free vocal plugins and tuning software.

But it’s also a great choice for basic formant shifting tasks

6. Waves Vocal Bender

Preview of youtube video

Another simple pitch and formant tool, Waves Vocal Bender gives you easy access to formant shifting and other effects.

Designed to make it easy to achieve common vocal styles, Vocal Bender is affordable and easy to use.

Formant informant

Formant shifting is a unique effect that came out of research into the acoustics of the human voice.

And while it has a recognizable sound that some might consider cliche, there are plenty of creative uses for it if you’re willing to experiment.

Try any of the formant shifters on this list to see how they can expand your producer palette.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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