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What Is a Pitch Shifter? The 6 Best Pitch Shifting VSTs For Any Purpose

What Is a Pitch Shifter? The 6 Best Pitch Shifting VSTs For Any Purpose

Pitch shifters are a unique audio effect type that can help you work with audio in your DAW.

They can be used to correct tuning issues or completely transform a sound into something new.

But what exactly is pitch shifting? What can you do with it and what are the best pitch shifter plugins to download?

In this article, I’ll break down everything you need to know about pitch shifter plugins.

Let’s get started.

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What is a pitch shifter?

A pitch shifter is a hardware device, DAW plugin or standalone program that alters the pitch of an incoming signal without affecting its duration.

They can shift the pitch of the source material up or down or create multiple voices

Pitch shifters are different from varispeed effects that modify the playback rate of the audio to result in a change in pitch.

They work using complex digital signal processing techniques that retain the basic timbre of the source material while changing its apparent pitch.

Hot tip

Pitch shifting algorithms take an extra step to analyze the audio before changing its pitch. This is why all pitch shifting plugins have a small amount of latency between the incoming audio and the pitch shifted signal. Keep this in mind if you’re looking to create pitch shifting effects in real time.

Popularized by early pitch devices like the Eventide Harmonizer and Digitech Whammy, pitch shifters have a practical use, but they can also be used as a stylistic effect.

Where can you use pitch shifting?

Pitch shift effects can be used to solve problems in your mix and add character to sounds.

Here are the basic reasons you might use a pitch shifter explained:

Fix tuning issues

Not every sound source comes perfectly in tune.

Whether you’re working with samples or instruments, tuning can sometimes be an issue in recorded tracks.

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Luckily, transparent pitch shifting plugins can help fix issues with tuning by allowing you to adjust by semitones or cents.

Hot tip

If you need to shift individual notes in a performance by different amounts, look into vocal pitch correction software like Synchro Arts RePitch

Dive bomb effects

The Digitech Whammy was one of the first pitch shifter effects to gain popularity for guitar.

Named for the slang term for an electric guitar’s vibrato arm, the Whammy could produce dramatic, glitched-out squeals and dive bombs.

You can accomplish the same effect using a hardware pitch shifter with expression control or by using automation in your DAW.

Alien/robot vocals

Looking for that lo-fi sound? Anthony breaks down 10 top choices.

Looking for that lo-fi sound? Anthony breaks down 10 top choices.

Some pitch shifters are prized for their unique lo-fi effects. After all, early digital technology was notorious its imperfections that producers have come to appreciate.

For example, classic vocal transformer devices had a distinctive pitch shift sound in addition to other effects like formant shifting.

These effects can help make vocal passages sound unique and uncanny with robot effects or alien textures.

Pitch shifter vs. harmonizer

One the earliest applications of pitch shifting technology was to create harmony lines from a single monophonic track.

Getting into sound design?

Check out other creative techniques to manipulate sound.

In this effect, the pitch shifter creates copies of the original signal at different musical intervals to create harmony.

By blending the pitch shifted copies with the dry signal, harmonizer effects can create a realistic harmony sound from a single note.

Some pitch shifting plugins offer features for harmonizer effects while others only generate a single pitch-shifted voice voice.

Hot tip

Some intelligent harmonizers can be set to a scale type and key signature so that they create musical harmony lines instead of simple parallel intervals.

The 6 Best Pitch Shifting Plugins

With the basics out of the way here’s our list of the best pitch shifter plugins for any mix situation.

1. Kilohearts Pitch Shifter

Sometimes a plugin doesn’t have to have a fancy exterior to do its job just right.

That’s certainly the case with Kilohearts Pitch Shifter. Underneath its simple UI you’ll find a powerful pitch correction algorithm with excellent sound quality.

2. Zynaptiq PitchMap

Zynaptiq’s advanced technology has made their approach to pitch shifting especially interesting.

Unlike other plugins on this list, PitchMap allows you to shift individual elements within a complex texture.

Want to change the pitch of a vocal within a finished mix? Now you can!

Of course, all that pioneering audio science doesn’t come cheap, so prepare for a pro price tag if you decide on PitchMap.

3. Your DAW’s built-in pitch shifter

Pitch and time editing is considered a key editing feature in most commercial DAWs these days.

Pitch and time editing is considered a key editing feature in most commercial DAWs these days.

You may find your DAW includes purpose built plugins or options to manipulate pitch.

For example, Avid’s Pitch II plugin comes standard with Pro Tools subscriptions.
In Logic Pro, the sample editor window provides access to pitch shifting operations directly.

You may find these work as good or better than dedicated plugin options!

4. Soundtoys Little Alterboy

If you’re after the distinctive creepy pitch effects of old school hardware, you might consider Soundtoys Little Alterboy.

Designed for use on vocal tracks, its controls for pitch, formant and drive make it a one-stop-shop for character vocal effects.

With modes for Robot, Quantize and Transpose, you can achieve anything from hard tuning effects to alien pitch shifting with Little Alterboy.

5. Waves Soundshifter

If you’re looking for a quality pitch shifter for general purposes that won’t break the bank, Waves Soundshifter should be on your list.

This no frills pitch plugin is quick and flexible for simple pitch shifting and basic harmonization.

Waves plugins are often available at a steep discount during frequent sales and bundle offers.

Keep an eye on Soundshifter  if you’re looking to scoop it up for less.

6. Eventide H3000 Harmonizer Factory

Eventide’s Harmonizer series was the one that started it all.

Originally released in 1974, the first edition H910 was the original digital effects unit adopted by recording studios.

Its classic pitch effects helped define a classic era of studio sound.

Eventide continually pushed the envelope with every new iteration of the technology.

1986’s H3000 was arguably the most classic unit in the series. It contained famed pitch shift effects like MicroPitch that are still in demand today.

Luckily, Eventide has recreated the H3000 in plugin form, complete with all the authentic sound that made the original a classic.

Perfect pitch shifter

Pitch shifters have been around since the dawn of digital effects.

But they’re still an essential effect type in any producer’s plugin folder.

If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a good starting point for using them in your workflow.

Michael Hahn

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

@Michael Hahn

Gear guides, tips, tutorials, inspiration and more—delivered weekly.

Keep up with the LANDR Blog.

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