Sunday, July 26, 2015

Setting Up Vocoders in Cubase Part 7: mda Vocoder and the Steinberg Vocoder

This is part 7 of a multi-part tutorial on setting up vocoder plugins in Cubase. See part 1 if you missed the introduction.

mda Vocoder is by far the oldest plugin I've ever used. (The copy I have is dated May 17, 2001.) It's 32-bit only, and it has no user interface to speak of- but it's free and lots of people use it. This is a VST 1.0 plugin, so no VST 3 side-chaining support. The vocoder also lacks an internal carrier, so we only have an external-carrier configuration to worry about. Setting this plugin up is similar to what we did for the TAL-Vocoder external carrier setup.

I have updated this post with information about the old Steinberg vocoder, which was developed by Maxim Digital Audio (mda), and works similarly. Details about the Steinberg plugin are at the bottom of this post.

The screenshots below use the Vocoder Tutorial Projects that you can download at the Ultimate Outsider Downloads page.


In this configuration, we'll pass mono audio signals for both modulator and carrier. The Vocoder External Carrier demo project includes an audio clip to use for the carrier, but the carrier could be a VST instrument as well if you have programmed MIDI that matches your audio material. Instead of using a sidechain input for carrier audio like we're able to do with Waldorf Lector and XILS V+, in this method, mda Vocoder has to sit on a single stereo group that uses the left and right channels to carry the modulator and carrier audio separately.

  1. Even though the plugin is 32-bit only, 64-bit Cubase will automatically bridge it for you. If you're running 64-bit Cubase you just need to make sure that mda Vocoder.dll is in your VST 2 Plug-in Paths in Cubase. If you have a whole 32-bit VstPlugins folder on your computer, I do NOT recommend including that in your 64-bit Cubase paths. Instead maybe put the mda plugins in a separate location and only add that one folder to your Cubase VST 2 Plug-in Paths.
  2. In the Vocoder External Carrier demo project (or your own Cubase project), select Project > Add Track > Group Channel and create a Stereo group named Vocoder.
  3. Add Vocoder as an insert on the newly-created group channel. If you're running 64-bit Cubase, you'll see the oft-confusing "II" icon, which indicates it is a 32-bit plugin. Do not confuse it for meaning VST 2 (mda Vocoder is actually a VST 1.0 plugin), or the very similar-looking "III" icon to indicate VST 3 plugins.

  4. Select the 16 Band Vocoder preset in Vocoder.

  5. Pan your Modulator Audio channel all the way to the left (this is not a typo, will explain later) and route the track's audio output to the Vocoder group.
  6. If you're using an audio track or group channel as your carrier signal, select that track in Cubase. In the Carrier track's inspector, pan it all the way to the right and route its output to the Vocoder group.

    Otherwise, if you are using a VST plugin as your carrier, open the MixConsole, and on the channel strip where your plugin resides, pan the track to the left and change the output routing to the Vocoder group channel.
  7. This plugin can get pretty loud, so I recommend dialing the volume on the Vocoder group channel back to around -6db.

  8. Begin playback on a section of your project that loops your modulator and carrier tracks.  If you hear distortion, you might have to check the levels of your group channel, the modulator, or the carrier. If you've been paying attention, you might have noticed that the plugin UI says "RIGHT" for the Mod In parameter, even though we currently have our modulator track panned to the left. This appears to be a typo inside the plugin; LEFT and RIGHT are reversed in the plugin UI.

    If you don't hear any playback at all, make sure you routed your carrier and modulator sources properly. If the voice doesn't sound very vocoded at all (more like just a lo-fi version of the original vocals), make sure you've selected RIGHT for Mod In instead of LEFT.
If you followed along using the tutorial project, the result should sound like this:


Previous versions of Cubase used to include a vocoder plugin that was originally developed by Maxim Digital Audio (mda). While it hasn't been bundled with Cubase since at least Cubase 5 and it is no longer supported, you can still download the plugin for free from Steinberg's FTP site. Unlike the original mda Vocoder from 2001, the Steinberg version also includes MIDI support and an internal carrier that actually doesn't sound that bad.

It's a 32-bit VST 2.3 plugin, so follow the same steps mentioned earlier for getting Cubase to recognize it.


To set the Steinberg Vocoder up in internal carrier mode, just follow the same basic steps under "Using TAL-Vocoder's Internal Carrier" section on the TAL-Vocoder post, with the exception that inside the Steinberg vocoder, just select the Default preset and make sure that MIDI is selected under MODE.
If you did it correctly, it should sound like this:


External carrier configuration for the Steinberg vocoder is just the same as the mda Vocoder steps listed above. The routing is the same (modulator left, carrier right). The Default preset works just fine- just make sure to select Ext. under MODE in order to process the incoming channels correctly.
If you did it correctly, it should sound like this:


That's all there is to say about this plugin. In the next post, we take a look at Waves Morphoder...


E.T. said...

Sorry but there is NO WAY to make Cubase recognize Steinberg's vocoder plugin since it's a 32bits plugin => it's automatically put on the black list :o(
Unless you know another way to force Cubase to accept it?

Ultimate Outsider said...

@E.T. - Five years ago when I wrote this, 64-bit Cubase had a built-in "VST Bridge" that seamlessly allowed it to bridge many 32-bit plugins. (I had to accomplish the task in order to write the article, after all.) And jbridge worked where VST Bridge didn't. I am a couple versions behind on Cubase, so I don't know the current state of their 32-bit support.