Serato Audio Research Pitch 'N Time LE by Tommy Zai
I confess — I’ve had my eye on this software since the late 90s when I was using a DAT, hardware sampler, and a basic version of P.T. On one hand, I’m excited to finally launch and noodle; on the other hand, my expectations are quite high! Let’s see if this was worth the wait.
Pitch ‘n Time LE by Serato is the all-time industry standard pitch-shifting and time-stretching software wrapped into an integrated plugin for ProTools and Logic Pro.
Serato offers four variations of Pitch ‘n Time:
• LE for Logic and ProTools (% compression/expansion range = 1/2 to 2X, pitch-shift = +/- 36 semitones)
• PRO for ProTools (more powerful — more algorithms, % compression/expansion range = 1/8 to 8X, pitch-shift = +/- 36 semitones, automation, panels that enable a series of changes in a single process, Varispeed mode, etc.)
• FE for Fairlight CC-1 Systems
• DJ (https://serato.com/dj/expand-your-setup/pitchntimedj)
I’m using a Mac with Logic Pro X, so I’ll be reviewing LE. Skip the next two sections if you’re a seasoned pro and don’t want to be insulted.
Time stretching is changing the speed or duration of a sample without changing the pitch. Pitch shifting is changing the pitch without affecting the speed. Both are used to match pitches and tempos of clips. They are also used to create special effects. The duration and pitch are changed via resampling. Pitch ‘n Time uses unique algorithms to accurately perform a mathematical scene analysis prior to working its magic.
From the introduction of semi-affordable samplers in the 80s through the turn of the millennium, we (musicians, producers, and DJs) were forced to live with the limitations of primitive stretching and shifting — convincing ourselves that we liked clock-noise, crude artifacts, muddy rumble, and the chipmunk effect. Maybe some of us did like racket coming out of our S-900, S-550, Mirage, Emax, etc., but it would have been nice to choose that sound instead of being stuck with it. When venturing beyond the root note in the old samplers, frequencies were scaled at the same rate as the speed, which pitched things up or down. At that point, only minor adjustments were possible. There were a few floppy disk audio editing/software management packages out there like Passport Designs’ Alchemy, but the processing speed of those early computers proved problematic. Users could click PROCESS, eat a sandwich, and wake up from a Rip Van Winkle nap only to discover they didn’t like the effect after all and have to start over. Later, computers became beasts and music software boomed. Today, there are several apps and plugins on the market specifically designed for time‑stretch and tempo‑match, but . . .
Some work well on shrtclps and beat-based stuff, while others specialize in extreme s t r e t c h i n g that create ethereal textures. Online searches and forum perusing will bombard you with a list of user favorites that include, but are not limited to: SoundShifter, Xform, Radius, Elastique, TSm Mpex2, TCEX, Song Surgeon, AnyTune, Speed, PaulStretch, Dirac LE — not to mention audio editors, software samplers, and DAWs that incorporate this feature. The field quickly narrows when looking for a viable workhorse that seamlessly and transparently processes melodic phrases and mixes. Note: Melodyne’s main function is to enable users to directly edit notes and modify musical parameters by manipulating “blobs” of audio. It’s more complex and not integrated into Time and Pitch Machine. Users are advised to insert it into the first plug-in slot or use the standalone version. AutoTune is similar, but relies on non-visual algorithmic manipulation to accomplish pitch correction and its infamous “AutoTune Effect.”
WHERE’S THE PLUGIN (in Logic)
Make sure Logic’s Time and Pitch Machine is enabled because that’s where it is! A picture’s worth . . .
After selecting the mode and algorithm (Serato Pitch ‘n Time LE in this case), there are two main sections that define operation and workflow:
• TEMPO changes can simply be entered in percentage or in BPM. The Original parameters are on the left and the Destination on the right. The Tempo change is indicated in Tempo, Length in Samples, SMPTE, bars/beats. When the Destination Length is changed, the parameters are updated.
• PITCH is executed via one menu — Transposition, which adjusts in semitone (or cent) increments.
Located at the top of the interface is the Mode menu, which has two options — Free and Classic. At first, I couldn’t figure out what the functional difference was and almost contacted Tech Support, but the manual came to the rescue — “Pitch and Time parameters (i.e. Varispeed mode) select Classic rather than Free in the transposition drop down menu.” To audition, press Prelisten. To process, click Process and Paste.
In Logic, the plugin is available as an algorithm inside "Time and Pitch Machine," which needs to be enabled. Simply select Pitch 'n Time from the algorithm drop down box. Note: You’ll need to “Join” clips on a track; otherwise, you won’t be able to select T&P Machine.
Regrettably, I cannot perform a comparison between Pitch ‘n Time and competitors, and I only have one device for measurement — my ears! I experimented with a few tracks over a couple days. There are several creative ways to use this software; I focused on the two most common — basic Time Stretching and Pitch Shifting. The examples below are from 8-bar of a micro composition using Apple Loops Library #09 Disco Funk. Sorry, no vocals at this time. My booth is in disarray and has anyone seen my box of mics?
Anything I processed sounded fantastic up to about 25% or so in either direction.
Results were dead-on precise when going up or down by 200 cents (whole tone).* The pitch altered without affecting the speed.
Beats are perfect at +/- 25%, although the open cymbals sound much better faster than slower. Regardless, the quality is all there, and the software cannot be held accountable for artistic preferences. Bass remains funky smooth at +/-25%. Guitar is still crisp at +/-25%. Mix is intact, sped up or slowed down by 25%
Note: An octave is then 1200 cents; therefore, each semitone is equal to one twelfth of an octave. A whole tone is 200 cents.
Getting optimal results when pushing more extreme percentages is certainly possible, but I think it’s track dependent. For example, a basic drum loop (without hats and cymbals) could nearly be compressed or expanded infinitely while a vocal might sound like synthetic garbage at 50%. Vocals in general are more delicate with an effect, especially if you’re trying to keep it natural sounding. There are artistic, aesthetic limitations that even PnT’s cannot overcome. Yet, this software is capable of shrinking the original tempo down to 50% and stretching up to 200% WHILE pitch-shifting by +/-12 semitones, and the Pro version can go much deeper. According to Serato, “[It] also allows the fundamental key of the audio to be changed up or down in pitch (or transposed) without compromising quality, definition or intelligibility.”
My ears tell me all harmonic info is intact when processing just about anything within PnTs parameters. In all cases, the quality of the audio remained intact. I read somewhere that squashing and then re-stretching is the real test, so I gave it a go. After a few sequences of squish and stretch I couldn't hear any degradation of quality, but after a dozen times the processed signal sounded a little different from the original sample. I don’t see this as an issue.
ProTool’s Elastic Audio and Logic’s Flextime Tool work well on some tracks and bomb-out on others. They too often add artifacts/aliasing and lose clarity. Logic users can set Track Flex mode to Speed, then adjust the tempo or use the stretch tool on the timeline. Logic users can also experiment with Time and Pitch Machine and a work-around or two, but I doubt you’d ever bother if you had Serato’s Pitch ‘n Time. However, Time and Pitch Machine can easily be used together with the sample edit window to make minor adjustments to samples. Apple provides several algorithms. Yet, in most cases, Pitch ‘n Time will beat Logic and ProTools stock options.
WHY DOES IT SOUND SO GOOD?
I have no idea. I assume it’s the spiffy algorithms. According to Serato, “Pitch 'n Time software ‘listens’ to your music and performs a thorough auditory scene analysis.” Most software of this nature use only a mathematic formulas on the back-end of processing.
• Fast loading and Stable
• User-friendly interface — inviting
• Simple, yet powerful workflow — doesn’t get in the way
• Independent tempo and pitch panels
• Time-tested (pun intended) and updated
• Unbeatable algorithm(s)
• Accurate and smooth — doesn’t sound like pieces of audio info have been chopped away during compression or cloned during expansion
• Works offline — audio clips may be directly processed, which cuts latency issues
• Fast results — keeps muse happy and saves $ in studio
• Seamless integration with Logic’s Time Machine and PT’s AudioSuite.
• Also works with MP3
• Innovative developer (I’ll be checking out their new Serato Sample plugin soon)
• Requires an iLok key
• Some users report slight artifacts on fade. I didn't hear any. Do you?
• VST and a Standalone version (not within PT AudioSuite) would be amazing — not everyone uses PT or Logic. Not everyone needs/wants to work within a DAW
• Interface is prettier inside ProTools
• Pricey for an amateur; bargain for a pro; everyone in between needs to contemplate value
I had high hopes for this software, and it did not disappoint! The algorithms in Pitch ‘n Time produce high quality, transparent sample manipulation free of artifacts and aliasing, even when slowing tracks down to a virtual crawl or shifting pitch up or down by several steps. This software plugin may be used on isolated tracks or the entire mix. This will not replace Melodyne or AutoTune for correction, editing, and FX, nor will it oust PaulStretch for extreme stretching madness. However, if you are using Logic or ProTools and looking for the market’s best track and/or mix pitch-shifting and time-stretching, the choices quickly narrow down to just one — THIS ONE! Thank you, Serato! Your crown jewel continues to sparkle. Long live The King! Well, you’ve heard my PITCH, aNd only you can decide if it’s TIME to buy. Check out the risk-free 30-day demo license (LE version for Logic users and Pro version for ProTools users). That’s what I did! I began this review with a demo version and completed it with a fully licensed version.
- Sound Quality: Exceptional.
- Ease of Use: Straightforward and powerful.
- Features: I struggled with this rating . . . It does exactly what it claims. It doesn't do more advanced "blob" editing and such, but should it? If you think it should, then knock the rating down by one.
- Bang for the Buck: Pros and anyone else who is really into precise pitch-shifting and time-stretching = 4. If not, knock the rating down by one or two.