Samplab 2 is a brand new, AI-powered plugin that converts audio to MIDI in your DAW. Even better, the virtual instrument lets you edit and make changes to individual notes of an audio sample using a MIDI piano roll. This means you can export new audio files that sound just like the original. Users also have the option to drag the MIDI files over to a MIDI track to apply their own sound patches.
Loops and audio samples have been a part of music production for decades. They help set the mood of a song, saving time on composing and recording music from scratch. Producers often pitch samples up or down to change how it feels for the listener. Samplab gives you more nuance and control over this technique with note-specific editing.
Samplab converts and separates polyphonic audio samples into MIDI stems for each instrument in the mix. It's like telling your favorite artists to change the melody they played and then hear it played back within seconds. Smaller interval changes work best, if you want to avoid unwanted artifacts.
Samplab 2 is free to download from their website and comes with a generous free plan. The software leverages AI to analyze and process samples in the cloud, meaning that you'll need an internet connection to use it. This sets Samplab apart from a program like Melodyne, where the audio to midi conversion happens locally on your machine.
In this article, I'll be covering the basics of how to use the software, including a fix for the only major bug we encountered. As long as you have access to high speed internet, you'll be good to go. The current version includes a desktop app, VST, and AU plugin formats for both Mac and Windows operating systems.
Table of Contents
Samplab 2: Feature overview
Samplab users can drag an audio file directly onto the interface to get started. The free version will limits you to 10 second portions of a clip, whereas their the premium version ($9.99/mo paid subscription) supports unlimited stereo transcription.
Once you've dragged in your sample, the initial screen will include information including tempo, key signature, and a prompt to separate the track into four categories; instrumental, drums, bass, and vocals. You have the option to change the bpm or signature to any of the major or minor keys.
Once you hit "ok" and accept the parameters, the tool uploads your audio to the Samplab server and returns accurate results in almost real time. You will return to the main Samplab track screen and be able to view the full details.
If you're working with advanced audio clips that contain more than one instrument, each track will be separated into separate MIDI events. The notes are constrained to the key of samples you selected unless you disable that feature.
The user experience is very smooth overall, compared to others we've tried. For example, Spotify offers an AI-powered audio-to-midi web app called Basic Pitch that does work well enough. But it can be annoying to download the midi file from their website and upload it into your DAW. We loved the fact that Samplab loaded directly on our computer.
Change time grid for easier playhead movement
Standard DAW hotkeys for starting and stopping playback are modified by Samplab 2. For example on MacOS, you will hold shift and press space bar to play or stop a sample. If your DAW playback is running, the plugin will not let you play, so be sure to run only one of them at a time.
You'll find a magnet symbol at the upper right corner of the Samplab 2 interface that gives you control over the snap-to-grid behavior of the playhead. Switch it off entirely for a fluid experience or click on the grid subdivision that you want it to stick to. This comes in handy when you use the slice method -- more on that feature in a moment.
Disable the key signature to move notes chromatically
When you first import an audio file and choose a key signature, that information is stored at the bottom-left section of the interface. The nice thing about this feature is that it will lock your MIDI piano roll to your preferred key, to avoid hitting the wrong notes. However, you might prefer to have more freedom, in which case you'll need to select Disable on both the note name and the key signature (major/minor) for access to all 12 notes.
The main bug in Samplab 2 & how to work around it
Samplab's audio-to-MIDI conversion is generally good, but we did encounter a few bugs using the tool. The plugin does a great job with pitch accuracy but occasionally it will misidentify a note. Samples with heavy effect processing seem to be prone to more pitch recognition problems than clean arrangements.
We also discovered that the program sometimes associates multiple notes in the audio file with a single, sustained MIDI note. If you drag the MIDI note up or down, those other notes in the sample will come with it. This can lead to unwanted dissonance as the other notes go out of key.
You can solve partly this by moving the playhead over to the moment where the note changes and right-clicking on the MIDI note. Select the slice option and then move the MIDI up or down to the appropriate note.
Let's say that a sustained MIDI note had three audio notes associated with it, but you only want to move one of them. By splitting them up, you can move one while keeping the others in place. This works great if your goal is to arrive at a modified audio sample, but it's a poor solution if you're hoping to drag the track to MIDI.
So to summarize, we recommend this as an audio editing technique only. If you plan on using your own MIDI patches, then make the changes in your DAW's piano roll instead of Samplab.
3 Audio-to-MIDI Alternatives to Samplab
We recognize that the imperfections of Samplab 2 might bother some people. Our team was thrilled to have this free tool to work with, but it's not the only one out there. Here are three solid alternatives you can explore.
Melodyne 5 Editor for polyphonic audio samples ($499)
Melodyne 5 is the gold standard for polyphonic audio-to-MIDI editing. As the video above shows, you'll be able to change individual frequencies in a sample using their piano roll. It doesn't require an internet connection because the software processes audio locally on your machine. The only downside is the cost - it currently retails for $499 and is temporarily marked down to $399.
Basic Pitch by Spotify (Free)
As I mentioned earlier in this article, Spotify offers a free, open source tool called Basic Pitch for audio-to-MIDI transcription. It runs in your web browser so you don't have to download a plugin. The main downside with Basic Pitch is that you can't edit the notes in the actual audio file. You'll only be able to listen back with a MIDI instrument and download a MIDI file. This is a significant limitation compared to Samplab 2 or Melodyne.
Ableton Audio-to-MIDI Converter
Ableton 10+ users have a built-in feature at their disposal called Audio-to-MIDI. The video above features a tutorial on how to access and use it. Like Basic Pitch, the feature does not include the ability to make changes in the source audio file. It does create fairly reliable MIDI transcriptions though.
There are several other programs worth exploring in this niche. For example, Vochlea lets you hum melodies into a microphone and turn them into MIDI instantly. Check out our Audio-to-MIDI article to view the complete list.