AF’s Weblog

August 21, 2012

Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

This is how you can easily build and maintain a professionally equipped music computer to power the digital audio workstation for your home recording studio.

Music Computer, or a computer specifically intended for processing digital audio simply means that there are several components that you need to look at and understand in order to optimize for this environment. These elements are crucial to performance, and can have a massive impact on your workflow and overall efficiency.

You may use your computer for other functions as well as music production, but to get the most from your computer in order to power a digital audio workstation, you need to understand how to optimize it best for home recording. Faster is almost always better, and perhaps the most important ingredient to optimum performance in THIS environment is MEMORY.

Today, you will learn how to assemble a computer for your home studio. We will look at the several options for doing so, as well as my recommendations. You will also learn what specific parts and components you need to understand that play an integral role in designing an effective system.

You will learn some ways to protect your studio computer, because having a solid backup system is worth it’s weight in gold. Lastly, we will cover a few key maintenance actions that you can integrate into habit to keep your system healthy and working like a champ.

This article isn’t meant to be a comprehensive “textbook explanation.” I’m not writing a paper to a professor. I’ll be moving quickly as i condense a lot of years of dealing with and learning about first-hand, down into a few short paragraphs that tell you the key things you need to know.

So let’s get it…

Options For Building/Buying a Music Computer

Although there are variety of options that exist and we will cover them shortly, i want to point out that in my personal experience Apple (Macintosh) computers offer a great “out of the box” solution for most beginners and are a great starting point. Further, with just a few upgrades you can arm yourself with a world class digital production experience.

  1. Build the computer yourself. You can pick out all the components you need, order them and then assemble them just how you want them.  To build your own computer you will need to have reasonable technical expertise so unless you know what you are doing, or have someone who does assemble it for you, i wouldn’t advise going this route.
  2. Buy a new computer from the store.  I can assure you that a new Mac, off the shelf, will be adequatelyoptimized for recording music in most cases and there are quite a few PC models that would also be well optimized. Again, in either case there are a few key components that you need to consider, which we will be covering shortly.
  3. Buy a music computer that is custom built specifically for music recording.  There are a number of computer companies like MusicXPC that create specialty computers which are built and optimized for audio and recording. However, expect to pay a bit more for a custom computer like this. It’s worth checking out, do your homework and ask a lot of questions as you compare.
  4. Buy a computer off the shelf and then replace some parts.  This means that you are purchasing a computer for their bare-bones platform and then buying parts separately to upgrade the overall performance. So for example, buying a computer basically for its operating system, processing power and ease of use; then buying memory and hard drive upgrades, etc. from a third party source.  You can either install them yourself or have someone install them for you. In most cases this is a fairly simple procedure.

Option #4 is the route i always take now. It is in my experience the BEST way to cost effectively build a super powerful DAW computer. As you know i am a big proponent of Apple, and have been for the last eight years.

See the little secret about Apple is, their parts are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Not as if they were cheap to begin with…!

But if you buy a Mac Pro or Macbook Pro for their processors, motherboard, delicious and simple interface, operating system, support, and other lovely little inclusives…

THEN you purchase some high quality third party Memory (RAM) and Hard-Disk upgrades, you got the best of both worlds for a killer price!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Home Studio Computer Maintenance

Lastly, let’s top things off with something i hope you’ll do regularly and make habit of. Don’t neglect the maintenance of this machine. It is the brains of your home studio. Here are a few basic maintenance tasks that’ll get you on your way.

  • Keep your computer clean by dusting it off once a week, also dust off all electronics in your home studio weekly.
  • Always keep at least 20% of your hard drive space free. Ensuring this amount of free space will keep your computer from lagging or losing response time, and won’t put any unneeded strain on it.
  • Backup your work regularly, setup time machine or other service to back it up on a physical hard drive; and then also setup the second backup of your most critical files through a virtual storage service.
  • Run a disk utility weekly and verify all volumes. This is just to check and fix any errors, and to verify the disk is working properly.

I’ve done this stuff every week, and have had computers running like a champ for over five years.

So there you have it. Tried to keep it straight to the point, although it went a little longer than most, but I hope you’ve found this article helpful and i’ve answered your questions about what it takes to setup a DAW computer for home recording.

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

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April 9, 2012

Presonus Studio One 2 Review

Filed under: Sequencers — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:18 am

To read the full detailed article please see:   Presonus Studio One 2 Review

Launched about two years ago, the first Studio One version impressed with its maturity. The program was stable, practical and well thought-out. It had almost nothing to envy the leading sequencing tools. Studio One has gone a long way since the first version: it was dramatically enhanced in v1.5 and now comes back with a really amazing version 2. Let’s check it out.

Presonus Studio One 2

Never change a winning horse! Once you install the software and the numerous plug-ins and sound banks included, you’ll find a familiar user interface. In fact, the philosophy of the product didn’t change much: the software distinguishes between a Song (single song to be recorded/edited/mixed) and a Project (which can include several songs for mastering tasks, for example).

Based on this philosophy, the product is organized in three different parts: Start (to create or open a Song or a Project, to access the setup options of the application, to load updates or to get news about the product), Song (to record, edit and mix a song), and Project (to master and export one or several songs, or even a full audio CD). You’ll obviously use the Song mode the most, which is also the one that has the most comprehensive features.

The layout of the GUI is still the same. On the right-hand side you have a Live-like browser that allows you to browse your audio/MIDI files, plug-ins, ReWire apps like Reason, and all their presets (via category, manufacturer or a search engine). On the left-hand side you have a track inspector. In the middle is the arrange window. The lower part of the screen is dedicated to the edit window, which displays either the audio editor, the piano roll or the mixer. Each of these components can be collapsed and you also have the possibility to move the editor and mixer windows freely, regardless of the position of the main window. This can come in very handy, for instance, when you want to display the main window permanently on a second screen… The Project GUI is still the same: besides a pre/post-fader stack of inserts, it includes an area dedicated to the waveform of your different songs and several large-sized displays for the frequency spectrum, the main level or the stereo field.

In short, the new features are not visible at first sight and you’ll have to dig deeper into the software to discover them.

One click away from groove

Presonus Studio One 2

That’s it? Nothing new? On the contrary, you get lots of new features, starting with a crucial one: you can now manage comping tracks, which wasn’t possible before in Studio One. In v1.6.5 when you recorded in loop, the software recorded all takes and then allowed you to generate a new track for each of them. Although this function is still available (via the “Unpack to Tracks” option), you can also extract the takes to different Layers, which is more convenient for future processing. You can solo each layer and you have the possibility to select a segment of a take with a single click in order to create a comping track with the best segments of the different takes. The software adds an auto-crossfade to avoid audio artifacts when placing segments from different takes side by side. It is also worth mentioning that this feature can be used with grouped tracks (which can be especially valuable for drum tracks). This is certainly nothing revolutionary and you can find similar features in most competitor products. However, it is very well achieved in Studio One so it is very welcome!

Among the new audio features, you’ll also find the many advanced options for sync and quantization tasks. Although v1.6.5 already gave you the possibility to quantize audio clips by splitting them in as many sub-clips as required taking transients as reference, the new Studio One version makes this process much easier because it can now detect transients automatically. This feature is extremely easy to use and very useful for groove extraction and quantization tasks. It can even operate in the background without you noticing a thing or needing to start or set the transient detection.

Presonus Studio One 2

To quantize an audio clip, just select it and press Q. The quantize function can be edited and is available in different modes: Time Stretching or Slicing (like in REX, segments are more or less spaced out instead of being stretched). Are you afraid that a very strong quantization might give robotic results? Press Alt + Q instead of Q to quantize 50%. It’s in such details that Studio One makes the difference. True, all sequencers allow you to quantize more or less strongly, but only a few provide you with a clever 50% quantization that is accessible with a simple shortcut. And not every sequencer indicates (with colors) which segments of the audio file are affected by the quantize function, so you can check the precision of the processing and make fine tuning manually if needed. It may not seem much but such features are quite valuable in terms of efficiency: you save one click here and there, so in the end you work quicker and more effectively.

The Groove Extraction function is also very easy to use: simply drag and drop a MIDI/audio clip into the quantize window and you have a new groove preset that you can use as a reference. Now drag and drop the groove into the sequencer to create a MIDI file automatically so you can assign it freely to any virtual instrument…

Once again PreSonus tackles a flaw that was present in the first Studio One version and does it in a very clever way. But there is something even better in this new version: it’s called Melodyne.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

There is only one conclusion: Bravo! With this second version, Studio One hits the nail on the head and could turn the very quiet market of standard DAWs upside down. It’s true that Studio One does nothing that competitors can’t do, but it often does things better (i.e. simpler) while being perfectly reliable and stable (not one single crash during the two months we needed for the review). And this ease-of-use has a huge impact on user’s creativity because going from the idea to actually making it real is shorter and easier — everything flows. You stay focused on what you have to do, instead of thinking about how to do it. When you want to make music, it’s not normal to spend half the time with useless signal routing and menu search tasks. This is the main problem that the developers at PreSonus have tried to tackle — and all other sequencer manufacturers will have to take notice as well if they don’t want to lose clients. Not to mention the great value added by integrating Melodyne into Studio One, which bears no comparison with the poor quality algorithms developed by its competitors…

Apart from these essential features, we also appreciate PreSonus’ commitment to develop a modern sequencer: excellent SoundCloud integration, user resource sharing, etc. It certainly has still a long way to go. Some missing features must be added (especially OMF support or any other solution that makes it easier to exchange files with other sequencers) and Studio One can be improved in many aspects, but PreSonus is on the right path.

Now, let’s talk about the pretty aggressive price ranging from $49 to $319, depending on the version. In order to match every budget, the different versions omit several features. Basically, the main difference between both Artist and Producer versions is that the first one doesn’t support third-party plug-ins or MP3 files. Moreover, the sound banks provided with each version are different. The Pro version includes many more features than the Producer version: more plug-ins (Open Air, IR-Maker, Multiband Dynamics), external hardware effects support via the Pipeline plug-in, Soundcloud integration, Quicktime video format support, 64-bit processing, and especially the mastering section of the program, plus Melodyne Essentials (provided as a trial version in Artist and Producer) and the Komplete Elements bundle.

Considering that Melodyne Essentials and Komplete Elements are sold for $150, the Pro version is certainly the best value for money. Personally, I’m not sure if such a wide product range is useful: an “Artist” version without SoundCloud integration or MP3 and third-party plug-in support seems a bit cheap. I guess it would be more clever to have only two versions: Producer and Pro… Anyway, I suggest you to buy the Pro version. You’ll save time and money.

And if you hesitate with other allround sequencers around, I recommend you to download the demo version from PreSonus’ website and try it out. Compare it with the trial versions of competitor products — if they are available — and make your own opinion. Some products will attract your attention due to their effect/instrument bundles (Sonar, Samplitude), others due to their incredible value for money (e.g. Reaper). However, I’m pretty confident about how Studio One will rate as soon as you stop reading the specs and start making music with it.

Advantages: 
2012 Safe Bet Award
  • Practicality and simplicity for music creation
  • Stability (not a single crash in two whole months)
  • Very good value for money
  • Excellent Melodyne integration
  • Excellent SoundCloud integration
  • Great freeze function
  • Track comping
  • Audio quantize and groove extraction
  • FX inserts into clips
  • Easy routing management via Folder Tracks
  • Track List, which makes it easier to browse complex projects and create MIDI tracks
  • New indicators in the mastering section
  • DDP support
  • OpenAir and IR-Maker
  • Ampire revisited
  • Well thought-out Music Loop format
  • Resource sharing between users
  • Melodyne Essential and Komplete Elements provided with the Pro version
Drawbacks:
  • Some fonts are too small
  • We wish the GUI was customizable (macros, keyboard shortcuts, skins, etc.)
  • No OMF support
  • No de-esser nor Transient Designer, improvable instrument bundle in both Artist and Producer versions (Komplete Elements is missing)
  • Both Artist and Producer versions could be replaced by a single $149 version with MP3 and SoundCloud support…

To read the full detailed article please see:   Presonus Studio One 2 Review

March 5, 2012

Propellerhead Reason 6 Review

Each new Reason version brings a bunch of surprises with itself, meeting some of the demands of its users. Here you have the new features Propellerhead added to Reason 6.

Like every other serious piece of software, Reason has been updated many times since its launch back in 2000. Each update has brought improvements, bug fixes (plenty compared to other DAWs) and new features, especially in terms of modular elements. Version 2.0 (2002) introduced the Malmström and NN-XT, version 2.5 (2003) included three new effects (Scream 4, RV7000, BV512) and two routers (Spider Audio and CV). Version 3.0 (2005) added the MClass Mastering Suite and the Combinator. More recently, version 4 (2007) impressed the audio world with Thor (an excellent polyphonic synth that combines different sound synthesis technologies), as well as ReGroove and RGP-8. Finally, version 5 (2010) included instruments like Kong and Dr. Octorex (full review here).

As you can see, each new version provided real new features (and we only mentioned Reason’s virtual instruments, effects and routers), making the sequencer and its standalone virtual rack more powerful every time. However it never quite fulfilled the demands of some users (the others are really satisfied with the current features) in terms of audio recording and external plug-in support. The real audio sampling feature of Reason 5 was seen as a sign for the upcoming addition of audio data management features, especially considering that Propellerhead had already proved to have the skills for multitrack audio recording with the introduction of Record in 2009.

Finally the time has come! In version 6, Propellerhead combined the two software programs and added some other functions and elements. Detailed overview.

Introducing Propellerhead Reason 6

Propellerhead Reason 6

Reason 6 is sold in a box including a DVD, the Ignition Key (containing the authorization key for the program) and some other documents. Unfortunately, I can’t give you more details because I received Reason as a download (3.68 GB) for the review. The installer still includes a Reason folder to be copy-pasted into the Applications folder (on a Mac). This folder includes the documentation (the printed version disappeared with Reason 5), the application itself and two Refills required to use Reason (Factory Sound Bank and Orkester).

Test system
MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz
MacBookPro i7 2.3 GHz
OS 10.6.8
Reason 6.0.2
Reason Essentials 1.0.2
Balance

The online authorization process uses the Ignition key and the Authorizer server. Since version 4, it is not possible to use all Reason features without this key anymore, which isn’t good. Instead of a proprietary key (which means one USB port less), the manufacturer could use a Syncrosoft/Steinberg-like key, an iLok or nothing at all, which would be better…

However, Propellerhead allows you to use all features in Reason without the key if you have an Internet connection and have previously registered the product on their website. Or you can use the Demo mode, which allows you to record and save your songs but not to open them.

Besides combining the features of the two software packages —which means adding to Reason the multitrack recording capabilities and some modular elements (Neptune, ID-8, Line-6 models) from Record—, the manufacturer also added three new effects (Pulveriser Demolition, The Echo Delay and Alligator Filtered Gate), enlarged the content of the factory bank, implemented Record’s mixing console (presented as an SSL 9000K emulation), and introduced 64-bit support (also for ReWire) as well as other improvements.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Like every new release, this Reason version brings a lot of new features with itself — and we must point out that Propellerhead really pampers its users with this 6th version. To have a multitrack recorder within a reliable, familiar, powerful and stable environment is a huge advantage. All the more considering that it compromises nothing in terms of philosophy and ease-of-use. The new modules (Alligator, Pulveriser and The Echo) are without a doubt on the same level as their predecessors.

To wrap it up, Propellerhead has struck a decisive blow once again. We could even expect them to exchange technologies with other manufacturers —like UA does with other famous brands—, not to add plug-in formats that would make Reason less reliable (don’t forget that this piece of software is a paradigm of stability), but to bring together different skills to improve this closed environment that keeps on getting better and better every time.

Advantages: 
  • Original philosophy unchanged
  • Ergonomics
  • Stability
  • More standalone every time
  • All the power of Record within Reason
  • Internal audio inputs management per channel
  • Powerful new modules
  • More CV connections…
  • We finally get a real mixing console
  • 64 bit audio summing
  • Creative and powerful Pulveriser module
  • Original Alligator module
  • Alligator’s pattern and manual control systems
  • The Echo, a powerful delay
  • Analog-like behavior
  • Ducking function in The Echo
  • Dry/Wet balance in all three modules
  • Comprehensive manual with search engine and hyperlinks
Drawbacks:
  • No possibility to change the level meter display in the tracks
  • No drag-and-drop audio import
  • Different quality and performance of the time-stretching tool
  • Always more difficult to use with only one screen, specially if you have a notebook
  • I missed the possibility to choose form several distortions/saturations in Pulveriser and Alligator
  • Not enough vertical zoom in the sequencer window
  • Proprietary Ignition key: one USB port less…

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Reason 6 Review

March 17, 2011

Panning Laws Revealed

The idea of panning seems pretty obvious, right? You turn a panpot (real or virtual) to place a sound somewhere in the stereo field…

But ignorance of the law is no excuse – in this case, panning laws. These laws govern exactly what happens when a monaural sound moves from left to right in the stereo field, which can be different for different pieces of software. As a matter of fact, not knowing about panning laws can create some significant issues if you need to move a project from one host to another. Panning laws may even account for some of the online foolishness where people argue about one host sounding “punchier” or “wimpier” than another when they loaded the same project into different hosts. It’s the same project, right? So it should sound the same, right?

Well, not necessarily…keep reading.

Origins of Panning Laws

Panning laws originated in the days of analog mixers. If there was a linear gain increase in one channel and a linear gain decrease in the other channel to change the stereo position, at the center position the sum of the two channels sounded louder than if the signal was panned full left or full right.

To compensate for this, it became common to use a logarithmic gain change response to drop the signal by -3dB RMS at the center. You could do this by using dual pots for panning with log/antilog tapers, but as those could be hard to find, you could do pretty much the same thing by adding tapering resistors to standard linear potentiometers. Thus, even though signals were being added together from the left and right channels, the apparent level was the same when centered because they had equal power.

But this “law” was not a standard. Some engineers preferred to drop the center level a bit more, either because they liked the signal to seem louder as it moved out of the main center zone, or because signals that “clumped up” around the center tended to “monoize” the signal. So, dropping their levels a little further created more of an illusion of stereo. And some of the people using analog consoles had their own little secret tweaks to change the panning characteristics.

Panning Meets the Digital Audio Workstation

With virtual mixers we don’t have to worry about dual ganged panpots, and can create any panning characteristic we want. That’s a good thing, because it allows a high degree of flexibility. But it also adds a degree of chaos that we really didn’t need.

For example, Cubase SX3 has four panning laws in the Project Setup dialog; you get there by going Project > Project Setup.

 

Loi de panoramique dans Cubase

The default pan law for Cubase is to drop the center by –3dB, which is the classic equal power setting.

 

Setting the value to 0dB eliminates constant-power panning, and gives the old school, center-channel-louder effect. Since we tried so hard to get away from that, it’s not surprising that Cubase defaults to using the “drop the center by -3dB” classic equal power setting. But you can also choose to drop the center by -4.5dB or -6dB if you want to hype up the extremes somewhat, and make the center a bit more demure. Fair enough; it’s nice to have options.

Adobe Audition has two panning options in multitrack mode, accessed by going View > Advanced Session Properties.

Loi de panoramique dans Audition

Adobe Audition lets you choose from two common panning laws.

L/R Cut Logarithmic is the default, and pans to the left by reducing the right channel volume, and conversely, pans to the right by reducing the left channel volume. As the panning gets closer to hard left or right, the channel being panned to doesn’t increase past what its volume would be when centered. The Equal Power Sinusoidal option maintains constant power by amplifying hard pans to left or right by +3dB, which is conceptually similar to dropping the two channels by -3dB when the signal is centered.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

We can’t sign off without mentioning one more thing: The pan law you choose isn’t just a matter of convenience or compatibility, although I’ve stressed the importance of being compatible if you want to move a project from one host to another. The law you choose can make a difference in the overall sound of a mix.

This is less of an issue if you use mostly stereo tracks, as panning in that case is really more of a balance control. But for many of us, “multitrack” still means recording at least some mono tracks. I tend to record a mono source (voice, guitar, bass) in mono, unless it’s important to capture the room ambience – and even then, I’m more likely to capture the main sound in mono, and use a stereo pair of room mics (or stereo processing) that go to their own tracks. And if you pan that mono track, you’re going to have to deal with the panning laws.

In any event, you now know enough about those laws to make sure you don’t get cited for contempt of court. Happy panning!

To read the full detailed article please visit: Panning Laws Revealed

January 25, 2011

Avid Pro Tools 9 Review

It was THE event at the 2010 AES show in San Fran: the launch of Pro Tools 9 took center stage and generated a lot of expectations. Pro Tools 9 is not merely a simple update. It is in fact a small revolution for Avid, given that the famous DAW is now open to the external world — for the first time ever.

Over the last couple of months there were rumors everywhere about the possibility of, one day, being able to use the well-known digital audio platform independently from the dedicated Avid hardware interfaces… All of you who have been patiently waiting for that moment can rejoice: now Avid Pro Tools doesn’t need Avid hardware to work, and still deliver a high performance. Or at least that’s the assertion by the American manufacturer — the leader in the digital pro audio and video markets.

Surely the most skeptical will think that it will only be possible with a “light” version of the software or something. Wrong!  We mean THE Pro Tools 9 — an almost “unique” version that works with all sorts of digital audio interfaces. However, when searching for more information on Avid’s website things get a bit more complicated, considering that there are several possible configurations at very different prices!

In order to make things clear, we will start by giving you an overview of the main software and hardware configurations and then introduce the new features offered by Pro Tools 9.

Set Menu or à la carte

Avid Pro Tools 9

Until now, the options to use Pro Tools were quite simple because they were limited: you could choose between an expensive Pro Tools HD system (including at least one DSP Core card upgradeable with Access cards) or the more affordable Pro Tools LE system with limited functionality (the price depended on the interface you chose)… Today, the configurations are quite different, although there is still some hierarchy when it comes to features (and price).

The first version is still the flagship in Avid’s DAW range: Pro Tools HD 9. Like its predecessor, this update of Pro Tools HD 8 works only with HD Core and Accel PCIe cards (including nine DSPs each) and is sold bundled as before: HD1 system (with one Core card), HD2 system (with one Core card and one Accel card) and HD3 system (with one Core card and two Accel cards). There is no surprise up to now.

The real change comes with the second version called Pro Tools HD Native, which is a piece of software that provides exactly the same features as the “HD” version but without a DSP card. Instead, Pro Tools HD Native is sold with a PCIe card with two Mini-Digilink ports that allow the user to connect any HD interface to it, like the new Avid HD I/O interfaces: 16×16 Analog, 16×16 Digital, HD MADI, and the new HD Omni! In other words, this Pro Tools version is the first “HD version” that can work without a dedicated DSP card… In fact, the compatibility between Pro Tools HD Native and the UAD-2 card system has just been officially announced… Does it start to make sense to you now?

Last but not least, the product range includes another version, simply called Pro Tools 9, which is very similar to the HD version and works on both Mac and PC platforms, regardless of your ASIO or Core Audio digital audio interface. This new hardware-independent version has the clear goal of competing with other native sequencers.

Let see if it can succeed!…

Pro Tools Will Always Stay Pro Tools

It’s true that the Pro Tools concept doesn’t change with this new update. We will probably have to wait some more time before certain features appear in the Avid software. Despite all, the manufacturer wants to listen to what its users have to say through IdeaScale.

 

And let’s make something clear: the fact that Pro Tools is used by the vast majority of professionals is not only due to the brand’s effective marketing. Apart from the proven quality of the ready-to-use hardware/software solutions in the HD range, Pro Tools has always had a great response due to the design of the software itself. Although it lacks some features, the software allows for an easy and fast recording, editing and mixing of audio, in comparison to other tools that make things much more complex because of their sophistication (for example, until version 4, the side chain was incredibly complex in Cubase and Nuendo compared to Pro Tools…).

 

For primary tasks, Avid’s sequencer is not disappointing at all and allows the user to work well and fast. That’s the main reason why it remains the first choice of many professionals and why it can be very appealing to beginners who can easily get scared by the endless menus, tabs and options in some competitor products… If all sequencers offered a demo version, these differences would be obvious, making the user’s decision much more easier.

Conclusion

By ensuring the compatibility of its flagship product with the external world, Avid took a huge step forward, which will certainly delight many professionals and semi-professionals: from now on, you can take the software anywhere, and even if it’s not an HD version it allows you to do some serious work.

After the major update that version 8 represented, we expected more new features and plug-in improvements. And we are still in shock by the price of the Complete Production ToolKit, which addresses professionals mainly. Although the “big” Pro Tools is now affordable to all budgets, it is not the best tool for everyone. And now that it can be really compared with other sequencers it could suffer from the aggressiveness of its competitors. But, since Avid is not a company that rests on its laurels, we are looking forward to seeing how this market will evolve…

Advantages:

  • Pro Tools usable with third-party audio interfaces!
  • Ease of installation/use/configuration of the software
  • Possible configurations
  • Improved I/O setup
  • Easier bus routing
  • Latency compensation (finally)!

Drawbacks:

  • Few new features compared to version 8 in terms of functionality
  • No VST/AU support
  • Complete Production Toolkit for HD version too expensive for non-professionals
  • Not all audio interfaces are 100% supported
  • Bounce only in real time

To read the full detailed article see:  Pro Tools 9 Review

 

January 14, 2011

Winter NAMM 2011 Day 1 Highlights

So without further ado I present to you some video demos that were shot by our team down there in Anaheim:

To see more visit: Winter NAMM 2011 Videos and News

January 10, 2011

Cakewalk Sonar X1 Review

The new Sonar version has arrived. However, instead of being version 9, it is named Sonar X1. Cakewalk actually decided to completely rebuild the interface of its sequencer. And it changes everything. For good.

Interface

Review Environment
 

We reviewed the software with a release candidate version and two different computers: my studio computer is a Q6600 (quad core) with 4 GB RAM running Win XP, it has two 20″ wide screens and my sound card is an RME Multiface. I also have a Behringer BCF (to control the sound card), a Mackie Control (for the sequencer) and a Novation Remote SL 25 with Automap (2.5) for virtual instruments. The second computer is my notebook. I use it a lot for office and web applications and also a bit for photo editing. Except for some utilities, the only music applications I had used, until this test, with this computer was the Virtual DJ and the Hercule DJ Console last summer. The notebook is a Dell Precision M4400 running Seven 64 bit on a Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU with 4 GB RAM. The sound card is an Echo Indigo IO. The review was done at 24 bits/88.2 kHz with a 256-sample buffer size for 3.3 ms nominal latency and 7.3 ms total latency.


A recurrent reproach about previous Sonar versions was its confusing interface. Experienced users got on with it and liked to have a lot of information in front of their eyes, but new users could get easily lost and even miss interesting functions the software offers.

For this new version, Cakewalk put most of its efforts in redesigning the user interface. It’s almost as if Cakewalk developers asked themselves: if we could create a new software from scratch, how would we do it? The result includes new windows, a new menu and function structure, and loads of work on graphic aspects. The result looks astonishing. Everything is much clearer, much more easily readable, and all functions —especially the most interesting and powerful ones— are now easily accessible.

The new default screen layout recalls the old one… The Global View displays the main elements (see screenshot below).

All these elements can be floating, and the user can move, enlarge or reduce them. The different screen configurations can be saved in ten screen sets, six of which can be directly accessed by clicking on the tool bar. This way you can create different working environments depending on the task and instantaneously switch between them.

The Multidock (on the bottom by default) can host any element: the content of the current track, the mixer, the step sequencer, the matrix, etc. You can also drag the browser, virtual instruments, etc. into it. You can browse among the different elements using tabs. The GUI is very practical and fast. Like all other windows, the Multidock can be moved to a second monitor. That’s probably the ideal working configuration: it allows us to keep a track plus the inspector maximized on one screen while other elements are displayed on the other screen. Awesome!

But, there is a problem: when the Multidock is in fullscreen mode on the second monitor and you are using virtual instruments, it will appear in window mode after you restart the program and the virtual instruments will be on floating windows again. And even more annoying: after dragging the browser into the Multidock on the second screen, Sonar will crash if you try to take it back. We hope this will be quickly fixed.

Moreover, context menus have been added directly to each window, allowing you to access all useful functions and controls. We miss the possibility to open a window directly from a menu in the Multidock. That way you wouldn’t have to look for some of them in the main menu.

However, the Multidock is still a very valuable feature. The same applies to the new track inspector.

It has been updated and improved, and is now twice as wide by default. This means that, for MIDI tracks, you now get the extended view with direct access to many parameters like arpeggiator, groove, etc. For audio tracks, you get two tracks displayed side by side: the current track and the output bus it is assigned to (or the main out if the track is not routed to a bus). You can also display the ProChannel, which we will describe later and add valuable information: properties and effects of the clip or the groove, track properties, audiosnap settings, and a very convenient notepad. Everything is easily accessible, immediate and intuitive. This module is virtually perfect.

Cakewalk Sonar X1

The same applies to the track display. Beside the new GUI that makes everything much more readable, a simple but highly valuable function has been added: each track head includes a menu to select the track’s content display and what you want to edit. This is what Cakewalk calls Track Filter. The days when you risked moving a clip by clicking on the wrong place when you wanted to edit overlayed automation curves are now over. From now on, this menu allows you to display and edit only the desired automation curve. It allows you to edit clips, track or clip automation curves, as well as audio transients (audiosnap). For MIDI tracks, transient editing is replaced by note editing.

And it all turns even more awesome with the SmartTool. Thanks to this intelligent tool, Cakewalk has made the workflow with a mouse much more fluid now. The basic idea is that you don’t need to change tools to manage different tasks. Although the usual tools are still available, you almost don’t need them anymore, because the mouse automatically adapts to what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.

Thus, without changing tools, you can add and edit notes in the piano roll, move clips, manage fades in/out in an audio track, edit an automation curve in the neighbor track (depending on the filter of the selected track). The type of operation/action is defined by the place where you click the object. Very useful. If needed, you still have the possibility to quickly switch between tools via a pop-up window using the “T” keyboard shortcut or clicking with the mouse wheel (which must be preset as “center button”).

To wrap it up, this new interface is really excellent. Experienced Sonar users will quickly find everything they need, considering that everything is based on what already existed. Moreover, they will be able to improve their workflow, which will be faster and more comfortable (and they will not contribute to make their optician rich). As for new users, they will be able to learn the software much easier and faster and will easily access many well-conceived and powerful tools.

There is one thing that will surely disappoint some users: the score display is still the same after all these years. It seems that Cakewalk planned to improve it but they decided to take some time to launch a major evolution… Hopefully.

We would like to mention two new features that appeared in version 8.5, which we hadn’t reviewed.

The first one is the Matrix, a heritage of Project 5, Cakewalk’s electro sequencer. This grid is similar to what you can find in Ableton Live where lines correspond to tracks (audio or virtual instruments) and rows to song parts.

Cakewalk Sonar X1

Cells can contain audio or MIDI loops (or one-shot samples). Clicking on a cell starts the playback, a second click stops it. The same applies to rows: click on them to start all cells in a row. Rows can correspond to sections of a song you can mix together. For example, click on the bass of an other row and this bass line will replace the bass of the current row. Triggering can be instantaneous or synced (to the bar, 1/4 note, 1/8 note, etc.). The cells can be played in loops or only one time. And you can control everything via MIDI, so you can compose or improvise either with the mouse or a master keyboard. The Matrix can work independently from the track data (only the matrix is played) or on top of the project playback. You can also record in a track whatever is being done in the Matrix.

The other new feature is the step sequencer. It uses the principle of vintage sequencers (like Rebirth does). Say hello again to the grid! However, this time lines are notes (or drum elements) while rows correspond to beats. This sequencer is quite powerful and very easy to use. We just miss a glide (or glissando) function to perfectly emulate a vintage sequencer. You can load and save sequences (called patterns) independently from the project.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

In spite of a couple bugs (remember that this is a pre-release version, so hopefully they will be fixed at launch date) this major update is a great success. Sonar keeps all its advantages and gains considerably in readability, ease of use, working comfort, and effectiveness. I realized it when I went back to version 8 and wanted to compare the performance: it felt as if I had gone back several years in time! The virtual instrument and effect package provided is still very good and the added plug-ins sound really nice. What else could you ask for? That it were cheaper? It is! Cakewalk decided to strike a decisive blow offering the “big” Producer version for less than $400.

Advantages:

  • Greatly enhanced design
  • Interface readability
  • Pleasant look
  • Intelligent tools and functions
  • Excellent and comprehensive instrument pack
  • High-quality effects
  • Very competitive price

Drawbacks:

  • Crashes under Win XP
  • Some design details can still be improved
  • Nothing new regarding the score editor
  • Nothing new regarding functionality

To  read the full detailed article see:  Sonar X1 Review

August 30, 2010

Ohm Studio Teaser – Going Beyond Old Sequencer Paradigms

Filed under: Sequencers, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:34 pm

When developing the Ohm Studio dared to break some old sequencer standards: for example, a track is not anymore a synonym of audio bus, it’s actually a timeline ready for all your ideas. Why is this the case? Because Ohm Studio’s GUI has been built from the ground up, keeping in mind both the creative workflow and the online collaborative ethos. Watch this video to understand how useful it could be…

April 16, 2010

Celemony Melodyne Editor Video Demo

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

March 10, 2010

Presonus Studio One Software Review

Fed up with Cubase? Sick of Logic? Bored by Sonar? PreSonus will take back your software in exchange for Studio One. But, is it really worth it?

Launching a new sequencer in 2010 is a bold venture considering that there are several well-established products out there. We could name at least a dozen top of mind, each one better than the others (Pro Tools, Logic, Sonar, Cubase, Nuendo, Samplitude, Digital Performer, Live, Tracktion, Reaper, Acid, Reason/Record, Fruity Loops, etc.), for all sorts of applications and within all price ranges. Nevertheless, more often than not, it was unexpected outsiders that introduced innovations in the field rather than the established brands (Cubase’s InLine Edition and Reason’s Combinator owe a lot to Tracktion to name only one example). That’s one of the main reasons why we are very pleased to welcome PreSonus’ Studio One – which we hope will bring some fresh air to the sequencer world.

How Long Has PreSonus Been Making Sequencers?

Studio OneWell-known for their FireWire interfaces (FirePod and FireBox, for example), the guys at PreSonus also offer a very comprehensive range of audio products from digital mixers to dual high-quality preamps (conceived by Anthony de Maria), headphones amps, monitoring controllers, etc. In short, almost everything you need to set up a home studio, except for microphones and monitors. In this context, a sequencer seems quite natural, all the more if you think that most leading manufacturers in the pro audio industry have their own sequencer: Cubase and Nuendo belong to Yamaha, Sonar to Roland, Pro Tools to Digidesign/M-Audio, Acid to Sony, Tracktion to Mackie, etc.

However, PreSonus could not become a software developer overnight even though they have lots of experience with DAW hardware solutions. Therefore it was no surprise to find the very experienced Matthias Juwan behind Studio One, a developer who worked six years for Steinberg before founding his own company and developing a free sequencer called Krystal Audio. Matthias had already planned to make V2 a paid upgrade before arriving at PreSonus; it seems his new software ended up being Studio One.  Fine.  Enough with the history lessons…

Is Studio One the One?

Studio OneStudio One is an audio/MIDI sequencer for Mac and PC (it includes Windows 7 and 64-bit support). There are two different versions available, “Artist” and “Pro”. They both share the same functions except for some major details like the audio engine’s internal resolution (32 bit in Artist, 64 bit in Pro), the ability to import/export to MP3 and, above all, AU, VST and Rewire compatibility. I beg your pardon? Did you just say that the Artist version which costs $200 doesn’t allow the use of external plugins? Yes, I did! Even though the Artist version includes about 20 virtual effects and instruments like a sampler, EZdrummer Lite and Kore Player, it’s hard to imagine how it’s supposed to compete in this market without allowing external plugin integration… But that’s none of our business right now because we will only deal with the Pro version in this review, which does support third-part plugins, provides additional effects and offers many samples as well as Kore Player sounds. Now let’s go back to the pretty blue box containing two DVDs…

Installing Studio One and the additional software tools provided is pretty straightforward and easy. Among the printed documentation included there’s a short quick start guide in full color and a leaflet listing all the shortcuts. It’s not much but you will also find a 189 page long PDF under the software’s Help menu, and PreSonus also included a handful of video tutorials to get you started. That was nice of them, even if one the main pros of Studio One is its intuitiveness.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

PreSonus did a good job with Studio One. We have rarely used such an intuitive sequencer: it is always difficult to switch from Cubase to Pro Tools or from Sonar to Digital Performer due to design and layout problems, but that wouldn’t be a problem with Studio One thanks to the great ideas implemented in this respect. Studio One resembles Tracktion in a way: it’s a small sequencer conceived for music creation that can be installed on a notebook to avoid more resource hungry tools like Cubase, Logic or Sonar. It is well thought-out, comprehensive, very stable, and promises a lot even if it’s a bit too expensive compared to similar products. Not taking into consideration the Artist version, which is too limited to be interesting, the Pro version is a bit more expensive than Mackie’s Tracktion 3, which place it in the same price range as all the big names on the market… and it just can’t compete with them, except in design and layout. To wrap it up, Studio One is a bit too expensive but it does offer some nice features so we will keep our eyes open for Studio Two…

Advantages:

  • Excellent design and layout
  • Provides everything to create a song from A to Z
  • Stability
  • Effect plugins quality
  • Well thought-out mastering section

Drawbacks:

  • Improvable virtual instruments
  • Artist version can’t host third-party plugins
  • There are much more powerful tools available for a few more bucks…

To read the full detailed article see:  Presonus Studio One Review

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