AF’s Weblog

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

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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 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

December 20, 2010

Propellerhead Reason 5 Review

What features does the fifth version of the historical Propellerhead software have to offer? Overview.

We won’t retell the full Reason story, but we must acknowledge that Propellerhead shows an impressive consistency in the sense that they never derailed from their original philosophy: provide a standalone application that doesn’t allow the integration of third-party software (however open to the outside world via ReWire) and provides almost anything you need to produce electronic music.

The launch of Record (review to come) reinforces Reason’s position: instead of importing audio recordings into Reason, they can be embedded into Record, which is meant to remedy Reason’s “deficiencies.”

The fifth version of the virtual studio includes virtual synths, samplers, effects, etc., as well as some improvements and new features. Let’s have a look.

Introducing Reason 5

Propellerhead Reason 5

Reason 5 comes in a box including a DVD, a quick start guide (no printed user’s manual but an HTML help instead…) and a sheet of paper with the license and registration numbers required to activate the software and have access to updates. Note: it’s a good thing that the manufacturer tries to save paper not providing too many printed documents. But if that’s case, why do they deliver the product in such a big cardboard box? Considering the number of products sold, isn’t it a big waste of paper? I don’t really get it…

There’s no need to comment on the installation: everything is clear enough so anyone can open their first project after just fifteen clicks or so.

Powerful Sampler

Propellerhead Reason 5

Each new version brings with itself some graphic and useful improvements. On the top of the rack, you’ll find four buttons to open/close advanced audio and Midi parameters, as well as a Big Meter that can be set as a VU, PPM, Peak, VU+Peak, or PPM+Peak meter with in/out channel selection. Yes, indeed: Reason 5 finally supports audio, not for track recording like a sequencer but for making its samplers “real” samplers. Actually, many manufacturers misuse language when they state that their sample players/editors are real samplers — regardless of the incredible possibilities they provide.

It’s different at Propellerhead: with this new version, the NN-XT, NN19, Redrum and Kong (new module, see below) can record audio from any input or directly from one of the rack modules, with independent monitoring of the incoming signal. You can even route audio data directly within the computer, using Soundflower, for example (you can also create a loop with the audio card but it’s not that practical). The ability to sample the modules could inspire many manufacturers to use Reason’s possibilities to create sample banks from its very versatile instruments. Not that this wasn’t possible before, but you needed ReWire, external editors, etc.

Propellerhead Reason 5

Now it all happens inside. Select the input or the module by routing it to the sampling input on the rear side of the rack, click the waveform button (or use the tools window) and it will start recording immediately. By the way, a control to start recording manually would be much appreciated. We can imagine some extreme setups, considering that Sampling supports any stereo signal: you can rig modules and get the signal out of the main out (or the sends) of a mixer connected to several mixers, etc. So the internal possibilities are actually… endless. Once the signal has been recorded, click the Edit button to open the integrated sample editor.

Propellerhead Reason 5

Waveform display, selection, loop options, crop, normalize, invert, fade in/out and three play modes (normal, loop, forward/backward loop): only basic features (you feel like using a good old hardware sampler) but it’s enough to prepare a sample. Afterwards, you can make all resynthesis editing in any module, in which case the samples become available for all compatible instruments — including the outside world (AU, VST, etc.). Although the samples are saved by default with the actual song, you can export them to any WAV compatible tool.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The main advantage this version has to offer is the introduction of real sampling within the program and in all modules that deal with audio data. Hats off Propellerhead! This will hopefully have some impact among competitors. However, we also hope for an update (or a future version?) with a more sophisticated sample editor providing more features.

When it comes to new modules, Dr Octorex is very disappointing, considering that it cannot play several loops simultaneously; but, on the other hand, Kong does a very good job if you keep in mind that Reason is a software tool dedicated primarily to electronic music production. We still miss the possibility to have real pads of four layers each.

Regarding all other new features, the development team has been proving its mastery for years, and Reason 5 takes full advantage of this fact — just like all its predecessors. In short, if you want to record samples directly into a module to use them immediately, or if you want a powerful instrument dedicated to drum sound design, Reason 5 is the tool for you. If you are still hesitant, the manufacturer offers a free demo version so you can try it out.

Advantages:

  • Sampling embedded directly into the modules
  • Integrated sample editing
  • Kong module
  • Many drum samples
  • Three different sound synthesis engines in Kong
  • Dr OctoRex module
  • Improved editing
  • Possibility to export the samples recorded
  • Multicore support
  • Blocks
  • Multitrack Midi recording
  • HTML help

Drawbacks:

  • No simultaneous Rex loop playback in Dr OctoRex
  • No real four-layer pads
  • Snare drum PM and bass drum PM modules not very convincing
  • Sample recording cannot be triggered manually
  • No printed manual
  • Still no 64-bit Rewire

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Reason 5 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…

December 16, 2009

Celemony Melodyne Editor Review

Ever since the creation of the first DAW, no other software has caused so much ink to be spilled and generated such expectations. The Direct Note Access technology, which was introduced by Celemony at Musikmesse 2008, is one of those holy grails no one ever thought to be accessible because it allows you to edit single notes of a polyphonic audio recording. Is it some sort of de-mixing? Yes and no! Is it a revolution? You bet!

Celemony Melodyne EditorBefore we dive into the innards of the program, a brief summary about Melodyne is necessary for those of you who don’t know it yet. Celemony created Melodyne in the wake of the Antares Autotune, which allowed you to edit the pitch of an audio recording. Melodyne worked under the same principles (pitch shifting and time stretching with formant control) within an interface conceived for musicians instead of sound engineers. After detecting the notes, you had several tools for pitch, time and amplitude correction, so you could actually edit audio recordings as easily as MIDI parts, under one condition: the audio recording had to be monophonic. The software’s excellent algorithms and idiot-proof user interface gave lots of product ideas to their partners (like Ueberschall, who developed customizable loop banks for the Melodyne engine) and competitors. For instance, Autotune got a new user interface (see the Autotune EVO), several competitors appeared (Waves Tune, Zplane) and the main audio sequencers integrated Melodyne-like functions (Steinberg introduced VariAudio in Cubase 5 and Cakewalk did the same with AudioSnap for Sonar).

While competitors were still trying to catch up with the first Melodyne, Celemony changed the game again by offering individual note editing in polyphonic recordings. During the product presentation at Musikmesse, Melodyne’s boss had a blast changing a guitar minor chord into a major chord using a simple MIDI keyboard. And to top that, he also modified the trumpet of a Miles Davis recording without changing the double-bass or the drum part. Impressed? There are no words to express it. The presentation of the product had such an impact that some people thought it was a hoax. That, together with the time it took for the official release to come out raised serious doubts among the audio community. But…

Melodyne Editor, the first software using Direct Note Access technology (DNA) has finally hit the stores. And it works…

On Familiar Ground

The installation is extremely easy. You will only need the serial number to activate it online on Celemony’s website. The software is protected in two different ways: either you activate the product online, in which case the registration is limited to only one computer (you’ll have to uninstall it first before installing it on another computer) or you transfer your license to an iLok key. Once you did that you can start your sequencer (I work with Cubase) and look for Melodyne Editor in your plugin list.

Celemony Melodyne EditorUsers of previous Melodyne versions, especially those who had the plugin version, won’t feel too estranged at first sight. The user interface (the look and layout) didn’t change much. Under the Settings, Edit, Algorithm, View, and Help menus, you’ll still find the aluminum-like bar hosting the basic parameters. Most of the interface is made up of a sort of piano-roll grid displaying yellow, orange and red events… On the right side, you’ll still find the “Correct Pitch” and “Quantize Time” buttons, as well as three automation-capable controllers that allow you to play with the pitch, the formant or the volume parameters in real time. On the center of the tool bar you’ll find the Undo/Redo icons and the tool box (with the same old icons): from left to right, you’ll find six tools for selection/zoom/scroll, pitch editing (with modulation and drift parameters – a sort of audio pitch bend), formant editing, volume editing, timing editing and note separation editing.

Right below these icons, there are two fields that display the note detected in the segment selected and its distance to the correct note. Finally, on the left side of the bar you have the transfer parameters. Just like with the first plugin version, the first thing you have to do is start the detection process: once Melodyne is inserted in the track that is to be processed, click on the transfer button and start playback in the sequencer. Depending on the algorithm you selected in the “Algorithm” menu, Melodyne analyzes the audio material and generates events on the grid. There are three algorithms available: monophonic (melodic), rhythmic/unpitched and polyphonic. In this review, we will focus on the latter since the two others are already known from the Melodyne plugin.

Before we get into details, we have to mention that, unlike the first Melodyne plugin, you can fully resize the program window and freely zoom in/out via shortcuts. It would have been perfect if it had a button to switch into full-screen mode with a single click…

Now let’s take a look under the hood…

Conclusion

Melodyne Editor is indeed the revolution we expected, thanks to its DNA technology. The algorithm is not infallible and (still?) doesn’t allow to entirely de-mix a song. Nevertheless, there has not been such an exciting invention in the audio industry ever since the creation of Autotune – and the invention of samplers before that. Melodyne is available for a very affordable price considering the huge R&D efforts Celemony had to make to achieve these results.

While we wait for a more comprehensive version that includes MIDI export of the detected notes, we strongly recommend Melodyne Editor to sound engineers (to repair an acoustic guitar recording when the guitarist already left the studio), to musicians who work with loops (and never find the right sample in the right key) and to all sound designers. You will undoubtedly have lots of fun discovering the huge possibilities it provides. However, there is still one thing that remains unclear: what happens to the copyright of the processed samples? If I change all the notes of a Miles Davis phrase, will he still be the owner of the melody I use in my song?

To wrap it up, if I were to have only one gift under the Christmas tree, I’d ask for this one!

Celemony Melodyne Editor
Advantages:
  • Technological feat that revolutionizes audio editing and sampling
  • Ease of use
  • Stunning results when used for the right application
  • Price (considering the R&D investment)
  • Amusing and creative tool
  • One of the best monophonic time-stretching & pitch-shifting tools, maybe even the best…

Drawbacks:

  • CPU consumption: you’ll have to bounce!
  • Left and right channels cannot be edited separately
  • Not multitimbral
  • Disappointing results with some audio material

To read the full detailed review including sound samples see:  Celemony Melodyne Editor Review

June 22, 2009

Steinberg Cubase 5 Review

Filed under: Sequencers, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:38 am
Introduction

Cubase, one of the titans of the sequencer pantheon, has come out with an attractive looking 5th version, at a time when the sequencer wars are raging more than ever. Let’s take a look…

One of the oldest sequencers, along with Logic (old-timers may remember the golden era of Pro 24 and Notator), Cubase has over the years, imposed numerous ergonomic, technological, and conceptual standards on the competition. Releasing a new version of Steinberg’s flagship software is still an event in itself, although it must be admitted that today, the pretenders to the throne of the king of sequencers are quite numerous. As a result, innovation and excellence are no longer unique to Cubase and, without even mentioning other sequencer heavy-weights (Logic, Sonar, Pro Tools, Samplitude, Digital Performer and Ableton Live), the last decade has seen many new challengers, with varying price tags and popularity, but packed with great features: Fruity Loops, Melodyne, Tracktion, Energy XT, Reaper … In a market as competitive as this, it’s obviously increasingly difficult to stand out. Cubase 4 had its critics even though it launched the VST3 standard, brought its effects and virtual instruments up to date, inaugurated a new media management system and you could finally move effects from one track to another by drag & drop. But it seemed more like they were trying to catch up to the competition rather than really innovating … Even the more original innovations, like management of external hardware (particularly Yamaha’s, since the Japanese manufacturer had recently bought Steinberg) and the emergence of control room targeted features were interesting, but did not effect all users and therefore didn’t necessarily justify the increased software price: around $879! Fortunately, when the impressive Logic 8 came out for around $500 it forced Steinberg to rethink its rates and marketing strategy: you can now find Cubase 5 for around $500! With relatively interesting updates: 4.1 and 4.5 (side chain management for their effects, better routing management, additional sound banks for HALionOne, etc..), and this 5th version, Steinberg is doing its best to seduce us. Let’s get into details…

Conclusion

Cubase 5 is undoubtedly a success and shows progress in several areas. More user-friendly, more powerful and better equipped, Steinberg’s baby is alive and well! Sure, we’d always like to have more (especially virtual instruments), but features like VariAudio, VST Expression, Tempo/Signature tracks, or the multitrack export feature make this an essential update. To the question “Should you upgrade from version 4 or lower”, the answer is a 1000 times yes, but keep in mind that the Studio version of the software doesn’t include (and it’s an important point) VariAudio, amongst other things.

If however, you don’t have a sequencer or you intend to change, the problem is more difficult because after a quick web surf, it was pretty surprising to find out that no brands except Magix, Cakewalk and Ableton, have demo versions of their sequencers! And it’s a shame that you can’t try before you buy at a time when the differences between sequencers is often summed up by a few features and different work-flows. But, speaking as an unconditional Cubase user these past fifteen years, I can’t recommend Cubase 5 enough…

Positives:


A penalty goes to Propellerhead for still not addressing the 64-bit ReWire and Rex format issue
  • Full 64-bit!
  • VariAudio, efficient and fully integrated.
  • VST Expression.
  • Finally there’s a multitrack export!
  • Finally a hi-quality reverb!
  • Tempo and signature tracks, so much easier…
  • A complete all-in-one solution.
  • Printed manuals and video tutorials.
  • Groove Agent One, simple and effective.
  • Loopmash
  • The automation panel
  • The concept of an iPhone application to control the sequencer

Drawbacks:

  • No sampler, no organ, no piano outside of the presets in HALion One
  • Synthesizers that aren’t up to par with the competition

To read the full detailed exclusive article see:  Steinberg Cubase 5 Review

May 16, 2009

Ableton Live 8 Suite: The Test

Long LIVE Ableton
Ableton Live 8: The Test

Ableton’s Live has been with us for some time now and since it’s initial release in 2001 it has proudly sported a simple one window interface and transparent ’no frills’ operation. This simplicity initially led some producers and musicians to believe it was perhaps a step down from other more complex DAWs, but seven years down the line Live has more than stood the test of time.

Many musicians, engineers and DJs have now adopted Live as their primary production or performance environment and Ableton is now onto an impressive eighth major release. Their constant development of the application is also relentless with version 8.01 of Live being released only weeks ago, which sees stability and workflow further improved.

Ouverture

Live has never been short of virtual instruments, hardware quality effects and cool production tools but each major release manages to expand this sequencer’s inventory, and version 8 is certainly no exception. With a brand-new virtual instrument, updates to the interface, new production tools, extra effects and even an expanded sample library, the folks at Ableton certainly aren’t running out of ideas.

How Suite it is

Live now comes in three different versions: Live LE (medium), Live (Large) and Ableton Suite (XL). Live LE is essentially a cut down version of Live for the entry level user or budget conscious beginner and is limited in some areas such as number of tracks and effects that can be used. Live and Ableton Suite are pretty much the same core application but the Suite contains a pretty large sample library (including the new Latin Percussion collection) and you will also get all ten virtual instruments that Ableton offers for the higher price tag.

Let’s take a look at the major changes and hear some audio examples of them in action to see if this new update is a step in the right direction…

Conclusion

This is a really major release for Live and although the application remains the same at first glance the changes could literally change the way you use it. What could be a new set of toys to the seasoned user, could potentially be the feature that convinces the new user to switch.

Plan de groupe

Installation is a breeze and can be completed by download without the need for any dongles or iLoks. Activation is an automatic process that takes a matter of minutes so you’ll be up and running in no time. So if you haven’t checked it out already then do yourself a favour and upgrade or a least test drive the demo.

Feature rich update
Very cost effective (from €49 to Live 7 users to €549 for full Ableton suite)
Exciting new effects processors and instruments
Long list of interface and workflow enhancements

Overall interface and metering may be a little basic for some pros
Lack of support for multiple monitors maybe an issue for some

To read the full detailed article see Ableton Live 8 Review

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