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This article was originally published in issue #33
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The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is probably the most complicated single thing in most modern studios. The good news is that most of those available today are very good; most manufacturers got the maths worked-out properly years ago. The not so good news, (depending on how you look at it), is that modern DAWs offer so many features that you may need a year or so to really get to grips with what you’ve got.
When Presonus’ Studio One was announced back in (I think) 2009, I remember wondering why the world needed yet another “new” DAW. It turned-out that the software was initially designed by ex-Steinberg (Cubase and Nuendo) boffins, and released by USA based Presonus. As a long term Cubase user I was kind-of-interested so I took a look. The impression I got was that Studio One had the streamlined workflow that you get only when the designers have a clear vision of where they’re going before they start, and because the product was all new it didn’t have all those annoying niggles hung-over from older releases. The interface was clean and crisp and consistent, and, perhaps because of its Steinberg heritage, I actually found it to be pretty easy to use.
Roll the clock forwards a few years and we’ve got Studio One V2.
Your landing point after set-up is the “Song” window. Additional views dock onto this main window, and elements can be floated off if you want to re-position them (perhaps you want your mixer on a different monitor for instance). The interface is heavily based on a drag and drop model, which is so intuitive that you could probably throw the manual away and just start working - love it!
Studio One (I’m running the Professional version here) is a big and deep product and I really can’t do all of it justice in a short review. Enough to say that you get all the usual features found in advanced DAWs; you can comp multiple takes, quantise audio, build loops, add effects and virtual instruments, record and edit MIDI, import video, and do just about anything else that you’d expect to be able to do, so instead of wading through a feature list I’ll cover a few highlights; take a look at the video for more detail.
It’s got Melodyne! Melodyne is a third-party tool (from Celemony Software GmbH) that analyses audio recordings and allows you to change note pitch and timing. Lots of DAWs now have similar functionality, but Celemony pretty well chewed-up and spat-out the rule book when it launched Melodyne, and to this day it’s at the head of the pack in terms of audio editing. OK, you need the Professional version of Studio One to get the permanent Melodyne Essential license, but it’s a major coup, and there’s an even more important story lurking there. During start-up, Studio One activates something called Audio Random Access. I had to look this up; never heard of it until appeared on the start-up log! It was co-designed by Presonus and Celemony as a plug-in interface to allow deep integration of third-party software, and what it does with Melodyne is quite remarkable. I’ve tried and abandoned Melodyne before, because although it works brilliantly, it is actually quite clunky and messy to use from within a DAW, except that here, whatever version of Melodyne you have licensed on your machine acts as though it’s part of the DAW itself. Melodyne is the headline feature, but ARA is the game changer.
Ease of use. Dockable windows and drag-and-drop make the interface extremely intuitive.
Project Management. It’s easy for projects to get out-of-hand as the tracks start to add up. The Studio One track list is an overview of the entire song, where you can arrange and filter what you see as you’re working.
Add insert effects to audio events. Sometimes you don’t need an effect on a whole track, so apply it to just the audio events that need it.
3rd Party content. Depending on your Studio One version, you get additional content from the likes of Nine Volt Audio, Ueberschall, Vengence Sound and Native Instruments.
Built-in Mastering view. Once the recording and mixing are done, you can select the “Project” view to assemble and tweak the collection, then create Red-Book standard CDs, disk images, DDP files, individual audio files, or uploads without having to create an additional project.
The full features list for any competent DAW could run to as many pages as this whole magazine, so I’ve just skimmed a few from the surface here. I haven’t found anything that I’d expect to be able to do in a full-on professional level DAW that I can’t do in Studio One, and some of its features are either unique, or a refreshing update of the industry standard model. What impresses me the most is that Studio One just seems to hang-together so well: yes, of course, you have to learn your way around a few menus, and perhaps set-up a few keyboard short-cuts, but it feels as though it’s been designed to a plan rather than fallen together from several generations of fragmented development. I loved the drag and drop functionality, and when I thought about it I can set-up something quite similar in other DAWs, but it’s just the way Studio One works out of the box. The Melodyne integration is stand-out, plug-in interfaces are informative and clear, and the Project view is such an obvious benefit that I’m not sure why everyone else hasn’t stolen it.
Of course, the only way to see if something as complex as a DAW suits you is to try it, and Presonus makes it easy; pop over to PreSonus/Studio One Free and grab a download of the free version. It’s a permanent license, and it’s well enough featured to allow you to get to grips with how the software works.
Other versions are Artist (often included with Presonus interfaces - check in the box if you’ve got one!) and Producer and Professional - up-to-date comparisons here PreSonus/Compare Versions.
This is refreshingly well thought-out DAW software that manages to live-up to its heritage without the baggage. Highly recommended.