My primary music DAW is now Studio One Pro. When I first
saw the advertisement for it, I thought, "That looks cool, but not cool enough to spend the time learning a new DAW. My DAW's working fine." I am really glad that Tape Op gave me the opportunity to review it, because I don't think I would've understood the benefits of Studio One without trying it. I compared it to Steinberg Nuendo (Tape Op #68), which I've been using since 2001. I am happy with the performance and cross-platform compatibility of Nuendo, although not too happy with Steinberg's evolving policies about it; for example, they took away my simple drum machine with an "upgrade." My advice to anyone that tracks or mixes music is to download the 30-day Studio One demo and go through the entire video tutorial built-in from the program's start page. Once I got going, I actually had fun learning this DAW.
Studio One is a collaboration between PreSonus and Wolfgang Kundrus and Matthias Juwan of KristalLabs, which was recently acquired by PreSonus. Kundrus and Juwan are ex-employees of Steinberg; the former was the main software architect of Cubase/Nuendo, and the latter worked on Cubase, HALion, Plex, and the VST plug-in platform. They were given a clean slate when they were tasked to build their dream DAW, and one of their goals was to develop a straightforward user-interface that supports the needs of professionals and beginners alike.
What's special about Studio One is not its feature set, it's the super-efficient workflows that it allows. You can work really, really quickly. How so? Lots of little factors contribute. For example, you can drag-and-drop a plug-in from the large multi-browser right onto an audio track; you don't have to show the mixer and go to an insert menu. There are effects-chain presets which save plug-in configurations; you can apply them while adding tracks or by dragging presets directly to a song. Unlike Nuendo, you can select a track preset when you're creating tracks. You can color-code while creating tracks too. Some features save you time by mitigating errors; for example, when mixing down to a file, Studio One tells you if you've clipped the output and by how much, and then offers to abort. Even the output-bus channel in the mixer has a clipped-sample counter on it.
One of the coolest time-savers is the in-application zero-latency cue mixer, which works with the firmware-based mixer inside every FireStudio-branded PreSonus interface. I have a FireStudio 26x26, but my first thought was, "Using a second app for cue mixing is fine, and I'd rather keep it separate anyway to save screen space." After trying it though, I was impressed for two huge reasons: one, cue mixes are saved with the song file; two, it makes routing a reverb plug-in to the cue send very easy. Reverb and effects are still affected by latency, so that limits what you can do; but if you set up your reverb to have no pre-delay, you can end up with usable results even at high latencies. Cue level mixing and panning is elegantly integrated into the mixer and doesn't take up much of the screen. You can create as many cue mixes as your audio interface has available for output. Solo recordists can enable cue mixing on the master out, to quickly get a zero latency mix going if needed. (Nuendo has similar capability, but it too requires certain hardware to operate at zero or near-zero latency.) The cue mix feature works, sans zero-latency monitoring, with non-FireStudio interfaces. Now that I've used Studio One's in-app control of zero-latency cue monitoring, if I didn't already own a FireStudio, I'd go get one.
You still need the Universal Control application, which comes with all FireStudios, to assign main and headphone outs and also to engage Normal and Safe modes, which can become troublesome when you're trying to troubleshoot where your signals are going. It'd be nice if all of the controls could be pulled into Studio One so we could ignore Universal Control entirely, but for now just ignore the output mixer within Universal Control if you're using a FireStudio.
I ran a CPU load test between Studio One and Nuendo and was disappointed to find them to be about equal, with a slight edge to Nuendo. I expected Studio One to have the edge because of its smaller footprint, its more recent development, and its lack of a USB dongle. On my Mac G5 Dual 2.3 GHz tower, I used 16 different tracks of random 24-bit, 44.1 kHz audio and created a session in each program. I kept adding instances of ANWIDA Soft DX Reverb Light until the CPU meter peaked, then removed one instance. I rebooted between tests and tried a couple times to make sure I had the lowest number of instances that always worked. Studio One had the advantage of being installed on a fresh OS and partition. Using an RME Fireface for both applications with a 256-sample buffer, I got 63 instances working in Studio One and 66 instances in Nuendo. Why did I use the Fireface? Because the Fireface was already installed on my Nuendo partition, and I didn't want to mess with that; with the combination of FireStudio and Studio One, I actually had 12 fewer instances working reliably -51 instances total. Also, the plug-in only worked without stuttering in Safe Mode 3. So that's something to bear in mind if you were thinking about switching interface brands to take advantage of the built-in zero-latency monitoring. For another perspective, I can run only one mono instance (barely) of Wave Arts' Tube Saturator at 96 kHz (1024 buffer) in Nuendo, whereas I can't run it at all at 96 kHz in Studio One, even with the more efficient RME Fireface. Since this is version 1.0.2, there may be some optimization of the code in store.
I don't have much to add about the included instrument collection except that, while the concepts are similar, I found it a lot easier to set up MIDI in Studio One than Nuendo. Plus, Studio One's implementation of external MIDI parameter/fader control is awesome. You just create a Controller object in Studio One, assign a hardware MIDI controller to it by tweaking its physical knob, slider, or button, and then assign the software controller to almost anything in Studio One.
I did not go through all of the included plug-ins, but I have to say, I've been using a vintage-emulation plug-in collection exclusively since 2001. I often record simple song demos and do a quick mix. I did that with Studio One's plug-ins, and I was stunned at how quickly I got a great -maybe better -sound using the same instruments and techniques I always use. This made me feel silly, as if maybe, just maybe, some audio designers have learned something new in the last 50 years; the designers of these plug-ins certainly have.
I thought 64-bit processing was more three-dimensional sounding than 32-bit processing using a reverb tail generated by the "Room Reverb" plug-in when listening directly from Studio One, but I could see the setting. When I set up a blind test using bounces to 24-bit audio files, I could not hear a difference. That could mean I was fooling myself when listening from the app, or the benefits are lost to my ears/room once rendered to 24-bit.
The complete integration of the mastering or Project section (not available in the Artist version of Studio One) is what really hooked me. Even if you have your stuff mastered by someone else, you're bound to do some pre-masters with disc burns or MP3s, etc. (Version 1.1 will even start to support
online publishing.) Besides that, the Project section is well laid out and supported with appropriate tools, and it's integrated directly with the song files. So if you tweak something in your mix, the change is reflected in the Project, and you will be asked if you want to work from a new master bounce, which will be created for you automatically if you reply yes!
Studio One has been almost completely stable and streamlined for me, which is remarkable for an application with a 1.0.2 version number. I got one random beach-ball hang in about 40 hours of use; I tried repeating my steps and could not get it to occur again. I have two warnings that you should consider before purchasing the application though. One, make sure your indispensable third-party plug-ins work with Studio One. I went through a few demo versions online when choosing a plug-in for the CPU load tests above, before finding one that worked well enough for the test. Studio One could not remember the parameters for that one in saved song files. A conversation with a PreSonus rep revealed that the only way to solve plug-in compatibility problems is on a case-by-case basis. If your plug-ins don't work or have problems, you'll want to make sure PreSonus and the plug-in vendor are aware and that the two companies are talking. The second warning is, make sure the little features that you need in your workflow are implemented. For example, there is no "snap to event edges" feature, there is no expanded stacked view of multiple takes on the same track, and currently, there's no key command to keep an event locked in time when moving it from track to track (coming in version 1.1) -all features I use a lot in Nuendo.
I stated in the intro that Studio One is now my music DAW. Music -because it has no video or surround capabilities to speak of yet. So, I will keep Nuendo around for now to be capable of those tasks, but I am not upgrading it again. Future music projects will be done in Studio One. I highly recommend it for anyone, pro or amateur, that does live multitrack sessions, as well as any project studio composer-recordist. ($399 street; www.presonus.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.