Experiment with another DAW with Free Demos!

Maybe you’re in England and are so excited by the tropical heat we’re having that the likelihood of you being anywhere other than sprawled out on the grass is about as high as the weather holding out for longer than a couple of days, but nonetheless, it’s Assignment time! Continue Reading

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Musikmesse 2012: Cyberstep KDJ-ONE

 Okay we saw this at NAMM, but didn’t get a chance to take a really good look at it. I’m not sure whether ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is quite apt but I was certainly looking forward to seeing the KDJ-ONE at Musikmesse and I’m not disappointed at all – in fact, I’m quite enamoured with it.

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bitwig-studio-screenshot

Bitwig Studio Beta Looms

You’ll be forgiven for being thus far oblivious to Bitwig. They’ve been quietly beavering away at developing their flagship product, Bitwig Studio, since their inception in 2009, and only just approaching beta. With a team comprising some notable ex-Ableton brains, it’s no surprise that Bitwig Studio has more than a couple of things in common with Ableton Live. Here’s the video:

Bitwig Studio though has a number of features that Live users have been wishing for either en masse or in niche for some time – here are a few of the most interesting features we’ve picked out of the information we’ve had thus far:

  • Full cross platform support: Windows, Mac, Linux
  • ‘on note’ automation editing that looks similar to Cubase 6′s VST note expression (we’re waiting for confirmation on the exact functionality of this, but it’s confirmed that it can control per note panning, timbre, and volume of included instruments)
  • Onion skinned automation lanes showing multiple parameters simultaneously
  • Split pane workflow of clip/groove based sequencing and linear sequencing
  • Clip based effects automation sequencing
  • Block style pattern sequencing, ala MPC, FL Studio, Maschine etc
  • Non exclusive mixer tracks that will play audio and software instruments on a single channel
  • Multiple document editing, allowing copy and paste between documents
  • Multiple window support

The future for Bitwig Studio is a spinning coin of opportunities and threats: It’s very similar in many aspects to Ableton Live, and thus is likely to get someone’s back up somewhere. If Live can essentially integrate what Bitwig are doing close enough to the release of Bitwig studio, especially now the cat is somewhat out of the bag, it could see Bitwig Studio struggling to gather steam. That said, with Ableton Live’s next big update presumably being Live 9, the iterative nature of Ableton’s product development seems to have hampered its once unshakeable stability and if Bitwig Studio’s ground up design means it’s rock solid yet still fully featured, it could reap the rewards of a defection or two.

We’re certainly excited to see and hear the extent of the included instruments and effects, and there’s even plans to include a Reaktor/Max like instrument editor after launch. We’re thinking ahead here, but if Bitwig Studio can be installed on an ultra-low footprint Linux install and manages to sound as great as it looks without relying on third party plugins… well, let’s just leave it at ‘we’re excited’.

More information as we have it – which will be soon. Let us know what you think – are you thinking about it as an Ableton Live beater, or is it unnecessary to draw that close a comparison?

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FL Studio ‘Performance Mode’ Unveiled

When it comes to live performance, there’s not a lot of DAW software that can hold a cande to Ableton Live. Logic has a separate app (MainStage), and there are plenty of standalone apps/programs that work well for live use (Kontakt/Halion and so on), but a seamless connection between studio and live use is pretty much Live’s domain. Image Line are looking to move in the live performance direction, though, and here’s a video of their alpha release. As you can see, the performance is recorded as it is performed – similar to recording from Live’s clip view to the session view – and whilst there’s a lot of work to be done it looks to be a good direction for one of Windows’s premier recording solutions. In fact, with the native (well, dynamically ‘bottled’) Mac version on the way, maybe FL Studio is going to start to get a little more buzz in 2012. Let us know what you think!

Cubasescreen

Review: Steinberg Cubase 6

Cubase 6 has been around for the better part of a year now, and after a couple of months of getting to grips with it, we decided to give it the Oh Drat review treatment. It seems like Some of the updates in Cubase 6 are reactive, others proactive, but after a period over the past few years during which the big DAWs’ designers seemed to be trapped in a mass group think, churning out updates that brought their feature sets closer and closer in design to each others, things look to be specialising once again. Read on…


SPECS:

Mac OSX 10.6 or Windows 7, Dual core processor, 2GB ram. 1280×800 recommended screen resolution.

 
PROS:
  • VST Note Expression 2
  • Clean interface
  • Powerful inline audio editing
CONS:
  • Some editing is fiddly
Price at Review: £448 An evolution of the big changes that Cubase 5 brought the lineage, Cubase 6 is tighter and better, catching up to other big DAWs in most aspects and excelling with Note Expression 2.

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I think the odds – in an alternative dimension where bookmakers are inclined to take bets on potential features in professional music software updates – of Steinberg adding guitar amp simulations in Cubase 6 update were pretty high, considering they’ve been added to just about every other DAW in the past couple of years (and they sound and behave just like the rest). An improvement to the inline time stretching, which now runs Elastique Pro, brings it into line with the competition too. It’s the things that Cubase does that the others don’t, like the drum replacement, inline pitch and harmonic alteration, and some beefy advantages bestowed upon the software by VST 3.5 that give it the most strength.

VST Note Expression allows per note message editing of instrument parameters

Perhaps the biggest incentive to going Steinberg is the integration of the VST 3.5 standard. Don’t forget that it was Steinberg that introduced VST in the first place, and their periodic updates to the technology have allowed greater integration between the plugin and host as time’s gone by. With the advent of Apple’s acquisition of Logic and their introduction of Audio Unit technology, non-Cubase Mac users don’t tend to deal much with VST as until you get deep into the technicalities of the two formats, the two produce the same end result, with AU being better supported and thus more convenient. VST 3.5 changes all this though, as there are some pretty big breakthroughs in the integration between host and software, that currently Cubase 6 is the only DAW to take full advantage of.

VST Note Expression allows per note message editing of instrument parameters. Single notes in chords can be modulated, bent and so on on any instrument that supports the VST 3.5 standard, meaning things like orchestral patches can be worked with in the same MIDI editor for much more natural sounding programming; string quartets no longer require every virtual virtuoso to play exactly the same way when it comes to pitch bends and pressure modulation, and synth parts that use different voices can have different filter sweeps. It’s a really great feature, and perhaps the major thing Cubase has over its competition. The only caveat is the requirement for the plugin that you’re using to have been programmed with VST 3.5 in mind.

An aspect in in which Cubase shines is audio editing. It has a suite of editing tools that allow inline pitch, timing, and slicing, and for the most part they’re very good – things can be fiddly, but more on that later. The addition of the Elastique Pro audio tools unfortunately isn’t compatible with the real time nature of the warping tools, which means that you’ll have to fall back to the standard Cubase rendering and bounce tracks to new audio (or ‘apply’ changes and lose the original) to get the best of both worlds, but this isn’t that much of a hassle.

slicing and tempo detection is now more accurate

Much of the editing options debuted in Cubase 5, but Cubase 6 introduces a couple of important improvements. There’s been something of an overhaul of the detection algorithms, meaning that slicing and tempo detection is now more accurate.

It’s still not perfect when it comes to audio with lots of harmonics and very smooth waveforms –pads, for example – but it’s almost always spot on when it comes to drum loops and staccato sequences, and its defaults can be massaged with its semi auto controls if it’s a little out and of course you can go in manually if it’s just not getting it.

If you record multiple mic setups for drums and other audio, the phase stable quantisation is handy. It allows you to specify which of your tracks you want to take priority for quantisation and moves audio in all corresponding tracks along side them to make sure that there are no phase issues. There’s also an improved multi take comping mode which works in much the same way as the design that Propellerhead Software used with Record and Apple introduced into Logic.

hitpoints can now be sliced to MIDI

In addition to VariAudio’s ability to create MIDI tracks from the pitch data it finds, hitpoints can now be sliced to MIDI, which is designed to make layering drums with plugin sounds easier. In reality we didn’t find it that useful, as the hitpoints are simply exported as MIDI notes in much the same way as groove quantise, leaving you to rearrange them to different notes manually. Different transients can be assigned different velocities, but it’s up to you to switch those velocities to different notes, which seems a little like giving up on the home straight.

The audio warping system, whilst powerful, doesn’t really come close to the ease of use of Ableton Live’s, and editing can be fiddly as moving warp markers can only be done at the top of the screen with no keyboard shortcut to allow dragging with the mouse from the centre. It’s possible to set the warp markers from the hit points, which is a nice touch as it allows you to precisely set the hit points from the transients, but it also feels a little like there are some unnecessary steps in the process – what else would you want to base your warp markers on if not the hitpoints of the audio? Furthermore, swing can only be adjusted in Musical Mode, which can only work from the default beat grid.

The extra warping features aside, Cubase 6 hasn’t added any modes which contend with Ableton Live’s ‘live play’ workflow, and I for one am not in the slightest bit disappointed. Live’s niche is that it has been developed from the ground up to be used as a Live tool, and when other software has tried to get in on the action – for instance Apple’s Mainstage – I’ve simply come away wishing they’d spent more time developing features that the core audience use the software for.
Whilst Steinberg are keen to point out that Cubase 6 has some ‘snazzy’ (their words, not mine – kudos, Steinberg) interface improvements, they’re mainly cosmetic, focusing on smoother and more harmonious colours.

Cubase’s workflow and basic interface hasn’t changed radically in over a decade

Cubase’s workflow and basic interface hasn’t changed radically in over a decade, and whilst we generally applaud this, as Cubase’s sleek sequencing environment has in many ways been the blueprint for new contenders, there are one or two areas where competitors have the drop on it. Cubase 6 does have some more things in the inspector panel for each channel than the previous version, with quantise and transpose now a couple of clicks closer to you, but we’d have loved to see a channel strip that actually looks like the strips in the mixer, and a split pane design for the main window would also be welcome. As it is, windows can be positioned to where you like on screen, forced to stay on top, and multiple workspaces can be defined and locked to allow you to set up and switch between your most oft used work screens, but on smaller screens every pixel counts and the title bars that sit on top of every window do add up, as does the time spent dragging and moving the edges of multiple windows.

A review is always most objective in the context of the competition, and one obvious difference between the Mac and Windows platform is the availability of Apple’s Logic DAW on Mac. For PC users, Cubase is probably the premier DAW on the market. It’s stable, clear, and extremely powerful. Many Mac users will point to Logic when it comes to crowning the king of DAWs – especially those that are attracted to Apple for its GUI ruleset – but Cubase 6 can definitely stand up to Apple’s creation in most aspects, and even beats it to others. One area it’s definitely not quite toe-to-toe with Logic on is included instruments, but the included HALion SE is a much more user friendly sampler than Logic’s aging EXS24.

 All in all Cubase 6 is a great DAW with a few niggling issues, mainly with the fiddliness of the audio warping and pitching system, but its clear GUI and VST Note Expression 2 make it absolutely worth checking out as a potential centre for your sonic activities. It’s more evolution than revolution from Cubase 5, but upgrading will endow you with a nice handful of workflow and creative features.

Steinberg HALion 4

Review: Steinberg HALion 4

It’s been some time coming, but Steinberg have finally released the fourth major update to their HALion sampler. We delved into the new features to see what was what…


SPECS:

Windows (XP/Vista 7), P4 2.4GHz or Core Duo/Athlon64 min / OSX (10.5+) Core Duo. 2GB RAM.

PROS:
  • Articulation options for natural sounding compositions
  • Integral synth with 3 oscs + sub osc
  • Totally customisable interface layout
  • VST 3.5 support
CONS:
  • Sample library smaller than competition
  • A couple of UI gripes
Price at Review: £292 HALion 4 is a big update to Steinberg’s flagship, with a lot going for it. We love the synth, and if you’re a Cubase user its value skyrockets due to the VST3.5 implementation.[like action=like]

Rather than cramming all of its features into a standard window or forcing you to memorise different page locations, HALion 4’s modular design allows you to create the sampler you’ve always wanted; the interface splits wherever and however you desire, and you can fill each pane of the main window with the elements of the software that make most sense to your workflow. Editing your samples? Why not a huge sample editing window running along the top of the software? Want an easy HUD for live use? Just arrange macro controls, quick select pads and the instrument rack into prime locations and get rid of the technical gubbins. It was great to be able to make full use of large screen, and saving different screen sets allows for all your use cases to be catered for.

Its inoffensive design, based around muted clay and blue colours, is easy to work with if a little utilitarian. Due to its simplicity we went scouting around the options to see whether we could change the dominant colour (or even colour code certain elements), but alas, no dice.

the modular approach that Steinberg have taken with HALion 4 has really paid off

There are some UI gripes, like a lack of tooltips, non alphabetical sorting of modules, and the inability to resize the main window by simply dragging its edges – as well as the aforementioned single colour scheme – but in general the modular approach that Steinberg have taken with HALion 4 has really paid off, making it potentially one of the easiest to use pro samplers available – providing you can settle on setups long enough to get used to them!

HALion 4’s synth is one of the most powerful additions to the software, and also one of the things that sets it apart the most from other samplers. Three oscillators, a dedicated sub osc, plus ring modulation and a noise generator add up to some very thick sound design capabilities, and rather than adding crazy wave table oscillators – which are often not much use – the traditional saw/square/sine pulse waves are on offer in standard, synced, PWM, CM and XOR variants, allowing pulse width/phase modulations to create unique sounds. It’s a shame there’s no dedicated drum synth controls, but maybe that would be asking too much.

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Review: Harrison Mixbus 2

It’s not hugely inaccurate to say that modern DAWs are pretty similar when it comes to feature sets. Sure, Live has its non linear sequencer, Cubase integrates VST3.5 to enable deeper connection to plugins, Logic has an infinitely adjustable macro environment, and so on and so forth, but the bricks and mortar tick list of things they do and how they do them is largely the same. Harrison see this and dare to be different; Mixbus aims to be a much more faithful representation of an analogue studio in a box.


REQUIREMENTS:

Mac OSX (10.4+) or Linux x32/x64

Version Reviewed: 2.0.2

 

PROS:
  • Good sound
  • Quick internal mixing workflow
CONS:
  • Difficult to set up
  • Doesn’t work well with MIDI
  • Editor weak compared to competition
Price at Review: $219Unfortunately the cons outweigh the pros for Mixbus 2, with clumsy interface and set up meaning that the good sound it’s capable of just doesn’t cut it.

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Before we start, an important distinction needs to be made; Mixbux IS a DAW, but in the most basic sense of the word. Compared to major competitors, which have added more and more MIDI sequencing functionality as years have gone by, Mixbus feels pretty stripped back without any bells or whistles. What you get with Mixbus is a multi track audio sequencer that’s been set up to emulate an analogue environment – virtual analogue mixer and all.

Right out of the gate, Mixbus has some obstacles to overcome before you can even use it for the first time. Compared to more or less every other piece of music software for the Mac that seamlessly integrates Core Audio and Core MIDI, having to install and configure Jack – a virtual audio patchbay – and MIDI Patchbay – one for MIDI – before you begin immediately counts against Mixbus.

there’s no doubt that having EQ and compression available on each channel strip allows for a very quick start to the mixing process

Harrison’s vision obviously extended further than simply developing their software as plugins and into the idea that the entire analgue experience is what makes mixing with their consoles special. We couldn’t help but see that as somewhat flawed though, considering that be that as it may Mixbus IS a digital solution no matter how much you skin the GUI to look like a traditional desk. What Harrison have tried to do is apply their knowledge of both workflow and sound quality tips and tricks to the DAW, and there’s no doubt that having EQ and compression available on each channel strip allows for a very quick start to the mixing process.

We tested the output of Mixbus against Logic 9, and found that an eight track sum, with all levels at flat, Logic sounds more transparent and true to the component tracks than Mixbus but Mixbus’s mix was slightly better composed in the bassiest areas of the session. Both sessions needed the master fader altering by the same amount to avoid going into the red, but Mixbus’s going into the red sounded, by design, a little easier on the ear.

We do like the way that throughout the signal chain the pseudo soft clipping and overloading is maintained throughout, and you can push levels into a hollow, distorted mess easily enough but will never hear the tell tale signs of digital clipping. Relying solely on your ears is a little strange at first, as sitting in front of a computer screen and mixing digitally has always come with a certain workflow, but it’s a method that those of you who’ve never gotten on with DAW mixing’s technical nature will likely find refreshing.

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Harrison Mixbus

Harrison Release Mixbus 2.0

Harrison Consoles have a long history of making real life desks, so they ought to know a thing or two about the advantages they have in a mix.

Harrison’s custom DSP algorithms emulate its hardware mixers

More recently, however, they entered the digital domain with a concept that comes from a slightly different angle to its competitors, and it’s just been given a 2.0 overhaul. The Harrison Mixbus 2.0 is a DAW whose main focus is on tracking or importing audio into its sequencer and then mixing down almost totally in the box by taking advantage of Harrison’s custom DSP algorithms which emulate its hardware mixers. A knob per control interface gives the software the look and feel of an analogue mixer, and features inline Harrison designed EQ, filters and compressors per channel, with analogue summing and tape saturation emulation. There’s also the facility to load in AU or LADSPA plugins – that’s right, there’s a Mac and even a Linux build, but no Windows version.

The most important thing, of course, is how it sounds – something we’re keen to find out ourselves soon, so keep your eyes and ears peeled as Oh Drat brings you the lowdown soon.

FL Studio 10

Review: FL Studio 10

FL Studio has a long heritage on the PC; from humble beginnings as a drum sequencer it’s evolved into a fully featured DAW. It’s unique in many ways, though – is it for you?

Version Reviewed: 10.0.0.2

Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP & 2000 (32 & 64 Bit)

Minimum Specs: 2Ghz AMD or Intel Pentium 3 compatible CPU with full SSE1 support, 1GB RAM. (much) More highly recommended

Price: €212 for Signature Edition (reviewed), €141 for Producer Edition. Feature cut versions: €70 for Fruity, €34 for Express

The line between straight up DAWs and All In The Box softwares has gotten blurred over the years, what with the big DAWs including all manner of instruments and effects – in many cases simultaneously reducing the asking price, too.

The line between straight up DAWs and All In The Box softwares has gotten blurred over the years

Thus, whereas Fruity Loops was once a rite of passage for home musicians and producers FL Studio is now very much an alternative solution to the ‘big guys’.

Looks wise, FL Studio is perhaps the least homogenous of all the modern DAWs and soft studios. The software’s origins as a drum machine are apparent in the way that sounds, be they samples or instruments, are still loaded into a bank and afforded a step sequencer. There is of course a piano roll available, and the step sequencer is replaced by a standard MIDI note track when used.

Some aspects of FL Studio feel a little gimmicky, such as the visual flourishes when dragging that sometimes gets in the way of precision or the visualisation plugins (although the dancing mascot is undeniably cute). At the same time, one of our favourite things about any production equipment is its ability to creatively engage a user and eschew the idea that it should be simply utilitarian in design.

Some aspects of FL Studio feel a little gimmicky

There have been some important system level updates to version 10 of FL Studio, including a true 64 bit mode, which enables efficient memory management and utilisation of all the RAM in >4GB systems, automatic plugin delay compensation – a must for any serious DAW, ensuring true accurate timing of multiple channels with and without a variety of different plugins, new more direct audio engine options which may help to reduce your latency, and a project restore menu which tracks revisions to project files, including autosaves.

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Maschine Expansions

Native Instruments Announce Maschine Expansions

Native Instruments are more or less the busiest business in the business – it seems like barely a week goes by without a product announcement of some kind, and this week the Maschine Expansions series has been launched with two separate packs.

Maschine expansions comprise kits, sounds, instruments, and multi fx chains

Maschine expansions comprise kits, sounds, instruments, and multi fx chains, and the first two, Vintage Heat and Transistor Punch, are aimed at the warm and fuzzy and cutting edge ends of the sound spectrum respectively. You can hear some audio demos on NI’s site, and I’ll have them in for review shortly to give them the full treatment…

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