Some of us remember aligning analog tape machines while others of us have always had a complete recording studio, sans inputs, in our hands. Many have lived through the transition, experiencing both extremes. Yet today, essentially all of us live on “the grid.” With the rich collections of plug-ins, all incredible in nature, now included with, or available for, digital audio workstations (DAWs), the DAW is more complete than ever before. And while we all love hardware, racks and stacks are increasingly unwieldy luxuries while our most frequent tools are computer programs. That said, in 2017, all major DAWs have gained some significant ground in terms of performance, wide-ranging compatibility, cost/availability and intuitiveness.

With Avid’s Pro Tools 12.8 DAW update, the leading DAW manufacturer joins forces with Dolby to include a suite of Atmos workflows into Pro Tools | HD, to effectively allow audio content creators to work more easily within burgeoning multichannel and object-based audio formats. The new features within 12.8 include built-in Dolby Atmos panning, support for 7.1.2 stems, Avid pro mixing control surface integration, automation with the Dolby Rendering and Mastering Unit (RMU), and support for Avid NEXIS shared storage, increasing workflow speeds and overall efficiency.

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Meanwhile, PreSonus has upped the ante on its Studio One DAW with a new performance package called Studio Magic, a plug-in suite for the Studio One 3 DAW for Mac and Windows. It is available free to registered owners of any currently available PreSonus audio interface or mixer, including AudioBox USB, AudioBox i-series, and Studio-series interfaces and StudioLive Series III, StudioLive AR USB, and StudioLive RML-series mixers. The software bundle includes seven plug-ins in Studio One Native Effects format; among the Studio Magic tools are Arturia’s Analog Lab Lite, a collection of physically-modeled classic analog synths, organs, string machines and pianos from Arturia’s V-Collection of virtual instruments; Brainworx’s bx_opto compressor; two Eventide plug-ins—the H910 Harmonizer and 2016 Stereo Room Processor; Lexicon’s MPX-i Reverb; Mäag Audio’s EQ2 two-band equalizer; and the SPL Attacker micro-plugin, which employs the same Differential Envelope processing technique as the legendary Transient Designer.

“Including the Studio Magic Plug-in Suite with all PreSonus audio interfaces and mixers gives customers a better creative experience and more value with their purchases, while further enhancing PreSonus’ well known hardware/software integration,” explains PreSonus’ Steve Oppenheimer. “The Studio Magic Plug-in Suite was made possible thanks to incredible partners. Although PreSonus provides Studio One free with its interfaces and mixers, the Studio Magic plug-ins are in VST, AU, and AAX formats for use with any compatible DAW.”

A broad-based audio firm such as Yamaha, encompassing both Steinberg and Yamaha Commercial Audio, gives its hardware users every good reason in the world to adopt anything between the most basic Cubase to a sophisticated Nuendo rig as a primary working DAW. For example, Yamaha notably embraces all pro-grade DAWs in its NUAGE environment, and up to three different DAWs can be directly switched and controlled from a NUAGE fader unit.

“Yamaha and Steinberg are committed to bridging the hardware and software paradigms with the highest level of integration for a seamless operator experience,” comments Nithin Cherian, PA product marketing manager, Professional Audio Division, Yamaha. “The flexibility of controlling multiple DAWs, immersive panning, and high levels of user customization and scalability allow the engineer to deliver projects in an ever-changing landscape for music, post and gaming work.”

In May, Cakewalk marked its thirtieth year in existence with the continuation of its significantly evolved DAW, now in its advanced SONAR-branded form. Cakewalk was launched in 1987 when Greg Hendershott, a student at Oberlin College, turned some software he had developed into an MS-DOS-based sequencer. To celebrate 2017, Cakewalk has been annoucning a number of special offers, ancillary products and discounts associated with its DAW.

Meanwhile, Harrison’s Mixbus is now in version 4.0, with the DAW available for Mac and Windows as well as Linux OS. Mixbus v4 incorporates hundreds of new improvements, most of which were inspired by the requests of Mixbus users. Key updates include a new generation GUI, various new parameters and the notable ability to load VST plug-ins on Mac OS in addition to AU and LV2, enabling simpler Mac-to-Windows-to-Linux sharing of sessions. Further, Mixbus v4 is session-file compatible with other Ardour-using workstations, including Ardour5, Waves Tracks Live and iZ Session.

Recognizing Pro Tools’ ubiquity in the marketplace, Harrison also offers .ptf and .ptx file import as a new item in Mixbus v4’s Session menu. This feature allows users to select a Pro Tools session file and import its raw audio and MIDI data.

Meanwhile, iOS-based DAWs such as WaveMachine Labs’ Auria Pro as well as streamlined versions of desktop-borne DAWs such as Cubase, among others, continue to gain users as new-generation content creators use the computer most comfortable to them. For mobile OS users, a notable improvement has been increased numbers of hardware devices ready for iOS’s Lightning connections.

While many small (think 1 to 8 input) devices today either ship with a free DAW and/or a plug-in collection, even larger pro I/O units are flanked by available accouterments allowing nearly any conceivable connection, or protocol shift, making for fully networked systems with a DAW at the heart. And as DAW-centric AoIP networks become more of a reality or end game, some manufacturers, such as Focusrite, have not only burgeoned, but become collaborators with DAW manufacturers themselves. Case in point: Focusrite’s largest multichannel preamp in its Red Series of interfaces, the 8Pre, offers 64 ins, 64 outs and eight digitally-controlled Red Evolution mic pres as well as options of Thunderbolt 2, dual Pro Tools | HD DigiLink and Dante AoIP connectivity, all included. The unit’s software control allows recall of settings and stereo linking, as well as configuration of HPF, polarity flip and individual phantom power, further automating DAW-friendly hardware in the way users have become accustomed to manipulating their choices in software.

Whether the ubiquity of DAWs forced today’s vast array of DAW-friendly devices or not, the audio production I/O options we have 2017 are incredibly versatile, offering ever-increasing performance while paving the way for more innovations in the future.