MOTU Digital Performer 5 - ProSoundNetwork.com

MOTU Digital Performer 5

Put two studio engineers together in a room and within minutes one will inevitably be asking the other “So, what do you edit with?” If one answers Digital Performer (DP), it will probably be accompanied by a wry grin, an arch of the eyebrows and a tone not unlike someone sharing a secret.
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Put two studio engineers together in a room and within minutes one will inevitably be asking the other “So, what do you edit with?” If one answers Digital Performer (DP), it will probably be accompanied by a wry grin, an arch of the eyebrows and a tone not unlike someone sharing a secret. MOTU seems to have created a product that engenders long-term loyalty and many passionate users for their flagship sequencer/editor DAW. Why such enduring passion?

Fast FactsApplications

Studio, post production

Key Features

Mac; multitrack; Intel Mac-compatible; expanded meter bridge; track folders; four new editing tools; event marking to QuickTime video; six new virtual synths; editing enhancements

Price

$795 new; $195 upgrade from previous version of DP; $395 for upgrade from Audio Desk or competing product; $295 upgrade to PCIe-424 from PCI-424 or PCI-324

Contact

MOTU | 617-576-2760 | www.motu.com

Product Points

Plus

• Faster operation

• Improved metering

• Enhanced editing features

• Great new synths

• Improved sync to video features

• Intel Mac compatibility

Minus

• Requires powerful computer for best results

• Intel Mac users need to upgrade PCI card

• Upgrade costs in general

The Score

Well worth the cost and effort for this very mature

and powerful DAW

Originally known for its pioneering MIDI sequencing capabilities, DP has slowly grown into one of the most elegant and comprehensive workstations around. Widely respected for its transparent audio, logical layout and ease of use, DP is still only Mac-compatible (as it has been since its inception). This Mac-only approach has been very appealing to DP users, and we all know how much unflinching loyalty Mac users seem to have to their OS (myself included). With stability, functionality and flexibility, DP has earned a user base that is rich with composers - those scoring for film or television and many songwriter/musicians as well. Now with their much anticipated Version 5.0 ($795)) MOTU has tackled the Intel Mac situation, created a number of handy new tools and maintained their legions of diehard power users.

Features

Suffice to say that we dare not tackle the entire DP application, with a manual over 1,000 pages long (!), time and space clearly do not permit. But let’s take a look at what makes DP 5.0 different and its substantial new feature set. DP is still a native-based program, relying on your Mac’s CPU(s) for all its computation and processing power. The plug-in format remains MAS (MOTU Audio System) although AU (Audio Units) plug-ins are also compatible. MIDI sequencing and composition are still finely supported; in fact many feel that DP’s MIDI implementation is still the finest around (again, we dare not go after a fish that big in this little boat).

With the new breed of Macs sporting Intel processors, compatibility is an issue on any professional’s mind. DP 5.0 is written with universal binary code, which allows it to function perfectly with any PowerPC Mac and the newer Intel Macs as well. It is with the Intel Macs that DP is said to really shine, due to a maximization of code efficiency within Apple’s Core Audio. Although this reviewer is on an older G4 Mac (with dual 867 processors, Mac OS X 10.4 and 2GB of RAM), I still saw increases in performance and speed. MOTU actually recommends at least a G4 with dual one GHz processors, OS X 10.4 or higher and one GB RAM or more for smoother scrolling and faster executions.

Users of Intel Macs are reporting much larger track counts, more simultaneous plug-ins and generally faster computation. Considering that the new Macs allow up to 16 GB of RAM, one can only imagine how fast operations could be with this new combo! MOTU’s PCI-424 FireWire-based interface will need to be upgraded to the new PCIe-424, to allow use of the new PCI Express slots in the new Macs (the original PCI-424 will suffice for non-Intel Macs).

It should be pointed out that DP 5.1 is already available as a free update for registered users of 5.0. MOTU claims that 5.1 should be entirely compatible with non-Intel Macs, but cannot guarantee it at this time. Mac OS X 10.4.4 is highly recommended for proper performance of DP 5.1.

MOTU has finally addressed the need for more comprehensive metering, a common complaint from anyone who is displeased with the typically mediocre metering found in many workstations. With MeterBridge, DP now allows metering of any audio path, whether it be input, output, bus, audio bundle (MOTU’s term for hardware output bus), instrument track (virtual instrument) or track (MIDI track). This meter bridge can live in its own positionable window and be resized to any height and width (allowing selectable degree of detail or measurement). Along the lines of monitoring is a new feature that allows standard input monitoring or blended, where one can monitor track output and input simultaneously (useful to performers who wish to ‘sing along’ prior to a punch-in). Tracks can now monitor input regardless of “record ready” status, using a dedicated button for each individual track.

Session management has become a problem for a number of power users in our world of many multiple takes, comps and versions of a song. This problem has been improved upon with DP’s new track folder capabilities. Folders can be placed within folders to as many levels as necessary, with color coding and the ability to view the entire grouping in any DP window that shows tracks.

A handy new editing feature is the ability to apply gain (or attenuation) to a soundbite (MOTU’s naming of an audio clip) and have that gain applied to all instances of that soundbite. This volume envelope will follow any instances of that soundbite. There are also new features that aid in the ease and rapidity of complicated editing tasks. One is trim, which now has its own tool in the toolbar, as do the other three new tools. Trim allows one to trim the edge of a soundbite without having to go all the way to its leading edge to grab and drag it. Another is Slip, which allows one to reposition a waveform within the boundaries of a soundbite. A tool that caught my attention is Slide, which enables the moving of the start and end points of a soundbite (together at the same time and in the same direction) without moving the audio inside the soundbite. Roll completes the new foursome of features. Roll allows the grabbing of the seam between two soundbites and the repositioning of that seam, revealing audio in one soundbite while covering up a portion of the other (including any crossfade that is present).

Overall productivity should be enhanced with a number of tweaks on DP’s editing features. When one opens the waveform editor (DP’s window for the exacting editing of soundbites) features of a soundbite can be modified by using tabs for tempo, pitch, loop and volume parameters. For the first time, DP’s standard transport controls will command the waveform editor (with synchronized scrolling of the sequence editor - the window that displays soundbites on the timeline). Further enhancements include full support for Pro Tools 7.0 (actually 6.7 or later), streamlined voice allocation of tracks and an improved beat detection engine (for those who like to quantize the timing of performances to a timing grid).

Scorers of TV and film will want to try out DP’s new abilities with punches, flutters and streamers. These visual markers can now be inserted directly into a QuickTime movie within DP. These marks cannot only be exported with the QuickTime movie, but can also be repositioned numerically as the edit decision lists (EDL) get changed (nearly a certainty at the eleventh hour, as anyone of us who sync audio to picture can attest). Composers will welcome the addition of a visual click to DP’s QuickTime window. This click shows up as flashing circle within QuickTime, or can be routed to an external video monitor via external hardware. Beat, tacit and pattern clicks are now supported as well, giving users the ability to program clicks independent of tempo, clicks that are silent or clicks that are arranged into any pattern one desires via a shorthand method, respectively.

Electronic musicians will have no reason to lose their enthusiasm for what many consider to still be the best composing software anywhere. MIDI Keys is a new feature that turns your computer’s keyboard into a MIDI controller - useful for rudimentary MIDI programming and those of us who are too cheap to buy an external controller. Virtual synths are all the rage today and MOTU hasn’t let us down here either.

Bassline is an analog-style monophonic synth that combines a saw and a square wave for its eponymous purpose. Polysynth is a single oscillator, polyphonic pad that emulates classic synth pads of the 80s. Modulo is a dual oscillator subtractive synth with extensive editing and shaping abilities. Nanosampler is, you guessed it, a sampler that promises ease of use and simple drag/drop operations. Model 12 is a sample-based drum machine with two aux sends and the convenience of being able to open multiple instances, i.e. drums and percussion. Proton is DP’s final new synth offering, sporting FM synthesis for that shiny 80s sound that has suddenly become vogue again.

In Use

Installation and initialization of software is normally a portend of things to come and DP was no exception. A single disc contained the entire app and began loading hundreds of synth samples and drum samples first, all as AIFF files, then the MOTU audio system (MAS) and then the program itself. This process was quick, taking up less than 10 minutes! Upon first opening DP (using a preexisting session from DP 4.61) I was finally prompted for my key code and name, DP indicated it was “reading project” and then I was up and running. All of my session preferences remained, including plug-ins, automation and color schemes/positioning.

Many keystrokes and operations seemed to be more responsive and quicker, although a few commands such as manually repositioning the scrolling wiper (the vertical green line that indicates playback position) on-the-fly seemed a bit sluggish. However, it is functions such as this that MOTU indicated may be subpar with a Mac sporting less than dual 1 GB processors, such as mine. The opening of plug-ins during playback caused a brief audio glitch that wasn’t present in older versions and changing plug-in parameters during playback caused momentary stalling in the graphics. All the plug-ins worked perfectly however, without my manual attempts to cause glitches, and met the challenge of my complicated automation of them (changing filter frequencies, changing thresholds, bypassing etc.). This included my Waves Masters mastering plug-ins, which didn’t even require an update and were cruising along effortlessly, despite my intricate automation and their abnormally high processor demands.

MOTU’s new virtual synths were a breeze to employ and will be very useful when clients need me to “add just a little synth here and there.” One simply clicks Project> Add track > Instrument track > Add Instruments and Voila! ... you’ve now got a virtual instrument track and its accompanying MIDI track, side-by-side in the sequence editor and mixer windows. Any of the virtual synths can now easily be auditioned using MIDI keys. One simply clicks Project> MIDI Keys and my QWERTY keyboard became a respectable MIDI controller with access to controller parameters and everything. The keys aren’t nearly responsive enough for composition during playback, it works albeit sluggishly, but will be more than adequate for performing simple sequencing tasks.

Bassline was quite nice, with a patch called “Aggressive” being nicely buzzy and thick, while “Round” would be a decent P-Bass emulation in a pinch. Modulo was very classic sounding, with shimmer, gloss and character to its patches, nicely sweeping through some delightfully nasal modulations. The Nanosampler worked just fine, but came with a number of preloaded sounds that were pretty cheesy. Polysynth was pleasantly nostalgic of 80s pads and will be best suited for house and electronica type music.

Proton was the one that really got my interest though. Some very cool and expressive sounds were found within, even though (to be quite honest) its complexity somewhat vexed me. Given a little time this powerhouse will nicely sweeten my tracks, with expressive and colorful sounds. Model 12 offered plenty of sonic variety, including some decent “800 series” kits (Roland type), acoustic kits, a few ethnic drums and even some distorted sounds that were appropriately smashed and “splatty.” Beware as you audition Model 12’s sounds, some kits are rather quiet and others are considerably louder, easy on that subwoofer. All of the necessary parameters (tuning, groupings, envelopes, volume etc.) are there for quality drum programming; quality drum tracks without leaving my comfy Aeron.

All of this activity was nicely displayed, at least level-wise, with the new Meter Bridge. It can be opened in its own window or used in the consolidated window (MOTU’s clever multipurpose window that allows quick tabbing through multiple sources such as sequence, track, mixer or notation windows) as I prefer. I sized the consolidated window to fill the entire monitor on one of my two 17-inch LCD monitors. I then selected the audio bundles I wished to monitor and feasted my eyes. I now had a row of 10-inch high meters, with sensitivity from –57 dB to 0 dB. They could be clearly seen from across the room and had this marvelous clipping indicator that lights the entire meter red for about five seconds after a digital over... No more overs sneaking through on my watch! I could then easily toggle between Meter Bridge and mixer (or any consolidated window source) on one monitor and maintain my all-important sequence editor on the other.

Now it was time for some serious editing. I opened a session that needed some “backup vocal manipulation magic” - coal into diamonds kind of thing. Trim became my first ally. One quick click anywhere in a waveform and I now had a new trailing edge to my soundbite, no edge grabbing required. One can even hold option with trim and execute the same command on the leading edge of the bite. Slip and slide were both as useful as promised, audibly scrubbing audio as you move their positions around. I didn’t find myself constantly using these commands, but they were quite helpful where vocalists had mis-timed an entire line or partial line. Roll was harder to employ without some difficulty, although it could surely be a time saver for edits right at crossfades between soundbites. Typing in a capital “O” brings up the entire editing toolkit, which is longer and more powerful than ever (this toolkit even follows you to whatever window you’re working in).

DP’s pitch correction and beat quantizing features are both much more than adequate and perform as promised. Pitch correction allows redrawing of pitch envelopes by hand (mouse) or one can simply highlight a portion of the envelope and choose automatic pitch quantizing. It’s very effective to be sure, but drawing is a meticulous task and the “piano keyboard” displayed at the left of the waveform’s display (supposed to help you visually find the right pitch) is seemingly worthless. My ears should make these decisions anyway, not my eyes. The beat detection is good, but requires clearly defined transients to work properly, as anyone must reasonably expect. I didn’t go any further with this feature, as I am not fond of quantizing time in general.

Summary

Suffice to say that any current users of DP should seriously consider this substantial upgrade. Yes, the cost is also substantial at $195 (not to mention the PCIe-424, which upgrades for $295). However, considering productivity enhancements, new abilities and the stability of this DAW, it will easily pay for itself in short time. Power users do not delay (note to self), the time is now to get onboard the Intel-Mac revolution and start living the good life.


Review Setup

Apple G4 PowerPC Mac, dual 867 processors, 2 GB RAM, OSX 10.4; MOTU 2408 mkII and 2408 mkIII interfaces, PCI-424 card; dual 17-inch LCD monitors, Lucid GenX6-96 clock.