MOTU Digital Performer DP 72

Our DP pro finds his favorite version yet in this unique and feature laden update.
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At the very beginning of this MOTU Digital Performer (DP) Version 7.2 software review, I didn’t realize what huge updates had been made in the aggregate, as V. 6.0’s 32-bit file creation, scalable sidebar windows, convolution reverb, LA-2A emulation, etc., remained as the high hurdles of what was, in my opinion, the best DP software improvement to date. However, it wasn’t long before I realized how much V.7.2 can positively affect my workflow, and that its biggest and best change isn’t even audible.

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Features

Like many of us, MOTU continues to be unapologetically dedicated to its Mac OSonly platform for DP. (“We strongly feel that this is the preferred platform for professional audio applications,” offers MOTU). MOTU recommends Mac Snow Leopard OS V.10.6 for V.7.2 in order to take full advantage of multi-threading and multi-processor operation. Audio Units (AU) — Apple’s system-level plug-in architecture — is still DP’s portal to third-party plug-in implementation; I incorporated Universal Audio’s UAD-1 platform with this review (RTAS and TDM are usable only when using the Digidesign Audio Engine, or DAE).

DP 7.2 has joined the virtual guitar party with a full slate of guitar rig sound creation tools. Not unlike DP’s powerful pitch correction abilities or convolution reverb, these emulations are designed to directly compete with popular third-party programs. DP 7.2 has nine classic guitar pedal emulations, amp modeling, speaker-cabinet emulation, with a wide array of microphone/placement options.

Other new features include an EQ/Dynamics module with multi-processor presets (for saving your favorite complicated plug-in chains as a single preset), which is built right in the channel strip of the DP mixing board (accompanied by mini-windows showing your EQ/Dynamics metering and main parameter controls for quick adjustments). The new Channel Strip option allows a 1 to 4 column-wide window, allowing easy access to most of the channel controls for whatever track you’ve selected. Problems with large files have been addressed through Wave64 file format support, which allows recording of files larger than 4 GB. All MOTU and AU plug-ins now support sidechain inputs. Fades are not stored as files any longer, but computed in real-time (minimizing session data). Sample rate conversion quality has been improved; it does indeed sound better. Finally, musicians will appreciate 7.2’s improved lead sheet abilities with in-line lyrics and chord symbol tools.

Those with an iPhone, iPad or 3G iPod Touch will be delighted to know that DP is now quite controllable with DP Control (a free download at the Apple App store) via your “i” device and Wi-Fi. DP Control includes 2-way communications to the host and most all of the basic controls for recording or mixing. Yes, remote control and all the possibilities that entails (mixing from a comfy spot, DAW control as you self-record, EQ’ing as you walk the room, etc.) have already thrilled many users.

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But I’ve saved the best for last, as DP now has the ability to deeply customize its GUIs appearance; the difference in how it allows you to work is far more notable than I originally thought.

In Use

The last time I reviewed DP, I complained about its overly bright and inflexible GUI. I didn’t realize just how much of a difference some significant aesthetic updates could make. DP 7.2 users can now select from a total of 12 color schemes, ranging from simple brightness options on the standard look or much darker/cooler ones like Plasma (an ultra-modern look with blacks, blues and translucency) or Carbon Fiber (my favorite, with muted grays making for very minimal eye fatigue). Metering within a scheme can be the “stock” color, a single custom color or a custom color gradient.

The colors of your individual tracks are also independently controllable with 36 different schemes. These track colors can be selected to be the waveform colors, the waveform’s background or both.

The overall effect of such desktop personalization (when combined with the unexpected conveniences of the Channel Strip window and the EQ/Dynamics mini-windows) is much more helpful than I could have imagined; I now have total DAW control and, as a result, am working faster than ever. With my two LCD monitors I have the exact windows I want with resizable sidebars; cells adjoining specific windows; muted backgrounds; colorful waveforms; abundant meters flashing in compatible colors; plugin controls at the ready without opening their window: together, it’s just enough visual information without unnecessary distractions. As a result, the onset of ear and eye fatigue is simultaneous for me; now my mouse wrist tires first — time for a DAW controller, eh? [MOTU comments: “DP has extensive third-party controller support, including the AVID Artist Series, which is by far the best choice currently for professional users ... there are really good choices (in controllers) out there right now for DP ... take the iPad, for example; you can mix with both hands on it using the DP Control app. Very cool!” — Ed.]

Guitar amp simulations are limited in variety, but high on quality. The Custom ‘59 guitar amp models classic Fender Bassmans and Marshalls (JTM 45 Plexi and JCM 800 2203) with four inputs, four input tube types, three preamp types, three tone stacks and four power amps. The amount of versatility here is tremendous but not complete, as modern very high-gain sounds require additional boost from a virtual distortion pedal. [“Our goal,” responds MOTU, “is authenticity of the modeled amps and cabs. We will likely expand the variety of tones with future models, but our goal with these Marshall-based amp models was not to give you every possible guitar tone, but to give you true-to-the-original guitar tones ... and true behaviors when you mix and match amps and cabs (and stomps).” — Ed.]

DP’s new guitar pedal simulations are all reasonably authentic and borrow their GUI look from the hardware that inspired them. You’ll find an Analog Chorus (Boss CE), the Delta Fuzz (silver Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi) and RXT (ProCo The Rat) to all be faithful enough and eminently useful. My faves were the D+ Plus Distortion (MXR Distortion Plus) with its adjustable impedances and the Uber Tube (Ibanez Super Tube) with selectable silicon or germanium diodes that sounded warm and crunchy. The Wah Pedal is powerful and flexible, but tricky to use without automating deep parameter control and the new Tuner is big, readable, fast and super accurate (accuracy to one Hertz). What really makes a Custom ‘59 and some pedals work, however, is coupling them with Live Room G.

With LiveRoom G you can choose between five cabinet types, ranging from 4x12 to 1x8 versions and place them in a space. Cabinet drive and damping factor can both be controlled or defeated. Three mic positions (channels) are possible: channel 1 (mono), ranging from front on-axis, front offaxis, front near, rear and far omni; channel 2 with identical options as channel one; and channel 3 is stereo with X/Y, ORTF, Blumlein and wide omni. With channel pre-delays, mutes, solos and faders, you have all you need to make guitar DIs sound like miked amps, much to my initially cynical surprise. I had an acoustic guitar track sounding like a Les Paul with a full stack absolutely flooding a room! Different mic model options, room options and more amp models in Custom ‘59 would be necessary to claim “state of the art” guitar virtualization, but Live Room G definitely delivers.

It should be noted that MOTU’s Masterworks Collection is now available for those desiring MOTU’s best plug-ins for other DAW platforms (RTAS, Audio Units and VST3 are supported). The collection can be configured for mono, stereo and surround applications and users can share presets amongst different host DAWs. The Brit console-inspired Masterworks EQ is my go-to EQ for individual tracks, where gain and Q are dynamically interactive and dependent, just like many analog circuits. Five bands are provided with two shelvable bands, a low- and a high-pass filter and full parametric control of any band. The ability to see a FFT real-time frequency analysis right along with the EQ curve is absolutely golden. You can clearly pinpoint dominant frequencies (even as chords change), grab and drag EQ points, getting results easily.

The Masterworks Leveler is an emulation of the classic Teletronix LA-2A optical compressor/limiter with the opto-coupling characteristics that so many of us know and love. The Leveler has the usual controls plus controls for Vintage, Modern, Slow or Fast operation and a big (IEC standardized) VU, thankfully without the LA-2A faceplate. Oddly enough, the Leveler requires time to warm up just like hardware, but this option is defeatable. [According to MOTU, the Leveler’s “warm-up behavior is not odd at all, nor is it defeatable. In fact, this behavior speaks to the authenticity of our model ... our Leveler’s warm state can be saved and recalled. With a real LA-2A — and by design in our Leveler plug-in — you can get different ‘warm state’ behaviors depending on the audio material you run through the unit during its ‘waking’ stage, a process referred to as ‘priming the cell.’ In the Leveler, a menu lets you save the warm state and recall it without retraining the cell. To get to that unique warm state, however, you must let the plug-in go through the waking process the first time, just like the real hardware. Our novel computational model reproduces the LA-2A’s observed physical behavior astonishingly well while consuming minimal host CPU resources. The leveler’s ability to save and recall the T4 optocoupler cell’s ‘warm state’ represents a unique advancement in the field of modeling plug-ins.” — Ed.] I have found the various modes of DP’s LA-2A to offer useful tonal variations, reasonable CPU draw and a sound that differs from my UAD-1 LA-2A emulation; it differs in a flexible and versatile way.

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ProVerb is an honest to goodness convolution reverb on par with third-party apps. The depth you require is all here with a sub-menu for “places within the spaces,” the ability to import impulse responses (IRs) from third parties, or your own creation (sample your favorite room for its great decay or help match Foley/ADR to existing dialog/FX in film production). The full range of parameters can be adjusted in real time without long processing delays, and even ducking is available for automatic reverb level riding.

My DP complaints are few. Most windows (i.e. Mixing Board or Sequence Editor) require the clicking of a small triangle to unveil lists of parameters; I’d make that frequently clicked triangle much bigger and iconic. I would like more options with metering peak holds, especially in the Meter Bridge.

Summary

For almost 10 years now, I’ve been happy with my Mac/MOTU DAW platform, but never as happy as I am now with its classy plug-ins, quality emulations, GUI customization and powerful pitch correction.

Prices: $795 list/$499 street; $395 (upgrade from competing product or AudioDesk); $195 (upgrade from previous DP version); $295 (upgrade from Performer)
Contact: MOTU | 617-576-2760 | motu.com

Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC since 1995.