This affordable yet “serious” workstation offers easygoing workflow and straightforward operation
By Tim Hatfield and Christopher Walsh
PreSonus, which has earned a reputation for quality audio gear at affordable prices, cemented its status as a serious player with last year's rollout of the StudioLive 16.4.2 digital mixer and Studio One DAW platform.
The Studio One platform -- which evolved from KristalLabs' Kristal Audio Engine freeware app -- is apt for PreSonus and many of its customers: the artist/engineer. This review focuses on Studio One Artist, which offers 32-bit audio processing and is bundled with PreSonus FireStudio products. Studio One Pro adds features including 64-bit processing, an integrated mastering suite, CD burning, MP3 import/export, and AU, VST2, VST3 and ReWire support.
There are many things to like about Studio One Artist. Compatible with Mac OS X, Windows XP/Vista, and Windows 7 operating systems, it's very well-thought-out. When launched with a PreSonus interface, the software recognizes the interface and opens a start page. By selecting "Create a new Song," pre-programmed templates auto-configure software inputs and assign them to the appropriate hardware inputs (the user can also create song templates). Sample rate and bit resolution, Timebase and tempo stretching are also selected and tweaked here, along with interface and external devices.
Studio One Artist may not do much radically different than Pro Tools, Logic or any of the others but it offers a very nice, seamless workflow. The Mix, Edit and Browse functions are simultaneously displayed on the Song window; the fact that one does not have to continually jump between windows is a welcome change, especially in the artist-as-engineer scenario.
Otherwise, Studio One Artist will be familiar to users of its DAW brethren. Tracks are vertically arranged; controls are on the left; and a browser is on the right. A zoom menu allows multiple viewing sizes and horizontal and vertical zoom sliders, along with another slider for zooming a waveform or event within a track in and out. Functions like track naming, color-coding and grouping, as well as additional layout options, are achieved with one or two clicks.
Recording controls are accessed via mouse click or key command. As one would expect, each track features Record, Solo, Mute and Monitor buttons. Transport, tempo, metronome and volume functions are at the bottom of the Song window.
We both observed that the addition of a PreSonus FaderPort, their $130 USB controller, would allow better transport operation for increased speed and control. [According to PreSonus, Studio One automatically recognizes FaderPort; Studio One’s MIDI Link feature allows quick, easy mapping of FaderPort’s fader to any parameter controlled by a knob or fader -- not just volume. - Ed.] Maybe a Studio One package with included FaderPort would be a worthwhile bundle? We sure would’ve liked that.
Nonetheless, we love the logical and speedy workflow of Studio One: when you put an effects send on a channel, for example, a return is automatically created. Adding inserts is equally simple; the same goes for markers, which can be added, or removed, with one button command during playback.
Studio One Artist really shines -- and surprises -- in its browser offerings. The DAW packs 20 diverse Native Sound plug-ins; the 150-instrument strong SoundPack from Native Instruments' Kore Player; Native Instruments' Guitar Rig LE; four virtual instruments; Toontrack EZDrummer Lite; and more than 1.4 gigabytes of loops. The organization, and especially the ease of drag-and-drop -- of effects onto a track or an entire group, or an instrument or synth onto a MIDI track -- allows the user to keep pace when creativity is flowing. [In Studio One V. 1.5, users can also drag back to the browser to save effects settings, effects racks, VI patches, audio clips, and MIDI clips. See the sidebar below for more on V. 1.5 features. - Ed.]
What's more, these sounds and effects are really quite good, especially given the price of the entire package. Each effect comes with multiple presets, and users can create and store their own. We found that the compressor works especially well. The Native Effects suite also includes the Ampire amp-emulating effect, and even an instrument tuner. No more worrying about hardware tuners and 9V battery life!
Another feature that really impressed us is Studio One's MIDI editing interface. It's not really different than any other DAW's, but the interface is easier to see and thus operate. We also noted that the program is stable and ran well, on both an old Apple PowerBook G4 running Tiger and an iMac G5 with Leopard. [For V. 1.5, OS X 10.4 Tiger support is dropped. However, explains PreSonus, the new version runs native (Cocoa) in Snow Leopard. - Ed.]
Having so much information in one window was a little confusing, at first, to someone accustomed to other DAWs; but in a short time Studio One Artist became second nature. That isn't a criticism: this is a serious DAW for serious audio production (at a seriously good price -- $199 street).
BIOS: Tim Hatfield has been a freelance producer/engineer/mixer in NYC for 20 years and is co-owner of Brooklyn’s Cowboy Technical Services.
Christopher Walsh is a freelance writer, musician and engineer based in New York.
Applications: Studio, project studio, mobile recording, live recording, songwriter/composition, audio for video production.
Key Features: Compatible with Mac OS X, Windows XP/Vista, and Windows 7 operating systems; Mix, Edit and Browse functions are simultaneously displayed on the Song window; vertically arranged tracks; flexible zoom menu; one/two click functionality; drag and drop functionality; virtual instruments included; intuitive sampler; works with key commands from Pro Tools, Cubase, and Logic DAWs.
Price: $249 list
Contact: PreSonus Audio Electronics | 225-216-7887 | presonus.com
Studio One V1.5 updates
As this review of Studio One went to print, PreSonus released a major, feature-packed update to Studio One, Version 1.5, now shipping. It is free to registered Studio One Artist and Studio One Pro users; a free 30-day demo of Studio One V. 1.5 is available to anyone via this link: http://www.presonus.com/demo-studioone/.
Key additions include support for video playback and sync for composing to picture, major enhancements to the Browser’s drag-and-drop capabilities, the ability to draw your own automation waveforms, automation points that are locked to events, a new key-command editor, changing tempos within a event without slicing the event into separate events, and support for song and album art. The built-in SoundCloud client enables you to upload audio files from Studio One directly to the Web. The MIDI features have been improved, and PreSonus added a new MIDI file player in the Browser. Also enhanced are the Native Effects plug-ins and added new ones.
For a full list of V. 1.5 updates, visit the PreSonus website.
PreSonus FireStudio Mobile
The PreSonus FireStudio Mobile impresses straightaway, housing 10 inputs and six outputs in a 5.5 x 5.5 x 1.75-inch, 4.5-pound box. It is bus-powered: with a laptop, a set of headphones and one or two mics, the FireStudio Mobile presents extensive, yet compact, field-recording possibilities. Talk about traveling light! If you're running on battery supply, you can record anywhere. A wall-wart power supply is also included.
The front panel includes two PreSonus XMAX Class A combination XLR/TS mic/instrument preamps, their gain knobs and 48V phantom power engage button; 3-LED level indicators; headphone output with gain knob; main stereo output gain knob; and power indicator light.
The unit's back panel adds six more balanced, quarter-inch line level inputs; a DB9 connector for included breakout cable for S/PDIF and MIDI I/O; and two FireWire 400 ports, the second allowing daisy-chain to any other FireStudio interface, including the aforementioned StudioLive 16.4.2 mixer. The second FireWire port can also be used as a pass-through to connect a hard drive to your computer.
Like Studio One Artist, the FireStudio Mobile allows up to 24-bit/96k recording, another bang-for-buck feature that illustrates just how far "down-market" high-quality performance extends today.
We took a PowerBook G4, the FireStudio Mobile, a pair of Earthworks mics and Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones to a local club. We put up the two room mics, and ran three stereo subgroups out of the club's analog mixer into the FireStudio Mobile's line inputs -- drums and bass; guitars; and vocals -- and ended up with a nice live recording.
The XMAX preamps sound quite good. They do lack the dimension of a high-end -- and high-priced -- mic pre: the top isn't quite as open. But there's a nice, warm sound to them; they're certainly as good as anything in a similar product, maybe even a little better.
Later, we decided to write and record a song with the FireStudio Mobile. We sampled a few keyboard, bass and drum sounds in Studio One Artist, triggering them with an old M-Audio Oxygen8 controller via the MIDI inputs. Later we added acoustic and electric guitar via inputs 1 and 2.
These two projects -- recording a live band in a club and composing in a home-studio setting -- illustrate this rig's finest attributes. Everything -- interface, software and external device -- integrates well. The compactness of the FireStudio Mobile and the features included in Studio One Artist make setup and operation so easy, and the portability factor is terrific. Lastly, the FireStudio worked nicely with both Digital Performer and Logic 9.