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Review: PreSonus Studio One 3.0 DAW

PreSonus has upped the DAW ante another notch with the trailblazing release of Studio One 3 Professional (priced at $399.95 for the Professional version, $99.95 for Artist, and free for Prime).

PreSonus has upped the DAW ante another notch with the trailblazing release of Studio One 3 Professional (priced at $399.95 for the Professional version, $99.95 for Artist, and free for Prime). Surprisingly, this Version 3.0 rather drastically expands the program’s feature set and increases processing power without compromising its simplicity and ease of use. New features include the addition of Arranger Tracks, Scratch Pads and a creative new approach to audio routing with Extended FX Chains.

PreSonus has also added fairly deep multi-touch integration to this release—a big plus to many users. The full Studio 3 Professional install includes a hearty sample library, virtual synths and plug-ins in addition to the application—over 30 GB in total. Don’t fret, mobile users: 300 MB is enough to be able to efficiently operate the application. I have everything installed on my studio computer, but since hard disk space is a factor with my laptop, I only have the basic program along with a couple of software synths installed. Studio One avoids the copy protection dongle as well. I’d have a problem with this if they only allowed one install, but they generously provide five installs with purchase.

I’m fortunate to have the PreSonus Studio 192 Mobile USB 3.0 audio interface on loan—look for its full review in PSN later this year—and I’ve been able to spend time using it alongside Studio One 3 and they integrate seamlessly. The 192 Mobile packs flexible connectivity and excellent sonic fidelity along with monitoring and mixing controls in a compact, somewhat portable design.

The new layout overhaul makes previous versions of Studio One look dated and old. The color scheme leans towards the classic PreSonus blue, sliver and gray, but there is a significant control over the luminance and hue so the overall look can be tailored to the user’s visual preference.

The workstation still lacks a smart tool—keeping it from catching up to an editing workflow as fast as Pro Tools—but all of the required tools to cut, splice, move, merge and manipulate clips of audio and MIDI are included and are easily selected. The Arranger Track has the appearance of an enhanced marker track, but it locks the tracks to the song sections, allowing users to treat song sections as basic patterns. This makes it easy to move, copy, paste and duplicate complete sections of the song in the arrange page. The Arranger Track allows complete alterations in the arrangement of the song to be made almost immediately. Also incorporated in the Arranger track is an inspector panel that lists the current order of sections.

Where the Arranger Track makes it quick and easy to manipulate a song’s arrangement, Scratch Pads allow the user to experiment and improvise without the risk of messing anything up. Scratch Pads are essentially virtual sketchbooks within the Song page, where entire sections of the project can be copied for further tweaking and refinement without affecting the main arrangement. Any instance where you would create a new project copy (by using the “Save As” or “Save New Version” option), you can now utilize the functionality of the Scratch Pad while working within the same project file. A song can have an unlimited number of Scratch Pads.

The Extended FX Chains feature allows any combination of serial or parallel effects to be chained within a console channel. The Routing View opens a window, giving users access to the flexible chaining environment. This can be used to integrate Studio One’s native effects and any third-party plug-ins in any way imaginable. The processed audio signal can be split into multiple frequency bands (by setting the Splitter tool to Frequency Split), which can be treated individually with completely different effects chains—pretty awesome. This makes it possible to build custom multi-band effects chains inside Studio One’s native mixer. As with effects in Extended FX Chains, virtual instruments can be combined in the Multi Instruments View, laying the foundation for unlimited layering and creative sound design possibilities. Virtual instruments can be layered and processed with any amount of virtual effects. Instrument chains can be saved as Multi Instrument presets.

Studio One 3’s browser now has a loop section and, instead of only being able to search by name, you can now also search by style, character and instrument type. This is also true of any content purchased through the online PreSonus shop. The PreSonus Exchange allows users to share presets, templates and effects chains and the SoundCloud section allows users to drag files directly from their SoundCloud account into their projects.

There are two new additions to Studio One’s arsenal of virtual instruments: Mai Tai is a polyphonic analog-modeling synthesizer and Presence XT is a sampler. Both instruments incorporate the same LFO, filters and envelopes (three in Mai Tai and two in Presence XT) as well as the same effects section and modulation matrix. Mai Tai incorporates flexible modulation features, built-in sound effects, zero-delay filters and a long list of killer-sounding presets that are categorized under titles such as Pad, Poly, String, Lead and Bass. There is also a templates folder that provides starting points for building customized sounds.

Presence XT is an improved version of the old Presence sampler. Presence XT is based on Studio One’s new dynamic synthesis engine supporting disk streaming for larger-sized samples and it includes a new sample library that is quite good. It includes 15 GB of content (less in the Artist and Prime versions) consisting of electric and acoustic instrument sounds, orchestral instruments, guitars, pianos and sampled synths.

Also new is Note FX, a collection of four MIDI plug-ins that include an arpeggiator, chord generator, repeater and input note filter. Peak meters are found on every channel except for the main and sub outputs, which feature Peak/RMS meters, and can also show loudness levels according to Bob Katz’s K-System. Each channel also has a Pro Tools-style gain reduction meter that displays the combined effects of all dynamics plug-ins inserted in the rack. Currently this only works with PreSonus plug-ins.

I’ve been using Studio One 3 since its release and it is truly a game changer. The interface is highly intuitive and the drag-and-drop integration of the browser window facilitates an extremely pleasant and creative workflow. The built-in help functions make learning the program or learning a new area of the program easy and quick.

There is a Studio One Remote iPad app available in the Apple App Store that provides easy control over the DAW. It simultaneously shows 32 channels of metering along with song position, the Arranger track and 10 pages of command shortcuts. It works extremely well, and best of all, it’s free.

With the major DAW players taking baby steps with each release, the release of Studio One 3 is a giant leap towards PreSonus DAW domination. Will that happen? Stay tuned.