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DAWs Broaden Reach, Deepen Feature Sets

Steve Harvey shares an overview of recent updates to popular DAWs used in the pro audio world.

The last few months have been momentous when it comes to digital audio workstations aimed specifically at the pro audio world. Most of the DAWs commonly used by professional operators in recording and post applications have had major new editions released, some followed by a stream of smaller supplemental updates that have nonetheless gifted users with significant new features.

Avid Pro Tools

The 800-pound gorilla of the pro audio DAW world remains Avid’s Pro Tools. In late 2017, Pro Tools 12.8 introduced integrated Dolby Atmos workflows to Pro Tools HD for audio post pros and brought Cloud Collaboration to Pro Tools First, the company’s no-cost introductory software. By the release of Pro Tools HD 12.8.2, Avid had also included VR workflows, with the ability to work with 1st, 2nd and 3rd order Ambisonics (4-, 9- and 16-channel tracks and buses, respectively). Integration of the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation (originally developed by Scotland’s Two Big Ears startup)—a plug-in collection for creating spatial audio for 360 videos that includes a spatializer, 360 VR video player, encoder and rendering SDK—delivered an end-to-end pipeline.

Avid’s traditional software update numbering paradigm went out the window at the beginning of this year with Pro Tools 2018. Updates are now indicated with a numbered suffix denoting the month of release. The most recent, Pro Tools 2018.4, for instance, was introduced in April. The flagship product is now Pro Tools Ultimate, formerly known as Pro Tools HD, which provides the maximum track count, performance and surround sound features.

The new Track Presets feature enables users to store track data such as automation, sends and plug-ins and their associated settings, including clips, if desired, then recall selected parameters on a case-by-case basis. A typical application—as noted by Bay Area music company Temp Love elsewhere in this issue—is to store favorite settings and recall them for, say, an orchestra tracking session or a vocal recording.

Related: Avid Connect: “Getting Stronger Every Year,” by Katie Makal, April 26, 2018

A new Playlists feature organizes multiple takes nested within a track and, in Pro Tools 2018, enables the user to send selected clips to a Target Playlist for comping. New shortcuts further speed the workflow and, being EUCON-mapped, may be controlled via softkeys on Avid S6, S3 and Dock control surfaces or the free Pro Tools Control iPad app.

One final highlight: Leave a MIDI or instrument track record-enabled during playback and Pro Tools will listen in, capturing any performance on those tracks. After stopping playback, the performance may be added to the timeline, then edited, if necessary. The latest update also includes enhanced MIDI editing shortcuts.

Avid Pro Tools •

Apple Logic Pro X

Another pro favorite, Apple’s Logic Pro X, introduced several updates in release 10.4 earlier this year. What the developer describes as new advanced tempo detection technology, for example, now automatically manages tempo across all the content in a project. Dubbed Smart Tempo, the feature allows users to record without a metronome or click track, then have their performance play back in sync with any other tempo-based content or features in a project.

Apple also launched several new plug-ins for Logic Pro X, including ChromaVerb. The algorithmic reverb plug-in features a colorful interactive interface and simulates a wide range of acoustic spaces.

No self-respecting DAW software is complete without some vintage emulations. The latest update’s Vintage EQ suite features three plug-ins—Vintage Graphic EQ, Vintage Tube EQ and Vintage Console EQ—that will no doubt be popular with fans of API, Neve and Pultec hardware.

Software Tech: Apple Drops Intel? What Does It Mean for Us? by Craig Anderton, June 26, 2018

Step FX uses three step sequencers and an X/Y pad to add rhythmic movement to tracks by arranging filters, effects and independent step sequencers to control treatments over time. Phat FX adds warmth, punch and presence to synths, guitar, bass and drums.

Apple Logic Pro X •

Ableton Live

Ableton Live initially caught fire with DJs following its 2001 launch, though now it is as likely to be employed by musicians and composers for in-studio work as for live performances. Ableton Live 10 was a long time coming, so the list of new features is long and deep, but several stand out.

Ableton acquired developer Cycling ’74 at the beginning of the year, so it’s no surprise that there is full Max for Live integration in the latest update. Max for Live isn’t in the standard version but is included in the extra-cost Live Suite.

Live 10 brings welcome news for those working in surround sound: Max for Live offers new multichannel audio routing capabilities. MIDI hardware integration has also been enhanced with Max for Live, with devices now able to send and receive SysEx data. Ableton Live ships with dozens of Max for Live devices—plug-ins that can be defined by the user—and there is now quite an ecosystem of third-party devices. Live 10 also sees the addition of Meet Wavetable, Echo, Drum Buss and Pedal devices. Additional tools include the capacity to develop custom control surfaces for outboard equipment.

Software Tech: Can Pro Audio Software Sustain? by Craig Anderton, May 24, 2018

Some pretty basic audio functionality has also been improved. For example, users can now bounce to MP3 and FLAC file formats. And there is now true stereo panning, where previously stereo tracks were panned via a balance control.

Ableton Live •

Steinberg Nuendo

Nuendo from Steinberg—a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha Corp. since 2005—made quite a splash in its early days, especially when the developer promoted the DAW through its Nuendo Producer Group, which included the likes of Frank Filipetti, Chuck Ainlay and the late Greg Ladanyi. These days, it also serves as the core of the Nuage editing and mixing system, which has developed a following, especially in the audio post community.

Nuendo 8.2.10, released in June, was essentially a maintenance update, but its predecessor, Nuendo 8.2, released in May, introduced the double-precision 64-bit engine, new automation tools, double the quantity of insert slots and revamped effects of Cubase Pro 9.5. It also included a new Ambisonics bus system for authoring audio for 360 VR videos, and additionally supports most current VST 3 VR authoring tools for DAWs.

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That’s just the first step in Nuendo’s plan to become a complete solution for VR audio production out of the box. More tools, including an Ambisonics panner, a head-tracking system and a binauralizer, among others, will appear in another maintenance update later this year.

Also new in v8.2, VST MultiPanner provides full support for multichannel and immersive formats such as 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos, and can pan mono, stereo and surround channels to Auro-3D. Graphically, it provides a 2D-Top View and a 3D-Rear View that may be linked together or controlled individually to perform several movements in three-dimensional space. Dolby Atmos support includes a channel-based 9.1 bed mix and an object-based Dolby Atmos mix when using a Dolby RMU.

Steinberg Nuendo •