In 2006, KristalLabs Software Ltd., a startup company founded in Hamburg, Germany by Wolfgang Kundrus (one of the main software architects behind the original versions of both Cubase and Nuendo for Steinberg) and Matthias Juwan (also a past employee of Steinberg), began working on two software projects known as Capture™ and Studio One® in cooperation with PreSonus in the USA. The partnership brought great results and was further strengthened when PreSonus Software Ltd., based in Ireland, took over all of the assets of KristalLabs, including the personal expertise of its founders and the whole development team.
The original version of Studio One was first introduced at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in 2009 and featured a groundbreaking user interface with extensive use of bidirectional drag-and-drop and was the first cross-platform 64-bit DAW. It was also the first DAW to incorporate SoundCloud™ Web delivery in 2010 and also the first DAW with a fully integrated mastering suite. Studio One version 2 was released in late 2011 and added features like direct upload to Nimbit® direct-to-fan online sales and marketing in 2012. Introduced to the world on May 20th 2015 via three live webcasts, PreSonus have now given us Studio One version 3, packed with new features as well as a stunning graphical makeover, so let’s get started and see what it has to offer.
Bolt Out of the Blue?
One of the first things you’ll notice about Studio One 3 is redesigned GUI. Gone are the Atari ST-like graphics of old, with its pale, some may say washed-out grey look (along with every shade of blue you could possibly imagine), replaced with one of the cleanest, most up-to-date looking interfaces I’ve seen. Some DAW’s seem so confused at the moment, being an odd mixture of fattened interfaces while retaining a realistic, 3-D look for their plugins. However, while Studio One’s previous plugins remain graphically unchanged, they don’t look that out of place amongst it’s newer additions. Encouragingly though, the developers stated during the live PreSonus webcasts that older plugins would be reworked in future versions, which is not something you’d get from many other companies, who seem to delight in letting their instruments and effects devices eternally age without any sign of an update, so this scores very highly with me indeed.
A DAW of Two Halves
A feature you might already have heard about (due to the buzz being caused about it since it’s release) is Scratch Pads, but what exactly is it? Well, there’s often times when working on a particular project or idea that you’ll suddenly find your brain heading off in another direction entirely, but rather than open a new song, you might (for the sake of speed), just skip to the end of your current project and record whatever has come into your head there instead, so that you can come back to it at a later date. The only problem with this method is that these ideas are often lost, as you can’t remember where you put them and as the months go by, the only people who possibly get to hear them are mixing and mastering facilities who assume this little hidden gem at then end of your track was actually supposed to be there on purpose!
Thankfully, PreSonus have come up with a far more elegant solution called Scratch Pads. Scratch Pads provide a powerful way for you to experiment with different arrangement ideas or versions of a song section (or a totally unrelated idea), without destroying your current work. All you do is simply drag sections, content, and events into the Scratch Pad, experiment with them, and then drag them back once you’re done editing. You get unlimited Scratch Pads which are saved inside your Studio One 3 Song file. How cool is that? Plus, with the ability to have 10 songs open at once, you could always export your idea to a new song if it’s unrelated to the track your currently working on.
Eat, Sleep, Arrange, Repeat!
Another cool addition in Studio One 3 is the Arrange Track. What’s so special about that, you may ask, as there’s a few other DAW’s on the market with similar ways of keeping your song in order, right? Similar, yes, but PreSonus Software have given us their unique twist on things and made it their own. Here, you can (after instantiating an Arranger Track in your song and marking out sections of your composition, which automatically name themselves with relevant titles like “Intro”, “Verse”, “Chorus” and so on), select a section and all of the parts in that section move with you, without you having to manually cut or duplicate anything! They can also be moved over to the Scratch Pad, for even more versatility and experimentation. You’ll find it hard, even after just a few hours of using these two features, to go back to using your previous DAW with ease!
Tag, you’re it!
One things that can often let a DAW down badly, is the browser, as (especially with older DAW software), they often feel like a bolted-on afterthought. Not so with Studio One 3. One of the key features of this software since it was first released was its ability to drag and drop almost anything to anywhere and the latest version doesn’t disappoint. It adds tag based searching (though, sadly, you cannot add your own tags at this time) to the DAW’s browser. This really speeds things up when used in conjunction with another welcomed addition, graphic icons for both internal and 3rd party plugins! It’s very simple to add an icon for your favourite plugin. Simply launch the plugin, select the pulldown menu of the plugins name, scroll down to where it says “Update Plug-In Thumbnail” and click, you’re done! Another treat coming to the browser is the PreSonus store, with new content for your to preview, buy and download as you need it. This is a great addition to the already established PreSonus Exchange – not forgetting the SoundCloud integration – as Studio One was the first DAW ever to offer it directly.
Contented with Content?
While we’re talking about the browser, Studio One 3 comes with 34.68GB of content, which is almost the same as Apples Logic Pro X. Not many DAW’s come with such a substantial amount of content (the only other that springs to mind is Ableton Live Suite 9), but is what’s provided any good? The short answer is ‘YES’! The included content includes a legacy section for previous Studio One users (which is 7.24GB of the aforementioned 34.68GB), but the vast majority on offer here is new. There’s a large selection of sounds for the new Presence XT sampler and a wide range of loops and one-shot samples as well, covering most modern (and not so modern) styles. In short, there’s something for everyone and more than enough to get you started before having to add more. As I’ve already said, this is not something that can be said of other, more established software companies and it’s a testament to the thought and planning that’s gone into this update.
You’ll be shaken and stirred!
Lets take a look at some of the new plugins included with Studio One 3 Professional. First up is a new synth, called Mai Tai. If you’re starting to think that there’s a slightly alcoholic nature to the instrument names in Studio One 3, then you’d be right! Apparently, the number of oscillators (sound generators) used by a particular instrument relates directly to the number of ingredients in the cocktails they’re named after. Strange, but true, I promise you.
Anyway, back to Mai Tai. What is it? Well, it’s Studio One’s new polyphonic analog modelling synth with 2 oscillators (with sub-oscillator) and 2 LFOs. It gives you the ability to create massive retro ’80s bass sounds to euphoric EDM leads. You can also change character of the sound itself, with the ’80s, Normal, High and Supreme tonality settings and its Multimode filter offers sounds ranging from vintage analog synths (such as say a Moog or Oberheim) to current, state-of-the-art “zero-delay filters” found in virtual instruments costing several hundreds of pounds. Not only that, but Mai Tai’s oscillators and LFOs have a free-running mode, like you’d expect on a real analog synth. When you use these modes in conjunction with the flexible 16-stage modulation matrix, you can get some very convincing sounds indeed! To my ears, Studio One’s dynamic new synthesis engine really shines and was well worth the development hours it must have taken to create it.
Mai Tai is not the only new instrument plugin inside Studio One 3. There’s Presence XT, a completely new version of the original Presence plugin that previous owners of Studio One will be instantly familiar with. It comes with a generous 14GB of content and a redesigned, more intuitively laid out user interface. Presence XT is equipped with articulation key-switching and powerful scripting capabilities for very realistic sounds, thanks in no small way, to a powerful scripting engine. Many of the presets have custom controls for unique sound parameters, which is a very welcome addition on a plugin that’s included with a DAW. Another bonus is that it not only reads the original Presence content, it also reads the most popular sampler formats on the market today (EXS, unprotected Kontakt, Giga, and SoundFont), with no conversion necessary. All you have to do is locate your sampler library in the Studio One Browser and simply drag and drop presets into the arrangement.
One of the greatest new features for me is the new Multi Instrument plugin. This is one of the most simplistic (yet immensely deep) ways I’ve seen of creating anything from a giant wall of sound to a simple split or layer and there’s several ways to go about it. If you already have an instrument plugin on a track and, let’s say, you’ve changed your mind and want to try out a different one, when you drag it over to the track, you’ll see a new pop-up that asks you if you want to replace the existing plugin or combine it with the new one. You can also just select the Multi Instrument plugin from the start and drag and drop instruments (and Note FX) into it that way, so it’s really up to you.
The Multi Instrument plugin works with both VST’s and AU’s, so great news for Mac users like myself. Each Instrument has it’s own note range, so if you want to set up split points, it’s a breeze. Simply drag a slider to the desired point above the virtual keyboard on each plugin inside the Multi and you’re done. The Note FX can control individual instruments, or multiple instruments at once by adding a splitter. You can also use the Input Filter Note FX to create velocity splits between instruments. What’s insanely great though is that each Multi Instrument has a mix bus and all enclosed instruments are automatically routed to it. In the mixer, the individual instrument output channels are all accessible through a collapse/expand button and (for future recall), any Multi Instruments you create can be saved as a user preset.
While we’re talking about the Multi Instrument plugin, I have to mention the new Extended FX Chains functionality. The Insert section on each mixer channel now has an edit button, which opens Macro Controls with access to the routing view of Extended FX Chains. Extended FX Chains can be any combination of serial or parallel effects and a new Splitter tool offers three ways to divide the audio path:
1. Normal (parallel with multiple splits)
2. Channel (L+R)
This allows for very accurate (not to mention staggeringly creative) audio processing, with up to 5 split points. All editing, like with everything else in Studio One 3, is drag-and-drop. An inspector view on the left hand side shows a micro view of the selected effect and also provides access to the plugin’s presets and parameter controls. Another bonus is that each plugin used can also be accessed from its tab in the same window. Be warned though, it’s addictive and hours will pass like seconds if you get too engrossed!
Running Out of Room
Sadly, I’m not able to mention all of the great new features of Studio One 3 in detail here, as there’s just not space for all of them in this short-ish review, but I will say that there’s all kinds of goodies waiting for your exploration in the shape of Rotor (which re-creates the classic sound of a Leslie cabinets), Bitcrusher (a powerful low-fi plugin that combines overdrive, bit reduction, down-sampling and clipping into a single unit), as well as the new Note FX (an Arpeggiator, Chorder, Repeater and Input Filter). There’s a host of other things too, like support for Apple Retina Displays and displays of up to 4K in resolution, plus native support for the Slate Media Technology Raven series of touchscreens. It’s also worth mentioning that time stretching of audio files has also been improved by the implementation of the latest zplane élastique Pro 3 algorithm.
I could go on for days about things like scalable faders, colour coded mixer channels, the excellent built-in project mastering suite, the free Melodyne Essentials (included with the Professional version only, complete with an upgrade path to Melodyne Editor), Macro and so on, but I’m sure that you’re already starting to understand why the tagline of “The Next Standard” really rings true about this software, rather than it just being meaningless marketing hype, so I’ll stop right there.
To conclude then, I don’t think I’ve ever been as impressed with an update to a DAW as I am with the one PreSonus have given to Studio One 3. I have dabbled with Studio One since its very beginning, but could never get past my dislike of the previous versions GUI. I am glad to say that with this update, they have changed that completely, so now I can happily using it with nothing to put me of or deter me.
One of the best sound engines I’ve ever heard, ever.
One of the best GUI’s of just about any DAW on the market today.
Excellent new plugins (that are actually useful) for your productions.
14GB of content (for Presence XT) and almost 10,000 additional loops and samples.
Highly customisable user interface with Apple Retina Display and 4K display support.
Multi-touch with native Raven support (in fact, the only DAW to currently offer it).
A free iPad app (coming soon to Apple’s App Store), offering a high degree of controllability.
The new Scratchpad and Arranger Track features are exceptional compositional aids.
Melodeon Essentials included for free with Studio One 3 Professional.
Sample One still only has a single stereo output (multi-outs would be a welcome addition).
It may make you dislike your current DAW so much that you’ll never be able to go back!
I’m struggling to think of more than that…
So, I guess the real question is, if you don’t currently use Studio One, should you switch or add it to your sonic armoury? Well, when you look at the current state of the DAW market, it’s a very strange place to be right now! We’re seeing so-called “industry leaders” announce new versions of their DAW which seem to offer very little in the way of new features, but come with an overly inflated price tag for things you may never need or use. If you’ve experiencing that feeling of bewilderedness yourself, then Studio One 3 may seem like a Godsend. It has features that (once you’ve used them for even just an hour or two), will make you wonder how you ever lived without them and a workflow that’s so customisable to your needs, that your musical output will grow and grow, with nothing to get in the way. The diehard Mac user may never switch from Logic, but I’m sure even they will be tempted to check it out and quite possibly add it their arsenal of music production tools.
Still not convinced? Then I strongly urge you to download the 30-day free trial and in no time at all, you will be, I promise you!