MOTU DESERVES SPECIAL RECOGNITION for consistently providing its users with the paddle necessary to continue the journey upstream. The most recent update to its flagship digital audio sequencer, Digital Performer, is a lot more than just Mac OS X upkeep; it also packs a host of great new features, from enhanced CPU-resource management and work-flow improvements to a new Beat Detection Engine and an improved DAE engine (the Digidesign Pro Tools audio engine) support.
HOT AND GUI
Presenting all of a digital audio sequencer's information on one screen has always been a challenge. The standard method is to break different components of the program into separate windows, allowing you to perform different tasks (such as arranging, mixing, waveform editing and so on) in different windows. The problem with this method is that when too many windows are open at the same time, your desktop becomes cluttered and windows get buried. Trying to squeeze several task windows into one main window doesn't work much better and can quickly become difficult to navigate — not to mention cause serious eye strain after many hours of use.
The minds at MOTU have met the challenge with a unique solution called the Consolidated Window. It's a fully customizable work space, in a single window, that is made up of multiple resizable panes that can display any of Digital Performer's individual task windows (such as the Track List, Sequencer Editor, Mixing Board, Waveform and Soundbites). There are three main sections: a Main body and Left and Right sidebars. Each section can be further split into several panes. The program has handy controls for folding or unfolding the Left and Right sidebars and quick-access tabs for displaying the program's most often reached windows in the Main body. Consolidated Window mode can be turned on or off, depending on how you like to work. Furthermore, you can pop windows in and out of the work space with the touch of a button.
MUCHO MAS ENGINE
A new trick for maximizing your computer's available processing power is Dynamic CPU Management. Now, Digital Performer's native plug-ins (such as MasterWorks EQ, MasterWorks Limiter, Plate, eVerb, Delay and Sonic Modulator) only take up processing power when there is a signal present. When no signal is present at a plug-in's input — and accounting for effects that trail off (such as a reverb tail or delay feedback) — the plug-in will not draw any significant processing power. This method of managing your computer's CPU resources makes perfect sense because there is rarely activity on every audio track in a session at the same time. You can see the results of Dynamic CPU Management in lower peak-CPU meter levels (in the Audio Performance window) and more available processing power for plug-in effects and virtual instruments.
Both MAS and DAE engines now support automatic, sample-accurate plug-in latency compensation — and that means no more mysterious DSP-induced delays that throw off your entire groove just because you inserted that last plug-in. If you depend on TC Electronic's TC PowerCore or Universal Audio's UAD-1 for additional DSP resources, you no longer need to hassle with delay-compensation utilities. The MAS engine also features more voices and buses than ever: 99 mono voices, 99 stereo voices and 99 stereo buses. That adds up to 297 possible audio voices (with automatic voice allocation) and 198 bus channels. The most recent update at the time of this writing, version 4.51, can display as many as 20 sends per track in the Mixing Board.
DIE-HARD DAE SUPPORT
For years, Digital Performer's support of the Digidesign DAE engine has offered the best of two worlds: the highly touted audio fidelity of Pro Tools TDM systems and DP's superior sequencing and arranging tools. To the chagrin of dedicated DAE-engine users, the initial Mac OS X version of Digital Performer, version 4.0, did not include a DAE engine mode. Support of the DAE engine was reintroduced in version 4.1 but lacked many important amenities (such as automatic voice allocation and TDM or HTDM plug-in automation) necessary to make working in DAE mode all that great. Glory be, version 4.5 addresses those shortcomings, and DAE mode is now better than ever.
Automatic voice assignment is now handled by Digital Performer as if you were working in Pro Tools. Automation is available for TDM, HTDM and RTAS plug-ins, letting you take full advantage of Digital Performer's cool automation features. For example, you can automate filter sweeps on beat and locked to a tempo grid as well as write tick-accurate effect-bypass moves. Instrument tracks, which function identically to native instrument tracks, are now available for TDM and HTDM instruments. Best of all, Digital Performer's MIDI Beat Clock can be transmitted to one or more instruments (such as Access Indigo or Spectrasonics Stylus RMX), allowing you to synchronize synthesizer components like LFOs and arpeggiators to your song's tempo.
AUDIO BEAT MAGIC
Previous versions of Digital Performer gave you the power to manually slice and time-stretch audio regions, letting you adjust loops and beats at a gross level. The new Beat Detection Engine goes a step further: Digital Performer now recognizes and can work directly from a beat's transients to conform a loop to new tempos and grooves. For example, you can now quantize a loop or extract a groove-quantize template from a loop without the need to first split the loop's beats into separate audio regions. If you're used to always needing to slice up a loop to gain control of its individual beats and groove, those days are over.
The new Set Sync Point at First Beat command lets you specify any beat as the first beat in a loop. Then, when you quantize or snap the loop to the grid, this beat will automatically fall on the downbeat. If you're working with a loop that doesn't start on the downbeat or you intentionally want to push or pull the rhythm by note values (such as eighth or 16th notes) for a syncopated effect, Set Sync Point at First Beat is extremely handy. You can drag and drop loops that contain tempo information — such as Acid WAV files, Apple Loops and REX files — directly into Digital Performer as well as set the Beat Detection Engine to automatically conform the loops to your session's tempo: superconvenient.
You can still manipulate loops by slicing and dicing audio regions, and if this is your preference, there's a new tool for this method: Create Soundbites From Beats lets you quickly slice up one or several audio regions (that have had their beats analyzed ahead of time by Digital Performer) according to the loop's transients right in the Sequencer Editor window. Threshold markers are set via a Sensitivity slider, similar to that in Propellerhead ReCycle or Digidesign BeatDetective. You can choose a guide region as the basis for creating the threshold markers, which is really useful for slicing a loop that lacks clearly defined transients relative to another beat. Slowing down a session's tempo can cause nasty-sounding gaps in the audio of a sliced-up loop, but the new Smooth Audio Edits command can fix the problem by filling in the gaps with “room tone” (a sort of audio smear of a region's tail, similar to ReCycle's Stretch parameter). Room tone can be derived from the selected audio region or another Soundbite altogether.
MASTERWORKS EQ AND MORE
A brand-new plug-in makes its entrance in DP 4.5: MasterWorks EQ. It's modeled after the channel-strip EQ found on classic British large-format consoles. There are five primary bands of EQ: LF, LMF, MF, HMF and HF. Each features Gain, Freq and Q parameters; a Bypass switch; and a selection of notch-filter types. The LMF and HMF bands include shelf filtering. Two additional high and low EQ bands have a Freq control and a choice of octave slopes: 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36. A display above the controls gives you visual feedback on the active EQ curve. MasterWorks EQ works well as a channel-strip EQ inserted on an audio channel or for mastering when inserted on the Master Fader channel.
For film composers, invaluable new QuickScribe notation features have been added to display cues in an industry-standard fashion. Cues, or Markers, can now be viewed on a timeline above each staff, relative to the bars, beats and SMPTE timecode locations. Meter, key and tempo changes can be inserted directly on the staff using pop-up menus tied to these score elements. Digital Performer 4.5 offers a much friendlier environment for scoring to picture than ever before.
There are also many new features that will noticeably speed up your work flow. A new bounce-to-disk function called Multi Bounce allows you to bounce multiple file types (including MP3) to disk simultaneously, a serious time-saver. User plug-in presets and many factory presets are now organized into subfolders. You can now modify Marker locate numbers independent of a Marker's position in the Marker list, making it much easier to keep your Go to Marker keystrokes organized, even when you insert a Marker in the middle of other Markers. Bypass automation is now available for Audio Units plug-ins. And, of course, there's more to tell about Digital Performer 4.5, but I'm out of space. It's an impressive release with many new features that are sure to woo serious composers, producers and remixers who are tired of software companies that seem oblivious to the needs of professionals.