MOTU Digital Performer 6.02 Review

DP GETS A FACE-LIFT AND SOME POWERFUL NEW FEATURES
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Digital Performer has always offered Mac users a huge range of features and robust native performance. With the release of version 6, the program adds a slew of impressive improvements, including a redesigned user interface (see Web Clip 1), dedicated comping features, convolution reverb and leveling-amplifier plug-ins, Final Cut Pro import and export features, and plenty more.

The Look

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FIG. 1: DP6 includes a spiffier, brighter look and streamlined functionality.

When you first open DP6 (see Fig. 1), you'll notice that the program has had a makeover and now sports a more modern look, with a color palette that's lighter and less austere. Nowhere is this new look more strikingly manifested than in the Mixing Board (see Fig. 2).

Although the Tracks window looks fairly similar to past incarnations, it has been given a key new feature: vertical zooming, which allows you to make the tracks larger. I've always found the Tracks window text to be uncomfortably small, so this capability is a welcome addition.

The Feel

More significant than the cosmetic changes are the functional ones. A lot has been done to rearrange the DP work space to make it more efficient. The first part of the restructuring that you're likely to notice is the Control Bar, which has been simplified significantly, with a large field in the middle devoted only to the main and auxiliary counter readouts. The pullout drawers from previous versions, which contained project audio settings, buttons for accessing the various windows, and more, have been removed. These features are now accessible through the Sidebar windows or the new, customizable Shortcuts window.

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FIG. 2: In DP6, the Mixing Board sports a totally new look.

Across DP6, Mini-menus have been changed. They now reside as drop-down menus on the right of windows and are hidden under disclosure triangles. Also, it's now easier to open and close the Sidebar on either side. Double-clicking on the divider at the edge of the Consolidated window accomplishes that.

Also new are Inspector palettes, which are small info windows that can be displayed in a Sidebar cell or popped out of the Consolidated window and floated. These include Snap Info, Cursor Info, Event Info, Selection Info, and Sound File Info. Having these windows readily available improves your ability to quickly ascertain status of a range of parameters and settings.

For those short on screen real estate, a new feature lets you open multiple tabbed windows within a single Sidebar cell. You can then switch back and forth between the different windows by clicking on their tabs.

The new Universal Track Selector is a window that opens in a Sidebar, which updates to match the track selections in the active editor window. Although I see its utility, I would have also liked an option for it to work as a master track selector, which would override track selections in the individual windows. That way, you could be working on a set of tracks in, say, the MIDI editor, and then switch to QuickScribe without having to reselect those same tracks.

Comp This

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FIG. 3: DP''s new comping features let you select sections from your takes to construct a comp track (at top).

Probably the most talked-about new features in DP6 are the ones dedicated to track comping. Getting started is easy. First, open the Sequence window and pull down the Track Settings menu of the track you're comping. Next, select Show Takes, and all the takes you've recorded of the track are displayed underneath the track, slightly indented, and are ready for comping or to be turned into separate tracks (see Fig. 3). Using the Comping tool, you then drag over the sections in the takes that you want in your comp, and they appear as separate Soundbites in the comp track at the top. There you can further tweak them and easily add crossfades. I would like to see an automatic crossfade option added. While some users will want to add their own crossfades, others might find such an option to be a time-saver.

You can set up as many comp takes as you want. Just make sure to create a new take before comping again, or you'll overwrite your previous one. You can even comp your comps. Overall, the comping features are intuitive and well thought out. And unlike similar features in some other digital audio sequencers, you don't have to use them unless you want to, which I like.

Plugging into DP6

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FIG. 4: DP6 introduces two stellar new plug-ins: ProVerb (left) and MasterWorks Leveler (right).

The sexiest additions to DP6 are its two new plug-ins, ProVerb and MasterWorks Leveler (see Fig. 4). ProVerb is an excellent-sounding convolution reverb that's markedly superior to DP's other reverb plug-ins. You can choose from a nice selection of impulse responses (IRs) ranging from European concert halls to instrument plates to parking garages. For future revisions, IRs of classic reverbs and delays would be a useful addition.

You don't have to wait to expand your IR collection, though, because ProVerb lets you load your own. (You can find downloadable IRs at a variety of Web sites.) In fact, you can load any audio file as an IR (if it's in a supported format), which makes ProVerb a useful tool for sound design as well.

Other controls on ProVerb include four bands of EQ, Mix, Predelay, and Damping. A feature called Dynamic Mixing utilizes a compressor designed to duck the reverb tail, dependent on the input level and user settings. The idea is to let elements sound wet, but not overly so.

The other new plug-in is MasterWorks Leveler, which models a Teletronix LA-2A. It offers both compressor and limiter settings and four response curves: Slow Vintage, Fast Vintage, Slow Modern, and Fast Modern. The differences between the Vintage and Modern settings are subtle, but to my ears, the latter sounded more present and the former more tubey. You also get Gain Reduction, Makeup Gain, and Response knobs. As a whole, MasterWorks Leveler is easy to set and sounds really good. The additions of ProVerb and MasterWorks Leveler make DP's plug-in collection even more well rounded.

A related improvement is the new Plug-in Set feature. It lets you set up custom sets with only the plug-ins that you want active. Doing so will allow you to reduce RAM usage and make DP launch a lot faster. By holding down the Option key when you start DP, you can choose which Plug-in Set to load.

Burning for You

DP6 also marks the debut of the program's CD-burning capabilities. Within the Bounce to Disk window, you can choose Burn Audio CD from the Project Format menu. DP will then prompt you to insert a blank CD once the bounce is complete. You can alternatively choose to create a disk image for later burning.

The boundaries of the CD tracks can be defined by Soundbites or by Markers (or both), which gives you a lot of flexibility. You're also able to set the Pre Gap, which is the space between tracks, to a duration of your choosing. Note that CDs burned by DP are not Red Book compliant. If you're planning on professional replication, you'll need to burn the final disc in another application.

Thus Rendered

In previous versions of DP, if you wanted to include a virtual instrument track as part of your bounced-to-disk mix, you had to first freeze that track and turn it into an audio track before it would show up in your bounced mix.

As a result of DP6's new prerendering features, freezing before bounces is no longer necessary because virtual instrument tracks are now automatically prerendered unless you specify otherwise in each plug-in. Prerendering saves CPU because those instruments no longer have to render in real time during mixdown.

Score One for DP

For DP users involved with audio for video, the new Final Cut Pro XML import and export features will be of great interest. They allow for updating of files between DP and Final Cut Pro, either dynamically, with both apps running on the same machine, or through the sending of XML Interchange files back and forth. For composers dealing with constant picture changes (a fact of life in film and video projects), these capabilities promise to make life easier.

By invoking the Import Final Cut Pro XML command, you're able to see revisions from a Final Cut Pro file graphically indicated in DP's timeline and shown in an itemized list. The revised video itself does not get imported, so you'll need to obtain and import that separately in order to view it in DP. Going the other direction, you're able to send revised audio to Final Cut from DP, where it shows up in a new sequence in Final Cut's Browser window.

The Long and Short of It

Overall, I am very impressed with this latest incarnation of DP. From a performance standpoint, it's solid. I've been running it on a Mac Pro under OS X 10.5.6, and I've found it both speedy and stable. From a feature standpoint, the program has become even more comprehensive. I really like the new user interface, and the work-flow improvements have further streamlined DP's intuitive production environment.

Mike Levine is EM's executive editor and senior media producer. He hosts the monthly Podcast “EM Cast.”

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