We introduced our readers to Studio One in our August 2010 issue. In that review, I noted that while the computer-music world was full of DAWs, there was still a place for new ideas and innovations. I felt that Studio One, while a young and unfinished application in some ways, had an appealingly clean layout and worked reliably and well. It was already doing some things no other DAW could do, and did a number of other things more smoothly than the existing DAWs did.
Fast forward to early 2012, and Studio One has been updated to version 2; this review was completed just as the significant 2.0.5 update shipped. What was once an upstart newcomer to an established hierarchy has grown into a solid, mature DAW that leaves very little to be desired from a feature-richness standpoint, while offering workflows that are cleaner and faster than what you'll find in much of the competition.
Just creating a grocery list of all the new things Studio One version 2 ("S1v2") can do would fill the space we have for this article, so I'm going to focus on some of the new features that I regard as standouts. Throughout this review I will occasionally mention the different versions of S1v2; be aware that while the program originally shipped in Artist and Pro versions, there are now four different S1v2 packages -- Free, Artist, Producer, and Professional.
The one feature that has everyone talking about Studio One 2 now is its integration with Celemony Melodyne, considered by many to be the very best intonation and timing correction plug-in available. (To learn more about Melodyne, check out Joe Albano's excellent article in our May 2011 issue.) I don't consider "everyone talking" to be a cliché, either; at a recent industry dinner, a rep for a much older and better-established DAW spoke to me respectfully of how PreSonus "definitely got everyone's attention with that Melodyne thing."
From the user's perspective, the feature itself is so trivially simple to use that describing it is almost an anticlimax. Working closely with Celemony, PreSonus has set up Melodyne singletrack (the new name for the entry-level program formerly known as "Melodyne essential") to work within Studio One so that the lengthy process of audio transfer (import) and pre-analysis has been reduced to a single command. Highlight the audio you want to work with, hit Control-M, and bang, you're working in Melodyne singletrack, in its own pane in the main DAW window. See Figure 1.
And this isn't a dumbed-down or 'lite' version, either, nor does it only work with Studio One. This is the same version of Melodyne singletrack that Celemony itself sells for $99, and it installs as a standalone and as a plug-in (VST, VST3, AU, and RTAS) that any other DAW can use. Studio One 2 Professional comes with a full license as part of the purchase, and Studio One 2 Artist and Producer have an upgradable 30-day trial version. If you already own a more advanced version of Melodyne, like Melodyne assistant with its suite of advanced pitch correction tools or Melodyne editor with its "DNA" polyphonic audio analysis, those will integrate into Studio One in exactly the same way.
This is a brilliant move on PreSonus's part. Pitch and time correction tools are not easy to write, and each DAW has its own, often painstakingly built from scratch... only to be largely ignored in favor of a purpose-built third-party correction product like, well, Melodyne. Now an industry-standard correction tool is simply bundled with Studio One and neatly integrated as if it was part of the DAW, bypassing the whole problem!
One of the features people wanted to see in Studio One was easy comping of multiple takes. S1v2 now offers a very fast and elegant comping system that does what you can do with other DAWs but with fewer keystrokes than many of its competitors.
When you record multiple takes of a track (say, by recording in loop mode), the graphic display shows the most recent take. However, a right-click on the track reveals a menu where you can open up the track's takes into their own graphic displays as layers under the display for the "real" track. You can then click and drag to select sections of each take and quickly audition them in place.
If you hear a section of a take that you like, just double-click it and it is moved into the main track. You can build up a complete comp without ever changing tools, and once your comp is built, it's easy to move the boundaries between sections, adjust their levels, adjust fades at the start and end of each section (Studio One puts tiny ones in place automatically to remove clicks and pops), and more.
Figure 2 shows a comped vocal from seven takes, with individual sections edited for level and start/endpoint fades. This fairly simple example took me only a minute or two to create, with very musical results.
The comping system doesn't just work for single tracks. If you've grouped two or more tracks together, you can comp one of them and the other tracks in the group will follow your movements and assemble comp tracks that perfectly match what you've done.
Folder Tracks and the Track List
Speaking of grouping tracks... One of the make-or-break features of any DAW is how it lets you organize very large or complex sets of tracks so it's easy to see where you are and what you're doing. S1v2 adds two new features that greatly simplify and clarify track display.
Folder Tracks are exactly what they sound like... sets of tracks that have been gathered into a single folder. At first, this folder is simply an organizational item, placing a bunch of tracks into a single lane to get them out of the way. But you can also turn these tracks into a group with a single click, and then create a group bus for them in the Mix window just as easily.
The Track List is a special window that shows tracks, layers, automation lanes, and folders. Within this list you can hide and show tracks to clarify what you're looking at, and even save sets of tracks as presets that you can quickly call up or send away. Work on all your drums, then hide them and work on all your vocals... all with a click or two.
Another place where grouped tracks can be worked with quickly in S1v2 is with the new Audio Bend toolset for quantization, beat matching, groove extraction, and editing. Once again, a minimal number of clicks produces a very powerful set of beat cleanup tools.
Using Audio Bend on a track or group of tracks is as simple as right-clicking and asking for transient detection. Once the track has been analyzed, you can then use a special tool to drag transient markers back and forth, with clear graphics highlighting sections of the waveform that have been compressed or stretched. See Figure 3.
The time stretching/compression algorithm in Studio One version 2 sounds great, and a Slice option is available if you'd prefer to move beats around Recycle-style. You can also drag and drop a track into the Groove window and create a groove file that can be applied to other tracks, and as hinted at earlier, entire groups of tracks can be quantized in one pass.
Bringing the world into your studio
You'd have to be living under a rock to not appreciate the impact of social media and networking on the creative process these days; it seems that as soon as they're recorded, tracks are being uploaded, shared, tweeted about, and so forth. Studio One version 2 brings the online world into the music-creation workflow in two very interesting ways.
First of all, while it was already possible to upload tracks directly from Studio One Pro to SoundCloud (www.soundcloud.com) to share with friends, version 2 of Studio One makes the process bi-directional and seamless. SoundCloud now appears as a Server in the Browser window, and you can open subfolders and directly access materials in your own folder and in the shared folders of SoundCloud users you're following. Highlighting an item brings up a mini preview window for auditioning, and bringing materials into your Song is as easy as drag-and-drop. See Figure 4.
The second new feature of Studio One version 2 is called PreSonus Exchange, shown in the Browser in Figure 5. It's an online shared database of useful items for Studio One, everything from FX Chains and Pitchnames to complete Soundsets and Extensions (added features for the DAW). These items are instantly available in the Browser window and can be selected, downloaded, updated, etc. for immediate use, You can also log into the PreSonus website's Exchange portal and upload your own creations, rate and comment upon products you've tried (the ratings show in the Browser in Studio One), and more. This is a really effective way of sharing resources and building community among Studio One users. The site and all of its content is free of charge.
Other new features
Every distinct section of a track is called an Event, and the new Studio One allows each Event to have its own insert effects. That means you can process just one bar of a vocal track with a powerful reverb for dub effects, or isolate different types of compression by song section... not just changing parameter settings but actually changing the effect itself. This amount of flexibility is a significant step beyond straightforward automation.
Track Transform is S1v2's take on "freezing", where tracks can be rendered in place as audio files, removing plug-ins and virtual instruments in favor of a fixed audio file, thus freeing up CPU power for use elsewhere. You can always revert the transformed track into its original form for further editing. As a novel twist on this, transformed instrument tracks can be edited as audio files, then turned back into instrument tracks, edits still in place.
There are no new virtual instruments in S1v2's bundled content, but the Ampire guitar-effects plug-in has been significantly improved (it's now called Ampire XT), and there is a gorgeous new convolution reverb called OpenAIR that comes with over a Gigabyte of Impulse Responses, as well as a plug-in called IR Maker that allows you to create your own IRs... not only for OpenAIR but also for the cabinet simulator in Ampire XT, for exceptionally realistic tones. This is a big win for users, as convolution reverbs are a whole new realm of realistic and beautiful spatial simulation from which almost any track can benefit.
All of these features are in Studio One's Song page... the Project Page, where you can assemble Songs into complete CDs, has some nice additions as well, including industry-standard DDP export for CD pressing, loudness analysis tools, easy placement of CD track markers, and more.
Just before we went to press, version 2.0.5 of Studio One shipped with a number of bug fixes and enhancements, including one I spotted immediately-a dialog box that pops up if you try to quit without saving your work, in which a full file list of everything you'll lose is presented for you to scan. The two biggest additions in version 2.0.5 are Macro buttons, which let you assemble sequences of commands into a single button press, and full MIDI mapping of all controls and parameters, so any MIDI device can control any function in Studio One.
Now that we've had a look at features, the dividing lines between the four versions of Studio One version 2 will be easier to understand. There's a comparison chart on the PreSonus website that gives all the details, but here's a quick summation.
Studio One Professional works in 32-bit and 64-bit modes, has both the Song and Project Pages, all features and content, and a full Melodyne singletrack license. Considering the power of the Project Page, the quality of OpenAIR, and the value of Melodyne, I consider this version by far the best value even though it costs most.
Studio One Producer is 32-bit only, loses the Project Page, SoundCloud integration, QuickTime video playback/sync, and five of the fanciest bundled effects (including OpenAIR and IR Maker). Melodyne singletrack is a 30-day upgradable trial. If you're quite sure you'll never want the Project Page, Producer may prove a good value for you.
Studio One Artist is available at low cost and comes bundled with every PreSonus hardware interface. It's very similar to Producer but can't import or export MP3s and doesn't let you use ReWire or third-party plug-ins (aside from Melodyne, included as a trial).
Studio One Free is free of charge, and has almost all of Artist's editing and recording features. It only comes with eight plug-ins and one virtual instrument, doesn't support Melodyne, and lacks several of the newest features, like Audio Bend and Folder Tracks, but is a great way to learn about the Studio One workflow without spending a dime.
During the review process, both PreSonus and Celemony shipped updates to Studio One and Melodyne singletrack (to versions 2.0.5 and 2.0.1 respectively). Both updates were launched, downloaded, installed, and authorized from within Studio One, making use of an Internet connection. For Melodyne, there was one cut-and-paste of an authorization code from the Celemony website, and for Studio One, there wasn't even that. It all just worked.
And that's been my refrain since I started working with Studio One two years ago. Everything just works. It's clear, easy to navigate, well-organized, and ridiculously fast, and with version 2, there are very few things I could ask for that it doesn't have waiting under the hood. None of version 2's new features has added complexity or bloat to the program; in fact, I would argue that those features which do have an impact on work speed have made Studio One faster, not slower. And in months of hard work with this program, I have had exactly zero crashes.
Put all that together, and you'll understand why -- although I still love and rely upon Ableton Live for loop-based composition and interactive live performance -- Studio One Professional has become my everyday DAW of choice. I could use any DAW; I use Studio One.
Choosing a DAW is a tricky process; you have to consider whom you'll be sharing files with, what kind of work you'll be doing, which features are vital to you and which are irrelevant, and how the DAW feels to you as you use it. There are lots of great products out there, and their supporters can reel off long lists of reasons why they think their DAW of choice is the only choice. But you always have a choice, and if you find yourself wishing that you could do all the cool stuff that DAW software promises with less menu-surfing and fumbling around, you need to go get Studio One Free, or the 30-day demo version of Studio One Professional, and try it for yourself.
Prices: Studio One Professional, $399; Studio One Producer, $199; Studio One Artist, $99 or bundled with PreSonus audio interfaces; Studio One Free... well, duh.
More from: PreSonus, studioone.presonus.com.