PreSonus Studio One 4 Professional
In early 2017 Studio One was updated to version 3.5 which included some major additions and performance enhancements. It made a lot of users very happy, especially considering it was a free upgrade for any 3.x owners. This spring Studio One gained a whole new digit to become version 4 which brought some almost unbelievable new features along with major enhancements to the Sample One sample-player and the Impact drum module. I briefly described Studio One 4 Professional in the FaderPort 16 review on this site (PreSonus FaderPort 16) since it was released in the middle of my FaderPort testing project, but as I mentioned in that article, Studio One was new to me, so I’ve taken time the past month to gain more experience with PreSonus’ premier DAW. I will not address Studio One 4 Artist much, the lower cost version supplied free with many of PreSonus’ hardware products, other than to note it is a capable basic DAW itself if you don’t need some of the professional features like mastering, scratch pads, and multi-instruments. Note that both the Artist and Professional versions require 64 bit operating systems, 32 bits is no longer supported.
Studio One is a DAW family aimed at musicians and producers, and provides a full fledged multitrack program capable of recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. Studio One 4 Professional includes features that musicians/producers will particularly appreciate, like an Arranger track where you can define and manipulate sections of a song (such as intro, verse, chorus, etc.), a Scratch Pad enabling quick storage of musical sketches for later use, and a new unique Chord Track/Chord Editor. There are also many audio editing functions such as cut, copy, paste, trim, fades, crossfades, volume, normalization, reverse, time-stretch, etc., and these are all non-destructive. It does not have a built-in (destructive) audio waveform editor but you can always use an audio editor such as Sound Forge if you need surgical clean-up of a few glitches before mixing. During my testing I found the Studio One Transient Detection function could find most audible glitches quickly, they could be “cut out” using the Split tool, and any timing shift corrected with the Bend tool. A workable approach. As it is, Studio One has an incredible range of features for creating, arranging, and distributing music.
Tools of the Trade
Studio One 4 Professional (S1 from now on) includes the usual DAW features including automatic PDC (plug-in delay compensation), track layers, loop recording, 64 bit internal processing (though you can optionally use 32 bits), unlimited tracks and buses (until your computer runs out of steam!), MIDI editor, drum editor, automation, VCA faders, side-chain routing, real-time audio time-stretching, resampling, normalization, and video playback with audio synchronization.
Studio One 4 Professional main multitrack mixing window
In addition to the basics, S1 has some excellent advanced features: integrated Melodyne pitch correction, an astonishing new Chord Track and Harmonic Editing function, an integrated mastering suite (Project) with automatic mix updating, DDP import/export, Red Book CD burning, and digital release capability. For an excellent tutorial on using the Project feature in conjunction with mixing, see Seamless Mixing & Mastering In Studio One's Project Page | . S1 also has built-in AAF import and export functions (Advanced Authoring Format) to help you move projects to S1 from other DAWs (like the archaic “industry standard”!) and move S1 projects to other DAWs if needed.
The Project Window for Mastering can link to songs in the multitrack mixing window.
In addition to its operational features, S1 includes 41 PreSonus plug-ins (Artist version has 30), and five PreSonus virtual instruments, two which have been greatly enhanced since the last version. Plug-ins (Native Effects™) include utility modules for signal generation, metering, and analysis, three delays, three distortion modules, a gate, three compressors, an expander and a limiter. And of course there are modulation FX with a great auto-filter, chorus, phaser and flanger, rotary speaker and tremolo. And reverbs, three of them including a convolution reverb and two algorithmic units. Also a channel strip and a Studio One version of StudioLive™ Fat Channel. And that’s just over half of the included native plug-ins! These are all high quality modules, not low-end freeware type devices. S1 also supports third-party sampler formats (EXS, Giga, Kontakt). And it can use third-party AU, VST2, and VST3 plug-ins (64 bit) and ReWire. The three dynamics processors (compressor, gate, expander) have side-chain capability, and I found the side-chain routing in S1 worked perfectly with all third party side-chain enabled plug-ins I tested. And setting up side-chains is a doddle, much easier than in previous DAWs I’ve used.
The professional version of S1 comes with Melodyne 4 Essential which is nicely integrated into S1 making it fast and easy to analyze and modify an audio track. This integration means you can work with Melodyne within S1 and quickly hear the changes in context with all your other tracks. You do not need to use the real-time Transfer function of Melodyne to analyze an audio track! Analysis is automatic and fast. The supplied version is a basic one, and lacks the most fabulous Melodyne feature, Direct Note Access™ for polyphonic audio manipulation, but on monophonic instrument sounds and vocals it works very well.
Of course, Celemony quickly offered me an upgrade at half price, so I took the offer since polyphonic audio detection and editing is one of the most incredible and useful functions ever devised for audio. However, while Melodyne was new to me, it is not new in Studio One, but is a great ‘freebie’ that will have you opening your PayPal wallet and upgrading to Melodyne Editor or Studio very quickly. And when you do upgrade, you will find Studio One 4 is ready for Celemony’s ARA 2 protocol, which provides, among other things, the simultaneous editing of multiple tracks and the transfer of chord track information between the S1 and Melodyne.
So What is New?
Version 4 includes two major instrument updates, Sample One XT and Impact XT. These instruments were formerly a sample player and a simple drum module, but are now a true sampler and a beat/loop production machine. Sample One XT can import and export single audio files, multisample files and .soundx containers, as well as capture audio from Studio One inputs, buses, outputs, instruments, and tracks, and then auto-slice, crossfade and trim samples, stretch timing, loop, apply envelopes and LFO to modify audio about any which way you want. However, it is not an instrument editor that can create scripted, layered and key switched instruments like the Presence XT Editor (which is an extra cost option), but it is capable of creating an extreme range of sounds.
Impact XT includes beat quantization and real-time stretching, transposing, stacking of samples on pads, auto-slicing, reverse playback, and can access not just 16 sounds as its 16 pads imply, but 128 sounds using eight banks of loops and samples that can be spread across 128 MIDI notes. Far beyond any looping module I’ve used in the past. And in S1 you can drag-and-drop samples between Sample One XT and Impact XT, and exchange samples with instruments like Presence XT using a common exchange file format. I was happy to find I could use my old Cakewalk Beatscape ‘beats’ in Impact XT, and have access to far more at one time than I could using multiple Beatscape instances.
Impact XT and Sample One XT are major upgrades of the former instruments.
Speaking of Presence XT, it’s a virtual sample-player instrument that’s been around awhile and is capable of key-switching to play different instrument articulations. Only the player is included in S1 - you need to buy the optional editor if you want to create layered, key-switched instruments yourself. Also back again is Mai Tai, a very flexible polyphonic (32 voice, dual-oscillator) analog modeling synthesizer which really impresses me with its sound quality and flexibility. There is also Mojito, a simple, monophonic, subtractive synthesizer that isn’t as impressive as the foregoing instruments, but can create some useful sounds. And if you have other AU, VST2, or VST3 instruments, you can use those in S1, but the included instruments cover about anything you need to produce a wide range of musical styles.
For control of these instruments, in addition to using note data imported or recorded to a track, there is a new enhanced drum editor and a modernized step sequencer (Patterns) that tightly integrates in S1 - the sequencer resides right inside a track where you can edit patterns as easily as notes - it’s a significant improvement on the classic sequencer. But I’ve saved the big one for last . . .
The new Chord Track with Harmonic Editing is almost unbelievable. When I saw it demonstrated during the Studio One 4 Professional release event, I thought I misunderstood what this could do. I can understand changing keys, altering and extending chords using MIDI data (or note data as PreSonus calls it since internally S1 renders MIDI data into a higher-resolution format, so technically isn’t MIDI). But in the release videos I seemed to be seeing some producers changing chord progressions of audio tracks ‘on the fly’. Just didn’t seem possible. You don’t even need to enter chords yourself on the chord track (although you can) - you just select any track, audio or note data, automatically analyze it for its chord progression, and extract the chord notation to the Chord Track, where you can then make any changes and hear the results immediately. You can use the new Chord Selector tool to view chords and change them to any other key or chord style, major, minor, diminished, augmented, sustained, etc.. You can also change chords in real-time using a MIDI controller while tracks are playing! And to quickly create modified lead sheets for a band, you can link S1 to PreSonus Notion 6.4 (which you need to buy separately, but is well worth it even as a standalone scoring and composing program). Studio One 4 Professional is a composer/arranger’s dream DAW!
Chord Track at top with audio and instrument tracks below and Chord Selector tool near the middle.
Using note data with the Chord Editor results in audio is being played on a virtual instrument, and the sound is as good as the instrument itself, but with an Audio track there is pitch shifting involved, and the results may have some artifacts. The chord editor is primarily designed for fast song prototyping, but as with Melodyne, the quality of the resulting audio depends on the how much the audio is to be shifted. Subtle chord changes (like major to minor) may very well be used in a final production. And playing with this feature, I found it could be used for some really creative effects, even with significant chord changes and even on complete audio mixes! A truly amazing, innovative and useful capability.
There are more features and improvements in the newest Studio One Professional DAW, but I don’t have time to describe them here (I want to get back to using it!). If you’ve been using Studio One for awhile, you will no doubt find version 4 a significant step over 3.5. The improvements to the sequencer, drum editor, Impact and Sample One alone are worth the upgrade cost, but the Chord Track/Editor moves Studio One Professional into a new level of creative ability. PreSonus are serious about music, and they definitely have produced the ultimate musician’s DAW.
Chord Track/Editor is amazing and a songwriter/arranger’s dream.
Integration with Notion 6.4 (need to have this latest version) extends the Chord Editor’s use to quickly make lead sheets with modified chord progressions.
Impact XT is now a full beat/loop production tool with up to 128 samples that can be spread across 128 MIDI notes.
Sample One XT is a complete sampling module with flexible audio capture modes and extensive editing capability.
Excellent user interface across all Studio One views with very useful touches like channel notes, good use of color to help navigation, better legibility of text, and many more small improvements.
ARA 2 capable (Audio Random Access version 2), Celemony’s new protocol, which will provide more comprehensive communication between plug-ins and DAWs.
Low CPU load - a project with 68 audio tracks (some stereo, some mono - 84 total audio streams), 75 plug-ins, and 16 buses showed an average of 10% CPU usage per core on the Windows Task Manager, and all 8 cores were well balanced. Test system is a PC Audio Labs Windows 7 machine with 3.5 GHz Intel i7-4770k CPU, and 16 GB RAM.
Control using a FaderPort 8 or 16 is comprehensive, fast and much more fun than tweaking little dials and faders on the screen with your mouse!
Very reasonable price for an upgrade from previous versions, and a reasonable price for new users.
Not really anything serious! If I were to be picky, I could say it lacks a detailed destructive audio waveform editor, but one can record, edit, mix, and master the majority of projects using Studio One without ever needing waveform editing. And if you do on occasion need to clean up a track, you can use a waveform editor like Sound Forge or even the free Audacity program (or slice out the glitch as I noted earlier). And for what I usually need to correct, I’ll take Melodyne any day over a manual waveform drawing tool!
One could also argue that Studio One is a very complex and comprehensive set of tools, and will take a new owner some time to master. But that is true of any high-end DAW. I still give it 5/5 overall since it has so many powerful features.
Price: $399.95 for new users, $149.95 upgrade from Studio One 3.x Professional. Other upgrades and crossgrades available.
PreSonus Studio One 4 Professional: Studio One | PreSonus