Following on from his recent reviews of the PreSonus HD7 headphones and AudioBox iTwo interface, in this article Paul takes a look at PreSonus’ Studio One DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software.

Studio One is a development of the KRISTAL audio engine, coded by Matthias Juwan formerly of Steinberg. In 2006 Juwan founded KristalLabs in partnership with Wolfgang Kundrus, primary author of the first iteration of revered post-production Sternberg DAW Nuendo. In co-operation with PreSonus and a team including other ex Steinberg programmers Studio One was developed, promising similar traits to Nuendo in a recording environment : stability, streamlined features, a highly efficient and fluid workflow and lack of ‘legacy bloat’. First released in 2009, Studio One is still considered a new kid on the block compared to established market players like Logic, Pro Tools and Cubase which have evolved over decades. It is however indisputably a professional grade solution in terms of functionality which runs on 32bit or 64bit platforms, PC or Mac OS X, and the Pro version offers a premium 64-bit double-precision audio engine.

Studio One takes an uncluttered single window approach (some windows can be undocked) and the emphasis is on workflow from the start to finish. Many actions are performed by simple drag and drop operations or in efficient steps, in contrast to alternatives which may take a more convoluted route to achieve the same result.

So, a quick tour. There are three main environment pages : Start, Song and Project which you can skip between at any time. (You can even near-instantaneously switch between multiple song instances loaded concurrently from a drop down box.) Fire up Studio One and you are greeted with the Start window.

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Here is where you configure your hardware (as you can see the iTwo interface which was recognised automatically is displayed graphically), modify your profile, create or open existing songs or projects, and access the integrated social media features, NimBit and Soundcloud, updates and demos/tutorial feeds. When creating a new project you may choose from a number of templates, and if necessary specify audio formats, song duration, time signature and so on. In this instance I have chosen an empty template. Choose a title and location for your work click OK and you are progressed to your main working area : the Song page. This is where most of the action happens.

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First a word about the layout and quick access to key features. If you look top right you’ll see the three buttons to switch between the environments. Beneath the menu is your toolbar (shortcuts being the 1-8 keys) and common functions e.g. quantisation settings. Top left of the arrange area are quick access buttons for track list, inspector, automation, tempo and marker tracks. To the bottom is the transport bar (sadly undockable as far as I can tell) and bottom right, three buttons directly launch the Edit, Mix and Browser sub windows(which you can rapidly toggle between with the function keys). The Browser is a core component to Studio One and provides quick access to your instruments, effects, sounds, files and most items in your Browser can be dragged straight into your project. Essentially most of your needs are accessible directly from the working area without digging into menus.

Now to start creating. This is where the magic happens. Normally in a DAW such as this tasks such as adding a track with effects would involve a number of stages such as, right click on a blank area, create a track type of the desired format, add an effect to an effect rack, select the effect from within the chosen track on your mixer and so on. It’s often a fiddly process requiring repetitive tasks and clicking on small buttons. In Studio One many such tasks are completed automatically. So pick an effect preset from the browser and drag it on to the arrange space and Studio One immediately creates the appropriate audio track, mixer routing, puts the effect in place, loads the preset and opens the effect pane.

Maybe you want to send a signal to a send effect you haven’t created yet? Drag a preset (delay for example) to the send of the mixer channel you want to use. Studio One creates an effect track in the mixer with the preset applied to it and routes the send for you. How about adding a sample loop of a different bpm to your song? Drag it from the library onto a track – it’s automatically time stretched to match. Maybe a musician has played a note slightly off the beat? Right click the recorded audio, select “detect transients”, then drag the note into the correct position and the audio either side is time stretched to fit. Want to create an automation track for the filter cut off of an instrument? Drag the hand icon onto the filter cut off knob. Done! There isn’t scope in this article to cover the plethora of workflow enhancements that Studio One brings in this manner, but the methodology is embodied throughout the application, and there is a noticeable reduction in floating windows and dialog boxes to manage. Often it does what you would logically hope it should, and although I’ve skimmed the net for a couple of tutorials on deeper features, I’ve not had to reach for the manual once.

Other features worth noting are the class leading freeze functions, with which you can convert from MIDI to audio and back again with ease. I was particularly impressed with the mixer, which allows you to adjust key effect parameters without opening their panels, and shows miniature versions of some native effects such as EQ curves (see video). Folders and grouping, are common but effective organisation methods. “Comping”, or constructing the best take from elements of multiple takes is a breeze. Choose “Loop Record Takes”, record, right-click “Unpack Takes” and each take is displayed in a track lanes. Swipe the bits you want from each lane and the your take is instantly composited from the selected elements. As with many actions in Studio One it’s fast, intuitive and effortless.

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Comping in Studio One

The third and final window is Project (Pro version) and here you’ll find the mastering toolkit. This isn’t just a bolted on extra, it’s an industry grade solution with professional level, spectrum and phase metering, metadata embedding, per-track effect racks, CD track layout and crossfades editing. You can take your project from inception right through to distribution without leaving the application. Ultimately you can simply render your mix, use the integrated NimBit and SoundCloud facility to upload your work, right through to entering ISRC codes and generating a DDP file set for a professional CD duplicator.

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Content wise Studio One comes with 33 built in effects (28 in the Artist version) and they are all decent. All the staple effect types are covered, though I was disappointed at the lack of a multi-pitch shifter. Among the more noteworthy examples are AmpireXT, an effective speaker emulator with a nice selection of cabinets and a few stompboxes to play with. Auto Filter, a filter sequencer. Fat Channel, which models the PreSonus StudioLive 32:4:2 desk channel strip. RedlightDist, one of the better sounding analogue distortion simulators in my opinion. Mixverb and Room Reverb are just servicable, however the Pro version also includes a convolution reverb Open AIR, as well as the genuinely useful Multiband Dynamics : a multi-band compressor/expander which applies varying rates across five adjustable frequency bands.. You can use this to bring out the bass and high frequencies whilst tempering the midrange for example. The Pro version also integrates industry leading pitch correction in the form of Melodyne Essentials, a rather stunning bonus considering this alone costs £60.

Four virtual instruments are provided. The monophonic subtractive synth Mojito was lacklustre and rather dull sounding, but the SampleOne sampler, Presence multitimbral synth (with soundfont support) and Impact drum machine/sample player are all great. Again, ease of use come to the fore as you can quickly create sound banks by dragging and dropping sounds and even multilayering on the familiar looking drum machine interface and tweak them to perfection. That is if you don’t choose to use one of the many presets, and Studio One does come with a pretty substantial library of instrument presets, patches, samples and sounds so beginners hit the ground running.

So how does Studio One compare? Of the three versions Artist at £80 (supplied entirely free with various PreSonus interfaces!) is as much as many people would ever need. It contains all the basic components of a DAW and is generously unlimited featurewise. The omissions, MP3 and VST/AU/Rewire plugin support, will likely tempt users to upgrade to the Producer version at £149. Pro at £269 is a bargain, especially when you consider the integrated Melodyne and Mastering Suite both of which garner rave reviews, and the fact it’s already undercutting the price of the competition. The marketplace is awash with established pro grade DAWs so there are alternatives to consider. GUI and workflow are largely a matter of preference so it makes sense to try before you buy. This is where you run into problems as none of the main competitors, ProTools, Cubase or Logic provide a demo. To their credit PreSonus provide a fully functional 30 day trial of the Pro version which you can download and use immediately.

Let’s also consider some weaknesses. There is a lack of support for some of the more esoteric hardware environments. There’s no Eucon Protocol support for instance. (The seamless integration of their own hardware is great however.) Subjectively the GUI may not be as pretty as logic, say, and it cannot be altered. A dark theme or skins would have been nice. The mixer lacks VCA faders and an undo feature. There’s no dedicated drum editor, realtime MIDI processing or notation (for that PreSonus’ supply their own Notion software). MIDI editing in general lacks the sheer depth and scale of Cubase. Whether this is a help or hindrance depends on your needs. For typical users it’s more than adequate. There are also no surround sound options.

On the other hand Studio One has a lot going for it. It’s great value, in my experience rock solid stable (on both PC and Mac) and has received regular updates which add functionality as well as fixing bugs. A single user license can generously be installed on 5 machines, and unlike Cubase’s annoying USB-eLicenser and ProTools iLok there’s no annoying copy protection dongle to deal with. It’s also very quick to self-learn and I can see it being deployed by educators with ease. The primary asset however is it’s intuitiveness and effortlessness – an immediacy and efficiency of workflow that is highly conducive to creativity. That’s the bottom line for me. I’ve enjoyed the experience of reviewing the software a great deal but more crucially it’s made me more productive and helped me achieve my creative goals. For this reason I shall be joining the growing number of migrators using Studio One as the primary DAW.


Studio One Artist on dual monitors

It’s worth noting that it’s a major update is possibly imminent. Currently Studio One is at version 2.65, and users are eagerly anticipating version 3. PreSonus have previously unveiled such updates at Musikmesse exhibitions, and this year that runs from 15th to 18th April, so just a few days away.

Studio One is available from UCan Play through our status as an approved PreSonus educational dealer. Discounts are available for those at or working with educational institutions within the United Kingdom.