Featured PreSonus Studio One Pro 3 by Funkybot
· Product: Studio One Professional
· Developer: PreSonus
· Version Reviewed: 3.5.1
· Formats: Mac/PC, 32-bit or 64-bit
· Price: $399.95 (MSRP-USD)
· DRM: Online Authorization
Halfway into the Studio One version 2.5 life cycle, I gave the DAW a serious demo. I was immediately impressed with how intuitive and well laid-out the interface was, as well as how stable it was compared to my prior DAW (which had a tendency to randomly crash or corrupt projects). Everything seemed to be where I expected it to be, and things like comping just worked the way I always wanted them to. It wasn’t quite as efficient CPU-wise, but that was a trade-off I was willing to make as I moved over to Studio One as my primary DAW.
The version 3 release brought a new look along with wide-range of new features and each point version from 3.1 to 3.3.4 included a nice batch of additional features, which seemed very much geared at making it easier and easier for Pro Tools users to convert over. Studio One was essentially filling in some of the gaps in the audio and mixing side of the things, but CPU usage and latency were pretty much unchanged from version 2.5. As a result, Studio One earned a reputation as one of the least CPU efficient DAW’s.
The recently released version 3.5 (and subsequent 3.5.1) finally addresses CPU consumption and round-trip latency in Studio One. This review will focus heavily on the new features.
I break DAW’s up into two major categories: 1) the traditional tape-style DAW where songs are likely to recorded in a relatively linear style, and 2) your pattern based DAWs, which are more geared towards clip launching and a live-style performance with the DAW used for song building. Studio One is the former style, and as such, includes the basic audio recording and MIDI sequencing features you’d expect to a find in a DAW of that type. Like many DAW’s, there are a few different versions of Studio One, and I’m using Professional, which adds additional features compared to the Artist and Prime versions (see the comparison here: https://www.presonus.com/products/St...mpare-versions).
As a mentioned in my introduction, Studio One’s strength is in its workflow and interface. It was probably the first DAW built with a single-window interface in mind, and was developed that way from the ground up. Coming from another DAW, being able to drag and drop effects and instruments from the browser into an existing or even new track was a revelation. The Take Lanes and comping methodology (which I’ve since seen lifted in other DAWs) is extremely intuitive and makes creating that perfect performance a breeze. Somewhere in the Version 3 life cycle, VCA faders were added, and Studio One has the most intuitive implementation of VCA faders I’ve seen to date, where you just select the channels you want to create a VCA fader for, right click, and select “Create VCA fader for selected channels.” Literally a three click operation. Highlighting channels in the mixers and clicking and dragging an insert will clone across the selected channels. Another feature I love is how easily it is to map hardware controls to plugins in Studio One. It’s a basic thing but implemented in a very intuitive way. I realize none of this is mind-blowing, but it’s fast and intuitive. And these little things add up to a fantastic overall user experience.
I’ve recently gotten access to a Studio 192 Mobile, and another area worth pointing out is that the integration with PreSonus hardware within Studio One is absolutely as seamless as you’d hope it would be. Not only can the onboard Fat Channel (DSP effect) be opened and edited directly within Studio One just like any other plugin, you can control the preamp gain and hardware settings from within the Console in Studio One. While I wouldn’t suggest choosing a hardware based on what DAW you use or vice versa, the smooth integration is definitely a bonus.
The 3.5 Update - Improved CPU Usage, Latency, and Mixer Undo
Since 3.5 is the most recent major release, let’s talk about the CPU and latency improvements. Studio One has never skimped out on big updates in their .5 releases (which have been free to date, so thanks), and this release is no different. They’ve basically rewritten their multi-core CPU support to improve load-balancing and overall CPU efficiency, while at the same time, having implemented a dual-buffer approach to playback and recording. The 3.5.1 release that was released shortly after the initial release made further improvements to both areas.
So how does the dual-buffer approach work? You set the lowest buffer setting your computer/interface can comfortably handle for real-time monitoring (the first buffer), then you set your “Dropout Protection” setting, which controls the buffer size for tracks where input monitoring is not on (this is the second buffer). So my 15-year old RME Fireface 800 is running on a 64 sample buffer with Dropout Protection set to maximum. What this basically means is that any instrument tracks I’m monitoring can now achieve a round-trip latency of 5.08 ms (at 44.1khz) even in CPU intensive projects. In the past, I’d have to start disabling effects and start freezing if I needed to an overdub mid-mix, and that’s no longer the case. Modern interfaces will achieve much lower latencies than that! The only downside to this approach is the added complexity of keeping track of what monitoring mode you’re currently in. There’s a “Green Z” which represents the new Low Latency Monitoring mode, a “Blue Z” (not new) indicates that you’re doing zero-latency monitoring via your interface, and no-Z is the old, single buffer approach with higher latency. In addition, plugins with latency that exceeds 3ms will be excluded from the monitoring chain when Green-Z monitoring is enabled. Now the current state monitoring mode is clearly visible on the console, but new users may be confused by the various options
As mentioned, multi-core load balancing was also improved, and I can confirm that I’ve seen a big increase in performance indeed. The 3.5 update was released while I was nearing completion of a mix, so I did a parallel install (love that Studio One allows you to keep multiple versions installed) and transferred the mix from 3.3.4 to 3.5. The result? The same mix that had been taxing Studio One in the prior version actually had a decent amount of headroom CPU-wise. If I had to guess I’d say was a 20% or so improvement in CPU usage. What I can tell you in the weeks since is that Studio One no longer feels like the devourer of CPU’s that it previously had. What had been one of the biggest user complaints about Studio One has been addressed by PreSonus.
Note (and I can’t repeat this enough): Studio One’s CPU meter is always showing you the CPU usage of the most taxed core in the system, whereas some other DAW’s will average the CPU use across all cores. So when you see a plugin taking up 8% in Studio One and only 1% in a host like Reaper, just understand that you’re seeing the same performance shown two different ways. Measure CPU usage by how well large projects run.
The last of the major 3.5 features that I’ll discuss is another commonly requested one from the user base: Mixer Undo. Except, this isn’t just Mixer Undo, this will also undo plugin parameter changes. Now, I’m a big proponent of any feature that will save me from myself and this is huge. How many times have you tweaked a plugin only to realize you liked it better where it was before? Now, you just have to hit Ctrl+Z to get back where you were. Have you ever reached for a hardware fader and realized you grabbed the wrong one? What was the volume of the channel you just moved previously at? Don’t worry. Just Ctrl+Z. The same applies for send levels, plugin additions/deletions, etc. Having come from a DAW that offered undo on the mixer, having it back in Studio One has been a Godsend. Especially when combined with the Undo History for moving backwards and forwards through edits.
Now, while I’m clearly a fan, Studio One does have some weaknesses. There’s no proper way to save Track Templates or any Pro-Tools-esque Import Session Data functionality. The closest you can get is saving Multi-output Instrument + FX channels, but even this is limited as any channels without an insert are not recalled, nor are buses, sends, volumes and pans. Studio One’s tempo drawing is also bizarrely clunky for a DAW that’s known for its workflow.
The biggest weakness in Studio One is on the MIDI side of the house. It does the very basics, but anyone who is heavily into MIDI sequencing may find some of the shortcomings in S1 frustrating. For instance, there’s no dedicated Drum Editor. There’s a Smart tool for audio editing, but none for the PRV. Notation support only exists by transferring data to and from Notion (which you also need a license for) rather than existing within the DAW itself. There’s no Articulation Edition, List View, MIDI Transformer, etc. Polyphonic Aftertouch isn’t supported for e-drummers, and each instrument channel can only receive and transmit a single MIDI channel at a time, so support for multichannel MIDI devices (like MPE instruments) is very cumbersome.
As someone who is active on the PreSonus forums, the Studio One 3.5 update addressed the top 3 requests from the user base: 1) Mixer Undo, 2) improve CPU efficiency, and 3) reduce latency. As far as I’m concerned, PreSonus hit it out of the park with the 3.5 release, while showing they’re interested in listening to their users. The DAW has grown in a huge way since I first began using it a few years ago, but there’s still room to improve things on the MIDI side of the house. Hopefully, with the right foundation in place, there will be more progress in that area in future versions.
- 3.5 series updates brought major CPU improvements and round-trip latency reduction
- Mixer and Plugin Undo recently added
- Robust audio features
- Fast, intuitive workflow
- Great ARA implementation for things like Melodyne and VocAlign
- Tight integration with PreSonus interfaces
- MIDI side of the house is underdeveloped compared to DAW’s like Cubase, Logic, Sonar, Live, etc.
- No proper track templates or import session data
- Clunky tempo window
- Relatively slow pace of development compared to other DAWs
Sound Quality: 5/5
Ease of Use: 5/5
Bang for Buck: 5/5