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What’s New in Workstations

Last week I was reminded of how the digital audio workstations of 25 years ago were still far, far away from realizing their potential. While talking about their recent remastering work with R.E.M., producer Scott Litt and engineer Clif Norrell mentioned that Automatic for the People—a remarkably rich record from 1992, with all ingredients of grand Southern rock yet with a sound far larger than the South itself—noted that the originals were from 24-track analog and digital 32-track tape (ProDigi format), and there were multiple rooms and lots of people involved. There were DAWs available back in 1992, but they weren’t typically used on a project of this scale.

Today, it’s not unusual to write and record a song, with string arrangement, alone on a laptop while wearing headphones, conducting the entire production (with all apologies to proper conductors). And Automatic for the People will be available in the Dolby Atmos format on November 10. It’s a very different world.

The following DAWs can do things as simple as compile and mix 48, 72 or however many channels you want. You can remix old tracks into a multichannel album release. Many of them include rich sources of tones, with input-to-master production features, to gain nearly any stylistic effect you can dial up. All options are available to all of us. Automatic for the people, indeed.

With Avid’s Pro Tools 12.8 DAW update, the industry leader joins forces with Dolby to include a suite of Atmos workflows into Pro Tools | HD, to effectively allow more audio content creators to work more easily within burgeoning multichannel and object-based audio formats. The new features include built-in Dolby Atmos panning, support for 7.1.2 stems, Avid pro mixing control surface integration, automation with the Dolby Rendering and Mastering Unit (RMU), and support for Avid NEXIS shared storage, increasing workflow speeds and overall efficiency.

Broad-based audio firms such as Yamaha, encompassing both Steinberg and Yamaha Commercial Audio, give its hardware users every good reason in the world to adopt anything between the most basic Cubase to a sophisticated Nuendo 8 rig as their primary working DAW. Yamaha notably embraces all pro-grade DAWs in its Nuage environment; for example, up to three different DAWs can be directly switched and controlled from a Nuage fader unit, etc.

Steinberg Nuendo 8 features include Sound Randomizer, Direct Offline Processing, Auto ReNamer, User profile manager, ADR enhancements, MixConsole History, Sampler Track, new zone concept, new video engine, reworked plug-ins and improved performance, and Game Audio Connect 2. Most notably, Nuendo 8’s Direct Offline Processing with its Live!Rendering capability “enables users to easily apply frequently used techniques in an offline plug-in chain and render the techniques offline in real time.”

Mac OS-centric DAW manufacturer MOTU is now shipping Digital Performer 9.5, a free update for all DP9 owners that introduces ZTX Pro technology, an audio time-stretching and pitch-shifting DSP developed by Zynaptiq GmbH. ZTX Pro has been deployed throughout Digital Performer 9.5 wherever audio time stretching can be applied. It can be used with drum loops, solo instruments, multitimbral material, vocals, full mixes, mono, stereo, etc. ZTX Pro pitch-shifting is offered for use on both monophonic and multi-timbral audio material, including full mixes. A new relative pitch-editing layer in the Sequence Editor allows users to transpose any audio material up or down graphically by interval, using a draggable pitch bar or a pencil tool for pitch correction, adding or removing vibrato and so on. The new Effect Performance window which monitors processing loads, allowing users to identify and manage plugins that impose high processing demands on their computer.

Apple’s Logic Pro X version 10.3 features an updated interface, new production-oriented features and support for Mac Book Pro’s Touch Bar. Logic Pro X 10.3 features a 64-bit summing engine, 192 additional buses and true stereo panning, providing discrete control of stereo signals. Tracks can now be added remotely from iOS to Mac via a new share option: Users simply upload a special GarageBand-compatible version of a Logic project to iCloud, then open on their iOS devices. When the project is saved back to iCloud, any newly added tracks will automatically appear in the original Logic project the next time it is opened on a Mac.

Fully embracing AoIP and immersive audio trends, Merging Technologies now links Pyramix 11 with Aneman, the company’s new Audio Network Manager tool. It allows Ravenna/AES67 devices within one interface. Further, Pyramix 11 has broadened its 3D immersive audio toolkit with a new FX Rendering feature for multitrack and multi-effects processing, along with the implementation of a HOA panner and binauralizer directly within the Pyramix 11 mixer. Also, multichannel timeline based advanced effects processing lets users build signal flow processing throughout any preferred VST and VS3 plug-ins, from mono to multi- channel. It can then be directly applied to the clip in the timeline while keeping the edits/fades.

PreSonus’ new Studio Magic, a plug- in suite for the Studio One 3 DAW for Mac and Windows, is avail- able free to registered owners of any current- ly available PreSonus audio interface or mixer. The software bundle includes seven popular plug-ins in Studio One Native Effects format from some impressive names in effects and processing: Arturia’s Analog Lab Lite, a collection of physically modeled classic analog synths, organs, string machines and pianos from Arturia’s V-Collection; Brainworx’s character-rich bx_opto compressor; Eventide H910 Harmonizer and 2016 Stereo Room Processor; Lexicon’s MPX-i Reverb; Mäag Audio’s EQ2 two-band equalizer; and the SPL Attacker micro-plug-in, which employs the same Differential Envelope processing technique as the legendary Transient Designer.

Harrison’s Mixbus version 4.0, a flexible DAW available for Mac, Windows and Linux OS, incorporates hundreds of new improvements, most of which were inspired by the requests of Mixbus users. Key updates include a new-generation GUI, various new parameters, and the ability to load VST plug-ins on Mac OS in addition to AU and LV2, to allow for easier Mac-to-Windows-to-Linux sharing. Further, Mixbus v4 is session file-compatible with other Ardour-using workstations, including Ardour5, Waves Tracks Live and iZ Session. Recognizing Pro Tools’ ubiquity in the marketplace, Harrison also offers .ptf and .ptx file import as a new item in its Session menu. This feature allows users to select a Pro Tools session file and import its raw audio and MIDI data.

In May, Cakewalk—launched in 1987 when Greg Hendershott, a student at Oberlin College, turned some software he had developed into an MS-DOS-based sequencer—marked its 30th anniversary with its most advanced SONAR-branded form yet, along with more low-cost options for entry. SONAR is available in four configurations: SONAR Home Studio, SONAR Artist, SONAR Professional, and SONAR Platinum for $49, $99, $199 and $499, respectively. While Professional and Platform are rich with sounds and sonic tools galore, Home Studio and Artist provide essential tools that are arguably bargains.

Magix Sequoia 14 offers a bevy of new features, including Avid Pro Tools | S6 controller extensions, streamlined functionality via the Eucon iOS app, a full version of SpectraLayers Pro 4, Celemony’s Melodyne essential package, an alternative interface design via Birdline’s Platinum Pack V. 6.0, ARA interface, Tempo automation for audio recordings, Audio to MIDI conversion, zplane élastique V3 time-stretch algorithm, and a range of new shortcuts, exporters, processors and other features that encourage better multiproject management overall.

Meanwhile, Samplitude Pro X3 now includes an ARA (Audio Random Access) extension for VST, which enables closer interaction between Samplitude and Melodyne; 70 GB of sound content; multiple outputs for complex productions; VCA Fader for mixing; up to 24 virtual instruments; 32-bit floating point calculation, spectral display and editing, multiple outputs, and much more.


Just when you think you’ve heard of everyone that’s doing DAWs, a new name surfaces. Internet Co., Ltd., Osaka, Japan, has announced Sound it! 8 Pro, a 2-track audio editing DAW for Mac and Windows. Sound it! 8 Pro supports up to 768 kHz, 32-bit PCM files, allows native Direct Stream Digital (DSD) recording and playback up to 11.28/12.28 MHz (DSD256), and is reportedly well-suited for mastering for SACD.

Meanwhile, iZ Technology has optimized Windows 8.1 Professional OS-based CPUs. The RADAR system features a quad-core i7 processor, allowing users to “go from hitting the power switch to launching your favorite DAW in less than 30 seconds.”

Instrument-like, music-making DAWs—such as Apple’s Garageband, Ableton Live 9, Propellerhead Reason 9.5, and FL Studio 12, and streamlined DAWs including Reaper 5.5 and Mackie Tracktion—further blur the lines between sound sources, traditional performance and production than ever before.

Free with an Apple CPU purchase, GarageBand is now in version 2.2, gaining the Alchemy synth and a new sound browser. The Alchemy synth comes to iOS with over 150 Apple-designed patches from a wide va- riety of genres, including EDM, Hip Hop, Indie, Rock, Pop, etc. With Alchemy’s Transform Pad, users can morph between eight sonic snapshots in real time. Further, GarageBand for iOS gains Multi- Take Recording, allowing multiple passes, plus the ability to audition and switch between takes. Also new is Audio Recorder that adds fun, one-tap vocal effects as well as pitch correction, distortion, delay, and an interactive graphic Visual EQ.

Finally, iOS-based DAWs such as WaveMachine Labs Auria Pro, as well as streamlined versions of desktop-borne DAWs such as Cubase, continue to gain users as new-generation content creators use the computer most comfortable to them. For mobile OS users, a notable improvement has been increased numbers of hardware devices ready for iOS’s Lightning connections.