Review – Fl Studio 12 by Image Line
One of the most fascinated DAWs has reached and impressive version number: 12. Obviously, Image Line never gets tired improving their main product, adding new features and capabilities.
by Alex Arsov, July 2015
FL Studio has massively gained popularity in the last two years. I joined some EDM related groups on Facebook lately where members are showing off what they are doing or what they have done, exchanging tips and tutorials or simply asking for advice. The most fascinating thing is that more than 90% of them use FL Studio as their main DAW. Somehow FL Studio has become the number one DAW where EDM music is concerned. Of course, by searching for additional tutorials I found that people use FL Studio for almost all genres. Endless numbers of Hip Hop producers use it, even Metal folks, and all other genres and subgenres. I presume the main reason for such popularity is the fact that Fl studio is very flexible, well equipped and relatively easy to use, and what’s more, it’s so easy to get excellent results in no time, just by drawing clips in the arrangement window with the paint tool and deleting them with a left click. If you are skilled, you can finish the basic arrangement in 15 to 30 minutes.
The truth is, especially if you’re familiar with another DAW, that you’ll need a bit more time to get familiar with FL Studio as it doesn’t run exactly on the same tracks as some others. It is definitely not just another variation on an old story. It’s certainly one of the most unique, interesting and unusual DAWs on the market. It has quite a different workflow compared to most other digital audio workstations. Different, but still very detailed, with an enormous quantity of implemented options, an impressive number of tools such as automation curves, and many other goodies hidden in the submenus. There are also all sorts of MIDI tools inside the Piano Roll editor, some of them allowing you to build interesting and fairly professional harmonies, even if you slept through all your music theory training.
FL Studio always was and still is one of the best tools for manipulating loops and combining them with MIDI clips. The only drawback is that it still has problems recognizing tempo for non-Acid loops. In the past I also missed having the tools for fine-tuning longer audio clips (pitch editing or audio clip quantization in the arranger view), but with the Newtone plug-in that comes with Signature Bundle this is finally solved. Even if you don’t have Signature Bundle there are still more than enough additional tools inside FL Studio for manipulating shorter vocal clips. Actually, there is no better tool on market for getting all sorts of impressive, wild or even silly results out of separate vocal samples. There are a bunch of video clips where users have sampled words from popular TV shows or even from real life, turning them into whole songs.
So, What’s New?
The most noticeable thing is a fancy new modern look. FL Studio 12 is eye-catching and up to date, and what’s more, the whole graphical interface is scalable. It is possible to scale the whole DAW or just a few elements. This especially comes in handy with the mixer, which now looks much better, having the option to automatically show or hide certain elements just by resizing it vertically. Also, it has a fancy new ability to show various routings between channels with virtual patch cables shown at the bottom of the mixer window (similar to those in Propellerhead’s Reason). There is also an option to separate groups of channels with new lanes, called separators. Also, we can now select channels and group them, and adding a group channel automatically routes all selected channels to this new channel. One of my favorite new additions is a row of switches for bypassing insert effects. More good news is the option to select and change the volume for any number channels with just one click. FL Studio had and still has one of the most advanced MIDI editors on the market (I know, David, I’m also an old Cubase user, and yes Cubase has every possible MIDI tool, but trust me, FL Studio goes even further, offering many solutions tucked away in lots of Piano Roll menus and submenus, all of which can drastically speed up your workflow).
There are also a few changes to some of the other FL Studio windows and menus. Some options have been switched between windows and it takes some time to get acquainted with these new locations, but I presume Image Line know why they did it this way. Also, no longer are there two different windows for imported samples, so now each parameter can be set in a new, unique window. Click on any sample on Channel Rack… Well done. Not to mention that FL Studio 12 gives us a pile of new or redesigned colored buttons for additional editing windows that are shown almost everywhere, in every FL Studio editor, providing a much more pleasant and user friendly working experience.
The next noticeable thing is a redesigned Tool Bar with some new buttons and the option of adding extra ones. That feature was missing in previous versions, while many other DAWs already offered it.
I forgot to mention that FL Studio uses ASIO drivers, offering the same low latency as is the case with the “ASIO For All” driver – with one significant difference: FL Studio doesn’t lock audio exclusively to your DAW, allowing you to use other audio programs at the same time. So, we are no longer forced to quit FL Studio whenever we want to watch a tutorial video clip or listen to an MP3 through Winamp or some other player. Maybe this doesn’t sound revolutionary for you, but after some time you will wonder how you could ever have lived without this solution.
FL Studio also brings many changes to the browser, making search more advanced while remaining user friendly at the same time. The great news is that now you can select several streams or audio clips from Windows Explorer and drag them directly to the Playlist. There they will be automatically sorted onto different tracks. Those tracks can then be routed with one click to a different output in the mixer.
As soon as you become familiar with the various options that FL Studio has to offer, you will be able to finish your track far more quickly than in most other DAWs.
Is There More?
Some effects and instruments are redesigned, some just improved. Almost everywhere you’ll find something added or at least slightly changed. At first glance you might get the wrong impression that this isn’t such a major update, but the list of small improvements, along with the big changes, can almost go on forever. New colors and icons in the Mixer window. In the Channel Rack editor, swing settings are now available for every separate channel. Changing the view in Channel Rack between Piano Roll and note sequencer is now just a click away (those are just two of many other improvements inside Channel Rack). Workflow is now much more user friendly. Deleting notes in the step-sequencer will now affect notes directly in Piano Roll, where they’ll be shown as muted (letting you experiment with different rhythms or melodies). A nice new feature is the option to insert markers inside the Piano Roll editor to define a new loop. Some functions are now updated with new additions, like the ability to edit ghost notes even without bringing up the ghost channel and making it active – of course, we are talking about Piano Roll editor. Those are some of the new functions that just crossed my mind while writing this article – there are plenty of other small improvements literally everywhere inside FL Studio 12.
The End of the Endlessness
Even in previous versions, FL Studio was a very powerful DAW. Now, with all these new features it has become even better, more user friendly, and with a very polished futuristic look. In FL Studio 12 we get most of those functions that maybe some users yearned for after seeing some of the other bestselling DAWs. It is not my first version of FL Studio and have to say that from version to version it has become harder and harder to find flaws. The only thing that annoyed me at first was the fact that FL Studio doesn’t use the standard set of shortcuts that most other DAWs use, but when you become familiar with the FL Studio shortcuts there are no other bigger differences. For newcomers to the DAW world such things don’t matter. For others it can take a week or two to adapt to the inner logic of this DAW. After all, there is an impressive number of video tutorials at the Image Line site, same as on the YouTube channel. It so happens that I didn’t find a video that explains if it’s possible to freeze tracks, so I asked about this option on an Image Line forum and got an immediate response with link to a video.
If you’re ever thinking of changing your main DAW I recommend you check this one out. It is almost impossible to find another DAW having such an enormous number of options, tools and included high quality effects and instruments. Fruity Parametric Equalizer 2 and some internal synths, like BassDrum and Sytrus, are actually on the same level as some well-known third party tools that cost almost the same as the entire FL Studio Producer edition. The other high quality tools that were already in previous versions are Maximus – a top notch multiband mastering multieffect – and Vocodex – one of the best vocoders on market and, as far as I know, there is only one better and it’s the same price as FL Studio Producer. Talking about the price, at least in my honest opinion, Logic is the only other DAW that offers so much for such a low price. Of course, there is one main difference – Logic is Mac only and FL Studio is supported only on the PC platform for now.
FL Studio Fruity edition costs $99 USD, but it doesn’t support audio recording.
FL Studio Producer edition costs $199 USD. It has everything you need to produce professionally sounding tracks (including a lifetime of free updates – for all versions actually).
Fl Signature Bundle costs $299 USD, bringing some extra tools like Newtone for audio pitch editing and Fruity Video Editor, Hardcore (a rack of guitar effects), Gross Beat (a glitch, scratching and repeat tool) and Harmless (a very powerful virtual synthesizer). (But you still get enough quality instruments even in the Producer version. The only thing I couldn’t live without is Newtone. If you are working with vocalists it’s a pure lifesaver.)
That should be all. I know that you remember this DAW from the early days of Fruity Loops, but don’t overlook it or underestimate it. I will definitely use my spare time this summer to finally finish off a few songs with this DAW. I like the sound, I like the workflow, and finally I also like the brand new up-to-date look of FL Studio.