Studio One 3 by Presonus
Presonus finally released new version of Studio One. Is Studio One 3 a revolution or just evolution? Find what is new and how it stands compared to other DAWs.
by Alex Arsov, July 2015
The previous version of Studio One was a very pleasant surprise for me. A very powerful DAW offering most of the things the other popular DAWs have, along with bringing some really cool, unique new features, like audio quantization directly in the arranger window, or the ability to establish a new group just by selecting a few channels, causing all selected channels to be routed to the new group channel. Not to mention MIDI loop preview in a browser that works directly in correlation with any currently selected instrument. Those are only three of many new features Studio One brings to the DAW market, but then it somehow happened that Studio One was stuck on version 2 for a few years, while in the meantime other competitors updated their versions with new features, and suddenly this revolutionary DAW is yesterday’s news.
Browsing through all the new capabilities in Studio One 3, it becomes obvious why it took so long for Presonus to release a new version – they decided to rebuild it almost from scratch. This may not be so obvious at first glance, but they made the whole DAW more stylish, adding multi-touch support and developing their own sampler and very flexible virtual synthesizer – they clearly aim to distinguish themselves from other DAW companies. Some of the built-in editors are also heavily redesigned and we even get some totally new ones like Scratch pads for rearranging the score. All these changes give the impression that Presonus is really determined to fight for their place back at the top. This new version comes with a pile of new features, nothing revolutionary really (except maybe the effect and instrument chain rack) but enough in any case to put Presonus Studio One 3 back in line standing shoulder to shoulder with the other big players. Obviously Presonus has decided to build a solid base for future development, and if they manage to release a new version within a year then Studio One could really shake up the market. However, at the moment Studio One 3 is simply a matter of choice. It’s no better or worse than any other DAW on the market. Like all the other big names it has its advantages: it offers a very intuitive workflow, it is very user friendly, it’s not overpriced, it has great included content, it is very powerful, and it has all the tools you’ll need for music production, mixing and even mastering. That’s Studio One 3. I realize it wasn’t so easy for a relative newcomer on the market to arrive at this position, but after all that hard work this is only the beginning of the race to turn the planet Presonus. So, Mayor Tom, take your protein pills and put your helmet on. 3… 2… 1…
The first impression is very satisfying. A modern colorful look, which is not just a “cosmetic improvement” – all those different colors can be very handy, especially during those memorable moments when you get lost in a huge number of tracks, trying to find a particular one in on crowded mixer. At last we get an option to set the color for the whole channel and not just the top or bottom part, also changing a color for specific mix channel effects and the track color in the arrangement window. A simple but very effective solution that can save you many hours during the mixing stage. Also, mix faders are now scalable, so you can set the value much more precisely, and there’s also a gain reduction meter showing you how much your effects are affecting the signal – the drawback there is it only works with Presonus plug-ins.
Studio One already had one of the best browsers on the market and in this new version they bring even more advanced solutions. Finding the appropriate tool or sound has become even easier, with expanded and better positioned categories: Instrument, Vendor, Style, Character, Type and Product. Also, there’s an option to update a plug-in’s thumbnail, so you can have small icons for any third party plug-in. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we all spend more than a quarter of our time searching for an appropriate sound, instrument or effect.
Every DAW already has some sort of rearranging tools. Studio One 3 brings one such tool under the name Scratch Pad. It’s a similar solution to that seen on some other DAWs, with one main difference: in Scratch Pad you can set a few different combinations of alternative arrangements, ranked in a row, so you can work simultaneously on different versions of your song, preparing a variety of mixes, not just fiddling with the main arrangement. That’s very handy for doing various Radio versus Club versions, or different length versions of the same song, such as when preparing material for a Stock library. You can hide or expand those alternative mixes with just one move, making space for the one you’re intending to work on.
Where the Fun Begins
Of course, as this is a major update there have also been some fairly big changes – not just cosmetic ones or workflow improvements. The first thing that caught my eye was multi-instrument capability – layering of synthesizers in one common window allowing you to set the key range for every instance of an instrument. Not a revolution, but still quite a cool solution that can make your project much cleaner and better organized. The same goes with the ability to rank and connect effects in parallel or in series. This is quite similar to chaining them in IK T-Racks, but here in Studio One 3 this ability is way more flexible and advanced. It isn’t a must have for everyday use, but still, very nice to have.
Presonus finally made its own sampler, Presence XT, a powerful tool with the standard set of controls that most advanced new hybrids between sampler and synths have. It brings an advanced modulation matrix window and very good filters with two LFOs that come with the standard set of curves. Presence XT also reads various common sampler formats, like Kontakt, Giga, soundfonts and EXS files. It allows scripting for instruments, so some included instruments already come with their own set of controllers. It also comes with serious sound content – 15 Gb if we are precise – and most of it is high quality, bringing a very versatile groups of instruments, from orchestral, rock to some electronic ones. Of course, the quality is not on the same level as you get with some sample libraries that cost as much as the whole Studio One 3 package, but all in all, most of the instruments are useful, covering most of the popular genres and groups of instruments.
The next addition is Mai Tai. A virtual analog synthesizer that fits somewhere in a category called “better than most of the built-in synths in many other DAWs, but not as good as some well-known third party virtual synthesizers.” It’s quite flexible and highly capable, but most of the included presets are a bit on the attacky side. Nevertheless, it offers plenty of useful sounds. The truth is, most of the well-known third party synthesizer developers pay very well-known patch programmers good money to build their bank of sounds. As I tweaked Mai Tai, I got the impression that it’s capable of producing better sounds than those presented in a user library. Propellerhead Reason and Image-Line FL Studio have slightly better synthesizers, so this one comes somewhere between those two DAWs and all others.
One of my favorite new additions is Macro Control. It is an editing window that every channel or instrument and effect has, where you can assign up to eight parameters to your hardware controller. You can find similar things on some other DAWs but I have to admit that this is an essential addition seeing as there are more and more controllers on the market.
It Goes Down to the End
For previous users of Studio One “Note FX” is quite a useful addition. It is actually an editor with a set of MIDI effects. So far, Studio One has been one of the few big DAWs that hasn’t had MIDI effects. Actually, this release seems to be dedicated to filling in all the missing parts, laying the groundwork for a bright future. Don’t get me wrong, the previous version, Studio One 2, used to be a really great DAW bringing some revolutionary solutions along with a great set of included tools, even a basic Melodyne editor and all sorts of high end effects that could only be found on the very best DAWs on a market (multiband compressor, excellent convolution reverb, advanced equalizer and many more). Studio One 2 used to be a very capable DAW, able to handle very demanding production tasks, but it still had some blind spots that hadn’t been covered until now, things which have become standard for some other well-known DAWs. So, with all these improvements, the ones we went through and even some others that we haven’t mentioned yet – like improved automation with various implemented automation curves, or maybe the High DPI user definable interface, remote option for iPad, or some other smaller, detailed improvements – along with a lot of high-quality additional content – over 4000 loops and a massive bundle of sounds and instruments – and considering all the capabilities already implemented in previous versions, this DAW is a quality alternative to any of the biggest names in the field. As I said, at the moment it is a matter of choice. Live, Cubase, Logic Pro, Fl Studio or Studio One 3, it’s up to you. With excellent audio quantization directly in the arrangement window and a highly advanced browser with great time-stretching algorithms, it is an excellent choice for all genres – from rock and orchestral to electro and EDM. It is perfectly suited for all sorts of live recordings. As one of my colleagues said to me: I used to sell cars in a past, I would talk with a man about the engine and all the other stuff, but if their wife didn’t like the color they didn’t buy it. It happened all the time.
So, it’s all about the color. If you like it – use it. Engine is top notch, nobody ever questioned that.
Studio One comes in a three shapes. Firstly, Studio One Prime, the free version, is quite cool, but there’s no VST support and quite a limited set of included effects. You can get Studio One Artist for $121.94 USD, while Studio One Professional will cost you $487,94 USD.
Fairly normal prices for that range of digital workstations, so it’s all down to the color. Ask your wife if you are unsure. In any case, you will not be disappointed.