Presonus Studio One 3 Professional – Safe and Sound
Hi, and welcome back to StudioWise – this week we’re looking at Presonus Studio One 3 Professional, the flagship DAW and production platform making waves in the pro audio scene.
UPDATED 22nd October 2017
Digital audio workstation users have traditionally been a fairly loyal bunch, usually opting for one of the mainstream Steinberg or Avid offerings – never straying far away, even when potentially better products are available on the market. Presonus have entered the fray by doing what any decent competition does – copy all the good stuff, and then make it cheaper.
I love a bit of marketing embellishment as much as the next fella, but PreSonus has some large cojones toting Studio One 3 Pro as ‘The next standard in songwriting and production’. One could be convinced by all the fanboy videos on YouTube this is the next coming of the Messiah, but we’ll do our best to wade through the hype and check the software on even standings with its counterparts.
We will be mostly comparing Studio One to Cockos Reaper, one of the main DAWs we use at Music Nation for reviews. Though physically Studio One probably closer resembles Cubase, we feel Reaper is the better competition due to the lightweight coding and price point.
Let the games begin…
The new Studio One 3 is a major update to the previous version and has a large range of new features current owners will be very happy with, including an updated Projects page and an optimised high-speed audio engine. Other enhancements like unlimited mixer undo, VCA faders, multitasking arrow tool and arranger tracks will no doubt leave other DAW users to wonder what all the fuss is about, mostly being features available for many years, but it’s good the platform is becoming more rounded as it matures.
Installation is a dream. The installer manager lets you select where the software is to live and what packages you want to download. At over 30-gig for the full install, it’s a real monster (considering Reaper is 9 megabytes….), so now might be a good time to consider that hard drive upgrade if you’re running short on space. Of course, you don’t need to download everything all at once, but you probably going to at least for a look-see.
Once installed and running you’re presented with a sort of login/welcome screen featuring your artist profile, recent files, your SoundCloud statistics and a news feed section for competitions and updates. Plenty of upselling opportunities are here for PreSonus, but also some excellent downloadable demo arrangements and tutorials. PreSonus has a solid tutorial system and it doesn’t take long to get up to speed for the first time.
Out of the box Studio One certainly looks the business. Crisp, flat graphics gives the software a pro-looking stance, and though you can change the colour tint, it doesn’t have anywhere near the customisation levels of Reaper. The gloomy flat look hasn’t grown on me, unfortunately, so I still prefer to use pretty much any DAW for long project sessions. And maybe it’s just my eyes, but I struggle to see the cursor bar on this UI, even when fiddling with the tint, it’s a shame you can’t make it bigger or any other colour than white.
I expected Studio One to be quite picky about the audio interface requirements since PreSonus create the hardware counterpart as well, but happily, I encountered no snobbery of my Focusrite and Tascam interface hardware, everything was configured perfectly. There are benefits to using PreSonus hardware if you have it due to the workflow and stylisation of the software, but I certainly haven’t encountered any limitations of our devices here.
From the welcome screen, you have the option of creating a new song or project. A song is a basic tracking session, but a project is not what I expected, but a mastering and song publication page. This possibly could be worded better, but it’s a brilliant feature for collating your album/EP tracks for mastering with the software and exporting to Red Book CD or the web. Nice touch, so far so good.
Making Tracks, baby
In song mode for the first time, it appears at first that nearly every conceivable control, knob and fader is presented on the front end – something people with touch screens will appreciate, but my initial feeling was the interface was way too busy. Oddly though, comparing the default UI to others on the market, Studio One is actually one of the most minimalistic of the bunch…it just feels busier for some reason. It doesn’t take long to move elements around, muck with the tint and get the UI more comfortable to my liking. Experienced DAW users will immediately recognize a lot of Cubase influences here, and with both open side by side at the same time you could be forgiven for thinking one was just a second window instance of the other, they’re that close.
Studio One’s interface scales perfectly to your monitor resolution, so looks incredible on our 21:9 widescreen, and since the mixer is dockable, you can drag that over to a second monitor to free up space in the arrange window. The main mixer features peak and compression gain reduction indicators if you have the fat channel inserted, and peak/RMS levels on the master – though the RMS is only a floating indicator, I would prefer something more substantial here.
Mostly the workflow is very similar to other DAWs, you can either import your own tracks or start recording in fresh takes as you would expect. All of our VST and VSTi instruments behaved well, though a few of our Kontakt libraries take longer than normal to load for some reason. We tested a fairly large rock mix and found the platform stable, with no glitches or undue DPS issues. All in all, its pretty standard stuff once you get things set up the way you like. Unless you’re totally new to the scene, anyone with basic knowledge of DAWs will be up and running quickly here.
There are one or two standout features of the song screen worth covering. The browser panel is very well laid out and features clearly defined instrument, effect, and loop categories. A directory browser, SoundCloud link and project media pool are included, all nicely spaced and easy to navigate.
I also rather like the scratch pad -a kind of audio Dropbox tool, you can keep frequently used elements from your project here ready for use when you need them. Since my main interests lay in sound design, this is perfect for creating large compositions without all the ‘bits’ stored all over the place in the main arrange window. Though you can save as many scratch pads as you like, great idea.
Studio One 3 Professional comes with a good collection of FX plugins (37), instruments (5), and a massive loop library, enough for most producer needs, and mostly at a very high standard. This is one area Studio One is way ahead of Reaper, which only includes a handful of excellent, but fairly rudimentary FX and a single instrument – which is more like a student project than a serious creative tool. Of the FX devices we tested in Studio One, all performed well, if not overly characterful, they do what is written on the box and for the most part are excellent starting points for mixing and mastering. The fat channel being the more usable of the bunch, this really is the PreSonus’ mainstay since the early days, and has developed into a solid channel strip application you will automatically apply as the track default. I wouldn’t start uninstalling my Waves and UAD plugin collection just yet, but for a factory collection, we were impressed
Of the included instruments, PreSonus has clearly drawn inspiration heavily from Propellerhead Reasons venerable Kong/Thor/Malstrom/NNXT instruments with their own Impact, Mail Tai, Mojito and Presence variants. Without Reason’s incredible rack patching system the Studio One versions are much less useful as interactive tools but do sound fairly good as stand-alone instruments. Mojito I could take or leave, but Mai Tai sounds excellent for a dual oscillator synth and Presence offers an excellent selection of sampled instruments, Cool stuff and again an excellent selection of basics.
One of the big new party tricks for v3 is the Console Shaper plugin, a large format console master bus emulator. In use, I wasn’t overly convinced it was doing much other than making everything louder and hissier, and since PreSonus doesn’t tell you what large format console they have emulated other than it was ‘British’, it’s a bit gimmicky for my tastes, and certainly miles away from what the incredible Brainworx BX_Console offers. I tried inserting a subtle amount over each of my track channels and busses on a mix as an experiment, but other than a little bit louder there were no discernable vintage vibes or analogue creaminess I was hoping for. The crosstalk function works only on bus tracks, presumably to emulate some of the intermodulation real mixing desks have across their channels, though to me it mostly sounds phasey and wobbly when pushed hard. I’m presuming this is a work in progress, as of right now Slate Digital, Brainworx and even Harrison MixBus do this a lot more convincingly.
Aside from the start/song/project screen, this is all familiar territory to any seasoned digital workstation user. Creating MIDI and audio tracks from scratch is painless and no different from any other DAW. The dockable MIDI arranger declutters the main arrangement screen and is easier to navigate when undocked from the main interface and floated. Naming notes is easy and makes for quick drum sequencing when you can see the drum type instead of the piano note number.
A bugbear for me with many DAWs is limited key command customisations (Ahem….Propellerheads). Not the case with Studio One, you have total control over your keyboard shortcuts, and they have preset states for you Pro Tools, Cubase and Logic guys. Excellent.
The integrated Melodyne pitch correction is very nice. Probably not quite as good as Reason’s very similar system for me, but pretty damn good. You can quickly edit pitch correction or pitch effect directly on your wav file blocks, and come back again at any stage to further edit or remove. Melodyne is probably the best in the business for this kind of thing, so having it built right into the DAW is a fantastic feature.
Track effects are plentiful, and all of the required bread-and-butter devices are here. The browser contains a bunch of FX chains which are a quick way to set up some start point track FX. I have always liked PreSonus’ Live32 compressor and EQ, they’re not vintage or particularly vibey, but they have a great layout and don’t fall to bits when you push them hard. All of the included FX have excellent GUIs which look stunning.
The brilliant Ampire XT (unashamedly an Amplitude clone) is a standout for me, not so much for its collection of amp models, but for doing the basics really well. Short of pushing into metal territory, everything we tested sounded sweet and reacted very well to player input when tracked.
Redlight distortion (used mostly in transistor mode) is also great for some track mojo, plus the Open Air ambient reverb, used sparingly on the master bus is magic.
There’s a lot to take in and learn with Studio One 3, especially for newcomers to the industry, but fortunately, the included manual is excellent, if somewhat rudimentary, plus there is a handy help viewer program for easy referrals.
With such a massive list of changes to v3, I’m wondering if current users are going to be frustrated or enthralled. Other companies typically introduce new features to their DAW’s slowly over time, giving users time to let the changes sink in. Studio One 3 is a huge leap forward from the previous release, it’s almost a totally new DAW. Some of the new features are also fairly taxing on DSP, which may be a problem for folks already pushing the limits of their systems.
Studio One is on equal footing with the other top Daws out there by my reckoning, but for all its toys and features it lacks the character to claim the top spot. Reaper has been doing the bulk of what Studio One offers for nearly a decade now, though it lacks the polish, it is stable and still offers higher performance at a fraction of the size and price – and call me shallow, but Reaper just looks sexier. Though the mini-community and mastering environment in Studio One is great, it’s a bit of a bummer PreSonus didn’t try to innovate a little more with the tracking and mixing interfaces. To be honest, the track effects and instruments included with Studio One 3 Professional are a lot more groundbreaking than the DAW platform they operate in.
Studio One feels like a missed opportunity to do something really creative. Sure, platforms like Ableton Live, Reason and Bitwig are leftfield and not to everyone’s taste, but they are unique and bring totally new and inspirational ways to create music. Studio One 3 offers so much promise but fails to follow through as anything other than just another DAW.
I think if you choose Studio One as your main DAW you’ll have an excellent platform with everything you need to produce music, mix and master your projects from concept to distribution. The tutorial system is perfect, especially for newbies to PC recording, and of course, PreSonus’ excellent hardware counterparts make Studio One a perfect match for that, plus you have a very good selection of included FX, instruments and loops.
Of course, leaving Pro Tools for something new is a great idea and Studio One is a solid choice, but I don’t think there’s enough here to jump ship from the other big guys – Reaper, Cubase, Sonar, Reason etc., there’s nothing groundbreaking, and I’m afraid the ‘The next standard in songwriting and production’ might be a fantastic catchphrase thrown around the marketing table, but there are certainly many others in the market delivering higher standard in both songwriting and production.
Perhaps if PreSonus further developed the social aspect, pushed more into the scene with an Allihoopa style forum, get some user collaboration vibe, maybe a Vimeo/YouTube style video forum – who knows, but it’s one area most of the DAW can’t quite get right, and where I think PreSonus, with its huge fan base, can outmanoeuvre the competition. After all, it’s not about how unique your product is, it’s how many people are captivated to use it that counts.
Studio One 3 Prime, Artist and Professional are available right now through PreSonus’ website www.presonus.com