Digital Performer 3

Mark of the Unicorn first developed its Performer software for the Mac in 1985. It quickly became established as the leading music sequencer in the USA, and was renamed Digital Performer when audio features were added about 10 years ago. For the first few years of the Mac’s existence, it was not widely adopted in the UK. Consequently, Performer users were few and far between, and sequencers from Steinberg and Emagic – available originally on the Atari computer – became better-established. Available on the Mac for the last decade, Emagic’s Logic Audio is the software of choice for most music professionals, while Steinberg’s Cubase VST is more successful in the home-studio market. Now MOTU is making a bid for sequencer superstardom with the release of Digital Performer 3 (DP3). New professional features include time-stamping of the audio regions, various automation modes for the Mixing Desk, and a dedicated MIDI Machine Control window. A new Continuous Scrolling preference causes the playback wiper to stay anchored to the centre of the window while the data in the window scrolls behind. However, scrolling performance was surprisingly clumsy and sluggish on my dual-processor 500MHz Power Mac G4. RAM recording
Digital Performer has a number of unique features, including the Polar and Samplers windows. Polar lets you record audio to RAM, overdubbing on the fly, while the Samplers window lets you transfer samples between DP3 and most popular hardware-samplers. Anyone working with loops will appreciate the ease of Polar, while sampler users will appreciate the benefits of such close integration with the sequencer software. Surround-sound recording, mixing and mastering are introduced in DP3 – support for all formats, including LCRS and 5.1. Multiprocessor support has also been introduced, effectively doubling the available processing power for plug-ins. DP3 includes an excellent selection of audio plug-ins. These are available when using the MOTU Audio System with the Mac’s built-in audio, or with the wide range of supported cards – although not when using Pro Tools TDM hardware via the DAE software. All the standard effects are provided, including EQ, delay and dynamics processing. Many of the new plug-ins introduced with DP3 are designed for surround applications, such as Speaker Calibration, and Feedback Delay. Other useful newcomers include MasterWorks Gate, which provides real-time, look-ahead gating; Trigger, which converts audio waveform peaks in an audio track into MIDI notes; and Plate, which simulates vintage plate reverbs. A high number of tracks and audio voices are made possible by DP3’s new Automatic Voice Allocation feature, which allows the program to dynamically assign audio voices from a pool of 96 mono voices and 64 stereo voices. For example, MOTU’s preliminary bench tests – running DP3 on an 800MHz dual-processor G4 equipped with a MOTU 2408mkII audio interface – reveal that Digital Performer is able to play back 128 tracks of 16-bit 44.1KHz audio, with eight bands of parametric EQ and dynamics 32-bit processing used on each track. This compares very favourably with Pro Tools systems, which are restricted to a maximum of 64 tracks. Interestingly, you can transfer entire projects containing audio and MIDI data between Digital Performer and any other system that supports the OMF Interchange file format. Most importantly, this means you can transfer projects to or from Pro Tools using Digidesign’s DigiTranslator software.

OUR VERDICT

Performer was the first computer-based sequencer I worked with. I continued to use it until three years ago when Logic Audio leapt ahead. More recently, Pro Tools 5.1 has been my preferred environment, but now I can work in Digital Performer as easily and efficiently as within Pro Tools – but with the benefit of far-superior MIDI features. And, I can still use my Pro Tools TDM hardware via the DAE software. Even better, I can swap projects to and from Pro Tools as I please. I can also run DP3 on any of my Macs using the native audio, or with most popular audio cards, and take advantage of the wide range of MOTU plug-ins. One of the most powerful things in favour of DP3 is the excellent user-interface. This completely blows away Logic Audio and Cubase VST – both of which have very messy interfaces. I can highly recommend DP3 for professional work, as it now provides a great alternative to any of its competitors. This review appeared in the Expo 2001 issue

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