Digital Performer 5 full review

Computer-based musicians tend to land on one audio/MIDI sequencer and stick with it, such is the expense of acquiring, and the effort of learning how to use, such sophisticated software. Hence if you’ve a lust for Logic, are cuckoo about Cubase or adore Ableton Live, you may find your curiosity glands unstimulated by a major upgrade to Digital Performer. That, however, would be unfortunate because there’s a lot of interesting new gadgetry in this latest version that could attract the music-technology newbie and give the seasoned campaigner food for thought.

Publisher Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) has demonstrated that it listens to customer requests, implementing more features in each upgrade while striving to keep the software user friendly. Version 5 (actually, 5.1, denoting that it’s now a Universal binary) sports new software instrument plug-ins and a host of workflow enhancers. Not least of which is the facility to place related tracks into folders and subfolders, which, in addition to colour coding, helps you manage those huge projects that would otherwise become confusing.

On the monitoring side, there’s a new Meter Bridge with long-throw meters that give an instant view of the levels of all signal paths. Another handy indicator is Visual Click which gives an on-screen indication of tempo so that you’re not reliant on distracting or intrusive audio clicks when recording. There are also enhancements to click-track programming, including the facility to program any click pattern you fancy. And the count-off can now be set to beats, not just measures, then output as an audio or visual cue.

Editing audio is slicker thanks to Slip, Slide and Roll. Slip enables you to shift the waveform within a clip without moving the clip itself. Conversely, Slide means you can move the clip without shifting the audio and Roll makes it possible to drag adjacent audio regions to and fro in one operation. It’s all designed to make manipulating audio in the Sequence pane as painless as possible, and it works well.

Improvements extend to the Waveform Editor, which features a rubber-banding approach to shifting tempo events within an audio clip. Say you’ve a lazy snare hanging back on the beat. You can now grab the on-beat tempo event and pull it across to match where the snare actually sounds, thereby letting the audio govern sequencer tempo. There’s also a Snap function that can shift tempo events to detected beats.

There are numerous other new items, such as a MIDI Keys utility that lets you enter note data from the Mac keyboard and the means to superimpose streamers, punches and flutters on QuickTime videos to provide the cues necessary when creating music for video. These facilities support MOTU’s own Digital Timepiece, as well as CueLine ProCue 1m1 and ClickStreamMachine, two machines used by the film industry to keep orchestras from dithering aimlessly while recording film scores.

There isn’t space here to round up all that Digital Performer has to offer. Suffice to say it has everything you’d want in an audio/MIDI sequencer. The important thing with any such package is ease of use. You don’t want to be struggling with the mechanics when creativity flows and DP5, while very deep, has a refreshing clarity. Digital Performer’s editing facilities are organised so that you’re only ever a mouse-click away from the window you need, which, once you get your head around the interface, makes for a very speedy way of working.

The software is unlikely to tempt Logic, Cubase, Live or Reason users away from their weapons of choice. As with each of those packages, DP5 still presents quite a learning curve, even for experienced hi-tech musicians. But for those moving up from a more basic sequencer and raw beginners with a lot of bottle, it’s worthy of serious consideration. And, of course, for owners of previous versions, upgrading is a real no-brainer.

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