Performer was one of the very first Mac MIDI sequencer programs (when Steinberg and the rest were still only developing for the Commodore), so Digital Performer boasts the longest pedigree of any digital audio/MIDI sequencer. So how does the latest batch of improvements stack up against the Johnny-come-latelies?
The good news is that MOTU have been the first to respond to Apple’s changes in hardware interfacing. Digital Performer 2.5 no longer uses floppy-disk installs (which don’t work via USB floppy drives anyway) like Cubase VST nor does it use serial port dongles like Emagic Logic or Waves. To install the program you simply type in the serial number in your manual during the CD-ROM Install routine. Digital Performer 2.5 runs on the iMac and the new blue G3s (although if you want to use MIDI, you’ll need a USB-to-MIDI interface – see the USB/MIDI sidebar on page 80). You don’t even need your CD-ROM handy during day-to-day operation (unlike with VST 4.0, which is liable to ask for the CD at the least convenient moment).
While affecting the program’s use, this hardly constitutes new features, but fear not, DP 2.5 has a bunch of these. First of all there is a destructive stereo Waveform Editor, which allows the permanent removal of clicks, pops and other short, unwanted snippets in your audio recordings. This type of editor is becoming increasingly popular inside digital audio sequencers and this version works as well as any other. For quick fixes, it saves you switching to something like Bias Peak. Proceed with caution, however – it’s not called destructive for nothing.
Sample-accurate editing is now possible throughout the program, allowing you to zoom right into individual samples and move audio (or MIDI events) by a minute amount (I’ve always found this an anorak approach to digital audio). Of more interest, are the two new mastering plug-ins: MOTU’s built-in effects have always been a cut above those supplied free with the likes of VST (and this may have been one reason for the higher price). The new ones are no exception with their transparent 64-bit processing quality. MasterWorks Compressor and Limiter give the sort of subtle (or not if you prefer) control of dynamics, which a few years back only came in TDM format or in stand-alone hardware boxes, either of which would cost you more than this entire program.
The Compressor is in fact a three-in-one plug-in with separate compression on adjustable low, mid and high bands (stop cymbal crashes compressing the bass drum, for example). Existing plug-ins can now be used as inserts as well, for increased flexibility.
The up to 8-band Parametric EQ has a new graphic interface (the CD says Graphic 8-band EQ, which I read as 8-band Graphic EQ – plenty of opportunity for confusion there) which makes adjusting the already sweet-sounding EQ a breeze. And the long overdue Normalize command makes its appearance in the audio menu, together with Fade In and Fade Out.
I have reservations about normalization bringing up the noise floor on 16-bit recordings but with DP 2.5’s 24-bit capability, its appearance is timely. 24-bit recordings can be made through MOTU’s own 2408 (if you connect a third-party converter like the MusicNet/Sonorus AD24 to the ADAT Optical input), ProTools 24 or 24-bit ASIO cards like Sonorus StudI/O or Yamaha’s DSP Factory (SPDIF input only).
Talking of the new ASIO capability, I couldn’t get DP 2.5 to see anything in its ASIO Drivers folder – DSP Factory, Sonorus StudI/O, or Event, all purportedly supported. I tried on five different computers. (I recall a similar hitch getting Logic Audio 3.6 to see its ASIO Drivers folder.) You can solve the problem, however, by copying the Sound Manager ASIO folder from any other ASIO-supported software, such as Cubase VST, into DP 2.5 and the cards should appear.
24-bit recording, destructive stereo editing, the MasterWorks Compressor and Limiter, Normalize/Fade, and ASIO and Pro Tools 24 support are all major new features (sample-accurate editing and graphic adjustment of EQ are also nice to have) and the Digital Performer faithful will certainly upgrade. While MOTU’s competitive upgrade from any rival sequencer is great value at £199, without a cheaper non-24-bit version, as offered by Cubase VST and Audio Logic, the price is rather high for the new Mac musician.