Digital Performer 4.6 & The Grand 2
Designed and built for professional use, Digital Performer provides an easy-to-understand workflow for studio production, film scoring, live performance, or remixing, with all the features you need for audio and MIDI production. You get unlimited tracks, unlimited undo, support for surround sound, 64-bit mastering tools, sample-accurate editing of audio and MIDI, automatic tempo calculation for film scoring, and much more. Built from the ground up for the Mac, Digital Performer offers sample-accurate MIDI Time Stamping, Core MIDI patch list support, Audio Unit plug-ins and virtual instruments, and support for multiple Core Audio interface drivers.
With version 4.6 there are lots of general productivity enhancements and several exciting new features. Instrument tracks now support RTAS instruments, so you can open an RTAS instrument via an instrument track instead of a voice track when running under DAE, and you can use the FXpansion VST-RTAS wrapper with the DAE. Multiple audio outputs are now supported for Audio Unit plug-ins that have these, and the new V-Racks let you load sets of virtual instruments and effects and control these from any DP sequences.
The most important new feature for music production is pitch automation. Need to correct the pitch on a vocal track? Click the pencil tool and simply draw in the corrections. You can use formant-corrected pitch shifting for more natural-sounding results or standard pitch shifting for creating special effects. Got an audio performance that you’d like to convert to MIDI data? Copy Digital Performer’s pitch segments from the audio track and paste them into a MIDI track. Clean them up a bit and you get a MIDI track that matches the audio performance. Layer a vocal with MIDI instruments, or sing in a melody and then convert it to MIDI for further development and orchestration. It’s a bit like having Auto-Tune and Melodyne built in!
But the best news is for film composers. There’s a built-in UREI click sound (are you listening David Arnold?) and you can now open a separate movie window for each sequence in a project. So if you’re scoring a TV commercial and you have a project with 15, 30 and 60-second versions of the soundtrack, each sequence can reference a different QuickTime movie. Digital Performer 4.6 also has a separate QuickScribe window for each sequence in a project. Even better, the Find Tempo command lets you zero in on the perfect tempo for your soundtrack by calculating which tempos deliver the most “hits” – moments in time where significant points in the action on-screen match the downbeats of your score.
Macworld’s buying adviceDisadvantages? Like its competitors, it’s perhaps overburdened with features – but its wide-ranging feature set is also its strength for today’s demanding music productions. Anyone doing music to picture, whether scoring a film or working on an audiovisual presentation, should seriously consider changing to Digital Performer – if they are not already using this. For existing users it’s a no-brainer: upgrade now!
The Grand 2
Most composers and many musicians need access to a piano when working out their ideas when practising, and when recording or performing. One big problem is that a decent piano can be very expensive to buy. An even bigger problem can be the size and consequent lack of portability. Hence the interest in sampled pianos. The big question here is whether the sampled piano provides a viable alternative to the real thing or not.
When Steinberg introduced The Grand a couple of years ago it set a new standard for realism. Since then, the competition has hotted up with similar offerings, such as Synthogy’s Ivory. Aiming to set the standard for the next level with The Grand 2, Steinberg has rejigged the playback engine to improve disk-streaming performance, added a new concert grand piano model, and developed several new technical features.
Every key has been individually sampled at several dynamic levels and no sample loops are used anywhere. A new economical ‘Eco’ mode is now available that uses less RAM and less processing power. And a new RAMSave feature, first seen in Steinberg’s HALion 3 virtual sampler, can be activated to automatically unload unneeded samples from memory – resulting in low RAM usage and faster project load and save times.
The Grand 2’s two concert grand models were both painstakingly sampled from real concert grand pianos made by the world’s leading manufacturers. One of the key features is that Steinberg has also recorded key-click and pedal sounds, along with the sounds of the hammers hitting the strings, to further increase the level of realism offered.
Other features include ultra-dynamic response, hammer action, sustain and sostenuto pedal support, freely programmable velocity curves, four different tonal modes (natural, soft, bright, hard), tempered or concert tuning, and adjustable room ambience level. And its unique new four-channel surround implementation allows The Grand 2 to be placed anywhere inside a virtual room, with the position adjustable directly within the user interface.
ReWire support offers easy integration into Pro Tools, while the standalone version allows The Grand 2 to be used without a host application.
Competitors include the Galaxy Steinway, EastWest’s Bosendorfer, and Synthogy’s Ivory – which includes both Steinway and Bosendorfer pianos. I compared the new Grand 2 piano with all of these and felt that it definitely had the edge. It had a more natural sounding balance across the keyboard than any of the others – which tended to sound more ‘clanky’ at the bottom end.
Overall, I would say that Steinberg’s claim to have achieved new levels of realism is correct. But when I compared it with my 110-year-old Steinway Model K upright grand piano, I realized why I had gladly spent £6,000 buying this!