Over the nearly 17 years that I’ve been reviewing music recording-related products in the pages of this magazine, there have been literally hundreds of different manufacturers’ wares profiled. Each piece of merchandise—be it software or hardware—was thoroughly pushed, prodded, probed, and put through its proverbial paces in an effort to provide the most painstakingly accurate picture of its worth and potential. Not that I’ve always been right, mind you. Some things have seemed perfectly conceived at the time, only to never be utilized in my studio again, whilst others have eluded my understanding due to my own shortcomings or inexperience at the time I evaluated them.
Sifting through these many profiles recently, it was abundantly clear that one company has been covered here more than any other: Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s own PreSonus.
“Why this flagrant favoritism?” you may quite rightly ask.
It all goes back to the very beginning of Zen of Recording’s existence in February of 2004, when I pledged to “endeavor to empower you with knowledge of the tools and techniques available to aspiring songwriters, recording artists, engineers, and producers” in the grandly titled opening salvo, “Wake Up and Smell the Revolution.”
Well, I don’t know how well that goal has been met, but that last word sure says it all: there has been a recording revolution and those professional-grade tools we all dreamed of and demanded have been placed in our creative hands to do with as we wish.
In my opinion, the one company that has consistently pushed forward and outward at a price that could keep us all along for the ride has been PreSonus. These makers of affordable and well-built mixing systems, control surfaces, speakers, studio accessories, and live sound reinforcement hardware have kept those hits coming year after year. At the center of it all is Studio One, its digital audio workstation, which has elbowed its way to a podium near the top of the heap.
I have been working with its recent Version 5 update for the past several weeks and I can tell you that it’s fantastic, but not as terrific as its latest iteration 5.1.1, which in keeping with the company’s policy toward inter-numeral updates is available to users absolutely free, even though it adds several great new features and functions.
Just as Version 4 reached out to new users within loop and pattern-based music genres, so too does 5, although this time it’s in the area of live performance via the Show Page, which makes it possible to run a complete show, including set list management, playback of backing tracks, virtual and real instrument players, and patch changes inside a single computer window. As the current pandemic subsides and musicians begin to re-emerge into venues, I think you can expect to see this in frequent use.
A feature I’ve personally have been hoping for is the ability to save and recall mix scenes. Once you’ve reached the stage where you’re frequently tweaking mix settings in a recording’s later stages, it’s easy to lose track of that really cool sound you had a few versions ago. Being able to leave yourself a trail of “bread crumbs” back to that magic place is a wonderfully welcome feature, be it an entire mix or just a selected track. This is especially useful for those using virtual amps and effects who want to get back to that inspiring tone they tracked with.
In fact, version 5.1.1 does some great things to guitars and other instruments via its longtime amp simulation plugin, Ampire. For instance, along with being able to dial in your desired guitar tone by running through your choice of amp, be it a Marshall, Fender, Vox, or Rectifier style, along with a complimentary (or not) speaker cabinet choice, you can also add some really well-done emulations of pedal effects. I own a Boss Chorus, an Ibanez Tube Screamer, and an MXR Phase 90 and I can tell you: they’re currently collecting dust, because PreSonus’ software versions of these and a host of other stomp boxes are so damn good; and you can drag and drop these all you want!
Speaking of plug-in effects, all of Studio One’s plugins have received a welcome makeover, with improved and added features for many, along with a more intuitive and attractive look and layout. Analog Delay is a notable standout, as it has a new Color section, which boasts PreSonus’ proprietary “State Space” technology, imparting circuit level coloration to a number of other plugins and amplifiers, as well as Motor and Width sections. Pro EQ is maybe the best stock DAW equalizer out there, made even better by the updated interface, which includes an even finer resolution 12th octave spectrum display, along with a piano keyboard note frequency overlay, to aid in tracking down frequencies that need to be cut or boosted with surgical accuracy. A HUGE help. Limiter2 is another effect that has come into its own, with features that may have users ignoring their current audio level “maximizer” choices.
Keyboardists who have been looking for a more traditional musical environment than that afforded by modern piano roll-styled MIDI editors will rejoice in the introduction of the Score Editor, which displays your MIDI performances as musical notation! Initially in version 5, this meant you could edit or enhance this info in a more familiar setting, but in 5.1.1 you can actually print out these parts as music manuscript for live players to perform. This includes the ability to transpose them for instruments that don’t play in Concert “C”, like trumpets and saxophones, introducing the best of PreSonus’ Notion software into the workflow. I can’t wait to demo out some horn parts and then hand them usable charts at the session!
There are way too many new enhancements to cover in depth, like Track or Channel filters that let you display only what you tell Studio One you want to see in a song, or a way to search for projects from the home screen, the new Listen Buss that allows you to route your audio through alternate outputs and/or plugins, Aux Busses for integrating hardware inputs into your mixes, Global Marker Tracks that allow you to more easily insert to key and time signature changes, alongside the arranger and chord tracks and even add a time-based ruler under your bar-based one!
Let’s not forget Clip Gain Envelopes for getting hands on with those waveform levels to manage plosives or volume drops and Retrospective Recording, which acts like a recorder that’s always on in the background so you can go back in time, even if you were just rehearsing, to retrieve that one perfect moment you wouldn’t have been able to find your way back to otherwise.
There are dozens more where these improvements came from and with each leap forward that every subsequent version represents, a steadfast commitment to a better product and by extension, better music from its users is what PreSonus is clearly all about.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is a record producer and recording artist from San Diego, CA. Contact him at KitschandSync@hotmail.com