If you produce music, whether as a home musician or as a profession, chances are you have invested time and money into a particular DAW and you're also likely hesitant to make a change. For whatever reason, folks are often devoted to their DAW of choice, but after using Studio One 3 for a couple of months, I can tell you here and now that if you give Studio One a try, you might find that making a switch is not only a lot easier than you thought (a LOT easier), but also a pleasant experience that can free you from the limitations of your existing DAW.
When you first start Studio One 3, you'll notice that its interface is a darker hue than you might be used to. Interface color is a matter of preference, and some of you might prefer a darker interface. (I do.) However, if the color isn't to your liking, PreSonus makes it easy to adjust the interface color to better suit your taste.
To make it easier to move from Pro Tools, Logic, or Cubase, PreSonus includes the ability to instantly map keyboard shortcuts to match any of these popular DAWs. Coming to Studio One from Pro Tools? Simply open the Preferences for Studio One and change the keyboard mapping scheme to Pro Tools with one click. Instantly, all of the keyboard shortcuts you're familiar with and spent so much time learning work just as you'd expect inside of Studio One! It's such a simple thing, but it's such a huge impact on those of us who are dipping our toes into the PreSonus waters for the first time, and it's one that makes those waters feel awfully inviting.
"PreSonus has done a tremendous job of improving the DAW workflow and removing clutter."
You'll also notice that Studio One offers an interface that appears more streamlined and less cluttered than many DAWs. Don't let this simplicity fool you into thinking that you're losing any functionality. On the contrary, PreSonus has done a tremendous job of improving the DAW workflow and removing clutter. While doing so, they worked with a lot of top names in the industry in order to discover what works and what doesn't work. The result is an interface and a workflow that is pleasantly freeing and conducive to an artistic flow. But hey, don't take my word for it. Head over to the PreSonus website and see what artists have to say about Studio One.
With each iteration of Studio One 3, this pattern repeats itself. In fact, each dot release (3.2, 3.3, etc.) feels much more like a major version release, with a ton of new impactful features. Some of these features are technical ones (such as native low-latency monitoring), but others are designed to make editing and mixing more efficient; things like adding "undo" functionality across the entire mixer and linking the selection tools so that they work similarly to the Smart Tool in Pro Tools.
Editing and Arranging
Editing in Studio One is a breeze, and the linked selection and arrow tools make quick work of most tasks. Much like the Smart Tool in Pro Tools, the tools in Studio One are context-sensitive. However, Studio One's implementation adds the alternative tool option. This option allows you to select an editing tool that is activated when you press Command on a Mac or Ctrl on a PC, making the tool incredibly powerful and flexible for the way you work.
Across the board, Studio One makes things fast and easy by implementing a drag-and-drop approach. The integrated browser allows you to add instruments, effects, loops, and more by dragging them right into the interface. Those of you who have a touch screen will be happy to know that PreSonus designed Studio One to be touch-friendly, and it supports multi-touch in both Windows and Mac OS. They've also included native support for Slate Raven, the industry-standard multi-touch controller.
If you're using a third-party instrument or effect, you have the option of letting Studio One create a thumbnail image in the browser so that you can get a nice visual representation. In the figure below, I'm dropping an instance of the excellent Ample Sound AGM2 on a new track. You can see a visual representation of this instrument in the browser so I know exactly what I'm going to get.
This drag-and-drop approach might not seem like that big a deal, but I promise you that once you've used it for a while, you'll find working in other DAWs that don't offer this downright painful! Sometimes it's the simple things that make the biggest impact.
There are other little details that make Studio One a real pleasure. For example, you can change a channel's level within the edit window, something that should be standard fare in all DAWs. Studio One also integrates Melodyne pitch correction. A keypress (or a menu click) pulls up Melodyne directly inside of the Studio One interface where you can make pitch corrections without having to deal with exporting and importing tracks. (Studio One comes with Melodyne Essential, but you can upgrade from the PreSonus store.)
Another really cool feature in Studio One is the functionality available in the context menu. Right-click on a track in the arranger not only gives you the expected menu options, but you'll also be able to change the track color, the track name, tuning, transpose, and much more.
One of the really unique and seriously cool features in Studio One is the Arranger track. The Arranger track is a songwriter's dream, and it makes exploring compositions quick, fun, and easy. Once you define which portions of your song are verses, the chorus, the bridge, etc., you can easily drag and drop to rearrange a song. As you add new sections in the Arranger track, Studio One will attempt to define the parts for you, but you're welcomed to change them to suit your particular song. This feature is incredibly versatile, and it's unlike anything I've used in any other DAW. It truly is the best way I've experienced to compose a song in software.
In the figure shown below, I've highlighted the Arranger track. Suppose I want to move the chorus between verses 1 and 2. All I have to do if click on "Chorus" in the Arranger track and drag it between "Verse" and "Verse 2". When I drop it there, all of the chorus portions of each track go along with it. If I don't like the change, I can easily undo the change with one click or keypress or I can drag it right back to where it was before. This ability to very quickly arrange a composition is unmatched for creativity, and it's a feature I quickly couldn't live without.
The Arranger track really shines when you combine it with another unique feature to Studio One; the Scratch Pad. Gone are the days when you would hesitate to make a change in an arrangement because you were afraid you'd screw up an edit or not be able to get back to where you started.
"The Scratch Pad is truly one of those features that just might convince you to uninstall your current DAW. It really is that impactful."
The Scratch Pad feature allows you to add additional arrangement areas that are completely separate from your main arrangement. In the figure below, I've drawn a red box around the Scratch Pad. I can drag selections into and out of my Scratch Pad or I can rearrange the song in my Scratch Pad, all without impacting my original song. The Scratch Pad is truly one of those features that just might convince you to uninstall your current DAW. It really is that impactful.
As I used Studio One, I noticed that there wasn't a ripple delete function like I was used to in Pro Tools. When I pointed this out to PreSonus, they pointed out that this is actually called "Delete Time" in Studio One. It works the same way as ripple delete does in other DAWS; you select a range in one or more tracks and then use "Delete Time" on the Edit menu or press Command+Alt+D (Ctrl+Alt+D on Windows) and your selection is deleted while moving everything after it to the left to close the gap. It should be pointed out that on the latest Mac OS, Command+Alt+D is mapped to show the dock, so you'll probably want to change that keyboard shortcut in Studio One.
There are some things I'd like to see added to Studio One, such as the ability to easily save and recall different I/O configurations. However, I can understand why some of these things are missing. After all, Studio One is a mere baby next to its competition. On a positive note, PreSonus uses your input to make decisions for new features, so if you want to see a feature added to Studio One, simply make a feature request. If enough people vote up your request, it just might make it into the next update!
Mixing in Studio One 3.5 is a pleasure, due, at least in part, to the flexibility of the Mix window. Panes can be displayed and hidden at the click of a button, and display options allow for a normal or narrow view, as well as a large or small view of channel strips.
Adding effects is simple using drag-and-drop as we've already discussed, and Studio One 3.5's Extended FX Chains feature makes it easy to visualize your effects chain. Add a splitter to split the signal into as many as 5 different routes, each with its own plug-in or chain of plug-ins. Take it a step (or more) further by adding multiple splitters, each with as many as 5 different routes! You can easily see that you can use this feature to gain tight control over your effects. It took me a little time to wrap my head around this feature, but I found this article on Ask Audio to really help. This is an amazing feature that provides a dazzling array of options in routing your effects.
One thing I really like about Studio One's mixer is that it appears to be infinitely scalable. I have a very large second monitor in my home studio, and Studio One's channel strips look wonderful and allow for very precise control when scaled to that level. The figure shown below doesn't really do it justice. It's something you have to experience to really appreciate.
As I was going into this review, I was a die hard Pro Tools guy. After working with Studio One for a few months, I'm a convert. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure where my iLok is at this point. (I forgot to point out that Studio One doesn't require a dongle or an iLok.) Studio One 3.5 simply feels more natural to me. Yes, I miss ripple editing a lot, but features like Scratch Pads and the Arranger track can't be matched in Pro Tools. As a songwriter, I really feel like Studio One speaks my language. In addition to everything I've pointed out in this review, Studio One also sounds amazing.
If you're not convinced, head on over to PreSonus and get a copy of Studio One Prime. It's completely free and never expires. If you want all of the features I've shown in this review, grab a demo of Studio One Professional. This demo isn't crippled. You can export and save your projects, so you'll get a true feel for how Studio One works for you. I'm confident that you'll be amazed by Studio One just as I was.