When Studio One first released a little over nine years ago, PreSonus entered into a market that was dominated by Pro Tools, and Studio One didn't hold much promise in obtaining a foothold. Even so, PreSonus pushed on, and by intently listening to artists and engineers, they have been steadily earning loyalty from the audio recording and producing business. Indeed, more and more Pro Tools users are making the switch to Studio One, and for many, it's a change that brings improvements across the entire workflow.
Studio One 4 is a huge upgrade from previous versions, and it brings new features and improvements to many areas. Studio One 4.1 (a free update for Studio One 4 owners) feels more like a major upgrade than a point update. In this review, we'll look at what's new in Studio One 4 and 4.1.
All About Chords
Studio One 4 introduced some powerful features aimed squarely at composers and arrangers. If you're a composer or arranger, you're going to be blown away by Studio One 4's Chord Track, Chord detection, and Chord Selector.
The Chord Track makes it easy to see chord progressions. Simply right-click on an instrument track and select Extract to Chord Track on the Audio menu to see the chords that are played in that track. You can also drag and drop one or more tracks to the Chord Track. In fact, this is the best way to work with the Chord Track in a situation where multiple instruments are comprising chords in your arrangement. A Chord Track button makes it easy to toggle the Chord Track on and off.
By the way, an Instrument track in Studio One is a track that was recorded using a virtual instrument. While the original input is MIDI, Studio One performs a high-resolution conversion to create an Instrument track. That means you aren't limited to the 127 increments imposed by MIDI. Instead, you get a much higher resolution track in Studio One.
The Chord Track is very cool indeed, but what really blows me away is that this functionality isn't limited to instrument tracks. It also works on audio tracks. Unlike an Instrument track, Studio One doesn't automatically know what notes are being played in an audio track, so you'll need to first right-click the audio track and select Detect Chords on the Audio menu. Once you do that, you'll see the chords displayed at the bottom of the audio track's waveform. You can then extract these to the Chord Track. Of course, in true Studio One form, you can also just drag and drop an audio track to the Chord Track to do both of these things in one quick move.
"If you're a composer or arranger, you're going to be blown away by Studio One 4's Chord Track, Chord detection, and Chord Selector."
Chord detection on audio tracks is impressive, but it's not perfect. Chords are detected at an eighth note resolution, so if a chord changes on a sixteenth note, you'll have to tweak it in the Chord Track before you start changing things. You'll also want to make sure that your tempo is set correctly in the song. (This is usually only an issue if you are importing audio that wasn't recorded as part of the song.)
Once the Chord Track is displayed, you can use it to modify or add any chord easily. To add a chord, use the paintbrush to add the chord to the Chord Track. To modify an existing chord, double-click on the chord to display the Chord Selector. Anyone familiar with the Circle of Fifths will be right at home with the Chord Selector, but even if you aren't a master of music theory, you can easily test out different chord progressions by clicking on the chord you want to use. At the bottom of the Chord Selector, you can even see the notes that comprise the selected chord on a virtual keyboard. The Chord Track arrow buttons in the upper-right corner make it easy to navigate through the chords on the Chord Track.
The Chord Selector isn't the only way you can modify chords. You can also change chords directly in a track's Inspector pane, in a track's Edit view, or by enabling instrument input and playing the desired chord on a MIDI keyboard.
In order for your modified chords to be played, you'll need to set the Follow Chords mode in the track's Inspector pane. The options you have here will differ depending on whether your track is an instrument track or an audio track.
Instrument tracks will have Parallel, Narrow, and Bass modes. Audio tracks add a Scale and Universal mode. Each mode applies modified chords a little differently. If your track is a bass part, the Bass mode will likely be the best choice. Otherwise, it's often best to solo the track and experiment to find the mode that provides the best result.
Audio tracks also have a Tune Mode setting that allows you to fine-tune the pitch shifting algorithm based on the instrument in your audio source.
It's a little misleading to say "improved" Impact because Studio One 4 brings some major additions and improvements to Impact, now called Impact XT.
Impact XT is a drum machine on steroids, and some of the new features are going to dramatically improve your workflow. Impact XT packs 8 banks (each with 16 pads) and 32 outputs, so you have plenty of flexibility in creating your beats. One particular cool new feature is the ability to drag a loop onto Impact XT while holding shift in order to automatically split the loop and distribute slices across multiple pads in one easy step. While this works best with loops, we used the same technique with audio files with pretty good results, and we found it a really cool way to create some great beats, especially when we combine it with the new pattern editor. (More on that later.)
Impact XT also works great with loop files that have embedded tempo information. Once you assign one of these loops to a pad, you can enable the Follow Tempo option and Impact XT will play the loop at the tempo you're using in your song.
The Pattern Editor (another new addition in Studio One 4) is a whole new way to create beats. If you've ever used a TR-808 (or FL Studio), you'll feel right at home with the pattern editor. PreSonus adds some really cool functionality to this kind of beat making by allowing you to easily adjust velocity, repeating samples, probabilities, differing variations, and much more.
Using Impact XT with the Pattern Editor is best combined with a loop that is split at the grid. Select your loop, then choose the Split at Grid option on the Event menu. This will slice your loop into samples of the same length. You can then select all of those samples on the timeline and drop them onto Impact XT while holding the Shift key. This will distribute those samples across Impact XT's pads, and because each sample is the same length, you can easily use them in the Pattern Editor to create a great beat. (Thanks to Studio One Expert for that tip.)
Impact XT also brings some welcomed presentation improvements, including the ability to add a colored frame around pads. Clicking on the PreSonus logo will also change the color of the interface. While we certainly appreciate these features, our favorite additions are the 8 banks of pads and the incredibly easy and fast way that Impact XT deals with loops and samples.
Revamped Sample One
Sample One also got some PreSonus love in Studio One 4 in the form of Sample One XT. Much like Impact XT, Sample One XT sports an updated interface. These updates certainly make it appear more modern and easier to use, but the real meat to this update is in the area of recording.
You can record from any source you choose, including line inputs, instruments, or even tracks. The new gated record feature automatically creates slices for you as your sample is recording. Once your samples are in Sample One XT, you'll find that it's easy to tweak them to get just the sound you want. Pitch, filter, and amp include envelopes that you can use to adjust each setting, and Sample One XT also includes several effects you can apply to your samples. You can even ping-pong a sample so that it plays forward to the end, reverses and plays backwards to the beginning, and then repeats that process automatically. We found this was a fun way to create some really cool atmospheric effects with samples.
Editing and Production
Studio One 4 really steps up the game in the area of editing and production. This is one area where it's obvious that PreSonus made changes directly based on feedback from their customers.
To begin with, you can now import and export AAF files. If you ever collaborate with someone who doesn't use Studio One, this is going to be an important improvement for you, but it's also a great way to bring your sessions over to Studio One if you've moving from another DAW.
"The combination of the Arranger Track and ripple editing is just one more way that Studio One stands out from the crowd."
Another major addition is the ability to import song data. This makes it possible to import individual tracks from another song into your current song. You can choose to import tempo information and markers, and you can also choose to include things like sends, events, layers, automation, and more. This is a great feature that Studio One has really needed.
Another great feature added to Studio One (and one that I really missed when I left Pro Tools) is ripple editing. When you enable ripple edit, events on your timeline will automatically move to accommodate events that are moved, added, or deleted. For example, if you remove part of a track, the remaining items on that track that are to the right of the part you delete will automatically move to the left to close the gap left by the deleted part. Before Studio One 4, you had to rely on the Arranger Track for similar functionality, but the combination of the Arranger Track and ripple editing is just one more way that Studio One stands out from the crowd.
Even More from Studio One 4.1
While we were writing this review, PreSonus dropped Studio One 4.1, a free update for Studio One 4 owners. Studio One 4.1 adds yet more impressive features and expands upon some of the new features in Version 4.
Perhaps the most important addition in Studio One 4.1 is added support for the ATOM production controller. The ATOM controller gives you 8 banks of 16 pressure-sensitive pads in a hardware controller. (Sound familiar? Yes, ATOM was definitely made with Impact XT in mind!) While ATOM can work with any DAW, it's tightly integrated with Studio One.
Adding to the superb enhancements in Impact XT and Sample One XT, Version 4.1 brings an update to Pipeline in the form of Pipeline XT. Pipeline XT allows you to work with hardware processors inside of the Studio One just like any other plug-in, complete with latency compensation. We don't have any hardware processors on hand to test with, but if you've got any sitting around, blow the dust off because you can now use them in your Studio One songs. Pipeline XT adds mono send and stereo return, automatic delay compensation, and the ability to add a picture of your hardware and notes.
Studio One 4.1 also adds improvements in Note Repeat. In Studio One 3, PreSonus introduced the Record Panel, and Studio One 4.1 brings Note Repeat to the Record Panel. From the Record Panel, you can activate Note Repeat, and you can also choose between Single Mode (similar to what you had in Studio One 3) and Key Remote. In Key Remote mode, you have additional keys on your controller to repeat other notes, and you also get extended control of Note Repeat directly from your controller. This represents a pretty major update to an already great feature in Studio One.
The tempo features in Studio One also got new capabilities in Version 4.1. You can now create tempo automation with any of the paint tools, and a new beat-linear timebase ensures the grid doesn't jump around. One thing that the paint tools can cause when drawing automation is huge variations that can create some pretty funky results. You might actually want that, but if you don't, you can easily set maximum and minimum tempo ranges so that you avoid huge variations.
Here's another really cool feature introduced in 4.1. Have you ever soloed a track when you're working with talent and gotten "that look" because the cue mix only included your soloed track? Kiss that goodbye. In Studio One 4.1, even if you solo a channel, your talent will still hear the full mix. This feature (called Cue Mix Follows Channel) is on by default, but you can disable it for those cases where you want your artist to hear only the soloed channel.
There are other improvements in Studio One 4.1 as well, but the last one we'll mention (and another big one) is the improved AAF export. When you save a song in AAF format, you get an Export AAF dialog where you can choose to embed your WAV or AIFF files instead of referencing them, you can split stereo tracks (an option you'll want to check if you are exporting for a Pro Tools user since it doesn't support AAF files that include stero tracks), you can convert audio files, trim audio files, and much more. It's really impressive to see PreSonus making these kinds of improvements to features that were just released in the last major release, and it shows their commitment to giving Studio One users the features they need in the real world.
Ask around and you'll find that Studio One has a committed customer base. Take a look at the evolution between Studio One 3 and Studio One 4.1 and you'll see why; PreSonus delivers on what its customers ask for. They talk to customers. They listen to customers. They build Studio One for customers. That kind of committment isn't as common as it should be, and it's just one of the many reasons that Studio One is continuing to build a following of loyal users.
Studio One 4.1 is a professional-level DAW that sounds great, looks great, is rock-solid, and plays well with others. We give it our highest recommendation, but don't take our word for it. Try Studio One yourself and you'll likely never look back.