About 1 year ago, I wrote a first blog post to explain why I moved from Ableton Live to Presonus Studio One. Now it’s time to see where I am, and if my sentiments changed over time. There are plenty of great articles reviewing Studio One 4 –the last version– in depth; so I won’t get into the details. This article only intends to share my practical experience, in my specific workflow. I eventually bought the pro version, and this was definitely worth it.
The first point that stands out is how fast I can shape what I have in mind. Admittedly, it’s true for any tool. But while I could feel comfortable using other DAWs, I can’t remember being that productive. With Studio One, I can perform much more –and much more complex– operations while keeping a pretty smooth workflow. Whether I need to add a custom sidechain, or perform a mid/side processing to apply a compression on the mid and an EQ on the side, I know I can do that in a split second.
Keyboard Shortcuts For The Win
The keyboard shortcuts are thoughtfully designed, and obviously, customizable. I use them all the time and whenever I realize something doesn’t come naturally, I just change it. Some of the shortcuts I use the most:
- <.> → show/hide mixing console
- <-> → rewind
- <q/w>, shift+<q/w> → zoom in/out, horizontally/vertically
- shift+<a> → arm all
- <0> → stop
- and a lot of more common ones, I guess, to un/solo, un/arm, un/mute a track, to play/pause with <space bar>, create a track with <t>, duplicated with <d>, etc.
Bye, Faderport; Hi, Console1
Keyboard shortcuts are so convenient that I eventually sold my excellent Faderport8, and replaced it with a Softube Console1. Actually, I didn’t have enough room for both, so I had to make this tradeoff. I realized I didn’t really need to mix multiple tracks simultaneously – which was my main motivation when buying the Faderport8 – but I actually spent most of my time processing a track with EQs and compressors. While it’s definitely possible to control EQs and compressors with the Faderport8, it wasn’t really intuitive. I decided to give a try to the Console1, from Softube. It’s a software+hardware controller bundle which emulates the sound of the greatest consoles: SSL XL 9000 K, SSL 4000, and many others through plugins.
While I definitely like how it sounds, I primarily made that choice in term of workflow. If you read my previous post, you know how it’s important to me! Shaping a track adjusting filters, EQ, gate, and compressor is now intuitive and interestingly, it’s also a great interface to select a track, solo and mute it. To some extent, it does even a better job than the Faderport8 thanks to the 20 select buttons + page up/down to quickly get access to a track. Obviously, it’s nicely integrated with Studio One: you can view track names, and solo/mute them from the Softube interface and it’s automatically reflected in Studio One (and vice-versa).
I know have a good sense of which plugins bundled with Studio One are actually useful for me. In that respect, Pipeline is the one I still find mind-blowing. The idea is pretty simple: bridge the gap between hardware FX and software plugins. Pipeline is a plugin you put on a track, as any other plugin, and then allows you to route input/output for external processing, with adjustable input and output gain and a few other options. That way, and combined with my (hardware) patchbay, I can use my FX pedals and my Analog Heat to process any audio content from Studio One!
I got to like the simple plugins such as Level Meter and Mixtools, which are minimalistic but offer useful features. The former offers many metering facilities, as the name suggests, and the latter allows to remove DC offset, convert the signal to M/S, adjust gain, swap channels.
Oh, and guess what? I also realized Studio One has a feature to actually handle your favorite plugins. Once they’re marked as favorite, you can retrieve them in no time!
Sketchpad might be one of the most renowned feature in Studio One. It’s like a temporary space in which you can record and change anything you want among the existing tracks, and Studio One keeps it separate from the actual track. It took me a while to start using this feature, perhaps because it wasn’t available in the artist version I had. I was also concerned that I could eventually use this feature as a pseudo session view in Ableton Live to record a bunch of short loops and then copy/paste them to the main track. Actually, I just ended up using the feature of what it has been designed: sketching ideas. It’s highly effective in my workflow to compare several timbres or melody variants between two work sessions. When I start working on a new track, once I’m happy with how my different instrument sound together, I record one or two variants in the sketchpad first. Then I quickly add a few sweets (EQ/comp) to get and shape a first overview of the sound I’m after without affecting the main track, and then it’s usually time to sleep. A few hours later, I come back with a fresh critical mind and can quickly make the decision from those sketches; and if for some reasons I can’t manage to reproduce the original sounds from the hardware instruments, I have at least a few loops I can play with.
The project view
One of the greatest feature provided by Studio One that I hadn’t depicted in the previous article is the separation between the tracks, and the projects. A project is any self-contained content you want to release: an EP, album, or a single track. From the project view, you can import audio content –supposedly, your tracks– and then you can organize them, adjust their levels, and apply per-track or global processing. This is especially useful once you need to color an album in a homogeneous way. This feature allows a natural split between the mixing and the mastering process. When working on a track, I don’t “waste” my time doing some sort of mastering just to see how the track will sound. I’m focused on mixing and delivering a well-arranged and leveled track. During the mastering phase, I’m not tempted to readjust the levels. Many artists already do that using two different tools, e.g. exporting tracks from Ableton Live to Audacity for mistering, but Studio One provides a unified interface for both, and no need to say it’s well integrated. If you update your track, the project view will ask you to update the mastering file, if you want to.
Interestingly, this is also the view I find suitable for referencing tracks. I just load another track or two for reference, and since I usually load plenty of metering/visualization plugins from that view, it’s fairly easy to listen and see the differences, and adjust accordingly.
Conclusion: no way back
I’ve got that question quite often. And the answer is no, I don’t see myself going back to Ableton Live, or another DAW, at least for now. As long as Presonus keeps delivering great updates, and now that my workflow has improved and stabilized, I have no reason to change.