Long a favourite amongst film and TV composers, Digital Performer now embraces loop-based production and live performance.
With a history spanning more than 30 years, it's hardly surprising that MOTU's Digital Performer has a mature feature set and a well-established reputation. Version 8 saw the previously Mac-only DAW make an impressive debut on Windows, while version 9, reviewed by Robin Bigwood in the February 2016 issue of SOS, beefed up the bundled virtual instrument collection. Unlike some DAW manufacturers, MOTU don't follow an annual update cycle, so the wait for DP10 has been a little longer than some would have liked. However, a significant and free further update to 10.1 took place while this review was in progress, confirming that their development team are still very much on the ball!
Has the wait for DP10 been worthwhile, and what does it now have to offer that might tempt both existing users, or potential new ones?
As SOS have covered DP's evolving feature set in many previous review and workshop articles, I'll focus here on the new additions and revisions in this release. However, for those readers unfamiliar with the DP platform, a brief summary will provide some useful context.
Like all the modern top-end DAWs, Digital Performer has an impressive, and very deep, feature set, with all the core functionality you need to make, mix, and even master music-based projects combining audio recordings and MIDI sequencing. What's more, it offers that functionality through a powerful user interface — built around its central Consolidated Window — that can easily be customised for different styles of working, or different tasks in the recording and mixing process.
At a general level, there are obvious parallels in functionality between all the popular DAW platforms. However, the detailed means by which that functionality is delivered can be very different. At that more detailed level, therefore, there are certain things that might persuade some users to prefer one platform over another. For example, DP was somewhat ahead of the curve in offering support for video playback and other features designed with film and TV composers in mind, and is still highly regarded amongst that user community.
Equally, there are areas where other DAWs might have an edge over DP. For instance, although it boasts a comprehensive bundle of audio processing and effects plug-ins, the built-in virtual instruments in previous versions could perhaps be described as 'good' rather than 'great'. Options for audio time and pitch manipulation were also less advanced than those of some rivals. So, have versions 10 and 10.1 addressed these deficiencies, and what else have they added?
Three years might seem a long wait for DP10, but this does feel like a substantial step forward.
DP already had tools that allowed you to manipulate the timing of both MIDI and audio recordings. This included facilities for quantising to a fixed grid or to a groove, as well as the Beat Detection Engine, a very good algorithm for extracting beat and tempo information from audio with a rhythmic pulse. However, compared to some other top-end DAWs, DP's capabilities for time-stretching audio, and for automatically getting it to follow the overall project tempo map defined within the Conductor Track, were somewhat basic.
Regular DP users will therefore be pleased to see MOTU address this functionality within v10. There are undoubtedly numerous tweaks under the hood here, including the integration of Zynaptiq's state-of-the-art ZTX time-stretching and pitch-shifting technology. To the existing PureDSP algorithm, this adds two new modes the user can choose when applying pitch-shifting/correction: ZTX Formant-Corrected and ZTX Standard. Significantly, the ZTX formant-corrected pitch shifting can be applied to polyphonic material as well as monophonic — although, as with Celemony's Melodyne, the transparency of the...