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MOTU Digital Performer 11

Digital Audio Workstation By John Walden
Published January 2022

MOTU Digital Performer 11

DP11 might not be any louder than DP10, but it’s got plenty more to offer.

MOTU’s Digital Performer is a well‑established product within the DAW/sequencer marketplace. It initially found favour amongst media composers with ahead‑of‑the‑game support for working with video. However, over its 30+ year lifespan, it has gradually evolved into a deep, powerful, cross‑platform (Windows support appeared alongside the Mac OS version in 2016) music production environment with a comprehensive feature set to appeal to almost any type of music maker.

Digital Performer 11 is now with us (indeed, the subject of this review is actually v11.02) so what have MOTU added to turn up DP’s ‘buy me!’ factor to one louder than 10? Let’s find out...

Count To 10

SOS reviewed DP 10.1 in the April 2020 issue. As briefly summarised there, DP’s feature set most certainly makes it a worthy member of the DAW/sequencer elite. And, while it might have built its initial core following amongst film and TV composers, features such as the Clips Window — added in v10 and very much aimed at using DP in a live performance context — clearly demonstrate MOTU’s desire to keep expanding DP’s appeal. DP is undoubtedly a music production environment with very many strengths.

However, there is no single DAW/sequencer that’s perfect for every user and, as with any of DP’s obvious competitors, it’s possible to point to some areas that might benefit from some extra development. With DP, perhaps the most obvious gap has been the bundled virtual instruments. Prior to v10, options such as BassLine, PolySynth, NanoSampler, Modulo, Model 12, MX4 and Proton were usable if perhaps not pushing any boundaries. DP 10 brought two further useful additions on this front. First, enhanced compatibility for third‑party virtual instruments was provided via VST3 support. Second, a special 5GB ‘MOTU soundbank’ was added courtesy of a collaboration with UVI (and that utilised the free UVI Workstation playback engine). These were both positive steps but perhaps also still left scope for further improvements.

So where does DP11 take us? Given the mammoth feature set (DP’s PDF manual runs to over 1000 pages), for the sake of brevity (and trees), we will focus here on what MOTU have added or improved for this latest release. Those unfamiliar with DP can, of course, delve into the excellent SOS archives if they wish to dig a little deeper into the history and evolution of DP’s (comprehensive) specification.

Nanosampler 2.0

Given the observations above, perhaps one of the highlights of the DP11 release is a significant revamp of the Nanosampler virtual instrument. While you are still limited to working with a single sample in any instance of Nanosampler, you now have a very useful extended array of features for controlling how that sample is manipulated and triggered for playback.

Nanosampler’s user interface has been completely revamped for its 2.0 iteration.Nanosampler’s user interface has been completely revamped for its 2.0 iteration.

All this extra functionality has also meant a comprehensive overhaul of the instrument’s UI. This features browsers for both factory presets and samples (Nanosampler ships with a good crop of both) at the top of the display, a much more sophisticated waveform display in the central strip with the Global Settings panel on the left, and a bottom‑most strip that contains a more expansive set of amp, filter and LFO controls. Two buttons located top‑right can be used to toggle the central part of the display between the waveform view (Sample) and an envelope view (Settings). The latter gives you graphical control over the amp, filter and LFO properties.

Nanosampler 2.0 offers three main playback modes; Classic, 1‑Shot and Slice. Classic maps your sample across the MIDI keyboard and can be used with or without sample stretching. There are various stretching modes with and without formant correction so you can experiment to find which produces the best results for any given sample. Classic mode also allows you to define a loop region within the sample for creating sustained sounds. The various envelope options and the LFO allow you to add modulation to your sound without getting bogged down in parameter overload. The filter itself offers various low‑pass, band‑pass and high‑pass options. These are all very effective, but it would be even better if the filter perhaps offered a few more creative possibilities such as a distortion mode or two with modulation. That said, if you want to spice up your Nanosampler creations further, DP11’s effects plug‑in suite provides plenty of further processing possibilities.

Nanosampler’s Settings panel provides graphical editing for the various modulation envelopes.Nanosampler’s Settings panel provides graphical editing for the various modulation envelopes.

As the name suggests, 1‑Shot simply triggers the sound once and is suited to things like sound effects or individual drum hits, while Slice mode does pretty much what you would expect to a drum (or other rhythmic sound) loop and maps the individual slices across the MIDI keyboard. You get various options in terms of the slicing process and sensitivity, as well as options for editing individual slices. It all works very well and provides an effective way of getting more mileage out of your drum loop collection. The Randomise option for slice triggering is worth a particular mention. It can randomise the slice mapping to produce some cool rhythmic variations in real time on playback and can be applied to just selected slices if you want to introduce just a subtle amount of variation. My only (minor) complaint is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to highlight a slice within the waveform display as it is triggered. This would make it much easier to navigate your slices during both playback and editing.

Other than that, in use, Nanosampler 2.0 can be a lot of fun and it is possible to create some very playable sounds. While it is not about to become a competitor for a dedicated third‑party, multisample, multi‑velocity‑layer, sampler instrument, in terms of creating perfectly playable instruments out of single samples, or slicing a drum loop for...

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