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PreSonus Studio One 6.5

Digital Audio Workstation By Robin Vincent
Published December 2023

PreSonus Studio One 6.5

The latest update to PreSonus’ top of the line DAW introduces comprehensive Dolby Atmos integration and more besides.

Studio One 6.5 is an interesting update. It has exciting new features and innovations, but ones that target very specific users. So specific, in fact, that you will likely be left feeling either thrilled or completely ignored. Of course, no one expects a DAW developer to be able to please all of the people all of the time, and I will suggest that much of what might not seem like your business could be quite revolutionary if you give it a chance.

So, cutting to the chase, we have complete integration of Dolby Atmos object‑orientated immersive and spatial audio mixing, we have support for the DAWproject Exchange format, we have ARA‑enabled plug‑in support in the mastering project page, and PreSonus are giving Linux a go.

Dolby Atmos

This is a huge deal for a lot of people. Many people believe it to be the future format of all music mixing, and many others point out the often impossible hardware requirements that must be fulfilled to enjoy it. As we probably learned from the home 3D cinema failure, if something is too much of a faff, it’s unlikely to succeed in the mainstream. But it’s being driven by some very mainstream providers. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime support Dolby Atmos for movie and content streaming. With their insistence that VR is the future of everything, Meta need immersive audio in games and other content. On the music side, Apple Music would very much like you to submit an Atmos mix. All of them appear unconcerned by the challenges involved in experiencing Atmos outside of a pair of headphones. Although, it’s the headphones and their remarkable ability to approximate an Atmos mix through binaural rendering that’s likely to be the saving grace. In any case, I’m not here to review the ins and outs of Dolby Atmos, I’m here to review Studio One 6.5 and its response to the huge jump in demand for Dolby Atmos content.

In a nutshell, Dolby Atmos allows you to place recorded tracks of audio as ‘spatial objects’ within a 3D space around the listener’s head. Not just left to right like with stereo, or around you like with surround sound, but up and down and from very specific directions. So it could feel like you are standing on stage in the midst of a band rather than at the back of a hall, watching from one direction.

The Dolby Atmos Renderer is fully integrated into Studio One 6.5.The Dolby Atmos Renderer is fully integrated into Studio One 6.5.

To mix in Dolby Atmos you need the Dolby Atmos renderer plug‑in. It takes the multiple audio streams and renders them as objects in 3D space based on positional information from the spatial audio or surround sound panner on each track. For some DAWs, you must buy the Dolby Atmos Renderer separately for about $299 and configure the routing between them. In Studio One 6.5, Dolby Atmos is fully integrated for no additional charge. All the routing and features are in place, and you can export directly from Studio One in the required ADM BWF format. There’s even a template that prepares you for an Atmos session.

What I like first and foremost about PreSonus’ implementation of Dolby Atmos is that it comes with a tutorial. Studio One version 6 introduced the concept of an integrated walkthrough system for taking beginners through all sorts of aspects of Studio One’s features. PreSonus have produced one that covers Dolby Atmos, and it’s simple, to the point and comes with an eight‑track project of easy‑to‑identify spatial objects. I greatly appreciate that PreSonus understand everyone will want to have a go at this and many people will need a little help.

So, how do you handle the hardware requirements? Standard Dolby Atmos requires you to be surrounded by seven speakers, plus four in the ceiling and a subwoofer. That’s a major investment in both hardware and the remodelling of your studio space. If you already mix in surround, then it’s just a matter of dangling some very precisely placed speakers above your head. For those of us making music in less‑than‑ideal spaces, this will not work. And that’s why binaural mixing on headphones saves the day. In the Atmos Renderer, you simply click on the spanner icon, tick the box to add an additional headphone output, and it appears as a completely separate monitoring output to your speaker system. PreSonus tell me that the ability to have a separate speaker mix and binaural headphone mix running concurrently is unique to Studio One 6.5. The binaural mix replicates the Atmos immersive experience in a regular pair of headphones, and it’s pretty convincing. Well, at least in as much as it’s different from stereo. There’s a real sense of space and a vague sense of position that stereo doesn’t give you. You can fiddle with some binaural modes for each object or bed to tweak the feeling of distance.

I should note at this point that you’ll need an audio interface with lots of outputs to support the number of speakers. But if you don’t have outputs, Studio One doesn’t appear to mind. The speaker setup within the Atmos Renderer does not have to reflect the reality of your hardware setup. So you can do up to a 9.1.6 Atmos mix on a stereo audio interface or the headphone output of your laptop using binaural headphone monitoring. You can also just do it in stereo on regular speakers. The renderer will fold down to a stereo mix or whatever your speaker system allows; you’ll just lose the spatial positioning.

You don’t have to start an Atmos session with a template; you can simply enable Spatial Audio in the Song Setup of any regular stereo project and it will be spatially objectified. It might require a rethink along the lines of routing and bussing. For a track to become a spatial object, it must be routed to the main output hosting the renderer. So you’re no longer routing your drum kit to a bus for combined stereo processing if you want it to be spatial. You have to treat each microphone on the kit as...

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