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Digital Performer Notes

DP v4.1; VST plug-ins under OS X By Robin Bigwood
Published September 2003

The no-nonsense face of VST hosting in DP4.1 — FXpansions' VST to AU Adaptor.The no-nonsense face of VST hosting in DP4.1 — FXpansions' VST to AU Adaptor.

DP v4.1 is available, and it looks like MOTU can provide a viable alternative to DP3 under OS 9 at last. Plus a look at VST plug-in support in DP under OS X...

MOTU have been criticised in the past for being somewhat secretive about release dates for their hardware and software, so their mid-July press release, coinciding with the MacWorld Creative Pro show, was particularly welcome. It announced the release of DP4.1, which will become available to registered user of DP4 on August 8th. If you're not already running it, get over to and start downloading now!

DP4.1 adds the keenly-awaited Audio Units support that for many was a prerequisite for serious use of DP in OS X. But owners of Pro Tools hardware are also rewarded, with full support of HD and Mix systems at all sample rates up to 192kHz. As in DP3.1 there's support for volume and pan automation (though not for TDM plug-ins) when running under DAE, but for Pro Tools people who like to use DP for its far superior MIDI features, this development is very good news.

AU and DAE support was widely expected, but DP4.1's new virtual instrument (VI) tracks definitely weren't. This new track type significantly cuts the number of steps required to set up a MAS or AU software synth or other virtual instrument plug-in, and should mean that they no longer require separate MIDI and voice tracks. Best of all, much tighter timing is promised so that, according to MOTU, 'in most circumstances (with typical buffer size settings), notes play no more than a sample earlier or later than the MIDI note that triggers them.' Not sample-accurate, then — but if you can hear worst-case timing errors of ±0.00002 seconds, your ears are better than mine.

A number of other enhancements should be delivered in v4.1, including ready-made New Document templates, a Recent Documents submenu, better OMF compatibility, new marker functions, and an option to have input and output assignments for each track displayed in the mixer. These might not shake your world, but they'll all make DP4 an even nicer environment to work in.

Quick Tips

Digital Performer NotesDP4 introduced a new dialogue box which pops up when your processor usage hits maximum, even for a moment, and asks you how you'd like to proceed. This is designed to act as a much more robust warning of impending processor overload than the little red 'over' indicator in the Performance window, but if you know you're pushing your Mac hard and you're not in a crash-critical situation, it can become a real pain. Disable it by going to Preferences and deselecting 'Show Alert When Playback Overloads The Processor(s)'.

Updates to DP4 don't overwrite previous versions in ~/Applications/MOTU DP4 Folder so it's possible, as I proved recently(!), to end up with multiple copies of DP4 running simultaneously. This doesn't seem to do any harm, but it can be avoided by scrupulously updating your DP4 Dock icon with that of any new version, and by selecting any Project Document in the Finder, holding down the Apple key and hitting 'I' (Get Info) and making an appropriate selection in the Open With pane (see screenshot, right). Hitting the Change All button should mean you'll never need to do this again, until the next update of DP4 appears, that is...

VST Support In DP4.1

With its new Audio Units compatibility, users of DP4.1 can benefit from what may well become the plug-in format in OS X, in addition to MOTU's own MAS format, which will almost certainly continue to be used for DP's bundled plug-ins as well as a few manufacturers such as Bomb Factory. But what of VST? Though not quite as dominant as it once was, especially with companies like Native Instruments embracing Audio Units, VST is still an important format, often associated with smaller developers of those quirky but fun freeware and shareware plug-ins. And if you want to use anything by Steinberg (or Antares for that matter) VST is pretty much your only choice.

A 'wrapped' Audio Unit version of PSP Audioware's PSP42 VST plug-in, made using FXpansion's VST to AU Adaptor.A 'wrapped' Audio Unit version of PSP Audioware's PSP42 VST plug-in, made using FXpansion's VST to AU Adaptor.Under OS 9, DP users were spoilt for choice with VST host plug-ins, or 'wrappers' as they're often known. Audio Ease's VST Wrapper was widely considered the most robust of these , but Cycling 74's Pluggo did a good job as well, along with Spark FX Machine by TC Works. None of these is available yet for OS X, but with the release of DP4.1 a new solution has appeared — the VST to AU Adaptor by the British software developer FXpansion. For anyone who cut their teeth on VST hosts in OS 9 versions of DP, the VST to AU Adaptor will seem unfamiliar, as its operation is fundamentally different to something like VST Wrapper. Rather than a plug-in which provides 'real-time' translation of VSTs inside the DP environment, VST to AU Adaptor is a separate application, and it performs 'off-line' conversions of your OS X VST plug-ins, producing individual AU versions of each. This is an ingenious approach, since it allows each VST plug-in to be wrapped in an optimum way, according to custom profiles worked out by FXpansion, and keeps the 'thickness' of the wrapping to a minimum, with consequent gains in efficiency and stability and preservation of all automation features. From DP's point of view your VSTs appear to be additional AUs, and because each converted VST plug-in is represented by its own .component package in ~/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/Components, it's not just DP that can make use of them, but indeed any AU host on your Mac. What's more it should be possible to use adapted VSTi plug-ins in DP4.1's new VI tracks (as discussed above).

FXpansion are keen to point out that it has been impossible for them to test VST to AU Adaptor with DP4.1, but they're aiming for a 48 hour bug-fix release of the Adaptor following DP4.1's release on August 8th. And if it works as well with DP4 as it does with Logic then we'll have an absolutely essential piece of software on our hands! Surf over to to find out more and download the $75/£49 VST to AU Adaptor for yourself.

More On Interapplication Audio

In July's Performer Notes I was trumpeting the potential of Jack and Application Enhancer for restoring the interapplication audio capabilities lost in the 'upgrade' between DP3/OS 9 and DP4/OS X. Sadly, though, the picture is not as rosy as seemed. Apparently getting CoreMIDI applications to stream audio from one to another is more tricky than was previously thought, so other than more 'one-way' solutions like Audio Hijack Pro or the new freeware WireTap it seems unlikely that we'll see more developments in this area before the release of Mac OS 10.3, which, we can only hope, will have interapplication audio capabilities built-in. Sorry!.

More On Patchlists

Last month I looked at MOTU's new patchlist format for OS X, the '.midnam' file. These XML files contain patch and channel information for specific bits of MIDI gear (such as synths, digital mixers and effects units), but they don't do a lot without a corresponding '.middev' file. These don't have an equivalent in FreeMIDI under OS 9, but for OS X they provide information about all the MIDI gear by individual manufacturers, and are named to reflect this. Hence the sizeable Roland '.middev' file and the compact Sony '.middev' file.

The '.middev' file I wrote to enable DP4 patchlists for the Novation Nova.The '.middev' file I wrote to enable DP4 patchlists for the Novation Nova.CoreMIDI, the Audio MIDI Setup application, and consequently DP4, all need a '.middev' (with an appropriate entry) before they can 'see' the '.midnam' patchlist for a specific MIDI device. To illustrate this, have a look in ~/Library/Audio/MIDI Devices/MOTU/Novation — there are, at the time of writing, patchlists for the Bass Station, Drum Station and Supernova but, strangely, no '.middev; file. As a result no Novation synths show up in Audio MIDI Setup! You can easily make them appear, though, by writing your own '.middev' file, or better still by adapting an existing one, since they all have the same structure.

Examining any of MOTU's '.middev' files will give you an idea of what's involved. For each MIDI device there's a MIDIDeviceType tag which is followed by Manufacturer and Model information and then a host of properties which anyone who's ever used FreeMIDI Setup will be familiar with. A value of true or false can be set for the descriptive conditions 'SupportsGeneralMIDI', 'SupportsMMC', 'IsSampler', 'IsDrumMachine', 'IsMixer' and 'IsEffectsUnit', all of which should be pretty self-explanatory. There are then separate tags for DeviceID and the channels on which the device Transmits and Receives, incorporating extra information about Clock and bank change behaviour. Finally there's an entry for automated EnquiryResponse data, as is used in DP4's Autoconfigure MIDI Devices function. You can reproduce this lot, with appropriate changes, for any MIDI device you'd like to add to a '.middev', and finally you should enclose the whole lot inside a <MIDIDeviceTypes> </MIDIDeviceTypes> tag pair — note the slight difference to the <MIDIDeviceType> tag.

In the best Blue Peter tradition, here's one I made earlier (see screenshot above). In fact, it's the missing Novation '.middev' file, although for clarity it only contains the necessary data to support the Nova synth. You'll notice that I simply left out the InquiryResponse tag, since I didn't know what the appropriate entries are. Thanks to the flexible nature of XML this doesn't cause any problems. A completed '.middev' file like this just needs to be put into the manufacturer's folder along with the '.midnam' files for normal patchlist service to be resumed inside DP4.

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