At last, Digital Performer for OS X is a reality. But does it offer any real advantages over the previous version, and more importantly, what compromises are 'cutting edge' users going to have to make?
Over the past few months I've been considering the prospects for users of Digital Performer in the brave new world of OS X, but up until now all anyone's had to go on is publicity put out by MOTU and the odd product demo at shows like January's NAMM. But in early April, thanks to MOTU's UK distributor Musictrack (www.musictrack.co.uk) I managed to get my hands on the first copy of DP4 in the UK. By the time you read this, both retail and upgrade copies should be readily available, and we'll all be in the same boat...
First things first; DP4 is for OS X only. It seems almost certain that users who've committed themselves to continuing with OS 9 for a while longer shouldn't expect any updates to DP v3.11 (along with MAS2.4 and FreeMIDI 1.48). If it's new features you're after, you'll have to take the OS X plunge, and it might be as well to do that sooner rather than later, even if you don't plan on using DP4 seriously for a little while. When the time comes to make a more permanent switch to the new OS you'll be that much more familiar with the way it works.
Despite the new bells and whistles, though, DP4 is currently still hampered by lack of third-party support for plug-ins and software synths. It's coming, and a good deal of it will be available by the time you read this (see box, far right), but it'll be the end of the year before a well-stocked OS 9 Digital Performer setup can be recreated in OS X. So rest assured that if you're a DP v3.1 user Performer Notes will still be there for you! But it's also worth bearing in mind that you'll be increasingly left behind with new product releases, and eventually you're going to have to change, especially if you're intending to buy a new Mac.
One of the most conspicuous changes in DP4 is actually one of the most benign, but the reworking of DP's menus is still going to take some getting used to. Basically, the groupings of commands and functions within menus has been made more logical, but this has necessitated creating some completely new menus and losing familiar ones.
Fortunately, the changes are not that hard to get to grips with. First off, you can forget the Apple menu — that does all its normal OS X-based stuff and has nothing to do with DP. Then there's the new Digital Performer menu, but again you'll spend relatively little time there — its main use is for accessing Preferences (but even that can be done from elsewhere).
The File menu will feel familiar to anyone who's used earlier versions of DP, as will Edit and Region, both of which carry over their functions from OS 9. Here's where the fun starts though, since the Audio, Project, Studio, Setup and Windows menus are all new.
The Windows menu is easy to understand — its main function is to display a list of all open (and minimised) DP windows, and allows a window to be brought to the front by selecting it from the list. The handy 'Next Edit Window' function is carried over from previous versions, and, sensibly, DP's Window Sets feature is also dealt with here. One totally new command is 'Bring All To Front'. This is important in OS X, because when you switch to DP4 from another application by clicking on one of its windows, only that window comes to the front — other DP windows may still be obscured by those of other applications. When you do in fact want all of your DP windows to come to the front, 'Bring All To Front' is the command for the job.
The Setup menu is one you shouldn't have to visit all that often, but provides access to important basic configuration functions (many of which were previously in the Basics menu in DP v3.1 and earlier). There's another access to Preferences, as well as DP's Data Display Preferences, and everything relating to configuring audio hardware is now here. Apple's Audio MIDI Setup application (which replaces FreeMIDI Setup, amongst other things) can be accessed from this menu, and you can also configure features such as Event Chasing, scrolling behaviour, Automation, time-display formats and Sync with external devices.
You'll probably spend more time in the Audio menu, and this, sensibly, consolidates all the commands for dealing with audio, including soundbite tempo matching, fades, bounce-to-disk, Spectral Effects and various soundbite-based functions.
Project and Studio, the remaining two new menus, contain the remainder of the old DP, and they're probably the two that will take most getting used to. Project contains features and windows specifically related to developing individual projects, and Studio provides the largely technical tools and functions you need to carry out basic tasks. For example, if you want to create a new audio or MIDI track, configure Track Groups (see April 2003's Performer Notes), or open pretty much any editing window, go to the Project menu. But when you need Polar, Step Record, the Audio Monitor window or more 'technical' features like the Audio Bundles window, go to the Studio menu. Confused? I'm sure we'll all get used to it...
One of the most appealing characteristics of the most recent versions of OS X is the way in which everything seems to just, well, work. In a very real sense, the days of extension conflicts, zapping P-RAM, and needing to know what everything in your System Folder does are gone. I can't remember the last time I had to do anything particularly nerdy with OS 10.2, which seems just the way an operating system should be. However, DP users need to know, at the very least, where crucial bits of a DP4 installation end up, because sooner or later you are going to need to get your hands dirty.
Under OS 9, MAS plug-ins were stored in System Folder/Extensions/MOTU/Plug-ins, but in OS X they're installed to Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/MAS where they appear as 'something.bundle' and appear in Finder windows as folders, albeit ones that can't be opened. Just as in OS 9, MAS plug-ins can be organised into folders, so for my own setup I created a folder called 'Reverbs' and put 'Reverb.bundle', 'Plate.bundle' and 'eVerb.bundle' in it, and did something similar for all the delay-based, tone-based and dynamics-based plug-ins too (see screenshot below). Note that folder organisation like this still only supports one level of hierarchy (so you can't have folders within folders), and it probably goes without saying that DP4 won't 'see' the plug-ins at all if your folders are anywhere other than Library/ Audio/Plug-Ins/MAS.
Actually, I say that, but there is one other place that DP4 looks for plug-ins, and that's in individual users' Library folders. OS X is designed from the ground up as a multi-user system, so each user has a separate Library in addition to the 'global' Library mentioned above. Consequently you can, on a multi-user setup, control which users get to use which MAS plug-ins by installing them in 'user' Library folders. In this case the path is Users/[username]/ Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/MAS. DP4 looks for, and can use, plug-ins in both 'global' and 'user' Libraries, though MOTU warns against installing the same plug-in in both places. If you run your OS X Mac pretty much as a single-user machine, don't even think about putting MAS plug-ins anywhere other than the 'global' library.
Next month, information about DP4's preferences files, and even more 'under-the-hood' stuff.
The race is on to see which developers get DP4-compatible plug-ins to market first, and it seems likely it'll be won by WaveArts, with their superb PowerCouple (as featured in Performer Notes last month). I'm already running good beta versions of their plug-ins, and a full release can't be far away.
Audio Ease, one of the biggest MAS players, has also promised OS X versions of Rocket Science, Nautilus and Altiverb, along with VST Wrapper (hooray!). Some of these might well be available by the time you read this.
I've been advised that Auto-Tune, ChannelStrip and all the Bomb Factory plug-ins are 'on their way', but no firm release dates have been given. There's also been confirmation that PSP plug-ins like VintageWarmer will never come out for MAS in OS X, but will instead be released as Audio Units plug-ins, which DP4 should natively support by the Autumn.
- I mentioned the 'Bring All To Front' command in the discussion of the new Windows menu earlier. Perhaps it's just me, but I felt this desperately needed a keyboard shortcut. Fortunately, you can give it one, by simply going to the Commands window (holding down Shift and hitting the 'L' key is the quickest way) and searching for Bring All To Front. A shortcut keystroke of Command/Apple plus the Escape key works well for me.
- In reorganising the main menus, MOTU also got rid of the 'Add Track' item from the mini-menus of windows like the Tracks overview and the Mixing Board. It makes sense, but I rather liked those... Oh well. The best thing is to learn keyboard shortcuts for Add Tracks commands, and they are as follows: Shift and Command/Apple together with the 'M', 'A' and 'S' keys for MIDI, Mono voice and Stereo voice tracks respectively, and Control and Command/Apple plus the 'A' and 'M' keys for Aux and Master tracks.
- MOTU delivered a pleasant surprise with DP4 in the form of the 'Freeze Selected Tracks' feature, which works along the lines of the similar function in Logic. All the DP version really does, though, is automate the setting-up procedure which you have to go through to create a real-time bounce of processor-intensive tracks, so at the moment it doesn't work as a background process. Still, it's a handy feature, and I'll be covering it in more depth in the forthcoming months.
- MOTU Digital Performer: v4.0 (OS X only).
- MOTU Digital Performer: v3.11 (OS 9).