We take a closer look at Digital Performer for OS X (which shall henceforth be known as DP4), and MachFive, plus the latest MAS plug-in releases.
In last month's Performer Notes, I covered all the latest information about DP that had come out of the NAMM show, but early in February I was able to see what MOTU had up their sleeves for myself, at the Sounds Expo show in London.
Several very interesting facts emerged after I chatted to one of MOTU's main men, Dave Roberts, not least of which was that DP for OS X (which should just about be coming out as you read this) is going to be called DP4! This new version is supposed to feel faster and be more efficient than any that came before it, following a rejigging of the way processor power is allocated to the various tasks DP has to coordinate. Dave Roberts even went as far as to say that DP would become the most responsive sequencer on the market, but I think we'll have to wait and see about that! Also confirmed was the fact that DP would directly support OS X's Audio Units plug-in standard, but not in the first release — DP v4.1 perhaps? It was good to see OS X's Window Minimise function implemented for DP windows — this should make it that bit easier to keep the desktop organised and streamlined. It was a little surprising, though, to see that some of DP's menus had been renamed and reorganised — three new ones, Project, Studio and Setup had appeared in place of Basics and Change. As well as seeming to make access to certain functions a little more logical, I also got the impression that various mini-menu items had been consolidated. Having said that, DP4 should feel like a natural progression for existing users — it's basically the same as DP3, and far from being a 'rewrite'.
Sounds Expo was also an opportunity for MOTU to wheel out MachFive, which they had up and running under OS 9, being triggered via external MIDI generated by DP4 on another Mac. As it was playing solely drum samples, I found it hard to judge what it's capable of, and I couldn't tell how much of the synthesis architecture (if any) was in use, but it does seem like a good, integrated solution. The only thing that slightly concerned me was that the processor usage involved in playing about six mono voices seemed a little high. But it's far too early to take too much notice of this, since what I saw was almost certainly still a development version. MachFive's compatibility with a vast range of sample libraries is facilitated by a separate application, UVI-Xtract, which looks like it offers no-nonsense and very clear operation, though how fast it works and how well it handles complex Giga-format libraries remains to be seen.
If you're a '.mac' subscriber and you haven't already filled up your iDisk with iPhoto albums of the kids, it can be very effectively used as a storage area for all sorts of DP-related files that you might often need. You could keep a copy of your DP and FreeMIDI reference files there, for example, for times when the ones on your own machine get corrupted. And if you work on DP in more than one location it can be handy to have a copy of your DP key bindings available for download wherever you are.
Also if you find keeping track of authorisation information for plug-ins and applications a bit of a pain (always particularly difficult when switching Macs or upgrading) the freeware Personal Serial Database from www.dorseygraphics.com could be a godsend. I use it to organise the authorisations of all my applications, and keep a safety copy of it on my iDisk. It's then accessible anywhere, and isn't likely to get nicked! Even better, it's available for OS 9 and OS X, and each version's files are readable by the other.
- DP 3.1's Heal Separation command offers to restore soundbites to their former glory after you've removed a region from the middle of them, or even just split a section from them. However, don't do what I did recently and have the bright idea of 'healing' all the edits in a project by hitting Apple-A then Apple-H. All hell broke loose, with hours of work vanishing in an instant beneath soundbites I thought I'd consigned to history, and only unlimited undo saved me. Best used on an individual basis...
- One of DP 3.1's new MIDI plug-ins, Reassign Continuous Data, comes into its own when you don't have a hardware control surface but want to tweak a synth's parameters via MIDI continuous controllers. Simply use your controller's pitch-bend or mod wheel and let the plug-in do the rest. You could even make the wheels send out NRPNs (non-registered parameter numbers) for those synths that use them.
- Is it possible to have too many MAS plug-ins and synths? Probably not, when they're as exciting as this lot, all of which should be available by the time you read this.
- The American software developer WaveArts (www.wavearts.com) has waded into the MAS plug-in market with two very desirable effects. TrackPlug works along the lines of the well-known ChannelStrip by Metric Halo, offering an integrated 10-band EQ, compressor and gate, whilst MasterVerb is a friendly and highly configurable reverb which is also very processor-efficient. The pair of plug-ins, which are a great addition to the effects bundled with DP, are available for $199.95 from the company's web site.
- If it's real quality you're after you can't go far wrong with Waves (www.waves.com). Their entire range, including such classics as L1 Ultramaximizer and C4 Multiband Parametric Processor, has now been updated to v4, and the Platinum bundle now includes the new and highly regarded Renaissance Channel.
- Vintage Warmer from Polish software company PSP Audioware (www.pspaudioware.com) has become something of a must-have plug-in for DP users, offering characterful and effective valve-like multi-band compression for very reasonable money. It's now up to v1.5 and includes improvements such as a DC offset filter, higher quality processing throughout, and fixes for MAS bugs like the infamous 'no such volume, error 35'.
- The first offspring of the partnership between GMedia (www.gmediamusic.com) and Ohmforce (www.ohmforce.com) is The Oddity (pictured above), a faithful software model of the idiosyncratic but wonderful ARP Odyssey synth. Being a proper MAS plug-in, The Oddity can have all its parameters automated from inside DP, and it sounds great. It costs £87.95 via GMedia's web site.
- Synth freaks take a deep breath — there's now a full-blown Moog Modular available in MAS format, for £199. Moog Modular V by the French developer Arturia (www.arturia.com) is a very potent synth that not only allows you to indulge your Wendy Carlos fantasies (you do have those, don't you?) but can also conjure up sounds both sublime and truly evil, sometimes simultaneously. A great synth, but a mind bender, and a big processor hog.
- Applied Acoustic Systems (www.applied-acoustics.com) made a lot of friends with the MAS-compatible Lounge Lizard, and now their flagship Tassman modular synth is available as a MAS plug-in too. Tassman is comparable with Reaktor by Native Instruments, being a sound-design environment rather than a 'traditional' soft synth. The on-line version costs $449, or $399 if you already own Lounge Lizard.
- Although it's not a MAS plug-in, VSTiHost v3.0X from developers Defective Records (www.defectiverecords.com) is still very handy for many DP users, especially those running VST soft synths on a separate Mac, and is now available for OS X. VSTiHost is one of the best of the bunch of stand-alone VST hosts since it allows VST effects plug-ins to be applied to a soft synth's output, and is generally a nicely designed application for the reasonable price of $35.