If you've lots of third-party plug-ins in different formats, it can be a pain to keep tabs on where they're stored and which version to use. We explain how DP's plug-in manager functionality can help, as well as offering guidance on DP6 features, including the essential new 'pre-generation'.
If you're anything like me, you'll have long since supplemented DP's bundled MAS–format plug-in suite with many individual third-party MAS and Audio Units plug-ins. The breadth of DP's compatibility is a real boon, but with all those plug-ins comes the challenge of keeping tabs on them. You know the problem: many installers will put MAS and AU (not to mention VST and RTAS) versions into your Library / Audio / Plug-Ins folders without giving you any choice in the matter, and DP will then dutifully offer you multiple versions in plug-in pop-up windows. Using the 'wrong' one can lead to confusion down the line, especially if you're moving projects between different Macs. Then there's the delightful experience of sitting through a DP start-up sequence when you have a number of iLok-protected plug-ins installed but don't happen to have your iLok inserted — you'd better enjoy hunting down all the authorisation windows that appear. And let's not forget the whole issue of Audio Units examination (as if we could), and the instability that poorly written plug-ins can cause even if they're not instantiated. Clearly, what's needed is an organisational system, and while some options already exist (as I discussed in the October 2007 Performer workshop, available on-line at www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct07/articles/dpworkshop_1007.htm), DP6 has one built in that addresses all the issues very nicely.
DP's Preferences window is accessible from the Digital Performer menu, and its plug-in manager feature lurks in the Audio Plug-ins pane. Click that and you're presented with a list of all the plug-ins that DP can see installed on your Mac, surrounded by buttons and controls related to creating plug-in sets. When you first run DP6, there are three pre–configured plug-in sets: Enable All, Disable All, and Safe, with Enable All being the default. The plug-in list runs in alphabetical order, with MAS plug-ins at the top and Audio Units lower down (you can spot the latter easily because they are labelled with a Passed, Failed, Duplicate or Skipped status). Then all the plug-ins that are enabled have their tick boxes ticked.
This list is great, first because the presence of MAS and AU versions of the same plug-in is easy to spot. Second, as you mouse over a plug-in's name, information about it appears at the bottom of the window, helping you to find out what version you have installed. And the two really important features are these: you can manually enable and disable plug-ins to create your own sets, and you can take control of DP's Audio Units examination process on a 'plug-in by plug-in' basis.
To create your own plug-in set, click the New button and give the set a descriptive name. (For example, I created sets called 'RB normal' and 'RB normal, no iLok/LM', so that I can choose a different set depending on whether I have my iLok key and Liquid Mix interface with me.) The new set becomes active, and now you simply have to go through ticking and un-ticking the plug-ins you want in it. To include or exclude a group of plug-ins in one go, select them (using Shift-click and Command-click to add to the selection) and then use the Enable or Disable buttons. You can force failed Audio Units to run by ticking their boxes and agreeing to DP's warning, while the Reexamine button starts the inspection process for as many or few plug-ins as you wish. Clicking on the Done button will often result in DP offering to restart the audio system to reflect the new settings, but you can also continue to work and opt to have the new set come into force on the next start-up.
Perhaps the best thing of all about the plug-in manager is that it lets you decide at start-up which plug-in set to use. Hold down the Alt key as you start DP and in a short while a small dialogue box appears, from which you can choose between all the pre-defined sets. This is where the pre-configured Safe plug-in set I mentioned earlier comes in useful too, as it'll often let DP load up, and troubleshooting begin, on a setup that's prone to crashing.
It only became clear to me when I was formally testing DP6 for last month's SOS review just how much potential the new combination of plug-in pre-rendering and instrument pre-generation has for slashing CPU use in complex sequences. The idea is that DP calculates playback of processed disk audio and instrument tracks before playback begins, though whether it's really doing an invisible background 'freeze' or is effectively using a colossal buffer size is harder to fathom. But who are we to worry? The result is that DP6 can play back, apparently with the greatest of ease, complex sequences that would otherwise have your Mac on its knees. To get the best out of pre-rendering and pre–gen, here are a few tips.
- Enable it
You'll never benefit from look-ahead processing unless it's turned on, so do this by opening the Preferences window (from the Digital Performer menu, or with the Command-comma shortcut) and choosing the Audio Plug-ins pane. There you can make settings for the current project and for future new projects, and the 'Pre-gen mode when possible' option turns everything on.
- Keep plug-in windows closed
Pre-gen works when plug-in and instrument windows are closed, because only then can DP stop having to worry about responding to real-time parameter changes and start doing its background thing. You just have to get into the habit of closing windows (the Command-W keyboard shortcut comes in handy here) after instantiating a plug-in or tweaking one already in the sequence.
- Modify multitimbral techniques
Some multitimbral, multi-channel virtual instruments (such as MachFive 2, for instance) can support dozens or even hundreds of simultaneous parts, and pre-gen will work for them just as well as it does for simpler, single-channel instruments. But consider what happens when you're actively building up a multi-layered arrangement using this type of instrument. To allow you to play even a single part live (from a record-enabled MIDI track), DP has to run the plug-in live too — ie. in real time. And then, since the summed audio output from the instrument can't be predicted ahead of time, the CPU-saving, behdind-the-scenes bounce can't take place. So while pre–gen might theoretically allow a multitimbral instrument to play back literally hundreds of parts with little CPU use, you'd still need a powerful Mac to support those parts in real time as you recorded a new one.
The solution here is to use multiple instances of the same instrument. This way, when you're actively playing in parts in one of them and CPU use starts to get a bit high, its window can be closed, it'll be pre-rendered and a new instance can be used for the next roundof real-time playing and layering. When that one causes too much CPU hit, close it, create another instance, and repeat...
- Check individual pre-gen status
Even when DP6 is set to use 'Pre-gen mode when possible', individual plug-ins and instruments can override the setting. The windows' mini-menus give the option to 'Run this instance in real-time' or even to 'Default to real-time' for all future instances. If you suspect your pre-gen CPU gains are not as good as they could be, this is the place to check you're not running in real time after all. Note, too, that at the time of writing (and rather unfortunately) none of the MAS versions of MOTU's add-on instruments (with the exception of MX4 v2.2) support pre-gen. If you rely on these, you'll want to keep your eye on www.motu.com to grab fixed versions when they're released. The workaround, in the meantime, is to disable the MAS versions in the plug-in manager and use the Audio Units versions instead. And, of course, sometimes you'll want plug–ins to run in real time — it's essential for DSP-powered types like UAD, Powercore, Liquid Mix and Virus TI, and preferable for any MIDI-enabled plug-ins whose settings you want to tweak in real time even when their windows are closed.
DP6 changes or relocates a fair number of user interface features, as the first part of my 'upgrade guide' revealed in these pages a couple of months back. Then I dealt with the really big changes, so this month it's time for some of the less obvious ones.
Opening Editing windows: It seems that some people really relied on the Control Panel's 'window button' drawer, which gave single–click access to a whole range of editors and configuration panels. With so many editors now easily opened in the central and side-bar cells of the Consolidated Window, you can understand why MOTU felt they could drop this, but if it was an essential part of your workflow, these mostly easily-remembered keyboard shortcuts are the next best thing:
- Chunks Shift-C
- Tracks Overview Shift-T
- Sequence editor Shift-S
- Mixing Board Shift-M
- Event List Shift-E
- MIDI Graphic editor Shift-G
- Drum editor Shift-D
- QuickScribe Shift-Q
- Markers Shift-K
- Soundbites Shift-B
Audio/MIDI Setup doesn't have a pre-configured keyboard shortcut, although there is a Setup menu command. Similarly, for the Waveform editor you either choose the Audio menu command or use the Sound File tab in a central cell of the Consolidated Window.
Automation Snapshot: The little title-bar 'camera' button of DP5 and earlier appears at the lower left of the Sequence editor and Mixing Board in DP 6.01 and later. In plug-in windows it appears as a button marked 'Snapshot' next to the presets menu. Throughout the application you can also use the Control-apostrophe keyboard shortcut.
V-Racks: Here's another title-bar button that has been relocated — but not far this time. In plug-in windows or the Mixing Board, clicking on the title-bar tab's window target menu or its mini-menu allows a new V-Rack to be created or existing ones to be called up for editing. To transfer a Master Fader, Instrument or Aux track to a V-Rack, select it in the Tracks Overview or Sequence editor, and choose 'Move Selected Tracks to V-Rack...' from the Control Panel's Sequence menu.
Markers menu: The old, slightly obscure Markers pop-up menu, which listed all the markers in a sequence and allowed you to locate the playback wiper at one of them by choosing it, has disappeared from the Control Panel, with no direct replacement. However, the same functionality is available in the Markers window. Click at far left of the list entries to jump the wiper to that point.
Chunk navigation: Previous DP versions had buttons for shuttling playback between Chunks, sequences, or whatever you like to call them, at the far left in the Control Panel (below). If you used them, you'll be pleased to know they're still around, in the Chunks window, which can live in a sidebar cell or be popped out separately, as below.
In the wake of DP6 several new updates have been posted at www.motu.com. One, 'Universal Audio Install for firewire interfaces', includes an interesting new version of CueMix. If you own a 'mk3' version of the 828, 896 or Ultralite you'll probably already be using CueMix FX, and it's now compatible with the 828MkII, Traveler, Ultralite, 896HD and 8pre too. These older interfaces don't benefit from the hardware-based effects processing of their newer counterparts, but the new software does provide a streamlined and improved software 'front-end' for their zero-latency mixing features. The look is hugely different from the old CueMix Console — quite a bit wider — and one of the main changes is that you choose between the simultaneously available mixes using the Mix pop-up menu rather than with tabs. Even/odd channel pairs can be made into stereo channels, with level, solo/mute status and trim being set by single controls, and pan knobs being replaced with switchable balance and width knobs. Oddly, though, on my system it looks as though full, non–reversed stereo width is achieved with a setting of -64 rather than +64, which is a bit counter-intuitive. The Talkback and Listenback facilities are also much more up-front.
The much busier but decidedly more funky appearance of CueMix FX might take a bit of getting used to, but in case you can't, it looks as if, at least for the time being, the old version can happily exist on your Mac and remains completely functional.