Sonarworks Reference 4.3: more headphones, features for calibrating your mixes

Sonarworks Reference 4.3 has a bunch of new features – more headphones, better performance, and it won’t blind you in a dark studio. The goal: make sure your mixes sound consistent everywhere. And with both high-end and consumer cans on the supported list, they seem to want everybody to give this a go.

I think the biggest challenge Sonarworks has here is that even I would have imagined calibration was something for engineers, but not necessarily producers. But once you hear the results, anyone can hear what this does. The thing is, headphones and studio monitors really aren’t flat. And especially outside of perfectly tuned studio environments, neither are working environments. Testing and calibration improves that enough that anyone can hear.

I’ve been using Sonarworks Reference religiously since the fall. The biggest challenge has been that there are two modes. One sounds really great, but adds a ton of latency. That’s especially rough if you want to work with calibration switched on all the time. The other is low-latency, but doesn’t sound as good. Those differences are, again, noticeable to anyone.

The big improvement in Reference 4.3 is to let you have both – with a mixed filter mode that operates with minimal latency but still delivers accurate results. That for me makes Reference way more useful. In fact, given this involved a ground-up rewrite, I’m surprised Sonarworks didn’t call this Reference 5. (It’s a free update, though!)

You also get new headphone profiles, which show both some high-end Beyerdynamic models but also the sort of consumer listening cans a lot of us use on the go with our smartphones and such. Those seem to target new users as well as ones traveling.

Beyerdynamic Custom Studio
Beyerdynamic MMX 300
Direct Sound EXTW37 Pro
Direct Sound Serenity Plus
Direct Sound Studio Plus
Marshall Major III
Marshall Major III Bluetooth
Marshall Monitor Bluetooth

More important than the addition of new individual models, though, they’ve added on-demand profile delivery, so you can add support inside the tool. There are already over a couple hundred of these, and they keep adding more.

There are some other improvements, too:

Dark mode – some people hate these; I love them, since I work in a lot of dim / late night environments

A better menu/tray bar, which is critical as you modify settings as you work

Integrated room measurement inside the Systemwide and plugin tools

Better virtual sound device performance (I need to test this across my Mac and Windows machines)

The little tool that gets you up and running when you start I already liked, and wrote about previously, but they’ve enhanced that even more

Previously, I did some deep dives into this software and answered reader questions:

What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

Your questions answered: Sonarworks Reference calibration tools

I need to follow up with them on how Linux support is coming, as CDM was the first to write about that and some of you I know were interested (as am I)!

Also since I last covered Reference, Sonarworks has started offering a bundle with pre-calibrated headphones. These theoretically deliver more precise calibration than what you’d get from any profile, since they’ve tested the actual harder. It’s pricey, because it includes the already-expensive HD650 headphones from Sennheiser.

But those are terrific headphones, and headphones are crucial to precise mixing and mastering. I imagine these would be a great investment for a producer or especially studio or engineer wanting to invest in a full calibration package at once. (Feel free to shout about whether Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic are better in comments, though!) In fact, I think if you’re thinking of buying the HD650s, you should spring for the bundle.

The bundle, with Sennheiser HD650.

I have talked to more producers about this tool than engineers (though my mastering engineer collaborator is a believer), so I would be interested to hear about that use case more.

And yes, this is another member of our music tech industry now located in Riga, Latvia, along with Gamechanger, Erica Synths, and others. It’s a surprising new hotbed.

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Logic Pro X 10.4.5 is all about huge projects, with or without a Mac Pro

Logic Pro X 10.4.5, seen onstage at WWDC, is now available. And yes, it supports the new ultra-high-end Mac Pro – but there are fixes and performance optimizations for everyone, with or without new machines.

10.4.5 looks like the most pro-oriented Logic Pro in a long time. Apple has been aggressive with its update cadence for Logic for years running now, even with free upgrades, and this version is no exception.

This release also marks the end of the road for Mac OS X 10.12 Sierra. The new minimum OS requirement is 10.13.16 High Sierra. (Mojave is seeming stable these days, and it’s summertime, so maybe now is a good time to do a full backup and take the plunge.)

First up – yes, the banner feature from Apple’s perspective is that the new Logic runs on the new Mac Pro. Under the hood, that means support for up to 56 cores, the kind of massive multiprocessing the new Mac Pro can do.

The use case for this kind of processing power is slim, but then, that’s what the ‘pro’ concept is all about. Doing artist relations, you may have a film composer with advanced technical needs and a shelf full of Academy Awards. Even one user in your user base can be critical.

That said, I think the real story here is that Apple is shaking the tree across the whole code base – meaning these performance optimizations and fixes could benefit you even if you’re running on a beat-up older MacBook, too.

So, think really big track counts – which could be meaningful since even some mid-range CPUs can theoretically churn through a lot of tracks, to say nothing of that shiny Mac Pro tower.

Increased Number of Tracks and Channels, up to:
1000 stereo audio channel strips
1000 software instrument channel strips
1000 auxiliary channel strips
1000 external MIDI tracks
12 sends per channel strip

Way back around 2006, I heard from a Macworld reader complaining about lifting exactly these limitations and how I didn’t mention them in a review. (See above: that one user thing.)

There’s a bunch of other new features that are serious DAW improvements – and almost no mention mention of any fictional artificial drummers.

An all-new DeEsser 2 plug-in

16 ports of MIDI clock, MTC, and MMC from Logic – yeah, expect to see a Mac Pro in broadcast/film/TV applications running audio

Mixer configuration can be set to your own user-definable defaults (huge time saver there, finally)

A clever automatic duplicate erase when you’re merging MIDI recordings

And some new keyboard shortcuts to save you time when editing:

  • Option + Shift while rubber-band selecting in the Piano Roll: new time Handles selection.
  • Option-click track on/off button: loads/unloads the plug-ins on the channel strip (wow, easy A/B!)
  • Shift-double-click Tracks background: start playback from that position.

And for the “I have an old beat-up MacBook you can pry out of my dead fingers” crowd – finally Freeze works the way it should. (How many of you were desperately freezing tracks while cursing Logic as the CPU meter refused to go down?) From the release notes:

“Freezing a track now unloads its plug-ins to free up resources.”

There are also fixes and performance optimizations and workflow and display improvements throughout. As you’d expect, fixes are concentrated on newer features – Smart Tempo, ARA, Flex, and the like.

So you don’t get any earth-shaking new features unless you’re really into de-essing, but what you do get is some evidence the Apple engineers are working through their log of stuff.

Logic Pro X 10.4 release notes (Apple support, 10.4.5 stuff is right up top)

Full disclosure: I will now this week refresh my MacBook Pro’s OS and then Logic release.

Hey, say what you will about Apple, but Logic Pro these days is pretty accessible from a user experience perspective. There’s some powerful and numerous competitors that either fail that ease of use test or that simply lack features you need to get big jobs done in scoring and the like. Maddeningly, a lot get the ease right but lack features, or have insanely powerful features but demand you contort your brain to use them. (Once upon a time, an earlier version of Logic was also far harder to use.)

I know from CDM’s own site stats and plenty of anecdotal evidence that all this matters to music makers. It’s not just Apple brand loyalty that makes Logic last.

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Ableton Live 10.1 arrives; here are the first things you should try

Ableton Live 10.1 is here, a free update to Live 10.1 with some new devices, streamlined automation and editing, and new sound features. So what should dig into after the download? Here’s a place to start.

There’s no surprise reveal here since 10.1 has been in public beta and was announced in the winter. Here’s the full run-down of what’s in the release from February (still accurate):

Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

I’ve been working with the beta for some time, to the point of not wanting to go back even to 10.0 (or even getting a bit confused when switching to a friend’s machine that didn’t have 10.1).

So let’s skip ahead to stuff you should check out right away when you download:

Refresh a track in Arrangement View

I will shortly do a separate story just on getting around Arrangement View quickly, but — there’s a lot of fun to be had. (Yes, fun, not just screaming at the screen as you painstakingly move envelopes around.)

Ableton have accordingly updated their Arrangement View tutorials:

(Video is actually a terrible medium for shortcuts, but more on those soon.)

Here are some quick things to try:

Resize the Arrangement Overview (that’s the bit at the top of Arrangement View)

Draw some shapes! Right click, pick some shapes, and you can draw in envelopes. Try this actually two ways: first, select some time and draw in shapes. Next, deselect time, and try drawing with different grid values – you’ll get different corresponding quantization.

Get at fades directly. Press the F key.

Clean up envelopes. Right click on a time selection and choose Simplify Envelope.

Stretch and scale! Select some time in automation, and you’ll see handles so you can move both horizontally (amount/scale) and vertically (in time).

Enter some specific values. Right click, choose Edit value, type in a number, and hit enter.

There’s a lot more. But all of this is an opportunity to duplicate one of your projects and give it a refresh by going nuts with some modulation because – why not.

You know, conventional wisdom says, don’t mess with your existing tracks too much. The hell with that. If I were a painter, I would definitely be the kind constantly scraping away and painting over canvases. You can always save a backup. Sometimes it’s fun to mess around and take something somewhere else entirely.

Everything Freezes

Go ahead and freeze whatever you want! Track has a sidechain? It’ll freeze. It’ll even still be a source for other sidechains. (There are actually a bunch of things that had to happen for this to work – check Arrangement Editing in release notes if you’re curious. But the beauty is you don’t really have to think about it.)

Here’s a new explanation of how it works:

Try your own wavetables

User wavetables make the Live 10 Wavetable synth far more interesting.

Like arrangement, this probably deserves it’s own story, but here’s a place to get started:

And for extra help exploiting that feature, there are some useful utilities that will assist you in creating wavetables:

Generate wavetables for free, for Ableton Live 10.1 and other synths

While you’re in there, Ableton quietly added a very powerful randomization feature inside Wavetable for glitching out still more:

Added a new “Rand” modulation source to Wavetable’s MIDI tab, which generates a random value when a note starts.

Pinch and zoom

Trackpads and touchscreens (most of them, anyway) now support pinch gestures in Arrangement View, so try that out. It works for me both on a Razer and (of course) Apple laptop; lots of other hardware will work, too. It’s a little thing, but zooming is a big part of getting around an arrangement.

Try Channel EQ as a creative tool or live

There are already a lot of EQs out there. The Channel EQ however has some draw as a potential equivalent for live PA / experimental sets of what the EQ Three has been for DJ sets.

Stop futzing around with sends when you export stems

Okay, see if this is familiar:

You output stems – say for a remix artist or to mix in a different tool – and suddenly everything sounds completely differently than you expected because you used sends and returns and/or master effects.

That’s no longer an issue in 10.1, as there’s now a new export option that addresses this.

So, time to go make some stems, right?

Make some new sounds with Delay

Okay, Delay at first glance may seem like a step backward from the excitement of Space Echo-ish Echo in Live 10. Isn’t it just a combination of Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay into one Device?

Well, it is that, but it also has an LFO built in that can modulate both delay time and filter frequency.

These modes were there before, but you now surface Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes as buttons.

So put all of this together, and the combination of things that were there that you didn’t notice, with new things that are simple but very powerful, all together in one unit becomes very powerful indeed.

That is, if you’re modulating something like delay time, then changing between Repitch, Fade, and Jump actually gives you a lot of different sonic possibilities. And yes, this is the sort of thing people with modular rigs like to do with wires but… if you’re a Live 10 owner, it’ll cost you nothing to check out right now.

Specifically, maxforcats pointed us to some cool granular-ish sounds when you choose Fade mode and start modulating delay time.

And keep using Echo. The big challenge with an effect like Echo is balancing loudness. As it happens, there’s a little right-click option that solves this for you in Echo:

In the Echo device, the Dry/Wet knob now features a context menu to switch to “Equal-Loudness”. When enabled, a 50/50 mix will sound equally loud for most signals, instead of being attenuated. In the Delay device, the maximum delay time offset is now consistent with the Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay devices.

Discover Simpler, again

Simpler is weirdly a lot of the time a reason to use Ableton Live for its absurd combination of directness and power – in contrast to mostly overcomplicated software (and harwdare, for that matter).

Now you can mess around with volume envelopes (even synced ones) and loop time, previously only in Sampler – for both powerful sound design and beat-synced ideas:

Added a Loop Mode chooser, Loop Time slider and Beat Sync/Rate slider to the Volume Envelope in Simpler’s Classic Playback Mode. Previously, these controls were exclusively available in Sampler.

Oh, and go map some macros

You’d probably easily miss this, too – it means that now mapping macros works the way you’d expect, in fewer steps:

When mapping a parameter to an empty macro, the macro assumes the full range of the target parameter, and will be set to the current value of the target parameter.

— and while using mice for everything is no fun, macros are also a great intermediary between what you’re doing onscreen and twisting knobs on controller hardware (Push, certainly, but lots of other gear, too).

Speaking of which, that nice compact NI keyboard controller works thanks to this update, too, making it an ideal thing to throw in your bag with a laptop for a mobile Ableton Live work rig.

Where to find more on 10.1

Detailed ongoing release notes on Live 10 are here:
Live 10 Release Notes

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Your music software goes modular: builder-friendly Bitwig 3 beta is here

It may have been in the temple of wires and racks, but Berlin’s Bitwig chose this weekend’s Superbooth to launch a public beta of their all-modular DAW, Bitwig Studio 3. It lets you wire together with hardware, or just inside software, or as a combination.

It’s called The Grid – and it’s all about patching inside your music workflow, so you can construct stuff you want instead of dialing up big monolithic tools and presets. And that sounds great to builders, I’m sure.

Going modular was really the promise of Bitwig Studio from the start – something to rocket the software from “oh, hey, I can run something kinda like Ableton on Linux” to … “wow, this is something really special.”

The idea is, get a music making tool that not only behaves like a set of tracks and channels, or a bank of patterns and samples, and more like a toybox that lets you built whatever you want from various blocks. And before anyone tries to launch another of those “hardware versus software” debates (yawn), a friendly reminder that computers used a modular generator model for digital audio in the late 1950s – years before any recognizable hardware modular was even a thing. (Okay, granted, you needed a stack of punch cards and access to an IBM mainframe or two and the user base was something like ‘people who happen to know Max Mathews,’ but still…)

Bitwig Studio 3 is in beta now, so you can toy around with it and see what you think. (Bitwig are very clear about not putting important projects in there.)

I wrote about this at the start of this year.

Bitwig Studio is about to deliver on a fully modular core in a DAW

But now there’s a friendly video to walk you through how it all works:

Basically, think friendly musical blocks for pattern and timbre, pre-cords so things are patched easily, and powerful features with phase.

With Beta 1, we also see some specifics – you can produce your own stereo synths and effects with the two Grid devices:

Patching may be a nerdy endeavor, but Bitwig’s design makes it much friendlier – and there’s already great tutorial documentation even in the beta.

Poly Grid: “for creating synthesizers, sequenced patches (like a beatbox), droning sounds, etc.”

FX Grid for effects

Signal/modulation I/O – including pressure, CV (like from hardware)

Visualization (labels, VU, readouts)

Phase – loads of stuff here, as promised: Phasor, Ø Bend, Ø Reset, Ø Scaler, Ø Reverse, Ø Wrap, Ø Counter, Ø Formant, Ø Lag, Ø Mirror, Ø Shift, Ø Sinemod, Ø Skew, Ø Sync

Oscillators (including Swarm, Sampler)

Random

LFO

Envelope / follower

Shaper (ooh, Chebyshev, Distortion, Quantizer, Rectifier, Wavefolder)

Filter (Low-pass LD, Low-pass SK, SVF, High-pass, Low-pass, Comb)

Delay types – need to dig into these; they look promising

Mix – Blend, Mixer, LR Mix, Select, Toggle, Merge, Split, Stereo Merge, Stereo Split, Stereo Width

Level – Level, Value, Attenuate, Bias, Drive, Gain, AM/RM, Average, Bend, Clip, Hold, Lag, Sample / Hold, Level Scaler, Bi→Uni, Uni→Bi

Pitch scalers and tools

Math operators

Logic operators

— all in all, it’s a really nice selection of tools, and a balance of low-level signal tools/operators and easy convenience tools that are higher level. And it’s also not an overwhelming number – which is good; it’s clear this should be its own tool and not try to replicate the likes of Max, SuperCollider, and Reaktor.

More improvements

Also in this build:

Reworked audio backends for every OS (good)

UI overhaul

Ableton Link 3 support with transport start/stop sync

And – a little thing, but you can view the timeline with actual time (minutes, ms) …

More on this soon.

Beta users will find a really nice, complete tutorial so – you can start practicing building. Have fun!

BITWIG STUDIO 3: NOW IN BETA

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Remember ACID? It’s back – and ready to split stems for you automatically

It may seem like there’s not much left for music making software to do that it doesn’t do already. But how about magically extracting stems from audio? The first software to do that is one you might not have thought about for a while: ACID Pro.

Back in 1998 when it came out, ACID – aka Acid pH1 – was ground-breaking. Drag and drop loops, make a song: more than any other single software release, this was what would change computer music making. Sure, Propellerhead had already established a few years earlier that you could use warp-able digital loops to remix music, make new music, and work with samples in new ways. But it was really ACID that established what an entire production tool would look like built around the concept. Loop-based music production on the computer was now a thing.

ACID’s place as a leader, however, faded. Original developer Sonic Foundry sold to Sony. Ableton ran with the loop workflow and built a tool with real-time performance. Apple built GarageBand and Apple Loops with strong influence from ACID – but on the Mac (and later iPad), whereas ACID was Windows-only.

ACID Pro has continued to see updates, and some users have certainly stayed loyal. But the pace of progress languished at Sony, and the tool was sold to Berlin developer Magix.

Well, it’s back – and with an idea that could put it on the map again.

ACID Pro Next makes “audio separation” its banner feature. It wasn’t developed in-house at Magix, but with fellow German developer Zynaptiq. That could mean you see other DAW makers license this, but it’s a natural for ACID’s workflow – and ACID has gotten there first.

And here’s the thing: the sonic results, in the demos, at least, sound really good – a new level. We’ve been wowed by Zynaptiq’s DSP prowess in the past, so I’m not surprised. I’ll want to check this on my own material with more time, but it’s promising.

This, of course, solves two major use cases:

“Hey, will you do a remix?” “Sure! Can you send me the stems?” “What are stems? Here’s a stereo file.” “No, like separate tracks.” “Cool, here is a random selection of audio files that don’t seem to add up to the whole track for some reason.” “No. How does that help? I… augh.”

And the second use case:

“Oh, this track. I forgot I made this. Wait… I could do something with this. I just want to change the… where’s the original project? Wait, what do you mean Logic Pro corrupted the whole project and undo no longer works. Let me check the backup … backup… oh. #$(*&$@.”

I’m guessing that machine learning is involved in this implementation, as I know this developer has been working in that field. The results aren’t perfect, either – this kind of separation is difficult, so you will hear residual artifacts. But it might still work in a remix context.

No embeddable video/audio yet, but check out the demos on their site.

We’ve seen this once before in Accusonus’ software, but as a plug-in, which means extra steps when it comes to separation. This is the first time it’s been directly integrated in a DAW. I do hope we get to do side-by-side audio comparisons of Accusonus’ and Zynaptiq’s approaches – especially as the ACID Pro Next results sound so good, far better that what Accusonus gave us a couple of years ago. (That makes some sense; machine learning audio processing has evolved since then.)

Here’s a look at how the remix process works with Accusonus – and it is possibly to use this creatively or even abuse the results:

Try AI remixing in Regroover with these tips and exclusive sounds

And here’s our conversation with the developers about what happened behind the scenes from an engineering perspective:

Accusonus explain how they’re using AI to make tools for musicians

A simple but cool idea also in this release is the MIDI Playable Chopper. It takes audio files and splits them into slices – okay, basically everything does that. And then it lets you play those slices with an external MIDI controller, without any further configuration. No extra steps putting those slices into some kind of drum device, just play as you slice. Why doesn’t software work this way? I have no idea.

Play as you chop.

But those two features already could make ACID Pro the remix machine to beat. It’s good enough that I could imagine, while a lot of us don’t like to switch DAWs, some of us might consider giving this a go just to get through a tight remix deadline.

There’s more, too. There’s a new VST engine – adding VST3 compatibility, but retaining a 32-bit VST bridge even as most DAWs drop that. There are mastering-style metering tools so you can get your loudness right as you mix without third-party tools – nice. And you get a refreshed library of instruments and effects. So there are new virtual analog and lead synths, extra effects, and mastering tools.

For some reason, they’re also including … a concert guitar and a saxaphone plug-in? Not sure where that fits in, but fine.

Pricing starts at US$149, with Next – the one with the cool stem features – starting at US$399 ($299 upgrade). And there’s a subscription. And it’s kind of complicated, unfortunately.

https://www.magix.com/us/music/acid/acid-pro-next/

Still Windows-only, yes.

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DP10 adds clip launching, improved audio editing to MOTU’s DAW

DP10 might just grant two big wishes to DAW power users. One: pull off Ableton Live-style clip launching. Two: give us serious, integrated waveform editing. Here’s why DP10 might get your attention.

A handful of music tools has stood the test of time because the developers have built relationships with users over years and decades. DP is definitely in that category, established in fields like TV and film scoring.

This also means, however, it’s rare for an update to seem like news. DP10 is a potential exception. I haven’t had hands-on time with it yet, but this makes me interested in investing that time.

Bride of Ableton Live?

The big surprise is, MOTU are tackling nonlinear loop triggering, with what they call the Clips window.

The connection to Ableton Live here is obvious; MOTU even drives home the point with a similar gray color scheme, round indicators showing play status, clips grouped into Scenes (as a separate column) horizontally, and into tracks vertically.

And hey, this works for users – all of those decisions are really intuitive.

Here’s where MOTU has an edge on Ableton, though. DP10 adds the obvious – but new – idea of queuing clips in advance. These drop like Tetris pieces into your tracks so you can chain together clips and let them play automatically. The queue is dynamic, meaning you can add and remove those bits at will.

That sounds like a potential revelation. It’s way easier to grok – and more visible – than Live’s Follow Actions. And it frees users from taking their focus of their instruments and other work just to manually trigger clips.

Also, as with Bitwig Studio, MOTU lets you trigger multiple clips both as scenes and as clip groups. (Live is more rigid; the only way to trigger multiple clips in one step is as a complete row.)

I have a lot of questions here that require some real test time. Could MOTU’s non-linear features here pair with their sophisticated marker tools, the functionality that have earned them loyalty with people doing scoring? How do these mesh with the existing DP editing tools, generally – does this feel like a tacked-on new mode, or does it integrate well with DP? And just how good is DP as a live performance tool, if you want to use this for that use case? (Live performance is a demanding thing.)

But MOTU do appear to have a shot to succeed where others haven’t. Cakewalk added clip triggering years ago to SONAR (and a long-defunct tool called Project 5), but it made barely a dent on Live’s meteoric rise and my experience of trying to use it was that it was relatively clunky. That is, I’d normally rather use Live for its workflow and bounce stems to another DAW if I want that. And I suspect that’s not just me – that’s really now the competition.

More audio manipulation

Every major DAW seems locked now in a sort of arms race in detecting beats and stretching audio, as the various developers gradually add new audio mangling algorithms and refine usability features.

So here we go with DP10 – detect beats, stetch audio, adjust tempo, yadda yadda.

Under the hood, most developers are now licensing the algorithms that manipulate audio – MOTU now works with ZTX Pro from zynaptic. But how you then integrate that mathemagical stuff with user interface design is really important, so this is down to implementation.

It’s certainly doubly relevant that MOTU are adding new beat detection and pitch-independent audio stretching in DP10, because of course this is a natural combination for the new Clips View.

More research needed.

Maybe just as welcome, though, is that MOTU have updated the integrated waveform editor in DP. And let’s be honest – even after decades of development, most DAWs have really terrible editors when it comes down to precise work on individual bits of audio. (I cringe every time I open the one in Logic, for instance. Ableton doesn’t really even have waveform editing apart from the limited tools in the main Arrangement view. And even users of something like Pro Tools or Cubase will often jump out to use a dedicated program.)

MOTU say they’ve streamlined and improved their Waveform Editor. And there’s reason to stay in the DAW – in DP10, they’ve integrated all those beat editing and time stretching and pitch correction tools. They’re also promising dynamic editing tools and menus and shortcuts and … yeah, just have to try this one. But those integrated tools and views look great, and – spectral view!

Other improvements

There’s some other cool stuff in DP10:

A new integrated Browser (this will also be familiar to users of Ableton Live and other tools, but it seems nicely implemented)

“VCA Faders” – which let you control multiple tracks with relative volumes, grouping however you like and with full automation support. This looks ilke a really intuitive way to mix.

VST3 support – yep, the new format is slowly gaining adoption across the industry.

Shift-spacebar to run commands. This is terrific to me – skip the manual, skip memorizing shortcuts for everything, but quickly access commands. (I think a lot of us use Spotlight and other launchers in a similar way, so this is totally logical.)

Transport bar skips by bars and beats. (Wait… why doesn’t every program out there do this, actually?)

Streamlined tools for grid snapping, Region menu, tool swapping, zooming, and more.

Quantize now applies to controllers (CC data), not just notes. (Yes. Good.)

Scalable resolution.

Okay, actually, that last one – I was all set to try the previous version of DP, but discovered it was impossible for my weak eyes to see the UI on my PC. So now I’m in. If you hadn’t given DP a second look because you actually couldn’t see it – it seems that problem is finally solved.

And by the way, you also really see DP’s heritage as a MIDI editor, with event list editing, clear displays of MIDI notes, and more MIDI-specific improvements.

All in all, it looks great. DP has to compete now with a lot of younger DAWs, the popularity of software like Ableton Live, and then the recent development on Windows of Cakewalk (aka SONAR) being available for free. But this looks like a pretty solid argument against all of that – and worth a test.

And I’ll be totally honest here – while I’ve been cursing some of DP’s competition for being awkward to set up and navigate for these same tasks, I’m personally interested.

It means a lot to have one DAW with everything from a mature notation view editor to video scoring to MIDI editing and audio and mixing. It means something you don’t outgrow. But that makes it even more important to have it grow and evolve with you. We’ll see how DP10 is maturing.

64-bit macOS, and 32-bit/64-bit Windows 7/8/10, shipping this quarter.

Pricing:
Full version: $499USD (street price)
Competitive upgrade: $395USD
AudioDesk upgrade: $395USD
Upgrade from previous version: $195USD

http://motu.com/products/software/dp/

I have just one piece of constructive criticism, MOTU. You should change your name back to Mark of the Unicorn and win over millennials. And me, too; I like unicorns.

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Your questions answered: Sonarworks Reference calibration tools

If getting your headphones and studio monitors calibrated sounds like a good New Years’ Resolution, we’ve got you covered. Some good questions came up in our last story on Sonarworks Reference, the automated calibration tool, so we’ve gotten answers for you.

First, if you’re just joining us, Sonarworks Reference is a tool for automatically calibrating your studio listening environment and headphones so that the sound you hear is as uncolored as possible – more consistent with the source material. Here’s our previous write-up, produced in cooperation with Sonarworks:

What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

CDM is partnering with Sonarworks to help users better understand how to use the tool to their benefit. And so that means in part answering some questions with Sonarworks engineers. If you’re interested in the product, there’s also a special bundle discount on now: you get the True-Fi mobile app for calibration on your mobile device, free with a Sonarworks Studio Edition purchase (usually US$79):

https://try.sonarworks.com/christmasspecial/

Readers have been sending in questions, so I’ll answer as many as I can as accurately as possible.

Does it work?

Oh yeah, this one is easy. I found it instantly easier to mix both on headphones and sitting in the studio, in that you hear far more consistency from one listening environment / device to another, and in that you get a clearer sense of the mix. It feels a little bit like how I feel when I clean my eyeglasses. You’re removing stuff that’s in the way. That’s my own personal experience, anyway; I linked some full reviews and comparisons with other products in the original story. But my sense in general is that automated calibration has become a fact of life for production and live situations. It doesn’t eliminate the role of human experts, not by a long shot – but then color calibration in graphics didn’t get rid of the need for designers and people who know how to operate the printing press, either. It’s just a tool.

Does it work when outside of the sweet spot in the studio?

This is a harder question, actually, but anecdotally, yeah, I still left it on. You’re calibrating for the sweet spot in your studio, so from a calibration perspective, yeah, you do want to sit in that location when monitoring – just as you always would. But a lot of what Sonarworks Reference is doing is about frequency response as much as space, I found it was still useful to leave the calibration on even when wandering around my studio space. It’s not as though the calibration suddenly stops working when you move around. You only notice the calibration stops working if you have the wrong calibration profile selected or you make the mistake of bouncing audio with it left on (oops). But that’s of course exactly what you’d expect to happen.

What about Linux support?

Linux is officially unsupported, but you can easily calibrate on Windows (or Mac) and then use the calibration profile on Linux. It’s a 64-bit Linux-native VST, in beta form.

If you run the plug-in the handy plug-in host Carla, you can calibrate any source you like (via JACK). So this is really great – it means you can have calibrated results while working with SuperCollider or Bitwig Studio on Linux, for example.

This is beta only so I’m really keen to hear results. Do let us know, as I suspect if a bunch of CDM readers start trying the Linux build, there will be added incentive for Sonarworks to expand Linux support. And we have seen some commercial vendors from the Mac/Windows side (Pianoteq, Bitwig, Renoise, etc.) start to toy with support of this OS.

If you want to try this out, go check the Facebook group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1751390588461118/

(Direct compiled VST download link is available here, though that may change later.)

What’s up with latency?

You get a choice of either more accuracy and higher latency, or lower accuracy and lower latency. So if you need real-time responsiveness, you can prioritize low latency performance – and in that mode, you basically won’t notice the plug-in is on at all in my experience. Or if you aren’t working live / tracking live, and don’t mind adding latency, you can prioritize accuracy.

Sonarworks clarifies for us:

Reference 4 line-up has two different *filter* modes – zero latency and linear phase. Zero latency filter adds, like the name states, zero latency, whereas linear phase mode really depends on sample-rate but typically adds about 20ms of latency. These numbers hold true in plugin form. Systemwide, however, has the variable of driver introduced latency which is set on top of the filter latency (zero for Zero latency and approx 20ms for linear phase mode) so the numbers for actual Systemwide latency can vary depending on CPU load, hardware specs etc. Sometimes on MacOS, latency can get up to very high numbers which we are investigating at the moment.

What about loudness? Will this work in post production, for instance?

Some of you are obviously concerned about loudness as you work on projects where that’s important. Here’s an explanation from Sonarworks:

So what we do in terms of loudness as a dynamic range character is – nothing. What we do apply is overall volume reduction to account for the highest peak in correction to avoid potential clipping of output signal. This being said, you can turn the feature off and have full 0dBFS volume coming out of our software, controlled by either physical or virtual volume control.

Which headphones are supported?

There’s a big range of headphones with calibration profiles included with Sonarworks Reference. Right now, I’ve got that folder open, and here’s what you get at the moment:

AIAIAI TMA-1

AKG K72, K77, K121, K141 MKII, K240, K240 MKII, K271 MKII, K550 MKII, K553 Pro, K612 Pro, K701, K702, K712 Pro, K812, Q701

Apple AirPods

Audeze KCD-2, LCD-X

Audio-Technica ATH-M20x, M30x, M40x, M50x, M70x, MSR7, R70x

Beats EP, Mixr, Pro, Solo2, Solo3 wireless, Studio (2nd generation), X Average

Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, DT 150, DT 250 80 Ohm, DT 770 Pro (80 Ohm, 32 Ohm PPRO, 80 Ohm Pro, 250 Ohm Pro), DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm, DT 1770 Pro, DT 1990 Pro (analytical + balanced), T 1

Blue Lola, Mo-Fi (o/On+)

Bose QuietComfort 25, 35, 35 II, SoundLink II

Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless

Extreme Isolation EX-25, EX-29

Focal Clear Professional, Clear, Listen Professional, Spirit Professional

Fostex TH900 mk2, TX-X00

Grado SR60e, SR80e

HiFiMan HE400i

HyperX Cloud II

JBL Everest Elite 700

Koss Porta Pro Classic

KRK KNS 6400, 8400

Marshall Major II, Monitor

Master & Dynamic MH40

Meze 99, 99 NEO

Oppo PM-3

Philips Fidelio X2HR, SHP9500

Phonen SMB-02

Pioneer HDJ-500

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

PreSonus HD 7

Samson SR850

Sennheiser HD, HD 25 (&0 Ohm, Light), HD-25-C II, HD 201, HD 202, HD 205, HD 206, HD 215-II, HD 280 Pro (incl. new facelift version), HD 380 Pro, HD 518, HD 598, HD 598 C, HD 600, HD 650, HD 660 , HD 700, HD 800, HD 800 S, Moometum On-Ear Wireless, PX 100-II

Shure SE215, SRH440, SRH840, SRH940, SRH1440, SRH1540, SRH1840

Skullcandy Crusher (with and without battery), Hesh 2.0

Sony MDR-1A, MDR-1000X, MDR-7506, MDR-7520, MDR-CD900ST, MDR-V150, MDR-XB450, MDR-XB450AP, MDR-XB650BT, MDR-XB950AP, BDR-XB950BT, MDR-Z7, MDR-XZ110, MDR-ZX110AP, MDR-ZX310, MR-XZ310AP, MDR-ZX770BN, WH-1000MX2

Status Audio CB-1

Superlux HD 668B, HD-330, HD681

Ultrasone Pro 580i, 780i, Signature Studio

V-Moda Crossfade II, M-100

Yamaha HPH-MT5, HPH-MT7, HPH-MT8, HPH-MT220

So there you have it – lots of favorites, and lots of … well, actually, some truly horrible consumer headphones in the mix, too. But I not lots of serious mixers like testing a mix on consumer cans. The advantage of doing that with calibration is presumably that you get to hear the limitations of different headphones, but at the same time, you still hear the reference version of the mix – not the one exaggerated by those particular headphones. That way, you get greater benefit from those additional tests. And you can make better use of random headphones you have around, clearly, even if they’re … well, fairly awful, they can be now still usable.

Even after that long list, I’m sure there’s some stuff you want that’s missing. Sonarworks doesn’t yet support in-ear headphones for its calibration tools, so you can rule that out. For everything else, you can either request support or if you want to get really serious, opt for individual mail-in calibration in Latvia.

More:

https://www.sonarworks.com/reference

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Bitwig Studio 2.5 beta arrives with features inspired by the community

We’re coasting to the end of 2019, but Bitwig has managed to squeeze in Studio 2.5, with feature the company says were inspired by or directly requested by users.

The most interesting of these adds some interactive arrangement features to the linear side of the DAW. Traditional DAWs like Cubase have offered interactive features, but they generally take place on the timeline. Or you can loop individual regions in most DAWs, but that’s it.

Bitwig are adding interactive actions to the clips themselves, right in the arrangement. “Clip Blocks” apply Next Action features to individual clips.

Also in this release:

“Audio Slide” lets you slide audio inside clips without leaving the arranger. That’s possible in many other DAWs, but it’s definitely a welcome addition in Bitwig Studio – especially because an audio clip can contain multiple audio events, which isn’t necessarily possible elsewhere.

Note FX Selector lets you sweep through multiple layers of MIDI effects. We’ve seen something like this before, too, but this implementation is really nice.

There’s also a new set of 60 Sampler presets with hundreds of full-frequency waveforms – looks great for building up instruments. (This makes me ready to boot into Linux with Bitwig, too, where I don’t necessarily have my full plug-in library at my disposal.)

Other improvements:

  • Browser results by relevance
  • Faster plug-in scanning
  • 50 more functions accessible as user-definable key commands

To me, the thing that makes this newsworthy, and the one to test, is really this notion of an interactive arrangement view.

Ableton pioneered Follow Actions in their Session View years back in Ableton Live, but they’ve failed to apply that concept even inside Session View to scenes. (Some Max for Live hacks fill in the gap, but that only proves that people are looking for this feature.)

Making the arrangement itself interactive at the clip level – that’s really something new.

Now, that said, let’s play with Clip Blocks in Bitwig 2.5 and see if this is helpful or just confusing or superfluous in arrangements. (Presumably you can toy with different arrangement possibilities and then bounce out whatever you’ve chosen? I have to test this myself.) And there’s also the question of whether this much interactivity actually just has you messing around instead of making decisions, but that’s another story.

Go check out the release, and if you’re a Bitwig user, you can immediately try out the beta. Let us know what you think and how those Clip Blocks impact your creative process. (Or share what you make!)

Just please – no EDM tabla. (I think that moment sent a chill of terror down my spine in the demo video.)

https://www.bitwig.com/en/18/bitwig-studio-2_5.html

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What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools

No studio monitors or headphones are entirely flat. Sonarworks Reference calibrate any studio monitors or headphones with any source. Here’s an explanation of how that works and what the results are like – even if you’re not someone who’s considered calibration before.

CDM is partnering with Sonarworks to bring some content on listening with artist features this month, and I wanted to explore specifically what calibration might mean for the independent producer working at home, in studios, and on the go.

That means this isn’t a review and isn’t independent, but I would prefer to leave that to someone with more engineering background anyway. Sam Inglis wrote one at the start of this year for Sound on Sound of the latest version; Adam Kagan reviewed version 3 for Tape Op. (Pro Tools Expert also compared IK Multimedia’s ARC and chose Sonarworks for its UI and systemwide monitoring tools.)

With that out of the way, let’s actually explain what this is for people who might not be familiar with calibration software.

In a way, it’s funny that calibration isn’t part of most music and sound discussions. People working with photos and video and print all expect to calibrate color. Without calibration, no listening environment is really truly neutral and flat. You can adjust a studio to reduce how much it impacts the sound, and you can choose reasonably neutral headphones and studio monitors. But those elements nonetheless color the sound.

I came across Sonarworks Reference partly because a bunch of the engineers and producers I know were already using it – even my mastering engineer.

But as I introduced it to first-time calibration product users, I found they had a lot of questions.

How does calibration work?

First, let’s understand what calibration is. Even studio headphones will color sound – emphasizing certain frequencies, de-emphasizing others. That’s with the sound source right next to your head. Put studio headphones in a room – even a relatively well-treated studio – and you combine the coloration of the speakers themselves as well as reflections and character of the environment around them.

The idea of calibration is to process the sound to cancel out those modifications. Headphones can use existing calibration data. For studio speakers, you take some measurements. You play a known test signal and record it inside the listening environment, then compare the recording to the original and compensate.

Hold up this mic, measure some whooping sounds, and you’re done calibration. No expertise needed.

What can I calibrate?

One of the things that sets Sonarworks Reference apart is that it’s flexible enough to deal with both headphones and studio monitors, and works both as a plug-in and a convenient universal driver.

The Systemwide driver works on Mac and Windows with the final output. That means you can listen everywhere – I’ve listened to SoundCloud audio through Systemwide, for instance, which has been useful for checking how the streaming versions of my mixes sound. This driver works seamlessly with Mac and Windows, supporting Core Audio on the Mac and the latest WASAPI Windows support, which is these days perfectly useful and reliable on my Windows 10 machine. (There’s unfortunately no Linux support, though maybe some enterprising user could get that Windows VST working.)

On the Mac, you select the calibrated output via a pop-up on the menu bar. On Windows, you switch to it just like you would any other audio interface. Once selected, everything you listen to in iTunes, Rekordbox, your Web browser, and anywhere else will be calibrated.

That works for everyday listening, but in production you often want your DAW to control the audio output. (Choosing the plug-in is essential on Windows for use with ASIO; Systemwide doesn’t yet support ASIO though Sonarworks says that’s coming.) In this case, you just add a plug-in to the master bus and the output will be calibrated. You just have to remember to switch it off when you bounce or export audio, since that output is calibrated for your setup, not anyone else’s.

Three pieces of software and a microphone. Sonarworks is a measurement tool, a plug-in and systemwide tool for outputting calibrated sound from any source, and a microphone for measuring.

Do I need a special microphone?

If you’re just calibrating your headphones, you don’t need to do any measurement. But for any other monitoring environment, you’ll need to take a few minutes to record a profile. And so you need a microphone for the job.

Calibrating your headphones is as simple as choosing the make and model number for most popular models.

Part of the convenience of the Sonarworks package is that it includes a ready-to-use measurement mic, and the software is already pre-configured to work with the calibration. These mics are omnidirectional – since the whole point is to pick up a complete image of the sound. And they’re meant to be especially neutral.

Sonarworks’ software is pre-calibrated for use with their included microphone.

Any microphone whose vendor provides a calibration profile – available in standard text form – can also use the software in a fully calibrated mode. If you have some cheap musician-friendly omni mic, though, those makers usually don’t do anything of the sort in the way a calibration mic maker would.

I think it’s easier to just use these mics, but I don’t have a big mic cabinet. Production Expert did a test of generic omni mics – mics that aren’t specifically for calibration – and got results that approximate the results of the test mic. In short, they’re good enough if you want to try this out, though Production Expert were being pretty specific with which omni mics they tested, and then you don’t get the same level of integration with the calibration software.

Once you’ve got the mics, you can test different environments – so your untreated home studio and a treated studio, for instance. And you wind up with what might be a useful mic in other situations – I’ve been playing with mine to sample reverb environments, like playing and re-recording sound in a tile bathroom, for instance.

What’s the calibration process like?

Let’s actually walk through what happens.

With headphones, this job is easy. You select your pair of headphones – all the major models are covered – and then you’re done. So when I switch from my Sony to my Beyerdynamic, for instance, I can smooth out some of the irregularities of each of those. That’s made it easier to mix on the road.

For monitors, you run the Reference 4 Measure tool. Beginners I showed the software got slightly discouraged when they saw the measurement would take 20 minutes but – relax. It’s weirdly kind of fun and actually once you’ve done it once, it’ll probably take you half that to do it again.

The whole thing feels a bit like a Nintendo Wii game. You start by making a longer measurement at the point where your head would normally be sitting. Then you move around to different targets as the software makes whooping sounds through the speakers. Once you’ve covered the full area, you will have dotted a screen with measurements. Then you’ve got a customized measurement for your studio.

Here’s what it looks like in pictures:

Simulate your head! The Measure tool walks you through exactly how to do this with friendly illustrations. It’s easier than putting together IKEA furniture.

You’ll also measure the speakers themselves.

Eventually, you measure the main listening spot in your studio. (And you can see why this might be helpful in studio setup, too.)

Next, you move the mic to each measurement location. There’s interactive visual feedback showing you as you get it in the right position.

Hold the mic steady, and listen as a whooping sound comes out of your speakers and each measurement is completed.

You’ll make your way through a series of these measurements until you’ve dotted the whole screen – a bit like the fingerprint calibration on smartphones.

Oh yeah, so my studio monitors aren’t so flat. When you’re done, you’ll see a curve that shows you the irregularities introduced by both your monitors and your room.

Now you’re ready to listen to a cleaner, clearer, more neutral sound – switch your new calibration on, and if all goes to plan, you’ll get much more neutral sound for listening!

There are other useful features packed into the software, like the ability to apply the curve used by the motion picture industry. (I loved this one – it was like, oh, yeah, that sound!)

It’s also worth noting that Sonarworks have created different calibration types made for real-time usage (great for tracking and improv) and accuracy (great for mixing).

Is all of this useful?

Okay, disclosure statement is at the top, but … my reaction was genuinely holy s***. I thought there would be some subtle impact on the sound. This was more like the feeling – well, as an eyeglass wearer, when my glasses are filthy and I clean them and I can actually see again. Suddenly details of the mix were audible again, and moving between different headphones and listening environments was no longer jarring – like that.

Double blind A/B tests are really important when evaluating the accuracy of these things, but I can at least say, this was a big impact, not a small one. (That is, you’d want to do double blind tests when tasting wine, but this was still more like the difference between wine and beer.)

How you might actually use this: once they adapt to the calibrated results, most people leave the calibrated version on and work from a more neutral environment. Cheap monitors and headphones work a little more like expensive ones; expensive ones work more as intended.

There are other uses cases, too, however. Previously I didn’t feel comfortable taking mixes and working on them on the road, because the headphone results were just too different from the studio ones. With calibration, it’s far easier to move back and forth. (And you can always double-check with the calibration switched off, of course.)

The other advantage of Sonarworks’ software is that it does give you so much feedback as you measure from different locations, and that it produces detailed reports. This means if you’re making some changes to a studio setup and moving things around, it’s valuable not just in adapting to the results but giving you some measurements as you work. (It’s not a measurement suite per se, but you can make it double as one.)

Calibrated listening is very likely the future even for consumers. As computation has gotten cheaper, and as software analysis has gotten smarter, it makes sense that these sort of calibration routines will be applied to giving consumers more reliable sound and in adapting to immersive and 3D listening. For now, they’re great for us as creative people, and it’s nice for us to have them in our working process and not only in the hands of other engineers.

If you’ve got any questions about how this process works as an end user, or other questions for the developers, let us know.

And if you’ve found uses for calibration, we’d love to hear from you.

Sonarworks Reference is available with a free trial:

https://www.sonarworks.com/reference

And some more resources:

Erica Synths our friends on this tool:

Plus you can MIDI map the whole thing to make this easier:

The post What it’s like calibrating headphones and monitors with Sonarworks tools appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Reason 10.2: “Yes, finally” to some stuff users want

Reason 10.2 is out now as a free update to Reason 10. It’s a “workflow” update – but those additions will likely be welcomed by current users.

I’ll spare you the GIFs, but the enhancements are detailed in a blog post from earlier this month:

Reason 10.2 is coming – see what’s new [Propellerhead Blog]

Basically, you get multi-lane editing (so you can finally edit multiple MIDI tracks at once, just as recently added in Ableton Live 10, also a bit overdue).

And you can adjust multiple faders at once in the mixer.

And you can snap to an adaptive grid (the grid changes with zoom level, though existing fixed grids remain).

There’s also an “Add Device” button.

The update you may be waiting for is still forthcoming. Later this year, Propellerhead promises improvements to VST integration. (It seems after years of being a holdout against plug-ins, Propellerhead did demonstrate some of what they’d previously argued – that plug-ins are tough to support and can add performance wrinkles.)

But it’s good to hear they’re working on it. Here’s what they write:

Meanwhile, work on VST performance is ongoing. The result of this work will be released as a separate free update later this year. The reason it’s a separate release is because the performance work is an extensive rewrite of the inner workings of the program and requires an expert task force.

Update news:

https://www.propellerheads.se/blog/reason-102-here

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