Review: PreSonus Studio One 3

Alistair McGhee picks apart the latest version of the company’s award-winning DAW to see what it has in store for users…

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger are all great aspirations – ideal for opening Glastonbury or indeed a tag line for the latest incarnation of your killer software. Avoiding of course – Fatter, Flatter, Slower, Harder to Use.

So have the PreSonus boffins working on Version 3 of their Studio One digital audio workstation delivered the Daft Punk upgrade or have they fallen foul of mere waistline expansion?

Well, the install fairly flies by, a slim-fit 90MB download expands to 167MB uncompressed. And the install flexibly allows you to add your instruments, loops and single shots later – they run to about 24GB in the Pro version, over half of which is made up of new content. These bytes are the loop, sample and instrument muscle mass.

So Version 3, what’s in it for me? Well first bear in mind there are three versions – Prime, Artist and Professional. It’s worth checking which suits your need – I’ll be looking at Professional.

The headlines are the new Arranger Track and Scratch Pad. The Arranger Track enables you to divide your song into sections – intro, chorus, verse, etc. – and then manipulate those sections en bloc rather than having to select, copy and paste across multiple tracks of your magnum opus. With a single click you can swap verse and chorus, or duplicate the chorus; adding colour to your arranger sections makes seeing the breakdown of your tunes very easy. And as the sections are freely nameable you could apply this trick to any audio, not just music.

Studio One Pro works using a single timeline window, with the option to instantly switch between open songs in a drop down menu. The new Scratch Pad feature means that each song timeline can make use of an extra dedicated workspace. Select any or all of your arranger sections, right click and copy to a new Scratch Pad and you now have an additional space to work in. The Scratch Pad appears alongside your existing song timeline and can be named and saved independently. This is ideal for creating alternate mixes or experimenting with different processes and effects, while remaining confident that your original stays unmessed about with. If you like what you’ve done it is a snip to drag the whole part back into the main window in one go.

A couple of other workflow improvements: folders are linked to the mixer – packing your tracks into a folder will hide them in the mixer – making unwieldy projects much easier to handle on the limited screen space of a laptop, say. I think I first saw keyboard cursor modifiers on Soundscape and I’m a big fan. Studio One also now offers an alternative tool on the Command or Ctrl key, depending on your OS. You can now draw your automation detail completely in freehand, and in the new tabbed browser section FX plug-ins can be selected to display as thumbnail graphics – a great way to make your favourites stand out from the text list crowd. In fact, the whole tabbed browser is hugely productive, with content searchable by style and drag-and-drop access everywhere.

Studio One has always been a musician’s DAW and Version 3 is firmly rooted in the music camp, with many of the new goodies likely to please those working in electronic music production especially.

Which brings us neatly on to Mai Tai, a brand new big ass polyphonic virtual analogue synth featuring two oscillators (each with one sub) and a noise generator. It also packs mulitmode filters, three envelope generators, two LFOs, a 16-way modulation matrix and access to its own effects and a new feature: scalable CPU performance, featuring an ’80s option. Prophet-5 wannabes form an orderly queue.

Also new to Version 3 is Presence XT, a sampler that supports EXS, Giga and unrestricted Kontakt files. It also supports the new generic multi-sample format that allows sharing with Bitwig.

While on the subject of instruments Version 3 offers multi instruments – the ability to combine, split and layer instruments in ways too numerous to enumerate. It’s just fantastically flexible. This approach can be applied to effects too. Effects can be chained together in an effects map, which allows frequency or channel-based splitting. So if you fancy adding a Leslie-like lilt to the top octave of your guitar track, while independently pumping the bottom end with a big compressor, an effects chain with splitting is just the thing.

And you’ll get that Leslie sound from the new Rotor effect – ideal for spinning your bits, but if you prefer them crushed then make sure you give the new Crusher effect a whirl.

All this and much more. If music composition is your bag, Studio One should be in your bag. Now that everything is native producers and composers increasingly rely on a range of tools, I’m sure Version 3 is going to be a part of many, many tool kits. It’s a Stronger DAW.

Key Features

  • Arranger Track for sectioning songs
  • Use Scratch Pad to create extra workspace
  • Extended FX chains
  • Multi Instruments

RRP: £279 (Professional)

Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.