DP6 is here (or will be here soon, say commenters), with a badly-needed UI update and a number of new features. The results still look like DP – in the way that should appeal to current users, that is – but enhancements demonstrate that the ongoing DAW battles carry on.

DP6 New Features

In the usability category:

  • Updated UI with vertical track resizing (about time, jeez!) and better zooming and resizing
  • Window tabs, which are a pretty cool way of switching between windows and tabbing views a la Firefox, Safari, et al (I’m surprised we haven’t seen more tabs in music software, given their popularity in browsing)
  • Inspector palettes
  • Build comps by selecting from different takes, which would be exciting if we hadn’t just seen similar features elsewhere

New Effects

As welcome as these features will be, most of the buzz I’ve heard from DP users centers around the new effects plug-ins. The MasterWorks Leveler models the “Teletronix LA-2A optical leveling amplifier.” Translated into plain English, it’s an automatic gain adjustment that can have some of the dynamic-smoothing qualities of compression without their soul-sucking quality – it’s an arguably better way of adjusting dynamics. I know at least one very prominent Ableton Live and Logic lover who wants DP6 just to run this plug-in. See the full description on MOTU’s site.

The ProVerb convolution reverb joins convolution reverbs in various other DAWs, with a few twists. It claims to be more CPU-efficient, which is generally not something you associate with convolution. There’s drag-and-drop convolution support, which allows you to drag audio right into the reverb for convolution use. It’s not the first reverb to support using your own audio files, but drag-and-drop is very hot. And MOTU adds automatic ducking features, called Dynamic Mix. And there are surround features, including the ability to use the convolution reverb to upsample to surround.

Combined, these features should allow you to get cleaner, higher-fidelity mixes th…

Um, excuse me. I need a moment. I feel my Jekyl-like alterego coming on here. Let me put on my mad scientist outfit.

[evil murmuring cackle, growing into loud evil laugh] So, MOTU thinks we’ll use these sound features for good, do they? Drag and drop convolution, to destroy my sounds! Let the world cower in the shadow of the new–

Ahem. Okay, moving on. Other features.

Still-Improved Film Scoring Support

While Apple customers complain that there aren’t more extensive integration features between Final Cut and Logic, MOTU has gone and created their own, with a dynamic link system for translating edits in Final Cut to scores assembled in DP. DP already has a surprisingly-strong corner on the film scoring niche, and this is yet another reason. You can even output visual cues over FireWire. Logic doesn’t come anywhere close to DP’s capabilities here. There’s just no competition. For composers doing actual scores, DP will remain king. It’s not a very big niche, but it’s DP’s domain, period.

There’s also improved Pro Tools front-end support, which I expect may be important to this market, as well.

Plug-In Features

You might think that Apple would lead the industry with AU support in Logic given that it’s all in the same building in Cupertino, but don’t count out MOTU – after a rough start in the early Mac OS X days, they’ve been really close to the Audio Unit spec and development tools. In this version:

  • AU side-chaining support (‘bout time)
  • Sample-accurate timing
  • Cocoa graphics support (I’m not actually sure which plug-ins are using Cocoa – anyone know?)
  • Ramp automation
  • Prioritized MIDI for support for plug-ins like Access Virus TI

Not terribly exciting, but good to have. The one feature I think people will find exciting is the new, integrated plug-in manager. Boy, would I like this in some other hosts.

There’s also improved soft synth hosting for more efficient CPU use. One trick here is really interesting: DP now pre-renders instrument tracks so that already-recorded soft synths are rendered in advance instead of playing live. Update: See comments; readers are divided about just how useful this will be, and there are still some complaints about the way DP routes instrument tracks. I think we’ll have to see it in practice.

The combination of the pre-rendering with some of the other features here means that DP may be your best choice on older hardware, not to mention a very strong choice for people who want to load up on lots of plug-ins and experiment with sound design.

Bottom Line (Preview)

DP may be a niche player at this point, but boy, does it rock out in its niche. For film scoring, it remains dominant. And I think that the combination of a better UI, CPU-efficient features, a plug-in manager, and the reverb and dynamics additions here could actually increase its appeal to people who want a host for doing creative sound design and scoring, too – as well as continuing to make it a favorite for backing tracks in live performance. I’m still personally happier in some other hosts for various reasons when it comes to creating stuff, but you have to give some props to the things DP does differently. And it’s a relief that DAW competition continues to remain heated-up, even in 2008. If you wonder why Logic hasn’t become the one and only DAW on Mac, look closely at some of the details here. Composers and producers are very picky about the finer points, and as long as that remains true, we’ll have more than one DAW.

  • http://artgillespie.com Art Gillespie

    You mention that instrument pre-rendering is of interest primarily to those on older hardware. While this is true, I'd say it's potentially even *more* beneficial to those running multi-core hardware. Ask anyone who runs Reaper on the PC how well this sort of architecture runs on dual and quad-cores… pre-rendering tracks is a great solution for distributing load across cores evenly.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Sorry, not at all — I would think this would be of interest to anyone running a lot of plug-ins at once. But certainly, that will include people with older hardware for whom there may be no other option!

  • Menon Dwarka

    How about recording KORE automation? Am I wrong in assuming that previous versions of DP lacked provisions for NRPNs (Non-Registered Parameter Numbers)? I'd love to know if my fav sequencer and my latest NI addition will play nice. And yes, I am watching the KORE mini-site for all the KORE midi stuff you guys are unveiling there.

  • http://artgillespie.com Art Gillespie

    Of course nobody actually has DP6 (three weeks, they tell me /cry) so I'm talking a bit out of turn, but I'm not so sure that the pre-rendering will make much of a difference on single-cores. Sure, you'll cut down on cycles in the actual audio interrupt, but on a single core it's not like that load magically goes away. i.e, while a audio application cpu monitor might report lower load because it's only measuring time in the audio interrupt, switching to Activity Monitor would tell a different story. Those samples have to be generated at some point! The only real upside for those with single-core processors is that likely the pre-rendering happens at a larger quanta than the interrupt's buffer size. Many plug-ins use fewer cycles when asked to render 1024 samples at once versus 64. So that might be a bump for DP users, but Logic users have had that forever.

    What Logic users (and as far as I know, users of all DAWs on the Mac) don't have is particularly intelligent load balancing on multicore systems. This is *very hard* to do in the audio interrupt… how do you distribute load across multiple cores and make sure everything gets to where it needs to be in the signal chain at the right time? Empirically, it seems most of the Mac hosts load-balance tracks' signal chains across cores, as this is the simplest way to solve the scheduling problem. This technique works, but is far from ideal. If all your heavy plug-ins are on one track and the rest of your tracks are using more modest plug-ins, you'd be forgiven for wondering why your host is maxing out one of your eight shiny new cores (to the point of audio glitches) while the rest of them sit there practically idle. What good are eight cores if your project's signal chain binds to the number-crunching capacity of just one of them?

    Pre-rendering allows for more even distribution of processing load: at the plug-in level rather than the track level. (Of course, freeze does an even better job, and from what I can tell, DP 6 still doesn't have the excellent Logic/Live freeze/unfreeze.)

    In any case, until we capture some DP6 out in the wild, tag them and observe their migratory and mating patterns, this is all just enjoyable hypothesizin' shop talk.

    Thanks for the awesome blog.

  • bliss

    DP has had freeze track functionality since version 4.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Art — is that any different on Windows/Linux, or are you just generally speaking about the Mac? And yes, that's correct, we're still working out how to balance across cores generally speaking… will be interesting to see how Snow Leopard impacts that equation, but it don't mean nothin' till it ships, as you say.

  • http://artgillespie.com Art Gillespie

    @bliss –

    I didn't intend to suggest that it didn't. That's why I was careful to contrast it with Logic/Live's freeze/unfreeze. It's a different beast altogether on DP: basically a macro for bussing the output of your instrument channel to the input of an audio track and pressing record, then disconnecting the instrument track from the buss.

    The difference is that in Live and Logic this is a) transparent b) reversible and c) redoable with almost zero effort, which makes changing something virtually frictionless. I love the round-trip nature of freeze in these two apps.

    @Peter — I don't know as much about the Windows side although I do know that Reaper takes the pre-rendering approach because I've read a couple of articles/posts/whatever from Justin at Cockos on the subject. It will be interesting to see if the Grand Central tools touted for Snow Leopard will be useful to traditionally close-to-the-metal apps like audio. I'm hopeful.

  • abron

    @art

    DP's 'freeze' feature is handy to have around, but it isn't freeze in the same way Logic and Live are. This may have something to do with the lack of a proper instrument track in DP. In Logic and Live, an instrument track is a hybrid where MIDI goes in and audio goes out. DP requires MIDI data to live on a separate MIDI track. Until DP has a hybrid track type like Logic or Live, a real freeze tracks implementation really isn't possible. This is an example of a the further ramifications of a poor feature implementation decision.

    Worst of all, at the end of the freeze operation (which is real time, offering the benefit of 'freezing' external MIDI modules, but exceptionally irritating for the intended purpose of instantly toggling editability for processing power) creates a THIRD track to manage in DP, compared with the single hybrid instrument/MIDI/frozen audio track (which can be unfrozen with a click of the button).

    The pre-rendered instrument tracks do offer an extended benefit in the area of bounce to disk, which report-ably can now be accomplished without manually freezing all your instrument tracks first.

  • JWL

    Is this a viable alternative to Pro Tools for Audio Post? The industry is very much Pro Tools centred it seems.

  • Seba

    @JWL:

    It's already the leading DAW in terms of features for scoring to picture and is more than capable of being used in a post setting. Of particular use in this version, BWF support and support for 23.976 frame rate.

    Is it 100% like Pro Tools, no, but it's certainly more familiar than Logic. It's editing is slightly less robust than PT, but it's light years ahead of Logic.

    Also, you get full timecode implementation and surround mixing capabilities without spending $1300 for DV toolkit/timecode or $7000 for an HD rig/surround. Just something to think about.

    Honestly, you may as well give it a shot — for a about $400 competitive upgrade, you don't have a lot to loose.

    If you need some reassurance, here's a guy using it for post:

    http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=2212

  • Seba

    In terms of post, it also has new Final Cut integration:

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

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Grand Central looks interesting (well, what I've seen, anyway, since it's almost entirely covered under NDA). But it is another matter to make this stuff work in real-time audio, so we'll see how that pans out.

    @JWL, Seba: I've also done some digging to find out who is using DP for post. I think it wouldn't be overstatement to say Pro Tools continues to dominate the post world, but it's not for features (and some people I talk to really *prefer* DP). It's just that interchange issue, and even with the compatibility features that are built into DP and other DAWs, a lot of the production world still has to revolve around PT. On the other hand, the fact that DP still shows up on many post jobs is even more notable as a result. And I think what film scoring demonstrates is that, depending on where you are in the production workflow, you may be able to use whatever you want. People score with all sorts of software, but I hear more DP than anything else for big jobs.

  • bliss

    @ Art

    While you were careful to contrast DP with Logic and Live, you were not careful enough to elaborate why you were contrasting the three. What you wrote didn't make it clear that DP has freeze tracks functionality, so I made it clear that it does. "DP still doesn't have…" suggests otherwise.

  • http://sholi.com Eric Ruud

    I've used DP for quite a while now, and at this point I'm only ready to drop a couple hundred on an upgrade if I see "Reliability fixes" at the top of the "new features" list.

  • Seba

    The only issues I've had with the last release of DP has been corrupted session files, which is a big issue but thankfully it hasn't occurred very often (and can't definitively be blamed on MOTU), and also, random volume spikes when using VIs (very annoying and potentially damaging to your hearing).

    Hopefully this new version which seems to be a substantial change update will address those issues for me and give me a perfect system.

  • http://sholi.com Eric Ruud

    Seba –

    Are you Intel or PPC?

    I'm intel, and I get the spinning beachball crash about 5 times a day, usually when doing edge edits.

    I should mention that the sessions I work with are frickin huge by most standards, which I'm sure doesn't help anything…

  • Seba

    @ Eric:

    Yes, I'm on Intel. Intel iMac 1.83 dual. OS 10.4.11 DP5.13. I'd point you to unicornation.com — there are many experienced users there who can help diagnose your system. There are MANY happy users on those boards, particularly with the latest 5.13 release — I think I've only had a crash once or twice in the past 6 months and that's using DP daily with lots of soft synths and effects plugins.

  • JWL

    Thanks for the info chaps. I'm right at the start of pursuing a career in audio post, and i'm concerned about whether I should invest time in Pro Tools or an alternative. Digidesign aren't my favourite company. It's good to know that DP is viable.

  • http://sholi.com Eric Ruud

    Thanks Seba. I'll check it out.

  • snare douglas

    Just discovered live and I am addicted

  • http://syncretism.net niall

    Digital Performer has had vertical track resizing for years in the Sequence Editor window. The new development in DP 6 is vertical track resizing in the Tracks Overview window, which previously did what it said on the tin, but enough users apparently couldn't or wouldn't use these editors for their intended purposes.

  • mas

    DP 6 has been a nightmare for me. I had to make a copy of all my DP5 sessions. I won't even bother with DP6 anymore – I choose to use DP5 instead.

    Why?

    A session that opens and runs flawlessly in DP5 won't run very well in DP6. The program always freezes up. I'm talking about an identical session that runs fine in DP5… same amount of plugins etc..

    I even have the problem with running a single mono audio track – and I'm using an 8 core mac Pro Tower with 4GB RAM. I even opened an identical session in both DP5 and 6 at the same time and checked all the preferences and audio settings, fps, etc to make sure they were completely identical.

    DP6 definitely has some kind of bug

  • Gary

    Man , I bought the new DP 6,

    Crash-tastic.

    Its hates all VSTs, dont know which one is crashing it probably Kontakt.

    Ive been using DP forever, but this is dysfunctional.

    Other comment was correct DP 5 is much more smooth.

    However, I wrote two of my longest pieces in DP6 and cannot

    make downwardly compatiblethe tracks to version 5.

    Also Itd be nice if there were a way to reverse the V rack copy

    and reinstantiate the plug ins , as the vrack freeze only gives you

    aux stereo out for all combined vrack voices, so it is just a stereo submix

    not an individual stereo out submix per instrument , as the regular

    Freeze tracks function is.

  • Gary

    I agree with mas , buggy , not ready for prime time.

    god what a pain….

  • http://www.bing.com/ Cherry

    A wonderful job. Super helpful ifnoramiton.