Choosing Your Flavor of Studio One
Competition is fierce in the world of Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), with well-established major contenders having, over time, specialized in different aspects of music production. Although Studio One, the ever-popular DAW developed by PreSonus, is more than a decade old at the time of writing, it’s still considered a newcomer. However, it has garnered a well-deserved reputation as the “program that does it all.”
As exciting as that may be, not everyone needs all the functionality that the full-fledged version has to offer, so PreSonus has come up with several alternative packages to choose from, offering different levels of functionality, complexity, and pricing.
In this chapter, we will go over these versions, analyze the differences, and discuss which user profile each version would be most suitable for. By the end of this chapter, you will have a solid understanding of which version will best meet your needs, and why.
In this chapter, we will cover the following main topics:
- Meeting the candidates – Prime, Artist, or Pro
- Picking a one-time purchase or joining Studio One+
- Sifting through the additional content
Meeting the candidates – Prime, Artist, or Pro
In this section, we will compare these versions in detail.
Keep in mind that this book aims to provide extensive coverage of the functions and features of Studio One. Therefore, depending on the version that you decide to work with, you may find that some of the features described in this book are not available in your system.
Free and lightweight – Studio One Prime
Prime is the free version of Studio One and as such it offers tremendous value compared to free DAW alternatives from other vendors. You can record and edit audio and MIDI, arrange and produce your tracks, and mix and master your song using the same intuitive drag-and-drop interface and rock-solid audio engine that made Studio One such a great success.
Prime offers some nifty features that make life easier, and definitely not expected in a free program, including the following:
- “Comping” and creating the perfect take out of several recordings
- MIDI retrospective recording (for those moments when you run into a great idea while noodling on your keyboard and say “Oh, I wish I recorded that!”)
- The Arranger Track, which lets you easily move and copy entire sections of your song (such as the intro, verse, chorus, etc.) within the project to try different arrangements and create different versions of your song (radio-friendly versions, extended versions, etc.)
- The Pattern Editor, a game-changer in drum programming with an intuitive interface reminiscent of classic drum machines
However, unless you are willing to settle with a very modest production style, you will likely soon run into some limitations, the most important of which are as follows:
- Only two inputs can be simultaneously used for recording.
- A very limited set of included (stock) effects plugins, which is only exacerbated by…
- No support for third-party plugins, not to mention…
- A very limited number of virtual instruments. Prime only comes with Presence, the Sound Set of which is not significantly better or worse than similar entry-level instruments found on competing DAWs, but you will probably not want to rely on it exclusively in your productions.
Verdict: Prime offers an amazing set of features for a free program. It’s an excellent choice for someone who would like to try their hand at computer-based music production, or for someone with zero budget. But considering today’s music production standards, you are soon likely to run into limitations.
The power of simplicity – Studio One Artist
Artist is aimed at people who want to create their own music and podcasts in a home studio environment. Definitely one of the best contenders at its price point, Artist provides a streamlined workflow, a simple interface, and an easy learning curve. With Artist, you’re free from all the limitations we listed for Prime: you can add third-party effects and instruments and use as many simultaneous inputs as your sound interface will allow.
The most important asset that Artist will bring into your production arsenal is a seriously good set of effects plugins. Although you may now add third-party plugins, chances are you will not need to.
Artist also comes with a solid set of virtual instruments, namely Impact, Mai Tai, Mojito, and SampleOne, as well as the aforementioned Presence. We’ll talk about these in detail later in this chapter, but suffice it to say for now that these instruments will give you enough horsepower to produce great-sounding tracks for most EDM, pop, and hip-hop styles.
You may establish a long and fulfilling relationship with Artist if your goal is to create modest productions or podcasts in a home studio environment. The scenarios in which you may reach its limitations and wish to upgrade to Pro include, but are not limited to, the following:
- You want to work with the Chord Track and Harmonic Editing to automatically detect and manipulate harmonic content in your song
- You want to use Score View to notate your song
- You want better control of the mastering process through the Project page
- You want to take your productions to the stage using the Show page
- You want to work with video
Here comes the flagship – Studio One Pro
Studio One Pro is the DAW that does it all. Well, almost. If we compare Pro head to head with all the other DAWs from all other vendors combined, there are still some things that it cannot do, but the gap is very marginal and it is getting smaller with each new version.
With all that functionality under the hood, you would expect Pro to be a pain to learn, but thanks to a very intuitive user interface, and with the help of this book of course, it’s a breeze.
So there’s actually no reason not to go for Pro, other than budget considerations. Having said that, Pro is much easier on the wallet compared to the flagship products of most of its competitors, and major discounts are available throughout the year.
Having worked with all major DAWs, the feeling I get when working with Studio One, and one that I hear a lot from colleagues, is that the development team really listened to feedback given on other DAWs and used it to create the — almost — perfect music production software.
Verdict: If you can afford it, get Studio One Pro. If you can’t afford it, wait until Black Friday and get Studio One Pro.
You can find an up-to-date comparison between different versions of Studio One at https://www.presonus.com/products/studio-one/compare-versions
In this section, we explored the different versions of Studio One and compared the feature sets offered by each. But the choices at your disposal do not end here. Coming up, we will take a close look at another enticing alternative: Studio One+. By the end of the next section, you will have all the information you need to decide which option is best for your needs and your production style.
Picking a one-time purchase or joining Studio One+
The choice between core versions of Studio One is fairly straightforward. Now let’s take a deep dive into Studio One+, which brings many more features to the table, and see whether it is the right choice for you.
Studio One+ (formerly known as Sphere) is a subscription-based model that gives you access to Studio One Pro and almost every other kind of software developed by PreSonus. This includes Notion, a powerful music notation program that tightly integrates with Studio One, as well as a huge list of sound effects, virtual instruments, Sound Sets, and loops that are not available when you purchase Studio One Pro “normally.”
Since the inception of Studio One+ and its predecessor, Sphere, PreSonus has really beefed up the package to make it more attractive. Thus, a subscription will get you extra goodies, such as access to exclusive online events and educational materials, cloud storage, cloud exchange and collaboration tools, live streams, and so on.
Studio One+ brings in a lot of extras to sweeten the deal, but how about the price? At the time of writing, the cost of an annual subscription to Studio One+ is half the cost of purchasing a regular license for Studio One Pro. In other words, it’s like purchasing a new license for Studio One Pro every other year. If you like the majority of the additional content and plugins and they match your style, this is definitely a good investment. But keep in mind that you can purchase Studio One Pro as a one-off and selectively purchase any extra content further down the line.
Verdict: Give yourself a couple of days to check out the extra content and listen to the demos on PreSonus’ website. If you think you would use at least 30% of the extra content in your productions, go with a Studio One+ subscription. If not, purchase selectively.
The best way to decide whether a Studio One+ subscription is the right choice for you is to take a close look at all the extras that come with it and see whether they will be useful for your production. We will examine the main ingredients of this package in the following section. Be sure to also visit PreSonus’ website to listen to the demos and hear them in action.
Sifting through the additional content
PreSonus offers a plethora of additional content that can be used as plugins or extensions within Studio One. In this section, we will go over the main categories since this will help you in choosing the right combination for your production style, but keep in mind that there are far too many items to cover individually here. Once you have a clear idea about content categories, it’s a good idea to spend some time on PreSonus’ website to go over the product catalog and see which ones will be useful for your production style.
Studio One comes with a variety of virtual instruments that will cover all your basic needs to kick-start an arrangement – everything from sampled acoustic instruments to drums and synthesized sounds. When you outgrow these virtual instruments, Studio One+ offers several alternatives that will take your productions to the next level. In this section, we will take a close look at each of these instruments to help you decide which of these alternatives will work best for you. All the core instruments listed here are available in Studio One Artist and Pro, with extra features available through a Studio One+ subscription.
Presence is the standard equipment that ships with all versions of Studio One. It is a sample player that triggers audio samples of actual instruments; hence, the sound quality you get from Presence is directly related to the quality of the samples that you load into it.
Figure 1.1: Presence
Presence has its own sample file format, called Sound Sets. The standard Sound Set (that ships with Prime, Artist, and Pro) contains hundreds of instrument sounds, mostly run-of-the-mill, nothing to get excited about. They can be used to create tracks for a demo, but are highly unlikely to make their way into a final, polished production.
Studio One Pro comes with another Sound Set, called Presence XT Core Library, that has higher-quality samples. A Studio One+ subscription will allow you to get your hands on Grand Piano and Symphony Orchestra Sound Sets, but this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many, many other Sound Sets available in the PreSonus catalog, so there’s plenty to explore.
Presence can also load and play samples in EXS, Giga, Kontakt (version 4 and below at the time of writing), and SoundFont formats, acting as a gateway between the PreSonus ecosystem and other vendors. If you’re switching from another DAW and already have a sample collection in these file formats, Presence has got you covered.
Impact is PreSonus’ take on the ever-popular pad-based drum sampler, allowing you to program intricate Drum Tracks. A different sample is loaded into each pad, which can then be further tweaked and manipulated individually, allowing for granular control of your drum sounds.
Figure 1.2: Impact
Impact comes with several drum kits, each of which is a collection of drum sounds tailored to a particular genre. EDM and hip-hop receive preferential treatment over acoustic drum kits in the standard package. Studio One Pro gets you a couple more acoustic drum kits, and a Studio One+ subscription gives you access to around 100 GB of additional kits, loops, and sounds.
One overlooked feature of Impact is its ability to act as an instant sample player: just drag any audio clip or file, either from Studio One itself or from your desktop, Finder, Explorer, and so on, and drop it into any of its pads. You can use this method to create your very own custom kits and save them for your future projects as well!
Figure 1.3: Mai Tai
A simple, monophonic, subtractive synthesizer, Mojito is perfect for creating and tweaking bass and lead sounds. Unless you’re going for deep-level music synthesis, Mai Tai and Mojito will have your bases covered for most EDM and pop styles.
Figure 1.4: Mojito
SampleOne is a powerful, feature-packed sampler that lets you trigger any audio recording with MIDI. It comes with a vast range of tone-shaping tools and onboard effects. If you’re into electronic music or hip-hop production, this is something you definitely want to have in your arsenal.
Figure 1.5: SampleOne
In this section, we reviewed the virtual instruments that come with a core Studio One installation and the extra features available through a Studio One+ subscription. We will take a much closer look at these instruments when we work with them in Chapter 6, Adding Virtual Instruments and Recording MIDI. Now let’s focus on the wide selection of effects plugins available in the Studio One ecosystem.
Studio One users have long been happy and content with its stock plugins. The only thing lacking in earlier versions was “analog flavor,” plugins designed to give that elusive analog character or warmth that many people feel is missing in DAWs. In recent years, PreSonus has boldly and successfully entered the analog-modeled plugin market and released several successful products. Today, there is even less need for third-party plugins.
As expected, Prime comes with a very slim list of effects plugins. Basically, you get one representative from each signal processing category. It may be enough for the production of modest projects, but it is very likely that you will end up looking for more variety.
However, the good news is that Prime allows you to add (paid) plugins from PreSonus’ Fat Channel plugin collection. This is a modular plugin suite comprising analog-modeled processors and is an effective way of adding warmth and character to your mixes.
Artist has almost three times the number of plugins compared to Prime, providing a decent offering for a typical modest home studio environment. These are high-quality plugins and you get a couple of alternatives to choose from for each plugin group, so this will definitely fit the bill if you’re not planning to do advanced production. Artist also has third-party plugin support, which means you can add plugins from other vendors if you like.
However, two points that I find seriously lacking in Artist’s effects arsenal are the following:
- Melodyne Essentials comes with a trial version, whereas it’s included in the admission ticket for Pro. This potential extra cost is something to consider if you want to be able to do pitch correction, create harmony vocals, and convert audio into MIDI.
- Ampire, the amp modeling plugin for guitars (and anything else you might want to mildly overdrive or totally obliterate) comes with a basic version. That’s a bummer because it gives you very limited tone-shaping options, which may be a deal breaker if you depend on your DAW for your guitar tone.
For most users, Studio One Pro’s stock plugins will be all they ever need. There’s a good amount of variety and the overall quality is more than enough for professional music production. PreSonus has chosen to exclude some new and/or exotic plugins from Pro’s stock list, apparently to make Studio One+ more enticing. However, if you fancy any of these, keep in mind that they can also be purchased individually and added to an existing Pro installation.
This is the way to go if you’re looking for the ultimate level of variety and a dazzling number of choices. At the time of writing, Studio One+ will give you 15 different compressors to choose from, including RC-500, FC-670, and Everest C100A, all modeled after classic vintage analog hardware. At this point, it becomes a matter of personal, rather than musical, style. Some people like to have many toys to play with (of which I’ve sometimes been guilty, but beware of the dreaded G.A.S. – Gear Acquisition Syndrome), whereas some people just select a couple of effects, stick with them, and focus on their music. If you’re in the former group, Studio One+ is guaranteed to keep you happy with its abundance of choices.
In this section, we saw that although there are a lot of plugin options to choose from, identifying your production goals will narrow down the choices and make it easy for you to pick the best alternative. Up next, we will take a look at the final component of the vast collection known as Additional Content, and we will complete our tour of the Studio One ecosystem.
Loops and sounds
Loops and sounds are “production-ready” elements that can be used as starting points to spark that first flame of inspiration when you’re creating a song or to spice up and embellish a maturing project.
Loops are pre-made audio recordings. They can contain anything from a drum groove to a synthesizer arpeggio. When you drag and drop them into your project, they will automatically match your song’s tempo and are constructed in a manner that allows you to repeat them over and over again in your arrangement – hence the name.
Sounds, on the other hand, refer to the building blocks that virtual instruments use to generate complex sonic textures. So, for example, when you load Prime Selection Sounds into Presence, Presence will use that Sound Set to produce sounds unique to that collection.
Collectively, loops and sounds are organized into production kits, several musical elements comprising an entire song arrangement, which you can freely drag and drop into your own project. Then, you can tweak them to your heart’s content, or since they are royalty-free, leave them as is (and sound like ten thousand other songs on Spotify).
Studio One Prime comes with only two such production kits (aimed for a general-purpose pop production scenario). Artist comes with six (which, again, is a decent selection for home studio use). Pro comes with thirteen (with a preference skewed toward electronic music genres).
But the real blast is Studio One+. You gain access to a seemingly endless list of production kits, drum kits, loops, and sounds. If loops are the main ingredient of your production style, then this is a no-brainer; a Studio One+ subscription costs much less than buying all (or several) of these materials separately.
If you feel that you might only need an occasional loop or production kit every now and then, though, this might be overkill. It’s a good idea to go over the catalog at PreSonus’ website to see how much of this additional content may eventually find its way into your songs. Then, you can make an informed decision on whether a Studio One+ subscription is the right choice for you.
This concludes our tour of the vast array of alternatives available in the Studio One ecosystem. While the sheer number of options may be daunting at first, focusing on your production goals and musical style will narrow down the choices and help you decide which version is right for you.
In this chapter, we learned about the different versions of Studio One and took a close look at the functions, features, and content provided by each. Then, we examined the additional content offered by PreSonus and discussed which option would be the right choice for several different scenarios.
In the next chapter, you will configure Studio One to run smoothly on your system and learn about best practices that will save you tons of time further down the line.