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Home Recording Studio’s “Software”

A Review by Alphonso Soosay

alphonso-recordingAssessing today’s audio recording technology side by side and comparing the recoding studios of the 60’s and 70’s, today’s recording studios are so out of the ordinary because “Software Recording Studio’s” has finally taken over the bigger studios in numbers all over the world and also mainly because it is so affordable that the young ones can now write their own songs and recording it in their own home at the same time achieving satisfactory results.  It’s real and it sounds exceptional to the many that have got their songs on the chart already.  More and more, recording studios are getting smaller that’s because of “Digital”. Now looking back at the numerous tiered racks of analogue equipment surrounding me over the years that I no longer need most of it to make music at the quality I am used to.  It is possible to record on a satisfactory computer using a respectable audio interface like the Pro Tools and studio monitors of my choice.  Today there are so many good software recording options out there for the various budgets.

Universally used Software in Home Recording Studios is:

Digidesign – Pro Tools This has been the reputable recording industry studio software program for schools, universities and home studios for more than 10 years, offering song writing artists and sound engineers the tools and features necessary to make professional creative tracks within an intuitive easy to use interface. Pro Tools shines for its emphasis on recording and editing, providing customizable settings to function as a hub for hardware devices and MIDI controllers and it has the powerful built-in editing functions to make precise edits, re-arrangements and refinements to your audio tracks.

Mac – Logic Pro brings together all the editing tools and content browser you need in a simple, beautifully designed window. So everything can happen faster using your short cut menus, tool bar and transport controls are right there for you, and not spread over a wide number of windows. And you can customise the tool bar and transport areas with tools and control you will use most often.

Steinberg Nuedo 5 Is good software and it has depth, powerful feature software. Outstanding automation system. Intuitive surround panner. Media-Bay is coming of age. Good enhanced performance. The layout has been refined and it just seems more logical and friendly, not to mention swifter overall, making it something we actually want to use.  A lot of music producers create beats with samples on audio tracks, and I found Clip Packages to be a great way of stashing away such ‘composite beats’ for later use. You can later pull them from the Media-Bay to recreate the original structure of clips. Following is Direct Routing, enabling you to designate eight possible output destinations for each channel, and then flick between them with a single click. You can switch multiple channels at once, and even select multiple destinations, and it’s all automatable. It works nicely (aside from a momentary level increase during the change), though you can’t set a level offset for each output. Note that you can now arm multiple channels for recording too.

Reason’s strengths rest in its emphasis on creation, composition and modification. From start to finish, users have a variety of tools, features and effects to create, enhance, master and modify individual sounds, samples, patches and even complete tracks and transform them altogether. Ableton Live has been tried, tested and refined for live performance functionality, combining the recording and editing tools and features of the best recording software programs with real-time effects, sequencers, loop machines to give electronic artists a powerful instrument on stage and artists and engineers of all musical genres.

Sonar Home Studio 6 combines impressive features in an easy-to-use design. The new Home Studio 6 gives you the same sound quality used by Grammy winning producers and engineers. Highlights of Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio 6 include: Full-featured SONAR digital audio workstation software and software to support Windows Vista (32 and 64 bit) and Windows XP. Record, edit, and mix unlimited audio andMIDI tracks. Record more than one take and compile them together.

Komplete 5. Native Instruments recording software compiles some of the best standalone synthesizer, drum, and sample programs to provide an exhaustive orchestra of digital sound ideal for everything from laying down beats to club remixes all the way to composing a high concept work of the music creators.

Sony’sSound Forge” places an equal emphasis on editing tasks such as restoring audio, reducing noise, repairing sound quality and refining tracks as a whole. Though its user interface is less visually oriented than other Recording Studio software programs like Pro Tools and Reason, it is well organized and intuitive enough that its visual simplicity does not impact its overall performance and the quality of its finished tracks.

ACID Pro 7 has been a favourite for music producers almost from the beginning. Version 7 keeps all of the functionality that has made it popular among professionals in the music industry. The digital audio workstation in ACID Pro allows users to perform multitrack recording, 5.1 surround sound mixing andMIDI sequencing. ACID Pro is also one of the best programs at creating loop-based tracks, being the first program to introduce loop-based music production.

Samplitude Music Studio has a good balance of design features, and audio tools,  Though Samplitude Music Studio lacks the brand appeal of other Music Studio programs like Pro Tools LE,  Reason, and Ableton, its has attention to every step of the audio creation and edition process, from importing to exporting, and it’s a user-friendly, with intuitive interface.  Samplitude Music Studio latest version is likely to attract many young music producers and even win over other music studio program users while it’s most affordable. But if you are looking for more sophisticated features like improved line-in / line-out functionality, more practical and attractive user interface, then top-rated programs like Pro Tools LE, Reason, Ableton and Komplete might be a advance choices.

Audio Mulch is modular audio recording studio software that can be used in the home studio environment for musical composition and recording but its inspirational foundation is based on the concept of using the computer as a creative musical instrument in live performance with instrumental musicians. The Features are: Real-time signal processing techniques. It comes with limitless combination of signal processing elements.  Ability to process, generate sound files in live performance and supports up to 24 channels of real time inputs and outputs. Surprisingly it also supports recording and playback of multiple synchronized files.

Basically there are 3 popular software devices that work in the software command of the digital audio sequencer.  They are: Soft-Synths, Soft Samplers and Software Processors.   All 3 of these grouping are sometimes referred to as “plug-in”.  They are called that because these are little computer applications that run inside a “host” application, ect, a sequencer, typically.  These plug-in devices are very important, as they have led the software revolution towards our virtual studios which is slowly changing all recording studios, both in home and professional studios.  As you see from this page, software based synthesizers, effects processors, samplers and digital multi-track recorders can all perform collectively on one single computer.

How good are these Plug-in devices?  This is a topic of extreme critical importance.  There are a large number of Plug-in devices in the market, but many of the different brands will not perform well together, important thing to remember is that an Inferior Plug-in will Crash Sequencers. This is one reason to avoid free plug-in from your friends and you really have to be careful with your computer getting crashed unnecessarily.  If you are having stability problems with any sequencer always check the soundcard driver and the plug-in installed.   Be cautious of Plug-in devices that was released yesterday or Plug-in that has not had an update in the last few years. Plug-in can also fail when upgraded operating systems are released.  So keep an eye on these issues and always read the PDF and talk to actual users that use your platform and sequencer and get their advice on reliability. 

For your information, each sequencer has its favoured protocol, and may decline to work with the rest.  Pro Tools LE, Logic, Cubase Sonar, and Digital Performer all require plug-in to follow defined rules, which we will identify as “Plug-in formats”.

Plug-in Formats explained:

RTAS is the format used by Digidesign, the maker of Pro Tools LE, which comes bundled with the popular Digi 001/002/003 interface. RTAS will also work in Pro Tools M-Powered, which works with M-Audio interfaces.  RTAS plug-ins on the other hand will not work with Logic, Cubase or Sonar.  Audio suite is another Digidesign format which works with the above software packages and hardware interfaces.

VSTi (virtual studio technology instrument) was developed by Steinberg as a Universal platform for soft synths and samplers. Not all the software corporation acknowledge into it. Cubase and Nuendo use it extensively.  You may also hear about VST2 and VSTi2 plug-ins.  VST2 is simply an extension of the VST format. These pass on more parameters to the host for automation. Are PC VSTs and VSTi compatible on Macs?  Always assume the answer is no unless the developer makes it clear. If they made a Mac version, they will be sure to list that.  Usually, developers will have a PC VSTi version and a Mac VSTi version, so be careful to get (and install) the right one. Usually, these days they are both on the same CD Rom. 

DXi: Cakewalk, at their start, did not go with VSTi; they went with DXi, which is based on Microsoft direct X code.  Today, however, they have relented an allow use of VST is with Sonar in a shell.   DXi’s cannot be run on Macs.      By now you may be wondering what this “i” stands for.  First you see VST, then VSTi, then DX and DXi.  The “i” stands for “instrument”, like a soft-synths or sampler to distinguish it from a plug-in processor, like a compressor, reverb or delay.

AU, short for Audio Units, refers to a format developed by Apple for Mac OS 10.x because there is support in Apple’s operating system; AU is used by many Mac sequencers and audio applications, and is the major supported format in Logic Pro. Important note: Just because Logic favours AU does not mean it will run all Audio Unit Plug-ins. As of Logic 7, Apple got stricter.  Logic only supports AU’s that follow Apple’s guidelines and not all of them do.  This is Apple’s way of forcing plug-in developers to follow the rules it developed.  It’s a respectable feature as the Audio Units that do pass are less likely to crash Logic.

MAS refers to plug-ins that work with the MOTU Audio System in Digital Performer (Mac only), which can also use VSTi, AU and Rewire.  You will notice that fewer plug-ins support MAS, and that’s because MOTU DP users can use AU as well as MAS.

Rewire functions: Rewire rolled up from the Propeller-heads, the developers that brought us Rebirth and Reason which are both a combination of a software synths and a sequencer.  Rewire is not a synths or a plug-in; it’s a method by which 2 sequencers can pass digital audio from a “slave” sequencer to a “master” sequencer.  Basically, the rewire slave routes the streams of digital audio through channels that connect the two applications together.  I view it as a series of pipes from one application to the next.  The audio goes out the pipes and ends up in the Master Sequencer’s virtual mixer.  Once in the master sequencer, you can add plug-ins and process the signal before you direct it to the soundcard, audio interface, or output it as a file. 

The Propeller-heads have a very big virtual application calledReason. Reason is like a total software studio in itself with one exception.  Note: it does not record audio. For this reason you would need Rewire so you can run Reason inside an application that does audio recording.  Reason’s look is totally amazing. You can turn the rack of synths, drum-box’s, effects around and mess with patching cables, doing some very advanced tweaks, like routing control voltages from the synths to modulate parameters in other instruments, exactly the kind of tweaking many trance artists used. Except in Reason, you do it on the screen, instead of crawling behind an 8 foot rack of gear with a flashlight If you like to tweak synths, you have to try it and have fun with it.  Reason records all your knob / fader moves, and you can do extremely brutal things to drum loops, samples, midi sequences.  If you use Rebirth, you will love Reason and you can run Rebirth from within Reason and route the outputs through the Reason Mixer and FX.  The most outstanding bit with Reason, IMHO, is the prowler sound.  If you want to put some real creative satisfaction into your mix, this is it.  Reason is an effective running program and you can get solid mixes on an average computer.  The program also exports to WAV very satisfactorily so you can use other applications to add vocals, mix and master.

Propeller-Head’s Rebirth:  If you love typical Techno music, Propeller-head’s Rebirth is a necessity to have.  It is the elegant 808/909/303 all in one program and it sounds absolutely authentic.  Knobs and sliders function in real time just like on the original machines and you can watch all your change on playback.  Why mess with loops when you can get awesome results with Rebirth and totally control every note.  If you are serious about Techno music, you must have it in your virtual toolbox. Insert a bit of delay to the outputs and you are transported to realms that are very psychedelic.

Plug-in Wrapper: A Plug-in Wrapper usually refers to a software device that fools a host (ect, the sequencer) into using formats that would be incompatible without it.  For example, in a VSTi to DXi shell you can run VSTis and the sequencer will treat them as DXis.  Through the use of wrappers, Sonar users can use VSTis and Logic Users can use VSTis.  Without a wrapper, Logic can only use AUs and Sonar (up to version 4) can only use DXis and Pro Tools LE not use VSTs.  The disadvantages to using the wrappers are that if the wrapper does not convert and pass on the data perfectly, there could be setback in its use. Keep in mind to purchase original plug-in’s. Corrupt plug-ins will crash sequencers.  Keep that in mind.

Software Synths: A Soft Synths mimics a hardware synthesizer with different sounds and waveforms.  Several abide by the model of a vintage analogue synths with oscillators, filters, and amp envelopes making the sound, other’s may use a model of FM, wave-table, or may be modelled after an acoustic instrument.

Software Processors: It’s probably with plug-in processors that the home studio recording owners get a chance at experiment with a mix-down and mastering at home. To gain knowledge and experience you have to sit there for hours day after day with your computer in real time and experiment over and over again.  It’s only then that you start seeing formations and hearing results. These skills come from daily practice experience to knowledge and back to the final experience required.  The mind-blowing thing is that many of the hardware processors that studio engineers have used now have software equivalents.  This plug-ins is sometimes so good that professional audio mastering engineers are using it themselves these days. As anticipated, the professional plug-ins is not cheap, but they are very much cheaper than the hardware processors one used in the 60’s and 70’s and the upgraded versions are still available at a costly price.  As a home recording studio owner are you ready to leap into plug-in processors?  I suppose it all depends on what type of sounds you are searching for. If pure warm analogue is your choice then hardware processors is the way to go. On the other hand if space and budget is the issue then using digital Plug-in is the way to go. At the end of the recording session it is all about how you use the Plug-in’s at the final mix and mastering. It can sound realistic and mind blowing at the same time.

To Put It Briefly: All of these audio recording software will transform your computer into a full on home recording studio with  The most recent version allows you to do visual drag and drop of MIDI files making the overall program even more user friendly and efficient.  It makes it simple to record, edit and overdub all your audio tracks to create professional sounding CDs or MP3 files. This virtual studio indeed is an amazing experience of our age. It’s a virtual pleasure of musical possibility. I hope I have made it easier for you to get a solid understanding on these audio recording software issues so you can enjoy the benefits and avoid the many unexpected problems.  May you get pleasure from this software recording sounds and use your song writing ideas to gain benefits from your creative ideas of music recordings.

Alphonso Soosay

2012

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