The $499 Digital Performer 11—a former biggest star, usually makes a list when people evaluate the best DAW for beginners on the market these days. That’s sad, and it’s an injustice. Digital Performer 11 is as powerful as any of its competitors. Still, it also has a unique modular approach to composition and project management that makes it ideal for film scoring and complex live shows. MOTU audio software has been hard at work improving Digital Performer’s feature set and modernizing the interface and workflow over the last few years. There’s still a ways to go on the latter, but it’s time to wake up if you’ve fallen asleep on Digital Performer. It’s worth giving it a good look because it’s not a program you’ll be able to grasp right away–or want to trash right away.
The superpower of the Digital Performer
Don’t believe anything you see when you first start Digital Performer of MOTU software. It’s remarkable, if not intimidating, but the aforementioned modular composition and organizing features make this DAW unique. The Sequence is the center of any Digital Performer’s production, and it’s more analogous to a song or project in most other DAWs–a multi-track recording with instruments, a mixer, aux buses, etc. A Sequence can range in length from a single note to a complete symphony, cutting and pasting freely between them. The real fun occurs when you organize Sequences into Songs, as described by Digital Performer of motu audio software. It’s party time when you realize that Songs may be nested within other Songs. But, again, the options for organizing are limitless.
Features and content for the digital performer
For the recording engineer/editing crowd, Digital Performer offers non-destructive audio editing in tracks; multi-take comping with lanes; a top-flight destructive audio editor (changes are permanent), audio stretching and transient editing, VCA faders; articulation maps and notation (multi-instrument with lyrics) for the orchestral crowd: For those using MPE keyboards, there are MPE and MIDI 2.0 features; virtual instruments (proprietary as well as VST 2/3 and AU); and multiple key signature support.
MIDI bass lines and portray; logical MIDI and time editing; MIDI step recording; extensive SMPTE/video with support for all the standard frame rates as well as user-defined; a spectrogram view for audio clips; import/export of OMF, AAF, MIDI, MusicXML, and DP projects for any version back to 3.1; and bouncing stems (entire audio tracks) to disc and CD
For those times of brilliance when you’re just noodling around, and there’s no red light to be seen, the application is also always recording audio and MIDI in the background (Retrospective recording may deactivate (In the past, record buttons would light up red.)
There are a few technologies that Digital Performer of motu mixer software does not support. Control Voltage (CV) for modular synths is one example. If you are one such user who cares about this, you can either work around it, as many DAWs do, or pay $249 for MOTU audio software’s Volta MIDI to CV converter plug-in. Gulp. Volta is something I haven’t tried and can’t recommend.
Another feature that isn’t available is Audio Random Access (ARA). Thanks to this technology, audio editing plug-ins like Melodyne and Spectralayers may access audio files as if they were part of the program. I’m going to give motu audio software a pass because Digital Performer has its own pitch/time editing and a spectral view.
We wouldn’t be shocked if these gaps were addressed shortly, given how MOTU audio software is updating Digital Performer.
In addition, Digital Performer provides an extensive range of plug-in instruments and effects. The monophonic BassLine, multi-voice PolySynth (influenced by the Juno 106), Nanosampler (Sample player), Modulo (waveform synthesizer), Model 12 (Drum machine), and the MX4 (which mixes subtractive, FM, AM, wavetable, and analog emulation) are among the devices.
The synths feature a skeuomorphic (replicating the appearance of real-world gear) design, which includes little buttons and the like. However, they were still functional on my 5K display, and I was impressed with the sound quality.
Interface and workflow for the Digital Performer
Graphic interfaces and workflow have become essential differentiators in today’s DAW industry when basic feature sets are identical. In other words, aesthetics and usability are essential.
The default style of Digital Performer 11 is appealing and professional, and it’s also highly adaptable and customizable—more so than any of the main DAWs, except Reaper. On the other side, the sheer amount of options and possibilities (together with other factors that I’ll discuss) might be overwhelming for the inexperienced.
By default, most of the action occurs in the paned main window, or “consolidated” window in Digital Performer -speak. However, most panes may be converted to distinct windows, which is helpful for multi-monitor setups.
Digital Performer 11 is a powerful and adaptable tool. It can serve in various capacities, from live performance to primary studio DAW. Thanks to its modular arrangement feature, it’s also ideal for creating soundtracks, scoring larger pieces of music, and organizing your musical ideas. However, DP 11 is initially cumbersome and has perhaps the steepest learning curve in the industry. As a result, it’s best suited to experienced users or extremely ambitious newbies who want or prefer its sophisticated features and capabilities.