Digital Performer 8 brings a batch of major changes, the
most significant of which is the hitherto Mac-only stalwart’s
compatibility with Windows 7 or later. Equally significant is the
program’s update to 64-bit operation, but DP8 is also rife with new
plug-ins, user interface tweaks, and workflow enhancements. Let’s dive
PROS: Extremely stable as always. VST Support on Mac and
Windows. 64-bit operation. Generous and great-sounding assortment of
audio plug-ins, amp and cabinet models, and stompbox models. Chunks
feature still has no equal.
CONS: Not as many included plug-in instruments as in some other DAWs.
Bottom Line: Cross-platform compatibility, 64-bit support, and a host
of new workflow improvements and features make the famously elegant and
powerful DAW even more so.
$795 list | $495 street or download | $395 competitive crossgrade | motu.com
As mentioned, 64-bit operation is a big deal. I use fairly
huge sample libraries, many of whose patches weigh in at 3GB or more.
The extra memory afforded by 64-bit operation brings some welcome
stability for those who’ve been riding the edge of the 4GB memory limits
inherent in 32-bit processing. To others, 64 bits may bring some
anxiety about legacy plug-ins being compatible, but see “Champing at the
Bits” on page XX for some good news.
For the first time, Digital Performer is available as a
download, although there’s no price difference from the boxed retail
version. In the latter, I appreciate MOTU’s continued inclusion of its
well-written printed documentation.
Upon first launching DP8, you may notice a change in the
plug-in scanning process, as DP can now host VST and VST2 instruments.
This facilitates cross-platform interchange between projects originated
on a Mac or on a Windows PC.
Welcome and Plug-In Windows
The next thing you’ll notice is DP8’s new Welcome window.
From here, you can start a project or access a list of your recent work
on the left, or check for news from MOTU on the right. In the center
pane, you can launch tutorial video clips and access several of the
manuals—the rest can load from DP8’s Help menu. You can also download
supplemental tutorial and demo files and tweak your audio settings.
Although it’s not new to version 8, I appreciate DP’s easy hardware
driver setup. I often use multiple MIDI interfaces, which in most
recording packages requires creating an aggregate device in Apple’s
Audio MIDI Setup app. In DP, you simply open a panel, command-click
(Mac) or control-click (Windows) on the drivers you need, and specify
the master clock. Then, the additional I/O shows up as a choice in the
With the inclusion of VST format comes an increased need
to manage plug-ins. To that end, DP8 brings a reorganized plug-in
chooser. It’s a sight for sore eyes, especially if you’ve ever had to
scroll through a pull-down menu of lots of plug-ins in alphabetical
order. In DP8, sorting plug-ins is about as flexible as can be. If you
want to search by manufacturer, you can. If you need a chorus or a
reverb, search by type and the chooser filters all else out. The chooser
starts with two buttons: one categorized as effects (which in fact
includes instruments as well as audio processing), and another that lets
you search for presets, which are instrument and effect combinations
drawn from the DP8 native plug-in library. You can also click “New
Category from Selection” and create your own categories.
| Fig. 1. Video as it appears in the consolidated view. You can
undock the video from the window and drag it to a separate monitor for
Punch Guard may sound like a protective device for boxers, but it
actually protects your project from sloppy punches of the sonic kind.
If you’ve ever ruined an otherwise decent take by punching in or out too
late or too soon, you can simply drag the edge of the recorded audio
region (or soundbite, in DP-speak) and retrieve the few seconds of audio
you might have accidentally snipped off. Dragging backward at 120bpm, I
was able to retrieve a couple of bars of music I had intentionally
noodled before recording. Likewise, when recording myself, I’ve
sometimes clipped the reverb tails on punch-outs. Punch Guard restored
Digital Performer has presented a single-window
consolidated user interface for a while now, but it would often drive me
crazy to have the control panel and transport vanish when clicking on
the main screen. Conversely, it can be irritating to have to move a
floating transport bar out of the way of some obscured parameter. I’m
happy that in version 8, the transport bar stays at the top of the
window and displays as many control panel parameters as you choose.
These include sample rate and bit depth; editing tools; transport
settings such as looping, MIDI overdub, and punch parameters; and the
video-playback window. If you prefer, you can free the panel from the
dock—as you can with most any window in DP.
DP8 also brings full-screen video. This was a snap to use
even in my system, which is not geared toward video post-production. If
you have a second monitor, so much the better; you can pop the video
window out of the consolidated window (See Figure 1) and drag it to the second monitor to enjoy editing audio-to-picture without squinting at a miniscule video playback.
DP has offered themes (custom looks and color schemes) for
a while, but several of the version 8 themes take greater advantage of
contrasting colors. This is more than mere eye candy; because DP8 puts
so much in the consolidated window, I found this makes it much easier to
Also new in DP8 is the ability to export bounced mixes in
MP3 format, without your having to download and maintain an MP3 codec
such as the LAME framework. Provided you use a high enough bit rate, the
bounces sound great and are a welcome way to send demos over the
Internet while keeping the file size small for speedy transmission.
New Effects and Amp Models
| Fig. 2. One of 17 new plug-ins is the Analog Flanger, a faithful rendition of the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress.|
DP8 brings a hefty bagful of plug-ins—17, to be exact.
Most of the new plug-ins target electric guitar and bass players, but if
you haven’t plugged your keyboards into guitar and bass amps and
stompboxes or digital models thereof, you’re missing out on some fun and
ACE-30 is a model of the Vox AC30 amp, which is most often
associated with the Beatles. Boasting virtual high-and low-impedance
inputs for its Normal and Top-Boost channels, it’s not difficult to
sculpt an authentic tone from a decently sampled guitar. I’m not sure I
could detect much of a difference save for more mellow tone from the
Vintage switch; the Modern setting is just a tad brighter. The Top Boost
helped move sampled guitars into jangly, pop-oriented territory, but
like most amp models I’ve used, became clicky and too metallic when
boosted to extremes. With AAS Lounge Lizard virtual electric piano as
the source, ACE-30 spiked an unadorned Rhodes model with tasty,
analog-sounding dirt and crunch when I came down hard on the keys.
Moving the Lizard over to the Top-Boost channel thinned the sound out a
bit, but emphasized the beautiful artifacts of the instrument. With the
amp’s Tremolo switch on, a default Wurly model took on sweet, but gritty
character—listen to Audio Clip 1 online.
I’m a sucker for phase shifters, and DP8 has two new ones:
both provide only rate control and an on-off switch, but are far from
generic. The edge goes to Analog Phaser, which models an MXR Phase 90.
It’s soupy and warm, tones and dynamically accurate distortion helped me
channel my inner Zawinul. No less lush, but more crystalline and
somewhat more transparent, the Clear Pebble derives from an
Electro-Harmonix Small Stone, and effectively nailed that enveloping
Donald Fagen phased Rhodes sound. (I know—Fagen’s phaser of choice is
actually the Phase 90, but I’m going with what my ears are telling me
In the summer of ’77, in the middle of a gig, I almost set
fire to the stage of New York City’s storied Lone Star Café, when the
power supply of my Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress flanger melted and
caught fire. I used it as a sort of “poor man’s Leslie.” With the Color
knob turned way to the right, it produced glorious psychedelic jet-rush
effects, and it’s nice that MOTU has returned an old friend, albeit
without the funky power supply. It sounds spot-on (see Figure 2).
It’s not all amps and stompboxes, though. I don’t know if
I’ve heard a more flexible sonic thickener than MOTU’s new Ensemble
Chorus, whose left, right, and center width controls let you fill the
entire sound field with fat, pulsating pads. With a single-oscillator
soft synth patch with no effects of its own, it was all I needed (Audio
Clip 2 online).
| Fig. 3. Live Room B models a recording environment for electric
bass—down to amps, cabinets, mic positions, and ambience. It can also do
wonders for sampled and synth basses.|
You don’t have to record electric or acoustic bass to
appreciate Live Room B, which lets you build your own graphical
bass-recording environment and brings beautiful air and tone to sampled
basses (see Figure 3
). For fans running a synth bass through an
amp and miking it, Live Room B added even more punch, plus the benefit
of some funky, small-room ambience to a couple of Arturia Moog Modular V
patches. You get a choice of several bass cabinets, and three mic
positions with a variety of mics in different patterns, which you can
mix freely. You can also set the spread and pattern of the stereo mics
in channels 3 and 4, and each channel has high, mid, and low shelving
The Dynamic Equalizer is a neat trick. Basically it’s a
multi-band equalizer that doesn’t kick in until a given band reaches a
specific amplitude. This technique has its roots in vinyl mastering, and
works well at softening frequencies that crop up and become overly
prominent at different dynamic levels. Normally, it would take some
time-consuming setup and routing of EQs together with compressors to
pull this off.
There’s plenty more, including Live Stage, which—if you
host virtual instruments in DP8 for live gigging—offers a
low-CPU-overhead cabinet and mic, combined with ambience controls, plus
more stompboxes and mastering tools.
I was left wanting for a new virtual instrument or two,
especially considering the apparent 32-bit legacy status of MOTU’s
wonderful MX4 soft synth. Of course, all the soft synths from previous
versions are on hand, and they’re very good.
Champing at the Bits
As with all DAWs that have gone 64-bit, you’ll have to bid
farewell to third-party plug-ins whose developers haven’t upgraded
them. Of course, you can still run DP8 in 32-bit mode, but you’ll give
up 64-bit benefits such as taking full advantage of available RAM.
All is not lost. A third-party program called jBridge (Mac
or PC) can wrap 32-bit VST plug-ins for use in a 64-bit host (and vice
versa). It can also let 32-bit plug-ins take full advantage of RAM in a 32-bit host. All this is pertinent now that DP runs on both Mac and Windows and supports VST as well as AudioUnits.
You can just let jBridge scan your library folders for
plug-ins or make your own choices. If, like me, you’ve been less than
assiduous in clearing out expired demos of plug-ins, then I suggest the
latter. In some cases, scanning expired demos crashed DP—the offending
plugs were usually looking for Syncrosoft licenses that of course
weren’t present. The scan can also become problematic if any hardware
license keys aren’t getting enough power from a USB port. Open your VST
library, locate the folder of bridged plug-ins, and delete the expired
trials, as they’re duplicates of the source plug-in. When you launch
them in DP, your bridged plug-ins will be scanned and ready for use
after that. When you instantiate a bridged plug-in, you’ll see them in
DP, marked as such. Once you launch the plug-in, you’ll see two windows:
the plug-in itself and the jBridge interface—which needs to stay open
if you want to record automation. Other than the scanning issues,
jBridge was stable in DP8 in our tests. If you have old 32-bit friends
you can’t part with, I highly recommend it.
Download it at jstuff.wordpress.com, and if you like it, please support the developer.
Some might view the release of MOTU Digital Performer 8 as
primarily for the sake of Windows and VST users—and it certainly is a
boon for those who prefer PCs to Macs for horsepower-per-dollar reasons.
For my part, as mentioned, the move to 64-bit is a weight off my
shoulders, and the workflow enhancements are as welcome as the 17 new
plug-ins—of which we’ve barely scratched the surface in this review.
They’re more evolutionary than revolutionary, but are extremely welcome
changes in the way I get around my go-to DAW. If you’re a longtime user,
springing for the upgrade to DP8 is a no-brainer.
Established ways of working (e.g. the Chunks
feature, which among other things lets you work with multiple songs in
the same project file) and DP’s well-known stability remain elegant as
ever. Perhaps the biggest news with DP8, however, is that you can now
download a 30-day free demo of the program to see if it’s the right fit
for you. So if you’re not a longtime user, stop reading and start downloading!