I got an email this week from my friend Richard Furch. To put it in context Richard has 6 Grammy Winning Albums out of 22 Nominations and has worked with acts as varied as Prince, Jam and Lewis, Tyrese, Frank Ocean, Usher, Chaka Khan and many more. He asks;
Do you have a link or input to a document or page that explains why a Pro Tools user would switch to Studio One? Apart from the pricing. Because well. If you use Pro Tools, you already spent the money. I'm looking for a real: THIS is what is so much better or desirable in Studio One than Pro Tools.
From a mixer's point of view, not production.
I said it would make a great article and he agreed to let me share his email and answer it in public, so here goes.
There is as far as I know no document that explains why Pro Tools users would switch to Studio One. There are plenty of YouTube videos, and also some articles explaining why Studio One is tempting some Pro Tools users, here is my original article about why I, a Pro Tools user, started using Studio One.
I continue to use both so this article isn't some frothing at the mouth fanboy trying to proselytise Pro Tools users; I'm laying out the facts for those who are interested in knowing the answer I would give to a question like Richard’s.
Cost Of Ownership
Richard's second point mentions that Pro Tools users have already spent the money on Pro Tools and for those who are running professional set-ups such as a large Pro Tools HD or HDX rig then they have put out a lot of money to get that gear. The desire to make sure the investment of several thousand dollars on a Pro Tools hardware rig is not 'wasted' is a significant amount of inertia to keep them using it, even if they are thinking about other options. Anyone asking such a question must be feeling tempted or at least curious.
However, Richard does mention the pricing and to be frank if one compares the cost of entry to get Studio One Professional versus Pro Tools Ultimate then you are looking at a price difference of some amount. Here is the comparison for both Studio One Professional and Pro Tools Ultimate;
Pro Tools Ultimate £2,099.00 - Comes with a 1-Year Software Updates + Support Plan, which includes access to all new releases and ExpertPlus support, renewable annually (Pro Tools DigiLink I/O license sold separately) Includes all plug-ins in the Avid Complete Plug-in Bundle and also Pro Tools | MachineControl for one year as part of your plan. After the first year, you need to pay for a plan to continue to get updates and support and carry on using the Complete Plug-in bundle; this costs around £300 per year.
Cost of Pro Tools Ultimate ownership over 3 years. Around £2700.00
This assumes that most pro users are working with HD and hardware, if not then the price for Pro Tools native is;
Pro Tools Native: £499.00 Perpetual License (Physical Box) - Comes with a Pro Tools 1-Year Software Updates + Support Plan, which includes access to all new updates and Standard support, renewable annually. After the first year, you need to pay for a plan to continue to get updates and support; this costs around £99 per year.
Cost of Pro Tools Native ownership over 3 years. Around £697.00
Studio One 4 Professional £349 - Come with free software updates until next full number version change, in the case of Studio One 3 that lasted about 3 years. Studio One Professional includes 41 free professional plug-ins and five virtual instruments. There is no additional yearly fee for updates or to carry on using the plug-ins.
Cost of Studio One ownership over 3 years. £349.00
One has to bear in mind that Pro Tools Ultimate has features that cover both music and post-production workflows, whereas Studio One Professional is aimed at music production. However, if you were a music producer or composer and you needed a high-quality video playback option than Video Slave 3 would be our recommendation, that would add a further £219 for the Standard version of Video Slave 3.
Anyway, for this article, the question is based on music production, if the question were about post-production, then the answer would be simple, use Pro Tools, Studio One Professional is a music production tool.
Mixing In Studio One
Returning to Richard's question, he asks for an opinion on what Studio One has to offer a mixer. That means we need to remove Studio One 4 features like Chord Track, Drum Editor, Pattern Mode, Impact XT and Sample One XT, all excellent music creation tools but on the whole pointless for someone using a mixing tool. One could argue that drum replacement might be part of a mixer's arsenal and if that is the case, then Impact XT is used in this workflow for replacing drums in Studio One.
That said, we come to the core part of the question 'what does Studio One 4 offer for mixing that may be an improvement for Pro Tools users?'
I'm going to use my get out of jail card here before I continue because a lot of what I am about to write is down to preference. 'Cop-out!' I hear some of you scream, perhaps it is, but a more reasonable view would be to say that the best DAW is the one that works best for you. That said, I'll tell you why Studio One has helped me when it comes to mixing.
One of the core parts of the Studio One philosophy is drag and drop. If you want an insert on a track, then you use the plug-in browser and drag it onto the track. Furthermore, the plug-in browser features search, a favourites list and the ability to use GUI icons. All of this speeds up the process considerably.
Taking this use of plug-ins one stage further, if you want to create a send with a reverb plug-in, for example, you just drag the plug-in to the send area of the mixer, it sets up a new FX channel and routes the send to the new channel. You can also drag and drop onto several channels at a time to make this process even easier.
As a track grows and you need to organise it onto limited screen estate, then track folders are essential. Track folders enable you to organise your tracks as you wish, for example, all drums, vocals or guitars into folders. You can then close and open the folders as you wish, a setting also helps to link this hide/show feature on the mixer channels meaning if you close the drum folder then all the drum channels are hidden in the mixer, a useful set of options when navigating a large session.
Resizable Mixer Channels
A small but useful function in the Studio One mixer (console) is resizable mixer channels; this allows you to stretch the channels to be as long as you need them to be and if you wish you can make them as tall as your screen. You can also put inserts and sends to one side of a channel rather than above them if you are mixing on a smaller screen such as a laptop.
One Screen Mixer/Editor
If you wish you can have your mixer and edit window on one consolidated screen, this option is beneficial when working on a laptop or single screen. You can, of course, undock all components and work in Pro Tools screen mode if that suits your workflow better.
FX Chains allow you to set up complex plug-ins chains within a single consolidated insert. They are not to be confused with presets that contain a chain of plug-ins for easy recall. For example, let's say you want to use a Pultec EQ for the perfect Pultec bottom end but also use a Maag EQ 4 for the rest of the EQ. An FX chain allows you to create that as a chain with a crossover point which then sits on the track as one plug-in. This video example is just a small way you can use FX Chains which can allow you to create complicated plug-in option not otherwise possible in conventional insert or send arrangements.
Studio One has ARA technology built in which means you can use tools like Melodyne or VocALign on the timeline rather than as a plug-in. It makes the process of fixing tuning and timing or creating tight vocal stacks a much more seamless process. For example with Melodyne added to a track you double-click the audio on the track and edit in the Melodyne editor as if you were using the plug-in.
Pipeline is a stereo or mono plug-in that allows the option to insert external hardware into a mix. Pipeline is more than a simple insert option; it also measures the latency created by the loop and then creates an offset. What makes Pipeline so compelling is that it also includes the send and return channels so one can set up hardware send and returns and then save them, complete with routing like a plug-in, to be used on other mixes. Watch this video showing how to use Pipeline in Studio One.
When it comes to mixing it is highly likely the channel count has already been set at the tracking and production stage. That said, knowing that the only limit to the size of your session is the power of your computer removes the concern about arbitrary track limits.
Open More Than One Song At Once
In Studio One you can have more than one song open at the same time, this is helpful if you want to make several versions of a mix and then compare them. Studio One also has a versions option, which means you can save as many versions as you like of the song in the same file, for example, a version with vocals and a version without, or a radio mix v an album mix.
What PreSonus has aimed to create with Studio One is a fully featured solution for those wishing to take a track from idea to final master. The Project mode is a mastering program that gives you the tools to master your tracks with plug-ins, check loudness and phase etc. and then export it either as a digital file or a Redbook Standard CD. One very nice feature for those wanting to use Project is that if you are mastering a track and suddenly decide something in the mix needs changing, then you can jump back to the mix and when you return to Project the audio is updated to reflect those changes.
Improving workflow is, in my opinion, an overlooked part of product design, often relegated by features to better improve the marketing message. However, for a working audio professional workflow is the single most important improvement one can make.
Studio One has both built-in and customisable macros so that often used processes can be saved and assigned to keyboard shortcuts. Macros mean that workflow is sped up and you don't spend your life reinventing the proverbial wheel.
Why One Would Not Switch From Pro Tools
Pro Tools has a comprehensive feature set developed over 25 years and is very powerful. However, for those who are considering a move away I think the single biggest reason a professional working mixer would not switch from Pro Tools is that Pro Tools is ubiquitous in the professional studio world, note I avoided the industry standard term. I purposely avoided saying the industry standard line because it is such an emotive phrase that gets people hot under the collar. That said, walk into almost every professional studio on the planet, for example; Abbey Road, Metropolis, Blackbird, Ocean Way, and you are going to find Pro Tools, it's hard for anyone to argue that Pro Tools has historically been the DAW of choice and for the foreseeable future.
This one fact means that many mix engineers are going to avoid anything that reduces there ability to work on sessions recorded on Pro Tools. Until recently one way around this would be to ask for full-length stems, but with the introduction of Studio One 4 comes AAF import and export which reduces the compatibility issue. Not entirely, may I add, as you still need someone to create an AAF when saving from Pro Tools and furthermore the AAF format is less than perfect. However, the AAF option in Studio One does make the switch less painful.
I've already addressed the HD/HDX questions, so if one wants to use Avid's hardware, then you have to use Pro Tools. Studio One is a native DAW, setting aside their shortlived foray into DSP with the Studio 192 interface, Studio One uses state of the art code to make sure that latency, even in the native world, is at a minimum. One could argue that when it comes to mixing that latency is irrelevant, not if you want to use a lot of external hardware in mixes, which can often reintroduce latency.
PreSonus Still Has Work To Do If They Want More Professionals Using Studio One
There are some other issues that PreSonus need to take a look at in future releases, again they are small, but they matter to a lot of Pro Tools users, things they say prevent them from using Studio One. First is the way waveforms are drawn, which makes editing audio on the timeline a lot harder, note I did not say impossible, but it's enough of an issue to put off many pro users. Secondly, the colouring in Studio One for some is little garish and needs to be toned down, there have been attempts to improve this, but it's still not right in my opinion. Thirdly, work also needs to be done with the solo system which has some idiosyncrasies that both those recording and mixing find problematic.
If you are happy with Pro Tools, then there's not much to discuss, I think I've already made that clear, Pro Tools works for many users and what DAW you use is frankly no one else's business.
If you are a working professional then learning a new DAW is a costly process, as I said in a recent article most of us don't have time to learn new stuff all the time - making a switch to a new DAW whatever the flavour is a decision that one should not take lightly.
However, there is a middle way, which a lot of modern studios are adopting and that is to keep your options open and use both. This is what I'm doing and it allows me to get the best of both worlds, it also means that I can learn Studio One at my own pace without having to burn my bridges and quite possibly my income stream. One thing to consider is that the total outlay for Studio One Professional is about the same for one year of Pro Tools Ulitmate updates, especially when you use the crossgrade deal that PreSonus offers.
I hope I've been as clear as possible when answering Richard's question, should he switch from Pro Tools to Studio One? Only he can decide, but I hope this article has helped him and others in their decision to stick with Pro Tools or to explore Studio One.