Interview with Jim Odom- President Of Presonus

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in April 2009. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

Every time a new audio host enters the market, eyebrows are raised. When an established audio company does so, the intrigue raises even more. Recently, Presonus decided to take the plunge with their upcoming software called Studio One.

We wanted more information, and we went straight to the top. We sat down with the Presonus Founder and President, Jim Odom(shown to the right), for an exclusive interview. Enjoy!

A new audio host is a huge undertaking and a bold move. What made you decide to enter a very competitive host market?

We’re delightedly amused by the number of people who’ve told us how “brave” we are for making software! To begin with, we sell a lot of audio interfaces and have been bundling 3rd-party software with them for years. We felt it was time to provide our customers with a software offering that is both powerful and easy-to-use and has the added benefit of straightforward integration with our hardware.

At the same time, we were developing our StudioLive digital mixer, and we needed a really simple but great-sounding recording application that would integrate with StudioLive. We found great partners in Wolfgang Kundrus and Matthias Juwan of Kristal Labs in Hamburg, Germany, and we began working with them on development of Capture, StudioLive’s software mate, and Studio One at the same time.

What would you say is the most innovative feature of Studio One? Or a feature that at least stands above the rest?

Wow, that’s a tough one! Without a doubt, the user interface is number one. Everything is so easy to access, not a lot of hidden menus, and you can get to almost anything with one or two clicks. And although it’s a single-window environment, you can easily separate the Console view from the Track view and can even drag it to a second display.

Ease of use is what Studio One is all about, with the understanding that great audio quality and pro features have to be a given. Creating music should be fun and enjoyable. All too often, it’s a chore that diminishes creativity because the technology, necessary as it is, just gets in your way. Studio One removes that barrier and lets you focus on your music. We’re all musicians and recording engineers here at PreSonus, so I think it’s fair to say we know a thing or two about the importance of workflow and how it can literally make or break a session. That’s really been our singular philosophy here.

I believe there is very little full-on innovation in the host market these days. Most features are not original, so updates rely on refinement and workflow. What’s one feature that you feel isn’t necessarily new, but that Studio One takes to a different level than what has been done before?

Only one? I am going to cheat and give you two! One is our MIDI mapping solution, which we call Control Link. Not only is it incredibly easy to map hardware controls to software features and parameters, but you can do things like map a control to always work the same way globally in all plug-ins or just to work that way with a given plug-in, but to do it that way every time. And you can map controls in third-party plug-ins that don’t even support MIDI control because we have a software layer built into Studio One that handles all that.

The other feature is our drag-and-drop implementation. Sure, lots of programs have it. But you can drag pretty much anything from the Browser and it will create a track with that effect or virtual instrument or audio clip, armed and ready to go. If you already have, say, a VI on that track, the new one replaces it. What’s really cool is that when you drag an effect or a rack of effects to a track, it retains all of the settings for all of the effects. Say you have several takes of the same instrument part, each on a different track, but you want the same processing on each take. You can set up a full rack of effects on one track, then just drag that effects rack to the other tracks, and the settings follow.

What was the primary focus when designing Studio One, and do you feel you accomplished your goal in that area?

Studio One proves that you do not have to sacrifice pro quality and features to make a DAW easy to use. Music creation should be fun! We’re just plain tired of having to fight our way through complex user interfaces and esoteric menus in order to create pro-level tracks. It doesn’t have to be that way. And with Studio One, it isn’t. You can find your way around most features very easily. Sure, the manual will help you find lots of subtleties and ways to use the program that you might not find on your own, but if you never read the manual, you could still produce a great project the first time out. I don’t think that’s true of other software.

Can you give me some background on the dev team? How many people? Some of their credentials in this market?

The team is comprised of a programming group in Hamburg, under the direction of Matthias and Wolfgang. The same team developed Studio One’s ancestor, the Kristal Audio Engine. Wolfgang and Matthias previously developed software for Steinberg, among others. Wolfgang is perhaps best known as the primary author of Nuendo. Matthias wrote the VST3 spec and worked on several Steinberg products, such as HALion, Cubase, and Nuendo. They have many other credits between them.

Graphics were developed by Florian Veer, who came to us from Kristal Labs and also does graphic design work for PreSonus. In the U.S., Studio One Product Manager Jonathan Hillman works closely with Director of Product Management Brad Zell, Digital Products Manager Scott Harrell, and Chief Technology Officer Bob Tudor. And of course, I kind of drive the bus.

So can we expect Studio One to be similar to Cubase and/or Nuendo in many ways?

I’ll give you a definitive answer: yes and no!

Yes, because some things just plain make sense in other DAWs, so you’ll see them in Studio One too. The linear-track paradigm, the mixer, all will look familiar. Transport controls look and feel like those in other programs, which are derived from tape transports, because users intuitively know how to use them. Markers, grids, and regions all are useful ways to edit, so we have them. The same with the piano-roll MIDI editor, although we have added some enhancements.

I’ve heard it said that Studio One combines the best of Cubase, Nuendo, and Logic, but that’s not really accurate. Certainly, Studio One is informed by previous platforms, including Cubase, Nuendo, and others. But it’s really a whole new animal, and represents a new approach to working with audio in the digital realm. Sure, in some cases we take the best ideas we can find and put a fresh spin on them, but we also have approaches and features that the others either don’t have or don’t implement as well as Studio One does.

No, because Studio One is all new code, and it incorporates many new concepts that Cubase and Nuendo don’t have, such as the integrated mastering suite and the single-window interface. The user interface is designed such that the features are planned to work together, leaving logical room for new features without cluttering the interface, whereas the older programs have features tacked on with each upgrade, leading to a deterioration of the user experience. Studio One is carefully designed to avoid that problem. The user interface is not a reprise of Cubase or Nuendo, and that’s huge because after all, the UI is what you interact with when you use a program. We are proving that we can start fresh and top all that our development team have accomplished in the past, not simply repeat what they’ve done before.

What do you feel is the most important aspect in an audio host. What makes YOU choose one host over another?

I think if you ask just about anyone who uses audio software, they’ll tell you the same thing: I want to get to the features I need without digging through a bunch of menus and without looking at a cluttered user interface that makes my eyes hurt. I want to focus on the music, not the technology. I get frustrated if the software is a pain to use and I have to spend my time figuring it out instead of making music.  Then, of course, it just has to SOUND AMAZING.

How does Studio One address this?

Studio One’s interface lets you make music without getting in your way. Getting around the program is a matter of a click or two most of the time. Things like the Browser, the flexible MIDI mapping, the drag-and-drop implementation, and so on, all make the workflow really fast, and you don’t get distracted by the technology. The integrated mastering suite is another thing; if you’re mastering, and you make mix changes, your mastering project is automatically updated with the new mix, so you don’t have to think about whether you have the latest version of each mix, take it to another program for mastering, and hope you don’t have to re-sequence the mastering project after all that. It just works.

I noticed that not many details have been added about the MIDI and/or audio editing abilities of Studio One. Can you expand a little(or a lot!) on some of these features?

You might check out the videos on our site; product manager Jonathan Hillman shows some of these features. We have pretty much all of the audio editing features you’d expect. Aside from the obvious cut-copy-paste edits, you can timestretch, quantize, slip (move in time without changing length and tempo), create crossfades and volume envelopes, split events, snap, stretch, reverse, bounce, merge, normalize, and much more. The MIDI editing is based on a piano-roll editor and again you get copy-copy-paste and can erase, quantize, split events, scale, snap, edit velocity and time-base. You can draw notes with the mouse and can transpose parts, individual notes, and groups of notes. You can select events in multiple tracks, including discontiguous events. There’s a lot more, so if you have specific questions, please ask.

PreSonus is primarily a hardware company. What lessons can be learned from the hardware world that will benefit the host software world?

To begin with, we think that hardware alone or software alone is far less powerful than the two together, if properly integrated. So our big push is to create integrated hardware and software. We really think of hardware and software as two components of a single device: the software is no longer some disconnected application but a part of the hardware interface itself. It’s this synergy that we believe takes the user experience to the next level. Sure, you can still use our hardware with most other DAWs, but once you get your hands on Studio One, we’ll be really surprised if you want to.

Studio One has native features that let it work especially well, for instance, with our FaderPort controller. It can control the internal mixer in the FireStudio Tube and FireStudio Project so you can create custom cue mixes and take advantage of our interfaces’ zero-latency monitoring from within Studio One. Templates in Studio One set the program up automatically for our interfaces so you don’t have to configure them manually.  Companies that just make software are unlikely to consider such important features, not to mention do them well.

A great example is the integration between our StudioLive 16.4.2 digital mixer and Capture software. Capture (which is based on the same audio engine as Studio One) is very tightly integrated with StudioLive, so that the software tracks and outputs are already preconfigured to work with StudioLive’s channels and FireWire I/O. Recording becomes a two-click proposition. We could not have done that without developing the hardware and the software together.

We make world-class audio hardware. We know what dynamics processors and EQs should sound like and how they should behave because we’ve made them for so many years! Our first product was a digitally controlled analog compressor. So when we create plug-ins, as we have for Studio One, we draw on that expertise, and continue to innovate as we have from the very beginning.

How easy will it be for those switching from another DAW to bring their projects and files into Studio One? Obviously it won’t read the formats of their previous hosts, but what does Studio One provide to help with compatibility?

Studio One can import WAV (BWF and RF64), AIFF, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and MP3 audio files, as well as Standard MIDI Files. It also can open several other application project-file types, including PreSonus Capture Sessions (.capture), Steinberg Cubase Track Archives (.xml), Steinberg Sequel Projects (.steinberg-project), Kristal Audio Engine Projects (.kristal), and Open TL (.tl). It also can export WAV, AIFF, Ogg Vorbis, MP3, and Standard MIDI Files, in case you want to move your projects to another application.

The effects/instrument suite included in Studio One, are these all new plugins? How are they integrated into the program?

Yes, Studio One includes a full suite of brand-new 64-bit plug-ins in our proprietary format. That includes dynamics, EQs, time-based effects such as phaser, flanger, chorus, reverbs, delays, and more. We also bundle three brand-new virtual instruments, so you get synthesis, sampling, and sample-playback. The PreSonus plug-ins work like VST or AU plug-ins, in that you load effects in effects racks, use virtual instruments with instrument tracks, and so on. You can use them together with VST and AU plug-ins.

The Studio One mixer seems rather interesting. The “mini-views” of your native plugins is a very cool feature. Will it be possible to access parameters from third party plugins in the mixer?

At this time the Micro-View feature is exclusive to our native plug-ins.


Studio One’s Mixer

Can you expand a little on the non-software content of Studio One, such as the sample library?

We’ve got roughly 5.5 GB of Bandmate Loops with tempo-encoded loop content in many well-organized genres. Our instrument library features around 400 instruments from Digital Sound Factory, mostly focused on sample-based “real” instruments. We have also partnered with Toontrack to include EZDrummer Lite, and Native Instruments provides Kore Player with a custom PreSonus sound pack.

What benefits does the Mastering page hold over using a dedicated audio/mastering editor? What kind of fade/crossfade/volume matching/etc. features are there?

Our mastering environment is called the Project page. The real benefit is Song and Project integration. When you place a Song in the Project environment, Studio One establishes an intelligent link that allows the song and project to essentially recognize each other so that changes to either occur globally.

As you know, you sometimes have to go back and change multitrack mixes in response to things found during mastering. Let’s say you bring the lead vocal up 0.3 dB; then you have to make new mixes and reinsert them into the mastering project. If you require several rounds of changes for each track, you can have a confusing situation in which it is hard to tell which mix is the final version that should be in the mastering project. When you find the right mix file, you remove the old one and add the new mix back into the project, which may require re-sequencing the tracks in the project. I know guys who lose sleep over this!

Pro mastering engineers have systems to deal with all this.  It shouldn’t be that hard, and there are ways to keep your file versions straight, but it’s a common problem nevertheless. If you’re a tracking and mixing engineer and want to master some projects on the side that you mixed for a client, or you’re a musician and want to master your own projects, you probably need some help with these workflow issues. Doing it all in one program makes it so much easier — if the program is designed for the purpose, as Studio One is.

Studio One solves this problem with automatic updating of mastering files for any song in a Project. When you change any song included in a Project, and then open the Project, you will be asked if you would like to update that song’s mastering file. Here’s what happens when you do that:

The Song is automatically opened in its last saved state.

A mixdown of the Song is rendered.

The new mix file replaces the old one in the Project.

The Song is automatically closed.

A report is displayed in the Project indicating which files were updated and how long the entire process took.

Any number of mastering files can be updated in a single process. This way, every time you open a Project, you can be sure you have the latest mix of each Song.

When a mastering file in a Project is not up to date, a red light appears to the left of the track name in the Track Column, as well as in the lower left corner of the track in the Track Lane. You can choose to manually update any of these files. When the file is up to date, a green light appears. You can also update every mastering file in the Project at once. Any files that need to be updated, based on whether saved changes have occurred to the Songs, are automatically updated.

Try doing that with two separate applications! Also consider the advantage of having the same user interface, drag-and-drop features, plug-ins (with racks and other features), and so on in your recording, mixing, and mastering environments. You don’t have to learn two separate programs. That’s huge for most people.

Cross-fades and volume-matching are easily implemented. Each Track in the Track Lane features a volume envelope for creating fades. To crossfade overlapping Tracks, select them and press [X] on the keyboard. Studio One draws a linear crossfade that you can edit by clicking-and-dragging on each track’s fade handle. It’s that easy. And of course, you get the full range of audio meters – spectrum, level, and phase.

Also keep in mind that the Project page allows you to input metadata, burn Red Book CDs directly from Studio One with Burnproof technology to prevent buffer underruns, make a disk image, and prepare digital releases for the Web. So you can go from an idea to a finished retail product all in one application.

  
Studio One’s Project Page

What kind of integration with current Presonus products can users expect?

Studio One automatically configures itself to work with our FaderPort controller and can control the internal mixer in the FireStudio Tube and FireStudio Project so you can create custom cue mixes and take advantage of our interfaces’ zero-latency monitoring from within Studio One. Templates in Studio One set the program up automatically for our interfaces so you don’t have to.

How does the 64/32 bit switching work differently from other programs out there? Is the program code itself full 64 bit in addition to the mixing engine?

Studio One is not a 64-bit application. It has 64-bit process precision in the audio engine. The 64/32-bit switching is similar to that in certain other applications.

What types of automation features exist in Studio One? Spline editing? Bezier curves? Etc?

You can automate nearly every parameter in Studio One in several different ways to suit your production style, including Audio Track Automation, Instrument Part Automation, and Automation Tracks.

Audio Track automation allows you to automate any parameter related to an Audio Track and the Events it contains. The Automation Envelopes are drawn directly on top of the Audio Track lane, with the Audio Events visible in the background. Automation envelopes will move with their associated Audio Events. Any number of Automation Envelopes can be added to an Audio Track.

Instrument Tracks (MIDI data tracks, for VIs, for example) also have Automation Envelopes. In this case, an Automation Envelope controls the parameters of the virtual instrument to which the Instrument Track is routed. All other aspects of Instrument Track Automation Envelopes work in the same way as with Audio Track automation.

An Automation Track can contain Automation Envelopes related to any Track and any plug-ins. Track Automation Envelopes can be edited directly, using the mouse, as well as with external hardware controllers. Editing an Automation Envelope with the mouse, using the Arrow Tool, allows you to add new points to the envelope, move existing points, and select and delete existing points. It is possible to simultaneously edit any number of points on an Automation Envelope at once. Editing an Automation Envelope with the Paint Tool allows you to draw many automation points with a single move of the mouse, effectively painting an envelope.

Audio, Instrument, and Automation Tracks feature various automation modes that affect how automation will act on the Tracks and on the devices related to the Tracks. In Auto: Off mode, all automation for the current parameter and for all related parameters will be turned off. In Read mode, any existing Automation Envelopes on the Track for the related device will be read, and these envelopes will control the related parameters. In Touch mode, Automation Envelopes can be affected by touch-sensitive, external hardware controllers, so that new automation is written when a hardware control is touched, and automation is read when the hardware control is not being touched. In Latch mode, automation will be read until a hardware control is manipulated, at which point automation will be written continuously until playback is stopped. In Write mode, Automation Envelopes can be affected by external hardware controllers such that automation is continuously written based on the current position of the hardware control.

Is the timestretching algorithm designed in-house? If not, what algo is being used?

We use the Elastique algorithm from ZPlane.

Any video/post production features included, or planned? Seeing how the dev team worked with Nuendo, will Studio One see expansion in this area?

There are a lot of features on the drawing board right now. We’ll keep you posted!

Any other cool features you can spill the beans on that may not have been discussed yet?

Here’s a cool feature for people who work on more than one computer or in more than one studio. In most recording applications, audio tracks directly use your hardware audio device’s channels. In Studio One, there is a layer of software I/O channels between your hardware audio-device channels and your tracks. This setup provides many advantages.

For instance, let’s say you produce a Song in your studio, using a multichannel interface, then take your Song file to your friend’s studio, where you will use a different audio interface. Simply connect your friend’s hardware audio-device channels to the correct software I/O Channels. When you get back to your studio, the original I/O configuration for the Song will automatically be loaded for you, as if you never left. You can do the same thing if you need to open the Song on your laptop using its built-in audio hardware.

This is possible because Studio One stores I/O configurations with your Song, per computer and per audio-device driver, ensuring that your Song remains highly portable and is never “broken” by changing audio devices.

I would like to thank Jim for taking time out of his schedule to talk to us. For more information on Studio One and Presonus, you can head on over to http://www.presonus.com.

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