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With sequencer software, you can turn your Mac into a professional-quality desktop recording studio. Connect electronic instruments via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), and you can record, overdub, and edit digital tracks to build complete arrangements. Today's sequencers can also record and edit audio tracks of acoustic instruments or vocals, and they're able to tap into third-party software plug-ins ranging from synthesizers to audio-effects modules (see "Make Some Noise," August 2000).
Competition is fierce among Mac sequencer developers, and Mac musicians have three powerhouse programs to choose from: Emagic's Logic Audio series, Mark of the Unicorn's (MOTU) Digital Performer, and Steinberg's Cubase family. With its combination of elegant design, professional features, and excellent documentation, Digital Performer stands out, and Digital Performer 3.0.1 (DP3) brings improvements in all three areas.
New Look, Old OS
With its translucent buttons and round-cornered windows, DP3 looks like a Mac OS X program--but it doesn't run natively under OS X, nor will it work in OS X's Classic mode due to operating-system limitations. (None of the major sequencers currently work with OS X.)
But DP3's interface enhancements go beyond imitating OS X. The new Sequence Editor window enables you to work with MIDI data and audio in the same window (see "Digital Performing"). New tools simplify the editing of MIDI data, interface improvements allow for editing of multiple tracks within one window, and a new Tools palette provides faster access to all of the program's editing features.
Like Logic Audio, DP3 supports surround-sound mixing: you can position audio sources within a surround field. With this capability, DP3 encroaches on territory staked out by Steinberg's Nuendo, a program popular among movie post-production houses and musicians creating audio for DVDs. In addition to surround-sound mixing, MOTU also includes more than a dozen new audio plug-ins.
DP3 continues support for the broad array of third-party plug-ins available in MAS (MOTU Audio System) but still doesn't directly support software synthesizers built for Steinberg's VST plug-in architecture. You can use Audio Ease's $39 VST Wrapper to run VST plug-ins in DP3, but it isn't always reliable. If your work demands VST compatibility, Cubase or Logic Audio is a better choice.
This is the first version of Digital Performer written for multiprocessor Macs, which can provide a significant performance boost. However, some users report that third-party plug-ins cause DP3 to crash on multiprocessor Macs. Fortunately, you can disable multiprocessor support if necessary.
MOTU says that version 3.1, a free upgrade, will add unlimited undos, addressing my larger complaint with DP3.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer 3.0.1 is a sublimely usable program whose elegance is enriched by excellent documentation. If you don't need native support for VST plug-ins, Digital Performer is the sequencer for you. mDigital Performing Digital Performer 3.0.1's Sequence Editor (middle window) lets you edit audio and MIDI data in one place. Also shown are the Control Panel window (top) and the new Soundbites and Mixing Board windows (bottom).