If you’re a longtime reader you may recognize the image above. This post is just some text discussion about me, my DAW choices and how I feel about these three products:
- Digital Performer
I’m a longtime Digital Performer user, and added Reaper to my arsenal a while back. Things are changing though.
Spare me a moment to rant.
(Yes, that’s my eye)
- Digital Performer
- Reaper Part 2
- Digital Performer Part 2
- DP and Cubase
- Support Me!
I think Digital Performer is a fantastic program. Audio editing is very nicely laid out. MIDI editing is powerful (if not a bit confusing, since there are no regions/clips/items, just a stream of MIDI). Project navigation is smooth. Sequencing tracks is amazing. It’s among the best for live work. The timestretching/pitch editing is fantastic.
However… there’s warts. The GUI is small. Very few things are resizable. Plugin support is somewhat poor. Some amazing features are plainly broken. There’s no official public support. Releases are infrequent and monolithic.
The big thing for me though is that DP has remained relatively unchanged for a long time. You can open up DP6 and it functions very similarly to DP9.5, with few major improvements. That is partially because DP was at the vanguard of DAW development for years, and partially because it’s slowed down significantly.
It’s important to realize that “chasing features” is not something that is productive. Just “having features” doesn’t do anything except drain your wallet. I try to be careful about this and I very carefully manage my time with Time Sink and Omnifocus. I usually can tell if a piece of software lets me do a task more quickly or not.
I use DP because of this. When I work in DP I have been able to do most general tasks more quickly than when I do the same task in another DAW. Not because of familiarity (as I’m more fluent in some other products), but simply because of DP’s design.
Reaper is the “Build your own DAW kit”. People jokingly call it the “Linux of DAWs” and it’s pretty true.
I love that. When there’s something I can’t do easily elsewhere, I know I can do it in Reaper. When there’s some technical situation I need to solve, Reaper is king. When I need to do some very heavy editing, processing or work with very large projects… nothing beats Reaper.
I also have Reaper setup in a way that is instantly familiar and easy for me to use. The hotkeys and mouse functionality and layout of the mixer and transport and… everything. I have it setup as the best of everything.
BUT… trying to do a full session in Reaper can get frustrating. The take/comping system (which is a feature I use frequently) is AWFUL. Customization means you can forget the hotkeys you set, and you have no manual to check. The development is lightning fast, and lags behind user requests just as much as any other product.
I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to stop using Reaper. It’s just consistently the product that fills any gaps I have.
I’ve been using Cubase for the last ~2 months for most of my general work. It is a fantastic product. It’s actually very similar to DP in how it works, minus MIDI functionality, but with a significantly better Mixer.
The mixer being better is a huge thing for me. Q-Link (quick link of channels), channel strip, resizable faders, mixer undo, layout features etc… Mixing in Cubase is a pleasant experience overall.
The audio and MIDI editors in Cubase are among the most capable that I know of. The comping system works. Automation is… ok. Reaper/Pro Tools are nicer, but Cubase is much better than DP in that regard. Pitch editing is great. Project navigation is clean and easy.
The only complaint I’ve had using Cubase is the lack of multi-track free warping.
Something that I find pleasant about Cubase is that if you look at the user-requests, they are regularly implemented in new releases. Yes, there are things that are totally ignored or bugs that last a long time. However, the flow of updates has been user-reactive lately. That builds trust and anticipation for new releases.
The last 3 releases of Cubase have added features that directly have addressed things in my workflow.
Reaper Part 2
Recently I became EXTREMELY annoyed with Reaper. I needed to record some drum parts myself, which required using the media item takes feature.
My project got destroyed. I had 83 takes of 16 track audio lost or rendered useless due to the amount of time it would have taken to fix it.
It was a total of 83 x 16 x 4 minutes of audio lost. 88.5 hours of audio. It was about 2 weeks of work. It would have been nearly as much time to try and fix it all, if it was possible.
Naturally I tried to discuss these issues with other Reaper power-users and the response was almost universally, “Yeah, it’s broken” or “Yeah, it’s awful”.
Digital Performer Part 2
I redid the project in DP, and then I need to make small edits to some of the audio to make sure downbeats were on the grid and other editing.
But guess what? DP has no ‘absolute grid’. You can’t drag something to the grid line. You have to use the quantize panel for that, and it’s not nearly as accurate as it needs to be for a fast workflow.
So I dumped the audio in to Cubase and had the editing done in 1/14th the time (according to time sink for the parts I had edited alread). Recording more for this large project was painless.
DP and Cubase
The single example above is just one recent project. DP and Reaper both can work fantastic for a variety of work. I’d even argue that they both are #1 for certain types of work, with second place being miles away. However, the only “major” issue I’ve had in Cubase is with the automation system. DP and Reaper have both failed me more than once in critical ways, but I’ve also used them more heavily. (Maybe the grass is just greener?)
However, when I use Cubase I’m capable of working more quickly, and producing better results than any other product. This is even more true when mixing or using comps/takes. DP is in dire need of improvement in the takes system, and the mixer is stuck in 1998. Reaper’s take system is even worse.
When I run into issues, or use workflows that I know another product can do better, I have little confidence that using DP will pay off in the long run. Nobody knows when a new release will come. No one at MOTU interacts with the community about this or publicly acknowledges feature requests or bugs. Even deeper down the rabbit hole, the people close to MOTU don’t even know what’s happening. I REALLY hope this changes. I think Digital Performer has the most potential of any DAW out there, and a strong base of advanced features.
If you would ask me what my main DAW is, I’d have told you “Digital Performer and Reaper” for the last year, and “Digital Performer” for years before that. But for now… I now consider myself a Cubase user.
I still will be using DP daily I’m sure, but when I start a new project it will be in Cubase. When I want to fool around, I’ll be opening Cubase.
Reaper will always be used the same as always. Anytime I have a highly specific task or exceptionally large project or for doing reviews (testing etc..)
That’s until DP 10 blows me away… I hope?
I’m an audio software junkie. We all know it. I love exploring software, testing software, reviewing software.
However, I do audio work. I need something that gets the job done. I spend easily 80+ hours a week using audio software. I suspect I’ll still be using DP and Reaper more than most people, but for me… Cubase is my DAW.
This has just been a rant. I may give more specific examples in the future, or not.
Thank you for reading.
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