After hearing the views of MAGIX’s Vice President Audio, Christian Hellinger, about their approach to DAW design here, I was motivated to get into Samplitude Pro X for the first time. As a long time Sonar user, I was interested to see how easy, or not, it would be to work in a different DAW environment, especially as Pro X is a very full featured DAW, offering all functionality from sound generation through to mastering and delivery within a single workstation.
With such a substantial DAW, it didn’t make sense to attempt a full review in one article, so I decided to do a multi-part review, as it happens, from download to production of a complete song. I’ve resisted the temptation to pre read either the extensive 847 page pdf user manual, or to dip into previously published reviews.
So before I press the download button, it’s worth summarising the Pro X feature set so we get an idea of what I’m about to delve into when I ‘open the box’.
The heart of Pro X audio processing is based around a new 64-bit capable ‘bit transparent’ engine which allows all sources, irrespective of sample rate and source format, to handled and processed without having to transform them into a native format. This is highly attractive from an audio quality viewpoint. The engine is actually a hybrid combination of Low Latency and High Latency Engines. The Low Latency Engine reduces response times when calculating real time effects and enables accurate monitoring at lower latencies. The integrated High Latency Engine offers more effective system utilization, which allows for the integration of effects, software instruments and other plug-ins. Having read this on the MAGIX website, I decided to do the installation on a relatively elderly AMD Athlon 2.7GHz dual-core processor equipped PC, with 2GB of RAM and still (thankfully) running on XP (it never crashes!) to see how this hybrid audio engine performs.
In terms of production facilities, the Samplitude Pro X list is impressive, and includes;
Extras in Samplitude Pro X Suite include;
Audio files can be exported and burned in Surround or stereo format according to the DVD audio standard – this makes it possible to burn high-definition stereo and surround projects directly from the multi-track arrangement without having to go through an intermediary export stage.
The Pro X software downloaded with no issues and after installation I was presented with the Start Wizard screen above. MAGIX calls Multi track projects VIP (Virtual Project) which provides the graphical framework to edit and navigate through the project. It’s also the .vip file extension used for virtual projects in Samplitude.
I choose to start with 8 tracks at the 44.1kHz default sampling rate of my MOTU audio interface and a default song length of 10 mins. I wasn’t sure why I had to choose a default song length and just had to hope I will be able to extend it later. There were some other options which I chose to ignore for now.
On clicking okay I was presented with the screen above.
The next thing I did was to have a look at the system audio programme preferences, both to check out that my audio and MIDI interface was being recognised correctly (it was) and to check the default settings for audio storage. The only change I made was to move the temporary files folder away from my primary system drive to my main music drive.
Things were going so well that I just wanted to get on and record something. As part of the VIP window, Pro X provides a channel strip, called the Track Editor, running vertically on the left hand side of the screen which switches to the highlighted channel. I clicked on the tab labelled Audio and sure enough audio source and destination choices were displayed. Source destination naming follows a logical sequence and was able to correctly identify the main L+R MOTU outputs which had been pre-allocated as the default monitor outputs. You can choose to make a channel mono or stereo on the fly and there’s even a facility to mix down a stereo input to mono as part of the source selection choices.
After selecting the correct audio source I applied tone from my Neutrik test set into the line input of my pre-amp and then through the MOTU A-D to compare level metering on my pre-amp, my MOTU interface and in Samplitude. Annoyingly on my Sonar set up, they never seem to align but in this case 0dB on the MOTU meters lined up perfectly as 0dB on the Samplitude meters. This may seem a small point but I really like to have a clear level monitoring chain throughout my recording chain so I never have second thoughts about any meter I happen to glance at during a tracking session.
Just before I plugged in my guitar I decided to lay down a simple blues rhythm track using the excellent BFD Eco drum plug-in. I already use this on Sonar so I was hoping that Samplitude would find it in my existing VST folder. Sure enough it was there as a VSTi and it was a couple of clicks to select it and chose whether to allocate a single stereo track for the audio or a track per drum element.
Coming back to levels for a moment, even when you’re using a software plug-in like BFD, it’s still necessary to keep an eye on audio levels coming into to Samplitude when you are recording audio as opposed to MIDI. I was surprised that I had to pull BFD’s master fader down from zero to stop the Samplitude channel from overloading. I always thought these level issues would all be taken care of when working ‘in the box’ but I was wrong in this instance. Samplitude has simply the most elegant and flexible main metering I’ve ever used. As you’ll see from one of the screenshots above the main metering usually occupies about 35% of the screen width across the bottom of the screen, but as an option you can expand this to the full screen width if required.
The choice of metering and metering settings is simply staggering. Under the grand title of ‘Visualization’ there is a range of level meters, phase scopes, spectroscopes, bit meter, oscilloscope, tuner, correlations meters; and for each an equally impressive degree of setting control, and as you can see in the screenshot below a whole range of combinations can be displayed simultaneously.
Have a look at three of the setup boxes for the peak meter to get an idea of the wide range of ballistics and display options available.
Metering (sorry .. Visualization!) is one of a range of Samplitude control elements which can be floated or docked in a wide variety of screen locations. A docking manager is provided to manage all of this, as shown below.
It takes a bit of getting used to but it does allow great flexibility and you can build custom docking schemes for different stages in the production process. The two screen shots below show a stereo peak meter being docked vertically on the right hand side of the screen.
As you can see from the screen shots above I did finally drag (okay it’s a good pun!) myself away from arranging and rearranging my work screen and got on with some tracking. How did it sound? Technically very clean and crisp. The ‘bit transparent’ audio engine really does seem as transparent as MAGIX claim and the combination of Gibson Les Paul Standard through my VOX combo and via a Sennheiser MK4 microphone (very nice for electric guitar recording by the way) was a superb start to the recording session.
So far, I am finding the Samplitude Pro X to be a well designed and intuitive DAW to use. The default set-up provides all the tools you expect to have at hand when starting a new session and even on a relatively old PC, recording and playback has been 100% smooth and stutter free. The hybrid audio engine seems to be proving its worth!
Next time we’ll get into some editing and channel processing, and have a look at at one of Samplitude’s unique features – object-level editing. This allows you to split audio tracks into as many objects as you want and then apply custom effects and fades separate to each object. This is an interesting alternative to having to use dynamic automation of effects if, for example, you needed to apply pitch correction to just a small segment of audio.
Until then here’s a nice introduction to object-level editing from the MAGIX video tutorials library.