Review: PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional Digital Audio Software

Studio One is more than worth the price for songwriters.

Not long ago, turning a PC into Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) was expensive and resource intensive. For songwriters and producers, it often detracted from the creative process. While we were happy to be able to set up a recording studio in our homes, the technical issues surrounding recording with a PC often forced us to look for help. Digital audio technical specialists were making a living helping musicians to ‘spec out’, purchase, and set up recording hardware and software. It forced us to ask, “Are we learning the recording studio business or writing songs?” I recently checked out Studio One 3 software from PreSonus and was pleasantly surprised at this powerful, yet affordable recording solution.

Studio One is cross-platform (Mac or PC) DAW software capable of operating as a 32-bit or 64-bit application. While this software clearly profits from a fairly modern computer and lots of storage space, the specifications for this package are pretty friendly (Mac OS X 10.8.5 or higher Windows 7, 8.1, or 10 and Intel Core 2 Duo processor, with Core i3 or better highly recommended). Check the PreSonus website for details on OS revisions, but know that at least 4GB of RAM (8GB recommended) is required with 30GB of hard drive space, if you download all the bundled content. Studio One also offers some really interesting remote features with remote apps for iOS, Windows, and Android devices.

Why might Studio One be good for songwriters? Sometimes, the simplest approach is the best. To that end, Studio One has a simple (but very effective) Start page to access recent songs and projects or start new ones. There are intuitive options here to adjust hardware settings, plus the latest Studio One news, and links to develop new skills through demos and tutorials. For recording, a Song page provides access to recording basics that are laid out in an Arrange View, Video Track, Track Inspectors, Edit View, Mix View, and Browser—pretty much all the basics.

Something else that makes Studio One intuitive is its extensive use of Drag-and-Drop. You can create tracks (that can automatically sync to your song tempo) or load an Instrument, effect or sample content by dragging and dropping. Finding things to drag and drop is easy. An updated browser in this new version of Studio One, offers keyword-based musical search, plugin thumbnails, and nearly 10,000 audio and music loops (Professional version). The browser also provides access to more add-ons from PreSonus, and even more content from other Studio One users. Drag-and-drop is also used with the Arranger Track and Track Inspector for rapid and intuitive song rearranging.

Along with the Arranger Track that’s available in all versions, a new feature of the Professional version is the Scratch Pad. Scratch Pads provide a powerful way to experiment with different arrangements or versions of a section of your song, without jeopardizing your existing track or messing with repeated ‘undos’. Don’t worry. You still have complete Undo with an Undo history, but you don’t have to use Undo anymore to experiment with songwriting ideas. To try out an idea, you simply drag sections, content, and events into a Scratch Pad, and play with it there. You can drag your work back when you like what you’ve done–or not. Unlimited Scratch Pads can all be saved inside a Studio One Song file.

The new Studio One Professional version worked well with my older PreSonus AudioBox USB interface and, with a 64-bit audio processing resolution, it promises to work with newer devices that can support many simultaneous tracks and produce professional results, but DAW software isn’t just about recording anymore. Today, it’s as much about creativity and being able to add inspiring and unique sounds. Studio One Professional includes the Presence XT sampler with an impressive 14 GB sound library and the ability to open EXS, Giga, and Kontakt libraries. In addition, unique sound design tools let you create your own sound with tools like Multi Instrument, Extended FX Chains, and Note FX, along with integrated tools for efficient polyphonic pitch and time manipulation, correction, and creative editing tools built into every track.

Any DAW software package should make capturing tracks fast and easy, but not all do as well with that as Studio One. The basics of adding and arming a track to record is pretty intuitive, but a smart pre-record mode can help your workflow by allowing you to add and arm tracks with sequential I/O assignments, route multiple MIDI devices to multiple instruments simultaneously, and give each performer their own click settings with a separate cue mix. You can even build your track by ‘loop recording’ to individual track layers. These processes are not for everyone, and often require a bit of practice to be used effectively, but the result can be well worth it.

There is also a lot more ‘under the hood’ of Studio One that you won’t see in other programs, like Folder Tracks, 1:1 track/console synchronization (including color coding), markers, the functionality of the Arranger Track, the ability to nondestructively save alternate edits and ideas (more on Scratch Pads shortly), custom Multi Instruments and FX Chain presets, and the ability to easily export Projects with all associated content.

Things can get fairly complicated as you delve into the features of any recording application, but PreSonus has provided a lot of help options to get you through. Help for Studio One 3 is available within the application and in a well-written reference manual that provides a good overview and addresses many basic questions. Accessed by pressing F1, both forms of help are context sensitive so correspond to where you are working in the application. Further assistance can be found in the dedicated Knowledge Base and on the PreSonus Support Website. In addition, users can open a support ticket from the link found on the Knowledge Base or from their My.PreSonus account. I had a good experience tracking down answers both on the Studio One Forum and chatting with the Unofficial Studio One Facebook group. If you are more of a visual learner, there are plenty of third-party training resources, including Studio One Expert website, in-depth Groove3 tutorial videos, Home Studio Trainer, AskVideo and Obedia.

A songwriting project isn’t over until it’s over and you’ve done something with your songs. So, Studio One doesn’t stop with the mix. You can master your entire project with professional effects, metering, and mastering tools in the Professional version’s mastering suite (I don’t know of any DAW software that currently does this). Plus, with the Project page, you can embed metadata, add album art, burn Red Book-compatible CDs, and create DDP images, as well as export WAV, FLAC, MP3, and other digital files. 

It’s good to know that, for a small price, songwriter’s now have the options of recording and production software package in Studio One 3 that focuses on creativity. While it has a creative bend, it is also well organized and able to deliver professional results. Expect more features and content to be included with the Professional version, but Artist version that comes for free with PreSonus audio interfaces and mixers has all the features most songwriters will need. The PreSonus website does a good job of comparing the features of the Professional and Artist versions.

Once I got going with Studio One’s Professional version, I really enjoyed the experience and the new creative features. Certainly, there is a learning curve associated with any software that offers this much, but Studio One is more than worth the price for songwriters. With a little time and study, this software can be a great tool that can aid in the songwriting process and help songwriters see their songs through to completion.

Street Price:

$149.95 for Studio One Artist (comes free with any PreSonus audio interface or mixer)

$449.95 for Studio One Professional