DP6 is here (or will be here soon, say commenters), with a badly-needed UI update and a number of new features. The results still look like DP – in the way that should appeal to current users, that is – but enhancements demonstrate that the ongoing DAW battles carry on.

DP6 New Features

In the usability category:

  • Updated UI with vertical track resizing (about time, jeez!) and better zooming and resizing
  • Window tabs, which are a pretty cool way of switching between windows and tabbing views a la Firefox, Safari, et al (I’m surprised we haven’t seen more tabs in music software, given their popularity in browsing)
  • Inspector palettes
  • Build comps by selecting from different takes, which would be exciting if we hadn’t just seen similar features elsewhere

New Effects

As welcome as these features will be, most of the buzz I’ve heard from DP users centers around the new effects plug-ins. The MasterWorks Leveler models the “Teletronix LA-2A optical leveling amplifier.” Translated into plain English, it’s an automatic gain adjustment that can have some of the dynamic-smoothing qualities of compression without their soul-sucking quality – it’s an arguably better way of adjusting dynamics. I know at least one very prominent Ableton Live and Logic lover who wants DP6 just to run this plug-in. See the full description on MOTU’s site.

The ProVerb convolution reverb joins convolution reverbs in various other DAWs, with a few twists. It claims to be more CPU-efficient, which is generally not something you associate with convolution. There’s drag-and-drop convolution support, which allows you to drag audio right into the reverb for convolution use. It’s not the first reverb to support using your own audio files, but drag-and-drop is very hot. And MOTU adds automatic ducking features, called Dynamic Mix. And there are surround features, including the ability to use the convolution reverb to upsample to surround.

Combined, these features should allow you to get cleaner, higher-fidelity mixes th…

Um, excuse me. I need a moment. I feel my Jekyl-like alterego coming on here. Let me put on my mad scientist outfit.

[evil murmuring cackle, growing into loud evil laugh] So, MOTU thinks we’ll use these sound features for good, do they? Drag and drop convolution, to destroy my sounds! Let the world cower in the shadow of the new–

Ahem. Okay, moving on. Other features.

Still-Improved Film Scoring Support

While Apple customers complain that there aren’t more extensive integration features between Final Cut and Logic, MOTU has gone and created their own, with a dynamic link system for translating edits in Final Cut to scores assembled in DP. DP already has a surprisingly-strong corner on the film scoring niche, and this is yet another reason. You can even output visual cues over FireWire. Logic doesn’t come anywhere close to DP’s capabilities here. There’s just no competition. For composers doing actual scores, DP will remain king. It’s not a very big niche, but it’s DP’s domain, period.

There’s also improved Pro Tools front-end support, which I expect may be important to this market, as well.

Plug-In Features

You might think that Apple would lead the industry with AU support in Logic given that it’s all in the same building in Cupertino, but don’t count out MOTU – after a rough start in the early Mac OS X days, they’ve been really close to the Audio Unit spec and development tools. In this version:

  • AU side-chaining support (‘bout time)
  • Sample-accurate timing
  • Cocoa graphics support (I’m not actually sure which plug-ins are using Cocoa – anyone know?)
  • Ramp automation
  • Prioritized MIDI for support for plug-ins like Access Virus TI

Not terribly exciting, but good to have. The one feature I think people will find exciting is the new, integrated plug-in manager. Boy, would I like this in some other hosts.

There’s also improved soft synth hosting for more efficient CPU use. One trick here is really interesting: DP now pre-renders instrument tracks so that already-recorded soft synths are rendered in advance instead of playing live. Update: See comments; readers are divided about just how useful this will be, and there are still some complaints about the way DP routes instrument tracks. I think we’ll have to see it in practice.

The combination of the pre-rendering with some of the other features here means that DP may be your best choice on older hardware, not to mention a very strong choice for people who want to load up on lots of plug-ins and experiment with sound design.

Bottom Line (Preview)

DP may be a niche player at this point, but boy, does it rock out in its niche. For film scoring, it remains dominant. And I think that the combination of a better UI, CPU-efficient features, a plug-in manager, and the reverb and dynamics additions here could actually increase its appeal to people who want a host for doing creative sound design and scoring, too – as well as continuing to make it a favorite for backing tracks in live performance. I’m still personally happier in some other hosts for various reasons when it comes to creating stuff, but you have to give some props to the things DP does differently. And it’s a relief that DAW competition continues to remain heated-up, even in 2008. If you wonder why Logic hasn’t become the one and only DAW on Mac, look closely at some of the details here. Composers and producers are very picky about the finer points, and as long as that remains true, we’ll have more than one DAW.