Category Archives: Computer Music – Software

The Impact Of Meltdown And Spectre For Audio Workstations

No doubt, the hottest topic in I.T. at the start of 2018 continues to be the CPU security risks that have come to light as 2017 came to a close.

Otherwise known as “Spectre” and “Meltdown ” an exhaustive amount of information has been written already in regards to how these design choices can lead to data being accessed within the computer by processes or other code that shouldn’t have access to it, potentially leaving the system open to attacks by malicious code run on the computer.

For instance one of the more concerning attack vectors in this scenario are servers hosting multiple customers on one system, and in a world where it might be common to hear about many virtual machines being used in a hosting environment in order to keep them separate and secure, allowing this type of code to access the data with poor security in place opens up the possibility of transaction details, passwords and other customer records in a manner that has obviously raised a large amount of concern in both security professionals and end consumers alike.

Off the back of this have emerged the patches and updates required to solve the issue, and along with those are some rather alarming headline figures regarding performance levels potentially taking a hit, with claims of anywhere up to 30% overhead being eaten away by certain types of workload.

As there are many great resources already explaining this including this one here that can help outline what is going on, I’m not going to delve too much into the background of the issues, rather focus on the results of the updates being applied. 

We’re going to look at both the Microsoft patch at a software level and test the BIOS update released to support it. There are two issues here with Meltdown and Spectre and there happens to be two variants of Spectre, one of which can be handled at the software level, with the other requiring the microcode update applied via a BIOS update.

Microsoft has, of course, released their own advisory notes which are certainly worth a review too and available here.  At this time it is advised that Meltdown and all Spectre variants can both affect Intel CPU’s and some ARM compatible mobile chips, whereas AMD is only affected by the Spectre variants with AMD themselves having just issued an updated advisement at the time of writing which can be found here. This is also largely an  OS platform agnostic issue with Microsoft, Apple, Linux and even mobile OS’s all having the potential to be affected and over the last few weeks rapidly deploying updates and patches to their users.

At this point, I’m just going to quote a portion taken from the Microsoft link above verbatim, as it outlines the performance concerns we’re going to look at today. Keep in mind that in the text below “variant 1 & 2” are both referring to the Spectre issues, whereas Meltdown is referred to as simply “variant 3”.

One of the questions for all these fixes is the impact they could have on the performance of both PCs and servers. It is important to note that many of the benchmarks published so far do not include both OS and silicon updates. We’re performing our own sets of benchmarks and will publish them when complete, but I also want to note that we are simultaneously working on further refining our work to tune performance. In general, our experience is that Variant 1 and Variant 3 mitigations have minimal performance impact, while Variant 2 remediation, including OS and microcode, has a performance impact.

Here is the summary of what we have found so far:

  • With Windows 10 on newer silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don’t expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.
  • With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance.
  • With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.
  • Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.

For context, on newer CPUs such as on Skylake and beyond, Intel has refined the instructions used to disable branch speculation to be more specific to indirect branches, reducing the overall performance penalty of the Spectre mitigation. Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel. We will publish data on benchmark performance in the weeks ahead.

The testing outlined here today is based on current hardware and Windows 10. Specifically, the board is an Asus Z370 Prime A, running on a Samsung PM961 M.2. drive, with a secondary small PNY SSD attached. The CPU is an i5 8600 and the is 16GB of memory in the system.

Software wise updates for windows were completed right up to the 01/01/18 point and the patch from Microsoft to address this was released on 03/01/18 and is named “KB4056892”. I start the testing with the 605 BIOS from late 2017 and move through to the 606 BIOS designed to address the microcode update specified by Intel. 

Early reports have suggested a hit to the drive subsystem, so at each stage, I’m going to test this and of course, I’ll be monitoring the CPU performance as each step is applied. Also keep in mind that as outlined in the Microsoft advisory above, different generations of hardware and solutions from different suppliers will be affected differently, but as Intel is suggested as being the hardest hit by these problems, it makes sense to examine a current generation to start with.

The Testing 

Going into this, I was hopeful that we wouldn’t be expecting to see a whole load of processing power lost simply due to the already public explanations of how the flaw could potentially affect the system didn’t read as being one that should majorly impact the way an audio system handles itself.

Largely it’s played out as expected, as when you’re working away within your sequencer the ASIO driver is there doing its best to keep itself as a priority and generally, if the system is tuned to work well for music, the shouldn’t be a million programs in the background that should be affected by this and causing the update to steal processing time. So, given we’re not running the sort of a server related workloads that I would expect to cause too much of an upset here, I was fairly confident that the impact shouldn’t be as bad as some suggestions had made out and largely on the processing side it plays out like that. 

However, prior to starting the testing, it was reported that storage subsystems were taking a hit due to these patches and that of course demanded that we take a look at it along the way too. Starting with the worst news first, those previous reports are very much on the ball. I had two drives connected and below we see the first set of results taken from a Samsung M.2. SM961 model drive.

M2 Test After Applying Meltdown Changes
Click to expand – Results From Left To Right – 1, Baseline Result. 2, After Microsoft Update. 3, With update and BIOS patch applied.

To help give you a little more background on what’s being tested here, each test should be as follows:

  • Seq Q32T1 – sequential read/ write with multiple threads and queues
  • 4K Q32T1 – random read/ write with multiple threads and queues
  • Seq – sequential read/ write with a single queue and thread
  • 4K – random read/ write with a single queue and thread.

The is no doubt a performance hit here to the smaller 4k files which are amplified as more threads are taken up to handle the workload in the 4K Q32T1 test.  On the flip side of this is that the sequential handling seems to either escape relatively unscathed and in some instances even improved to some degree, so there is some trade-off here depending on the workload it’s handling.

The gains did confuse me at first and whilst first sifting through the data I started to wonder if perhaps given we were running off the OS drive, and perhaps other services had skewed it slightly. Thankfully, I also had a project SDD hooked up to the system as well, so we can compare a second data point against the first.

SSD meltdown testing
Click to expand, Results left to right. 1, Baseline. 2, After Microsoft Patch. 3, After BIOS update.

The 4k results still show a decrease and the sequential once again hold fairly steady with a few read gains, so it looks like some rebalancing to the performance levels has taken place here too, whether intentional or not.

The DAWBench testing, on the other hand with the DSP test, ends up with a more positive result.  This time around I’ve pulled out the newer SGA based DSP test, as well as the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test and both were run within Reaper. 

SGA test for Meltdown
Click to expand

The result of the DSP test which concentrates on loading the CPU up shows little difference that doesn’t fall within the margin of error & variance.  It should also be noted that the CPU was running at 99% CPU load when it topped out, so we don’t appear to be losing any overhead here in that regard.

DAWBench VI test for Meltdown
Click to expand.

With the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test, we’re seeing anything between 5% and 8% overhead reduction depending on the ASIO buffer, with the tightest 64 buffer suffering after each update whereas the looser settings coped better with the software update before taking a small hit when we get up to the 256 buffer.

The Verdict

Ultimately the concern here is how will it impact you in real terms?

The minor loss of overhead on the second testing set was from a Kontakt heavy project and the outcome from the drive tests would suggest that anyone with sample library that has a heavy reliance on disk streaming may wish to be careful here with any projects that are already on the edge prior to the update being applied.

I also timed that project being loaded across all 3 states of the update process as I went with the baseline time frame to open the project being 20 seconds. After the software update, we didn’t see a change in this time span, with the project still taking 20 seconds to open. However, the BIOS update once applied along with the OS update added 2 seconds to this giving us roughly a 10% increase in the project load time.

So at this time, whilst any performance is certainly not welcome, we’re not seeing quite the huge skew in the performance stakes that has been touted thankfully, and certainly well short of the 30% figure that was being suggested initially for the CPU hit.

There have been suggestions by Microsoft that older generations might be more severely affected and from the description of how it affects servers I suspect that we may well see that 30% figure and even higher under certain workloads in server environments, but I suspect that it’ll be more centered around the database or virtual machine server workstation segments than the creative workstation user base.

Outside of our small corner of the world, TechSpot has been running a series of tests since the news broke and it’s interesting to see other software outside of the audio workstation environment seems to be largely behaving the same for a lot of end users, as are the storage setups that they have tested. If you’d like to read through those you can do so here.

Looking Forward

The issue was discovered over the course of 2017 back but largely kept under wraps so it couldn’t be exploited at the time. However, the existence of the problem leaked before the NDA was lifted and feels like a few solutions that have been pushed out in the days since may have been a little rushed in order to stop anyone more unethical capitalizing upon it. 

As such, I would expect performance to bounce around over the next few months as they test, tweak and release new drivers, firmware and BIOS solutions. The concern right now for firms is ensuring that systems around the world are secure and I would expect there to be a period of optimization to follow once they have removed the risk of malware or worse impacting the end user.

Thankfully, it’s possible to remove the patch after you apply it, so in a worst case scenario you can still revert back and block it should it have a more adverse effect upon your system, although it will then leave you open to possible attacks. Of course, leaving the machine offline will obviously protect you, but then that can be a hard thing to do in a modern studio where software maintenance and remote collaboration are both almost daily requirements for many users. 

However you choose to proceed, will no doubt be system and situation specific and I suspect as updates appear the best practice for your system may change over the coming months. Certainly, the best advice I can offer here is to keep your eye on how this develops, make the choices that keep you secure without hampering your workflow and review the situation going forward to see if further optimizations can help restore the situation to pre-patch levels as a resolve for the problem is worked upon by both the hardware and software providers. 

Cashback Offer on Roli Seaboard Rise 25 and 49

Roli have a nice little offer available for anybody wishing to jump into world of the funky 5D-touch Seaboard Rise controllers.

Unfortunately Roli hadn’t sorted out their website at the start of the promo so I held back from making a song and dance about it but that situation has now changed and the site is alive and kicking. Any purchases of the Seaboard Rise 25 and 49 between October 23rd and December 24th are eligible for  £75 and £150 cashback respectively from Roli. That’s not bad at all to be fair!

For anyone not aware of these controllers they are pretty unique all things considered. the keyboard is made of a pressure-sensitive squishy grey, sensor embedded material that allows you to shape sound through touch – strike the keywaves, press into them, glide sideways along them and slide up and down the keywaves to venture into new sonic territory.

Of course this is no good without an MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) compatible synth so Roli have kindly included Equator, their custom-built software synthesizer and sound engine. A perfect companion for these otherwordly keybeds!

After purchase, simply visit to redeem the offer.

You can find the Roli Seaboards here!

Tips & Tricks: Kontakt Optimization – The Purge Function

Keeping in line with my recent tips on how to optimize Kontakt, here’s a great way of conserving memory. This is something that could prove to be invaluable for composers in particular due to the nature of the instruments they’ll typically be hosting in their templates. Large multi-sampled orchestral libraries can potentially use large amounts of RAM. Keeping that memory footprint as small as possible is important for obvious reasons.

Utilizing the purge function can free up RAM by unloading any unused samples. Some libraries allow you to do this from within the library UI whereby you’re able to deselect certain articulations or disable certain mic positions. This can be seen in Spitfire Audio’s Albion One Library below.

Here’s the available functions available in the Purge menu:

  • Reset Markers – When a sample is played it marks it as being used by Kontakt. This function removes the markers but doesn’t purge anything so keeps the samples loaded.
  • Update Sample Pool – Purges all the unused samples
  • Purge All Samples – Unloads all samples
  • Reloads All Samples – Loads all samples contained within the instrument

There’s a few ways you can go about implementing the integrated purge function. You could start with all samples within an instrument loaded (like it loads up by default). Once you’ve successfully laid down your part you could then simply reset the markers, run through the part from start to finish, then update the sample pool. This will unload any unused samples.

Alternatively, you could start with all samples purged within an instrument. Then as you input your MIDI it’ll load the used samples in on the fly. It’s important to bear in mind if you decide to use this method and you’re using hard disk drives to host your samples, you may experience a few clicks/pops/missing notes on the first run through as the samples load from the disk. I’d certainly recommend using SSDs if you use this method.

Notice the yellow indicator below after purging the Armageddon Ensemble patch (form Heavyocity’s Damage library), then playing a few notes. Also note the amount of RAM used!

DFD (Direct From Disk) settings should also be considered here. When using DFD, only the first part of the sample is loaded into the RAM. The DFD buffer setting determines how much of the sample is pre-loaded into the memory. Lower settings load less of the sample into the memory so will decrease your memory footprint. As more of the sample is being loaded directly from the disk it goes without saying that SSDs will perform better than mechanical disks.

Working with a large template and having every sample in every patch loaded may not be the most efficient way of working. Using this method, you could theoretically build a template consisting of many patches, each with the samples unloaded whilst keeping your memory footprint relatively small. You’d just simply load in the samples as and when you need them.

Hopefully the methods I’ve discussed over recent weeks will help you get the most out of Kontakt. If you missed my previous articles, here they are for quick reference:

Tips & Tricks: The Kontakt Quick-Load Feature

Tips & Tricks: Kontakt Optimization – The Batch Re-save Feature



Steinberg Cubase 9.5 released

Today Steinberg announced the annual Cubase update, this time its version 9.5.

Following the Tick-Tock pattern of releases for the past few years, They’ve integrated a raft of new features that are all very welcome, especially to a 25 year veteran such as myself. 

The highlights for me are as below. 

64 Bit Mix Engine
The internal mix-engine has been upgraded to 64 bit, this is a a fantastic upgrade for headroom and accuracy, but dont take it as a green light to drive your channels hard, as many plugins (about 50% on my last non-scientific test) are still dependent on getting hit with an input level below 0dB. 

More Inserts
The fixed number of inserts has always been a little bane of my production life, previously causing you to have to bus out to a subgroup if you run out, but 9.5 doubles the amount of available slots and also lets you pick the division between pre and post fader effects.  

Lets Get Curvy
Finally, we get true curves on the automation, perfect for smoothing out those highly resonant sweeps on VSTi’s. 

Cubase Pro users can now customise their metronome clicks, load their own sounds and save multiple different patterns to use. 

Right Zone Additions
The previous monitoring zone on the right hand side now has a media browser together with your metering and cue mix controls. 

Halion Sonic SE gets its own wavetable synth library in the form of Flux, a new sound source is always a welcome addition to spark some inspiration in the production process and it’s loaded with over 70 different waveforms.

Adapt to Zoom
This features decreases the snap resolution when zoomed out for more effective editing. 

Console 1
Softube Console 1 owners can now select tracks and control volume pan and sends from the hardware interface

ReSkinned FX
Steinberg’s own plugins are somewhat overlooked, but three have had a nice GUI update. 

Cubase 9.5 @ Steinberg

Tips & Tricks: Kontakt Optimization – The Batch Re-save Feature

Native Instruments Kontakt is one of my most commonly used tools in the studio so it’s massively important to ensure it’s performing as efficiently as possible. I’ve previously touched on how to enhance workflow with the Quick-Load feature but there’s another little tip to optimize instrument load-up times regardless of whether you’re using a beast of computer or whether you’re running a rig with limited resources. This is something that can be particularly beneficial for composers who will more than likely be using large templates where hosting multiple orchestral libraries is the norm.

Anyone who has ever used Kontakt will undoubtedly have encountered the “Missing Samples” error. It’s easily enough resolved by selecting the location where the samples for library in question reside. It’s a case of then saving the patch so that the file paths are preserved.

The Batch Re-save function goes one step further and allows you to correct the file paths for an entire library but it can also drastically improve load-up times especially for larger, more ram-intensive libraries and almost certainly if your sample libraries are hosted on mechanical drives. This process will effectively re-assign the samples to each patch within the library accordingly based on your own system’s storage configuration.

To do this simply select the “File” menu and hit “Batch re-save”. You’ll be presented with a warning message. As long as you then select the original folder where the library is located (typically one level above the “Samples” folder) this is nothing to worry about. The reason for this warning being if any 2 instruments utilize the same naming structure for their samples, this process could potentially assign the wrong sample to the wrong instrument.

Then just sit back and watch as all the file paths are checked are re-assigned. Depending on the size of the library, this can sometimes take a while but it’s well worth it in the long run.

Batch re-saving is now the first thing I do whenever I install a new library. From personal experience I can honestly say this has greatly improved my instrument load-up times. Give it a try… See if it makes a difference!

Universal Audio Return With More Fantastic Q4 Promotions (Part 1) – Apollo Twin MkII or USB + Free Plugins

Universal Audio seem to bring out the big guns when it comes to Q4 promotions. First up is a great deal for any new purchasers of the highly regarded Apollo Twin MkII and USB interfaces with a varying amount of freebies depending which model you opt for:

Apollo Twin Solo – Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-in Collection worth £229.

Apollo Twin DUO or Apollo Twin USB – Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection, Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection, Oxide Tape Recorder Plug-In worth £573.

Apollo Twin QUAD – Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection, Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection, Oxide Tape Recorder Plug-In, Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb worth £833.

The promotional plug-ins will be automatically added to your account upon registration of the interface. Also worth noting is that if you already own any of the promotional plug-ins you will be able to pick from a list of alternative plug-ins!

The promotion runs until 31st December and all applicable Universal Audio interfaces can be found here.

M-Audio Team Up With Softube For The M-Track C Series Passive-Active Pack Promo

The new M-Audio C Series interfaces certainly look the part, I’ve not had chance to get a hands-on with them but if they sound half as good as they look then they make for a great entry-level interface. So recently we got the news that M-Audio have teamed up with venerable plug-in developer Softube to give existing and new users of the C Series interfaces a classy collection of three very different equalizers.

Everybody loves free stuff, but rarely do you get much useful stuff for free in this life! First up in the Passive-Active Pack is the Passive Equalizer, meticulously modeled from an iconic German three-band EQ for a nice and clear, open sound.

Next up is the Active Equalizer, modeled from a distinctive Swiss EQ design and is perfect for surgical cuts and boosts in your mix. Total mix precision.

The final part of the pack is the Focusing Equalizer, an untraditional and inspiring method of EQing and is a concept exclusive to Softube. There is even an additional saturation circuit based on the distortion and compression from their famous FET Compressor.

These will be available through December 31st and all M-Track C Series interfaces can be found here.

Presonus FaderPort Expands To 16 Channels of Motorized Fader Goodness

Presonus has made quite a name for itself in both the software and hardware worlds of late. Studio One has become a well respected household name as far as DAW’s are concerned and their accompanying hardware isn’t too shabby either with the Quantum audio interface making waves pretty recently and swiftly followed by it’s sibling, the Quantum 2. The FaderPort line has seen some R&D attention over the past year, evolving from the initial FaderPort, a small single channel motorized fader with transport and DAW controls into the FaderPort 8, a completely redesigned 8 channel unit with a plethora of controls…Well, 8 channels obviously weren’t enough and they have just released the FaderPort 16 – a 16 channel behemoth with all the bells and whistles you could want for mixing and engineering.

The FaderPort 16 comes equipped with 16 touch-sensitive, 100mm motorized faders, Scribble Strips, 89 buttons covering 104 different functions that allow you to quickly zoom in on audio files for editing, modify plug-in parameters, manage aux mixes and control track levels with the touch of a finger.  The Session Navigator provides easy access to 8 mission critical functions, used in conjunction with the large encoder and companion buttons to mix with much greater efficiency than using just a mouse and keyboard. There is one glaring omission though, where is the metering?

Of course, no Presonus hardware is complete without seriously tight integration with Studio One. You even get a free copy of Studio One 3 Artist with the FaderPort which is a nice addition! It will work with other DAWs on the market too but don’t expect instant plug and play functionality without some configuration steps.

Now the FaderPort 16 doesn’t come cheap. At £899 it is on the more expensive side of the spectrum with regards to MIDI controllers but comparing it to lesser devices wouldn’t be fair as I can’t think of any that have the scope of features this has and personally if I had the spare cash to throw down on a DAW controller I would be seriously considering adding this to the studio.

The FaderPort 16 is available for pre-order here.

Free music packages for your studio DAW.

For anyone just getting into making music the is an often bewildering choice of sequencers out there offering an astounding array of features that a few decades ago would have been unimaginable to anyone but those working in the largest pro studios.

The problem now is that even for the more experienced musician making the choice of which DAW you want to focus on is often tough, so for the beginner just wanting to start out and who perhaps doesn’t yet understand what they need it becomes even more difficult.

The most popular options always seem to be the most expensive, and to some extent that shouldn’t be a surprise. Pro studios require great support and those costly packages have levels of support that some of the cheaper options might not have the resources to match. Of course anyone starting out and who has their heart set on going into a pro studio situation might find themselves wanting to learn with the more popular packages, but the fact is that the are a wide selection of extremely cheap alternative and even many that are free, which have a strong user base able to help you learn and are often just as well featured as many of the commercial alternatives.

The alternatives below are all free. Some are cut down editions of larger more costly packages and others are free and fully maintained packages built and looked after by a dedicated user base. Either way if your not quite ready to spend a large amount of money on your sequencer but still want to experiment, then you could certainly do far worse than checking out one of these packages.

ProTools First

ProTool First :

Starting with the well known names and ProTools first is a fairly recent entry from one of the longest standing DAW software teams. The was a time where ProTools was almost ubiquitous in studios around the world, although those days are now long behind us as market has fractured over the years largely due to the rise of home recording.

So firstly the key restrictions:

16 Audio Tracks
16 Instrument Tracks
4 Hardware Inputs
Restricted to Plugins Purchased from the Protools Shop
Saves restricted to the cloud with a 3 project limit.

As a self contained studio package for those wishing to get to grips with Protools before perhaps diving head first into buying the full package this works well; although given the inability to freely use third party plugins (at least not easily due to the “shop only” restrictions) this isn’t really suited for those wishing to experiment with sound design or working fully in the box. This base package however does make quite a bit of sense for the small band style projects as with 16 channels of audio you have enough here to multitrack your guitars, drums and vocals and wide enough selection of native effects to get the job done.

Of course the focus here is on bringing you into the world of Protools, with the ability to carry your home projects over to the full version when the time to upgrade comes. In doing so they look to have picked a rounded set of features that could well do the job for anyone wanting to record their band for the first time.

Compare the ProTools range features here.

Studio One Prime

Studio One Prime :

Having only been on the market since the late 00’s Studio One is still a relatively new comer to the DAW-wars but one that gained a lot of interest from the very first announcement. With a number of developers coming from the Steinberg camp the pedigree of the team behind Studio One is without dispute. Whilst still viewed as bit of an upstart Studio One has found favor with long established professionals and eager new comers alike. The free version referred too as Studio One Prime sets out to be an introduction to the world of Studio One in much the same fashion as ProTools First is for ProTools.

The restrictions here are far more subtle in nature, but the are certainly a few notable ones. Track count is unlimited but once again external VST’s are walled off and inaccessible in the base package. It includes 9 native effects and a virtual instrument in the shape of the Presence XT sampler which makes for a good jumping off point, but once again like ProTools First a lot of users may find this quite restrictive and anyone wishing to leverage third party tools for sound design will be disappointed.

Other restrictions may not prove all that noticeable for new users finding their feet. Features like video importing and additional audio exporting functions will be low on the list for new users, although might become more relevant later on. The same goes for more advanced features like additional channel editor functions and macro controls or the extended FX chains on offer in the more fully featured editions.

Once again the VST restrictions here might be a little off putting for a lot of people and again perhaps mean that Studio One Prime might prove more suitable for those recording small band projects rather than in the box sound designers.

Compare the Studio One versions here.

Tracktion 5

Tracktion 5 :

Tracktion whilst perhaps not as widely known as some of the other more established sequencers, its fast approaching its 15th birthday. and over that time it’s gone through a number of revisions with Tracktion 7 being the current commercial release. 

In order to continue to attract new users Tracktion maintains an older free version of its flagship client which is free to all of which the current version is Tracktion 5.

With unlimited audio and instrument tracks, the support for all VST’s without having to access their marketplace the are few key drawbacks here. Notable missing features include various warp modes when working with audio, and various grouping and extended functionality options, most if not all are missing from other basic and even payable options from many sequencer brands so really this is pretty fully featured and certainly worth checking out.

Compare the Tracktion Versions here.LMMS


The fully open source LMMS is well featured, comes with all the functionality you would expect from a studio ready DAW but built and maintained by an enthusiastic community.

Offering a channel count only limited by you CPU, full VST support with an included bridge to allow the use of older plugins, as well as a healthy collection of freeware synths and effects included with it.

The one downside of LMMS is it’s lack of recording capability inside the software. It’s great for those working fully in the box, but in order to bring audio in you’d need to record it into an audio editor first (like the excellent freeware Audacity) and then export it over to LMMS for use in your project.

Whilst that is going to be off putting to anyone working with capturing large amounts of audio, making all your music in the system and importing the odd snippet here and there isn’t going to prove all that troublesome, especially given all the other functionally on offer here it could potentially make it a strong fit for anyone not convinced of the other offerings here.

Honorable mention

Reaper DAW

Reaper :

Often a common inclusion in these types of lists, Reaper itself isn’t quite free, so it gets a special mention down here for its features to price ratio.

You should however consider taking advantage of the fully featured trail and if you like it the $60 full cost of the software (for home users) it is an absolute steal for a package this well featured. The audio engine alone is amongst the best performers out there, giving great low latency audio handling with extremely efficient code capable of eak’ing out one of the highest trackcounts we’ve seen when placed head to head with even the most expensive of DAW packages.

Sharing more in design and concept with sequencers like Cubase and ProTools, rather than the newer generation Ableton and Bitwig this might seem to have a steep learning curve when compared with some of its contemporaries, its ability to skin and configure it will let you fine tune it to your workflow if your able to take the time to learn it fully.

Fully featured from the outset with no notable restrictions in place, the are a lot of budget editions of all the key sequencers, but we don’t think you’ll find a more comprehensive package anywhere else at anywhere close to this price point.

If however you feel like your ready to step up to one of the larger packages?

See our selection @ Scan.

Native Instruments Summer Of Sound.

More Native Instrument deals this month as their Summer of Sound season picks up. Running right now you have the chance to buy either Komplete or Komplete Ultimate with 50% off, when making a purchase from the Maschine or Komplete Keyboard series at the same time.

The Maschine and the Komplete Keyboards already ship with a cut down version of Komplete but to get the  of course to get the very best out of these controllers you deserve the best sound libraries to make them shine.

Komplete offers up the range of Natives plugins and effects, many such as Kontakt have long been industry standards and the ever growing effects selection have some top notch options in there. Komplete Ultimate expands your options even further as it offers you a full selection of additional sound banks to help get even more out of all of those plugins. 

If you were already considering a Maschine or keyboard from the range and haven’t already kitted out your studio with Komplete, this could be just the offer to make sure you won’t be getting any sun this Summer!

Click here to see the range of available Komplete offer bundles.