Review: Digital Performer 9

MOTU's Digital Performer is one of the big players in the world of Digital Audio Workstations. Matt Vanacoro puts version 9's many useful, new features to the test and discovers there's lots to like.  

Mark of the Unicorn’s flagship digital audio workstation just received a major upgrade in Digital Performer 9. The update adds a huge amount of content, as well as an extremely long list of features that have been on the ‘want list’ of many users. I’ve used it for the past few weeks and I’m ready to tell the tale!


Content is King


It seems that many of the DAW companies are trying to ‘one-up’ each other in the included instruments and effects department lately—and that only benefits all of us users! MOTU has seen fit to bundle the pretty amazing MX4 Multisynth into Digital Performer and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve always felt that MX4 is an under-appreciated powerhouse, and now that it’s a part of Digital Performer, I think it will finally get the respect it deserves. MX4 can handle subtractive, wavetable, FM, AM, and analog emulated synthesis all in one interface. It’s a monster of a synth, and it’s flawlessly integrated into the DNA of Digital Performer now.

The plugins that MOTU has added in the last few versions have been top notch (the guitar pedals/live room simulators especially!). A wonderfully efficient 1176LN emulation is now included in Digital Performer, courtesy of MasterWorks. If you’re familiar with their EQ plugins, you’ll see the value right away of this update. As an owner of a hardware 1176, I can tell you this is a faithful recreation that I’ll be happy to use.

There’s a MultiFuzz distortion kit and MicroG/B polyphonic octave generators for guitar/bass. Perhaps my favorite (ok, I’m a synth guy) of the bunch is MegaSynth. It’s a subtractive synth processor that will let you guitarists finally join in on the fun that us self-confessed Moog-heads have been enjoying for years. You can input any signal into MegaSynth and have all the envelopes, LFOs, pattern generation, sub octave, and square wave tones you can shake a stick at. It’s a truly well polished plugin that allows you to make a synth out of just about any instrument. You can even bus audio to it and mix it with the original source for some sweet doubling of melodic lines!

Interface Tweaks and More

There are numerous new features but I’ll give you a smattering of the ones that stood out as truly useful to me. The first is MusicXML export. As someone who has to send out charts for print often, the ability to finally preserve all the changes to the letter that I make in the quick scribe window is extremely time saving. You can do all of your score tweaking in Digital Performer and feel confident that once you open the score in Finale or Sibelius, it will look the way you wanted it to look.

MIDI learn for audio plugins has long been on my ‘want list’ for Digital Performer and I’m thrilled it’s finally here. Muting MIDI notes is also pretty cool, and since I do a lot of keyswitching/articulating in the sequence editor, I can now temporarily mute an articulation change and put it back with the click of a shortcut.

Finally, a full on spectrogram for each audio track built inside of the sequence editor is way cool. I’m a big fan of anything that saves me time, and trying to hone in on what tracks are infringing on the frequency range of other tracks can happen much quicker with this feature.


I’m quite the big fan of this update. MOTU has created something really special in DP9. Digital Performer has always been one of the most stable workstations you could use, and DP9 continues that trend. I didn’t encounter a single crash in two weeks of testing, and I loaded every mix up with just about every new thing that they added. Digital Performer 9 is a huge step forward for MOTU users, and the future of DP looks very bright indeed.

Price: $195 Upgrade / $499 Full Product / fully functioning 30-day demo mode available here.

Pros: Included MX4 synth, new plugins, MegaSynth is fantastic, many requested features now implemented, as stable as ever, MusicXML Export, Retina Optimized Themes

Cons: No bundled ‘general sound set’ of standard instruments such as piano, drums, bass, etc. Although most professional users will likely have their own 3rd-party AU instruments


Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More


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