Welcome to Molten Music Technology, today we’re talking about Tracktion Corporations version 7 DAW release imaginatively called Tracktion T7. I initially wrote this review about 6 months ago when it first came out, but I haven’t had the time to finish it until now. There’s been some updates and it’s had a chance to get some of the kinks out which is no bad thing – so I’m coming back to it with fresh eyes.
Now the first thing you have to know is that Tracktion T7 does things differently and that means I’ve struggled a bit to get to the bottom of it. Hopefully the journey is worth it and I hope that you’ll find it has many fascinating and possibly unique features that may well float your boat.
Let’s open a demo song. Ok Subways T4 show me what you’ve got. Right, we have a familiar arrange page with a timeline, a vertical list of tracks and blocks of stuff. From there everything else is back to front and inside out. All the track information appears to be on the right, on the left we have a file browser. At the bottom we have the transport controls and a menu system of commands with a big blank space in the middle. This is not following any type of convention – Tracktion wants to do its own thing. Is that a help or a hindrance? Well that’s what I’m here to find out. The look is ok, an improvement over the earlier versions which were very colourful but looked a bit like a spreadsheet. This is more serious looking but the shading does give it that sort of fake curvy feel that was popular a decade ago but actually that becomes less noticeable as you spend time with it.
Here’s the video version of the review which includes all the demonstrations of how stuff actually works. However, the text version includes a lot more detail in other areas that were trimmed for the video. The text follows on below.
Tracktion T7 Overview
Running my mouse around throws up all sorts of dialogue windows giving me helpful information but also getting rather in the way – thankfully this can be toggled with the F11 key – it’s really useful info that I imagine I’m going to using a lot, but only when i want it. Each clip also appears to have a bunch of things going on in its header which is very interesting. There doesn’t appear to be a toolbar anywhere on the screen or under a right-click. The mouse scroll wheel produces a horizontal zoom unless you place the cursor onto the track information on the left or right in which case it scrolls up and down. The left mouse button can select clips but it also moves the time cursor. Whenever you select a clip the blank space at the bottom of the screen fills with detailed information about it and actually that’s where everything goes. Whatever you select – clip, plugin, sample – if it’s selectable then you’ll find information about it in this pane.
This includes all this stuff on the right. Tracktion come at this in a logical signal path kind of way. On the left you have the track name, then moving left to right we have all the recorded data which then goes through the effects, busses, levels and routing to the output. And that’s what you have laid out, left to right. This right hand space is completely configurable and everything is a plug-in. So the level fader and pan control is a plug-in, as are the aux sends and level meters. You can drop in anything you like and move it about post or pre whatever you fancy.
It was at this point that I went on a bit of a journey. I wanted to see if Tracktion T7 mirrored any keyboard shortcuts from other DAWs. My favourite shortcut of all time is the “Loop around clip” command where in both Cubase and StudioOne you select a clip and press “P” and the left/right markers jump to the start and end of the clip and off you go working on that section. It didn’t work in Tracktion so I looked around for an alternative. I’m zoomed into the project so I can’t see the L/R markers on the timeline. Left click, shift click, right-click, nothing brought up anything to do with it. There’s no L/R market locators on the transport, nothing under menus. So then I thought I’d look it up in the manual – got to be a basic shortcut command. The “Help” menu suggest going to the Tracktion Help website which takes me to a bunch of video tutorials – nice, but not what I’m after. I got to “Training” and “Manuals” and there it is a “Guide to Tracktion T7” – super I thought, but no, it’s a bleedin eBook by Bill Edstrom that they want to charge you at least $9.99 for but suggest $29.99 would be cooler.
The book is 100% finished which is good as it was only 80% complete on release. However it still says underneath that the chapter on the new stuff is not yet finished….. So is it finished or not?
I confess to being a little bit flabbergasted. So without a manual what other support options are there? Well, there’s a knowledge base that basically covers half a dozen installation issues and then you are redirected to an open forum on KVRaudio.com where in order to even search the Tracktion forum you have to sign up and login. Which I did. I stuck in “shortcut to loop clip” and got 10,000 answers with the word “to” in and so remembering that this is an ancient forum I stuck to the facts and put in “keyboard shortcut loop” and found a thread on I/O markers which I discovered were the Tracktion version of Left/Right markers and could be set using the key “I” and “O”. Groovy – I went back to T7 and was able to set the markers and loop the clip – almost – because to get it to snap to time you have to readjust with the mouse but there you are.
So it’s a 60 dollar program, should I be upset about the lack of a manual? Yes, I think so, most iPad music apps have manuals of some kind – just a reference guide, doesn’t have to be awesome, but a list of key commands, shortcuts, basic functions and what to call stuff would be essential I would have thought. A manual might have helpfully pointed out that there’s a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts on the settings page – and there under “Markers – put the markers around currently selected clips” is the letter “M”. There, that does it.
To be fair the pop-up help guide is useful as is the little info box at the top right which shows whatever you are hovering over. The T7 videos on the website deal with only new features so you have to dig down a bit to find videos on T5 and T6 which cover more of the basics before suggesting you buy the series from Groove 3. Grrrrrrr. The video content is great and for the first time I understand the Projects tab, and now know that the bottom area is called the control panel and the information pane is called “properties” although it looks different in T7 to T5 but I guess I can work with it.
Gawd darn it there’s a video on keyboard shortcuts but you have to buy it which is another $35 to Bill Edstrom for his “smash hit series”. The problem here I feel is one of curation – Tracktion Corp are essentially expecting you to fend for yourself, to work out which videos apply to you, to self-medicate via the forum, whereas with a bit of thought they could put better things in place to help you move forward confidently and feel that they actually give a monkeys about you.
According to the forum it’s always been like this – you get help via the community and youtube videos which is nice in a way but frustrating to start with. So, anyway, I’m going to put all this bitching aside and start afresh with a positive attitude. I’m not going to buy the guide or the videos, I’m going to stumble on and do my best to show what Tracktion can do because there’s some cool stuff in here.
Right, let’s make some music
Let’s make a new project. See this tab at the top – click the + button and you can create new project Call it something and find a folder in which to stick it. Templates are presumably something you can make as there are none available at this time. It then gives us this mystical grey page of doom. Basically it lists everything in the project – all the assets such as audio files, edits etc, which is currently nothing. The important item is the one under Edits – this is what it calls the arrange page, or the session view that you might find in other DAWs and this is where we do all the music making stuff.
Tada! Looks like a piece of music production software – yay! An interesting point is that you can have as many edit windows as you like. I initially thought this was going to be really cool like scratch pads in StudioOne but no it just creates a blank edit window for the same project – it doesn’t take the tracks, the plug-ins content, nothing, it’s just another empty window but it does allow you to do projects within projects and you can copy/paste from window to window. You can duplicate the edit window in order to go off in other directions by clicking the “Create a copy” button in the Project window. You can also pull this edit window off the tab rail and float it which is pretty cool and it lets you copy and paste much easier – can’t drag and drop though!
Edit page – Recording
So what have we got? We’ve got 8 blank tracks – lovely. Now what’s nice about these tracks is that they don’t care if you’re doing MIDI or audio, you can mix and match whatever you. MIDI of course will need a destination but that happens over on the plug-in side of the window. So let’s assume you want to record something, well you simply click into the empty pointy box and select an input. And this is where it gets interesting. You can choose any of the available audio inputs, you can choose the MIDI input from your MIDI controller, you can also choose another track in order to set this up as bus (i think). There’s another option which sets the number of available inputs – I seem to have an option of 4 which I can then assign to whatever inputs I like, all on the same track – which is strange. So let’s explore the strangeness!
Let’s enable two inputs and record from two sources onto the same track and see what happens – not as a stereo track but as two mono tracks. I seem to be getting a preview of one of the inputs but when I hit stop we have what looks like two tracks overlaid – how interesting. If I drag the clip to the right you can see a second clip underneath as it’s own independent object. So there’s both inputs recorded onto the same track and if you play it back you can hear both together. I love the way the wave display has offset itself so you can see both. If we look back into the Project window it shows both recordings as different takes. Groovy – I’m not entirely sure why I would record like this but the ability to stack audio or samples on a track is very interesting.
If i’m understanding this right then Tracktion appears to be treating clips as independent objects – the contents and track location is unimportant. The Edit page is there to allow you to lay out the objects and the tracks just help with organisation and routing to effects. It’s very much like FL Studio in that regard. MIDI clips and audio clips are of course different and the content can be edited differently but the clip itself, the container, is largely the same and you can do the same things with it.
Editing a Clip
Each clip has a header with a bunch of tiny icons which have important jobs. Rather than having a toolbar to select different actions T7 uses these little icons which let you do different things to the clip. At the front and end leading edges there’s a pair of what look like fast forward or play button type arrows. Clicking and dragging on the empty arrow moves the start (or end ) of the clip leaving the content behind, the filled in arrow moves the content with it. If you hold the Alt key then the content stretches or squashes in time regardless of which arrow you click on. In the middle of the clip header there’s three little boxes. The empty one says it moves the start and the end but keeps the content fixed, the filled one slips the content inside the clip. This seems to be more obvious on a MIDI clip where the first box moves the clip but leaves the notes where they are and the second box moves the content within the clip. The third box is actually an “L” for looping which turns on a loop mode which then duplicates the content as you drag and resize the clip. That’s very cool. Be aware that if you turn off looping you’ll be left with your single sized clip again.
The icon that looks like a bit of chain link is not, as I thought, simply a copy/duplicate function where you can drag off a copy of the clip – oh no, it’s a “linked clip” button – hence the chain link. The Linked Clip makes a duplicate where all the properties remain linked so that if you change something on one it happens to the rest – it’s like creating a reference to the original rather than making a copy. So with an audio file you can change the gain, pan or fade and it affects all linked copies of that clip. It doesn’t appear to link the clip effects though – these are independent per clip. In a MIDI clip this also links note placement and controller activity. Clicking the link icon again allows you to remove that clip from the link group. I’m really liking this function.
Clip Layer FX
There’s one more icon on the audio clip that’s not on the MIDI one and that’s FX. This lets you wop an effect directly onto a clip – Tracktion has a few common actions ready like volume, fade, normalise etc but also some groovy stuff like tape stop and step volume. Each time you add an effect it creates a lane for it and updates the wave to show what’s being applied. You can also add VST effects from your collection of plug-ins which appear to get rendered rather than have the audio run through them in real-time. You can swap the effects around and automate pretty much anything and once you’re done you can hide the lanes away – it’s a really powerful space.
All the parameters for whatever you’re doing are displayed in the properties window down the bottom. There’s everything going on here – and other stuff too. My new favourite action is the “Copy fade to automation” button which does exactly that – Cool! You also have the loop properties available here with beat points and stretching and warping and all that jazz without having to open another editor or window. The one screen approach is definitely starting to show its worth.
When splitting and moving clips we run into the overlay thing again. When you drop one loop over the other they offset slightly so you can see the content within each clip, and then play back mixed together. You can add a crossfade if you want with the press of the X key. When splitting the clip with the “/” key you can drag the contents back over each other although when you first do it both clips are selected and so you’re sort of dragging both back at once to the point that I’m not really sure what’s happening there. When you have more than one clip selected the properties window simplifies down to essentially gain and pan controls but you do have a couple of useful tools available to you. Two of interest are “Create Comp” and “Render Clips”, both appear to merge the clips into a single clip – The “Comp” does a composite clip with multiple takes and “Render” does a bounce render of them.
I understand the render bit but it’s these Comps that have me scratching my head, But after a bit of digging and trial and error I think I’ve got it. Most DAW’s let you comp (or compile) takes on a track. So you record a section that’s looped so that you can do another take over and over. You then “comp” the takes, which means take the best bit out of each to create one perfect take – yeah? Well Tracktion goes further than that and lets you comp any clips from anywhere at all. You can create a comp group from a number of tracks and treat them like takes – very cool. What the “Create comp” button does is take a number of clips and combine them into a single clip with multiple takes and then you can edit that like a regular comped clip. Got it? Another quick lack of manual dig – I asked Tracktion about the comping and they gave me some advice including how using the “swipe” tool is really cool for quick edits. I have no idea what a “swipe” tool is because there’s no bleedin’ manual to tell you what things are called!!
A third option is “Create Group Clip” which takes a bunch of clips on the same track and joins them up in a single clip but this time they can be separated out again and so it’s non destructive. It’s a great way of keeping little bits of audio together.
Let’s see if MIDI clips are treated any differently. To create one you can record in from a keyboard or you can create an empty clip and then fill it with notes. There’s no pen tool or anything so to create a clip – Tracktion wants you to drag and drop it from a bin up at the top right. When you drop the empty clip you’re asked if you want to insert a MIDI clip, Audio clip, Edit clip or Step clip. Not sure what an Edit clip is so we’ll go for a MIDI clip and check out the intriguing sounding Step clip in a minute.
Initially an empty MIDI clip is very dull but if you drag the track height to make it bigger you’ll see the piano roll start to appear. In fact if you double click the clip it’ll zoom you into a sort of editing view or use the Z key but i haven’t yet stumbled upon a way to make it like full screen. When you mouse over the MIDI clip a vertical piano and a toolbar appears. This seems to be stapled to the left side, to the track header which looks weird to me, but you can change it in the settings to be locked to the clip. There’s some useful stuff here. You’ve got your pencil and rubber tool and a line tool. You can switch velocity and controller lanes on and off. You have the option to change the colour of selected notes, you also have velocity value and length of new notes and also a step mode so that new notes are added at the cursor. There’s nothing magical or exciting going here but I do like the way it’s all self contained. The Properties window of course gives us loads of information you didn’t know you wanted as do individual notes when selected – so you have a lot of readily accessible parameters which you’d usually have to dig around for in any other DAW. There’s a couple of cool actions where you can select two or more notes and equalise them or mirror their positions. There’s also a Legato button which extends the note length so that they overlap. Along with the regular quantise options there’s also a huge selection of groove options. So the whole MIDI side of things is pretty sorted.
One thing – no MIDI Out indication anywhere I can find. So if you are routing to external MIDI devices you just have to assume it’s working. You do get MIDI input though – on the track header.
What we haven’t established is what sound the MIDI clip is playing. Very sadly Tracktion comes with no virtual instruments at all – you have to opt for the “T7+ Pack” which includes a Micro Synth Pack. It does have a sampler which is actually very useful but not a squeak of a freebie synth or sound generator. I’m sure someone out there would give them a free version of a synth to include – it’s all a little disappointing – is a drum kit and a synth too much to ask? I guess so. Anyway, this is where we move to the right of the Edit page and into what I think they refer to as the Mixer although it doesn’t look like one. It’s more of a plug-in area or track destination which is where we can build the sound and processing and, i guess, mix the sounds. To add a synth simply drag from the grey box at the top and drop it where you want it to be. Then select the virtual instrument from the list and off you go.
But before we get into the detail of the mixer section let’s look at this Step clip we saw earlier. Well, it looks like a drum machine pattern builder but in the inbuilt help the popups just refer to it as a clip and offer no help at all. Each of the drums listed on the left is mapped to the usual GM drum sound on channel 10 so if they’d included some sounds I’d be able to play them! Oh well, let’s drop in Kontakt and load up a drum kit. Ok, now we’re grooving. You can bring up a velocity lane which also offers gate time as well on each velocity stalk. This appears to be pattern 1 and I can create other patterns too and then swap between them. The rest of the clip seems to show the currently selected pattern – I wonder if there’s a way of arranging patterns in the clip or do I need to duplicate clips…. I’ll see if I can find a YouTube tutorial. Ah right so the pattern is a bar long and so these other copies in the clip are as if I stretched the clip, so if I focus on this bar then it might make more sense. So when it comes to arranging patterns we need to deal with what they call “Sections”. If you click at the bottom of the clip you can insert a new section before or append a new section after the current one – this enables you to add more bars to this pattern or have different patterns on different bars. You could do something similar by adding further Step Clips but using sections keeps it all in the same clip using the same tracks and channels within the step sequencer. Awesome – what a great thing.
If you peek at the properties window you can also change the step length and number of steps in each section. You can also apply a groove quantise and hit a randomise button to auto-generate new patterns although this is probably more useful on a synth track although you can also do it on a single channel/track thingy. One thing is that which the sections thing going on when you extend the clip it’s only the last section that gets repeated so you are probably better off inserting sections rather than trying to copy or loop it. You can also render the pattern to a MIDI clip which might be another way of doing it.
You can add or remove channels (the step track) and change the note that’s being played. You do this by dragging the little yellow arrow around along the keyboard until you find the note or drum sound that you’re after – that’s pretty cool. This way you could set up a bunch of notes for a synth part…. But I would have thought this would be a good opportunity for a preset or template but there are none I can find. I can of course create a two octave range on the left myself but it’s a bit of a task. In the video tutorial which is of course on version T6 there’s a “Preset” tab in the browser that contains “Step Clip” presets filled with exactly what I’m talking about – so where has that gone in T7? It’s the sort of thing a manual could tell you. Apparently Tracktion say it’s never occurred to them to include time saving presets, but they’ll see if they can include it at some point.
So yeah the Step Clip functionality is pretty cool.
There is no console style mixer. Instead we have this section on the right which contains all the audio routing, effects and processing.
As we’ve seen to add any plug-in to this section click and drag from the grey box at the top and drop it into the chain. This then brings up a menu listing all the plug-ins Tracktion has managed to find. Select what you’re after and it’ll appear. What’s interesting is that the placement in the chain is absolutely vital because everything is a plug-in and everything is movable in the chain. So i’ve dropped Reaktor in the middle as seemed sensible but now it’s on the wrong side of the volume and pan controls. Drag it one step to the left and now I have mixing control over the output of Reaktor.
Tracktion comes with a bunch of plug-ins including basic building blocks like level control and meters for you to build up your track processing. Along with the usual suspects of delay, reverb, chorus compression you also get aux sends, a patchbay, a text box which are all very interesting. What isn’t interesting is the lack of any kind of GUI for almost all these effects – with the exception of the EQ you just get a bunch of parameters in the Properties window which is functional but terribly uninspiring. Even DAWs with unimaginative plug-in GUIs like Ableton Live and Bitwig at least give you the odd knob to play with. Tracktion have introduced a cool thumbnail plug-in browser like FL Studio and StudioOne – I find these generally very helpful, however, the lack of GUI’s on the Tracktion plugs means you are presented with a full window of blank icons before you get to the thumbs of your own plug-ins. It’s just a bit silly. What is fabulous though is that it was able to generate all these thumbnails automatically without you having to do it yourself – except for Biotek, its own synth, which comes up as a black square – doh! It doesn’t like Arturia ones either – but then none of these thumbnail systems seem to.
That aside it’s an interesting way to deal with signal processing. All these blocks do tend to use up space quite quickly and it can get a bit crowded and unruly in there. It’s very adaptable though and dynamically moves about to find the best fit. It’s also very easy to duplicate blocks with a drag and the CTRL key and this works between tracks as well making it very versatile.
You can drop more than one virtual instrument onto a single track but only one appears to play – perhaps MIDI information doesn’t go thru the first synth – I can’t seem to find a way to do that.
However, Tracktion has another plug-in feature up its sleeve in what they call the Plugin Rack.
This is not very rack like at all, it’s more of a patcher, a modular space in which you can chain together plug-ins and other tools to create a larger multi-plug-in. So in this environment I could patch the MIDI input to two virtual instruments and play them together. I could create whole multi-instruments with effects and all sorts going on and save it as a single Plug-in Rack preset. It’s awesome! However, it’s not perhaps as accessible or as good looking as the FL Studio or StudioOne’s version of a very similar device. You can do a lot of good stuff in here and for once there’s a decent collection of presets using the Tracktion plug-ins. One helpful tip is to make it bigger which I didn’t notice you could do for ages. Here’s a cool preset – the sampler rack – which sets up 5 sampler plugins so you can stack up a bunch of samples. I also love that the “readme” in the preset suggests you refer to chapter 9.5 in the manual to find out how to route the individual outputs onto separate tracks – the “manual”? Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!
The plug-in rack is great, there’s a lot of power and the potential for some complex modular setups it just needs a bit more…. Animated signal flow like in FL Studio would help, or perhaps something as simple as using the thumbnails for third party plugs rather than the grey blocks, or even some MIDI input indication, I don’t know I just feel it’s a great thing that deserves a bit more development that will hopefully come in the future that’ll make it excellent.
Automation and LFO’s
There’s two more features knocking around in the Edit page that need some of our attention, both very unassuming but both can have a huge impact on what you’re doing. This automation and LFO. Automation lives under this little A button on the top right of a track. If you click on it it allows you to select a parameter to automate – these parameters come from anything loaded into the mixer. There’s a bit of weirdness here where there’s one option that says “Automatable Parameters for this track” and lists a couple and then there’s “Master Parameters” which has hundreds more from inside the Plugin Rack i have loaded. Maybe the first one is to deal with sort of the main connections and the other to do with internal ones – who the heck knows, but in any case you can automate all of them in either. The parameter then appears as a line that you can add nodes to and curves etc. There’s no freehand option as far as I can tell but you can create all sorts of curves and wop in sine waves or triangles very easily from the properties window. You can automate as many things as you like but you can only see one parameter at a time on the track. To get around this you can add automation lanes below the track and stick the parameter in there. Drag and drop is also your friend here as you can drag the A onto any of the plugins and choose from a list of available parameters. It’s really very versatile.
And that’s also where this genius LFO comes from. I mean it’s kind of weird that it’s sitting around as a button but it’s a marvellous thing. Basically you drag and drop it onto anything you like, just like with the automation, and start modulating it. This can give some rather cool and also bonkers results. What you can’t seem to do is modulate LFO parameters with another LFO – but you can’t have everything. It’s also not very clear what LFO is modulating what. Select it and it will tell you in a text box in the properties window but there’s no visual connection – they don’t even sit next to the plugin it’s applied to, they appear as an unconnected row above. Maybe they could change the colour of the plugin they are affecting, or superimpose LFO symbol – anything to help really.
I think the automation and LFO give a good flavour of the creativity available in Tracktion. Sometimes it’s not obvious where the cool stuff is but these two features really showcase the sort of drag and drop, open parameter workflow that threads through the whole DAW. It’s simple, it’s creative, it’s fun to use.
Browsers are terribly boring and yet we use them a lot and need them a lot. Some seem to work well, like in StudioOne, some annoy me greatly like the one in Bitwig and it’s hard to work out exactly why. The one in T7 seems ok although I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. I think in earlier versions it used to house the plug-ins and presets and you would drag them in from here – a bit like Bitwig, FL Studio and StudioOne – and some of the plug-in presets still reside in the browser if you click on their tag. However, the “preset” tag or “plug-in” tag that i’ve seen in earlier version videos no longer seem to be there. I guess that’s been replaced by the plugin bin and thumbnail thingy which is fine it just feels like they haven’t really made up their mind about it. When you first setup T7 it asks you where your sample folder is – I directed it to my D drive which holds samples and loads of other stuff thinking it would give me a shortcut to that drive – no it analysed the drive and has pulled out every audio file and referenced it in the browser with any tags it could find. This becomes available under the Search tab where it lists all the available tags and lets you filter the results by clicking on them. That’s one way of finding your samples. The other is the “Files” tab which simply lists your computers hard drives and off you go. There are also tabs for Tracks and Markers which are fairly self explanatory and one for Notifications about which I haven’t the foggiest idea.
Browser functionality is pretty standard – you find a file and drag it into your project – you also get to preview it first if you wish – it seems to preview in same tempo as the project although I can’t find a switch for that. The one groovy thing that T7 has going on in the browser department is the ability to open more than one – doesn’t sound exciting I know but actually it’s phenomenally useful. When trying to find loops to use together it would seem an obvious feature to allow you to have a bunch of folders open at once – most browsers only let you be in one location at a time. In T7 you hit the little plus button and the browser splits into two panes. Drag the little button in the top left and you can stick the browser in columns along the top. One side effect of the multiple panes and the automatic sync is that you can actually play around with your loops in like a loop launcher style – it’s not particularly elegant but completely doable. I can then select a bunch of different loops from different places and with the touch of my shift key I can drag them all together into the Edit window – nice.
Rounding things off
There’s some things I haven’t mentioned that deserve pointing out. The Properties window which has sat there at the bottom of the screen throughout Tracktion’s evolution can now be minimised to a thin strip of transport controls and a handful of icons. For those of us slightly boggled by the Properties window this is a really good thing – it also gives you more screen space for your project. The little spanner icon brings up the properties for the selecting thing whenever you need them.
You can also make the thin control strip disappear completely if you want as well as the mixer panel on the right via these tiny weeny buttons up at the top right. The browser can also disappear via it’s little button so if you really wanted to get editing full screen with no distractions then you can do that. And one neat little bonus is that all these panels can reappear if you hover your mouse to the left, right or bottom, do what you need to do and then they slide away – that’s really nice.
As you probably know I like to touch things so let’s see how it responds to fiddling from a touch screen. Well, it’s both good and bad. Navigation is quite hard work – there’s no pinch zoom or moving around with fingers, you have to grab the very thin scroll bar at the side and bottom and I’m forever grabbing tracks by accident. However in other areas it’s unexpectedly touch friendly and sometimes even multi-touch compatible. The level faders and pan make themselves perfectly large when touched. If you dig around in the properties window you’ll find that you can actually move more than one parameter at once. Open up the EQ and you can get all four fingers on that. You can also touch as much as you like in the plugin rack. You can move clips, enter notes and apply fades without any trouble – moving automation lines and nodes is possible but tricky with a finger tip. It can also get a bit graphically glitching when touching more than one thing at a time. So maybe Tracktion are dipping their fingers into the idea but it’s not fully formed enough yet to be something that want to push as a feature – hopefully that’s something that’ll come in the future.
So, how was it?
I think there can be quite significant disorientation and time of adjustment when moving to T7 from another DAW – it doesn’t work as you expect it to but once you get over that learning curve bump its individuality becomes one of its strengths. It offers a different way of working a bit like FL Studio does. A newer DAW like StudioOne has harvested all the goods bits from whatever it can find and mimics a similar workflow to the traditional DAW and so makes it an easy sideways transition. Tracktion has forged its own path and so for that reason I don’t think it’s going to be for everybody. However if you’re frustrated by the more traditional DAW then Tracktion will feel like a breath of fresh air and definitely offers a creative alternative.
I like the clip orientation, how they are independent units and can be arranged anywhere regardless of their content. I think the Clip Layer FX are really powerful and offer a lot of interesting possibilities – it wouldn’t really have occurred to me to work on a piece of audio in that way – I’m so used to layering up plug-ins in a mixer and so this gives me something new to think about. Similarly I like a good step sequencer and having that functionality directly in a clip is really very cool. I’m sure the presets will return at some point but I’m well into designing my own matrix style sequencer with it. The linked clips idea is also a good one that I think i’ve seen elsewhere but never really been encouraged to use before – Tracktion does that, it encourages you into doing things you might not have thought of.
The lack of a traditional mixer is a problem for me – I tend to work very visually and so being able to clearly see levels and be able to make side by side adjustments is important to me. I’m not sold on the mixer side panel thing – it’s comprehensive and the ability to move stuff around is awesome but it lacks clarity, polish and maybe panache. I get the whole horizontal signal flow concept but i would love to see that translated to a console view where I could leave the tracks and clips behind and concentrate on mixing the sound.
The LFO is oddly brilliant. Odd because it’s just slapped in there available to control anything and brilliant for the same reasons. Who know you needed an LFO on everything? It encourages you to use in unexpected places, which is nice.
The plug-in rack has a lot going for it and offers some deep deeeep modular goodness. I think FL Studio has some nice touches in showing the movement of MIDI and audio through the patching and StudioOne has the whole keyboard layering thing going on and both offer a lot more colour. The layout, although clear enough, is just a bit bland and uninspiring so there’s room for making that environment easier to use.
I’ve been both impressed and frustrated by T7. Some of the frustration comes with the initial learning curve but much of it is about what I see as a lack of finish, clumsiness or laziness – the missing presets, the silly lack of thumbnails in the plug-in chooser, the lack of GUIs for their own effects, the complete lack of any MIDI sound sources and of course the ridiculous absence of a reference manual. But i’ve been impressed by the flexibility, the way everything fits together and can be manipulated, the interesting things you can do to the clips and the modulation possibilities. It is a 60 dollar bit of software and so it’s perhaps unfair to compare it to software that’s 4 or more times the price but I think T7 desires that comparison – it wants to play with the big boys and in many respects it holds its own in that arena and that makes it bloody good value.