Waveform is the latest release by Tracktion Corporation, makers of the popular Tracktion lineup of digital audio workstations. It signals the company’s departure from the “Tracktion” moniker for their flagship DAW which, as described by its developers, “evolves at the same pace as modern music production.”
And that statement is true, as Tracktion Corporation’s brand new DAW packs quite a few innovative and unique features under the hood. Apart from its clear focus on innovation, Waveform also pushes its Tracktion heritage towards a more traditional DAW layout by adding a dedicated mixer panel. It also includes more than enough in the way of additional content to get newcomers started with music writing and recording, whereas the powerful editing and composition tools make the software equally useful for beginners and professionals alike. Also, it is one of the most budget-friendly digital audio workstations around, priced at just $99 for the basic package.
When you start a new song, Waveform presents your arrangement as an “Edit” and creates a folder carrying your project’s name, and containing any audio recordings, loops, or MIDI files used in your song. This is great since it allows you to know exactly where your files are, making it easy to transport a project to another computer.
The interface will look familiar to anyone who used any piece of recording software previously. If you are a complete beginner, you can make your life easier by turning on the helpful tooltips which are only a mouse hover away. The fact that Waveform groups all the relevant information and tools right in front of the user in a single workspace makes for a speedy and efficient workflow as soon as you get accustomed to the layout. The available controls and interface sections are very logical, whereas the UI panels can be hidden or unhidden to reduce clutter.
All the expected DAW functionality is present in Waveform, including the ability to move and detach the mixer module and place it in a separate window, which is handy if you are using multiple displays. Speaking of the mixer panel, it is a more traditional affair in Waveform, compared to Tracktion’s old mixer which placed all mixer controls on the left-hand side of the arrangement view. The new interface design is based on conventional digital audio workstation layouts and makes perfect sense, with a few notable improvements here and there to make things easier and faster from the workflow perspective. Waveform is most definitely not a complicated DAW to get started with, but it doesn’t lack in the depth department, either, especially when it comes to functionality and advanced features.
Tracktion Corporation has always been a forward-looking company when it comes to user interface design and feature integration. These innovations might not be directly apparent when you fire up Waveform for the first time. However, a little bit of messing around or diving into the manual will allow you to get to a point where you can start implementing them in your everyday mixing workflow.
Waveform offers extensive MIDI editing capabilities. Using its intuitive drag and drop interface, you can quickly manipulate anything from simple bass lines to chord progressions and complex arpeggios, making Waveform a powerful tool for quickly sketching tracks. It also includes all the staple MIDI features which you might expect from a modern DAW, including quantization, detailed note editing, and more. The included MIDI tools, such as the brand new pattern generator, are ideal for beginners and musicians who prefer focusing on sound design rather than composing. Another feature that caught my interest is the step sequencer which can be accessed directly in the Arrange window. It makes coming up with drum beats and rhythmic arrangements a pleasure, mimicking the workflow of the hardware step sequencers found in classic drum machines.
As far as audio editing goes, Waveform covers all the usual suspects. Your audio can be chopped up, tempo mapped, comped, and pitch-shifted. The best part is, you don’t need to open a new window to do it – everything is right there in front of you in a single panel. You can dive in and edit to your heart’s content, using the Grammy award-winning Melodyne engine for pitch correction (Melodyne Essential is bundled with Waveform).
Swipe editing is supported, and you can swipe-edit any number of loops or phrases, as well any other pre-recorded material you have handy. There is also per-clip editing with in-clip automation, meaning that you can add effects to individual clips and then automate the effect you have applied. Building risers just got a whole lot easier! Adding to Waveform’s feature set is the ability to modulate pretty much anything you want to within, and somewhat beyond, reason.
Racking Up The Hits
Waveform features an innovative rack system, with has a node editor type interface which allows the user to create any number of signal paths. It is possible to edit those signals at any point along the way, reminding me strongly of the node editing system in the Blender 3D graphics creation program.
Although I would rate the learning curve rather steep when it comes to node editing, it is most definitely one of the most creative and infinitely useful systems you could find when it comes to patching together a unique signal path, which can then be saved and used in future arrangements. If you like connecting things to other things and making noises, you will love this feature (as I do).
Stick To The Script
A feature lacking in many modern DAWs, which in my humble opinion should be standard fare, is the ability to create and use custom macros. Cutting down on menial and non-fun work around arranging and writing music leaves more room to focus on the parts of music making you should be focusing on, such as composing, arranging, or the pure fun of playing instruments.
Waveform is one of the few DAWs that allow their users to do this, featuring a macro system with the ability to script custom macros, potentially automating anything you could conceivably want to automate. Although not all that useful to beginners, this is tremendously useful for advanced users, professional producers and engineers, who have to repeat certain key presses and commands several hundred (if not more) times a day when editing or recording material.
Another useful feature, especially for laptop users, is the CPU management tool. It allows you to pick the instruments, tracks or effects you want to freeze. This can be done at any point in the FX chain, preserving the CPU resources for the parts of the arrangement you want to work on. So, instead of freezing an entire track, as in most DAWs, the CPU management in Waveform can target individual parts of the processing chain while keeping the other effects “live” for further tweaking.
Included in all packages, Waveform also features the Collective synthesizer and sampler, which includes a hefty pile of preset material to boot. Collective is deeply integrated to form the heart of Waveform, bringing all the sampling firepower one might need to make music. The Ultimate version, which we reviewed for this article, also includes the Biotek virtual instrument (worthy of an entire review on its own) and the DAW essentials effects package, featuring 16 excellent quality professional effects.
Waveform features everything that a modern DAW needs, and then some. Priced competitively compared to its rivals, Waveform introduces innovative editing and racking features that help it hold its own against the big boys of the DAW world. The user interface is now gear towards the more conventional side of DAW design while preserving the unique single-panel workflow of Wavorm’s predecessors.
One thing we haven’t mentioned previously is that the DAW is also available for the Raspberry Pi development board, and in doing so is the very first DAW that specifically supports it (as far as this writer is aware). If you’re equally passionate about building miniature computers and making music, this is a match made in heaven.
With the basic package starting at $99, Waveform is not the very cheapest option out there, but it has a whole lot to offer for the price. If you are a fan of streamlined workflows, simple user interfaces, and want to switch to a DAW that is constantly evolving, you cannot go wrong with this fantastic package.
More info: Waveform ($99 Waveform Basic, $150 Waveform+ Pack, $200 Waveform Ultimate Pack)
Tracktion Waveform Review
Priced competitively compared to its rivals, Waveform introduces innovative editing and racking features that help it hold its own against the big boys of the DAW world.