Review: MOTU Digital Performer 9
Mike Swittel
Issue: March 1, 2016

Review: MOTU Digital Performer 9


PRODUCT: Digital Performer 9

PRICE: $499 (new); $395 (upgrade)


- Solid, full-featured DAW for music, audio for film, television, video games, and digital media
- Workflow enhancements and plug-in additions
- Performance improvements

I have to admit, I actually did not have very high expectations for MOTU’s Digital Performer 9 (DP9). After all, having used Digital Performer since Version 2, and currently operating DP8 as a principle DAW for some time, I wondered how MOTU could possibly improve this product any further without simply trying to sell fluff? Gladly, I was proven wrong.


Upon first launch, the difference was immediate. Sessions opened quickly and responded with enthusiasm. This discovery prompted me to compare the two just to make sure I was not imagining things. After opening the same massive session in both DP8 and DP9, I examined the Mac System Profiler, as well as the CPU graphical display in both DP sessions. It appeared that DP9 used a touch less RAM with a touch more CPU draw. While this experiment was hardly scientific, I’d say there was about a 10 to 15 percent performance increase across the board for all commands, even with identical buffer settings. The installation of DP9 was also effortless, taking less than :90 to complete. It’s good to note that with DP, it's not necessary to un-install prior versions before installation or upgrading. In the rare case the upgrade does not match anticipation or has technical issues that need resolution, simply launch a prior version and continue working. Though DP8 is a reliable workhorse, moments after DP9’s launch, an internal dialogue assured me I would not be returning to Version 8 anymore.


In DP9, MOTU added a host of new features for those making both technical and creative decisions. One of my favorite additions to the DP sequence editor is ‘Automation Lanes.’ In sessions with significant track counts, automation generated due to extensive aux sends often becomes heavily layered. Switching track views to determine which automation line refers to its appropriate aux can be visually frustrating. DP9’s ‘Automation Lanes’ solves this problem by allowing the user to expand the track view into sub-views. Each sub-view displays an entire track of one specific aux-send data. As a result, the user can immediately identify the corresponding automation that refers to a specific send and adjust accordingly. 

Another new feature that got my attention is ‘MIDI Learn.’ It was designed to aid in creating more advanced automation moves by making them easier and quicker to program. Whatever parameters exist on that plug-in, the user simply clicks the ‘learn’ icon in the bottom left corner, selects the parameter they wish to automate, then grabs the desired knob on the control surface to finalize the programming. Bottom line, now all plug-ins, whether MOTU or third party, can be easily automated and manipulated through MIDI messages sent by the user’s control surface. It even allowed me to dial in additional control surface functions previously unusable. After speaking with MOTU about this breakthrough, they agreed to consider expanding future possibilities of the ‘MIDI Learn’ feature. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. 

Spectral Display is yet another new addition to DP9’s feature set, allowing clear analysis of each channel’s frequency content. Kudos to MOTU for offering this ability at no additional expense or without the need to acquire an extra external plug-in. The fact that it's built right into the interface streamlines its usefulness and visual appeal.

On the engineering side, MOTU added a classic 1176-style limiter emulation plug-in. Since I regularly use the 1176 hardware version during vocal tracking and also own the UAD soft version, which many consider highly accurate, I felt compelled to do a comparison. Using dialogue and vocal samples as a basis, I found the MOTU version quite usable in recreating some of its classic characteristics. I do feel, however, that it lacked a bit of the lo-mid buildup common in both the hardware and UAD soft version as the input level increases. Nonetheless, without a direct side-by-side comparison, it is still a welcome addition to the already solid list of 90 well-designed, unlimited license plug-ins included with DP9.

Other offerings include the Micro G & B stomp pedals that model the classic Electro Harmonix synth, a subtractive virtual instrument Megasynth, and the MX4 — a versatile software synth that can be triggered by routing audio directly to it or played traditionally via MIDI notes.

A few other conveniences include the addition of floating plug-in windows. In prior versions of DP, the plug-in window would automatically hide behind the latest active window. Now they remain in the forefront cultivating a quicker scenario to fine tune settings without having to constantly show and hide windows. ‘Create Tracks’ is yet another common-sense feature that permits the quick creation of all tracks for a session in one compact dialogue box. And ‘Project Notes’ allows the inclusion of session specific information, apart from DP’s Track Comments, without having to save to an external Word document. Although not groundbreaking inventions, they do assist in improving workflow.


If you are looking for a solid, full-featured DAW that easily thrives in all environments of music, audio for film, television, video games, and digital media, DP9 is it. Version 8 users will have to assess their needs and determine if the additional workflow enhancements, plug-in additions, and performance increase can justify the switch. Buy the product. Install. Work. What else could you ask for? 

Mike Swittel is a Producer/Mixer based in Ormond by the Sea, FL. He can be reached at: