Over the last decade or so, the app formerly known as FruityLoops has undergone something of a radical transformation. Once a simple yet popular MIDI drum sequencer, in its FL Studio 8 incarnation it's one of the most feature-rich DAWs on the market.
A comprehensive music-making solution, FL Studio offers everything needed to record or create music from scratch in practically any style. VST plug-in support, audio recording, integrated audio editing and a fully-featured mixer are all onboard.
Of particular note is FL Studio's huge array of slick generators - synths, samplers, drum machines and effects are all on offer. Even the basic FL Studio Express package has over 25 effects and 15 generators, and the fully loaded XXL Edition (reviewed here) has even more, including corkers like the full DirectWave sampler and the Sytrus synthesizer.
The cornerstone of FL Studio remains its pattern-based workflow. Patterns of notes are sequenced as 'blocks' in the lower part of the sequencing window (Pattern Tracks), while the upper area houses pattern clips containing any note, event, automation or audio data.
Many users appreciate this flexible approach to song construction, and while it's particularly appropriate for electronic genres, it can be used to great effect in other styles, too.
One of the most anticipated new features in FL Studio 8 is the Score Logger; this keeps a three-minute buffer of all incoming MIDI data (notes played on a keyboard, control surface movements and so on), even if the application isn't actually playing or in record mode. The user can then retrospectively dump musical ideas into the piano roll.
A record filter has also been added, which can be used to selectively record automation, note or audio data.
The most important new feature for FL Studio 8, though, is FL SynthMaker. Outsim SynthMaker is a popular standalone product that can be used to create VST instruments and effects without the need to write any code (well, unless you deign to use the Code module).
FL SynthMaker basically offers the same modular graphical programming environment but, crucially, as an integrated FL plug-in, it can't compile VSTs for use in any other host application.
However, you can pop the hood on an FL SynthMaker plug-in and get busy rewiring its innards, then click the magnifying glass icon again to close the editing panel and carry on as you were.
You can also download prefab creations via FL Studio's integrated Download Manager, which also gives access to Image-Line's SampleFusion audio content service. There are even SynthMaker 'dashboards' available for several popular hardware devices, including the Access Virus synth – basically, a faux GUI that be used to control said hardware via software-generated MIDI CC data.
As expected, several new Generators have been added. Slicex is a new sample/loop manipulation tool, like a super-advanced Fruity Slicer. It can load in two loops at once, and will automatically detect beats and slice them accordingly, for triggering by separate MIDI notes.
The amplitude, filter cutoff, playback speed and sample start position of every slice can each be assigned one of eight articulators, each of which offers a range of modulation options for manipulating said parameters.
A comprehensive wave editor section rounds things off, sharing much of FL's powerful Edison audio editor functionality. For non-XXL users, there's a new DirectWave Player plug-in that lacks in-depth editing capabilities but provides access to the DirectWave sample library.
There are three new effects, too. Wave Candy is a slick visual analyser, while Soundgoodizer is a very simple maximiser/enhancer and Fruity Limiter is, well, a limiter. The latter two are based on the significantly more complex Maximus plug-in, which is available separately.
The FL engine
The core application has been improved in virtually every area. For instance, the mouse wheel can now be used to select menu items and rearrange effects in a mixer channel. On an audio tip, sync interpolation can now be used in real-time, if the host system is fast enough.
The process of exporting individual tracks as WAVs for use in other production environments is still quite laborious, so we'd welcome improvements there. And while there is now the option to render with latency compensation, setting up plug-in delay compensation remains a manual affair.
Likewise, there's no freeze function, although the manual explains how to render one track to another to achieve the same result.
FL Studio will probably appeal most to those taking their first steps in computer music, although it's certainly flexible and powerful enough to be used by music producers at any level. It remains a PC-only product and, as such, it's still one of the best reasons to use Boot Camp on an Intel Mac.
Version 8 takes FL Studio from strength to strength. We're already wondering what Image-Line will come up with next.