At the time of its launch way back in 1998, FruityLoops (as it was then called) was a primitive drum machine, but as the program involved into something considerably more complex (eventually earning full DAW status), it quickly gained popularity with producers across a variety of genres.
An intuitive loop-based workflow plays a major part in making FL Studio so popular with beginners and experienced computer musicians alike and, unsurprisingly, v9 doesn't depart from this formula.
At first glance, existing FL Studio users might struggle to spot the changes in the latest version, for besides a handful of extra plug-ins, FL9's enhancements are behind-the-scenes coding upgrades and interface tweaks.
Autogun is the only new instrument and is based on the additive synthesis engine of Image-Line's Ogun plug-in. It has a preposterous 4,294,967,296 pseudo-random presets to step through, but thankfully, you can 'bookmark' good sounds and even share them with other Autogunners.
However, while Autogun is pretty cool, it's already available as a freeware Windows VST, so it doesn't add any value to the package. And in a similar way, Image-Line advertises the inclusion of demos of their Sakura and Ogun synths and the Gross Beat time-manipulation effect as "new plug-ins", which we think is misleading.
Of more value is the inclusion of five existing synths - DX-10, WASP, WASP XT, SimSynth and DrumSynth - that were previously bundled only with the top-of-the-range editions of FL Studio, but now come with all packages except Express.
Perhaps most enticing are the new effects. Vocodex is a huge step up from the old Fruity Vocoder, with a clear interface that makes it quick and easy to dial in great sounds. Stereo Shaper, meanwhile, is a mid/side-capable stereo processor, with a mixer for left/right channels and their inverted equivalents, plus knobs for channel delay and phase offset.
M/S processing might not seem like an obvious choice for an FL Studio effect, but it's such a powerful concept that its inclusion can only be a good thing. There are lots of useful presets, too, divided into an Effects bank (with presets for 'stereoising' mono signals and other interesting stereo effects), and a Mixing bank.
Not many DAWs boast such a straightforward yet comprehensive M/S tool and Image-Line are to be applauded for making a potentially confusing technique so accessible.
The new Riff Machine feature tied into the piano roll makes it easy to come up with riffs, arpeggios and chord progressions. In a nutshell, it's an automatic pattern generator that enables one to set a few key parameters that determine the melody and groove of a riff, with the results being sent to the piano roll. And if that still sounds too much like hard work, there's a surprisingly effective random option.
As we mentioned, many of the improvements to FL9 have been made under the hood, and although they might not be as exciting as fancy new plug-ins, they're important in making FL Studio a swifter, more powerful program.
Fruity Limiter and the Mixer both now make sidechain routing a whole lot easier, for example, and the Fruity Wrapper channel can now take full advantage of third-party plug-ins with more than two outputs.
The Playlist gets a minor overhaul to include track names and icons, mute switches, clip grouping and its own play button. Meanwhile, the new 'volatile linking' feature enables hardware controllers to link to the last parameter adjusted by the mouse.
FL Studio already supported multicore processing for instruments, but FL9 introduces long-awaited support for multicore effects processing. This is a huge improvement over FL8, enabling effects to work more efficiently thanks to multithreading.
The minimum system requirements remain relatively modest, and there's full support for Boot Camp on Macs (although you could say that about any Windows application, so no surprise there).
There are a few glaring omissions, though. For one, it's hard to believe that plug-in delay compensation (PDC) still has to be adjusted manually when just about every other DAW does it automatically. There's also still no dedicated freeze function.
On a more positive note, with a list of bug-fixes and minor enhancements as long as your arm, FL9 should be more stable than any previous version and, indeed, we found it to be rock solid, handling everything we threw at it.
Image-Line offers FL Studio packages at price points to suit every pocket. The complete Signature Edition (reviewed here) costs $299, while the next step down, Producer Edition ($199), loses a few plug-ins - most notably the Maximus multiband compressor/limiter, Hardcore guitar effects, Sytrus synth and DirectWave sampler. If you can live without those, Producer Edition is great value.
At $99, Fruity Edition is still a complete DAW with piano roll features, but it doesn't offer audio recording capabilities or more advanced features like Slicex and Edison for audio manipulation.
Finally, Express Edition ($49) has a greatly reduced feature-set and lacks piano roll and audio recording capabilities - it's less of a fully-fledged DAW, but still includes a step sequencer, arpeggiator and MIDI support.
Whichever package you go for, though, Image-Line will give you free upgrades for life. Boxed versions are available, but they're more expensive and don't entitle you to subsequent free upgrades. Strange…
It's been clear since the days of the original FruityLoops that the FL Studio concept isn't for everyone - it's different to other DAWs and seems to divide opinion. Most current FL Studio users will receive v9 for free, and while it's not a massive update, they surely won't be disappointed.
The real issue is whether it's enough to attract newcomers to the FL Studio stable. If you haven't yet, we strongly recommend that you give it a try - you may be surprised at the powerful punch it packs.