Tracktion began life as a well-received 'alternative' DAW in 2003, but it was quickly acquired by Mackie and largely relegated to 'OEM' status.
Development of the software stalled, and it settled on a reputation as being good for composition but not really a serious production platform.
And so things remained until Tracktion's original developer bought the software back from Mackie in 2014.
Since then the substantial updates have come on an annual basis, including some innovative comping tools, zplane's industry standard élastique audio manipulation technology, and a clever freezing system that allows you to choose how far along a channel's processing chain the rendering is applied.
Nonetheless, Tracktion is still dismissed by some as being a budget alternative to a 'proper' DAW – an image that this latest update, complete with ground-up overhaul of the GUI, aims to dispel.
For the uninitiated, Tracktion offers most of the features you'd expect to find in a DAW – plus quite a few you wouldn't – but presented in a rather unconventional way. The most obvious example of this is the single-screen user interface. It incorporates numerous contextual menus and pop-ups, of course, but essentially, everything is done from one screen.
The first new feature you'll notice in Tracktion 7 is the Setup assistant, which starts up when you first launch the DAW and walks you through scanning plugins, managing your audio loops (the powerful tag-enabled browser rewards a bit of initial setup time) and downloading content and demo projects, as well as presenting some tutorial videos. It's a nifty system, and with the option to work through its various steps in any order and at any time, you can get as involved with it, or not, as you like.
Like its predecessors, Tracktion 7 doesn't ship with a huge sound library or tons of virtual instruments, but it does come with a basic plugin suite comprising a sampler, EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, phaser, compressor/limiter, pitch- shifter and high/low-pass filter, and the bundled Celemony Melodyne Essential licence certainly adds some extra value. The package also includes some downloadable demo songs to get you started.
You got the look
A major complaint about recent Tracktion updates has been that they retained the rough-and-ready look of the original version, released over a decade ago. For v7, this has been addressed with a complete facelift, branded the 'Blue Steel' UI.
It's a great improvement, with a more sophisticated colour palette that's certainly clearer and easier on the eye. The practical effect of this is that the various sections of Tracktion's information-packed single window are now easier to distinguish from each other.
There's also been some functional streamlining, starting with the ability to fold down the whole bottom section of the GUI so that the transport bar becomes a thin strip along the bottom, with pop-out Menu and Plugin displays.
Another handy new addition is automatic show/hide for the channel controls on the right of the interface and the Browser on the left: hover your mouse pointer on either side to pop them out automatically, and move it away to pop them back in again.
You can now open multiple browsers (the only limit being screen size) and select multiple files from all of them to pull the files into the arrangement together. The Browser can be moved to the top of the screen, creating more horizontal space, and resized by dragging its outer edge. It's a great way to maximise screen usage, though with Tracktion's one-screen approach, we'd quite like to be able to drag the channel mixer controls to the left side of the screen, for when your computer is to the right of your studio setup, for example.
One of the biggest creative updates in T7 is Clip Layer Effects. These allow you to apply discretely layered processes to individual audio clips, including Volume fades, Step Volume (great for stuttering effects), pitch and time shifting, tape start/stop effects, reverse, normalising, monoing and, yes, third-party plugins.
You can freely reorder processing layers, and even though Clip Layer Effects are applied non-destructively, the waveform of each new layer reflects the processing applied to it for a handy visual reference. The stack of layers on a clip can be temporarily 'collapsed' to show the final waveform.
Finally, we have the excellent Automation Pattern. Simply select a range within a clip, then apply one of five preset Pattern shapes – sine, triangle, square, ramp up and ramp down – to create a cyclical automation envelope. You can sync it to beats and bars, then offset the placement or amplitude of the entire pattern, or go in and edit it manually.
Tracktion is all too easily overlooked by devotees of other DAWs, which is a shame, because it's a fun, intuitive, genuinely innovative and powerful application.
For mixing or post- production work, the lack of a proper mixer with full-size faders and proper channel metering is a serious handicap, but that's not really what it's for. As a creative tool, it's astoundingly good value – cheap enough to have around as a second DAW, in fact.
All in all, Tracktion 7 finally looks the part and introduces plenty of fresh new reasons to give it your attention.