Waveform is the new name for Tracktion, the ‘upstart’ DAW from Tracktion Software.
The first thing that existing users need to know is that this is still very much the software they know and love. In fact, upon launching Waveform, apart from the tweaked colour scheme, you’ll be hard pushed to tell the difference between it and Tracktion 7.
It still centres on the single-screen interface that’s fundamental to its workflow, where contextual menus and panels give access to everything you need in a unified space, MIDI clips are edited directly on their host tracks, and a left-to-right ‘inline’ signal flow stands in for a dedicated mixer. But this time around, there’s more…
All mixed up
That mixerless single-screen workspace has been one of Tracktion’s biggest selling points since version 1 (2003), but Waveform sees the GUI spreading its wings with the addition of not only a ‘proper’ mixer but also a dedicated MIDI Editor panel, both of which can be housed within the main screen and/or their own separate windows. This aggregate of transformative features marks a huge and very welcome change in direction for Tracktion, whose steadfast refusal to break out from that one window was starting to feel… well, a bit bloody-minded.
The Mixer and MIDI Editor are opened and closed using key commands or the minuscule launch buttons at the top-right corner of the main window. They appear in between the Edit Page and Properties Panel, making Waveform look every bit the modern multi-panel DAW. The Mixer boasts all the main functions you’d expect to find in such a thing - levels and panning, Mute and Solo, insertion of plugins, etc - and a solid array of viewing options, including height adjustment of each of its sections, three channel widths, the ability to run the meters alongside the channel faders or in their own section, and a meter bridge-style level overview strip.
Waveform includes a tasty hybrid synth/sampler called Collective, designed by ex-Waldorf developer Wolfram Franke, in which an unlimited number of ‘sound layers’ each comprise a full-on four-oscillator instrument with up to 16 individually transposable Unison voices. Every oscillator hosts an analogue waveform (Sine, Triangle, Pulse and Saw), White or Pink Noise, or a sample - 2.3GB of electric and acoustic instrument recordings are included, and you can import your own WAVs. The analogue waves come with a common set of parameters - tuning, sync, pitch modulation, etc - as well as a few extras for the Sine and Pulse waves. The Sample oscillator is very basic, but Collective clearly isn’t intended for serious sampling duties. Two filters and a four-band EQ are onboard, and the modulation setup comprises four very versatile LFOs and four loopable up-to-32-stage envelopes. A decent roster of effects and a capable arpeggiator with MIDI file pattern import round things off. Collective is admirably intuitive and sounds great, and its multi-layer architecture makes it capable of extremely dense sounds. The only thing that lets it down is the bland GUI, which is rather uninspiring. Waveform also incorporates the rather excellent Master Mix DSP multiband dynamics processor, which sells separately for $60.
Clicking the top-right button opens a second instance of the Mixer in a new tab, which can be dragged out as a new window for repositioning on a second monitor or in its own Space in OS X/macOS.
As well as the Mixer itself, the Mixer window includes the collapsible Properties Panel and an arrangement overview, in which the playhead and Markers can be moved. The MIDI Editor, meanwhile, simply provides a persistent contextual piano roll for editing the selected MIDI clip - or multiple clips together - with the full compliment of tools found in the in-track editor, plus optional background reference waveform from any audio track in the project.
Like the Mixer, it can break out to its own window for placing on a second monitor (but not, in this case, its own OS X Space), making MIDI editing in Waveform faster and less claustrophobic than it was in Tracktion.
Even more interestingly in the MIDI department, the all-new Pattern Generator enables musical note sequences to be conjured out of thin air. It’s tabbed into the Properties Panel and offers four modes of, er, pattern generation: Arpeggio, Chords, Bassline and Melody.
Having set your Global key, you select from an enormous and user-expandable library of three- and four-chord progressions to populate the clip with a repeating sequence of chords, arpeggios (with 24 direction modes!), bass notes, or muted chords out of which melodies can be pulled using the paintbrush tool - ingenious!
The Pattern Generator panel has controls for messing with note lengths, gate times, octave range and more, and each chord in the progression is editable in the MIDI Editor via a dropdown menu. It all adds up to an impressive collection of songwriting aids that will serve as handy timesavers for those versed in theory, and that newcomers to composition will find both productive and educational.
Waving not drowning
That’s the meat of Waveform’s new goodies covered, but we should make quick mention of the MIDI Chord Generator plugin (trigger chords from single notes), the multiple colour schemes (full user editing thereof next, we hope!), and the laudable addition of Raspberry Pi support.
While some might interpret the rolling in of a regular mixer and the new multi-window approach as Tracktion Software torching their own USP and ‘selling out’, we say it’s exactly what the DAW needed to keep it moving forward. And, of course, if you don’t like them, you don’t have to use them - leave those tiny Mixer and MIDI Editor buttons alone and you’re effectively still using Tracktion.
We’d wager, though, that even the grumpiest naysayer - particularly if they’ve got two or more screens - will find them indispensable once they try them, as they introduce a whole new level of customisability that can’t reasonably be seen as anything but a good thing.
A milestone update, Waveform elegantly normalises Tracktion’s workflow without compromising its famous creative focus in any way - indeed, the compositional power of the Pattern Generator makes it more artistically liberating than ever. Easily going toe-to-toe with rivals costing several times more, this is a DAW that needs to be on every producer’s radar.