FL Studio has evolved a lot since it's early versions, when I heard about it when looking for a versatile drum machine, 5 or six years ago. Which is a long time in the "FL updates time scale". Now it is an excellent software sequencer (note: this review apply to the sequencer itself, audio editing, sound generation and effects have better alternatives.)
User Interface 10/10
The user interface is playlist/pattern oriented and has a lot of depth to it. It is relatively easy to create evolving and complex rhythms with overlapping time signatures. Piano roll features are numerous and well thought. User interface may need some time to be accustomed to, but that's not a problem if the end result is rewarding, and it sure is with FL Studio.
Synths, audio recording and effect played through "FL Studio" sound as they are programmed/recorded to sound like, no more no less.
The pattern origin of the sequencer doesn't hinder the classic linear sequencing but adds many possibilities for well thought-out modern electronic sequences.
The help file, forums and video tutorials should put anyone on track.
Not only Fl features an incredible number of presets and scores, but you can use it as a hub to centralize your other presets, using it's ".fst" save files.
Customer Support 10/10
I bought some kind of drum machine, and from free updates to free updates it became a full sequencer without removing anything I liked from the start. All reasonable questions will find reasonable answers in the forums, and mails are answered.
FL is about as bug free as one can hope, it loads in less than 2 seconds, all internal processes seem pretty solid.
Value For Money 10/10
I never doubted to have made a great deal by buying the 149$ producer edition (and then Sytrus). For that price you have a great sequencer, samples, synths, drumboxes, presets, scores, and a reasonably open and impressively deep and solid environment for your VST synths and effects.
In five or six years of use, I've maybe had a handful of esoteric free plugins that sometime crashed FL (didn't happen since a long time). But I've tried lots and lots of them, and FL is in the end a model of software stability.
I bought FLStudio back at version 4, and it has been my host through thick and thin all the way to version 6.4 (beta). Along the way, I have been stuck in front of Sibelius, Audition, and Sonar for classes and Audacity, Sound Forge, Pro Tools, and Nuendo by friends. I have had professors ask me "Fruityloops? Isn't that just painting with blocks?", and friends tell me that "FL has a weak sound engine and doesn't even support sustain". None of it, of course, is true (at least not at this point) and I'd like to use these 5,000 characters to help dispel the prejudices you may have picked up in your travels.
User Interface: I've used a lot of plugins and a good few hosts since I started doing the whole music thing, and FL has the best one, by far. It seems "dark" to some, but it's slick, it's easy on the eyes, and most importantly, very good to screen real estate. It's slick, especially for a Windows-only application (which have a reputation for being all-business-and-no-fun), and it's *just* skinnable enough to correct any problems you may have (skinning isn't supported, but if you're willing to dig deeper you can do what you're after).
Sound: Full marks. FL has, for so long, been attacked for having a "bad sound engine", and I hope reviews like these help dispel the rumour. Especially with the more recent plugins like DirectWave, Sytrus, EQUO (and Love Filter, if you pick up the beta), FL has a wide range of creative and pristine audio processing and generating plugins, and support for 32bit/192kHZ audio ensures that (outside of ProTools) you're getting the best possible audio quality available on the market. I know it sounds like marketing but it really does sound spectacular, I was amazed at the results that just a Firepod, a Digital Reference mic, and the native FL plugins could create.
Features: Gets a 10 because, while it doesn't have every feature I could ever want, it will. With FL, buying the program isn't buying the program; it's buying its future, too. Lifetime free updates ensures that, if it isn't there now, it's likely to be in the future, and watching the software I bought all those years ago evolve, I know that those missing features are coming. For free. It doesn't get any better!
Documentation: Scores a 9 for lack of a printed manual (unless you buy it separately). The HTML help is good and always improving, but sometimes it's nice to have paper to unfold on the desk.
Presets: They have presets for everything; even things that don't need presets like compressors and equalizers. The "Coolstuff" folder even contains a series of high-quality users songs which can be studied to learn and experiment with all of FL's features. You can know absolutely nothing about music production, pick this up, and be hammering out songs within the hour, and FL will teach it all to you with the double-click of an .fst.
Customer Support: gets a 9. It would get a 10, because I can outline the number of times I've personally made a request or pointed out a bug and had a developer talk to me (and it's a real conversation, not a single email), work it out, and fix it (and upload a new beta). They lose marks because you kind of have to have thick skin to deal with some of the developers. The lead dev, gol, is sometimes less than tactful, and while he's often right, that's no consolation when you're angry because your software doesn't work.
Value For Money: Even the full XXL bundle of FL costs less than a barebones copy of, say, Ableton Live, so when you consider that FL is as fully featured and capable as most hosts on the market today, it's a steal. Add to that the fact that the next version isn't going to cost you anything and it's even MORE of a steal ;). It's not as cheap as Reaper or eXT, to be sure, but it's still a reliable and cost-effective solution. Don't let that fool you; it's not just the best value for money, it's one of the best programs for ANY price bracket; the cost is just an added bonus.
Stability: I've only ever seen a few crashes of FL in the years since I bought it (back when it was first given the name "Studio"). In every instance, it was either caused by me (overdriving my system) or it was remedied quickly by staff. Even VSTis which deviate from the standard and should cause crashes work because the FL Staff has created a series of per-plugin settings designed to correct poor plugin development. The fact that I have a User-Only beta right now installed as my only version of FL is a testament to the skill of the developers and the stability of the program.
Short, FL is spectacular. It works great for new users, and pro users making the switch can customize it to such a degree that it can emulate the features of their old system. From CC implementation to audio recording to inline sequencing, everyone can find a way to work within FL without relearning music, and I don't think there's another program that's as versatile, stable, or attractive, and that sounds so good.
FLStudio is one of the most versatile hosts you will find. Once you get familiar with how it works, you realize how much ingenuity went into it's design and appreciate it's bold step away from the traditional oldschool sequencer/multitracker concept. It truly has a great workflow, which can adapt itself to the skill level of it's user.
There is a step sequencer, a piano roll, an event editor, a waveform editor, a playlist, a mixer, and a browser, all in combination with over 20 great generators (another word for instruments in FL) and tons of effects. You truly get all that you need to make great music out of the box.
All of the generators serve a unique purpose, and the full gamut of electronic instruments; synthesis, samplers, emulators, is represented. Some of the generators sound better and are easier to use than commercial VSTi equivalents. While not 100% of the generators are included by default, the XXL producer edition includes them all. Along with lifetime free updates the price you pay is worth it. Additionally when you purchase an add-on that has a VSTi version, you also get the VSTi version of the generator -- for example DX10, Sytrus, and SimSynth all have VSTi versions. This lets you work with them in any host you like.
I started off with a regular edition long ago, and had bought each of the add-on generators such as Wasp, DX10, the Soundfont player, and SimSynth over a span of years. When ImageLine (the company that makes it) released the new XXL stuff, they automatically took into consideration what I had owned already and gave me discounts on buying new add-ons which I felt was very honorable and courteous. The support for the product is excellent and anytime I have had a problem a day and a forum post at looptalk (the official FL forums) later, and the problem was solved/answered.
FL exceeds all other hosts at simple-automation. The ease of mapping and auto-learn features for it's own internal generators and effects is outstanding and this feature is extended to VST/VSTi plug-ins as well using the "last tweaked parameter". Basically you touch a knob in the plugin and use this feature to map it to any external or internal controller for automation. Thus even older VST/VSTi's can be automated even if they dont support automation internally themselves! Add to this power the internal controllers and modifiers which use mathematics, randomness, and LFO or X/Y grids, and you have true power for automation unlike any other host.
The channels and the mixer are incredibly intuitive, powerful, and easy to use. Everything is right in front of you and nothing hidden away. As you adjust parameters a status display reads out what the values are. Middle clicking returns a control to it's default state, and there are modifiers for adding more sensitivity to the controls, etc.
I come from a background of tracking (screamtracker/impulse tracker) and found the transition to FLstudio especially easy in the way it works. While there is no tracker-like microediting, there are patterns and a playlist (so 2 things that I was already familiar with). The playlist is a powerful and flexible tool that also allows for live experimentation when flstudio is configured in live mode.
The piano roll implementation is excellent and so fast to use compared to other hosts. Keyboard modifiers and 'common-sense' design make the FLstudio piano roll my favorite of all piano rolls. There are lots of little unique features that over time you come to rely on that enhance productivity and creativity.
The mixer is versatile and simple to use. Any input can go to any output and so on, you aren't limited to what the signal path is. There are 64 channels to work with and you can colorize/organize/move things around easily.
The browser is a great feature that adds to the whole package. It contains channel presets, generator presets, automation data, samples and loops, and whatever else you want to organize or use in your productions. The ease of use of the browser is by far one of the best features of the program. Dragging and dropping things from the browser to the step sequencer to the mixer to instruments, to the playlist, really makes for rapid creation tool.
The generators and effects are great all around, with the presets for them all also being pretty good. Sytrus is the star and it sounds incredible, but the other synths like SimSynth, and Wasp are also great. The generators that come with the program are excellent and serve a unique purpose, you have a string simulator, piano simulator, bass guitar simulator, electronic drum simulator, etc, the list goes on. The effects are great as well and with each new version they seem to be getting better.
Version 6 adds DirectWave which is an incredibly useful sampler that can do amazing things.
It's the most productive, versatile, easy to use, fastest, of any host i've tried. It comes as stand-alone, VSTi, and rewire (slave/master).
I first came across FL Studio 2 years ago. I was looking for an entry level reocrding program that would allow me to learn the ropes of home recording and grow with me.
I tried every demo I could get my hands on and as soon as I opened FL and started working thru the manual and help files. I realized I had a very powerful tool in my hands.
The lay out is very intuitive and it made a lot of sense to me. The way the play list and pattern work makes it a breeze to set up a main theme a chorus and bridge and then play around with variations and combinations of each one of them.
The amount of effects included with the application are of top quality and Gol´s coding ability makes the whole program run smooth and easy on your PC.
The interface´s color and lay out is easy on the eyes, specially after many hours of sitting in front of the pc screen composing and mixing to your heart´s content.
It´s automation capabilities are astounding and extremely flexible. Any parameter can be automated either with automation clips or in automation patterns within the playlist.
Having free lifetime updates is a great feature too as you get every new update for free. We are talking about updates not upgrades as these are 2 different things. I started with version 4. something and I am now waiting on my free update to V 6 with newer plugs and features.
Customer service is top notch too. I never had a software related problem, but when I had any kind of "user created" situations where the program was not doing exactly what I wanted. Tech support helped me get out of the situation with patience and ease. Response is very quick within reason and direct to the point.
FL is beleived to be mainly for Tech styled music, but I have done anything from jazzy to straight out Heavy Prog Metal tunes and it has behaved like no other program. So there is really no limit as to what FL can do.
To me. FL is one of a couple programs that I can truly say it was worth every single cent I forked out for.
A top notch program for a very reasonable price that can grow to any of the available tastes to fit your budget and can expand when you are ready to take the next logical step in your growth as a home recording artist.
EDIT; This edit is only to answer an error in the review before this one.
The documentation in FL is excelent. Obviously the person doing the mentioned review has not checked the help files within the program. There is a book named the FL Bible, but it is only a printing and recopilation of all the help files and a few tips available in the user forum. It was done by Image line as a request from the user base and you don`t really need to buy the book to have a complete user/help manual.
Gets medium marks here. They do a great job on making it look futuristic and shiny but all that gray can get depressing plus the designers have a fetish for making buttons and text so small as to make them unreadable and unusable. It's this way on everything from Channel text, to the buttons on the Audio Editor to descriptions on Sytrus.
Most of the included generators seem best suited for making sound effects. Beep Map, Wave Traveler, Plucked, Slicer, Granulator, Slayer, Speech Synth, etc... are all novel and seem fun on the surface.
Sytrus is the only instrument which could be considered 'pro'. You can do some big synthesis with it. The sound can be a bit "Hot" so watch out in mixes, but it is their best work.
As for effects I think things aren't much better. They are good at munging the sound no doubt and luckily IL has put some new mastering plugs in v6 to help clean up the sound a bit. Alot of the effects are again novel I'm not sure how "pro" they are though?
From all this it can be seen where some musicians think of FLS as a toy, none of the included Generators/FX are very professional. Most are skinned version of MDA's freebies (which are ok, but basic). I find the final mixed sound can often be crap. Some will say it's do to the musician but if you put a pro synth or FX in the song it is easy to hear how it's sound is much cleaer than the included generators. That is the basis of my opening statement.
Now there are some good sounding songs in the 'Cool Stuff' folder but there again most everything comes from a sample or audio, not alot of included generators.
One things is the Audio, very nice that you can slice a clip non-destructivle and move those section around. Automation Clips are handy as well. In fact Automation is perhaps the greatest strength of FLS. I admit, having the automation available in the lane below the Piano Roll is nice.
In fact the FLS Piano Roll is so good you might not even want to fool with the Playlist. No, you can easily create a song with just 1 Pattern, that way each Channel/Generator is it's own track. When you have Ghost Channels on you can see other channels in the timeline.
You can also edit Automation data easily in the lane below the notes. I assign each Channel a corresponding channel on the mixer and that makes it very easy to automate FX in sync on the timeline. Use your entire screen real estate with just the Piano Roll and you might just find a new favorite way of composing songs. But that said you cannot export a MIDI file from the Piano Roll editor (without going through hoops of "Enabling MIDI export' crap), you can only export a 'Score' file which is only read by FLS.
The Help file is a 10. But like most manuals it's tech oriented in that it only explains the features... it doesn't tell you how to use them. There are some videos now on the site which are a little more helpful in learning a bit aboubt workflow and the ins-outs of a few
of the plugs. That's the music biz in general I think.
If the "Bible" would have been a collection of Looptalk topics and sample .FLP's (instead of just the printed 'Help' file) then I would be really impressed (something akin to "Power Tools for Reason 3").
Fairly weak if you consider the included generators. The 2 gigs of sample for download at Sample Fusion are basic and boring, nothing exciting to speak of there. The sounds for the included generators are all pretty basic, enough to get a basic song done but not going to give you a unique sound.
Mid marks here. They have a nice forum of their own but if you ask a question the usual response is "because that's the way it is jerk". So why ask questions?
Seems like it should be high with all the included goodies. Really a user needs to buy the XXL package at $350 to get a decent synth, i.e. Sytrus.
While the "upgrade for life" feature seems good on the surface the truth is Imagin-Line is about 2-3 years behind the times with releasing what I would call "bleeding-edge tools". Like in Sytrus... there had been FM synths on the market for years before they released it. DirectWave, same thing. The Fruity Slicer is great but hoe many people working on the cutting-edge of sound design would have bought a slicer (Phatmatick or Recycle) years earlier? That's what I'm talking about. So if you buy a tool to do sometihng FLS doesn't you might be a bit miffed to see a native version released for it 2 years down the road.
Well, they get a 10 here... best in the biz no doubt, hardly ever a crash.
*Edit 02May04 - Some serious limitations I've since discovered:
1. use with midi controllers is laughable. synths do not respond to CC messages except for pitchbend; everything else has to be linked individually. no way to link parameters to physical knobs and recall as a preset. can be saved with a channel in a song only - not very convenient.
2. can't edit multiple patterns at once - you can only see one pattern at a time.
3. cannot view note patterns at the same time as automation data.
4. Rewire implementation is clunky as hell, requiring a window with a special button to switch between master & slave. also, transport controls are not linked.
FL Studio has become a good all-in-one solution. The user interface is well-arranged and the workflow is sensible. The basic structure is the Pattern which can be created using a step-sequencer or a flexible piano roll. Groups of patterns create songs.
FLS combines some of the best qualities of Cubase and Reason in one program. You get the ability to use VST instruments and effects (without having to ReWire) and a very good sound engine, like Cubase. You get flexibility with regards to routing audio and creative parameter control, like Reason and SX 2.01. And the synth & fx provided are, overall, better than those provided by Reason.
User Interface: a tad dark, but well planned. Keyboard shortcuts allow windows to be opened & closed (or minimized & maximized) quickly. the addition of saveable screensets would bump this up to a 10.
Sound: Excellent. My main complaint against Reason is that you really need to master properly to get it to sound professional. You can mix & master easily in FLS. Some of its internal fx - particularly the Parametric EQ, the Compressor and the Spectroman (a spectral display tool) - are truly worthwhile. The ability to use VSTi trumps Reason, by far.
Features: Too many to list. You can sequence waves in addition to midi, you have lots of internal fx to play with. There's a Beat Slicer for chopping up loops and getting grooves. And you have instruments to tide you over if you have no VSTi.
Presets: Internal presets for instruments & fx are solid, but you can also save mixer presets like SX 2.01.
Customer Support: Pretty good. Online forums are chock full of newbies and some of the admins are unprofessional jerks, but you can usually get proper answers to your queries. Still, nothing you can't get from the folks at KvR or other sites.
Value for Money: Very high, if you don't need to use midi controllers or Rewire much.
Stability: Nary a crash in 3 months.
FL Studio Producer Edition 4.5.1
User interface: While FL Studio has a good looking and clean interface, I think it needs some work in certain areas such as the waveform view on the playlist, for example audio clips could have draggable envelopes so you'll not forced to use the upper part of the playlist to make fade/in/out. Also it needs a better zooming function, no big deal FL Studio is 99% perfect for me. Didier Dambrin has made a tremendous effort to offer one of the best interfaces I ever seen.
Sound: This is pretty subjective, people tends to think that X or Y software sounds better than the other. I think FL Studio has a clean sound, when playing your songs or when you render them, the levels when you mix is exactly the same level when you export. Finally you can set awesome levels of rendering resolution, for exmaple rendering at sinc depth-256.
Features: FL Studio has plenty, I think you have all you need to make your musical dreams true, add the slicer and the soundfont player. It even has two types of scratchers, one is non realtime (Wavetraveller) and the other is an awesome piece of software called Fruity Scratcher, you can do really accurate professional movements with it. FL Studio also comes with a complete set of effects, the piano roll is plenty of useful functions like the "slice notes" "arpeggiator" "chords" "chop" "stum tool" "randomize" "quantize" and all offer not only the mere standard function, for example you can load groove templates for quantization, or entire sequences for the chop function.
Documentation: It is really well made, and the website has some very useful Tutorials. Also FL Studio has tons of tutorial songs. Is hard not to learn FL.
Presets: FL Studio is full of presets, for 3xosc, for TS404, for mixer states, piano roll quantization...
Customer Support: When you adquire FL Studio, you get acces to a internet community where you can get help from a great staff, you can even talk with the programmers directly.
Value for Money: Really doubt you can get such a big monster for the prices they ask.
Stability: Superb, The only way you can crash FL is by using faulty (betas) plugins. My only complain is that the screen tends to freeze when the CPU is really strained, FL should reserve a little more resources for that.
Bought this after reading a steven duda interview on
the sonik forum in which he praised it greatly. I must say this is the deepest and virtual studio to date. I can't say its immediately intuitive, but if your willing
to get into it--your efforts will be repaid.
Since other reviews have recapped the basics, I'll focus
on the fx and piano roll; both are excellent. Piano roll
has an excellent preroll and metronome (hello cakewalk?)
and an amazingly flexible quantization fuctionality.
Also, the "feel" in programming is effortless--as opposed
to the balky sonar and reason editors.
fx wise, FL has a very flexible path routing with
4 send fx and I believe 8 insert fx. The reverb is
by ultrafunk and it is great. All fx are of excellent
quality with extensive presets. The otherwise competent
cw fx look dated beside this program.
When will this program get respect??!
Fruity comes with a bunch of samples and some good native generators/FXs (granular/TS404/3xOSC and some other interesting ones). Some other goodies have to be purchased separately, like Soundfont Player- which is one of the best on the market - and beatslicer/Simsynth/drumsynth live. The new chopper/quantization feature breathes new excitement to programming in Fruity, too. With the new 4.x version, IL has introduced more interesting features, just as all the past upgrades. One major addition is the ability to do real-time ASIO recording.
With the lifetime free update policy, which has been proven over the years, investing in Fruity can be very worthwhile. Its ever growing features have always been advancing with each revision.
With Fruity becoming a VSTi, one can use Fruity as a scratch-pad and bring it into your host of choice later easily.
That said, however, if you know exactly what you want, chances are Fruity may not be what you're after. If you want a great softsynth, you should look elsewhere(Pentagon/DeltaIII etc). If you need a great slicer, you should also take a look at other products(pHATmatik Pro). Jeskola plays Soundfont just as good as Fruity soundfont player.
What Fruity really stands up (seeing from the existing VSTi category) is when be seen as a drum-machine. However, one should also check up other dedicated drum-machine plugs (DR-008/Battery/RMIII) in the mean time. In short, most of the generators & functions can be replaced with other plugs and your host program's own function.
One of the other edge of FL is its ability to do automation and modulation on literally all parameters through its Formula Controller and Peak Controller. These two features add to the flexibility enormously.
The bottom-line, as always, depends on the needs. It's beyond the existing mindset for categorizing VSTis.
If you don't have any major vsti yet and want something that "has them all", Fruity may be a good choice and then some. Even if you already have some specialty plugs, adding fruity to your arsenal could still be useful. Also, Fruity has always been a great drum-machine in its own way which should be regarded highly.
For me, experiencing Fruityloops as a plugin is no doubt interesting and enjoyable.
I'll always be waiting for more pleasing surprises from Imageline.
[updated review: Lowered the Stability and UI rating due to the 4.1 release.]
FruityLoops is fast, immensely powerfull, extendable, cheap, and most of all: fun as hell!
I downloaded it in Nov 2001 just because Cakewalk didn't have a downloadable demo for Plasma (what I REALLY wanted). I purchased the full version within days... It's that good!
The included soft-synths (TS404, 3xOSC, Plucked) are more capable than initially meets the eye. At first you might not be impressed but the more you look the better it gets. The 3xOSC has stereo detuning for each of its oscillators and can load samples for new waveforms. You get 5 LFOs and 5 envelopes (with tension) for volume, filter cutoff, filter resonance, and pitch. For panning you get another LFO. Combine these with Fruity's channel layering capability and its extensive flanging, reverb, chorus and delay effects and you can create some phenominal sounds. Other FX of note: The peak controller enables noise-gate key input effects. The X-Y controller allows automating two parameters of any sample or synth at once using a joystick or mouse.
In addition, it's a VSTi, a DXi, and a Buzz host so you can easily drop in your favorite plugin to expand your sound pallette. (I prefer the WASP and FreeAlpha)
The only drawback I found was that the included samples lean heavily toward vintage drum machine recreations. I prefer more acoustic sounding drums so I had to purchase a sample CD, no big deal.
Step sequencing is a breeze. Pianoroll use is a bit more challenging, but still quite useable. What's really cool is that you can adjust velocity, filter, panning, etc. for each indivual note in a pattern.
Overall, this software is a quirky and revolutionary pattern-based sequencer/drum machine/soft-synth studio. Definately a life-changing purchase for me.
PS Lifetime upgrades for the online purchasers... I've received three such updates this year. A great value!
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