FL Studio 12 Alpha: First Look (Updated)

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I’ve never been very enthusiastic about Image-Line’s FL Studio updates.  For the years I’ve used FL, nothing has really changed much, besides the new performance mode.  As such, I’ve never really paid attention to new versions – until today.

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I stumbled across this picture while searching across the interwebs, and it caught my eye.  At a glance, I thought it was a new skin, but then I read the gigantic hard-to-miss text.  And I thought “hey, it’s a Saturday, why not try it out?”  The installer prompted me with these points.

 Since this is an alpha version, it might crash
Many features have not been implemented yet.
 It might not be fully compatible with the final release, so don’t do any critical work with it.

In other words, this isn’t going to be a review.  Rather, I’ll take a look at some of the new stuff expected to hit when 12 finally releases.

Cool Stuff Ahead

Let’s face it – FL Studio has always had a pretty ugly UI.  The browser, playlist, and sequencer were all unnecessarily and haphazardly textured with ugly gradients and messy borders.  Users could often avoid the ugly graphics by installing custom skins, like “The Black”.  However, customs skins were cumbersome to make, and they couldn’t change values like item widths.  In addition, older versions of FL came with some unintuitive features.  For instance, if I wanted to add a new VST that I just installed, I’d need to go to “Channels” and then “Add New”, where I would be prompted with a list of all installed VSTs.

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FL Studio 12 looks to solve some of the interface problems that has plagued Image-Line for eleven versions.  FL 12 does away with the messy border and gradients, and brings the DAW into the 21st century.  Nearly everything gets a visual update.  The browser (which can now delete files within the program), sequencer, and playlist look a lot cleaner, opting for border-less menus and better symbols.  The top menus are more intelligible and intuitively placed.  IL even included a new tab that includes a button for audio editing (Edison), and 1-click recording.  One of my favorite change has to be the new look of the piano roll.  No longer must we deal with the obtrusive buttons and labels!

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In addition to the nicely updated piano roll, it looks like FL’s settings menu has been completely redesigned.  The menus match the file browser, and everything generally just looks much cleaner.  My only qualm is that it looks like VST plugin searches are still restricted to just one folder.  I’ve always been annoyed by that restriction, since I like the ability to install VSTs into separate 32-bit and 64-bit folders, but it isn’t a major drawback to only search one folder.

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Image-Line made another huge improvement – the individual plugin settings.  In the past, FL Studio usually had two different windows for every plugin.  One was the VST itself, with all of the graphical components.  In another window was the settings menu that was used internally by FL.  This window included settings like arpeggios, pitch modifications, and MIDI inputs.  With two windows, the screen-space often became cluttered and confusing.  FL 12 seems to acknowledge this problem by combining everything into one nice wrapper..

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While I love the updates Image-Line has worked out so far, the interface isn’t perfect.  And I don’t expect it to be.  Some buttons are confusing, such as the button to toggle pattern or song playback.  I like the idea of more symbols and less text labels, but a refresh sign for the toggle made me confused until I read the helper text window.

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FL 12 looks promising from a design standpoint – and I think the program has been due for a graphical update for some time.  While I’d like to see some more features, such as better support for 3rd party plugins, or a fantastic macro system like in Bitwig, I’ll be content with just the visual changes.  Working in FL really does become tiresome on the eyes after the while, so these improvements will be very much welcomed.

It’s important to remember these images don’t represent the final quality of FL 12, and Image-Line has asked that users give feedback about the new interface and workflow.  FL 12 Alpha is currently available for the owners of FL Studio licenses, and can be downloaded on FL Studio’s forums.  While it certainly shouldn’t be your go-to DAW yet because of compatibility issues, it’s certainly something to try out.  See the future, man.

Update: Mixer

Image-Line has since released a video teasing the new mixer look and functionality, as it is not yet included in the alpha build.  Apart from the looks, the ability to change volumes of many channels at once is a great addition.  The new analog-style sidechaining graphics look utterly amazing.  It’s important to note that this is all “vectorial” – in other words, the UI is responsive, much like a webpage, and will show correctly at any resolution because the UI is drawn with math instead of images.

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1 Comment

  • Steve F

    / Reply

    I feel loyal to FL because of their approach on upgrades, open platform and bundle completion policy unlike say Propellerhead who gouge wherever they can to fund their “be like Steve Jobs” ambitions. But the FL sequencer and approach to audio still irritates or confuses the hell out of me. So I use it for sound creation and compile elsewhere.

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