A couple months before the official unveiling of Pro Tools 9, Avid shared with the press that it was implementing significant changes to its customer value proposition. We were given a few sparse details, and there were of course rumblings on the various audio forums and blogs, but for the most part, the announcement of a hardware-agnostic Pro Tools DAW took the audio community by surprise. I was at the AES show in San Francisco when PT9 was made public. There were genuine smiles (and some emotional tears) from the Avid employees (many of whom I’ve never seen so excited in the years I’ve known them) who were at the press events. And from the attendees of the show, I heard an equal number of jubilant exclamations as I did sighs of relief. For the next few days, PT9 was the hottest topic on the show floor, and the majority of the vendors with whom I spoke were getting very excited about the possibilities of integrating with the newly “open” version of the most popular DAW in the world.
I sold my Pro Tools HD system four years ago (Tape Op #58) and eventually settled on Nuendo (#62, #68) as the primary DAW in my personal studio, so I asked three writers who are longtime Pro Tools users to share this review with me. Eli Crews co-owns New, Improved Recording in Oakland, equipped with Pro Tools HD (as well as a 2’’ 24-track). Senior Contributor Allen Farmelo tracks to a PT HD rig at Mavericks in New York City and does much of his mixing at his home studio in Brooklyn on his personal PT HD setup. Tape Op’s Assistant Gear Geek and prepress guy (and college instructor) Scott McChane pilots PT HD while working at The Hangar in Sacramento but has spent many more hours steering a Pro Tools LE system at home and in the field. Let’s hear from each of them in turn, starting with Eli. –AH
I always have wildly mixed feelings about the unveiling of a new major Pro Tools version — half kid-in-a-candy-shop excitement about new features and improvements, half stomach-sinking dread of installation bugaboos and upgrade growing pains. Due to the latter, I’m usually a rather late adopter; I try to steer clear of “.0” versions. However, I just couldn’t wait to finally get automatic delay compensation (ADC) on my home laptop LE system, not to mention get it off its Mbox 2 Mini teat, so I jumped at the chance to be part of this group review.
As far as DAWs go, I’m pretty stuck on Pro Tools; I’ve been hooked ever since I made the switch from Digital Performer over a decade ago. It also happens to still be the software that makes the most sense for any commercial studio hosting outside engineers, so I put up with the limitations of PT LE for years, learning how to use Time Adjuster plug-ins to manually compensate for shifts in track alignment caused by
But now I can have these things – ADC and up to 32 channels of I/O – on my laptop? And for only a $250 upgrade fee from PT LE 8? Sign me up. Quickly. I have two Metric Halo 2882s (Tape Op #34) that I use and love for mobile recording, and in the past, I have gritted my teeth and recorded into Logic, which I find incredibly obtuse to operate. Now I can use the MH boxes with Pro Tools, and get substantially better preamps and conversion than I could with Avid’s FireWire and USB interfaces.
As is the norm with Pro Tools upgrades, they broke some things (like the Fit to Window key command) and added other seemingly-indispensable features (like a New Playlist key command!). They also included some features that were previously pay-to-play, like OMF/AAF importing and exporting and bouncing directly to MP3. Overall, I must say I’m really happy about the move to Pro Tools 9. One thing to keep in mind (if you’re a Mac user) is that you’ll have to upgrade to Snow Leopard if you’re still on 10.5. I’ll probably wait a while before I bring my studio machine up to date, especially since most of the added features benefit LE users more than HD users.
For those of you wondering why Pro Tools is still bothering to make an HD version, there is still a lot of functionality that only HD contains, especially if you work with video, although the vast majority of users won’t miss much. If you’re working on a non-PCI machine and need these features, a Complete Production Toolkit 2 license ($1999) gives you the majority of those capabilities on a non-HD system.
–Eli Crews, www.elicrews.com
When I’d heard that Avid was dissolving the Digidesign brand and were going to do things differently and more openly, I was skeptical, just like many who felt strong-armed into certain purchases and paradigms over the past 10, 15 years. When PT9 came out, I had an eyebrow raised high in suspicion. Was this talk of openness just more corporate wind? Does rebranding really mean anything? Would they deliver on their promises to make Pro Tools a more open platform and to respond to, rather than dismiss, the demands of their customers?
The short answer is a gape-mouthed, “Whoah, they actually did it!” No hardware necessary to run Pro Tools. Delay compensation for non-HD users. Third party hardware integration. Easy and free file exchange with other DAWs. Things have certainly changed in a huge way for the better, and in my opinion, Avid has steered the Titanic clear of the iceberg.
For me, the most significant changes are, obviously, centered around my way of working. I do a lot of mixing, so the ability to assign a new bus directly to a newly created destination track in one click of the mouse is a big improvement that saves me a lot of time when I’m mixing. Want to bus the snare out to an Aux for some parallel work? Boom, one click. Want to create a cue mix from a group of tracks? Boom, one click.
The other thing I do a lot of is bouncing between different studios where I need different I/O profiles. The ability to save and instantly call up different I/O profiles within a session saves an enormous amount of time and aggravation. Finally!
Once you’re up and running, you’ll notice a ton of improvements. The LCD readout gives you way more characters, the track numbers now display properly, and the metering ballistics are actually reflecting what you’re hearing. The fader resolution is vastly improved, and I was surprised to find how much this matters. Writing automation feels smoother, easier, and more connected to what I’m hearing. Also, in “flip” mode, you can actually use the faders to work with other parameters, like aux-send levels and plug-in parameters. Previously the flipped fader functions were so tweaky that I just ignored them. The flip function opens up whole new realms of high-resolution control. Plug-ins will now splay properly across multiple surfaces, so those of you with more than one Artist Series controller are going to have a lot more at your fingertips when tweaking plug-in parameters. Banking tracks is solid, no matter how many surfaces you use. Note that the four faders of an MC Control combined with the eight faders of an MC Mix will now bank properly as twelve faders. (HUI demanded banks of eight only, so things got really confusing fast.) In a nutshell, if you use an Artist Series or Pro Series controller with Pro Tools, then upgrade to PT9 immediately.
I never really used PT LE because delay compensation wasn’t there, but I am thrilled that the younger generation of folks getting into Pro Tools aren’t going to have to grapple with the unfathomable out-of-phase junk that was messing up so many LE-based projects. Quite literally, the world will have fewer fucked-up records because of ADC being included.
And, lastly, I love that I can drop a version of Pro Tools onto my laptop and travel easily, just using the internal headphone jack, to do edits and such. No longer being shackled to some needless Mbox or other glorified dongle is such a relief. I’d still like to leave the iLok out of it, but we’ll have to wait for another “opening” moment for that, I guess.
It’s really the most significant upgrade of Pro Tools ever.
–Allen Farmelo, www.farmelo.com
There’s always been a reserved loyalty towards Pro Tools amongst us lowly LE users. While we’re all excited about the new features — especially delay compensation and the freedom from proprietary hardware — there’s still a lingering wound left over from so many years of fighting obvious latency issues and other nagging limitations that have always threatened to keep us the “redheaded stepchild” of HD.
Well, no longer. The king is dead; long live the king. But wait a minute — forget the confetti, press releases, and champagne — you’ll want to know if PT9 is (a) worth the wait, and (b) worth the bucks. Let’s be honest. In my
Here’s the bottom line; install was painless. All my plug-ins and licenses were maintained. PT9 is backwards compatible with PT LE 8 and HD 8 (minus new features when opening PT9 files in PT8). The new I/O setup is stellar. AND THE BIG ONE — I swear on my Mom that my in-the-box mixes sound so much better with the delay compensation for plug-in latency. Noticeably improved localization, punchy low end — sounds like HD! Reunited and it feels so good! I’m loving Avid again. –SM
Putting my Gear Geek hat on, let me add some of my own points to this review. As soon as I got back from the AES show, I installed PT9 on my Core i7–equipped ultraportable laptop running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. Other than realizing that I had to install a third-party ASIO driver to run PT9 without any additional audio hardware, I was up and running quickly. A quick scan through the menus led me to the Playback Engine dialog, where I was able to choose the audio driver and turn on one of two levels of delay compensation. And as easy as that, I was listening back to a previously-recorded PT session through my laptop speakers. Moving to my custom-built, quad-core workstation (Tape Op #67), also running Win 7 U 64-bit, PT9 installed just as easily, and I was able to switch between my M-Audio ProFire Lightbridge (#57) and RME HDSPe MADI (#63) interfaces, utilizing up to 32 channels of I/O at a time. Of the two, the HDSPe is a PCIe card, so I knew it would have the highest performance with PT9. I pulled out my Tektronix digital scope and measured the end-to-end roundtrip latency — what a performer would experience while monitoring the track that’s actually being recorded. With audio routed through Apogee AD-16X and DA-16X converters connected to the HDSPe card, the total roundtrip latency at 44.1 kHz is 4.6 ms with an I/O buffer size of 32 samples. That’s how long it takes a mic’ed signal to go through this system into Pro Tools onto a record-enabled track, and then back out to the headphones. The Apogee converters account for 1.7 ms of that latency; the RME card by itself has a roundtrip latency of 2.9 ms at 44.1 kHz with PT9. Note that it takes about 1 ms for sound to travel through 1 ft. of air; therefore, with latency figures this low, it’s possible for a guitarist to hear his close-mic’ed amp in his headphones before he hears it in the room.
Speaking of latency, although PT9 will account for I/O latency of Avid hardware as best as it can, if you’re using third-party hardware, you’re on your own in regards to converter delay. Therefore, overdubs and punch-ins won’t be time-aligned within sample-accuracy to previously-recorded tracks. But unless you’re Steely Dan, you probably won’t notice a difference. Thankfully, Pro Tools does let you type in a value (ms) for hardware insert delay. If you’re using an analog effect as an insert, it’s not too difficult to measure the roundtrip latency of the insert path and type in that measured value. It would be even easier if Pro Tools did all that for you in an automated manner like Nuendo does. I’ve been told that such a capability is being developed for a future release, and more generally, that Avid is continuing to concentrate efforts on support for third-party hardware.
Other features to rejoice that haven’t yet been mentioned in this review? Multitrack Beat Detective, comprehensive session data import, timecode ruler, and audio/video rate pull up/down were previously available only in HD or with a Toolkit add-on. Track and bus counts are significantly higher. You can choose from a selection of pan laws. And with a unified installer, accessing Toolkit and HD features in any installation of PT9 is a matter of having the right license on your iLok (and the right hardware connected if the feature is hardware dependent). Because PT9 requires that an iLok remain inserted while the application is running, if you’re on a laptop, I’d recommend hanging the iLok off of a short (7’’ or less) male-to-female USB extension cable to reduce the chance of breaking the iLok or USB port.
Bottom line for me? With Pro Tools 9, I am setting aside Nuendo and “standardizing” my personal studio back on Pro Tools. Visit the Avid website for a complete list of new features in PT9. ($599 MSRP; www.avid.com) –AH
My brother John has been recording music as long as I have (since the early '80s), but while I ventured into professional engineering, John's always been more of a musician than an engineer. With that...