As we reported in our AES 2010 report (February 2011), Avid Pro Tools 9 was perhaps the biggest news in San Francisco last October. We asked power user Mark Hornsby to evaluate what the buzz was all about, and describe in practical detail what the new features mean to Pro Tools users at the various levels. -- Ed.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard that Avid, the artist formerly known as Digidesign, released Pro Tools 9. Needless to say, it's been crazy: mass hysteria everywhere, dogs and cats living together, the Mayan calendar being condemned for being off by a year, etc. and so on. So, all that drama aside, what's new in Pro Tools 9 that could cause all this? Let's take a look at some of the highlights.
You are now free to roam about the hardware
First and foremost, we can use whatever audio interface we want! No more MBox dongles (unless you want one). Pro Tools 9 supports Avid, third-party Core Audio interfaces, ASIO compatible interfaces, or the internal audio engine. Don't forget your iLok key, though. The software is authorized via iLok and if you remove it after the program boots up, it will randomly check to see if it's still there. And by the way, the new black iLok keys hold a lot more licenses than the old blue ones.
Never too late
Next up: latency. For years Pro Tools LE users had to deal with the time adjuster plug-in to compensate for latency. Thankfully, those days are gone forever. Automatic Delay Compensation is now standard. Now, one thing that's important to remember -- or to know if you're new to this -- is how Pro Tools handles delay compensation.
When a plug-in is inserted on a track, Pro Tools delays all the other tracks to compensate. If you have a plug-in on the lead vocal track that's incurring 128 samples of delay, Pro Tools leaves the vocal track alone and adds that much delay to all the other tracks -- that way all the audio tracks hit the finish line (the mix bus) at the same time.
One important note here is that if you're not using an Avid audio interface, and you use a hardware insert, Pro Tools won't know the delay offset of the third-party interface to compensate for the delay. So, you'll have to figure it out yourself. Run a ping or other sharp transient noise in and out of the I/O, record it, and measure the offset.
Detectives on the case
Multitrack Beat Detective is now standard -- no more one track at a time for native-based Pro Tools users. Also, full import session data features are all enabled. Pro Tools HD users have enjoyed this for years, having the ability to import and apply all the settings of a track in one session to a track in a different session. Pro Tools LE users used to only be able to import the actual track, in addition to some other limitations. There is now full OMF/AAF/MXF file interchange support, so projects can be exchanged/created in other audio and video software with Pro Tools and vice versa.
More tracks, more pan depth
Pro Tools 9 (the native version is no longer called "LE") supports up to 96 simultaneous audio tracks, 128 instrument tracks, 512 MIDI tracks, 256 internal busses, and 160 auxiliary tracks. Finally -- enough tracks to do a jazz album....
Pan depth in Pro Tools has never been as deep in the sound field as some of the classic English analog desks. Now there are several options. Pro Tools 9 lets you select the pan depth for stereo output paths. This can be done in the Session Setup window. This lets you set the amount of signal attenuation when a track is routed to a stereo output and panned to center.
More money buys still more
With all this, it would appear that the wall between Pro Tools 9 and Pro Tools HD has finally come down. Well, not exactly. If you really want all the features of Pro Tools 9 HD, you have to buy (additionally) what's called the Complete Production Tool Kit 2. It enables even more features, which users may or may not find vital. These include:
- Up to 192 simultaneous audio tracks on playback
- Exchange sessions with Pro Tools|HD users without ever losing any session information
- Shifting pitch and time with the X-Form plug-in
- Mixing in different formats up to and including 7.1 surround
- Full VCA mixing capabilities and support for up to 64 video tracks
- Some additional advanced automation, audio, and video editing tools
One other option (for purchase) that is activated in the form of a plug-in asset and is new for Pro Tools HD is the Heat engine, developed by Dave Hill (Crane Song, Dave Hill Designs). It uses harmonic manipulation and is built into the actual Pro Tools mixer. The intent is to make the Pro Tools mixer sound more like an analog console. Of course there is a 30 day free demo. If you're an HD user, check it out.
The nail on the head
Well, that's about it. Avid hit the nail on the head and finally gave us a lot of the features many of us have been asking about for a long time. If you're not already a user, the freedom to work with any interface should be enough to get you to at least check out Pro Tools 9.
Prices: Pro Tools 9, $599; Complete Production Toolkit 2, $1995
More from: Avid, www.avid.com.
Mark Hornsby (email@example.com) is a producer/engineer based out of Java Jive Studio in Nashville, TN. For more information, check out www.markhornsby.com.