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Avid Pro Tools review: This studio-style software will appeal to home creators too

Jon L. Jacobi | March 3, 2016
For professional recording engineers, Pro Tools is this industry standard, but creative types will find it surprisingly suitable—there's even a free version to get you started.

Since its inception, Pro Tools’s outstanding mixing board mimicry has made it the choice for upscale audio recording and manipulation—the recording industry’s DAW, as it were. That’s its bread and butter and it’s very intuitive for traditional studio engineers. For artists? Enh. However, over the years, Pro Tools has acquired MIDI and sequencing abilities, as well as notation, so it’s a more than competent tool for creative purposes. In fact, the program’s in-line editing (editing done right on the track rather than a separate window) makes it a favorite of many.

Avid’s brave new world

Pro Tools fell behind in the home creative audio market not so much because of creative lacks, but restrictive marketing practices. Prior to version 9, you needed an M-Powered consumer audio interface that was limited to 48kHz, or expensive, proprietary hardware if you wanted to record at bit rates beyond that. Avid still markets the high-end hardware which is quite nice-sounding, but it’s no longer joined at the hip with the software.

In the interim, there have been major changes to the way the program is marketed and sold. Besides no longer restricting your choices in hardware, Avid now offers a free version of Pro Tools called First. It allows only three concurrent projects and limits tracks to 16, but is adequate for most home projects and a great way to kick the tires of the industry standard. You must set up accounts with both Avid and iLok to handle the license. Projects can be edited locally, but they can also be stored online for remote access and there’s an online community. The collaboration possibilities are enticing.

What’s new

The vast majority of the improvements to Pro Tools, other than the aforementioned in-line editing made since I reviewed version 8.04 have been enhancements to editing features, or under the hood: the new AAX plug-in architecture, plug-in latency compensation, and a 64-bit audio engine. Avid also dumped the older TDM and RTAS plug-in formats, much to the chagrin of many existing users, some of whom have stuck with version 10.3.

There are also risks to wholesale code rewrites. Two versions on and I discovered a bug in enumerating audio devices when there was no Windows audio device present that consistently crashed the program. If you’re new to Pro Tools and have the issue, open the program without opening a file, open the Playback Engine dialog, change nothing if your interface is selected, click okay, and you should be good to go. Note that Pro Tools only supports ASIO devices so you’ll need ASIO4All for integrated motherboard audio chips. 

The latest Pro Tools version 12 (First is a version of 12) adds audio manipulation features, such as batch fades and commit, which takes those hundreds of edits Pro Tools engineers make and quickly bounces them to a clean audio track. Nothing revolutionary, but certainly welcome, time-saving improvements.


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