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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.

Pro Tools First may attract new users, but there’s at least one hurdle to adoption by more experienced DAW users—lack of native support for VST plug-ins and instruments, which are used in every DAW outside of Pro Tools and Apple’s Logic. There are AAX versions of most popular VST instruments and effects, but few users want to start kludging immediately with a third-party wrapper for their favorite plug-ins that aren’t supported. 

Still, it’s Pro Tools!

Regardless of what I called out as ownership hurdles, when it comes to recording and manipulating audio, as well as finalizing production, Pro Tools is as good as it gets. It also has a certain cachet as it’s what the pros use—the results can be heard on thousands of hit songs. And, because the program interfaces seamlessly with so much professional audio equipment, including external DSPs for processing super high-quality effects, it is likely to remain a mainstay of studios around the world.

The countless hours recording engineers have spent learning and using the program will also keep it in good stead. Sitting in a studio and watching a pro use Pro Tools is a fascinating experience. And yes, top artists still use studios because of their acoustic properties, communal and social vibe, and because they provide people who sweat the details while the artist performs.

Flavors

Pro Tools comes in the traditional $699 standalone package, but is now also available as a monthly rental of about $30. There are also yearly upgrade and support contracts, as well as plug-in rentals. I’m not sure how the brave new world of software rental and pay support is working for Avid’s existing customer base, but it sure does make it easy to try stuff.

Fortunately for everyone, you can continue to use whatever DAW you want, then transfer things into Pro Tools later—it has very good import capabilities. There’s of course MIDI and audio file import, but the easiest way is via an OMF (Open Media Framework) file exported by Logic, Cubase, Sonar, Pro Tools and others. Either way, an experienced Pro Tools engineer can recreate an external project in no time. And you’ll probably only need a bit longer.

Conclusion

If you haven’t settled on a DAW yet, you should definitely take a look at Pro Tools. It’s the cream of the crop for audio recording and production. It’s also far more viable as a creative tool than you might expect. And, the free First version is huge for the hordes of budding musicians struggling to pay the rent. Only Presonus’s Studio One offers a free version that’s as capable as First.

Additionally, if you have any ambition at all of becoming a professional sound engineer, then you need to know Pro Tools. At least for the foreseeable future. It can’t hurt if you’re an artist either—it always pays to know what your engineer or producer is up to. 

 

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