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Software Review: Pro Tools 10 from Avid

Pro Tools 10 is the newest release of Avid’s Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) which works like a multi-track tape recorder and mixer but functions within the digital domain. It gives you many additional capabilities as well as allowing you to add other software and hardware components when you want to create music.

Pro Tools is the most dominate DAW in the audio production industry and is used by professional musicians from all genres of the music field. You can use it to record with microphones or MIDI controllers. You can edit your tracks using the built-in editing tools, add effects that come with the program, purchase plug-ins from third party providers, mix your songs with the software-based mixing boards, add on hardware consoles, and export to just about any kind of format.

While there are several options for Pro Tools 10 available, this review focuses on the base software package. If you have a large-scale project that demands more power and the highest sound quality, then check out Avid’s Pro Tool HD packages. This is the first version of Pro Tools that supports MAC OS 10.7 Lion while still remaining compatible with 10.6.7 and 10.6.8. For Windows users, you need to be running Windows 7 SP1. For a complete list of requirements you can check out the system requirements page.

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What is new in Pro Tools 10?

• 32-bit floating-point audio format is now supported in Pro Tools 10. Using a 32-bit floating point bit depth for audio files in Pro Tools sessions can help avoid clipping or unnecessary dithering with AudioSuite rendering. This can also help avoid rounding errors in signal processing, which can occur during bit-depth conversion for file playback and real-time plug-in insert processing. Sessions can be set to 32-bit floating point when they are created, or while they are open using the Session Setup window. One thing to note is that this will make your files take up more space and can prove to be problematic on older, slower hard drives.

• Support for WAVE extensible file format for audio files. These are recommended if you are working with greater-than-stereo multichannel track formats in your Pro Tools sessions. This file format specifies multiple audio channel data (surround sound) along with speaker positions, which is stored within the audio file header. These audio files are identified in DigiBase browsers with the designation “WAV (BWF EXT)” in the Attributes field.

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• Share with SoundCloud gives you the ability to share your composition with a select group of users, posted to your website or your social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Use the new Share with SoundCloud option in the Bounce to Disk dialog and in the Export Selected dialog. When this option is selected, the bounced file is automatically uploaded to your SoundCloud account. If you do not have an account, you can create one for free.

• Real-time fades are now calculated and played back in real time, eliminating the need for rendered fade files. This provides significant improvements in both disk (hard drive) performance, and file management and file exchange.

• Clip based gain will now provide for quick and easy gain matching of clips (these were called “regions” in prior versions of Pro Tools) from different sources in a Pro Tools session. Clip-based gain is applied pre-mixer (pre-fader and before any plug-in processing). This is especially useful when working with field recordings and sample libraries in post-production sessions. The clip gain settings stay with the clip, which means you can move and copy and paste clips with their corresponding clip gain settings. All clips have a clip gain of 0 dB by default. Clip gain can be adjusted from –144 dB to +36.0 dB.

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• Solo and Mute status indicators in the Edit window are visible as two new visual indicators for quickly seeing if any of the tracks are soloed or muted. This is especially useful for sessions with a lot of tracks, where tracks that are soloed or muted may be scrolled out of view.

• AAX (Avid Audio eXtension) plug-in format is a new real-time plug-in using host-based (“Native”) processing. The AAX plug-in format also supports AudioSuite non-real-time, file-based rendered processing. AAX plug-in files use the “.aax” file suffix. There are three AAX format plug-ins included with Pro Tools 10: Avid Channel Strip provides EQ Dynamics Filter and Gain effects; Avid Down Mixer is for mixing greater-than-stereo multichannel tracks; and Mod Delay III is for multichannel and multi-mono modulating delay effects.

• The new Disk Engine now increases the performance for audio recording and playback. This also means that the DAE Playback buffer size setting in lower versions of Pro Tools is no longer necessary and has been removed, as have the cache size and the Open-Ended Record Allocation settings. Pro Tools 10 now also has enhanced support for Network Attached Storage (NAS) for opening, playing back, and recording sessions. Keep in mind that there may be some performance hits through the use of NAS based on the type of storage, number of disks, and the type of network technology used.

• AudioSuite processing has been upgraded to include the ability to open multiple AudioSuite windows simultaneously. Fades and clip metadata are preserved with rendering, handles for trimming out rendered clips, and a reverse command for delay and reverb AudioSuite plug-ins.

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• The Avid Channel Strip plug-in provides EQ, Dynamics, Filter, and Gain effects. The Avid Channel Strip processing algorithms are based on the award-winning Euphonix system 5 console channel strip effects. It is available in AAX (Native) and AudioSuite formats, and supports 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz sample rates.

• The Avid Down Mixer Plug-in can be used to automatically mix greater-than-stereo multichannel tracks (such as 5.1) down to stereo (Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools with Complete Production Toolkit only) or stereo tracks down to mono. It too is an AAX plug-in (Native), and supports 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz sample rates.4-8-2012 6-15-36 PM

• With Mod Delay III, multichannel and multi-mono modulating delay effects were redesigned graphically, as were its internals to be an AAX plug-in. The sound is more impressive than ever and the look is in line with the Pro Tools dark grey. It too supports 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz sample rates.

• Flexible session structure makes sharing sessions easy. Pro Tools 10 can support multiple audio file types and settings in a single session, which can speed up the processing of imports. You can select the sessions that you want and import them into a separate session and pass them off for a collaborator to work with.

• The new Bus Interrogation window lets you trace the complete signal path of any sound source, which makes it easier to get back into a project you haven’t worked with for a while or to collaborate with others.

Pro Tools 10 actually comes with a lot more new features than I have listed here, some of which are geared for the Pro Tools 10 HDX and are out of the scope of this review, but if what has been updated for this release is any indication, there are even more goodies with those new features as well.

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A couple of things to point out: First, even though Pro Tools 10 will run just fine on a 64-bit machine, it is still a 32-bit application. This, at least in my testing, has not shown to be a problem. This is something that makes this release a somewhat transitional one, so that both the next version can be 64-bit and this release can have a smooth user experience. They have made it so that it runs quickly even in the 32-bit space.

This brings up the second item: Although Pro Tools 10 still supports both the HD as well as the new HDX hardware, the next version will not support the HD hardware. This too is because of major changes to the next version. While Avid plans to support this version and make necessary updates for the foreseeable future, if you have this equipment, this will be something to be aware of and plan for accordingly. To read more about this, check out the Avid FAQ.

All that being said, I am really impressed, not by a series of blow-you-away features, but rather that this is both a transitional as well as a substantive update. Transitional in the sense that it is paving the way for the future, but it still has solid features that make it a solid upgrade for many users.

First, the Clip Gain really provides a lot of flexibility in that you can change the volume of the clip at the source level before it gets to the mixer, fader, or effects. The fact that it stays with the clip provides a lot of control, especially when you consider that the change will affect what goes into your plug-ins. Also by right-clicking the fader icon you can see the changes.

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Next is the AAX plug-in format and the new Channel Strip plug-in, which finally gives Pro Tools users a Channel Strip plug-in to work with, along with a couple of other plug-ins to get the AAX ball rolling. Add to this the SoundCloud integration and the AudioSuite updates, and there is a fair amount of substance.

I also like the speed of this version. I am not sure if it is all due to the new Disk Engine or may have to do with some other new code, but Pro Tools 10 is very responsive. For me, initial load takes some time (this may be because I have a whole lot of third party plug-ins), but once it is loaded everything is very fast.

If you are looking for a professional level DAW, then you have found one with Pro Tools 10. It is one of the elite production tools used by musicians, producers, and sound engineers for years and it is battle tested. If you are looking to upgrade from a prior version, especially 8 or earlier, then this is an easy yes. If you are looking to upgrade from 9, the choice is not as straightforward, but to me the speed, enhancements, and the solid feel would make me lean towards yes, but it is not a must-have in this case. That said, if you are considering the move to Pro Tools 10, then I can very highly recommend it.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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