click here to see the Pro Tools 10 Review Session
It’s been a funny few weeks leading up to the latest Avid Pro Tools announcements and I think I need to tell you about them before you read this review, mainly because if you are surprised by the what the review contains, then trust me, not as much as I am.
It was odd firstly, because I knew most of what was coming and knew that Avid were not going to announce any of the top three most requested features from the Ideascale forum they run. I also knew the reasons why there was going to be no 64 bit Pro Tools. As much as the self pundits in forums rattle on about how 64 bit is a must and Avid have to do it (both of which, and I know Avid also agree with), they fail to appreciate both the technical challenges and also the financial position Avid find themselves. The technical challenges are, firstly that Pro Tools codebase needs rewriting from the floor up and that takes time. Secondly, Avid are serious about ensuring continuity of service and there’s a lot of Pro Tools hardware out there that needs to keep working with Pro Tools, at some point taking the software to a 64 bit codebase will mean that is not entirely possible. Avid don’t have a huge pot of money to throw at that challenge, like say for example our friends over at Apple. Programming code is an expensive business, even if you farm that out to Eastern Europe or India.
Avid stock right now is at an all-time low and although the current leadership have tried to get Avid in a healthy financial state, they do not have the power to print cash!
Secondly, the weeks running up to it were odd, because of the on-going relationship that Avid have with the blog. We report rumours, Avid, like Apple, don’t like the idea of rumours sites, it makes them jumpy in some quarters of Avid HQ. So when I say I know what’s coming from Avid, it’s not because they tell me, but because we make it our job to find out as much as we can for our readership. In some cases we don’t print as much as our readers would like, but on the other hand we print more than Avid would like. So our relationship with Avid can be, to put it kindly, tense from time-to-time.
So why this long preamble into a review on Pro Tools 10? Simply to help you, the reader, appreciate that what I’m about to say sits in the context of what was, on the face of it, cited by many as a pretty mediocre update and also to spell out to those reading that I’m not some Avid stooge who gets paid to write this stuff – on the contrary.
With all that out of the way let’s get on to the review of Pro Tools 10 HD.
This is not a technical review, more a hands-on, what do I think review. There are people with far greater technical and editorial skills to give you those kind of reviews and in due time they will. If you want to know more about the software in-depth, then Avid have a great resource online with videos and technical support documents, so it’s pointless me doing that job.
My review system is Pro Tools 10 HD, Pro Tools HD Native and an Omni interface. My test machine is a Mac Pro Mid 2010 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, 12 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC, and running Mac OS X Lion 10.7.2.
Installation was a breeze, which I thought could go either way as one of the big changes in this release is the new naming convention for many of the folders and their structures. It’s all Avid now, so don’t go trying to find your Pro Tools files in a Digidesign folder. The install consisted of two installion packages, one for the main application and another for the virtual instruments from our friends at AIR.
One thing to mention is the Avid workflow conventions now appear within Pro Tools itself, so in the future get used to calling regions clips. This is across a number of workflow areas and will take a little getting used to. If you work in an Avid post house and with Media Composer then it will make perfect sense to you.
My test session was one I have used a lot and a good one to use; I know it like the back of my hand. It consists of live drums, bass, 2 acoustics, main vocals, 12 backing vocals, Hammond, Wurly piano, loops and percussion. It has instances of Elastic Audio and a lot of edits (see pic).
The first thing I wanted to try was the new Timeline Cache*, so I went into Playback Engine settings and set it to use 4 of the possible 9gigs available. Then Pro Tools does some maths and all your timeline is cached, it takes seconds.
This is where you might appreciate the preamble at the start of this review. I sat in front of my Mac with the H/W buffer set at 32 samples and the session just flew. (see the video). I was like a silly little kid, I spent about 2 minutes just dropping the cursor on the timeline not quite believing how responsive it is. To put it bluntly this feature alone is f**cking amazing. It might be a 32bit app, but Avid should be prosecuted under the trade’s description act, because they seem to have made it more responsive than many 64bit audio DAWs.
My next port of call was to try out the new Channel Strip plug-in; a nice addition of Eq, Gate, Compressor, Filters and gain in one handy plug-in; taken from a Euphonix System 5 console so I’m told. I inserted it into one channel and had a quick play and then thought ‘stuff it’ let’s throw it on every channel. Easy task, simply hold down the ‘ALT’ key and then choose it from the plug-in menu and hey presto it’s on every channel, in this case 36 of them. At 1024samples it added 8% to CPU usage, even at 32 samples it only added around 10%. Impressive. (See the video clip)
Of course this is really about the sound, so I then tried it out on vocals, it sounded great. If you think factory equals basic then you may be surprised at how good this sounds. Not having time to go through all 36 tracks and fine tune them, I decided to try the factory presets, which are very good. In fact the mix I have is 99% presets and it sounds great.
Next, I jumped onto the new clip based gain and set to work fixing the main vocal. It’s a feature that mainly found its way into this release because of requests from the post-production community. Having said that, I used it on this music track and I have to say, it’s a very fast way of getting a track into shape. I love it.
One great use of clip-based gain is for removing noise or breaths in vocal takes. You can just go in and pull it down to zero or make more subtle adjustments. Clip based gain is such a forensic way of editing volume information; it’s fast and powerful.
Clip based gain is one of those things you would perhaps never think of needing, but now there’s no way I’m going back to the old way of working.
In the same vein, the addition of real-time fades is a godsend. Previously fades within Pro Tools were essentially small audio clips that attached themselves to the main clip, they were stored in a fades folder. There have been too many times when I’ve found myself with a session that has missing fade files. Not anymore, this is real-time and is faster and better.
The next new feature is multiple instances of Audio Suite plug-ins, which means you can set up quite a complex treatment and then render that to the clip. Even better, in many cases the individual clip gain and fades stay intact. It even gives you handles, which means you can pull out the audiosuite effect further if you don’t quite get the all the clips in your process. There’s a preference to select the handles to be there for the whole clip or just a portion of, let’s say, 2 seconds. Very handy if you apply it and then want to extend or reduce it after the event. Remember this is file based though, so the handles only apply to the clip and not the entire track, unless of course you have selected all clips in the tracks you are treating.
Exporting selected tracks, as a new session is a very good addition. I just selected the drum tracks in my song and then exported them. The new session opens with all the tracks in place, the audio in and all the plug-in settings intact – very easy to use, yet another great addition.
Next I decided to try out the new bounce options namely Soundcloud and send to iTunes, which may seem like minor additions, even gimmicks, but removing the middle step of sending a bounce to a client for approval is a welcome addition to my workflow. What can I say? They are well-implemented and just work, simple but very, very useful. The track is sent directly to Souncloud, my test can be found here http://soundcloud.com/airusersblog/pt10-bounce
The new marketplace is one area that feels a little like an afterthought, it’s basically a small custom browser within Pro Tools that allows you to log into your Avid account, shop, visit the DUC and look up help. The trouble is that it is neither an inbuilt app store where you can buy plug-ins or a very good browser. I found it a little unnecessary, it would have been far better to create something like the Amplitube Custom store that feels really integrated or not bothered. It’s not really what it says it is, more of a custom web browser within Pro Tools. This is the only real miss as far as I’m concerned.
Pro Tools 10 HD has over 50 new features and this review is not intending to go through every single one of them; more to highlight the ones that we found are useful for this review.
Before I wrote this review I called three people to tell them my findings; partly because I was in shock.
Why? I was not expecting to be impressed by Pro Tools 10 HD. I’ve seen the marketing, the presentations, the artist interviews and thought, of course they are going to say how wonderful it is; but for me I thought it would be fun to try out some of these new features and that they might prove handy at some point.
However, I was no expecting to feel the way I now do. Pro Tools 10 has blown me away. I feel like I picked a fight with the school wimp and got my ass kicked. If, like me, you are taking Pro Tools 10 with a pinch of salt then think again.
With Pro Tools 10 HD seeing is not believing; using is believing. The thing I am finding hardest to get my head around is that it doesn’t feel like Pro Tools. If you’ve used previous versions of Pro Tools, it’s always felt a bit like a fat old dog who you have to take for walks and it just lumbers along. Yes it works, but it never feels like you’re flying. This version of Pro Tools is like a greyhound on steroids who has just seen a rabbit. Your only problem with Pro Tools 10 HD will be keeping up with it. It feels like it’s sitting there in front of you saying ‘come on then, hit me again, and again, and again!’
I don’t know what they’ve been doing at Avid, but someone’s been messing with Pro Tools and they’ve made it into the best version ever! By a mile.
We get so used to being sold more and more features that often we forget what really matters in production; speed and sound. Don’t get me wrong this version has plenty of new features, but features are like a face-lift, this version of Pro Tools has had a new heart put in it. It may not be 64bit app, but if this is what Avid can do with a 32bit version of Pro Tools, then I can’t wait to see what happens next. If you have to choose a DAW that’s fast and has amazing sound, then Pro Tools 10 HD with a Native card is going to win hands down every time, 64 bit or not – no contest.
Am I overstating the case? Will this euphoria wear off, perhaps it will and then I’ll get used to how fast it is to work with Pro Tools 10 HD and how great it sounds. One thing is for sure, this one’s a winner on so many levels.
Avid have pulled a fast one on all of us; they’ve made a version of Pro Tools that we thought had no teeth, but be warned, if you go near it, it will bite your bloody head off.
My advice if you are thinking about Pro Tools 10 HD is don’t believe anything Avid say about it in their marketing; they are playing it down - it’s better!
Pro Tools 10 HD may have fifty new features, but it is for a hundred and one reasons that I’m giving Pro Tools 10 HD my Editors Choice Award. It’s a no brainer.
* Feature only available in Pro Tools 10HD or by using Complete Production Toolkit