Pro Tools offers a number of different ways to add effects, one could say plug-ins but sometimes the term plug-in is not entirely accurate. Depending on the way the plug-ins or process is applied in can affect the results and also affect the load on your computer and your Pro Tools session.
Using Plug-ins As Channel Inserts
Perhaps the most common way people use audio processing in Pro Tools is as plug-ins on track inserts, this means the plug-in is only applied to the channel the audio is playing through. There are a number of things to note when using plug-ins on an individual channel;
- Plug-ins work live and make no changes to the audio file that passes through them.
- Each plug-in used takes up processing power, either DSP power on a Pro Tools HD system or the computer’s processing (native power) on a native Pro Tools system.
- Some third party plug-ins such as UAD use their own DSP processing either on a PCI card or attached via FireWire or Thunderbolt. Each plug-in you insert will use up some of that processing power.
- Plug-ins work in serial, meaning that the audio cascades through each plug-in and is processed in turn. This means for example that if you add a compressor in the first insert and an EQ in the second insert then the EQ is processing the signal as it has passed through the compressor.
- Inserts are pre-fader on audio, aux, and instrument tracks, but post-fader on a Master track.
- Inserts applied to tracks are not recorded as part of the audio. If you want to record audio with effects then you need to buss the audio out to another audio track and record it with effects applied.
- Virtual Instruments only work as inserts.
As a rule of thumb most insert plug-ins are used for processes involving EQ or Dynamics or track specific effects and when you need to process your audio in serial.
Another benefit of using insert based plug-ins is that live automation can be applied during the mix.
Using Plug-ins On Busses
A second way to use plug-ins as inserts are to use them on an Aux channel and then send the audio to that channel for processing, this offers two benefits.
- Using plug-ins on an Aux track allows the user the opportunity to send audio from several channels. This is often the case when using a reverb or delay, where the effect may be sent from many channels at the same time. This means one reverb can be used rather than many reverbs on each channel - this will, of course, reduce the processing load.
- Plug-ins can be used to process the audio in parallel, this is a common trick on drums and vocals when using compressors. Parallel compression offers the opportunity to process the audio in a way not possible using inserts in serial, allowing the user to mix both the clean and compressed audio. Watch this free Pro Tools tutorial on using parallel compression in Pro Tools. Some plug-ins offer the chance to mix the original signal with the compressed signal, but even if the plug-in you use doesn’t offer mixing, you can use the method shown in the video.
Using AudioSuite Processing
AudioSuite processing is an offline process that makes changes to the audio file. A process can be auditioned and then once the user is happy with the process this can be rendered to the audio. However have no fear of doing irreparable damage to your audio, Pro Tools retains the original unprocessed audio should you wish to return to it, find out more about dealing with this here. Common uses for AudioSuite processing are...
- Changes to gain (less used since the introduction of clip gain in Pro Tools)
- Audio repair, such as de-noising, de-clipping or de-hum.
- Processor intense effects such as de-breath or vocal alignment.
Some Pro Tools users seldom use AudioSuite processing, yet AudioSuite can be a powerful tool, it offers processing that is not always possible in real-time, due to power constraints or the process being so intensive it creates latency so high that makes the process almost unusable. Watch this video on using the Normalize function as an AudioSuite process.
Using Standalone Audio Processing
Many manufacturers offer their audio processing as both standalone and also as an AudioSuite process. Often the standalone version offers more features and better results. Two products do this very well are iZotope RX and Synchro Arts Revoice Pro, both have far superior features in standalone versions. The great news is that both products offer the option to easily take audio from Pro Tools out into the standalone app, process it and bring it back into Pro Tools.
Real-time Clip Effects (HD Only)
Being able to apply real-time effects to clips is a long awaited feature that has been in the Ideascale top 20 for so very long and was added in Pro Tools 12.6, HD users can now apply non-destructive, clip-based processing. You can add real-time EQ and dynamics to a single clip or a clip group, enabling us to have different settings across multiple clips without having to render the clips using AudioSuite plugins.
There is a dedicated ‘plug-in’ for this feature, which is based on the Avid Channel Strip, and has access to all the Channel Strip presets as well. The real-time effects plugin pops up in the space occupied by the Universe window. Consequently, this section of the Edit window now has two tabs so when it is open you can switch between Real-time clip effects tab and Universe tab.
This feature is not automatable so you cannot change the settings over time within a clip, it is a static setting for each clip, but that isn't an issue, static settings are what we have been waiting for!
All the settings stay with the clip, so if you move the clip around the timeline all the settings travel with the clip. There are no more messages about not having that plugin on this track and so on!
You can also layer real-time clip effects over the top of each other, so you can have some clip specific processing which is different for each clip but then have a different setting that affects a block of clips and they all work together, so you not are limited to one set of settings per clip.
There are some new icons that appear in the top right corner of each clip which tell you that there are real-time clip effects applied to that clip and what type of effects have been used.
If you right click on a clip with real-time clips effects you have the option to Bypass, Copy, Clear or Render the real-time effects on that clip.
The signal path order now in Pro Tools 12.6 tracks is Elastic Audio, Clip Effects, Clip Gain, Inserts and finally the Fader. This means that all real-time clip effects are pre Clip Gain so adjusting the Clip Gain will not screw up any Dynamics in use in Clip Effects.
You cannot use any other plug-in yet for this new real-time clips effects feature but we understand that Avid do plan to extend this to 3rd party plugins in the future, but for now it is just the Avid Channel Strip, but this is a major step forward for post work and is one of the features in the Ideascale top 20.
Pro Tools Vanilla Users Are Not Completely Left Out
Although this is an HD only feature, for easy and smooth collaboration and interoperability between any Pro Tools system, Avid have made sure that when you open a session with Real-time Clip Effects in Pro Tools Vanilla, users will be able to playback with those effects, you just won’t be able to edit or modify them. However, Vanilla users will be able to choose to Bypass or Render the clip effects. When the session returns to an HD system it will again be possible to edit or modify the clip effects.
Knowing how to process audio can make a world of difference, it will change the sound you achieve, the quality of that sound and also maximise the efficiency of your sessions.