Pro Tools

Movie WindowWalk into a recording studio. Ask if they have a digital editing facility. Go to a room with a Power Macintosh inside, running Pro Tools. That's the reality at the creative end of todays recording industry.

You may also see Studio Vision Pro, Peak or Cubase in the apple menu items window, but get down to actually putting it all together, at high sample rates, and chances are you'll be running Pro Tools.

Take the post production of movies for example. Where audio is synced to the images after being sliced up into many different bits and pieces. Sure, you can do this in other environments with other applications, but Digidesign really seem to have welded this increasingly crucial feature seamlessy into the Pro Tools recording, processing and editing environment.

But don't think for one second that syncing audio to movies is all it can do.

For the musician in a small room containing a desktop computer, a few synth modules and a sampler, Pro Tools ultimately becomes the mixing desk, effects processor, tape recorder and MIDI sequencer, all in one. But it wasn't always this way.

Only a few years ago, when a powerful computer could cost upwards of ten thousand US dollars, you would need a multitrack tape recorder (the more expensive the better.) Next came the mixing desk, which needed to be as "quiet" and as efficient as possible yet be able to handle as much as you could throw at it. After spending several thousand dollars on these basics you got to choose from a myriad of effects processors. And last but not least, a really big room to put it all in.

Who would have thought that one day all that equipment would end up tucked away nice and neatly inside a translucent blue and white plastic bubble.

The reality of the situation is that Pro Tools really does make it possible to run a powerful and versatile digital recording studio in your home, without the need for expensive bulky outboard recording equipment. What's more, when the time comes to create a master with which to produce tapes or CD's, you have the option of simply transferring everything to a DAT and taking it to your local record plant - or across to the other side of the room to your CD burner.

Let's take a look at the main editing window and quickly run through some of the features and functions, and remember that our aim is to help de-mystify and simplify the amazing software and hardware out there, and just because Pro Tools 4.0 is a state of the art audio recording and editing tool doesn't mean you need to be a rocket scientist to get professional results.Editing window

Firstly, all the different tracks of music are represented in graphical form, meaning you actually get to see a graphical representation of the actual soundwave or waveform. This not only makes it easier to see what the sound is doing in a particular section, but also dramatically simplifies the task of figuring out which sections of each track have nothing recorded on them. Especially useful when optimizing hard-disk space.

This particular example shows the editing window with just two tracks displayed.

The main editing window also provides several useful tools for editing and viewing your recorded data, including The Grabber which allows you to move tracks and regions around by clicking and dragging them to a new location, and The Scrubber which lets you play up to two tracks at once by clicking anywhere on the track and dragging the mouse left or right. If you move it ultra slow you get to hear an ultra slowed down version of the audio file which is excellent for finding a specific part of a track for drop in points or whatever! We also liked the way in which the buttons light up to look like there's an actual light behind them when selected.

Close-upHere you can see a closer view of one particular track.

See the graphical representations of the soundwaves? Before long you will actually acquire a kind of sixth sense which will allow you to tell, just by looking, which of many separate "takes" or versions of a particular phrase is which.

See also that the name of each instrument is clearly represented above buttons that allow you to mute or solo any particular track. You'll use these buttons a lot as you build each song track by track. There are also the ever important Pan and Volume controls close by.

You may be wondering how the sound gets into your computer in the first place? Well there are several answers to that one! The simplest way is to connect your audio source directly to your computer via the audio-in socket which comes with every modern Mac. But why do that when there's an Audiomedia III card in the ToolBox (If you're wondering what we mean by ToolBox just click on the word and find out).

During the introduction you may remember we mentioned a mixing desk, which is still an essential component of multitrack recording and even in the age of digital audio production we wouldMixer window be lost without them. So here it is, your very own fully automated mixing desk, which is most likely the closest you'll get to owning a $50,000 SSL desk used in recording studios around the world.

It has all the features of a real-life mixing desk, but instead of weighing several hundred pounds it weighs nothing! It also allows you to switch from input monitoring to output monitoring without having to spend hours swapping those pesky cables around.

Here's another close-up! Access to such features as mute/solo and record safe modes are readily available. It's also possible to mute soloed tracks. Fader

If you've spent time in a professional recording studio you'll have noticed that the mixing desk is automated, and this feature has been improved in version 4.1. You can even automate the parameter changes of various Plug-Ins that you may be using to produce effects as well as being able to record the positions of the faders, pan and input/output sources.

Take a look at the coloured square above the fader. That means it has been assigned to a particuler group. This is particularily useful if you want to solo the rythm section for example without having to select each and every track while the song is playing. You may also need to assign all the vocal tracks to their own group to hear what's going on instantly with the touch of a single button, and with the new Hide/Show tracks list, you can quickly change the Edit or Mix Windows to view only the tracks you're working on.

The faders themselves are excellently designed, moving smothly back into their pre-programmed locations if moved during playback of a finished mix, and providing a visually pleasing "look" to the Mix window.

Another "must-have" is a feature known as "non-destructive editing" which basically means that you can go wherever you want with your edits, crossfades, or any other changes to each sample without ever losing the original version. Unlike audio tape which allows you to record one section to another part of the tape, Pro Tools actually creates a map of your audio file on the hard disk, so any changes you make aren't actually affecting the original section. If you cut or delete something Pro Tools simply tells the hard disk not to read that portion of the audio file. Likewise if you want certain parts played in a certain order a map is created and those sections will be instantly retrieved and played in the order you wanted them.

Above all the Pro Tools interface is easy to use and packed with user definable shortcuts which makes it a versatile and indispensable addition to any MIDI studio. It also provides powerful post audio editing features using the built-in QuickTime playback capability, and if you're really serious about setting up a video editing suite you can install software that will remotely control outboard video editing hardware from within the Pro Tools environment!

Major differences between this version of Pro Tools and earlier versions are primarily behind the scenes. And as with most version upgrades a lot of redundant code is removed which generally helps to speed things up and enhance overall performance. Needless to say we will be updating this feature after spending more time with this latest version of ProTools, so check back soon.

To contact Digidesign check out their entry in our Manufacturers department.