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Avid Pro Tools 2023.9

Music Production Software By Sam Inglis
Published December 2023

Avid Pro Tools 2023.9

Pro Tools users can now join the clip‑launching party without leaving the comfort of their favourite DAW.

Autumn: season of mist, mellow fruitfulness and DAW upgrades. In the last month alone, Cubase 13, Studio One 6.5, Reaper 7 and Bitwig Studio 5 have all sprung up like mushrooms on a dewy pasture. And while version 2023.9.0 might not sound like a milestone for Pro Tools, in practice it’s the most significant development for music‑creation purposes since the adoption of Core Audio and ASIO support.

Although they’ve been fearless in pioneering high‑end features such as Atmos, Avid have typically been more conservative when it comes to music‑production tools. Folder tracks, ARA support, plug‑in freezing and so on have all come later to Pro Tools than to other DAWs. But the flip side of this is that when such features do arrive, the implementation is usually second to none.

The headline addition in Pro Tools 2023.9 follows in this tradition. Clip‑ or loop‑based composition has a long history, dating right back to the trackers of the 1990s, but most contemporary implementations follow the template established by Ableton Live more than 20 years ago. Live itself has evolved into a hugely sophisticated and very popular package that is widely used for live playback, theatre sound and so on as well as music composition, while the basic idea of a scene‑based ‘clip launcher’ environment has recently found its way into other, more mainstream DAWs, as for instance in Logic’s Live Loops. Now version 2023.9 brings clip launching to Pro Tools, courtesy of the Sketch window. Sketch is included in all versions of Pro Tools, including the free Pro Tools Intro, and is also available as a free iPad app.

Edit, Mix & Sketch

One of the core strengths of the Pro Tools user interface is that it’s always been possible to do everything from within the main Edit window; the Mix window provides a useful but largely inessential complement to this. Sketch, however, is almost completely independent of both.

Sketches have their own file format and are loaded and saved independently of Sessions and Projects. Only one Sketch can be open at once, but you can have either a Session or Project open at the same time as a Sketch. These Sketches can also be pinned to one or more Sessions, so that they open automatically alongside those Sessions. The Sketch window has its own tempo and time signature, but can be sync’ed to those of a Session if you like.

A Sketch comprises an arrangement of audio or MIDI clips within a grid of cells.

A Sketch comprises an arrangement of audio or MIDI clips within a grid of cells. Each clip has its own play button, while playback of an entire row of clips — a scene — is triggered using play buttons to the left of the row. Plackback is quantised to bars in the grid, so after you hit play on a clip or scene, playback will actually start on the next downbeat. Scenes themselves can be sequenced in a linear Arrangement along the timeline above the grid. Each column of clips, meanwhile, is routed to a channel within Sketch’s simple mixer, and MIDI clips within a column all trigger the same instrument. Scenes and columns/channels can be named and coloured, but for some reason this requires you to right‑click and choose Properties from the pop‑up menu — you can’t simply double‑click.

Sketch includes a simple mixer with insert slots.Sketch includes a simple mixer with insert slots.

Reflecting the need for Sketches to be interchangeable between desktop and tablet versions, the Sketch window is very self‑contained. It has its own, intentionally limited, collection of instruments and effects, and doesn’t support either third‑party plug‑ins or those bundled with Pro Tools. It also has its own sound library, which is accessed through a browser on the left‑hand side of the Sketch window. This browser can also access audio files stored elsewhere on your device, and on top of this, cells can be populated by dragging and dropping from the Finder, Windows Explorer, or the Pro Tools Edit window. Anything you drag in is automatically time‑stretched to make it fit a whole number of bars at the current Sketch tempo.

Raw Materials

The bundled sound library includes both audio and MIDI loops, which are further subcategorised into a handful of different instrument types. As well as mostly helpful names, each loop has metadata that includes tempo, time signature and key, but not genre or other additional information. Again, each has its own play button allowing it to be auditioned at the current Sketch tempo. Audio and MIDI content outside the factory library is accessed through a separate tab within the browser. This works fine, although metadata recognition for user‑created and third‑party files seems to be a bit of a work in progress at launch.

Although the bundled sound library isn’t exhaustive by any means — it seems a bit redundant to have a time signature field in the metadata when every single loop is in 4/4! — the quality is generally excellent, and refreshingly contemporary. There are some particularly impressive examples of creative sound design among the drum loops, with usable and ear‑catching rhythms generated from pots, pans and ‘pummelled pianos’, but also sufficient meat‑and‑potatoes breaks, loops and simple rhythm parts to start any number of tracks. If you can’t find what you want within the bundled library or among the files and Sessions already on your machine, you can record audio or MIDI directly into a clip. The Sketch window has a single stereo input and output; these can be routed directly to inputs and outputs on your interface, but they can also pick up Pro Tools busses. This means that if, for example, there are elements within a Session that you want to experiment with in Sketch, you could simply hit Play in Pro Tools and record their output straight into a Sketch cell.

Integration with the Edit window goes a lot further than this, though. You can drag and drop practically any element of a Sketch, from a single clip to an entire arrangement, and Pro Tools will intelligently create and populate the necessary tracks and clips within your Session.

A Night In The Cells

MIDI clips in Sketch are rendered as audio when you drag them into a Pro Tools Session. This makes sense with one of the bundled instruments, since PlayCell has no obvious equivalent within Pro Tools itself. It’s a super‑simple sample‑based ROMpler that comes with a lean selection of about 50 presets. The main window presents only four editing parameters, labelled Age, Depth, Echo and Space, but the circular button at top right unveils a somewhat more in‑depth pane with access to filter and amplitude envelope parameters.

SynthCell is functionally the same as the SynthCell instrument included in Pro Tools.SynthCell is functionally the same as the SynthCell instrument included in Pro Tools.

The other Sketch instrument is the much more sophisticated SynthCell, which is functionally identical to the SynthCell instrument bundled with Pro Tools itself. This means it’s a pretty serious two‑oscillator virtual‑analogue polysynth with a decent modulation matrix, dedicated filter, amplitude and modulation envelopes, built‑in arpeggiator and effects. It’s the sort of thing that would now be worth tens of thousands if it had been an actual analogue polysynth from 1981.

Each channel within Sketch’s simple mixer has sends to a global delay and reverb, plus three insert slots, the first of which is occupied by PlayCell or SynthCell on MIDI tracks. Free insert slots can be filled with your choice from Sketch’s own effects suite, which is made up of nine simple plug‑ins. All have Simple editing windows based around a huge X/Y pad, plus Advanced alternatives offering more control.

All of Sketch’s plug‑ins offer a Simple and an Advanced editing view.All of Sketch’s plug‑ins offer a Simple and an Advanced editing view.

Chop & Change

Sketch includes streamlined editing tools appropriate to working with short clips of audio or MIDI. On the latter front, there’s a basic piano‑roll editor which allows you to manipulate Note On and Off times, and velocity, but not much else. There’s no drum editor view, but then there aren’t many drum patches to work with in PlayCell or SynthCell in any case.

Audio editing is rather more capable. The waveform is superimposed on a bars/beats grid, with left and right square bracket markers on the ruler above delineating the region that’s actually being looped. Independently of this looping region, you can define a selection that can be erased or duplicated, while selecting the scalpel tool splits out the selected chunk as a separate region. Regions on the timeline can be reversed, trimmed and time‑stretched in simple but effective fashion, and you can add fades at either end. It’s also possible to disable looping and snapping to grid, so one‑shots and freely timed audio can be included in a Sketch. Each audio clip has its own Pitch and Gain dials, which do what you’d expect; the Pitch control spans two octaves in either direction, which can create some fairly extreme results. There are no Elastic Audio‑style options to use different pitch‑ or time‑stretching algorithms, nor any sort of ‘slice and dice’ option for rhythmic loops.

Line Up

In general, it isn’t hard to list features that perhaps could have been included in Sketch, but aren’t. For example, you can define a MIDI input device that can be used to record notes into clips, but there’s currently no option to use a grid‑based controller such as a Novation Launchpad to trigger them (not that that’s an issue with the iPad version, of course). There’s no support for parameter automation, nor any system of warp markers to adjust timing within individual clips. You can’t jam an arrangement in real time by having Sketch keep track of which scenes and clips you trigger, arrangement editing is more or less non‑existent, and the mixer is basic.

But, with the possible exception of MIDI clip triggering, it would be missing the point to criticise Avid for ‘leaving out’ such features. Sketch isn’t intended as a rival to Ableton Live, which is now a highly mature and deep music‑creation environment. It’s designed to be an immediate, hands‑on way of throwing together loops when you need a bit of quick inspiration. And if you are the sort of person who finds loop‑based composition inspiring (I’m still not sure I am, even after all these years), its simplicity is a plus, not a minus.

The great advantage Sketch has over third‑party tools is its integration with Pro Tools, which I think Avid have got exactly right.

The great advantage Sketch has over third‑party tools is its integration with Pro Tools, which I think Avid have got exactly right. If you don’t need Sketch, you don’t even need to think about it. And, conversely, if you’re working in Sketch and find yourself wanting to do more detailed editing or sound design than is possible with its built‑in tools, you can just drag things into the Edit window and use the advanced features in Pro Tools to do it. And when you’ve firmed up your arrangement, you can import the whole thing into Pro Tools and treat it as a linear recording, to which vocals and other elements can be added.

Sketch won’t replace Live or Bitwig for power users of those platforms, but it isn’t meant to. Many people currently use multiple software tools at different stages of the production process, employing something like Live to create a basic arrangement from loops before dumping everything into a linear DAW such as Pro Tools to finish the recording and mix it down. The introduction of Sketch means people who currently use Live mainly as a simple writing sketchpad may be able to do without it, and as Sketches are freely transferable between iPads and desktop computers, it means you don’t have to wait ’til you’re in the studio to turn your inspiration into a track.

Plug‑in Reordering & Timeline Export

Although Sketch is the headline feature of the Pro Tools 2023.9 release, there are of course many other changes. One such is drag‑and‑drop plug‑in reordering. Drag a plug‑in over another plug‑in and you’ll now get a warning asking if you really want to replace it (which used to just happen, without any warning); but drag it between two plug‑ins and it’ll push the lower ones down by one slot and nestle into place. It’s a bit like shuffle editing applied to plug‑in ordering, and is very handy.

Another improvement will be a Godsend for anyone who works with large Sessions. The Export Selected Tracks as New Session dialogue now has a new option labelled Selected Timeline Range Only, which does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to select a timeline range within your Session and export it as a new one.

Avid Pro Tools 2023.9

Why is this so great? If you do a lot of live or live‑in‑the‑studio recording, you quite often end up with a huge amount of tracking material in a single Pro Tools Session. This can get pretty messy, especially when you start making different overdubs to different takes. The new option provides a quick and convenient way to export or archive each take to a new Session, without millions of unused audio files cluttering up the Clip List, and no fear that Pro Tools will moan about missing audio files.

The only down side is that there’s no option to have the selected material repositioned to the start of the timeline in the newly created Session. So, if you export a take that starts 30 minutes into your original Session, you’ll get 30 minutes of silence at the start of the exported Session. This is a minor annoyance, though, as it’s not hard to engage Shuffle mode and delete the blank space if necessary.


  • Sketch offers a simple clip‑launching environment that’s integrated into all versions of Pro Tools, but also available as a free iPad app.
  • Good bundled sound library.
  • Timeline selections can be exported as new Sessions.


  • MIDI clip launching not available in Sketch.


If you typically use Pro Tools alongside another DAW, the addition of Sketch may well tempt you to keep everything in one place.


Pro Tools Intro free; Pro Tools Artist £106.80 per year; Pro Tools Studio £310.80 per year; Pro Tools Ultimate £622.80 per year. Prices include VAT.

Pro Tools Intro free; Pro Tools Artist $99 per year; Pro Tools Studio $299 per year; Pro Tools Ultimate $599 per year.

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