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Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2

Digital Audio Workstation Software [Mac/PC]
Published February 2009
By Mark Wherry

As well as the new user interface, MIDI and score editors described last month, Pro Tools 8 offers an impressive collection of instruments and plug‑ins, new ways of working with Playlists, and even the option of surround mixing in LE.

A major highlight of Pro Tools 8 is the Complete Collection, which includes five excellent new instrument plug‑ins.A major highlight of Pro Tools 8 is the Complete Collection, which includes five excellent new instrument plug‑ins.Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2

Virtual instruments have become a big part of the way in which people make music, and in recent years — partly spurred on by Apple's decision in 2004 to include Emagic's entire line of instruments with Logic Pro — sequencer developers have been consistently improving their bundled instrument plug‑ins. Before Pro Tools 8, Digidesign bundled Pro Tools with various cut‑down offerings from third parties plus two of their own instruments: Xpand!, which provided a basic toolbox of sounds roughly akin to a hardware sound module, and Structure Free, a limited version of the company's sampler plug‑in.

Both of these plug‑ins were developed by Digidesign's Advanced Instrument Research (AIR) group, which was launched at the 2006 Winter NAMM show following the acquisition of Wizoo in the previous year. Since this time, the group have continued to release new instruments designed to make Pro Tools more appealing for music creation. These include the Hybrid virtual analogue synth, Strike virtual drummer, Velvet (perhaps the best recreation of classic electric pianos to date), and, more recently, Transfuser, the ultimate loop‑manipulation tool. Unlike Xpand!, all of these instruments have to be purchased separately. However, in order to support the improved MIDI editing capabilities of Pro Tools 8, the AIR group have developed a brand-new set of instruments that form the centerpiece of the new Creative Collection bundle supplied with every copy of Pro Tools.

An AIR Of Quality?

It's something of a relief that Digidesign chose not to simply develop 'lite' versions of the existing AIR plug‑ins, as with Structure — the free version of which is still included in Pro Tools 8. The psychological effect of knowing you're not getting a 'full' product would somehow make the plug‑ins feel more limiting, regardless of the functionality. Instead, the AIR group have made five completely new plug‑ins that each focus on a different bread‑and‑butter aspect of music creation.

The first instrument is Mini Grand, which, as the name suggests, is an acoustic piano instrument, offering a number of different models to adjust the tone of the instrument, and built‑in reverb with a few basic settings. I found the default Real model a little too bright for my taste, making it seem like there was less depth in the sound, but I actually quite liked the Soft model, which removes some of those higher frequencies and adds a splash of hall reverb.

Mini Grand offers a number of extra touches, such as a control to adjust the velocity response of the instrument, along with an optional stretched tuning mode where the higher notes are made slightly sharper in order to sound more in tune with the overtones of lower notes. And if you need to reduce the amount of processing power the plug‑in consumes, you can also limit the polyphony or turn on an economy mode, disabling the sympathetic resonance modelling. While you can always load a piano patch in a sampler or workstation plug‑in, there's definitely something convenient and dependable about having a simple piano plug‑in that's easily accessible.

Staying with keyboard instruments, the new DB33 is Digidesign's take on the classic Hammond B3 organ. It's not quite as fully featured as Logic's EVB3 or Native Instruments' B4, offering no pedals and just one manual, although there's nothing to stop you using multiple instances. But, on the plus side, it's definitely one of the better‑sounding organ emulations, offering a choice of models so you can simulate traditional tonewheels or choose from two, more synthetic‑sounding alternatives.

The rotary speaker emulation also sounds really good, and an additional page of 'cabinet' controls lets you set the speed of the rotation, along with other controls for the preamp and mic placing, where you can adjust the mix between the drum and the horn, as well as the simulated stereo spread. But it's not just the organ sounds that take advantage of the DB33's cabinet, as it's also possible to use the plug‑in on an audio track as an insert effect.

Since most of the organs I've played have been the kind found in large, ecclesiastical buildings, I was grateful for the collection of included presets that recreate recognisable organ sounds from popular music. It didn't take long before I cranked up the volume and started jamming along to Deep Purple!

To complement Mini Grand and DB33 in the keyboard department, there's also a rather splendid monophonic synth called Vacuum. Yes, it's another virtual analogue synth, but, as the name suggests, there's a twist: the AIR group have used what they refer to as 'Vacuum Tube Synthesis' to bring the characteristics of vacuum tubes to a synthesizer, and the results are quite fun.

Vacuum gives you two so‑called Vacuum Tube Oscillators, and a nice touch to the four wave shapes available is that rather than just picking one, Vacuum lets you 'morph' between them. The output of the oscillators goes through a mixer, where you can apply drive/distortion and ring modulation, before being passed through high and low‑pass filters. The filters sound pretty smooth, but each offers a saturation control if you prefer a more aggressive sound, and a really nice touch can be found in the 'age' knobs, where you can set an amount of pitch drift to apply to the oscillators, or the quantity of dust that might make the synth sound old and noisy. Vacuum also offers a number of modulation options, including two envelopes (which can be set to retrigger in the settings page), and there's also an onboard arpeggiator.

For a synth plug‑in, Vacuum sounds surprisingly unlike a synth plug‑in, exhibiting a real dirty and analogue quality. The user interface just looks exactly the way the instrument sounds, and while I found the switch knobs a little hard to tame on occasion, this plug‑in is just pure fun to play.

Boom, Boom!

Boom (and I'll try not to make any Basil Brush jokes) is a virtual drum machine supplied with 10 different electronic drum kits, offering variations on the classic 808 and 909 kits, more aggressive kits with names like Dance and Urban (which is kind of hip‑hop), and a nice 'CR78 makes love with a 606'‑type kit called Retro. Each kit contains 10 different drums, and you can adjust the panning, volume, tuning and decay of each drum within a kit. Each drum channel also contains a special adjustment screw that can be turned to make a sonic adjustment, the outcome of which varies depending on the drum.

You can mix and match drums from different kits to make your own custom kit, and the drum sounds can be triggered individually via the standard MIDI pitch mapping you would expect. However, Boom also has an onboard sequencer that allows you to create and trigger your own patterns. You can select different patterns using the keys along the bottom of the interface, assuming you're in Pattern Select mode, and these are conveniently colour‑coded to show you how they map to a MIDI keyboard from middle 'C' upwards for remote selection.

The Matrix display in the top left allows you to program a pattern, but if you find this too small, you can also use the keys along the bottom, this time with Pattern Edit mode selected. Again, you'll find some nice touches, such as the ability to copy one pattern to another, and some simple controls for adjusting the way in which the pattern plays back within Pro Tools: normal, double, half or triplet time, and there's even a swing control for when it simply wouldn't otherwise mean a thing!

I really like the design of Boom: it's simple to use, and, like most of the new instruments, has a sense of fun. The only feature missing, which would have been the icing on the cake, is the ability to make your own kits from scratch by dragging in samples, but I can see that this might have added an undesirable layer of complexity.

Last but not least, there's Xpand! 2, a new version of the virtual workstation synth with a sound engine that incorporates sample playback, virtual analogue, FM and wavetable synthesis. The new version offers over 2300 patches, compared with around 1000 in the original, and the user interface has also been redesigned, sporting a much cleaner appearance than before. In addition to looking better, it's slightly simpler to use, with all the settings now implemented on a single page. Each of the four available Parts in a patch now has individually accessible arpeggiator and modulation parameters, making it possible to edit such parameters for one part without having to switch the whole interface.

Xpand! is a neat instrument for beginners, providing a large sonic arsenal in an easy‑to‑use manner; but, like most hardware workstations, it does a bit of everything well without doing anything astonishingly. That said, though, it's a useful instrument to have around if you find yourself working with a system that only has Pro Tools installed, or if you need to sketch out some ideas on a laptop and want an economical sound source that covers all the bases.

Cause & Effect

The Complete Collection also boasts 20 new effects, many derived from the effects built into AIR group instrument products such as Velvet and Strike.The Complete Collection also boasts 20 new effects, many derived from the effects built into AIR group instrument products such as Velvet and Strike.Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2

The inclusion of five new instrument plug‑ins is a great thing in itself, but Digidesign didn't stop there. The included Digirack effects bundle has been languishing for a while now, and for LE users, who don't get to benefit from the additional TDM plug‑ins provided when you purchase an HD system, the included plug‑ins have been far from inspiring.

So in addition to producing five instruments, the AIR group were also tasked with creating 20 new effects, taking advantage of the group's expertise used to create some of the really‑quite‑nice effects found in instrument plug‑ins such as Velvet and Transfuser.

As with the instruments, the effects in the Creative Collection also cover the most common bases for general production, with generically named (albeit pretty good‑sounding) plug‑ins like Chorus, Distortion, Phaser and Reverb. But there are also some more interesting effects, such as Filter Gate (which is reminiscent of Logic's Spectral Gate), and the Lo Fi and Kill EQ effects from Transfuser. Dynamic Delay makes creating musical‑sounding delays easier than with the previous Digirack offerings, and Reverb is definitely an improvement over D‑Verb.

HD users might be disappointed that, like the new instruments, the effects in the Creative Collection are RTAS‑only (using a large number of RTAS plug‑ins in a Session can sometimes eat into your voice count, depending on how they're used), but this is a relatively minor gripe in comparison to the overall quality of the collection.

In addition to the Creative Collection, Digidesign have also chosen to include Trillium Lane Labs' TL Utilities plug‑ins with Pro Tools 8 — HD users get both RTAS and TDM versions. Digidesign acquired the assets for Trillium Lane Labs' plug‑ins back in 2006, and TL Utilities, which has often been included in various bundles since the acquisition, provides Pro Tools users with three essential plug‑ins. TL Metro is a metronome, and while this might not sound exciting, it's a vast improvement on the standard Pro Tools Click plug‑in. TL MasterMeter is a metering plug‑in that offers both regular and oversampled signal meters, and most handy of all, logs a handy time‑stamped list of clip events. And finally, TL InTune is an instrument tuner that also lets you generate test tones.

And if all of this wasn't enough, Pro Tools 8 also now includes the Maxim limiter, the D‑Fi bundle, and Bomb Factory's Sans Amp plug‑ins too; again, HD users get the TDM versions as well. Many users may already have these plug‑ins, of course, as they were often bundled with HD systems or with LE 'Factory' bundles, but if you're new to Pro Tools, more free plug‑ins can never be a bad thing. Plus, in order to give you a taste of Digidesign's new Eleven guitar amp plug‑in, there's also Eleven Free — although I'm not sure Digidesign are necessarily doing anyone a favour here because, for me, the other amp models you get in the full version sound so much better that it would be a shame for people to think poorly of Eleven based on hearing Eleven Free.

Despite this minor criticism, though, when it comes to bundled plug‑ins, Digidesign have well and truly got it covered in Pro Tools 8.

Maps & Caches

As well as including more plug‑ins with Pro Tools 8, Digidesign have made a number of improvements to the workflow of plug‑ins in this new version. One such improvement that HD users will love is that Pro Tools now caches TDM plug‑ins when closing a session, meaning that if the next Session you load uses a plug‑in that's still in the cache, Pro Tools won't have to reload it. This makes opening and closing Sessions much quicker (once you've loaded a Session the first time), especially when you have several Sessions that are configured in a similar manner as far as the mixer is concerned.

Pro Tools 8 makes it easy to map any on-screen control to a hardware control surface. Here you can see a pop‑up menu showing the controls in the new Vintage Filter plug‑in that can be assigned to a surface. Notice how the Cutoff control in the graphical interface has a red light beside it, indicating that it's been selected for assignment.Pro Tools 8 makes it easy to map any on-screen control to a hardware control surface. Here you can see a pop‑up menu showing the controls in the new Vintage Filter plug‑in that can be assigned to a surface. Notice how the Cutoff control in the graphical interface has a red light beside it, indicating that it's been selected for assignment.Another really great change for plug‑in handling in version 8 is the ability to easily map controls from plug‑ins to a control surface. When you have a suitable control surface set up in Pro Tools, a set of Map controls will appear in the toolbar of plug‑in windows. Using the menu for the Map controls, you can manage different control surface mappings for a plug‑in, and creating your own custom maps is a piece of cake. To assign an on‑screen control to a hardware control, all you need to do is click the Learn button, choose the control you want to assign (by either clicking it directly, or assigning it from the pop‑up menu next to the Learn button), and move the appropriate hardware control. Once you're done assigning controls, simply click the Learn button again to disable Learn mode.

As you can imagine, this functions quite well, and makes working with plug‑ins on a control surface so much easier than before, no matter whether you're assigning controls to your M‑Audio keyboard or a D‑Control. The only slight shame is that not every plug‑in seems to fully support the new Learn mode behaviour in quite the same way, so for some plug‑ins you can only select the control from the pop‑up menu rather than clicking it directly. For example, while plug‑ins like D‑Verb, Sans Amp or Eleven let you click the control with the left or right mouse button to select it, you can only right‑click controls in the new Creative Collection effects, as left‑clicking continues to adjust the control. This can be a slight pain in the case of the instruments, because right‑clicking a control is also how you assign a MIDI controller to that control within the instrument.

Play Listy For Me

In this example, I want to copy the selected part of the Region on the bottom Playlist to the master Playlist on the track. Here you can see before (above) and after (right) using the 'Copy Selection To Main Playlist' button, which is enabled in the first picture because a selection has been made on a Region on that lane.In this example, I want to copy the selected part of the Region on the bottom Playlist to the master Playlist on the track. Here you can see before (above) and after (right) using the 'Copy Selection To Main Playlist' button, which is enabled in the first picture because a selection has been made on a Region on that lane.Digidesign Pro Tools 8: Part 2

Pro Tools' ability to have multiple so‑called Playlists on a single track has always made working with multiple takes in Pro Tools much more convenient than in many other applications, especially because Playlist editing can be mirrored across multiple tracks, thanks to Track Groups. However, as was the case when working with automation in previous versions, the one thing that would have made Playlists even better was the ability to see more than one of them at a time for a single track, saving you from losing your train of thought when copying and pasting between different Playlists. So, just as you can now view multiple lanes of automation simultaneously in Pro Tools 8 (as discussed last month), you can also now view multiple Playlist lanes, and I think this is going to make a large number of Pro Tools operators really, really happy.

The first thing to mention is that the way in which Pro Tools 8 displays multiple Pro Tools lanes is completely separate from the way it displays multiple automation lanes, making it possible to see everything at once, as it were. To view multiple Playlists, you simply choose the Playlists Track view, and Pro Tools will display a lane for each Playlist underneath the track (above the automation lanes); it's even possible to change the order in which the Playlist lanes appear, by dragging them around. However — and this is rather brilliant — you don't always have to see every Playlist for a track if this isn't what you want.

Say you're comping a particular vocal line in a chorus from four different Playlists, but your vocal track contains 40 Playlists because of multiple takes performed in other parts of the song. What the Playlists view enables you to do is make an edit selection — where your chorus is, for example — and then tell Pro Tools only to display the Playlists on that track that contain one or more Regions within the current edit selection. This is obviously really handy, and not only does the Playlists View offer other commands for filtering which Playlists are visible, but Playlist lanes also appear in the main Track List, where their visibility can be toggled in the same way as any other track in the Session.

When you're trying to figure out which parts of each take you like, you can now listen to a different Playlist without having to select it on the track. Each Playlist lane has a solo button, which, if enabled, causes that Playlist to be heard instead of the selected Playlist. This works independently of the existing track solo buttons, enabling you to try out different takes in the context of the mix.

Once you've figured out that you want to copy a section of one take to the master take, each lane also offers a handy 'Copy Selection To Main Playlist' button, which becomes enabled on Playlist lanes where an edit selection has been made. So once you've made a selection you want to add to the main Playlist, simply click this button (or use the contextual menu or key command) and Pro Tools pastes it into the main Playlist for you. Piece of cake!

One of the features I always liked about the way you used Playlists to deal with multiple takes is that you could add a Playlist to record a new take at any time, without being tied to only being able to record multiple takes when in cycle mode, which has been the case in some other applications over the years. However, should you want to use cycle recording in Pro Tools 8, this method of recording multiple takes is now more easily supported thanks to a new Preference option called Automatically Create New Playlists When Loop Recording. As you might expect, this automatically creates a new Playlist for each pass when loop recording, although this feature is actually disabled by default.

The new Playlists View is really well thought‑out in Pro Tools 8. At one point I found myself wishing for a priority playback system for the lanes, whereby you could preview a comp without having to copy sections from other Playlists to the master Playlist. But while this would be useful, it would go against the established behaviour of Playlists, so I think Digidesign have done exactly the right thing.

The Fate Of Eight

Pro Tools 8 is perhaps the most significant release of the Pro Tools software in the product's history. Not only have Digidesign made an incredible effort to court a larger part of the music creation market, with features like the new MIDI editor and Score windows, but they have also made countless improvements in almost every area of the application, including a complete overhaul of the user interface. This makes it very hard to write a simple conclusion, since Pro Tools means so many things to many different types of users. Some companies have taken the approach of marketing separate products targeted towards music and post‑production, but Digidesign are tackling both markets head‑on with one product, albeit one that's available at different price points.

If your interest is music creation, Pro Tools 8 clearly has a great deal to offer. While many anticipated the inclusion of a proper, graphical MIDI editor in Pro Tools at some point, it probably surprised a great many people to find that Digi have added a Score editor as well, and one that incorporates the notation rendering capabilities of Sibelius. And while the notation editing capabilities are quite limited at this point, they probably fulfil enough of a Pro Tools user's needs, allowing you to knock out a quick part in the middle of a session, and there's always the option of exporting your Session as a Sibelius file for more detailed editing.

If you're already working with MIDI in Pro Tools, the new MIDI editor will clearly be a blessing; but if you're thinking of coming to Pro Tools for music creation for the first time, there are a number of points to consider. Firstly, although being able to work with MIDI data in a dedicated editor window is a dramatic improvement, the MIDI editor window in Pro Tools 8 definitely lacks some of the sophistication found in competing products. However, this may not be an issue if the simplicity of the approach appeals to you, and if the level of functionality is above the threshold you need to get work done.

The thing that really bothers me about the MIDI editor window, though, as mentioned last month, is the fact that your editing workflow becomes harder as the number of MIDI tracks being displayed increases. While it would seem like a good idea to display velocity, automation and controller data for all visible tracks, in practice, it just makes the editor too cluttered. The reason you want to see the notes superimposed from multiple tracks is to clearly see harmonic structure, not just to see an abundance of notes. And while there are times when it might be useful to see the velocity, automation and controller data in a similar fashion, it simply isn't necessary for most editing tasks.

Even if you have no interest in sequencing with Pro Tools whatsoever, though, version 8 is still a worthwhile release. Being able to work with multiple automation and Playlist lanes will definitely help some users, and HD professionals will probably be happy to upgrade just to enjoy workflow enhancements like the improved Session loading times (thanks to the DSP Cache). Those working in post‑production will be pleased to get the HD support in QuickTime, while the new Satellite network synchronisation feature will certainly arouse the curiosity of those working on large‑scale projects in a big facility.

However, what will be really interesting is how many new users Digidesign manage to attract to Pro Tools. If you're looking for an entry‑level system, buying even the cheapest M Box 2‑based rig gives you an incredible amount of functionality and features (particularly when you consider the new instruments and effects in the Creative Collection) for very little money. The only down side is that while you can get started for relatively little money, a Pro Tools LE system can start to seem more expensive as you add additional Toolkit options, especially compared to a product like Logic Studio where you get most of that additional functionality up front.

Ultimately, if you're a Pro Tools user already, it's almost inconceivable that you would want to avoid Pro Tools 8. Once you get past the different appearance, there are so just many improvements and new features that you will find it hard to live without them. And even if you're not currently a Pro Tools user, version 8 might seem like a tempting place to start. While it probably won't sway the hardcore followers of other products, Pro Tools 8's enhanced music creation abilities may well appeal to those who don't need (and actually would prefer not to have) some of the sophistication and complexity of other applications.

Surround In LE: New Toolkits

It's not an illusion: Pro Tools LE can now support surround configurations of up to 7.1 if you have the Complete Production Toolkit installed.It's not an illusion: Pro Tools LE can now support surround configurations of up to 7.1 if you have the Complete Production Toolkit installed.

While the feature gap between the LE and HD flavours of Pro Tools has become smaller over the years, there are still many areas of functionality where the two vary. For example, while HD offers those working with video full support for timecode, feet+frames, and pull‑up and pull‑down for audio and video, LE does not. Similarly, while HD users can work with surround, LE users are limited to mono and stereo tracks, and the track counts themselves have always been more limited in LE when compared to HD.

For some users, buying an HD rig to get these extra features isn't always an option — even if you take cost out of the equation, trying to use Pro Tools HD on a plane is about as convenient as trying to fry an egg while hang gliding. And there are many situations where working on laptops to prepare Session files that will be used on an HD system is absolutely essential.

Digidesign addressed one aspect of this problem back in 2003 when the company released the DV Toolkit option for Pro Tools LE, adding features such as timecode support. Following the release of Pro Tools 7 in 2005, Digidesign upgraded the DV Toolkit to version 2, making it possible to use up to 48 tracks in LE, and implementing some of the more advanced editing facilities from HD. At the same time Digidesign also introduced the Music Production Toolkit, offering a way for LE and M‑Powered users who didn't need the video‑related features of the DV Toolkit to enhance their systems with more tracks, multitrack Beat Detective support, and additional plug‑ins.

With Pro Tools 8, Digidesign have once again improved their Toolkit options for LE users, and with LE and M‑Powered now offering 48 tracks as standard, adding a Toolkit will increase this count to 64 (from 128 available voices). DV Toolkit 2 is still only available to LE users, whereas the upgraded Music Production Kit 2 is available for LE and M‑Powered users.

Existing users who already own a Toolkit and want to upgrade to Pro Tools 8 will find that their existing Toolkit authorisations will unlock the extra track count and any features the Toolkits already offered. Users will only need to pay an additional upgrade charge in order to access features and plug-ins that have been newly added to the Toolkits. These include Digidesign's X-Form plug-in, which replaces the LE version of Vocalign that was bundled with previous versions of the DV Toolkit 2.

Perhaps the most exciting Toolkit‑related news in Pro Tools 8, though, is the introduction of a third option for LE users (M‑Powered users are, again, sadly not invited): the Complete Production Toolkit. This basically combines the functionality of the DV and Music Production Toolkits, but also adds features that users have been requesting for some time on LE systems, such as support for surround mixing (up to 7.1). And although the number of available voices remains at 128, you can create up to 128 mono tracks (compared with 64 on the other Toolkits) — if you're working in surround, this equates to 21 5.1 tracks, with two voices left over.

Being able to work with surround in LE is a really, really big deal for those working in film, especially when you need interoperability with an HD rig. The unfortunate thing is that this functionality doesn't come cheap. The projected price for the Complete Production Toolkit at the time of going to press was $1995 (with upgrades available for existing Toolkit owners), and while professionals will pay this without hesitation because they need the functionality, it makes the cost of an LE system quite ridiculous when you consider the cost of products like Logic Studio, Cubase or Nuendo. For that cost, you do get quite a bit of functionality, and Digidesign also bundle Neyrinck's SoundCode Stereo plug‑in for down‑mixing when monitoring in stereo, but while it's still cheaper than buying an HD rig, some users will inevitably find the cost prohibitive.

More Than This

The list of improvements and new features seems almost endless in Pro Tools 8. And although improving Pro Tools for music creation is the emphasis in version 8, Digidesign certainly haven't forgotten about those who use Pro Tools for audio work. To begin with, following on from the introduction of Elastic Audio in Pro Tools 7.4, which enabled audio to be non‑destructively time‑stretched in real time, Elastic Audio in version 8 now enables you to non‑destructively change the pitch of audio as well. Once you've enabled an Elastic Audio algorithm for a track (although pitch adjustments aren't supported if you choose the Monophonic algorithm), you'll notice a new Pitch Shift setting in the Elastic Properties window, enabling you to specify a transposition in terms of semitones and cents either two octaves above or below the original pitch. And you also set a pitch shift by using the Event Operations Transpose command, which previously only affected MIDI Regions.

Something that has long frustrated me and many other users I know is the rather ineffective way in which waveforms were drawn in Pro Tools. When working with a recorded click track, random beats in the waveform containing the click would disappear at certain horizontal resolutions, so you'd often need to zoom in and out to make sure something was recorded properly.

While the default way in which waveforms are drawn in Pro Tools 8 already seems dramatically better, helped by the fact that the waveforms are now drawn with twice the resolution for amplitude as before (16‑bit instead of 8‑bit), you now have the option of viewing waveforms in Power mode as well. This means the waveforms will be calculated according to the Root Mean Square (RMS) of the signal, which is useful if you're viewing the waveform of a whole file at the same time because it gives a slightly more meaningful view of the whole piece of audio statistically, rather than looking at a series of peaks, which is more useful when looking at only a section of audio.

Another useful change is that Pro Tools now supports audio files that are almost 4GB in size (3.8GB, to be precise). This is an improvement over the 2GB limit in previous versions, which could be a real pain if you wanted to leave Pro Tools unattended and recording for a long period of time. It's perhaps a shame that Digidesign didn't just remove this limit altogether and support 64‑bit Wave files, but this decision was probably based on matters that affect both technical and compatibility issues. As it is, Mac users will need to split and consolidate any Regions that reference files that are greater than 2GB when loading a Pro Tools 8 Session into earlier versions of the program, otherwise those audio files will appear off‑line.

Sleeping Satellite

If you use multiple Pro Tools HD rigs in your studio, one of the neatest new features in version 8 is Satellite Link, which makes it possible to synchronise up to five systems via Ethernet without the need for additional synchronisation hardware. Unfortunately, though, I was unable to test this properly before the deadline for the article, so look out for full coverage of this interesting new functionality in a forthcoming article.

Second Opinion

Pro Tools 8 is full to overflowing with new features, from the 'biggies' like the Score editor to 'littlies' like Insertion Follows Playback now having a button in the toolbar on the Edit window. The look has changed completely. The new toolbar presents what was two rows of tools as one reconfigurable row. One benefit of this is that all the icons in the toolbar are much cleaner and easier to read, and the buttons that used to be on the black bar in PT 7.4 are bigger. The option to re-order elements of the toolbar may prove useful in time, but I can't see it yet. However, it now needs a lot more width, so make sure you have plenty of screen space if you want all the options on. I have two 19‑inch screens at 1280 x 1024, and the normal toolbar stuff now only just fits if I have the Edit window filling one screen — although the new zooming widgets on the right‑hand and bottom edges of the Edit window are great, and arguably mean you can do without the zoom button section on the toolbar area.

Among other display improvements, the faders and meters in the Mix window are calibrated, so now we do have a more accurate indication of levels. It would be great if the meters could also have programmable ballistics to suit different environments. Group labelling has been overhauled and is much clearer, displaying the full group name and large colour bar the width of a channel strip.

The new MIDI editor is clearly a big development. Personally, I have never really got on with piano‑roll MIDI editing, so the best part is the option to display and edit MIDI data in score view, which will be much more natural for me and most of my clients.

There are many other changes that strike me as improvements, one such being the new Quickstart option and template Sessions. These templates can have media in them, and all templates are stored in the Digidesign folder on your system drive. This is so welcome, as templates have been somewhat messy on both Mac and Windows for different reasons for a while.

The ability to display multiple Playlists and automation tracks simultaneously will make a big difference to anyone doing detailed editing, as will the new shortcuts that give you the ability to solo, mute or record‑enable the track you have your cursor on, which save much mouse traffic scrolling across to the track header section. At last you can adjust the volume when previewing an Audiosuite plug‑in, and there are meters, both very welcome additions. Likewise, the extra bank of five insert points per channel and the ability to record files up to 3.8GB in size are very welcome (the previous limit was 2GB) — the latter will be especially handy for anyone who does live recording.

The list of things I don't like is much shorter! Me and knobs don't get on, so I don't like the fact that the pan controls have changed from sliders to knobs. And in the Edit window, I am not convinced the new waveform options of peak power and outline are all that useful. Finally, there are a few things I am still not sure about, such as having the Universe view embedded into the Edit window. Before, you could move it around when you wanted to see it, but now it takes up Edit window space. Likewise, although in general Pro Tools 8 is much more restful on the eye than version 7, I am still getting used to the new look. I find the contrast of the Edit window means the grid lines are much more annoying than they used to be in version 7, so I often switch them off.

Most of the headline features in Pro Tools 8 are music‑oriented, and although post‑production people will certainly welcome things like the new Satellite functionality, Playlist editing and improved Avid integration, I hope that subsequent 'point' upgrades will add further post‑friendly features like Audiosuite handles, a separate history for Audiosuite processing, and folders (or 'bins') in the Region List. However, whatever you do with Pro Tools, this is an upgrade that fully merits the use of a 'whole number' increment in the product name.

Mike Thornton

Published February 2009