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HD For All

Pro Tools Tips & Techniques
By Mike Thornton

The latest native Pro Tools versions offer powerful features that were once restricted to HD systems.

As we saw last month, Avid have implemented some major improvements in the I/O Setup window in Pro Tools 12; and now, in 12.1 and 12.2, they have incorporated a number of previously HD–only features in the standard version of Pro Tools.

For one thing, Pro Tools 12.1 now supports up to 128 audio tracks and 512 instrument tracks, though it is still my understanding that non–HD systems can only record a maximum of 32 audio inputs simultaneously.

Screen 1: In Pro Tools 12, you can define a  PFL/AFL path, enabling tracks to be soloed without affecting the main mix. Screen 1: In Pro Tools 12, you can define a PFL/AFL path, enabling tracks to be soloed without affecting the main mix.

Probably the single most welcome addition to Pro Tools 12.1 is Track–based Input Monitoring. In previous versions, the only way to monitor inputs with the transport stopped was to put tracks in record ready and set Pro Tools to Input Only monitoring, which was a session–wide choice. Now you can enable and disable input monitoring on individual tracks, so you can hear whatever is coming in on those tracks at any time. Track–based input monitoring lets you toggle individual audio tracks between the old Auto Input and Input Only monitoring modes at any time — during playback, recording, while stopped, and even when a track is not record–enabled. It provides greater monitoring flexibility for overdubbing and mixing, and is much more similar to the input switching that older users will remember from analogue multitrack recorders and similar machines.

Using this feature is simplicity itself: when the Track Input button in a track is enabled (green), the track monitors audio in Input Only mode. When the Track Input button in a track is disabled, the track monitors in Auto Input mode.

AFL & PFL Solo Modes

Before Pro Tools 12.1, solo buttons on the non–HD version of Pro Tools always worked in a ‘destructive’ Solo In Place (SIP) mode, whereby using the solo button on a track mutes all the other tracks, except for any that are in Solo Safe mode. This is fine for most mixing applications, but when you’re recording live, it means that when the engineer solos a track — perhaps to check that something is sounding OK — it wrecks the recording going to tape, PA system or broadcast.

Screen 2: In this Pro Tools session, I’ve created sends to my ‘Studio cans’ output on all selected tracks, but the send level has defaulted to minus infinity.Screen 2: In this Pro Tools session, I’ve created sends to my ‘Studio cans’ output on all selected tracks, but the send level has defaulted to minus infinity.

However, HD users also had two other solo modes: PFL (Pre Fade Listen) and AFL (After Fade Listen). What both of these do, in effect, is provide a separate destination to which soloed tracks are routed, leaving the main mix unaffected. As the names suggest, in PFL mode, soloed tracks are routed to this solo bus pre–fade, so they are audible regardless of the position of the channel fader, while in AFL mode, the solo bus is fed from after the fader.

As of Pro Tools 12.1, the PFL and AFL solo options are available to all users. The way it works in Pro Tools is that when you press a solo button in PFL or AFL modes, the output from that track is sent to a dedicated output on your interface, and the main output isn’t changed at all. The AFL and PFL modes were originally designed to be used with Avid’s bigger control surfaces, such as the S6, D–Control and D–Command, together with the XMON unit. In this configuration, when you engage a solo button, the XMON will automatically switch the studio monitor path to the designated PFL/AFL output, thereby producing a non–destructive PFL or AFL monitoring system. It is possible to set up Pro Tools to work without an XMON by configuring your monitor path so you can listen to both your main output monitor path (this needs to be a different set of outputs on your interface to the outputs feeding your recording or PA) and your PFL/AFL path, and then configuring Pro Tools to mute the main output monitor path when you press a solo button.

Return To Sender

Screen 3: The Copy ToSend dialogue.Screen 3: The Copy ToSend dialogue.Screen 4: After using Copy To Send, the positions of the small faders on Send A  now reflect those of the channel faders, in effect recreating my main mix as a  cue mix.Screen 4: After using Copy To Send, the positions of the small faders on Send A now reflect those of the channel faders, in effect recreating my main mix as a cue mix.

There are times where you want the level or automation of send controls to mirror the same settings on the track’s channel faders, such as when you’re creating a headphone mix based on the main mix, or when an effect level needs to follow the levels in a main mix. As of Pro Tools 12.1, all Pro Tools users have access to the incredibly useful and previously HD–only feature which lets you copy the current settings for the selected controls — or the entire automation playlist — to the corresponding playlist for the send.

Screen 2 shows a simple session where I want to be able to set up a headphone mix. By holding down Command and Option (Windows: Ctrl+Alt) while creating a send to my ‘Studio cans’ output, I can have it created across Send A on all selected tracks. Once created, however, all the faders default to fully down, and in earlier non–HD versions of Pro Tools, I would have had to move them all individually to set up my cue mix. Now, any Pro Tools 12.1 user can take advantage of the Copy To Send command.

First, select the tracks you want to include by clicking on the track names to highlight them. Then choose Edit / Automation / Copy To Send. The Copy To Send dialogue provides two choices. Selecting Current Value copies the current settings of the corresponding controls. This will mirror the position of the fader at the point where the cursor is placed as a static setting on the Send controls. Selecting Automation will copy the entire automation playlist for the corresponding controls, so any automation on the main channel fader is copied to the selected corresponding send control.

Once you have decided which of these options is appropriate, simply select the controls you want to copy, select the sends to which the parameters should be applied, and click OK. You can undo the results of the Copy To Send command if you change your mind.

And That’s Not All

Next month we will take a look at more previously HD–only features that have been added to the standard version of Pro Tools, which include VCA Master Tracks, Disk Cache and Advanced Metering.

Getting Pro Tools 12

If you are currently running Pro Tools 11, the only way to get Pro Tools 12 is to sign up to an upgrade plan. This will let you install and run Pro Tools 12, and all the updates Avid release for the next 12 months. For standard versions of Pro Tools, this plan costs $199. However, with the launch of Pro Tools 12.2, Avid also announced a lower–cost $99 upgrade plan, with no support and no additional plug–ins. If you later decide you want the support and plug–ins, you can add them separately for $99 per year.

HD users, meanwhile, can buy into an upgrade and support plan for $599 as long as you do so before 31st December 2015; continuing the plan thereafter will cost $399 per year. HD users are not being offered a lower–cost alternative as outlined above, but you do get pretty much unlimited technical support, as well as all the Pro Series plug–ins, Reverb One, Revibe II and Eleven effects for the duration of your upgrade plan.

If you have an old version of Pro Tools, especially Pro Tools LE, or you want to move from Pro Tools First to the full version, you can now buy a full copy of Pro Tools 12 with a support/upgrade plan for $599 — a drop of $300 — and you get the bundled plug–ins as long as you don’t allow your upgrade plan to expire. There is much more on all this on the Pro Tools pages of the Avid site and blog pages.

New Preferences

Among the more minor changes in Pro Tools 12.1 are some developments in the Preferences window. The Operations tab now includes a new Mouse Wheel Scrolling Snaps to Track option. When this option is enabled, the top of tracks in the Edit window will snap to the top of the tracks section of the Edit window as you scroll with the mouse wheel. When this option is disabled, scrolling with the mouse wheel is smooth and continuous as it was before.

Elsewhere, the Delay Compensation Time Mode and Compensate Side Chains preferences have been moved from the Operations page to the Mixing page.

Lightning Conductor

In versions of Pro Tools prior to 12.1, you had to disable the Conductor track before you could manually enter a tempo value in the transport window. This is no longer necessary, and you can now manually enter the tempo in the MIDI Controls section of the transport as long as there are no tempo events in the Tempo ruler.

Published November 2015