By Ron DiCesare
In 1990, I was working at a music studio where I did a lot of cut downs of 60s, 30s, 15s and 10s for TV and radio commercials. Back then we used ¼-inch analog tape with a razor blade to physically cut the tape. Since I did so many ¼-inch tape edits, the studio manager was forward thinking enough to introduce a new 2-track digital editing system by Digidesign called Sound Tools. I took to it like a fish takes to water since I was already using computers, MIDI sequencers and drum machines — even replacing chips in drum machines — which is fitting since that is how Peter Gotcher and Evan Brooks started Digidesign back in 1984. (See my History of Audio Post here.)
A short time later, Pro Tools was introduced and everyone at the studio thought it was simply an upgrade to Sound Tools but with a different name. We purchased the first available version of Pro Tools and launched the new version to discover that there were now 4 audio tracks instead of 2. My first thought was, “Oh no, what am I going to do with the 2 extra tracks?!” Fearing the worst, my second thought was, “Oh shit, I bet this thing no longer does crossfades and I will have to use those two extra tracks to “ping pong” from one set of tracks to the other for fades.” Thankfully, I quickly realized that not only could Pro Tools 1.0 do crossfades, but it could do a lot more, including revolutionizing the entire audio industry.
During my long history of working on Sound Tools and Pro Tools, I have seen all of the advancements with the software firsthand. I am pleased to say that Avid’s latest version of Pro Tools, 12.3 includes some of the most helpful improvements yet.
Offerings and Pricing Options
Avid now offers its most flexible pricing ever for Pro Tools 12 — there are three different ways to purchase or upgrade. Just like before, Pro Tools can be purchased or upgraded outright, which is called a perpetual license. Don’t let the word license scare you; it still is a one-time purchase. In addition to the perpetual license, there are two new ways to lease Pro Tools either on a monthly basis or an annual subscription basis. This is an interesting step for Avid. The advantage to both types of subscriptions is that the user is eligible for all of the upgrades and tech support included with their subscription. This is an excellent way to ensure your program is always up to date while bug fixes are made along the way.
Offering such pricing flexibility does create a bit of confusion regarding what pricing options are available, since there are three versions of Pro Tools combined with the difference between first-time purchasers verses upgrades for preexisting users.
The first available option is called Pro Tools First, which is a free version. As a free version, this is an ideal option for anyone who is looking to get on board with Pro Tools for the first time. However, to take full advantage of Pro Tools 12, which is listed here in my review, you would need to purchase one of the two main versions, Pro Tools 12 or Pro Tools|HD 12.
Here is how the pricing breaks down: Pro Tools 12 Perpetual Licensing (AKA purchase outright) is $599. the Monthly subscription with upgrade plan is $29.99 per month.
The Annual subscription with upgrade plan is$24.92 per month (or $299 annually).
Pricing can vary according to your situation if you own previous versions or you have let too much time lapse in between upgrades. Suffice it to say, that whatever your unique situation is there is a purchase plan for you.
What’s Not New
The one thing product reviews rarely, if ever, cover is what has not changed. To me, what hasn’t changed is the first thing I want to know when I am working with any new version of existing software. I cannot stress enough the importance of being able to quickly and easily pick up exactly where I left off from my old version after upgrading. Unfortunately I know how often the software’s new features can make my old way of working obsolete.
I can’t help but think of a notable recent example when the upgrade to FCP X no longer supported OMF for audio exports. What were they thinking? Keeping previous workflows intact is an extremely important issue to me. Immediately after my upgrade from Pro Tools 10 to Pro Tools HD|12, I launched a session and it worked exactly as it did in version 10, eliminating any downtime for me.
One thing that is not new, but is extremely important to mention is the switch from the original Digidesign Audio Engine to the Avid Audio Engine. This happened on Pro Tools 11. Even with the change to the Avid Audio Engine, I was not forced to abandon my old workflow. The advantage of the Avid Audio Engine is key — among other things, this is what allows for the long overdue offline bounce, or faster-than-realtime bounce. And for anyone who is still on Pro Tools 10 and below, the offline bounce is a major reason to move to Pro Tools 12.
Because everyone uses Pro Tools in so many different and complex ways, I encourage you to view Avid’s website www.avid.com for a list of all of the new and improved functions. There are too many new features and improvements to list each one in this review. That is why I came up with a list of my 12 favorite new features of Pro Tools|HD 12.
My 12 Favorite New Features of Pro Tools 12
1. Avid Application Manager. There is a new icon at the top of your screen called the Avid Application Manager. Clicking on it will launch a window allowing you to log into your account, keep up with any updates and view a list of any uninstalled plug-ins available, along with your support options. You can also verify what type of license you have and when it was activated. This is helpful if you have the month-to-month or annual subscription so you can see when your next renewal is. Even with the perpetual license, you can still see what upgrades and bug fixes are available at any time.
2. Buy or Rent Plug-ins. One very cool new feature is the option to buy or rent any plug-in from a new menu option directly in Pro Tools called The Marketplace. This is particularly useful if you are opening another person’s session that has used a plug-in you do not own or if you are opening your session at a studio where they do not own a particular plug-in that you have at your studio. The rent option is a great way to access any missing plug-ins without having to commit to them fully.
3. Pitch Shift Legacy. Call me crazy, but I am thrilled that Avid has included the original version of Pitch Shift in the audio suite. In Pro Tools 11, Pitch Shift was changed to a piano keyboard-based plug-in called Pitch 2. As cool as it is to base your work off of a piano keyboard used in Pitch 2, I missed some of the basic features found only in the original version. I am pleased to say that Avid now offers both versions of Pitch Shift in the audio suite — the new piano-based keyboard version and the original, now called Pitch Shift Legacy.
4. Track Commit. Track Commit is used for converting virtual instruments to audio files, and it can be used for saving processing power overall. Even if you do not use virtual instruments, it still can be a very useful function, offering you the option to “print” your plug-ins to the audio track. This is a great way of saving processing and plug-in power. You can also render your automation, including panning. All of this saves processing power and any possible confusion if someone else is working on your session down the line.
5. Clip Transparency. Some people may remember the days of ¼-inch tape editing that I mentioned at the start of this article. Back then, audio editing had to be done solely with your ears. When Sound Tools and Pro Tools came along, editing became a visual skill, too. Clip Transparency takes visual editing one step further. It allows you to see two clips superimposed over each other while moving them on the same audio track. This is ideal for anyone who needs to line up a new clip with the old clip like when doing ADR.
The best part is it’s not only for seeing two different clips overlaid at the same time; it can be used when you are moving a single region or clip along your audio track. Clip Transparency allows you to see the old position superimposed with the new position of the same clip while you are shifting it for comparison.
It is perfect for those countless times when I have zoomed in past the start of the clip and I can’t see how much I am moving the clip relative to the old position. Clip Transparency now allows me to see how much I am shifting the audio, no matter what my zoom setting is. I never knew how much I needed this feature until I saw it in action. Clip Transparency is by far my most favorite new feature of Pro Tools 12.
6. Batch Fade and Fade Presets. When you are working with multiple audio clips on your timeline, fading each of the clips can be time consuming, especially if each fade needs to be treated differently. Now with Batch Fade, you can create presets for fade-ins, fade-outs and crossfades. When multiple audio clips are selected, a much larger dialog window pops up with many more options for you to choose from. Of course, fading between two clips can still be done the old way, and the fade dialog box works the same as in pervious versions. The new Batch Fade is an additional function that allows you to be more selective and have more options for your fades. Batch Fade is a great example how your old workflow is preserved while still adding new features.
7. The Dashboard. Launching a session now includes the Dashboard window at the start, which is an updated version of the Quick Start menu. You can quickly and easily see all of the available templates and your recent sessions. And, of course, you can create a new blank session. I like the new look and feel of Dashboard compared to Quick Start.
8. iPad Control. Pro Tools l Control is a free app now available in the App Store. iPad Control is made possible with the introduction of EuControl v.3.3, which is the driver needed for your workstation. EuControl is a free download using your Avid account after you complete the registration in the Pro Tools l Control iOS app. Even though I do not own an iPad, I can see the advantage of controlling Pro Tools via the iPad when I am monitoring a mix from a distance from my DAW.
Mixing a film, for example, would be a great use of the iPad control since that would allow me to sit back farther away from the speakers, thus simulating the distance of the listener in a movie theater. Today, the line between phones and tablets is blurred with the introduction of the “phablet.” As it stands now, the app is only available for iPad. I suspect that will change in the future, but I have no confirmation of that.
9. Included virtual musical instruments. The latest versions of Xpand II and First AIR Instruments Bundle are included with Pro Tools 12. Quite simply, I am blown away with how amazing these instruments sound. I have been a musician all of my life, but surprisingly I have never used any virtual instruments in MIDI in Pro Tools. I have always opted for a dedicated composing program for MIDI dating way back to Studio Vision Pro (for those of you old enough to remember how cool that program was).
I know there are plenty of third-party virtual instruments available for Pro Tools, but these two instrument bundles included with Pro Tools 12 have really opened up my eyes. Before Pro Tools 12, I found myself sharing and swapping files between a MIDI program (for me it’s Apple Logic) and Pro Tools. I have always preferred using a dedicated program for MIDI outside of Pro Tools, but now I am instantly converting using only Pro Tools for MIDI with the addition of these versions of Xpand II and the First AIR Instruments Bundle.
Please visit Avid’s website for a list of the specifics, but some of my favorite virtual instruments are the acoustic pianos, synth basses and of course anything drums or percussion related.
10. Updated I/O and flexibility. I work mostly on TV commercials and media specifically for the web, so I am rarely asked to do surround sound mixing, especially anything in 7.1. Therefore I am not able to explore any of the new surround features, including the new templates for 7.1 mixing.
Even so, I still can mention the addition of the Default Monitor path in Pro Tools 12. Pro Tools will automatically downmix or upmix your sessions’ monitor path to the studio’s monitor path. For example, if an HD session is saved with a 5.1 monitor path and then opened on a system that only has a stereo monitor path available, the session’s 5.1 monitor path is automatically downmixed to the systems’ stereo monitor outputs. This makes for even more flexibility when swapping sessions from one studio to another regardless of whether or not there are surround sound monitoring capabilities.
Another improvement relating to the I/O and surround capabilities is the addition of virtually unlimited busses. This will help anyone who has used up or exceeded previously allowed bus limitations when mixing in surround. The new Commit feature supports multichannel set-ups, which can improve your surround workflow.
And for any of the larger audio post facilities that may use Pro Tools in a much more complex way, such as getting several edit rooms to integrate, sync and play together, there are improvements in the Satellite link workflow. This includes the reset network button, transmit and receive play selection buttons in the transport window.
11. Track Bounce. Track Bounce is another feature I didn’t know I needed that much until I started using it. It is not to be confused with Track Commit. Track Bounce gives you the ability to select and bounce tracks or auxes as audio files when exporting. This can be one track, all the tracks or any combination of the tracks done in one single bounce.
For example, if you select a music track, a VO track and an FX track, you will get all three tracks as three discrete individual audio files in one single bounce using Track Bounce. This is essential for anyone who has to make splits or stems, especially in long format.
Imagine you have an hour program where you have a music track, a VO track and a sound effect track. In the past, you had to bounce each element as one realtime bounce three separate times. That meant it would take over three hours to complete. With Track Bounce in the offline bounce mode, you can output your stems in one single step in just minutes.
One friendly reminder is that if you are using Track Bounce with any layered tracks, such as sound effects or music tracks, it will bounce each track as its own separate track rather than a mix of the specific layers. For example, selecting 10 tracks will result in 10 discreet audio files with one bounce so it is important to know when Track Bounce is useful for you and when it is not.
12. Included Plug-ins. Of course, Pro Tools 12 is all about the plug-ins, and there are more plug-ins included than ever. This includes First AIR Effects Bundle, Eleven Effects and Space. I find that I rarely use any third party plug-ins since I am often going from studio to studio on a single project. Outside of noise reduction and LKFS Metering, I rarely find the need to use anything other than Avid plug-ins that are included with Pro Tools 12.
Cloud Collaboration and Avid Everywhere
In the near future, Avid will be offering Cloud Collaboration and Avid Everywhere. Avid will finally offer the ability to work on Pro Tools remotely using media located on a central cloud server accessible anywhere there is Internet access. When introduced, Cloud Collaboration will allow people in separate locations to access the same Pro Tools 12 session to share and update files instantly. This is perfectly suited for musicians collaborating on a song who do not live near each other.
More exciting to me is the potential of Cloud Collaboration to change the way we work in audio post by allowing access to all of your media remotely. This could benefit any audio facility that has multiple rooms with multiple engineers switching from room to room. Using Cloud Collaboration, there will be one central location for all your media accessible from any audio room. For engineers who need to switch rooms when working on a project, this will eliminate any file transfers or media dumps.
But I think the biggest benefit will be for any audio engineer like myself who is often working on a single project at multiple locations over the duration of the project. I am often working from my home studio, my client’s studio and a large audio post facility on the same project spread over several days, weeks or months. Each time I change studios, I have to make sure I transfer all of my sessions from one place to another using a flash drive, or WeTransfer or Google Drive, etc. I have tried them all and they are all time consuming. And with multiple versions and constant audio revisions, it is very easy to lose track of what and where the most current version is.
Cloud Collaboration will solve this issue with one central location where I can access my session from anywhere that has Internet access. This is a giant leap forward and I am looking forward to exploring this in-depth in a future review here on postProspective.
Ron DiCesare is an audio pro whose spot work includes TV campaigns for Purina, NJ Lotto and Beggin’ Strips. His indie film work includes Con Artist, BAM 150 and Fishing without Nets. He is also involved with audio post for Vice Media on their news reports and web series, including Vice on HBO. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.