With the release of OS X 10.2.3, Digidesign has made the leap into Apple’s Unix-based operating system. One of the most striking differences with OS X is the smooth new interface. Everything looks shiny, slick and vibrant. As with most things in life, this will please some people while others will be distraught.
Digidesign had to walk a fine line with the integration of OS X. How much do you change the look and feel of Pro Tools while still maintaining its integrity? Is it possible to keep everyone happy all the time with this major upgrade?
Let’s get to the big news first. It is called DigiBase. This new feature is a file management utility similar to the Mac’s Finder or Windows Explorer. Think of it as a mega-database for Pro Tools. With its browser-style interface, DigiBase provides searching, sorting, auditioning and importing of audio, session, OMF and other types of files. Without question, this one feature alone will make users happy to jump on the upgrade bandwagon.
When volumes are mounted, DigiBase provides a plethora of information. Listed items include file names, kind of file, waveform overview, duration, dates, size, sample rate, bit-depth, timestamps, location and IDs. Don’t need all that information at once? DigiBase has five preset buttons similar to those found in the Edit window. This allows users to save custom display settings as View Presets.
For anyone who likes to add documentation to their projects, up to 256 characters may be entered in the comment section. Comments are searchable and support both PC and Mac platforms. Additionally, DigiBase handles modifiers, wildcards and text strings. This makes life easier when trying to locate hard-to-find files.
The TDM version of Pro Tools adds several enhancements to DigiBase not available in the LE version. By using aliases, DigiBase Pro creates custom catalogs of user-defined files kind of like a favorites folder for Pro Tools. This is a great way to organize your collection of Sousaphone or kazoo samples. Unmounted files in Catalogs appear grayed-out, yet still provide all the information associated with the file.
In my opinion, the best feature is the ability to audition files. This works regardless of file formats or sample rates. In one easy step, files may be dragged and dropped from DigiBase into the current Pro Tools session. This includes automatic file copy and conversion. No problem dragging a new 24-bit, 96 kHz file into an old 16-bit, 44.1 kHz session. Pro Tools immediately takes care of the housecleaning chores. Moreover, Pro Tools 6.0 handles these tasks in the background while you continue to work. At the same time, the new Task Manager monitors and manages the background processes.
Digidesign has also beefed up Grid mode for audio and MIDI. In standard Grid mode, a moved region snaps to the beginning of the Grid’s boundaries. With the new Relative Grid mode, the moved region maintains the offset of the grid from which it was moved. This helps retain the original feel of the performance. Also new is Suspend Grid mode. By holding down the command key, Grid mode automatically changes to Slip mode. This alleviates the need for menu hopping.
By far, one of the coolest features in Pro Tools is Beat Detective. Imagine quantization for audio. Digidesign takes Beat Detective a step further with DigiGroove Templates. Beat Detective in Pro Tools 6 enables users to extract and generate DigiGroove templates based on selected audio performances. These templates may be applied to other parts of the audio. When using MIDI, Groove Quantize adjusts note locations and durations according to DigiGroove Templates. Engineers working with drummers who follow a different beat will surely appreciate these features.
Speaking about MIDI, OS X has eliminated the need for OMS. Now it is handled through Apple’s Audio MIDI Setup. Like OMS, users will still need to configure their MIDI devices, but the process is much simpler. Another addition is the introduction of MIDI Time Stamping. MIDI musicians using Digidesign’s MIDI I/O interface have the benefit of this streaming technology. MIDI Time Stamping promises to tighten the flow of the MIDI data to less than a millisecond. Also new is support for 960 PPQN (parts per quarter note) for increased MIDI resolution. And MIDI track count has been increased to 256. Does anybody really use that many tracks?
Two other features worth noting are Flatten and Restore Performance. Working non-destructively, Pro Tools can restore MIDI data from the original performance where it was created. This includes tracks, notes and controller data. Once your MIDI masterpiece is perfected, use Flatten Performance to update the file as a new reference point for Restore Performance.
Moving on to plug-ins, Pro Tools 6.0 initiates opening plug-ins on-the-fly. There is a short dropout while the plug-in is loading; however, the transport keeps playing. Another great addition is a built-in click generator for RTAS and TDM in the DigiRack plug-ins. What a welcome surprise! Also, DigiRack includes the DPP-1 Pitch plug-in along with the D-fx package of delays, chorus and flanger. These were previously available only as a separate purchase.
As we all know, the days of floppy disks are gone. Plug-in authorizations are now handled by an iLok Smart Key ($39.95). Simply install it into any USB port. Users can also set up an online account at iLok.com. This offers significant flexibility for managing and authorizing plug-ins.
When I loaded Apple’s Jaguar into my G4, I opted to install it on a separate partition from OS 9.2.1. This allows me to start my Mac in either operating system. Now I can run Pro Tools 6.0.1 or 5.3.1. Why would I want both? The main reason is that I have different plug-ins on both platforms. Not to mention, some of my OS 9.2.1 programs are not yet available for OS X.
My main concern with this upgrade is downtime. Since I was in the middle of recording an acoustic guitar library for Sonic Foundry’s ACID, the last thing I needed was a studio meltdown. Hey, I was installing a new operating system, a new version of Pro Tools, new plug-ins with the iLok, adding a Glyph FireWire drive, configuring Digidesign’s MIDI I/O for OS X and adding several other audio programs. I have had far simpler installs go haywire. But the good news is everything worked flawlessly. I was able to keep recording and editing throughout the whole process!
Pro Tools’ new features went to work instantly. DigiBase makes it easy to audition and locate sounds in my extensive sampling library. DigiBase even cataloged and played a disc with MP3s. Also valuable is the Suspend Grid mode function. While working on Acid loops I am always going from Grid mode to Slip mode. Prior versions of Pro Tools made this a multistep menu process rather tedious. As for MIDI, I do not honestly hear much difference with MIDI Time Samping (however, I a not using 256 tracks). The Flatten and Restore MIDI Performance commands are useful. There is no need to hit “Revert to Saved” every time I want to get back my original performance. Last but not least, the Click plug-in is great. But I am so used to the old clave sound in my Kurzweil, it will be hard to change.
There are just too many features in Pro Tools 6.0 to adequately squeeze into this limited review. Other goodies include Timeline and Session indicators to determine online and offline tracks; the ability to import specific track attributes from one session into another; enhanced color coding for edit tracks; a Playback Cursor Locator; MIDI editing capabilities with the Pencil and Trim Tools; an enhanced Selector tool for zooming and choosing multiple tracks; Virtual MIDI inputs for receiving data from other applications; a Machine Profile utility for MachineControl; and timecode and synchronization enhancements.
While it may not be possible to please everyone all the time, users of Pro Tools 6.0 should be very happy. Digidesign struck the perfect balance integrating OS X. The new features are impressive and the stability of the program is rock-solid. And for anyone in doubt, this major upgrade still has the look and feel of Pro Tools even with the polished look of OS X!
Applications: Studio, post production, project studio
Key Features: MIDI sequencing; DigiBase; TDM, RTAS-compatible; DigiGroove Templates; Flatten and Restore Performance; Suspend Grid mode; Timeline and Session indicators; multiple plug-ins
Price: Upgrade is $195 from any previous TDM version and $75 from any previous LE version
Contact: Digidesign at 800-333-2137, Web Site.
What’s New in Pro Tools 6.1?
One of the main functions of this upgrade was to bring PC users up to speed with the Mac folks. Many of the features in the Mac version 6.0 are now incorporated in the PC update 6.1. These include the new user interface, Digibase, new editing and MIDI features, DigiRack processing features, Beat Detective Groove Template Extraction and Groove Conform, Timecode and MachineControl enhancements.
On the Mac OS X side of things, the new features in version 6.1 are less dramatic but still very useful. Improvements include AVoption|XL and FilmFrame 2.0 support; Digibase browser display of OMF video metadata; support for Advanced Authoring Format (AAF) with DigiTranslator 2.0 new plug-ins and processing features; 32 levels of Undo (up from 16 previously); and Scroll Wheel navigation of Pro Tools windows.
—J. Arif Verner