Digidesign Pro Tools HD 7

Digidesign, creators of the immensely popular Pro Tools DAW system, released Pro Tools HD 7 software, their latest and greatest version at last year's AES show in New York. Pro Tools is now up to version 7.1 and, as the user base continues to grow, Digi shows no sign of stopping until DAW world domination is complete. That's perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but not far from the truth.
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(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Studio, broadcast, post production

Key Features: Mac, Windows, up to 192 tracks; up to 192 kHz; Instrument Tracks; Real-time MIDI processing; Region Groups and Region Looping; Supports REX and ACID files; increased RTAS performance; 10 sends per track; RTAS plug-ins supported on aux and master tracks

Price: Upgrade: CD: $245, Download: $175

Contact: Digidesign at 650-731-6300, www.digidesign.com.Digidesign, creators of the immensely popular Pro Tools DAW system, released Pro Tools HD 7 software, their latest and greatest version at last year's AES show in New York. Pro Tools is now up to version 7.1 and, as the user base continues to grow, Digi shows no sign of stopping until DAW world domination is complete. That's perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but not far from the truth.

Features

The release of Digidesign Pro Tools HD 7 (Mac OS X and Windows XP) adds a multitude of new features and improvements that deliver considerably expanded audio and MIDI recording and editing capabilities, improved efficiency, increased mixing flexibility and power, and superior ease of use. Pro Tools HD 7 software is a paid upgrade ($245/CD or $175/software download). With regard to space (entire books have been written on Pro Tools and its feature set), this review is going to focus on the features that are new to Pro Tools HD 7 software. To check Pro Tools HD 7 system requirements please visit: www.digidesign.com/compato.

Compositional Tools

Pro Tools now supports REX and ACID files which are two of the most popular formats for loops and samples. Digi has finally added Instrument Tracks (something we've all been requesting for years), which combine MIDI and audio capabilities in a single channel strip. This simplifies routing for virtual instruments and MIDI sound modules. With Region Groups, any combination of MIDI and audio regions can be grouped to quickly and easily build arrangements. The new region looping feature allows you to assemble grooves or fill backgrounds behind video cues. Applying the groove input quantization to MIDI tracks provides the ability to adjust the feel of the track. It is also now possible to drag and drop audio, MIDI, REX, and ACID files directly from the desktop to the timeline.

Pro Tools 7 also adds real time MIDI processing capabilities, which enable nondestructive control of MIDI quantization, note duration and velocity, transposition, and timing. The Mirrored MIDI editing mode allows adjustments made to one MIDI file to affect all existing copies of that region. The Zoom Toggle allows users to quickly switch between two different user-defined track view settings in the Edit window, making it easier to work with both MIDI and audio. In addition to these features, nearly every MIDI operation window includes enhancements that make work with MIDI faster than before. Enhanced groove quantization features include the ability to apply groove template quantization across multiple tracks, add randomization to further humanize the feel of a groove, and apply groove template quantization to incoming MIDI signals. Sample-based MIDI tracks allow MIDI events to stay locked to time code regardless of session tempo changes.

More advanced MIDI users will enjoy the fact that an enhanced Select/Split Notes window enables users to split a MIDI performance into multiple tracks by MIDI note, velocity, duration, or position. The Remove Duplicate Notes command allows users to quickly clean up recorded or merged MIDI tracks. The Change Duration window has been revamped and now offers legato, overlap correction, and transform sustain pedal features and the Transpose window now allows users to transpose all notes in octaves and semitones.

Editing and Arranging

The Pro Tools menu structure has been reorganized to provide more logical and streamlined menu navigation. This took a little bit of getting used to at first but now it is the biggest reason I hate to work on a pre-7.0 rig. To make the adjustment easier, the new Tool Tips feature adds "rollover" descriptions of objects in the Pro Tools software interface.

Pro Tools 7 has added Separate on Grid and Separate at Transient functions that allow the editing of multitrack audio regions simultaneously based on a grid value or the transients in an audio file. Audio regions can now be quantized according to a grid or groove template. The Reverse Strip Silence functionality allows for extracting louder portions of audio tracks. The Link Track and Edit Selection feature enables the simultaneous quick application of track-level commands globally across multiple tracks. Dragging multiple regions onto a single track is also possible via a new Region List drop order pref.

The Duplicate Track command now allows the specification of the number of tracks and which track parameters are to be duplicated. The Import Session Data feature now supports importing Markers and Mix/Edit Groups. The new DigiBase improvements include support for working with MIDI files and an added Tempo column to organize and view audio files by tempo. Red Book audio CDs can now be imported from the DigiBase Workspace on both Macintosh and Windows XP machines. The environment now supports up to 999 Marker/Memory Locations and the resizable I/O Setup and Disk Allocation dialogs allows simultaneous access to more parameters.

Mixing

Digi has improved the support for multi-processor computers and the RTAS environment, resulting in a plug-in increase up to 150 per cent on dual-processor computers. A computer running Pro Tools 7 instead of an older version can typically run more than twice as many RTAS plug-ins and virtual instruments. Pro Tools|HD now supports RTAS plug-ins on aux inputs and master faders, which improves the compatibility between Pro Tools|HD, Pro Tools LE, and Pro Tools M-Powered systems. More RTAS effects and instrument plug-ins are able to run simultaneously due to improved host processing efficiency.

Pro Tools 7 now supports up to 10 aux sends per track and up to 160 simultaneous channels of I/O. Pro Tools|HD 1 provides up to 96 tracks at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, up to 48 tracks at 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz or up to 12 tracks at 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz. Pro Tools|HD 2 Accel and HD 3 Accel provides up to 192 tracks at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, up to 96 tracks at 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz or up to 36 tracks at 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz. The ability to use RTAS plug-ins on Aux Inputs and Master Faders is another nice feature included with Pro Tools 7. Not being able to use an RTAS reverb on an Aux channel always drove me crazy with old Pro Tools.

Send assignments can now be copied or dragged and dropped across tracks. The New Automate All command allows the easy arming automation of all plug-in parameters at once. An all-new, free Dynamics III DigiRack plug-in (released concurrently with Pro Tools 7 software) allows easy and powerful control of mix dynamics. EQ III now includes a new filter band pass solo mode, making it easy to isolate and remove unwanted signals or noise in an audio track. The new Cut, Copy, Clear Special commands allow more refined editing of automation data.

In Use

For this review I installed Pro Tools HD 7.1 into a Mac G5 dual 2GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM running OS 10.4 The initial program launch opens a reorganized set of drop-down menus immediately signifying an improved user interface. I've been using the software for several months now and the more I use it, the more I love it. It is easy to take for granted from time to time but every time I work at a studio that hasn't upgraded I'm reminded over and over the value of this update.

My only big complaint with Pro Tools is with the edit window. I envy Nuendo users for being able to simultaneously view different kinds of automation data for a single track. I would love to be able to look at my vocal track and simultaneously see the volume automation, aux send level automation and panning automation but it's not possible with Pro Tools. Another nice feature would be the ability to "load user preferences." I work at different studios all of the time and only bring my own Pro Tools rig with me about half of the time. Instead of spending 5 - 10 minutes of every session trying to get all of the preferences (e.g. auto scroll, color coding, fade-in, out and crossfade type, dither, etc.) set to my liking,

I would love it if I could just plug in my thumb drive and have the rig immediately configured to my way of working. It also still seems awkward to me that the master fader inserts are post-fader. This means you never want to insert a compressor/limiter on your master fader because if you have a fade on your mix, the compression will gradually go away as the mix fades and the fade will sound like dung. When I mix in the box I run all of the channels to a stereo aux and insert by stereo buss compressing there. Then I assign the aux to Master Fader where I write my fade.

All of this aside, I have never seen another DAW able to compete with the speed or flexibility of Pro Tools. The multitool makes the interface lightning fast and the added features make the environment more powerful then ever. Even with all of the additions and improvements included with Pro Tools HD 7 software, I have surprisingly found the software to be amazingly easy and intuitive to use. Menus have been streamlined and organized more logically, though key commands remain the same. The Tool Tips feature provides descriptions of objects within the interface when the cursor is placed over them so you can get better acquainted with the interface.

Summary

The new changes and updates to Pro Tools once again prove that it is a leader, if not the leader, in the DAW marketplace.

Review Setup:

Apple 2 GHz Dual Processor G5 w/2 GB RAM; Lucid Gen-X-96 clock.