Digidesign Pro Tools HD8 Review

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jason Scott Alexander



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Pro Tools 8 offers many new features including 10 inserts, new plug-ins and instruments, and an enhanced GUI.

Pro Tools 8 offers many new features including 10 inserts, new plug-ins and instruments, and an enhanced GUI.

As a producer of urban, pop and dance music, I write and produce the MIDI for a song in Logic and then commit these tracks to audio and transfer to Pro Tools, where I add instruments and vocals, and go deep into editing. Using two programs is hardly ideal, so I jumped for joy when Digidesign announced this landmark upgrade.

Version 8 addresses many of Pro Tools' long-running user concerns. An all-new MIDI Editor window finally brings world-class sequencing to the platform. Real-time audio pitching, a new Playlist view, track-comping tools and score editing are four more exciting treats. And engineers should delight in Pro Tools 8's support for up to 10 inserts on any given track, plus automatic delay compensation on sends to handle mixer delays inherent in busing. Need more? There are dozens of new effects plug-ins and five new virtual instruments to hook you in.

Users of Digidesign's ICON console, various Digi controllers and M-Audio peripherals will benefit from Pro Tools 8's extended hardware control, which provides access to all 10 inserts and allows you to map plug-ins directly to the controller, address new soft-key commands and more. Also, the new Digidesign Satellite Link software option lets you chain up to five Pro Tools systems (or up to four Pro Tools systems and an Avid Media Composer or Video Satellite LE system) over Ethernet for scalable, nearly sample-accurate, synchronized processing. And a computer running Pro Tools LE can even be farmed out to act as a dedicated HD video playback source.

Hello New/Old Friend

Upgrading to Mac OS 10.5.5 (Leopard) was necessary to bring my dual-core PPC G5 with HD3 Accel hardware up to minimum system requirements. The full Pro Tools 8 upgrade file tipped in at just a little more than 4 GB, taking roughly two hours to download from the My Digi store. Installation atop V. 7 went flawlessly.

Pro Tools 8's entirely redesigned GUI is both modern and extremely interactive. For example, a fully customizable toolbar in the Edit window lets you rearrange, show or hide the transport, zoom tools, MIDI and synchronization controls, and more. Buttons, LEDs, volume and pan knobs are redesigned in the Mix window. An improved color palette lets you color-in scribble strips as before, but also tints full channel strips in both the Mix and Edit windows. I found that adjusting the color saturation and brightness for channel strips was quite helpful for quickly identifying specific channel groups in very large sessions and for visually separating my MIDI sources between virtual instrument and outboard hardware coming in on aux inputs. Although indeed fresh, the GUI should feel quite familiar to current Pro Tools users.

Waveform overviews now have 16-bit (rather than the old 8-bit) visual clarity, providing better vertical resolution of the waveform when zoomed in for editing, especially on low signal-level recordings. Audio files up to 3.4 GB in size are supported (the old limit was 2 GB), allowing longer, single-file recordings. A new Plug-In and Mixer cache, for allocated DSP when you are closing and opening sessions, results in the ability to open/close all subsequent sessions much more quickly after launching Pro Tools, particularly with similarly configured sessions. The Playback Engine dialog also now provides hardware buffer size settings down to 64 samples for the lowest possible RTAS monitoring latency yet.

Closer to the Action

A common theme in this update is making Pro Tools' workflow faster and more intuitive than ever. Universe View, for instance, provides an entire session overview by presenting audio, MIDI and video material as thin, colored horizontal lines. Clicking one of these region lines or framing a broader area within the Universe View instantly jumps to that set of foci in the Tracks pane of the Edit window.

Another example of simplified workflow is the new Playlist view, which allows alternate takes to be recorded and automatically displayed directly below the main track, each in its own lane — without losing the old recording. And soft-solo buttons for each Playlist lane can temporarily override the main take for easy auditioning. This new view is ideal for loop recording, and a new preference under Options lets you automatically create new playlists for each looped pass. Similarly, you can now view and edit multiple lanes of automation and MIDI controller data under a given track, regardless of the selected track view.

Track Compositing

Playlist view also serves as a nifty comping tool for quickly creating “perfect takes” from alternate tracks or from multiple passes captured in Loop Recording mode. You have a top-down representation of the recording history for a given track, where the last recorded take appears at the top in its own “main playlist” and all previous takes appear on their own sub-playlists. As you spot sections from the various takes that you want to comp together, simply make your selections and copy them to a new playlist. Alternately, you can use the Promote-Up function for lightning-fast comp edits.

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