Digidesign Pro Tools HD8 Review

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



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A handy region rating system lets you rank each take on a scale of one to five. This simple feature saved me a considerable amount of time in noting my favorite passes during recording so that I'd be able to clarify my choices later. There's even a smart solution for matching and comping alternate takes across multiple tracks, such as a drum kit. As long as each alt track has identical user time stamps, you can promote them all simultaneously within an edit region of your choice, thus keeping the multichannel image intact.

MIDI Editor View

Nowhere in this update is streamlined workflow more welcome than in the brilliant, new dedicated MIDI Editor. The archaic block methods of working with MIDI data are gone, replaced instead by a freely sizable and intuitive graphic piano-roll-style interface, complete with pencil and draw tools.

Within its main work area, notes can be displayed in varying shades of the assigned track color, with higher velocities appearing darker and lower velocities lighter. Notes can be inserted, deleted, moved, nudged, separated, consolidated (glued) and muted, either individually or as groups. You can also scrub/shuttle through MIDI parts, audition velocity changes and play MIDI notes when tabbing. Across the top of the Editor window is the requisite toolbar with MIDI Track Solo and Mute buttons, plus a standard Pro Tools complement of Trimmer, Insertion, Grabber, Pencil and Smart Tool buttons. Double-click at the bottom of the MIDI note editor, and you enter a split-pane mode to view/edit multiple MIDI parameters simultaneously, such as volume, pan, modulation, breath, etc. And you can have as many MIDI edit windows open as you like (i.e., one per instrument).

The Pro Tools MIDI Editor sets itself apart from all others by letting you simultaneously view the contents of multiple MIDI tracks at a time, superimposing the note data from various instruments in their own unique colors. This can become cluttered and hard to work with, but wherever note data from multiple instruments resides within the same area and obscures the view, you can selectively hide certain instruments' note data, with their notes continuing to play back.

I really love this completely different perspective of MIDI tracks. You can tweak individual MIDI elements or “nip and tuck” the entire arrangement as new ideas hit you. And by using the up/down arrow keys, you can quickly switch from one virtual instrument or outboard MIDI track to another and record, edit and play back in one fluid pass or looped scenario.

That said, I'd love having some real-time MIDI macros or performance-oriented tasks. Something similar to the Transform window found in Logic would be cool, where mathematical variables and Boolean statements could be used to generate crescendos and arpeggios, perform MIDI routing and controller conversion tricks, and more.

As an aside, Pro Tools's four edit modes (Shuffle, Slip, Spot and Grid) had been mutually exclusive. But now you can snap-to-grid while in any of the other three. For example, in Shuffle mode and with Grid enabled, you can make a selection in a region based on the grid and cut the selection, and any regions to the right of the edit will shuffle to the left. This is incredibly handy in loop-based music for slicing to the downbeat, no matter the groove.

Elastic Pitch

The Elastic Properties window now has transposition settings for desired amounts over a ±2-octave range. However, Elastic Pitch must be applied to regions in full, so altering single notes or parts of a region requires creating smaller regions. This is apparently due to the fact that Elastic Pitch transposition is supported with the Polyphonic, Rhythmic and X-Form algorithms only, but not Monophonic.

The upswing is that you can now transpose audio in real time, just like MIDI, and pitching quality is quite good and transparent. Eventually, perhaps Digidesign will take this more in the direction of Celemony Melodyne. These days, pitching has come of age to where you expect much more selectivity over individual notes and the ability to draw in vibrato curves or other articulations.

Way to Score

Digidesign's acquisition of Sibelius has paid off big in Pro Tools 8. Along with its extremely reliable and accurate transcription of MIDI in real time, the new Score Editor also lets composers “write” music into Pro Tools as never before. Whether you record, import, draw in with the pencil tool or Step Enter MIDI, the Score Editor transcribes MIDI notes as they're played or entered, and any changes are immediately audible. You can choose to edit within a full scoring window or have the editor follow the selections you make in the main Edit window. In fact, activities can be linked between the main Edit, MIDI Editor and MIDI Event List windows at all times.

To provide only certain parts of a large arrangement to session players, I could quickly pick and choose individual MIDI and instrument tracks from the tracklist. Once the tracks were added to my score sheet, I began fine-tuning appearance through global and independent track attributes. These include setting the clef; adjusting display quantization, with options to straighten swing and allow note overlap; and determining whether to display the track at “concert pitch” or as a transposing instrument, such as a B-flat tenor sax. I was dismayed that no freely assignable text placement or lyrical support is given.

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