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Avid Pro Tools Studio
4.75 4.75 out of 5, based on 1 Review

A new version of Pro Tools that bridges a much-needed gap.


2 weeks ago

Avid Pro Tools Studio by Diogo C

Avid Pro Tools Studio

Avid Pro Tools in 2022: State of play

Let’s start by having a look at the current line-up, which was recently tweaked. Right now we have four versions: Intro, Artist, Studio and Flex, which are sort of replacing the now-discontinued First, Standard and Ultimate versions. Let’s get to what many consider to be the bad news: perpetual licenses are not back, and all Pro Tools versions can only be obtained through monthly or annual subscriptions. With that out of the way, the current line-up is summarized on the chart below - you can right-click and open it in a new tab for more zoom:



I’ll not bore you by describing all the changes and permutations as they are all beyond the scope of this review, but Avid has done a great job on that and a full breakdown of all the changes can be found here. For the purposes of this review the version chosen will be Pro Tools Studio, as I believe it covers the bigger chunk of Gearspace’s user base. Other versions may be mentioned but they are not the prime target. I’ll proceed to evaluate down the crucial elements of a DAW, such as recording, editing, mixing and music creation, then move on to our scoring criteria. Without any further ado, let’s jump right in.

Recording

Without HDX, ProTools is a regular audio recording software that doesn’t offer anything fancy (such as Cubase’s Control Room) in terms of setting up cues or secondary monitors, it does offer all the necessary functionality for monitoring but in a more generic way through its auxiliary buses, which can be good or bad depending on how one looks at it. Nevertheless, this is a non-issue for those using their audio interfaces to set up recording monitoring, which is the case for many users. Recording loops or “take comping” is available, it is called “loop recording” in Pro Tools and it is quite easy to use, and in my personal opinion better organized than most DAWs (I’m looking at you, Logic Pro). I should also mention that recording is probably the area where the previous Pro Tools “standard” version benefited the most from the transition to Studio thanks to hardware input count being doubled, going from 32 to 64 inputs.

Editing

One of Pro Tools’ biggest forte has always been editing, and that remains to be the case for the most part. The recent inclusion of ARA2 integration for Melodyne just takes that up a few notches and to put it shortly, editing in Pro Tools remains at the top of all DAWs in my opinion. The smart tool is just a joy to work with, the editing and grid snap modes, the way it handles edit groups, clip management, clip gain, it’s all so tidy and efficient. In recent years we also got a fair share of updates including bounce in place, and the Studio version also received features that trickled down from Pro Tools Ultimate (now Flex) such as clip effects.


Mixing

Alongside editing, Pro Tools is highly regarded for its mixing capabilities, and for many good reasons. Starting with the elegant layout of the mixer: it’s well organized, clutter-free and easy to work with. Routing is as easy as it gets, sending signals around is quite intuitive and hurdle-free. The way groups and VCA are handled is the best in class, and no other DAW got it right like Pro Tools in this particular aspect. Metering is also done right, with plenty of calibrations to choose from, including peak, RMS, VU and much more. As for the sound quality aspect of mixing, having the option to use HEAT for adding color to a mix is a huge plus, and I mean really huge plus! Designed by none other than Dave Hill, one of the best gear designers in the analog game and the mastermind behind the famed Crane Song company, HEAT sounds excellent and not only opens up the sonic possibilities, it also allows users to save insert slots (and CPU) that would be otherwise used for saturation plug-ins.

Lastly, the addition of Dolby Atmos is a superb addition that enables Pro Tools Studio users to produce and deliver immersive audio content, something that is surging in demand and should be much more common in the not-so-distant future, so having it baked inside the Pro Tools mixer is a very welcome new feature.

Music creation and bundled content

Whilst editing and mixing has always been its forte, the music composing functionalities in Pro Tools has been fairly criticized over the years. Although the trajectory has been upwards, notably with how virtual instruments perform, it’s still not considered among the best for those creating music using mostly a computer, with some stiff competition coming from Apple Logic Pro, Steinberg Cubase and Ableton Live. Nevertheless, it is totally capable of tackling most jobs. Pro Tools’ MIDI features are somewhat basic, they are what most people will ever need but far from offering anything sophisticated or cutting edge like Ableton Live or Bitwig, and that actively plays a role in turning off some users.

When it comes to its bundled virtual instruments, Pro Tools also lags behind its major competitors, namely Cubase, Logic Pro and Live. The recent inclusion of two new instruments in Groove Cell and Synth Cell, which were developed in partnership with UJAM, did very little to remedy this situation, as these two instruments added very little to the table and they are “basic” at best. A few years ago Avid included the excellent UVI Falcon in the Pro Tools package, but unfortunately that’s not the case anymore.

Overall, Pro Tools bundled content remains rather slim, with a limited number of instruments that are mostly on the “simple” side and don't do anything spectacular. Recently Avid has tried to offer more with the Inner Circle rewards, but that hasn’t quite solved the issue of lackluster content. Bottomline is that if you’re planning to use Pro Tools extensively for composing with virtual instruments it is best to check if your favorite plug-ins are available as AAX instruments - the good news is that the major players are all up to date on that area and will provide the required compatibility.

Customization and quality of life

Pro Tools was known to be a DAW that didn’t offer much in terms of customization, but fortunately that has largely changed over the recent years, and many new features were introduced to allow users to customize its looks and shortcuts to fit their taste and workflow. Starting with the visuals, Avid has done a great job on offering more options to color the mixer, tracks and a dark mode was also introduced last year, which greatly helps those working for long hours in front of their screens. Custom shortcuts were introduced this year, and although I was personally at home with the default shortcuts, I can totally understand those who were craving for this feature, since it facilitates the transition from other DAWs.

Other quality of life worth mentioning are: plentiful options to bounce tracks or consolidate clips with plug-ins under the “commit” clip or track functionality, freeze tracks to save CPU without committing, track folders for organizing sessions and routing signals without having to use busses, and lastly the plug-in text search field, which greatly helps those with their folders packed to find the desired effect more quickly.



The scores

Sound quality: Although I’m not a proponent of the “all DAWs sound the same” theory, I’m also not in the “DAW X sounds better than DAW Y” camp either. Each DAW sums audio differently, but ultimately it is up to the user to make it work in their favor or to their liking. One aspect about Pro Tools that needs to be mentioned is that it certainly has something different to offer in terms of sonics when HEAT comes into play. It’s really a nice option to have, and one that can nudge a mix towards a brighter or warmer character with the twist of a couple knobs, which I personally think is really cool and something I’d recommend to all Pro Tools users. It’s a subtle effect, but one that has greatly helped me to mix without relying on a bunch of saturators across the session, hence saving some CPU for other plug-ins. Speaking of the bundled plug-in processors, they’re the basic bread and butter digital tools, nothing special about them but they can do the job just fine. Some of them do stand out, and ReVibe comes to mind as a good sounding reverb. Nevertheless, I’m evaluating the DAW and not the plug-ins, and with HEAT in the equation Pro Tools gets the top score here.

Ease of use: Each DAW imposes its own learning curve, and each user deals with it in their own way according to their needs. In that sense, Pro Tools is not harder or easier to use than Cubase or Logic Pro, and it has to be said that over the past few years Avid has dedicated substantial amount of development on “quality of life” improvements such as interface color customization, freeze/commit (bounce in place) tracks to save system resources, folder tracks for more effective session management and other smaller additions and tweaks that can certainly ease eventual burdens. I’d take away a point here simply due to principle - I believe no DAW should get a perfect score here as they all have a learning curve that may or may not be steep to some, but relatively speaking I think Pro Tools is certainly more on the easy than on the hard side of that fence, so it gets the five out of five stars for me.

Features: If we’re only considering the DAW itself, ProTools is at least on par with its main competitors in terms of core features, and the bundled content is where it falls short. That might weigh more (or less) depending on what someone expects from a DAW, and may not matter at all to others who either already have their folders full or don’t have much use for such content, which happens to be the case with this reviewer. For me personally, it’s a perfect score on this criteria as I have more plug-ins, virtual instruments and samples that I could possibly ever use. Would I mind having more awesome plug-ins? Not at all, but that holds little weight when I’m deciding what my main DAW will be.

Bang for buck: In short, I think Pro Tools is definitely worth the money. That statement has to come with a set of asterisks or caveats, but the reasoning remains strong when I look at the overall picture and it is very hard to argue against Pro Tools’ value if you're recording and mixing, even if that means spending a bit more.

The first caveat is the license model. Although I do lament the departure of perpetual licenses, I’m not against subscriptions per se, but it has to be said that this model is only feasible for those with a steady source of income, which is not quite the reality for many music producers out there, especially those who are at the first steps of their career. One could argue that for those there’s Pro Tools Artist, but even those starting out are likely to outgrown its severe limitations quite easily, so in that sense, Pro Tools is now more “pro” than ever, as potential Artist users are likely to be pushed to the Studio version eventually.

The second caveat is pricing, especially when compared to equivalent software from other lines of work. For instance, Adobe Premiere Pro costs $20,90 per month or $238,98 per year, which respectively is roughly 35% and 20% cheaper than the Pro Tools Studio version. I think Adobe got it right here, and as far as I know the video industry is a bit more prosperous than ours.

Lastly, as a non-US (or non-EU) resident, I have to say that some of the international users may have an experience that will be a bit harder on their pockets when it comes to affording Pro Tools, and that’s due to the lack of regional Avid software stores in their countries. Many of us have to deal with exchange rate fluctuations, which are bound to happen from time to time due to the global economic circumstances, such as the recent pandemic or other impactful events, and not knowing how much you’ll have to pay for the software is not a good thing. When global companies such as Adobe or Apple set up their local shops, they usually absorb part of those waves coming from the economy to offer their users a more stable and predictable environment, and it’s not uncommon to slightly lower prices in order to adjust to that country’s reality. And that’s not to mention being able to pay with your local currency, credit card or other regional transactional protocols (such as this), which is also kind of a big deal for many as well. The power of having a local shop to adopt such measures can not be underestimated, and it greatly helps creative communities to thrive.

Recommended for: anyone recording and/or mixing music or film at any level.

Pros:
  • Reliable, stable and established, with industry-wide adoption like no other DAW.
  • Excellent for recording, editing and mixing.
  • The mixing and editing tools are the best in class.
  • HEAT sounds superb and opens up mixing options.
  • ARA2 integration makes editing even easier.
  • Stable and fast even though Apple silicon support is not available at this moment.

Cons:
  • Bundled content is a bit lackluster.
  • Still a bit pricey when compared to other DAWs or equivalents from other fields.

Wishlist:
  • We could use some stability and consistency when it comes to licensing. The last few years have witnessed many changes in the Pro Tools ecosystem, and now it seems like Avid got it right for the most part. I’d still like to see a price drop for the Studio version and a more robust Artist version, but if that’s not possible then let’s at least have some stability to make things more predictable in the long run.
  • International stores to help those outside the US and EU.
  • Native support for Apple silicon computers.
  • Support for more ARA2 apps, especially iZotope RX.

Attached Thumbnails
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