This article is an in-depth review of Pro Tools in 2023.
Pro Tools is the standardized audio editing and post-producing software all across the industry worldwide. Some say it’s the best DAW to work with on a professional level, and other people say it sucks and that it’s an absolute rip-off.
These days anyone can have a home studio, and all DAWs in the market compete to have the best features and the most efficient layout. All it takes to achieve professional results is knowing your way around any DAW that suits you. But how can you tell if Pro Tools is a match for you? Let’s make a list of the Pros and Cons of using this software.
Is Pro Tools worth it in 2023?
Pros of using Pro Tools
The possibilities with Pro Tools are endless. It’s got so many features, and it’s so well-thought-out that not many other DAWs can match it. You can work on any possible audio-related project, and you probably won’t find a thing you cannot do.
- A wide variety of editing capabilities
Of course, you can edit any audio signal and even videos in the latest versions. You can do many things editing-wise, even modifying waveforms, which is not very commonly seen in other DAWs, like Logic or Cubase.
- Professional quality plugin bundle
Pro Tools stock plugins are designed for professional use, which is clearly reflected in their sound and usability. They’re also very light in color, which helps with their adaptability since their most linear response prevents them from creating artifacts that might affect the overall sound.
- Efficient Workflow
Not many other DAWs give you the possibility of an entirely shortcut-controllable interface. It’s comfortable, it’s quick, and most of all efficient. You don’t have to waste any time looking for a specific tool but only hold a couple of keys and do what you have to do.
- Easy to use
Following up with the previous point, despite having a learning curve, you don’t think about it anymore once you learn where things are and how to reach them. Pro Tools lets you optimize your workspace and is so customizable that you can adapt it to your specific needs.
Cons of using Pro Tools
- Random crashes
It’s no secret that Pro Tools has some crazy crashes that happen randomly for no apparent reason, and this is problematic because troubleshooting can go from taking 5 minutes to even days or even contacting Avid support for your specific issue. Luckily, Avid’s customer support is particularly good, but still, this is a major disadvantage.
- System usage can be excessive
These features require a lot of system usage, and they can absorb your computer specs, especially when working with the video engine. Fortunately enough, there’s a lot of information about system optimization for both Windows and Mac users to reduce this issue as much as possible. Still, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would work like it’s supposed to.
- Monthly subscription
Unlike other DAWs, you don’t actually buy Pro Tools but rent it instead, and you have to pay a monthly fee to keep using the software with a license. It can be a major concern because it won’t necessarily make up for the expense if you’re starting, and a perpetual license costs $600 and only includes a year of updates and support, which you’d have to renew every year.
- iLok Licence manager
You need to download the iLok manager to enable yourself to use the software after purchasing the license. That represents a pointless obstacle because you’d be only able to use Pro Tools with an internet connection, or if you’re not using the iLok cloud, you’d have to wait for a USB iLok key to be delivered to your billing address and waste a USB port.
How Do You Get Pro Tools?
Pro Tools is available on Avid Audio’s website, where you can download its free version, Pro Tools | One, purchase a monthly license for $34.99, purchase a one-year license with a monthly $29.99 fee, or pay ahead a full-year license for $299.99. For a minimal installation, you’ll need 15GB of disk space. To get the whole loop library, you’ll need only 2GB and an additional 3GB if you get the extra sample and sound library.
Pro Tools Interface & Usability Overview
Pro Tools is efficient and optimized to accelerate any workflow, especially for recording and post-producing, but it has a learning curve.
Nevertheless, it’s not that hard, and it’s all about learning the shortcuts that allow you to flow with the DAW and keep you from the necessity of using the mouse to navigate through the software. Shortcuts come especially handy during recording and editing because it keeps every one of its features only a few keys away from using them.
To cover as much as possible and give you a detailed overview of how it works and what it has to offer, we’ll break it into different categories – the main window and the mixer window. This way, you will learn everything you need to know about Pro Tools and get the most out of it since day one.
- Top controls
Here you can change the editing mode, access different zoom options, editing tools, or adjust the timecode view, the grid, and nudge. You have the transport bar to record, fast forward/rewind, MIDI sync, and set up your Pre-roll, Post-roll, or fade-in time.
Here’s where you can control all aspects of your mix, tracks, and session, in general. You have the tracklist at your left and a clip list on the other side. You can adjust the tempo, meter, and signature and add markers, different tempos, or meters throughout the timeline. It allows you to hide, show, activate, and deactivate tracks at will, both individually or in groups. (Do this by holding Cntrl + Winkey and clicking on the group you wish to isolate. If you want to hide a group, hold shift instead of Cntrl and click on the group in the list). You can have exclusive visuals of your groups, which makes it easier when you’re working with films, or binaural audio preventing you from wasting time scrolling up and down.
- Clip settings and channel strip
Right-click on any clip, and you will have several options to work with them. Pro Tools lets you group clips, match different takes, adjust clip gain, commit, loop, and more. You can rank clips and adjust the matching criteria, so it only shows you a specific rank, which is especially helpful during comping. Each channel has ten insert slots and ten send boxes.
All tracks have a “freeze” button, which renders all of your track’s processing and freezes it in time. The “freeze” button is great for those with low-spec computers, as it saves a ton of RAM and CPU usage, and you can always un-freeze tracks to bring them back to their original state in case you need to make some changes.
Pro Tools provides an intuitive automation workflow that helps during mixing. Everything is automatable in Pro Tools. From plugins, effects, and parameters to the typical volume, pan, and clip gain.
It also provides you with automation modes, so you can set it only to read automation, but you can write automation in real-time, switching to touch, latch, and write modes. This possibility is beyond beneficial for mix engineers because you can do automation rides that sound more natural and smoother.
Pro Tools has a mixer window that looks like an analog console but doesn’t add any color. If you happen to have two monitors, you can use this window to automate volume rides by moving the fader on a vocal or to do a panning ride to create an effect on a reversed cymbal going from left to right.
You have control over each track’s volume, I/O, automation mode, and pan on the fader section. It’s pretty straightforward, but it can be beneficial to balance the levels of your mix without getting distracted by the processing, automation, or whatever you have going on in the edit window.
Above the fader section, you’ll see a plugin/send section, where you can also add, deactivate, and control all of your plugins and sends from there, just like in the editing window. The mixer gives you a different, much simpler view of your tracks and balance and can be particularly helpful if you have a DAW controller.
What Audio Editing Features Does Pro Tools Offer?
Editing is one of the most critical parts of the production chain. Editing improves the overall quality of the product, cleans up unnecessary clutter in your session, and is common for engineers, producers, and musicians equally. It’s also a particularly long and sometimes tedious process, but Pro Tools makes it highly efficient and easy-going with all of its features.
We’ve talked about them already, but you need to know what they’re for and when is more convenient to use them. You have four modes: Shuffle, Slip, Spot, and Grid, the last one with a variation labeled as Relative grid.
Shuffle mode locks clips in time and will cause them to stick next to their closest region automatically. This mode is effective when you work with podcast editing. You can cut off small chunks of audio and keep the continuity of the signal.
Slip mode lets you move an audio region anywhere you wish without being restricted by any grid or time code value. This is one of the most comfortable modes to work with when editing film audio because it lets you place sound effects or foley more accurately wherever you need it.
With the Spot mode, you can place any audio region on a specific moment of the timeline. This mode is suitable when pulling audio from the clip list because you only need to dial in the time code value, and it’ll automatically take it right there for you.
In Grid mode, audio regions, MIDI notes, cuts, or fades will be snapped to a previously selected grid value. You can adjust this value on the top controls right on a green button that says “Grid” next to a musical note determining the interval between marks. Grid mode is especially helpful when editing music since this mode is based on the session’s tempo.
Relative Grid mode lets you move regions with the same precision as the Slip mode, but it’ll snap the region in a relative position to the grid, as opposed to the absolute Grid mode, which snaps it precisely to the closest grid mark.
With this feature, you can separate one or several audio regions at once according to their transients. It’s primarily used to quantize drums because it spares you from doing it manually. It automatically separates regions into clips, lets you quantize to the grid, and then smooths the clip separation adding crossfades to the selected area with a couple of clicks.
With Elastic Audio you can do many different things, such as time-stretching, pitch-shifting, and quantizing. It’s very transparent and agile. With this tool, you can quickly edit your tracks to perfection without any weird-sounding artifact. To put it into context, you can synchronize your kick and bass by just snapping the transients to the grid, or adjust the pitch of a single note in a vocal line to fit perfectly into the key, and more.
There are several possible situations in which you might need to adjust something manually because no tool can do it as sharp as you would. Sometimes, you need to be surgical to achieve the best result when editing. For these cases, there are a couple of tools you need to be aware of to be more efficient and spend the least amount of time on them.
- Pencil tool
The pencil tool works for different purposes, but its primary function is to redraw the waveform, which is rather convenient to correct clicks and pops that might be on a recording. Whether you work with dubs, podcast editing, or just happen to have a clicky voice that you can’t retake, the pencil tool offers you a quick solution. You can also draw automation or create/delete automation points.
- Fade options
Depending on your sonic goals, you can choose the shape of your fades or create them yourself. Pro Tools provides you with a fade editor that you can use any time to achieve the perfect fade within seconds.
What Plugins Does Pro Tools Have?
Avid gives you a kick-starter bundle with your purchase. Although the amount and the plugins themselves may vary according to the license plan and version of Pro Tools, these are the basics that you will never miss.
You have EQs, compressors, and a channel strip that gathers it all. These are some of the native plugins you will encounter when using Pro Tools.
- EQ3 7-band and 1-band
You get two EQs; first, you have a 7-band parametric EQ that’s packed with low-pass and high-pass filters that you can turn into notch filters to scoop out specific frequencies when needed, and the other five EQ bands across the spectrum.
However, if you only need to adjust one thing, then a seven-band EQ could be quite distracting, which is why you’d benefit from a single band EQ to do what you have to do without it taking you out of your zone.
- BF76 Compressor
You get a model of the all-time classic LA1176 FET compressor if you want to add some analog color to your mixes or tracks. It works great on bass or kick because it keeps the peaks controlled and brings back the low-end, making them feel fuller.
- Dyn3 Compressor/limiter
Of course, the 1176 will not always pull the trick sometimes, you need more control and transparency when you’re compressing your signal, so you have Pro Tools’ stock channel strip compressor to do the job.
- Dyn3 Expander/gate
Besides the compressor, you also get other dynamic processors, like the Expander/Gate, which is as versatile and helpful as the compressor above and even have a similar look.
- Dyn3 De-Esser
Keeping up with the dynamic processing, you can not miss the De-Esser to control sibilant vocals or annoying high frequencies in an acoustic guitar.
- Time adjuster
For your phase correction needs, you get a micro delay, which, as the name suggests, will adjust your tracks in time, getting them perfectly aligned so that you can be safe from phase cancelations on your mix.
- Channel Strip
It is a channel strip that emulates a Euphonix System 5 console and features EQ, dynamics, filter, and gain sections separately that you can control to the detail. It’s a very visual and self-explaining plugin that’s suitable for pros and beginners alike.
Speaking of plugins, it’s not all about the techy stuff, but you also get FX plugins that are as great-sounding as the mixing ones.
This plugin has up to seven algorithms, on each you can adjust the size, decay, pre-delay, and diffusion. Add it directly on your channel and toggle the mix balance or open it at its full capacity on an auxiliary track to use it as a send. D-Verb is great for space emulation, vocals, or drums.
- Mod Delay III
You can even use Mod Delay to make a thin vocal take come to life and sound bigger or to open up the stereo on a guitar bus.
Moving on from space plugins, let’s talk about distortion. Lo-fi is a particularly powerful plugin that you can use to add saturation and distortion to your tracks. It’s great on vocals, kick, snares, and percussions, and it adds a unique harmonic distortion that blends greatly with mid-range frequencies. You can also create pretty cool effects if you play with the linear and adaptive quantization or add noise.
- SansAmp PSA-1
Keeping up with distortion, this is a model of Tech-21’s SansAmp, which was originally launched in 1989. Is an amp simulation that, with a short set of controls, gives you the possibility to add harmonic distortion, saturation, and a general sonic attitude adjustment. It works especially well on bass guitars and adds a lot of character to percussive elements, like shakers and cymbals.
Brief History of Pro Tools
It all started in 1983, when UC Berkeley graduates Evan Brooks and Peter Gotcher started selling EPROM sound replacement chips under Digidrums for the newly released E-mu Drumulator drum machine, the first programmable drum machine with built-in samples. After the release of Macintosh in 1984, both collaborated with E-Mu to create a Mac-based visual sample editing system they called Sound Designer and released them under the Digidesign brand.
Here’s where the rules changed, and digital audio was being born. It wasn’t until 1991 that ProEdit was launched, the first Pro Tools system with the Digidesign editing software. In 1994 it was already possible to rout multiple digital audio streams and link NuBus cards to obtain a 16-track system. In 1996, Digidesign launched Pro Tools III, which included eight analog and digital I/O channels and a plugin bundle, then in 2002, the first version of Pro Tools HD was released, and the rest is history.
Even though it’s basically a monthly rent, it gives you a lot of value and lots of interesting features. Besides, you can always download the free version, and you’d still benefit from it, which is a great option if you’re on a budget and can’t afford a license.
Overall this is a great DAW, and talking from my own experience with it, I encourage you to try out Pro Tools | First and see if it’s a fit for you. Keep in mind that the best DAW is the one you feel the most comfortable with, so you should evaluate the pros and cons, see if it works for you and make your choice.
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I have a B.Sc. Degree in Audio Engineering and +5 years of work experience. I specialize in Audio Post-Producing and Sound Design to help brands and online businesses stick out delivering top-notch audio quality for advertisement, podcast, films, and music.