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Tweak Looks at Pro Tools LE 8 Systems
Many of you know me as a Logic person. That is undeniably true. But I have always been fickle, temporarily moving through all the sequencers. I've used Logic, Cubase and Sonar (cakewalk Pro) since its very early versions. But I've never used Pro Tools LE, except for the unfortunate day I was asked to install a Digi 001 for my school on a computer that was not Pro Tools "approved". Fortunately my experience this time was much better. I only had 2 fatal errors setting it up, both due to a 3rd party RTAS plugin (MOTU's Ethno and Arturia's ARP 2600). Once I figured out the culprits from the system log and removed them, the rest of the installation went OK.
Its an excellent time to get into Pro Tools LE. With version 8, Digidesign has modernized its GUI (graphic user interface) and it looks and feel fantastic. Also we are at a juncture where there is a considerable increase in the power of LE compared to HD Digidesign systems. While HD is still the king with its dedicated hardware, LE on a fast computer, like my 8 core Mac Pro, is a studio powerhouse.
And most amazing, the price of admission is extraordinarily low. I am running PTLE 8.3 (after 2 updates) through an Mbox 2 Mini. Yeah, the little guy audio interface. Heh, USB 1.1, on a Mac Pro with Snow Leopard. An inexpensive package. Its hard to believe what you get for 300 bucks. I am also fortunate to have a very full set of plugins. Most of the plugins I've bought over the years also work in PTLE. Version 8.0 worked but was not stable on Snow Leopard, 8.1 was much better and 8.3 is as smooth as driving in a new Cadillac.
PTLE found my midi system without any fuss. It completely uses the Mac OSX MIDI utility. I read the getting started manual and apparently one can import preset lists through the midinam system Digital performer uses.
The Next day...
On the whole, I am liking the way PTLE is handling plugins, but if their is a weak point in any recording system, its when you add trailer park variety 3rd party plugins. I'm probably going to weed out my Digidesign plugin directory. Pro Tools LE has class as a sequencer. Unlike Cubase, it has a sensible menu system that most computer users will understand intuitively. Unlike Sonar, the windows move with grace and there is not a sense of visual clutter. And for Logic, well, I see where Logic got a lot of its ideas for features in its editors. And I see Pro Tools has what i thought were Logic features. Not sure who is borrowing from who, but there are lots of commonalities.
I've just about put the supplied soft synths through their paces. Xpand2 is great! This software instrument has all the basic instrument sets represented. Also has an arpeggiator that is easy to setup and use. And lots of good sounding kits too. You can make a full production with a few instances of this soft instrument alone! Definitely a nice start to one's instrument collection. Could be all you need. Its 4 way multi timbral--just about right for a sample playback plugin. This compares well to the Logic EXS24 and to Cakewalk's Dimension Pro which comes with Producer.
There are other instrument plugins, like Vacuum, an analog synth model, StructureFree, which seemed to be troublesome, and Boom II, a drum machine type plugin with its own drum pattern sequencer. Other than Structure Free, they all worked well and seemed eminently useful. The package also had a whole DVD chock full of audio loops. Maybe I'll get to hear them before I finish the article.
For processors you get a full suite of stuff. I really like the Air Talkbox a lot, very effective. There is the Bomb Factory compressor, which reminds me of the LA2A. The LoFi caught my ear--great stuff for noise based sounds which i am fond of making. Frequency shifter--v-cool.
I am definitely getting the hang of things in PTLE and have a song up and running
I am enjoying the stability of PTLE. It handles quite smoothly on my Mac Pro. The windows and mouse work together as if lubricated with fine oil. Elements of the screen in PTLE are meticulously laid out in an appealing fashion. Some elements very small, particularly in the track list in the arrange. The MIDI editor (piano roll editor) is top notch. I give it marks above any of the other sequencers. The notes move like silk. There's no latency on the mouse clicks and drags, and no glitchiness.
Ways to get into Pro Tools
Unlike other sequencers, which are essentially software package, Pro Tools LE requires a Digidesign hardware audio interface to run. You cannot run the software on any other interface on the market. There is a similar package called "Pro Tools M-Powered" that runs exclusively on M-audio audio interfaces (M-Audio is owned by Avid, the company that own Digidesign and Pro Tools) . Fortunately, there are many ways to get into a PTLE system. Basically, you decide which audio interface you need and go from there. Pro Tools Le Systems are as follows:
This is a tiny USB audio interface that has no inputs and a minijack output for headphones or computer speakers. You can't record audio with it, but you can assemble beats, compose music, mix and master on your your portable computer. You get the full Pro Tools LE software with it standard set of plugins. This is good if you already have another PTLE system
Perhaps the easiest way in through getting one of the budget interfaces. The M-Box 2 Mini is a 2x2 USB 1.1 audio interface with 1 Mic pre amp and no digital i/o or MIDI. If you are doing one track at a time, this will cover the basics. Even though you are getting only a simple audio interface, you are getting the full Pro Tools LE package, including the plugins you read about here on this page and full virtual mixer automation.
The next step up is the Mbox2. Here you get 2 preamps, two instrument inputs and two balanced line inputs (only 2 can be used at a time) along with coax s/pdif digital i/o. Still USB 1.1 though. You
Firewire is used on the M-box2 pro. You get an additional pair of auxiliary inputs which can be switched from phono (for turntables) to line inputs. The Mbox 2 pro is a good system for DJs, with front panel headphones that can be switched to the aux input for cueing. You also get 6 analog outputs, which can be used with mixers. In the studio, the monitor bus will allow latency free minitoring of what is being recorded. Rounding out the package is the ability to sync digital clocks to other pro gear with the BNC connector.
This is Digi's USB 2.0 interface, aimed primarily towards guitarists. However, it is a full featured audio interface in its own right. It has a Mic input, guitar inputs, stereo returns, and a pair of line inputs. One the output sidfe you get 2 analog outs, 2 sends, an amp send and phones. Digital i/o consists of AES/EBU (2 channel) and s/pdif coax. You also get MIDI i/o. No word clock BNC connectors though. One will have to sync through s/pdif or AES.
Digi 003 Systems
gives you 4 mic pres, which double as instrument inputs. 4 balanced line inputs and Aux inputs. For digital you get s/pdif coax or optical 2 channel i/o, or you can use the optical i/o as an 8 ch (44.1/48khz max) ADAT connection. (The total max i/o is 18x18) This allows you to connect an ADAT peripheral like the Behringer ADA8000 and enjoy 16x16 analog i/o, definitely enough to record bands with drummers. You also get a MIDI in and 2 midi outs which is going to help those with keyboards.
After thw 003 rack comes the 003+r. That little + is easy to miss, but raises the price an features significantly. It means "rack+Factory plugins" The plus adds 4 more preamps/instrument inputs and a large assortment of professional plugins in addition to the ones I tal about here, which come with every PTLE system.
Finally we get to the top of the 003 line. The obvious difference here is the addition a a control surface with knobs, jog wheel, motorized faders able to work with the Pro Tools LE automated software mixer. The i/o is the same as the 003 rack (not the 003 PLUS version), but is has the Factory Plugins that the 003+ includes.
Want to go beyond that? Well you are entering the land of the Pro Tools HD systems.
Digidesign has a rich history in the music world. Here's a short YouTube video on Digidesign's history
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