Avid Pro Tools

Avid let me have a go at their latest version of their DAW, Pro Tools Ultimate. That’s the version that is specifically tailored to creating musical scores and editing dialogue for movies and TV series besides plain music.

At first sight, Pro Tools is quite daunting but musicians and movie sound editors will feel right at home once they get to know the basics. Scratching the surface, however, doesn’t give you an insight into the unique functionality that other DAWs lack or at least have less of. As an example, the Avid Cloud Collaboration feature offers users a way to collaborate on a project with other artists, songwriters and producers without having to travel. Better yet, Avid Link lets you find and connect with a community of music creators and audio professionals to collaborate and exchange ideas with.

Even while working on a low-end iMac 5K/2017, I was capable of trying out most features without any problems — although I had to occasionally turn up the buffer size or output at a lower spec than you’d be using for professional music and film. For best performance, you should really pay attention to Avid’s minimum system requirements.

For moviemakers, Pro Tools software, together with its dedicated Avid control surfaces, is the most often used solution for mixing immersive audio such as Dolby Atmos or other 3D audio for film or TV. You can work with Atmos 7.1.2 audio systems and object panning. With the latest Dolby Atmos Production Suite and enhanced Core Audio support for Dolby Audio Bridge, you can send 130 channels from Pro Tools to the Dolby Atmos Renderer. None of the other DAWs on the market does better.

Pro Tools also lets you create immersive full-sphere surround sound mixes for virtual reality productions — from start to finish in a 3D space with support for first, second and third-order Ambisonics formats across Pro Tools tracks and busses.

With the buffer size and cache set to default values, my machine allowed me to work directly with a 4K video clip that I had to convert to MXF first as I am on a Catalina system. If it’d been a production clip for streaming, I could have output it to Netflix as Pro Tools Ultimate 2019.12 has become part of the Netflix Post Technology Alliance. This should ensure that Pro Tools solutions support Netflix’s technical and workflow requirements.

My own experience with DAWs is limited to Logic Pro X, Reason and Bitwig Studio. I use Logic Pro X the most and think it’s also the most flexible of the three. Bitwig is fine and so is Reason, but both are tailored to musicians, not someone who occasionally edits dialogues for video and wants his audio clips to be in sync with the footage.

I must say, then, that I find Logic Pro X easier to use; it’s also much less picky about running on top of Catalina — it would be very strange if it were — than Pro Tools. I also love the Alchemy synthesiser plug-in and did not find the Falcon 2 synth in Pro Tools to offer so many powerful features. However, I do find Logic Pro X very skinny in terms of collaboration capabilities, nor has it the pro-level output capabilities that Pro Tools has (Netflix, for example, is not supported in the same way that Pro Tools does if I’m not mistaken).

I also find the Pro Tools UI to be less user-friendly than Logic Pro X’s. It has that in common with the other DAWs I’ve tried and used, although, for example, its MIDI controller support is even less transparent than Reason’s when you’re using a Nektar LX88+, for example.

Yet, with all of the pro features Pro Tools delivers and of which I have only started to scratch the surface, it’s still easy to see why it remains the market leader by a large margin. Its collaboration functionality and standards support are far beyond what other DAWs offer. And if you really need a synth that is capable of ear-popping performance a digital one like Hexeract will probably compete with Alchemy with its two hands bound to its back.

The conclusion of all this? If you’re a true solo artist, I’m not so sure. If you’re collaborating with others in whatever form, Pro Tools is the best choice. And if you’re creating soundtracks or editing dialogues, I don’t believe there’s anything that can compete with Pro Tools at all.