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Pro Tools LE 8 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £92
(upgrade from version 7, download only)

Pro Tools is a great audio workstation, but only for those users who have Mac OS X 10.5.5.

It’s been three years since Pro Tools had a big number change and while the point updates to 7 brought some cool new features, a completely new version number indicates big changes.

The LE version reviewed here needs Digidesign’s Mbox hardware, while the HD version needs Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools M-powered requires M-Audio hardware.

Pro Tools LE 8 is an upgrade to version 7, which shipped bundled with the Mbox, and, as such, needs the Mbox in order to run. When you first launch Pro Tools LE 8, having selected your session of choice from the helpful new Quick Start window, the big change is instantly apparent: a funky new interface. Gone is the old, Mac OS 9-like austerity of the previous interface – in version 8, colour abounds, with rounded corners on everything, 3D glassy buttons, crisper text and a thoroughly 21st century GUI all round.

There are subtle improvements, too. Grid lines now show through the translucent audio regions, making alignments easier, and the markings have improved on the mix faders. Waveforms are more detailed, windows can be docked and you can customise the Edit window toolbar. Overall, it’s a pleasure to work with: a pretty face never hurt anyone and Pro Tools is now arguably the best-looking DAW.

Naturally, Pro Tools users aren’t being asked to dig deep in these troubled times just for a new skin on old windows. In fact, there simply isn’t room here to detail the myriad new features in version 8, but there are some noteworthy headline features.

There are five new virtual instruments: the Mini Grand piano; the DB33, a B3 Hammond-style organ; Vacuum, a full-phat ‘tube mono synth’; Boom, an analogue Ultrabeat-style drum machine; and Xpand2, LE’s sample player, here upgraded in feature set and content. All five are very welcome additions and broaden LE’s tonal palette.

There are also new mix plug-ins, including Eleven Free, a light version of Digidesign’s renowned guitar amp sim, and Structure Free, a light version of its sampler. There are a further 20 new Air effects, the arrival of which go hand in hand with the ability to host 10 insert effects per track, which is twice LE 7’s meagre limit of five.

In workflow improvements, there’s a new track compositing workflow, whereby you can view multiple takes from a track’s alternate playlist, select the best sections from each pass and a single click sends them all to the main playlist for the track.

Similarly, LE 8’s introduction of multiple automation lanes per track is reminiscent of Cubase or Reason 4, which is no bad thing. The ability to display and draw volume, panning, mute automation data and more in separate lanes is a blessed relief.

Score writers will also be delighted with the debut of notation in Pro Tools. Given that Digidesign also owns market-leading scoring software Sibelius, this is hardly surprising, but the ease of use and resulting quality of output is a real boon.

LE’s Midi functionality has also received a massive shot in the arm, with the Editor window giving easy access to all aspects of Midi, including control over individual notes and automation and CC data. The new Smart tool makes editing Midi a breeze.

So, the good news: Pro Tools 8 is great. The bad news: Mac OS X 10.5.5 is the minimum supported Mac OS version, which is setting the bar high for any Tiger users with a perfectly stable music production system.

Other grumbles include LE’s limit on audio tracks, although at least LE 8 raises it to 48. Disappointingly, there’s still no automatic plug-in delay compensation in LE. There’s also the perennial requirement of Digidesign hardware to even launch Pro Tools. Also, while the Midi implementation in 8 is a great leap forward, it doesn’t push Pro Tools clear ahead of Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer et al.

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