Digidesign’s software upgrades are intentionally conservative because the company’s high-end Pro Tools digital-audio workstation (DAW) is the standard environment for professional sound editing. Consequently, songs or sessions have to work seamlessly across a varied mixture of operating systems and Digidesign’s proprietary hardware. Time that music pros spend fiddling around with radically updated DAWs costs them money.
Pro Tools LE 6 (PT LE 6) doesn’t hold any surprises, but for musicians who work with Digidesign’s less expensive hardware systems, it does provide a comfortable and stable transition to working in OS X. Version 6 also introduces a very useful file-management system and progressive changes in its MIDI capabilities.
Setting the Stage
Pro Tools LE 6 is intended for use with Digidesign’s low- to midrange hardware, including the Audiomedia III, Mbox, and Digi 001 analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. The company promises support “soon” for the Digi 002 converter and mixing controller, which is capable of handling 96kHz files, but PT LE 6 doesn’t have it at this time. The program currently supports 16- and 24-bit 44.1kHz and 48kHz files, and a project can have as many as 128 audio tracks, but you’re limited to working with 32 mono audio tracks at once. PT LE 6 requires OS X 10.2.3 or later, but you can move files among all of Digidesign’s currently shipping hardware, and between Pro Tools versions 6 and 5.2.1 (which runs on OS 9).
The software installation process is straightforward, but you can install a driver for only one piece of Digidesign hardware. You’ll need to reinstall the software if you want to switch drivers and hardware. If you use MIDI files with your projects, you’ll need to configure your system with Apple’s Audio MIDI Setup utility.
What You See
Except for some cosmetic Aquafication, PT LE 6’s main Edit and Mix windows are virtually unchanged from version 5.X. Up in the Windows menu, however, lurks substantial new functionality. Digidesign’s Digibase file-management utility catalogs your mounted disks and provides three browserlike interfaces for working with your media files. Two of the browsers — Workspace and Project — resemble (and function like) the List view in the Finder but add music-related data, including miniwaveform views, the number of channels used in a given file, time-code info, and sample rate and sample bit-depth levels. In addition to complete file-management tools, you can use the Workspace to audition audio files (rather than first having to import them into a session), then drag the right one into your session at any location in the arrangement’s Timeline; this can save you valuable time. The third browser, Task Window, lets you check on background audio-processing duties while you record, mix, or even work in a spreadsheet.
More MIDI Muscle
Although PT LE 6 doesn’t rival the MIDI-handling strengths of Emagic’s Logic, Steinberg’s Cubase, or MOTU’s Digital Performer, it has boosted its MIDI capabilities steadily with each recent release. PT LE 6 supports Apple’s Core MIDI Services and MIDI Time Stamping, which allows for precise note placement and playback; doubles the number of MIDI tracks you can use in a session to 256 voices; and adds a Flatten And Response command that acts like an Undo function to let you “lock” changes to a performance or revert to the original. This last feature lets you explore your creativity while maintaining the safety net of a prior take.
PT LE 6 includes support for virtual MIDI inputs, which let you receive data from some third-party applications, and you can use the excellent MIDI Patchbay freeware (available at http://pete .yandell.com/software) to link Pro Tools with other MIDI apps. Both methods are useful, if a little cumbersome; you’ll need to specify your send and receive intentions within the preferences of the appropriate apps. Fortunately, Digidesign and Propellerhead (maker of Reason 2.0;
; November 2002) have announced they’re working to integrate ReWire 2 support into Pro Tools later this year, which should ease interapplication communication.
Where’s That Plug?
Plug-ins for modifying tracks and mixes are an essential element of a digital studio, and the availability of OS X-based versions has been a concern for musicians. PT LE 6 ships with a healthy complement of proprietary RTAS plug-ins, including a serviceable Reverb and a long-awaited Click that acts as a metronome. Also available are third-party OS X plug-ins, including Bomb Factory, DUY, McDSP, and Waves. Of particular note is Antares’s Auto-Tune 3 ($49 to $149; 831/461-7800, www.antarestech .com); its pitch correction works great and will facilitate users’ moves to PT LE 6.
Digidesign is also selling additional plug-ins, but it (and some other vendors) requires you to use the new USB-based iLok copy-protection key — which costs an extra $40 — to authorize the software. Emagic employs a similar method for protecting Logic, but it’s exasperating that Digidesign, which has already sold you one piece of audio hardware, wants you to buy another.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
“Comfortable and stable” may seem like faint praise, but it means that owners of supported Digidesign hardware can easily move up to Pro Tools LE 6. The new file-management browser tools and the extension of Pro Tools’ MIDI capabilities are excellent additions and will let you spend more session time making music.