The big recording news at the end of 2010 was the introduction of Pro Tools 9 ($599 retail)—Avid’s response to requests by native Pro Tools users for software that is compatible with non-Avid hardware and includes more of the features found in the proprietary Pro Tools HD and HD Native systems. A few of the most significant upgrades are Automatic Delay Compensation for plug-ins, increased track capabilities (96 simultaneous audio at 44.1/48kHz), up to 32 channels of audio I/O (depending on the interface), 64 instrument, 128 aux, and 512 MIDI), additional internal busses (256 total), MP3 Export, DigiTranslator 2 (which allows for OMF/AAF/MXF import/export for collaborating more easily with other audio/video applications), and Multitrack Beat Detective. The optional Complete Production Toolkit 2 ($1,995 retail) adds nearly every feature found in Pro Tools HD, including even more tracks and busses, surround mixing in several formats, advanced audio/video editing and automation capabilities, pitch/time shifting via the X-Form plug-in, and the ability to exchange complete session data with Pro Tools HD systems. Pro Tools 9 runs natively under Core- Audio (Mac) and ASIO (Windows). Copy protection is via iLok, and the boxed version includes a pre-authorized iLok key.
In addition to its core recording, editing, and mixing tools, Pro Tools 9 includes a suite of more than 70 plug-ins (effects, dynamics, EQ, etc.) and virtual instruments (synths, sampler, drum machine, organs, pianos). The plug-ins run on Avid’s proprietary RTAS/AudioSuite format, which is supported by nearly all major plug-in manufacturers.
I found Pro Tools 9 to be quite similar to Pro Tools HD in most respects, so if you have worked with HD—or even Pro Tools LE and M-Powered—you should be able to find your way around with little difficulty. The system installed without a hitch, and I was quickly able to configure it for use in my studio (which is based around a six-core 3.33GHz Apple Mac Pro with 13GB RAM), and to customize a work environment that suited my needs. Pro Tools 9 represents a huge step forward for Avid, and will no doubt make many Pro Tools fans happy and attract myriad new users. [Note: as we were preparing to go to press, Avid introduced Pro Tools MP 9 ($299 retail), which replaces Pro Tools M-Powered, and includes many of the same features found in Pro Tools 9, including Automatic Delay Compensation.]
While exploring Pro Tools 9, I also took the new Mbox audio/ MIDI interface ($499 retail/$449 street; $899 retail/$820 street bundled with Pro Tools 9) for a spin. This third generation of the Mbox boasts so many upgrades that it is essentially a different product than its predecessors. The USB 2.0-powered device has two newly designed microphone/instrument preamps with XLR mic/line combo connectors on the rear panel and 1/4" DI inputs up front, coupled with 24-bit/96kHz converters. Also included are S/PDIF digital and MIDI inputs and outputs, stereo 1/4" balanced Monitor Outputs, and a headphone jack with a Volume control. Buttons on the front panel engage Softclip limiters, 48-volt phantom power, volume Dim, and Mono operation. A Multi button engages various functions in Pro Tools, such as auto-creating, record arming, and recording on new tracks without using a mouse or keyboard. A large knob on the far right side controls the overall volume. Drivers are included for interfacing with nearly every recording product from other manufacturers.
The sturdily constructed Mbox has a nice heft to it, and the feel of the knobs and switches inspires confidence. The mic preamps sounded full yet relatively transparent, and the converters and high-quality signal path produced a crystal clear sound overall when monitoring through JBL LSR28P near-fields. It interfaced flawlessly with Pro Tools 9 (as well as with MOTU Digital Performer 7) for both audio and MIDI, and the easily navigable software monitor console is packed with great features, including a tuner and onboard reverb and delay. The significantly upgraded Mbox is a formidable contender in the mid-sized professional audio/MIDI interface market.
More from this Roundup:
Studio Home Tools
MOTU Digital Performer 7.2.2’s Guitar Goodies
Universal Audio EP-34 Tape Echo, Cooper Time Cube Mk II Delay, and EMT 250 Classic Electronic Reverberator Plug-Ins
Keith McMillen Instruments SoftStep MIDI Controller