Two things are certain when it comes to Pro Tools.
The first is that you know you are dealing with powerful software. After all, Pro Tools is pretty much considered the standard by which all other recording software is judged.
Secondly, the learning curve is steep, to say the least.
Luckily, for those of us that have had to keep our day jobs, Pro Tools have created the Pro Tools M-Powered Essential Recording Studio. It’s a fast- track method of professional-quality recording aimed at those new to the digital recording process and it’s a lot of bang for your buck. The Pro Tools Essential Recording Studio offers 16 stereo/mono audio tracks, plus another eight MIDI tracks, excellent quality effects including reverb, chorus, delay, flanger, phaser, compression and EQ (up to three at a time, per track), as well as professional quality 24-bit/48kHz sound. The DVD also comes complete with over 5.5GB of instruments and rhythm loops, all high quality and all very usable.
Also in the box is the M-Audio Fast Track USB audio interface. This allows you to bypass annoying connectivity issues between your guitar or microphone and your computer, and get recording as quickly as possible. Simply load the driver from the included disc, plug the interface into a USB port and you’re done. The USB interface allows you to plug microphones, your guitar, or pretty much any audio source straight into your computer, without needing to mess with sound cards or complicated attachments, and delivers pristine, digital sound without any complications.
Although Pro Tools M-Powered Essential says that it’s a streamlined version of Pro Tools, and it is, absolute beginners are likely to find more delicate operations something of a challenge. Granted there’s a quick-start user guide, designed to get you recording straight away, however its instructions at times are less than clear, and I found myself referring to the heavier Pro Tools Reference Guide (which clocks in at over 1100 pages!) just to get my initial first tracks down.
Once initial hurdles are overcome however, you see just how powerful Pro Tools is, and why it’s held in such high regard.
Audio quality is second to none. Plug a mic in and record, and you’ll hear a faithful reproduction of your voice. For guitar tracks, Pro Tools comes with Sans Amp, an amplifier emulator which allows you to add gain and eq to your guitar signal. Some may find Sans Amp pleasing to the ear, especially if looking to achieve mellower bluesy tones, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. Using the line out from a favourite guitar pedal however worked very well, as did simply sticking a mic in front of an amplifier. Both were faithful reproductions of the original source.
And once you’ve got the basic functions – level setting, recording and mixing – Pro Tools Essentials becomes more or less as easy to operate as any other piece of digital recording software. And with the excellent fidelity, the results are so good that that initial hour or two of frustration during setup is quickly forgotten. Within a week I had recorded three simple songs that boasted better audio quality than anything I’ve done before.
Some things about this version of Pro Tools, however, my computer didn’t like. Over the course of a week of testing I had to restart several times after the sound inexplicably failed on my computer. No information was lost however and, as such, this was a fairly minor inconvenience, although inconvenient it was nonetheless.
Minor gripes aside, even a stripped-back version such as this offers a lifetime of recording possibilities. There’s still plenty to learn (and a whopping great manual to read at my leisure), lots to discover, and did I mention the sound?
PROS: Excellent sound quality, high-quality effects and very convenient recording interface.
CONS: A few gremlins in the system and a vaguely written setup manual can dampen initial enthusiasms.
VERDICT: Pro Tools is the king of digital recording software, and at this price it’s available to everyone.