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How steep is the Pro Tools learning curve?

A post by David Mellor
Wednesday March 30, 2005
One of the most common questions we receive is, "Which recording system should I buy?" Here is the answer...
How steep is the Pro Tools learning curve?

There is a clear and distinct choice to make in multitrack recording systems - choose a standalone multitrack recording such as the Tascam MX2424 and use it with a conventional multitrack mixing console, or choose a computer and software based multitrack recording system such as Pro Tools.

If you choose the standalone hard disk recording system, then you will be recording in the tradition that started in the mid 1960s where recording equipment had advanced to the stage where each instrument could be given its own separately recorded track.

After that, recording techniques were refined and refined until they delivered exactly what was needed to record any style of music quickly, efficiently and to a high level of quality.

So if you buy a standalone multitrack recorder such as the Tascam MX2424 and a conventional multitrack mixing console you will be buying exactly what you need to record music. There will be a learning curve, but you shouldn't be surprised at that. Absorbing forty years of musical and recording developments won't happen in an instant.

Now, what about the computer/software option?

Well, the remarkable thing about Pro Tools is that it mimics traditional multitrack recording techniques so closely. Digidesign were smart enough to ask experts in the recording industry what they wanted, and they gave it to them.

Other software designers, including Steinberg, eMagic (original developers of Logic), Mark of the Unicorn and others, chose to go it alone and reinvent the wheel. And what wobbly wheels they did invent!

To be fair, some of these systems are better at MIDI, rather than audio, recording. Pro Tools never has been so highly regarded for MIDI compared to its audio features.

But if you invest in a Pro Tools system your learning curve, though steep, will take you on a journey to the highest pinnacles of recording arts. What you learn will stay with you the rest of your audio career, because it stands on the shoulders of every development made in recording since the late 1960s.

But with other software, you will learn things that have no relevance to audio. Techniques that should be available in a moment will require trawling through obscure menus and preferences. Choose other softwares by all means if you want MIDI. But if audio is your main thing, currently it makes little sense to choose anything other than Pro Tools.

You might wonder whether we get paid for saying this stuff about Pro Tools. Yes, if you buy a system through one of our links we do get a small commission. But we would get a commission if you bought Logic or Cubase. Actually a bigger commission than if you bought a Pro Tools Mbox system. So we recommend what we know is best.

One last question is whether you should choose a Digidesign Digi 002 or Mbox Pro Tools system. The software is the same so your choice depends on what you want from the hardware.

Mbox has just two inputs and outputs, so you won't be recording a band with it, although you can build up many more tracks in software. The 002 has eight analog inputs, four with microphone preamplifiers. It also gives you a hardware interface that is more practical to work with than a mouse. Having said that, other than recording more simultaneous tracks, there's nothing you can achieve with a 002 that you couldn't achieve with an Mbox.

One last thought - when there is a system available that is better than Pro Tools, we will change our recommendation in an instant.

Digi 002 hardware specifications

  • FireWire connectivity (no PCI card required)
  • 8 touch-sensitive, motorized faders
  • 8 motion-sensitive rotary encoders used for pan/send/meter/plug-in control
  • 10 scribble strips for track name, pan, send, fader, plug-in values, and timeline position
  • 8 analog inputs, 8 analog outputs
  • 4 mic pres with individual gain and high-pass filter; 48V phantom power enabled on channel pairs
  • 8 channels of ADAT optical I/O, 2 channels of S/PDIF I/O
  • Outputs 1 & 2 mirrored on 1/4" TRS monitor output (with dedicated volume control) and RCA-based -10 dBV fixed output
  • MIDI I/O: 1 IN port, 2 OUT ports (16 channels IN/32 channels OUT)
  • 24-bit/96 kHz A/D and D/A converters
  • Stand-alone mode: 8x4x2 digital mixer with EQ, dynamics, effects
  • Alternate Source Input for direct monitoring of -10 dBV audio equipment (tape players, CD players, etc.)
  • Headphone output with dedicated volume control knob included
  • Transport control

Mbox hardware specifications

  • Two analog inputs and outputs, featuring Focusrite mic preamps
  • Pristine 24-bit signal path from input to output
  • 24-bit stereo S/PDIF digital I/O (RCA)
  • Separate source selection (MIC/LINE/INST) and gain control per channel
  • 48V phantom power
  • Hi-Z input for instrument pickup
  • Two analog TRS inserts
  • Zero-latency monitoring
  • Balanced/unbalanced connections
  • Headphone output with dedicated volume control
  • USB powered
  • Pro Tools LE software
A post by David Mellor
Wednesday March 30, 2005 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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