The Hidden Digidesign Pro Tools (part 4)
Pro Tools on the Cheap
As hard disk multitrack recording and editing systems go, Pro Tools is hardly expensive. But every extra pound you spend on equipment may be a pound less in your pay packet at the end of the day and you might be able to get all the functionality you need from Pro Tools by buying just the software or maybe a Digidesign Audiomedia III card. Pro Tools in its PowerMix version will in fact run on a suitable Apple Macintosh computer without any additional hardware, not even a sound card, and offers very nearly all of the full Pro Tools features. Audio scrubbing is a notable exception, but Pro Tools other auditioning features will probably make life without it quite acceptable. The only real problem with this configuration is that the quality of the audio inputs and outputs on a Macintosh is not of the best and can be compared subjectively to an analogue tape recorder without noise reduction. Even so, I have heard remarkable results achieved in this way so it is certainly practical, within reason. The Digidesign Audiomedia III card however improves the quality up to the standard you would expect from 16-bit 44.1/48kHz digital audio and offers stereo inputs and outputs in both the digital and analogue domain.
So supposing you decide to acquire a Pro Tools system on the cheap and use it without additional hardware or just with the Audiomedia III card, what can you do with it and what cant you do with it? Well since in both cases you only get stereo ins and outs there is no possibility of taking individual outputs into a mixing console as you can with a conventional multitrack, and since you need a fully grown Pro Tools system to get access to real time TDM plug-ins, you cant really do very much serious mixing. What you can do however is perhaps what Pro Tools is best at, and that is editing. Take the classic case of recording vocals. It is typical to record up to half a dozen alternative takes and then compile them into one best version, which may then be further improved with punch-ins. You can do this on analogue tape between verses and maybe between individual lines. You can do this on digital tape within lines. With Pro Tools you can pick the best syllable from every word if you feel you need to and with a little judicious crossfading the results can be absolutely seamless. Its the best tool for the job, and the automated punch-in in Pro Tools is the slickest there is. The only tricky bit is synchronising it with the multitrack which, with our simple system, is going to be essential.