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The Hidden Digidesign Pro Tools (part 5)

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004
One of the quirks of Pro Tools is that proper synchronisation doesn’t come as standard. To actually lock to SMPTE timecode you have to have an additional synchroniser unit which unfortunately is only compatible with full Pro Tools systems...
The Hidden Digidesign Pro Tools (part 5)

One of the quirks of Pro Tools is that proper synchronisation doesn’t come as standard. To actually lock to SMPTE timecode you have to have an additional synchroniser unit which unfortunately is only compatible with full Pro Tools systems, not PowerMix or Audiomedia III. All is not lost however. Pro Tools will trigger sync to MIDI Timecode coming into a MIDI interface attached to the computer. There are a number of MIDI interfaces that will convert SMPTE to MTC with no problem. Trigger sync, as you know, means that Pro Tools recognises the timecode values, gets itself in position and then launches into playback or record. From that point on however Pro Tools is running under its own clock and does not refer back to the MTC. After a while, Pro Tools and the multitrack will simply drift apart. Since you knew all this already, you also knew that it wasn’t even worth bothering to try. It’s never going to work. Well actually, it can work amazingly well, if you have a digital multitrack. It depends largely on the accuracy of the clocks of individual pieces of equipment. You may have a fast digital multitrack or a slow one. We are only talking parts per million, but with synchronisation it all adds up. But try it anyway. You should find that sync is more than accurate enough for vocals over the length of a typical song. This means that you can transfer vocals into Pro Tools, edit them and transfer them back. Or you can transfer a rough mix of the backing track into Pro Tools and record the vocals straight into Pro Tools, which offers a number of advantages.

If precise sync worries you then there is still a way, providing your multitrack can synchronise to SMPTE. Follow these steps:

  • Stripe one track in the Pro Tools session with timecode starting from the same point as the timecode on the multitrack.
  • In Pro Tools, pan the timecode track all the way to the left.
  • Synchronise the multitrack to the timecode coming from Pro Tools.
  • Create a new Pro Tools track, pan it all the way to the right and put it in record ready.
  • Transfer whatever you need from the multitrack into Pro Tools. Repeat the process to transfer multiple tracks (but be aware that stereo pairs will not be phase accurate using this method).
  • Edit your material in Pro Tools and transfer it back to the multitrack.

It’s pretty simple and will even work with an analogue multitrack, and the only limitation of this method is that you can’t transfer a stereo pair of tracks simultaneously. The low resolution of timecode does not allow phase accuracy between the left and right halves if they are transferred separately. You can however transfer a stereo pair of tracks into Pro Tools by muting the Pro Tools tracks during record so that they don’t interfere with the timecode (or by panning them opposite to the timecode track). The only problem is that you can’t transfer them back to the multitrack in sync as a stereo pair, but at least you can record a vocal to a stereo backing track which many singers find easier to work with.

That’s it for the Hidden Pro Tools - hours of fun and it need not cost the Earth. As we have seen, there is even more to Pro Tools than is immediately apparent. Take a look in the manual, there’s probably more yet waiting to be discovered!

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004 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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