Review: Digidesign Pro Tools 5.0
Digital audio workstation software

by Erik Hawkins

In another step toward taking the Pro Tools platform to the next level, Digidesign offers a major revision of its Pro Tools digital audio workstation software. The upgrades in this new version are few in number, but they are major in scope, with several new editing tools, a refined user interface, optional video media support, MIDI sequencing and some system extension refinements that improve overall performance. For this review, I focused on music editing and MIDI features.

At the starting block
Pro Tools 5.0 comes on a new installation CD-ROM—no online upgrade is available. Users who bought Pro Tools|24 MIX or MIXPlus systems after April 19, 1999, are eligible for a free upgrade. Otherwise, it costs $199. As a bonus, buyers of a new MIX system receive a free TDM MIXpack consisting of Digidesign’s D-Verb, Focusrite’s d2 and Dynamics by Drawmer. Purchasers of MIXPlus systems also receive Focusrite’s d3, Line 6 Amp Farm and Access Virus. (The first TDM-based virtual synthesizer, Virus is awesome!)

Installation is routine. Double-click the installer application on the CD-ROM, and a Pro Tools 5.0 folder is created on your hard drive. (I installed the program on a Mac G3 266MHz desktop model outfitted with a 24 MIXPlus system.) Drivers and extensions are updated automatically, no hassles. However, the preference settings from my old version were not copied over. Unaware of this, I began using 5.0 and wondered why things weren’t responding normally (e.g., insertion points acted oddly, synchronization was off, missing I/O labels, etc.). Fortunately, I still had Version 4.2 installed; that was handy as a reference to remember my preferences, which I manually re-entered into the new software—a bit of a pain.

Digidesign’s ProControl worked fine with the new version and was a breeze to set up—simply enable ProControl in the Peripherals window and you’re ready to roll. Getting Mackie’s HUI to function properly was a little trickier. I set up HUI as a MIDI controller in the peripherals, as usual, but Pro Tools wouldn’t respond, reporting that it was “unable to communicate with HUI.” Turns out, with the new MIDI features, HUI must also be selected as an input device under the Input Device menu (which you’ll find in the main MIDI menu, a new item on the menu bar). Once I had done this, HUI performed flawlessly. This scenario will be the same for any MIDI controller.

A new version of TrackTransfer, Version 2.1, is installed with Pro Tools 5.0. I depend heavily on TrackTransfer to swap tracks between sessions. Unfortunately, Version 2.1 doesn’t recognize sessions created with Pro Tools versions earlier than 5.0. In order to use TrackTransfer on older sessions, they must first be converted to 5.0. To do this, open the old session in 5.0 and execute a Save As—conversion is automatic.

Better by far
There are several significant, though inconspicuous, interface improvements that make the program a lot easier to operate. To begin, the Smart Tool button has disappeared, replaced by a small, space-efficient, bar beneath the Trimmer, Selector and Grabber tool buttons. Hitting this bar highlights all three icons and turns the cursor into the Smart Tool—pretty smart.


Copyright © 2000 by Intertec Publishing. Reprinted with permission from Mix Magazine.