Search Gear
 

Accessorizing Pro Tools

July 1, 2000
share

One of the most attractive elements of the Pro Tools system is the wide variety of hardware and software accessories available from both Digidesign and third-party developers (referred to by Digidesign as development partners). These additions allow you to expand and customize the system in an amazing variety of ways.

However, documenting all of them would require a book, so I have covered the subject according to the needs of the personal studio. Further information on many of the products in this section can be found on Digidesign's Web site (www.digidesign.com).

PLUG-IN UNIVERSEThere's a TDM plug-in out there to emulate just about anything you can do with hardware-and to achieve effects that come only by way of computer processing. Interestingly, most TDM plug-ins ship with file- based AudioSuite corollaries. This means you have a choice of either real-time or file-based processing.

Remember that there is more to learn about each plug-in than simply how it sounds. Although the subject is beyond the scope of this article, you will gain a clearer understanding of each plug-in you work with if you ask yourself these questions: How much DSP power does it require? Does it take an entire chip? How many instances can you get per chip? Does it require SRAM or DRAM?

Dynamics processors. Any engineer will tell you that every dynamics processor has its own personality. Drawmer Dynamics (Mac/Win NT; $595) comes with a gate/compressor/limiter based on Drawmer's DS201 and an expander/compressor/limiter based on Drawmer's DL241 and DL251. Both are mono, the former designed for highly transient material like percussion, the latter for vocals and less dynamic instruments.

Similarly, the Focusrite d3 (Mac/Win NT; $795) is modeled on the popular Focusrite Red Range 3 Dual Compressor/Limiter. Known for being very forgiving (set the knobs anywhere and it sounds great), this plug-in is very true to the hardware version.

Bomb Factory recently introduced its Classic Compressors (Mac/Win NT; $599), meticulous models of the omnipresent Teletronix LA-2A and Urei 1176, with the digital addition of a sidechain input. Bomb Factory's plug-ins all have phenomenal sound quality and are a dead-on emulation of these classic processors.

McDSP's CompressorBank (Mac; $495) is a great plug-in that can be set to model just about any dynamics hardware. Presets include the dbx 165, the Neve 33609C, the LA-2A, and the 1176 LN.

Waves' C4 (Mac/Win NT; $595) and Antares MDT (Mac; $249) are multiband dynamics processors-4 and 5 bands, respectively-that provide optimum control compared with single-band units. The C4 is the only processor with parametric dynamic control, allowing you to set different response slopes for different frequency ranges-there's no hardware unit that does this. This is also one of the best compressors I've heard.

In the limiting department, Digidesign's Maxim (Mac/Win NT; $445) goes beyond what analog limiters can do by looking ahead in an audio file to anticipate and reduce peaks. Maxim gives you the ability to increase the gain by as much as 12 dB and still retain harmonic detail.

Tone-sculpting. Classic EQs have their own character as well. Focusrite's d2 (Mac/Win NT; $995) models the Rupert Neve-designed Red Range 2 Dual EQ, and allows you to use up to 6 bands.

McDSP's FilterBank (Mac; $495) sounds great, provides loads of flexibility, and comes with enough presets to fill just about any EQ need. Both d2 and FilterBank can be run in mono or stereo.

Aphex's Aural Exciter (Mac; $495) adds the same harmonic enrichment found on tons of hit vocal tracks to your TDM tool chest. Similarly, Aphex's Big Bottom (Mac/Win NT; $345) uses the principles of the Aphex Model 104 to add low-end punch and presence without boosting peak level.

Reverb. If you're a fan of the Lexicon sound, LexiVerb (Mac; $795) gives you the company's chamber, plate, inverse, and gate algorithms with a 3-D graphic interface and 100 presets. If you really want control, Kind of Loud's RealVerb (Mac; $695) lets you design your own room including shape, size, and materials. It even lets you morph between presets.

Sound generation. While the polyphony of most other soft synths is still dependent on the host CPU, Digidesign's DSP-based Access Virus TDM (Mac/Win NT; $795) isn't. Access Virus TDM gives you 16 voices and 8 timbres per chip while bringing all of the techno sounds and tempo-based triggering found in the hardware version.

Having a problem with a less-than-perfect drum track? Digidesign's Sound Replacer (Mac/Win NT; AudioSuite only; $395) replaces drum hits and other sounds containing high transient content with files from a sample library on your hard drive.

Modeling miscellany. Can't afford a chest of mics or a roomful of guitar amps? Antares' Microphone Modeler (Mac/Win NT; $599) takes the signal from your source mic and models a variety of world-class transducers, while allowing you to vary the amount of tube warmth. Line 6's Amp Farm (Mac/Win NT; $595) and Bomb Factory's Sans Amp PS-1 (Mac/Win NT; $499) are software versions of the Line 6 Pod and Sans Amp PS-1, respectively.

If you're looking for a virtual Leslie, check out Bomb Factory's Voce Spin and Voce Chorus/Vibrato (Mac/Win NT; $395). The company also collaborated with Bob Moog for a TDM version of a Moogerfooger filter and ring modulator combo (Mac/Win NT; $399).

Special effects. Whether you're bored or just looking for a new sound, special effects will keep you busy for quite a while. Digidesign's D-Fi (Mac; $395) includes different plug-ins for adding low-fi, sci-fi, subharmonics, and other effects to your tracks. Digidesign's Bruno/Reso combo (Mac/Win NT; $395), among other things, takes vocoding to the next level. This plug-in uses cross-synthesis techniques to transform source material into unique sonic textures-including tasty rhythmic effects from keyed inputs.

Give a bit of DSP to some of the engineers responsible for the Eventide Ultra-Harmonizer, and you get Wave Mechanics' outrageous SoundBlender (Mac/Win NT; $495). SoundBlender combines pitch, filter, and modulation effects in one plug-in. The Modulation Matrix and tempo control open the processing possibilities even further.

Pitch- and time-processing. Less-than-perfect vocals? Wave Mechanics' PitchDoctor (Mac/Win NT; $495) corrects intonation in real time and gives you the option of preserving formants to avoid the dreaded "chipmunk" effect. Antares Auto-Tune (Mac; $599) performs similar functions and lets you specify a wide variety of popular or user-defined scales. Auto-Tune can correct even the most tone-deaf performance.

If you want to change the key or octave of a performance, check out Digidesign's DPP-1 (Mac/Win NT; $495) for a four-octave range. Wave Mechanics' PurePitch (Mac/Win NT; $495) gives you six octaves complete with formant control over male and female vocal quality.

If you're looking for a high-quality tool to fit your tracks to a given tempo, pitch, or length, you'll need file-based processing: Synchro Arts' (www.synchroarts .co.uk) ToolBelt (Mac; stand-alone; $425) is the baseline for high-quality processing; Serato's Pitch 'n Time (Mac; AudioSuite only; $799) and Wave Mechanics' Speed (Mac/Win NT; AudioSuite only; $495) have additional tricks for handling dense harmonics. Both perform phenomenally during extreme changes in pitch or time.

Spatial tools. In addition to fattening thin tracks and creating complex multitap delays, WideR (Mac; $249) from Cuan (www.cuan.com) can create virtual 3-D audio from your stereo mixes. If you're looking to get into surround sound, Dolby Surround Tools (Mac; $795) lets you preview the results in a 4-2-4 monitoring environment before you send your tracks to be matrix-encoded for theater audio.

Kind of Loud's products allow you to realize finished 5.1 mixes. With SmartPan Pro (Mac; $995) you use a graphic interface and an optional joystick to create surround mixes. RealVerb 5.1 (Mac; $1,495) is the only plug-in that handles multichannel reverb. Tweetie (Mac; $395) aids in the calibration of speakers for surround mixing, and Woofie (Mac; $395) helps you accurately preview the subwoofer's signal even without the real thing.

Noise reduction. Need to rid your tracks of air conditioner hum or guitar-amp buzz? Try Digidesign's DINR Intelligent Noise Reduction plug-in (Mac/ Win NT; $995). If you need point-and-shoot satisfaction in cleaning up old vinyl and tape recordings, Arboretum's Ray Gun (Mac/Win NT; AudioSuite only; $99) is a great weapon. Arboretum's big gun, Ionizer (Mac; AudioSuite only; $499), adds 512-band EQ, pseudo vocoding, and the ability to apply the frequency fingerprint of one sound onto another.

Mastering and metering. You don't have to leave Pro Tools to create your final master. The folks at TC Works, creators of the Finalizer mastering processor, have put their experience into Master X (Mac; $995), which includes a 3-band expander/compressor/limiter with dithering. MasterTools (Mac; $495) utilizes Apogee's world-class UV-22 dithering algorithm to provide excellent bit reduction during mastering. I- Media Audio MPEG-2 (Mac; AudioSuite only; $495) from QDesign gives you full control over the stereo compression of your files for DVD mastering and other purposes.

If you really want to get tweaky, Metric Halo's SpectraFoo (Mac; $500) provides state-of-the-art metering, scopes, spectrum analysis, and more for critical engineering work. SpectraFoo Complete (Mac; $1,000) adds various code-metering and a 24-bit signal generator.

Combination plug-ins. With DSP seemingly always at a premium, these products offer multiple functions in a single plug-in while putting all the controls in one place. Waves' AudioTrack (Mac/Win NT; $150) offers a 3-band EQ, a compressor, and reverb in a single tool. Antares' JVP (Mac; $199) combines compression, expansion, gating, de-essing, parametric EQ, and delay effects under one roof. TC Works VoiceTools (Mac; $699) integrates pitch correction with a compressor, a de-esser, a 3-band EQ, saturation, and gate.

Metric Halo's ChannelStrip (Mac/Win NT; $999) goes beyond the average mixer channel to provide gain/trim, polarity inversion, expander/gate, a compressor, a 6-band 48-bit parametric EQ, selectable filter types, and metering. Its sibling, ChannelStrip/SP (Mac/Win NT; $495), offers much of the functionality to those on slimmer budgets.

Bundles. Some of the best deals are the plug-in bundles. Perhaps the best-known bundles are from the Israeli company Waves. The TDM Bundle (Mac/Win NT; $1,000) includes the popular L1 limiter, the C1 compressor/gate, the Q10 paragraphic equalizer, the TrueVerb reverb, the PAZ psychoacoustic analyzer, a stereo-image enhancer, and more. In addition to a bass maximizer, a de-esser, and a pseudostereo processor, the TDM II Bundle (Mac/Win NT; $1,000) includes the classic Renaissance Compressor and Renaissance Equalizer.

Pro-FX Plus (Mac/Win NT; $700), the latest Waves bundle, includes a flanger, AM/FM/ panning modulation effects, a harmony generator, multitap delay, a Doppler simulator, and a unique creative-filtering plug-in called Enigma. The top of the line, however, is the Gold TDM Bundle (Mac/Win NT; $700), which combines 17 Waves plug-ins for the Mac and 16 for the PC. Waves bundles offer the most bang for the buck.

Spain's DUY offers the amazing (and somewhat underrated) DUY TDM Tools bundle (Mac; $1,295). This collection includes a classic-tube modeler, a 3-band frequency shaper, a multichannel spatial enhancer, a level maximizer, and a tape simulator. On the other hand, one of the most incredible plug-ins out there is the DUY DSPider (Mac; $1,199). DSPider is a plug-in construction kit consisting of 40 modules that you can assemble in almost any configuration. The are also over 220 presets to choose from.

France's INA-GRM offers GRM Tools, vol. 1 (Mac; $349), with four plug-ins: a 23-band EQ, Doppler simulation, five comb-filter variations, and a shuffler that randomly slices and reorders microscopic bits of audio. GRM Tools, vol. 2 (Mac; $349), includes four more: a bandpass filter, 24-tap delay, dual pitch- shifters, and Freeze, a plug-in that extends a sound by the desired amount via looping.

Finally, Germany's TC Works offers TC Tools (Mac; $999), which includes exceptional-sounding chorus/delay, EQ, and reverb.

DIRECTCONNECTDigidesign's new DirectConnect plug-in allows you to take virtual instruments and other sound sources right into the TDM mixer. Digidesign is still working on a Windows NT version as this goes to press, so I'm covering only Mac products here.

Koblo Studio9000 ($595) provides two different analog synthesizers, a polyphonic sample-based synth, and a drum module in a single host-based package. The sound quality is great, and the interface is easy on the eyes.

Reaktor ($499), from Native Instruments (www.nativeinstruments .com), puts the full functionality of a modular synth in your computer. Its Dynamo ($199) is a collection of 25 sound machines for creating unusual soundscapes.

BitHeadz's (www.bitheadz.com) popular Retro AS-1 ($259) creates analog synth sounds, both vintage and new. BitHeadz's Unity DS-1 ($449) brings a powerful sampler into Pro Tools as well. Both engines take the form of system extensions in an effort to yield as much polyphony as possible. Unity reads both native and Akai formats. Other formats can be converted using BitHeadz's Osmosis.

While Pro Tools alone isn't a looper's dream, Alkali (Mac; $299) from Audio Genetics (www.audio- genetics.com) works with REX loop files to instantly fit loops to any tempo without artifacts.

HARDWAREControl surfaces. One of the few complaints people have about Pro Tools and similar DAWs is the lack of tactile control. However, you can change that with control surfaces that put physical faders and more under your fingertips. Most models allow the fixed number of physical faders to address multiple banks of virtual tracks. In certain cases, you can chain together multiple units. All work on either Mac or Windows NT systems.

Given some patience, you can get just about any MIDI controller to talk to Pro Tools via SysEx. Pro Tools ships with preconfigured profiles for several control surfaces. The CS-102 ($795) from JLCooper (www.jlcooper.com) offers eight 100-millimeter faders, six knobs, an optically encoded jog/shuttle wheel, and more. Its MCS-3800 ($2,999) has eight moving faders, five knobs, a VTR-style jog wheel with shuttle ring, an LCD, a numeric keypad, and options for controlling other hardware such as video gear. The PC1600x ($399) from Peavey (www.peavey.com) offers 16 faders, a jog wheel, and an LCD display, and it's a great bargain.

Unlike the aforementioned products, the Mackie (www.mackie.com) HUI ($3,499) was designed specifically to control Pro Tools, including eight motorized faders, a jog wheel, a numeric keypad, LED meters, an analog monitor section with two mic preamps, direct controls for many Pro Tools functions, and much more.

You can get some of the same power-including the least-expensive moving faders on a controller-with CM Automation's MotorMix ($999) which makes use of the HUI profile. At the top of the list of controllers is Digidesign's dedicated ProControl ($11,995). ProControl gives you access to every externally controllable Pro Tools function. And, all communication is handled via ethernet to keep your MIDI channels unburdened.

Expansion slots. If you've run out of slots for Mix cards, you can explore the expansion-chassis options. SBS Expansion Units (www.sbs-cp.com) makes rack-mount chassis that provide 7 or 13 slots (Mac, $1,596; Win NT, $1,846). Magma (www.magma.com) also makes 7- and 13-slot units (Mac, $1,495; Win NT, $1,995) that can be used with Apple G3 PowerBooks.

No-muss Ultra Wide SCSI acceleration can be found in the dual-channel SCSI64 Kit (Mac/Win NT; $545), which includes two cables. And while Pro Tools isn't as picky about drives as it once was, Digidesign's 9 GB and 18 GB DigiDrives (Mac, $1,380; Win NT, $2,200) are as good as it gets when it comes to compatibility.

Synchronization and video. Digidesign manufactures several hardware options for integrating Pro Tools with other media. The Video Slave Driver (Mac/Win NT; $995) works with a SMPTE-to-MIDI converter to sync Pro Tools to black burst or house sync. Add SMPTE slaving and a VITC reader/generator with window burn, and you have the Universal Slave Driver (Mac/Win NT; $2,095), for synchronization with an accuracy of (plus/minus)1 sample for free-running SMPTE.

Show Comments

These are my comments.

Featured

Reader Poll

Do you spend more time producing or playing?


See results without voting »