Moving multitrack recording projects between software applications has always been a difficult undertaking, to say the least. OMF (Open Media Framework) and AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) were created to provide standard formats for session interchange, but they have met with limited success. Now Solid State Logic (SSL), maker of venerable large-format consoles and longtime champion of analog production tools, has stepped into the fray with Pro-Convert, its DAW project conversion tool.
Pro-Convert grew from an application called EDL Convert after SSL purchased its maker, Cui Bono Soft. It is ironic that a program devoted to session interchange would be Windows only; Pro-Convert supports any 32-bit version of Windows since Windows 98, but not Mac OS X. Although I successfully used the application to exchange sessions between Mac- and PC-based DAWs, a Mac-based studio would need to keep a PC around or install Windows on an Intel Mac just to run it.
Pro-Convert uses a USB dongle from CodeMeter called a CM-Stick. For Digidesign Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo users who already use an iLok or Syncrosoft dongle, this means one more item hanging from your USB hub. The Pro-Convert and CodeMeter software installed smoothly, and I immediately updated to the most current version (5.0.774). I tested Pro-Convert on a Dell Pentium 4 desktop and a Toshiba Centrino notebook, and the software ran without a hitch throughout the review period.
Tower of Babel
The list of applications Pro-Convert can handle is quite long and includes most of the popular DAWs (Pro Tools, Apple Logic, and Steinberg Cubase), some important but less common ones (SAWStudio and Sonic Studio), and some of the various existing standards (OMF, AES31, and OpenTL). For a complete and current list of supported formats, check solid-state-logic.com/support/Pro-Convert/format_overview.asp. On that page, you'll also find a chart of parameters (volume, pan, mute, and so on) that the program can translate to or from a given format.
FIG. 1: Pro-Convert''s main screen shows detailed information about the current project and its assets.
Note, however, that in most cases Pro-Convert does not read an application's native file format (Pro Tools is a notable exception). Instead, it reads one of the various session-interchange standards, trying very hard to cater to the customizations manufacturers can't seem to resist adding. Why, for example, is there a difference between Steinberg's XML files and Apple's XML files, and which company is correct? The idea is that if you have Pro-Convert, you needn't care.
Sophisticated software almost by definition is rarely idiotproof, and it took a couple of trips around the block for me to sort out Pro-Convert's inner workings. Luckily, SSL offers a succinct and helpful tutorial in the manual and on its Web site. I have to give kudos to the company for its thorough manual and Web-based FAQ. Once I got the basics down, I was able to convert projects easily and relatively quickly. Pro-Convert didn't object to converting sessions on my network drive, but that slowed it down considerably.
FIG. 2: Pro-Convert''s Audio Tool offers batch conversion of file format, bit depth, sampling rate, and channel interleave.
When moving a project from one DAW to another, the first step is to export it from the original DAW to a format that Pro-Convert supports. You then open the project in Pro-Convert, which lists the project's tracks and assets along with detailed information about the project and individual audio clips (see Fig. 1). Choose a target format, and Pro-Convert will prompt you to define how it should handle all the little things that don't translate directly from one format to another, such as clip-based gain, fades, automation, and so forth. Pro-Convert will prompt you to find any files that it can't easily locate. Files can be copied and optionally converted to different resolutions and file types.
Pro-Convert also includes a dedicated batch converter called Audio Tool (see Fig. 2). You can use it to convert a folder or disc full of samples or loops to a different file format or to render a project's files you originally saved as 32-bit floating-point files to 24-bit files so they can be read by another DAW. Audio Tool is a nice addition to Pro-Convert's bag of tricks.
Lost in Translation
Pro-Convert supports so many applications that it simply wasn't possible to test them all. I moved several projects back and forth between Pro Tools M-Powered and LE 7.3.1, Logic Pro 8, and Cakewalk Sonar 7. For comparison, I also moved OMF versions of the same project between applications.
Saving an OMF file in Pro Tools or Sonar and converting it to an Apple XML file didn't appear to improve the project's translation. In some cases, fade types were jumbled in XML when they weren't in OMF (Pro-Convert's online FAQ suggests that this problem was caused by a bug in Logic's XML implementation).
However, Pro-Convert can read Pro Tools alternate playlists and place them in new muted tracks at the bottom of the session. Doing that with an OMF transfer would require creating those tracks in Pro Tools manually before saving the OMF.
Pro-Convert does not support multichannel files. It will split interleaved stereo files into multimono files, but it will not recognize surround tracks or files at all. The utility doesn't support MIDI tracks or instrument tracks, either. You will need to save sequence data to a Standard MIDI File to transfer those tracks. Like the session-interchange formats with which it works, Pro-Convert cannot transfer signal routing or plug-in information between DAWs.
One of the biggest challenges of session interoperability is keeping up with revisions of individual DAWs. For example, Pro-Convert does not support tick-based tracks in Pro Tools. SSL recommends converting them to sample-based tracks before attempting to translate the session. Fortunately, SSL's FAQ answers questions about specific incompatibilities.
One Small Step
I had hoped Pro-Convert would make sharing projects significantly easier, but ultimately it battled OMF to a draw, at least for the handful of DAWs I tested. However, Pro Tools users will need to spend $495 to purchase Digidesign DigiTranslator to import and export OMF. Spending a bit more on Pro-Convert buys a couple of conveniences and compatibility with more DAWs. If you have a PC available to do the conversions, Pro-Convert could be a worthy alternative.
If your business puts you in the position of receiving sessions from all sorts of different DAWs, Pro-Convert may well earn its keep. Remember that it does not convert directly from most DAW project formats, though, but from the various interchange formats. If someone sends you a Samplitude project, you'll still need to ask the sender to export and resend the project as an EDL before Pro-Convert can read it.
Even with Pro-Convert, session interchange is fraught with difficulties, and patience is your best ally when sharing projects between DAWs (check out the online bonus material at emusician.com for helpful tips). Pro-Convert is not the holy grail I'd hoped it would be, but it's a step in the right direction.
Brian Smithers is department chair of workstations at Full Sail University.