Pro Tools M-Powered: The Guitarist’s Perspective

A little history: For years, Pro Tools required using Digidesign’s hardware DSP cards and interfaces, which upped the price considerably. As native apps starting chipping away at the Digi dynasty, though, Pro Tools LE appeared — you still needed a Digi interface, but all DSP was now handled by the computer.
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Today we have yet another variation: Pro Tools M-Powered PTMP for short). Somewhere along the line, people got the idea that this was somehow a “lite” version of Pro Tools that lacked the capabilities of a “real” version of Pro Tools LE. Upon further inspection, though, PTMP is pretty much Pro Tools LE except that it works with any of several hardware interfaces made by M-Audio, including the Black Box.

So what are the differences? Basically, they involve options. PTMP does not support DigiTranslator, the DV Toolkit, Digidesign’s Ethernet-based control surfaces, and Avid video peripherals. Otherwise, the specs are familiar: up to 128 audio tracks, 256 MIDI tracks, 24-bit resolution, up to five RTAS plug-ins per track, and the like.


With Pro Tools now more affordable, it’s worth examining where it fits into the world of software hosts. First off, Pro Tools 7 is a major departure from previous versions. MIDI is more sophisticated, and the inclusion of Instrument Tracks makes it easier to deal with virtual instruments. There’s also support for the “Acidized” file format (which made its debut in Sony’s Acid) and Propellerheads’ REX file format, both of which allow for relatively painless time- and pitch-stretching — at least in theory. Problems arise if the files were not edited properly for stretching, because they may stretch over only a narrow range, and there’s no way to edit the “stretch markers.” (To date, the only multitrack hosts that can edit Acidization markers are Sony Acid and Cakewalk Sonar, and only Propellerheads’ ReCycle can edit REX files.)

It’s significant that Pro Tools (like Samplitude) started off as an audio program intended to replace the traditional multitrack recorder/mixer-based hardware studio. MIDI was never its strong point, nor was it intended to be. Programs like Performer, Logic, Cubase/Nuendo, and Sonar started as MIDI programs and added audio, so their current MIDI capabilities exceed that of Pro Tools, even with version 7’s enhancements. One side result is that PTMP doesn’t do notation or tablature, both of which depend on strong MIDI foundations.

However, Pro Tools’ workflow is natural for those used to recording audio. It can look like a mixer, with inserts where you expect them to be. People who cut their teeth on Pro Tools can fly around the user interface, and if their main orientation is recording and editing audio, many of the bells and whistles offered by other hosts — while essential for some musical applications — aren’t that relevant to the Pro Tools experience.


. . . and you wonder if you should go the Pro Tools route. If you plan to do extensive MIDI work, I’d recommend you keep looking. But if you’re mostly into recording your guitar, your band, vocals, etc., Pro Tools has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s a standard; I’d guess there are more file exchanges done with Pro Tools sessions than for any other host. Second, it has a huge amount of third-party learning support in terms of books, courses, and tutorials. Third, in recent years Pro Tools has become far less insular. You can rewire programs like Reason and Live into it to gain the benefits of additional recording options, and much Digi hardware is ASIO-compatible so that a device like the Black Box works with any ASIO-compatible host, not just Pro Tools.

Nor are you forced into using plug-ins and instruments compatible with Digidesign’s RTAS format. Fxpansion’s VST-RTAS Adapter (for Mac and Windows) opens up the wide world of VST plug-ins to Pro Tools.

Compared to its main competitors, Pro Tools is less feature-rich; for example, there are fewer advanced MIDI features, and fewer bundled plug-ins (although the ones that are included are excellent). But also consider that PTMP is under $300, which is relatively inexpensive compared to some other programs.

A lot boils down to the type of music you do. If you’re into highly electronic musical styles, then it’s worth considering the many hosts with feature sets that fit these genres like a glove. But for straight-ahead audio recording, it’s hard to go wrong with Pro Tools and its intuitive workflow; Pro Tools M-Powered makes it just that much more affordable.