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Pro Tools HD.....or not? (on a budget)
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Dave Rose
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19th February 2009
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Pro Tools HD.....or not? (on a budget)

I am setting up a small mastering studio on quite a tight budget. To run my software I have a Mac Pro 2.66Ghz Quad Core Running Logic Pro and various plugins. I have been looking into getting a Pro Tools rig, but with the price been so high (£7000+) I wonder how big the advantages are in terms of sound quality. With a decent sound card capable of 24Bit/96Khz, would I be better off putting the money into better monitors and hardware instead? If I were not to get the Pro Tools Rig I would probably invest in a TC powercore or maybe system 6000 to take care of digital.

Also, in terms of sound quality, does Pro Tools claim to, or actually have any advantage over Logic?

...and one more thing...I read a post on Gearslutz (which I can't find!) which asked what the best all round hardware compressor was for under £4000 (if there was only going to be one in the studio,) Would like to know your thoughts on this...

Cheers

Dave Rose
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I would think twice about buying a Powercore. Isn't your Mac Pro capable enough to load all the plugins? Or do you want plugins that are only available on the Powercore system? In that case you'll need a Powercore indeed.

Are you talking about a mixing or mastering compressor?
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19th February 2009
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For mastering you don't need the HD version of Pro Tools unless you want to run TDM plug-ins,

or need increased flexibility in i/o that PT LE won't allow (by design).

In fact if you've got Logic you don't need PT at all.

You'd be better off putting the money elsewhere, like room and monitoring.

That said, I have a PT HD1 system that I don't regret buying at all.

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Sorry, didn't read that you were building a mastering studio.

Very good mastering processors are the API 2500 and the Manley Vari Mu. The BC1 by TK Audio gets very good reviews as well, and it's very affordable. I personally love the Neve 33609 on a stereo track. But they all have their own flavor
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19th February 2009
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At Sound Images I had PTHD and Mix systems available for mastering, and for my first year suffered through the experience (for reference, I'm a long-time PT user in mix/tracking settings, but mastered mostly in SonicStudioHD). I found that jobs took longer to complete in PT for a couple reasons (workflow), and long chains didn't sound as good as they did in other apps due to the 24 bit truncation at every plug-in intersection. The latter issue is manageable with due diligence and attention to gain staging (as long as you pay attention and know what you're doing it's a wash sonically). But the former was never solved by me...

In my work I do a lot of intra-track editing... often pairing verses from one mix with choruses from another. PT's lack of "ghosted" outlines and s-d edits was a dealbreaker, literally doubling the time it took to do one of these tasks. Worse: my bosses insisted on maintaining my previous rates from my old gig (actually they wanted to raise them!). This created enormous pressure with my existing clients, who were used to fast, efficient sessions that seemed more like a magic act than a mastering session to them. In PT it was just another mix session... hunt-peck, tweak/bump/listen/repeat.

Again, I'm very familiar with PT, so it's not a familiarity issue. I've worked on every generation of the system, and really dig it for big tracking sessions, and many mixing tasks. PT is great for that stuff... I have Logic on my own machine, but if I could have HD on a lappy I would use it for tracking/mixing. But for mastering, I'd look at something else...

In some respects, Logic is pretty good for mastering. The editing model is no better than PT, but the gain staging and intersections let you devote less time/energy to managing the signal flow (is this a good thing?). More important, I think the plugs that ship with Logic, and it's physical i/o insert architecture and excellent latency management give it an edge over PTHD out of the box. I'd take Logic's plugs over PT's for sound and functionality hands down (their eqs and comps are nice, limiters not so much - you'll need something better for sure).

So, consider the hardware costs, Digi's marketing-engineered obscolescene (historically no digi product line has been viable beyond 4 years, and they stop support on systems as soon as they're legally allowed), and the cost of additional plugs for every task you'll be doing. Those are the factors you can't work around with PT. Everything else is a wash between the products you're considering.

-d-
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20th February 2009
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Sorry to go against the grain but I've been using PT for years and have no major issues with it other than it can't be used to create the final CD. With an HD system you can route several signals in order to compare any part of the chain at the flick of a switch (given a good monitor controller) comparing the original source track, reference, pre/post analog conversion, etc. There are more plugs available for PT than any other DAW that I know of and other than upgrading PT software (about $200-$300 USD) I've been using the same hardware/system since HD first came out while seeing the other major players either go out of business or nearly so. In fact other than upgrading for reasons of a new "must have" plug-in or the very occasional operating system requirements you could use the same system for years. If you plan on performing stem-based mastering I have yet to find a DAW that's as capable. I've had clients bring Pro Tools sessions to the studio and performed variations to the mix with them that would have been painful or very time-consuming otherwise. The automation capabilites are also very extensive.

PT is one of the most stable systems I've worked with, no crashing or issues with plug-in stability (in my experience). Given a good CD creation program to perform final editing and assembly for CD it's a killer system for the processing portion of mastering.

Given a tight buget it might not be my first choice, it's more of a longer term investment, but I don't believe in throwing good money after bad and having to re-buy after I've outgrown a system.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Rose View Post
I am setting up a small mastering studio on quite a tight budget. To run my software I have a Mac Pro 2.66Ghz Quad Core Running Logic Pro and various plugins. I have been looking into getting a Pro Tools rig, but with the price been so high (£7000+) I wonder how big the advantages are in terms of sound quality. With a decent sound card capable of 24Bit/96Khz, would I be better off putting the money into better monitors and hardware instead? If I were not to get the Pro Tools Rig I would probably invest in a TC Powercore to host my plugins.

Also, in terms of sound quality, does anybody know if Pro Tools LE has any advantage over Logic Pro?

...and one more thing...I read a post on Gearslutz (which I can't find!) which asked what the best all round hardware compressor was for under £4000 (if there was only going to be one in the studio,) and one got mentioned a lot but I can't remember the name of it! Would like to know your thoughts on this...

Cheers

Dave Rose
IMHO, use bootcamp on Mac and get Samplitude
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With an LE system, you don't get the 192 kHz sample rate, but that's a pretty rare request, so not a big limitation. Obviously you don't want to use the built in conversion either.

For mastering, I'd rather get a PT LE system and a Lynx AES-16 card with Sonic Studio soundBlade (or even PMCD if you are sure you will only be doing stereo 44.1 kHz CD prep) instead of a PTHD rig, and you'll still a couple thousand left to put toward good converters. Using PT LE (more than just an Mbox so you get 96 kHz operation, and 8 channel ADAT out in case you someday need to do a surround gig) with digital I/O connected to good converters is completely serviceable in this application.

As for compressors, Manley vari-mu, API 2500, or Cranesong STC-8 would be good choices for a single-comp mastering studio.
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The room and monitors are the most important...no use having a HD system if you can't hear what is happening properly. That's why people will come to your studio for mastering.

I can't see any benefit of having a HD system for mastering, since you are using very few tracks. Logic/waveburner should be fine. Or have your Mac run dual boot and buy samplitude which has everything you need (including plug-ins) to get started. Don't forget even with Protools LE you have to budget for all of the plug-ins, which could easily be over $5000. Logic even has decent plug-ins included.

The sound isn't in the software, it's the the DA/AD converters. Pro tools HD are good but not mastering grade. You will need something like a Prism Orpheus.
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Do you guys remember that tiny mastering room someone posted a while ago? I don't know where I saw that thread, but anyway, here is my point: the Op would be more effective doing mastering even with a little conditioned room like that, but with very accurate near field speakers {I fancy Genies}. Sure, the bass frequencies are gonna be hard to get right on such a tiny room, but many engineers can - at low levels. Seriously, it can be done. Now, ProTools TDM are great DAWs, but obviously {per my profile} I am too biased to form an opinion about hem.

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Pro Tools isnt really targeted at mastering and has drawbacks.
•real time bouncing really slows things down
•LE has no delay compensation HD has insufficient compensation for long plugin chains, accuracy is compromised and is time consuming to fix afterwards.
•PT has no specific CD authoring features
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tonmeister View Post
•real time bouncing really slows things down
•LE has no delay compensation HD has insufficient compensation for long plugin chains, accuracy is compromised and is time consuming to fix afterwards.
As far as real-time bouncing, if you are using an analog chain you will have to bounce in real time anyway (so a non-issue in my work flow).

For stereo processing latency is not an issue since both channels will be delayed by the same amount. If you're setting up something like an M/S matrix in PT just insert (and bypass if not needed) the same plugs in the path to maintain the same latency delay. There is also a plug (see: Mellowmuse Software) to compensate for RTAS systems if you want to go that route.

Also one has to consider that with an HD system you are getting converters along with the system. While I prefer to use other converters for the actual processing in my analog chain, they are fine for monitoring various sources. When considering other systems you also have to take into account the cost of at least 1 converter for monitoring and another if going through an analog chain.

It is true that PT wasn't targeted for mastering per se, I look at it as an "audio processor". For that purpose it's one of the top systems available.
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20th February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edward_Vinatea View Post
Do you guys remember that tiny mastering room someone posted a while ago? I don't know where I saw that thread, but anyway, here is my point: the Op would be more effective doing mastering even with a little conditioned room like that, but with very accurate near field speakers {I fancy Genies}. Sure, the bass frequencies are gonna be hard to get right on such a tiny room, but many engineers can - at low levels.
Huh? Why are you still beating that horse over in this thread?

Look, some rooms just aren't suitable for mastering. In those cases one would be better off with cans than ANY monitor. Sure, you could deaden the room entirely - at which point you no longer have anything resembling real world presentation, and... a useless space for mastering.

I'm not sure what your day job is, but mine's been mastering records for over a decade. I've worked in rooms good and bad. Your example describes a place where I simply wouldn't work, and would consider the work product questionable.

As to genies, they're great little mix kickers, and our composer at SI loved them. But if you think they're apropos for mastering you're unique... they make some models that are, usable, but they're pretty rare in our application for a reason. Their strengths are ideal for mixing, mastering not so much.

You're offering bad advice. No, terrible advice. Really. I don't think you'll find many professional mastering engineers who would agree with you.

OTOH I bet there's no shortage of mix engineers with tiny c/r's who buy it completely. Billable hours are a terrible thing to waste.

-d-
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I second, third and fourth Dave Davis's emotion. When I saw Edward's post I just shrugged my shoulders and decided to let him lose his credibility on his own rather than beat him up.

By the way, there's only one Genelec loudspeaker I would consider suitable for mastering (barely), the 1038. But as you can see, this is not your brother's "cheap Genelec". In a proper room, properly set up, it does have the desirable headroom and frequency extension that most other Genelecs lack.
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20th February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Davis View Post
Sure, you could deaden the room entirely - at which point you no longer have anything resembling real world presentation, and... a useless space for mastering.
If I understand you correctly, you contend that since there aren't any bad reflections in a small mastering {deadened} room, one can't rely on the sound being monitored?
Quote:
I'm not sure what your day job is, but mine's been mastering records for over a decade.
Please, spare me. Let's not go there.
Quote:
I've worked in rooms good and bad. Your example describes a place where I simply wouldn't work, and would consider the work product questionable.
I actually know a small room in the building I am and the gentleman who runs it works with Genelec 8040As to make music demos. I could ask him to let me use his system and I would not mind mastering a mix of yours {or one of your client's}. Then you can post your mastered version and we could compare results and see if I came close to your product. Would you like to do that? Many members who read me know I don't just talk about a subject, I demonstrate it. I hope that's OK with you too.
Quote:
As to genies, they're great little mix kickers, and our composer at SI loved them. But if you think they're apropos for mastering you're unique... they make some models that are, usable, but they're pretty rare in our application for a reason. Their strengths are ideal for mixing, mastering not so much.
The lower end is the main problem {48Hz and below} but, one can get the bass correct if it's done at low level. Is this something anyone can do? Anyone with over 10 years of mixing experience might.
Quote:
You're offering bad advice. No, terrible advice. Really. I don't think you'll find many professional mastering engineers who would agree with you.
Dave, I realize that my comments were wrong in context to what the OP is asking, but since you brought this up, you can dismiss this as words from someone who thinks is a very unique audio engineer or accept my offer above. I'll leave it up to you. I am not commenting further unless I am summoned to answer. I also never said this is the best method. Certainly not the most desirable way of spending US$50,000, but it can be done.

Regards,
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Quote:
Originally Posted by masteringhouse View Post

There are more plugs available for PT than any other DAW that I know of...
Are you including a VST to RTAS wrapper in the equation?

I use PT nearly every day but not for mastering. I think there are better solutions. I would also suggest to the OP to install Windows on his Mac and get one of the native Windows based applications...

And just in case this isn't clear to the OP: The TC Powercore will only run plugins that are written specifically for that platform.

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I think it is a not very cost effective way to spend your money if you are on a budget. The hardware is overpriced for what it is, it is more I/O than you need for mastering, and the daw is ok, but not specifically great for mastering.

I would install windows xp sp2, buy samplitude, buy an RME pci-e AES/EBU card, buy a nice DA. Done.

Better DAW, better sound, less money spent.
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21st February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kjg View Post
I think it is a not very cost effective way to spend your money if you are on a budget. The hardware is overpriced for what it is, it is more I/O than you need for mastering, and the daw is ok, but not specifically great for mastering.

I would install windows xp sp2, buy samplitude, buy an RME pci-e AES/EBU card, buy a nice DA. Done.

Better DAW, better sound, less money spent.
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21st February 2009
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Damn I keep getting to these threads after all the fun has been deleted!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UnderTow View Post
Are you including a VST to RTAS wrapper in the equation?
Yep, along with RTAS and TDM plugs.

Regarding PT comments in general:

While I agree that there are cheaper solutions than HD and it isn't the answer for everyone, saying that you can't make a great mastering system with PT is only fooling yourself. From the polls that I've seen on various forums PT is one of the top systems that many MEs use, or at least have in their arsenal along with other systems. Tons of albums have been done with it by many top engineers, many of them here on this forum.

When I was choosing a new system back around 2001 I was looking at Sonic, Sadie, PT, and a few others. Sonic HD is no more, Sadie almost went out of business but was bought out by Prism Sound, the others quite honestly couldn't perform what PT is capable of. In the meantime I have been using the same HD hardware with only minor software upgrades for close to 8 years with no issues other than the third-party software I use for CD assembly. As Jerry said, I have no regrets and would have made the same decision given what I know now.

With CD media mostly likely being phased out over the next few years and digital distribution taking over, the processing side of mastering will be the majority of our work. I prefer to continue to work with a system that is the most versatile in the processing arena rather than compromise just to be able to work within one system that can handle CD creation. If there is audio that needs to be edited with video PT can handle it, if there is a mix or stem job that comes in (most likely done at another studio with PT) no problem. If for some reason I have to synch to MIDI or some other video source, again not an issue.

I suppose it just depends on your particular goals, if CD mastering is the only goal for your business, then yes choose something dedicated to that task. Personally given the changing landscape of audio production I like to leave my options open.

Best of luck with whatever you choose, we have to keep more than one company in business!
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21st February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Rose View Post
I have a Mac Pro 2.66Ghz Quad Core Running Logic Pro and various plugins. I have been looking into getting a Pro Tools rig, but with the price been so high (£7000+) I wonder how big the advantages are in terms of sound quality. With a decent sound card capable of 24Bit/96Khz, would I be better off putting the money into better monitors and hardware instead? If I were not to get the Pro Tools Rig I would probably invest in a TC Powercore to host my plugins.

Also, in terms of sound quality, does anybody know if Pro Tools LE has any advantage over Logic Pro?
The gear that will most likely have the biggest impact on the "quality of the audio" is going to be your converters. Not so much which DAW your using.

Pro tools is more than capable of performing, but more on the high end when it comes to cost for a dedicated mastering workstation. There are other systems available for a lot less money dedicated to the task.

Any system you use will have it's "work arounds" so if you already have logic, I would spend the money on "High End" converters first then monitors/room/comp.

TW
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21st February 2009
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+1 on good converters with the daw app of your choice

Quote:
Originally Posted by Waltz Mastering View Post
The gear that will most likely have the biggest impact on the "quality of the audio" is going to be your converters. Not so much which DAW your using.

Pro tools is more than capable of performing, but more on the high end when it comes to cost for a dedicated mastering workstation. There are other systems available for a lot less money dedicated to the task.

Any system you use will have it's "work arounds" so if you already have logic, I would spend the money on "High End" converters first then monitors/room/comp.

TW
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Quote:
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I suppose it just depends on your particular goals, if CD mastering is the only goal for your business, then yes choose something dedicated to that task. Personally given the changing landscape of audio production I like to leave my options open.
Great post, Tom. Hey, you're nearby. We should hook up and share some foamy, frosty, amber beverages!

I do a variety of work too. I'd love it if I could have just one app to rule them all, but the reality of working with different people in different disciplines mandates some diversity in this regard. As such, I have to maintain current versions of Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Sonic Studio, Digital Performer, Final Cut Studio, Kyma, Max/MSP/Jitter, even Ableton and Reason, in a pinch.

Regardless of the chassis you use, audio is audio and you do what it takes to make it happen. I'm just glad these apps don't need paid updates more than once a year or so! Don't even get me started on Waves WUP!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Rose View Post
I am setting up a small mastering studio on quite a tight budget. To run my software I have a Mac Pro 2.66Ghz Quad Core Running Logic Pro and various plugins. I have been looking into getting a Pro Tools rig, but with the price been so high (£7000+) I wonder how big the advantages are in terms of sound quality. With a decent sound card capable of 24Bit/96Khz, would I be better off putting the money into better monitors and hardware instead? If I were not to get the Pro Tools Rig I would probably invest in a TC Powercore to host my plugins.

Also, in terms of sound quality, does anybody know if Pro Tools LE has any advantage over Logic Pro?

...and one more thing...I read a post on Gearslutz (which I can't find!) which asked what the best all round hardware compressor was for under £4000 (if there was only going to be one in the studio,) and one got mentioned a lot but I can't remember the name of it! Would like to know your thoughts on this...

Cheers

Dave Rose
I have been to several well established studios who use a 002 rack for mastering. They use other high end converters like mytek and lavry however its based on an LE rig. these studios are million dollar studio so what does that tell you.
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21st February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Waltz Mastering View Post
The gear that will most likely have the biggest impact on the "quality of the audio" is going to be your converters. Not so much which DAW your using.

Pro tools is more than capable of performing, but more on the high end when it comes to cost for a dedicated mastering workstation. There are other systems available for a lot less money dedicated to the task.

Any system you use will have it's "work arounds" so if you already have logic, I would spend the money on "High End" converters first then monitors/room/comp.

TW
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Quote:
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Sorry to go against the grain but I've been using PT for years and have no major issues with it other than it can't be used to create the final CD.
Tom, I pretty much agree with everything you've stated in this thread wrt PT HD.

Several years ago Mr. Ludwig and I had a conversation about PT HD, he said that they had gotten their math right with the release of HD (and the soon following 24/96k version of PT LE).

Just last week a new old-school client mentioned his surprise that I was using PT as part of the mastering process, said he had always thought that Sonic Solutions was the system of choice.

So I quickly replied that I use BOTH PT and Sonic for the job. Told him the Ludwig anecdote, showed him both DAWs and won him over.

PT HD or LE works (and sounds) great for the job, except for disc authoring, end of story.
------------------------------

My only other issue is that PT has really become bloated... trying to be all things to all people (except mastering engineers).

For general purposes in a mastering & post environment, I'd prefer PT with no: scoring, midi, virtual instruments, beat detective, etc.

The important qualities: a stable Mac OSX based DAW with the best sonic qualities, excellent editing & fade features, flexible routing, automation, an occasional plug-in, plenty of i/o, video support, and of course CD/DVD audio authoring... a short list.

Gee I just described Sonic Studio soundBlade... well almost.

Cheers - JT

Last edited by Jerry Tubb; 1st March 2009 at 04:12 PM.. Reason: clarification of bloatware issue
masteringhouse
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#27
21st February 2009
Old 21st February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fader8 View Post
Great post, Tom. Hey, you're nearby. We should hook up and share some foamy, frosty, amber beverages!
Absolutely! You don't have to twist my arm very far for that. Too bad Jerry T is so far away, I'm sure that he would join us as well?

I also use Final Cut (obviously not for audio much), Soundblade, and have Logic but only bought it for Waveburner which I no longer use. I can't get past the pictures of the instruments in the tracks to take Logic seriously, but I'm sure that it's a fine application. I just don't see an advantage to PT for my normal workflow. Add to that Sound Forge/CD Architect, and a few other apps for multimedia work.

It's great that there are so many choices and as with anything there are pros and cons to each. I just don't seem to agree that there are as many cons to PT as some folks would argue. As long as one knows how to use it well and has a workflow that fits its architecture it's a great "audio processor" (past the mix system years).
Jerry Tubb
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#28
21st February 2009
Old 21st February 2009
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Originally Posted by masteringhouse View Post
Absolutely! You don't have to twist my arm very far for that. Too bad Jerry T is so far away, I'm sure that he would join us as well?
Just the mention of said beverages makes my mouth water... I'll have a Black & Tan!

You guys should come down to Austin for SXSW!

Cheers - JT
Ben F
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#29
21st February 2009
Old 21st February 2009
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Protools LE- 32 tracks, no plug-in delay compensation, no object based editing (only with RTAS), no red book CD creation. Plug-ins include (wait for it) D-verb, EQ, compression, pretty much been the same since the first LE release. Tied to Digidesigns converters. OSX or Windows.

Logic pro- unlimited tracks based on the CPU power. Object based editing, plug-in delay compensation, includes convolution based reverb, multiband compressors, limiters, software instruments, and other highly capable plug-ins. Includes Waveburner fo red book CDs. Use any audio interface you want. Mac OSX only.

Samplitude - up to 999 tracks. Object based editing, plug-in delay compensation, includes convolution based reverb, multiband compressors, limiters, software instruments, and other highly capable plug-ins. Can create red book CDs. Use any audio interface you like. Windows only, but could be used on OSX with boot camp.
#30
22nd February 2009
Old 22nd February 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben F View Post
Protools LE- no object based editing
Logic pro- Object based editing
Samplitude - Object based editing
Wadaya mean by Object based editing?
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