Pro Tools

For other uses, see Pro Tools (disambiguation).
Pro Tools
Original author(s) Evan Brooks
Peter Gotcher
Developer(s) Digidesign (now merged into Avid)
Initial release January 20, 1989 (1989-01-20)
Stable release
Pro Tools 12.5.2 / September 6, 2016 (2016-09-06)
Written in C, C++, Assembly
Operating system OS X, Windows
Available in 9 languages
Type Digital Audio Workstation
License Proprietary

Pro Tools is a digital audio workstation developed and released by Avid Technology for the Microsoft Windows and OS X operating systems which can be used for a wide range of sound recording and sound production purposes. Pro Tools can run as standalone software, or operate using a range of external analog/digital converters and internal PCI Local Bus (PCI) or PCIe audio cards with onboard digital signal processors (DSP) to provide effects such as reverb and compression. Like all digital audio workstation software, Pro Tools can perform the functions of a multitrack tape recorder and audio mixer, along with additional features that can only be performed in the digital domain, such as non-destructive editing, using the Undo feature, which allows an engineer to undo any changes she or he does not like.

Most of Pro Tools' basic functions can be controlled within Edit or Mix windows, which the user can see on a computer screen. The Edit window displays audio and Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) tracks, and provides graphical representation of the information recorded or imported. Here, audio can be edited in a non-linear, non-destructive fashion. Pro Tools supports 16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit float audio at sample rates up to 192 kHz. Pro Tools can handle WAV, AIFF, AIFC, mp3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), and SDII audio files and QuickTime video files. It features time code, tempo maps, elastic audio, automation and surround sound abilities. The Pro Tools mix engine has traditionally employed 48-bit fixed point arithmetic, but floating point is also used in some cases, such as with Pro Tools HD Native. The new HDX hardware uses 64-bit floating point summing.


Pro Tools was developed by UC Berkeley graduates Evan Brooks, who majored in electrical engineering and computer science, and Peter Gotcher. The first incarnation of Pro Tools was introduced in 1984 under the brand name Sound Designer. At the time, the pair were creating and selling digital drum sound chips under their Digidrums label. Sound Designer was originally designed to edit sounds for the E-mu Emulator sampling keyboard, but it was rapidly ported to many other sampling keyboards, such as the Akai S900 and the Prophet 2000. Thanks to the universal file specification developed by Brooks, Sound Designer files could be transferred to and from one sampling keyboard to another keyboard made by a different manufacturer.

This universal file specification, along with the printed source code to a 68000 assembly language interrupt driven MIDI driver, were distributed through Macintosh MIDI interface manufacturer Assimilation, which manufactured the first MIDI interface for the Mac in 1985. Macintosh Editor/librarian software development pioneers and visionaries, Beaverton Digital Systems, provided a dial-up service called MacMusic starting in 1985 which used 2400-baud modems and 100 MB of disk, and used Red Ryder Host on a 1 MB Macintosh Plus, allowing users of Sound Designer to download and install the entire Emulator II sound library to other less expensive samplers. MacMusic allowed users worldwide to share sample libraries across different manufacturers platforms without copyright infringement. Beaverton Digital Systems President John Connolly already had several conversations with Evan Brooks in 1985, as he was listed as a contact for technical support for the Assimilation MIDI toolkit, and the current Apple operating system in 1985 did not have native MIDI communications drivers. One evening in 1986 at John Connolly's Beaverton, Oregon home, an alert was sent online from MacMusic requesting the system operator, and to Connolly's surprise it was Peter Gotcher, thanking him for providing such a revolutionary service and making Sound Designer a much more attractive program to buy, by leveraging both the universal file format and by developing the first online sample file download site in the world, many years before the World Wide Web use soared.[1] In 1987, Gotcher and Brooks discussed with E-mu Systems the possibility of integrating their renamed 'Sound Tools' software into the Emulator III. E-mu rejected this offer and the pair started Digidesign, with Gotcher as president and Brooks as lead engineer.[2]

Sound Tools[3] debuted on January 20, 1989 at NAMM (National Association of Music Merchandisers). At this stage Sound Tools was a simple computer-based stereo audio editor. Although the software had the possibility to do far more, it was limited by the hard drive technology, which was used to stream audio and allow for the non-destructive editing that Sound Tools offered.[4] The first version of Pro Tools was launched in 1991, offering four tracks and selling for $6,000 USD. The core engine technology and much of the user interface was designed by and licensed from a small San Francisco company called OSC, known at the time for creating the first software-based digital multi-track recorder, called DECK, in 1990.[5] That software, manufactured by OSC but distributed by Digidesign, formed the platform upon which Pro Tools version 1 was built. The OSC designers and engineers responsible for that technology, Josh Rosen, Mats Myrberg and John Dalton, split from Digidesign in 1993 in order to focus on releasing lower-cost ($399)[6] multi-track software that would run on computers with no additional hardware. The software was known circa mid-1990s as Session (for stereo-only audio cards) and Session 8 (for multi-channel audio interfaces). Although the original design remained largely the same, Digidesign continued to improve Pro Tools software and hardware, adding a visual MIDI sequencer and more tracks, with the system offering 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio recording. In 1997, Pro Tools reached 24-bit, 48 tracks. It was at this point that the migration from more conventional analog studio technology to the Pro Tools platform took place within the industry.[7]

Ricky Martin’s "Livin' la Vida Loca" (1999) was the first No. 1 single to be recorded, edited, and mixed fully within the Pro Tools environment, by Charles Dye and Desmond Child.[8] In 2009, Pro Tools was used for creating the audio for the video games DJ Hero and Guitar Hero, using the modeling plug-in Eleven for the guitar sounds.[9]


Pro Tools 9 running on Windows

Most of Pro Tools' basic functions can be controlled within Edit or Mix windows. The Edit window displays audio and Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) tracks, and provides graphical representation of the information recorded or imported. Here, audio can be edited in a non-linear, non-destructive fashion. MIDI information can also be manipulated. The Mix window displays each track's fader channel and allows for the adjustment of a channel's volume and pan, as well as being the usual place to insert plug-in effects and route audio to and from different outputs and inputs. The release of Pro Tools 8 introduced a MIDI edit window, which enables the user to manipulate MIDI data in either piano-roll or score windows. It also includes MIDI edit lanes so that the user can see note, velocity and other CC data in the same window. These additions took Pro Tools from the long standard 2 edit window approach to having 3 edit windows. Real-time effects processing and virtual instruments in Pro Tools are achieved through the use of plug-ins, which are either processed by the DSP chips as DSP plug-ins, or the host computer as Native plug-ins. Additionally, out-of-time processing is available in the form of AudioSuite plug-ins, which also enables time-domain processing.


HDX systems

In October 2011 Avid introduced a new line of DSP accelerated cards, named HDX cards, along with version 10 of its Pro Tools software. The cards included DSP processors manufactured by Texas Instruments, operating with increased computational precision – 32-bit floating point versus the previous 24-bit fixed (in the older generation 56k chips made by Motorola). Benefits claimed for the new system included improved technical performance in terms of audio dynamic range, monitoring latency, and overall computational power, when compared to the older HD line. In its marketing Avid aimed the HDX system at customers requiring the highest and most consistent practically achievable levels of technical performance. The practical benefit to the user was the more reliable creation of large and complex productions typical of those demanded in modern music production. A key stated benefit was near-zero monitoring latency.

The "HD" product line was reorganised to include "HD|Native" (without DSP) and HDX. The HD|Native systems made use of the host system's CPU for all audio processing while retaining the augmented workflows and sound quality factors of Pro Tools HD. HDX's primary advantage over HD remained the considerably lower latency for all DSP reliant operations. As a result, in order to maintain the required consistency of performance, HDX products were specified with a fixed maximum number of "voices" (audio tracks). Up to three HDX cards could be installed on a single system, for a maximum of 768 total "voices" (audio channels).

While by comparison, native systems from all manufacturers including Avid may offer an apparently unlimited number of tracks / voices, every system necessarily has practical limits to what can usefully be achieved, depending on technical specification of the host computer, software configuration and user preferences. HDX systems accelerated digital signal processing for Avid's own AAX format plugins only. The company ended support for the older TDM technology for use with its HDX products. (TDM stood for Time Division Multiplexing; though it was sometimes known as Time Domain Multiplexing.[10]) Avid advised users that Pro Tools 10 would be the final release for Pro Tools|HD Process and Accel systems, and that its TDM technology would be discontinued.

HD systems

Pro Tools HD and HDX systems represent the company's professional product line. They rely on dedicated chips that aid audio processing, in conjunction with rack-mounted interfaces, which handle outgoing and incoming audio, MIDI, and sync connections. With the introduction of Avid's HDX line, HD ("native") interfaces no longer feature DSP, and this feature has been reserved for HDX only. HD and HDX systems utilise proprietary cables to interconnect with external units. Older Pro Tools HD cards featured DSP chips from the Motorola 56k family. Newer HDX interfaces rely on DSP chips from Texas Instruments and have split facilities for managing track playback and signal processing operations. At launch Pro Tools HD cards were called HD Process cards. Approximately 2 years later, the HD Process cards were replaced by the HD Accel card, which was designed around a faster variant of the Motorola DSP chip and provided approximately twice the signal processing power per card. When Apple changed the expansion slot architecture of the G5 to PCI Express, Digidesign launched a line of PCIe HD Accel cards that both adopted the new card slot format and also slightly changed the combination of chips. There are TDM plug-ins that require the presence of Accel chips to run and therefore cannot run on the earlier non-Accel HD systems.

On October 6, 2010, Avid released Pro Tools HD Native, a lower cost PCIe card system designed for host-processing with fully functional HD software.[11] The Native PCIe card has a FPGA chip to facilitate an upgradable option to the card over time. On November 4, 2010, Avid released Pro Tools 9, a lower-cost application that decoupled hardware from software. Among several new features, Pro Tools 9 has a new track feature named HEAT (Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology), which is used for creating what many in the industry are calling HEDA (Harmonically Enhanced Digital Audio).[12]

When first available, Pro Tools systems relied exclusively on integral hard disks for storage and were thus limited to the storage options available on the Apple hardware platform. In 2002, AVID rebranded a proprietary SAN product called MediaNet and promoted it to Pro Tools users who were becoming aware of the benefits of network-based collaboration and workflows.[13] MediaNet was based on WindowsNT and could only be administered using Windows-based tools. To date, neither Pro Tools HD Native nor Pro Tools 9 support commodity network attached storage, and MediaNet remains Avid's only supported option for accessing storage over the network. There has been some positive experience with using remote storage with Pro Tools via iSCSI technology. A company from Netherlands, Ardis Technologies, produces a SAN solution based on iSCSI protocol, which is aimed primarily to the audio/video postproduction market. It is called DDP (Dynamic Drive Pool). It can use existing Gigabit Ethernet network and does not require additional hardware on the DAW side except Gigabit Ethernet adapter.

LE systems

The Pro Tools LE (Limited Edition) line is discontinued as of the release of Pro Tools 9. Pro Tools LE systems performed data processing on the host CPU. Purchasers were required to choose from a range of proprietary audio interfaces, one of which was required for all audio I/O (recording and playback). The hardware thus doubled as a copy-protection mechanism for the software, as the software did not function without the specialized Digidesign interface. The entry-level MBox range of interfaces connect via USB or Firewire 400. All have a stereo audio output, and include a small number of line and microphone inputs. The more powerful 003 (formerly 002) interfaces use FireWire and have significantly larger I/O abilities. The Eleven Rack, in addition to its many input options, includes in-box DSP processing via a FPGA chip offloads the Eleven guitar amp/speaker emulation and guitar effects plug-in processing to the interface, allowing those plug-ins to run without taxing the host system.

Pro Tools LE had a similar look and feel to Pro Tools HD, but had a smaller track count and a lower maximum sampling rate. Pro Tools LE also lacked many features such as the ability to export to MP3, SMPTE time code, Automatic Delay Compensation (ADC), ability to import OMF and AAF files, DigiBase Pro, and multi-track Beat Detective. These features, along with higher track counts, could be accessed via the purchase of the "DV Toolkit" and "Music Production Toolkit" or "Complete Production Toolkit" upgrade packages. Under Pro Tools 9, these upgrades have changed and been combined to the "Complete Production Toolkit 2".

9 system changes

In 2010–11, Pro Tools upgraded Pro Tools LE with some of the features of HD and effectively merged it into one hardware-independent software package named Pro Tools Standard. Pro Tools 9 has no proprietary hardware requirement, allowing use of the software with any interface. It can operate using the internal sound card of a PC via the Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) driver and a Mac using Core Audio. Mac Core Audio also allows, for the first time, the use of aggregate devices, allowing the use of more than one interface at the same time. This can also be achieved on a PC by using the third party application ASIO4ALL. Pro Tools 9 also included a new keyboard shortcut for "New Playlist".[14]

When operating on a machine containing one or more HD Core, Accel or Native cards, the software will run as Pro Tools HD 9, with the full Pro Tools HD feature set. In all other cases it will run as Pro Tools 9, with a smaller track count and a number of advanced features turned off. However, non-HD Pro Tools 9 users can also gain access to the full feature set with the Complete Production Toolkit 2. Pro Tools 9 also included as standard many features which on Pro Tools LE were only accessible via additional "Toolkit" upgrades. Pro Tools 9 uses iLok for copy-protection. Pro Tools 9 is the first version to have one 'unified' installer for the software, with the iLok licence determining, which elements of the software are unlocked.

M-Powered systems

M-Audio, formerly Midiman, was acquired by Avid Technology in 2004–2005, and Digidesign soon released Pro Tools M-Powered, which brought Pro Tools LE functionality to a subset of M-Audio USB, FireWire and PCI interfaces. Pro Tools M-Powered uses an iLok license as copy protection and was formerly the only way to run Pro Tools without using Digidesign/Avid hardware.

M-Powered Essential

This is a scaled-down version of the M-Powered system. It was aimed at the starter consumer market, and offers very limited scope, with only 16 tracks, no third-party plug-ins and limited USB device support.


Pro Tools SE is a stripped-down version of what used to be Pro Tools LE, also made for beginners. The software is sold in one of three bundles with a hardware unit for guitarists, keyboardists, and vocalists. It also comes with the M-Audio Fast Track and MobilePre USB audio interfaces except for the "Ultra" sub-series. There is no option to upgrade to the full version of Pro Tools from Pro Tools SE.

Control surfaces

Digidesign/Avid control surfaces attempt to bridge the gap between old-style analog desks and modern DAWs by providing physical controls for the Pro Tools software. These include the C|24, a 24-fader surface with 16 built-in pre-amps, and the ICON: Integrated Console Environment, combining a tactile control surface and a Pro Tools|HD Accel system in one unit. VENUE, a similar system, was released for live-sound applications. The Command|8 is a smaller eight-fader control surface. Pro Tools compatible control surfaces have also been developed by other companies. For example, the Audient ASP2802 has integrated DAW control, and is compatible with Pro Tools as well as Logic Pro and Cubase.[15] It therefore provides an external analog mixing interface for the computer. In April 2010, Avid acquired Euphonix, a manufacturer of high quality control surfaces.

An official Pro Tools training curriculum and certification program, which includes courses in music and post production, was introduced by Digidesign in 2002. The curriculum is delivered by a number of schools and universities. The Music Production and DV toolkits increase the abilities of non-HD Pro Tools systems. Both increase the maximum number of tracks and highest possible sample rate to 96 kHz and include additional plug-ins. The LE-only DV tool kit adds feet and frames and timecode timelines and functionality.

Advanced Instrument Research (AIR)

See also: AIR Users Blog

In August 2005, Avid acquired the German company Wizoo, formerly working mainly for Steinberg (Cubase, Nuendo) and developers of virtual instruments. They further announced the creation of Advanced Instrument Research (AIR), which meant Avid would be developing virtual instruments and plug-ins for use in Pro Tools.[16]

This also resulted in the landmark redevelopment of Pro Tools, versions 8 through 10. This relied heavily on the inclusion of AIR Virtual Instrument plug-ins to bring it closer to its competitor Logic Pro. Those included with Pro Tools Standard (called the Creative Collection) include:

AIR also contributes reverbs, dynamics, modulation and other effects as part of the Pro Tools, all of these work in native format only.

Some of the additional virtual instruments for Pro Tools that AIR has created include:

In July 2012, inMusic Brands, parent company of brands such as Akai Professional and Alesis, announced its acquisition of AIR from Avid,[17] as part of a larger acquisition that included Avid's consumer audio products and the M-Audio brand.[18][19]


See also


  1. Sound Designer Page at the Emulator Archive
  2. Evan Brooks, Digidesign, EQ Magazine, Mar 2006
  3. "iCloud". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  4. "Library -". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  5. "Wired 2.12: Consume the Minimum, Produce the Maximum". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  6. "Wired 2.12: Consume the Minimum, Produce the Maximum". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  7. YouTube. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  8. "Recordin' "La Vida Loca", Mix Magazine, Nov 1999
  9. "Unsung Guitar Heroes", Digizine Winter/Spring 2009
  10. "Pro Tools DigiRack Plug-Ins Guide: Version 5.0.1 for Macintosh and Windows" (PDF). Digidesign, Inc. 2000. p. 18. Retrieved 23 October 2013. time domain plug-ins
  11. "Avid - Pro Tools - HD Native - Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) from Avid". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  12. "Avid Unleashes Pro Tools 9" at
  13. "Avid's Unity MediaNet", Editor's Guild Magazine, May 2002
  14. "Pro Tools 9: Do You Need It? We Ask The Early Adopters - SonicScoop". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  15. "Musikmesse 2010: Audient ASP 2802 (Video)". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 13 July 2010.
  16. Interview with Peter Gorges of AIR on Air Users Blog
  17. "Avid Downsizes, Sells M-Audio To inMusic". Synthtopia. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  18. "Avid Divests Consumer Businesses and Streamlines Operations". Avid. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  19. "Avid sells M-Audio". MusicRadar. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
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