The History of Pro Tools Part 2 – 1994 to 2000

The History of Pro Tools Part 2 – 1994 to 2000

 The History of Pro Tools - 1994 to 2000

This is the second in a five-part series chronicling the history of Pro Tools from the very start of Digidesign all the way up to the present day with the release of Pro Tools 2018.1.

In this article, we start with the release of TDM audio processing in Pro Tools 2.5 and work our way through to the launch of the DIgi 001 system in 1999 and the second free version of Pro Tools in 2000.

 Digidesign Pro Tools 442 Interface

1994 – Pro Tools 2.5 – Digidesign introduced Pro Tools TDM, enabling real-time effects to run as plug-ins inside Pro Tools. Time Division Multiplexing (TDM), is a system that allows complex routing of multiple digital audio signals between DSP cards and enabled Pro Tools to run multiple real-time DSP-based TDM plug-ins simultaneously for the first time.

These were the first Pro Tools systems I had direct hands-on experience of, first installing them and then using them at the BBC in Manchester, England. They were 4 Tracks on a good day and came with a massive 1GB drive. How far we have come!

 Pro Tools III Nubus System

1994 – Pro Tools III – One of the key milestones in Digidesign hardware development was the introduction of ProTools III NuBus and Pro Tools 3.0 software offering 16 to 48 voices for NuBus-based Mac systems. It was a totally redesigned Nubus disk I/O card that was capable of sixteen tracks record and playback with advanced editing and mixing features that could be expanded to 3 cards for up to 48 tracks.

With the introduction of ProTools III, the new interfaces, 888 and 882 I/O, the bridge I/O and SCSI on board, were all added to the product range.  On the software side, there was the TDM Core Software including Dynamics, EQ, Mixer and Mod Delay plug-ins built into Pro Tools and a separate Digidesign reverb TDM Plug-in – Dverb that you had to pay for.

I found this video on Twitter from Bob Kommer showing one of his Pro Tools III sets with an 888 interface back in 1996. Thanks Bob for letting us show this here.

1995 – Pro Tools Project – Making its debut at the AES Show in 1995, the Pro Tools Project Core System included Pro Tools 3.2 software bundled with the Session 8 Mac audio card (renamed the Pro Tools Project Audio Card). The I/O choices included the 882 I/O and 882 Studio I/O. Pro Tools Project provided eight tracks of recording, with a list price of $2495.
Pro Tools 3.2 enhanced the capabilities of Session 8 Mac systems, with features such as scrubbing, automation, real-time bounce with effects loops and ADAT Interface support.

 Digidesign Pro tools Project System

This was my own first proper Pro Tools system, prior to this I had an Audiomedia card in my Mac LC475 running the Deck software. With the Pro Tools Project system, I realised that the Project card had the connectors to take the Nubus daughter card and so I was able to upgrade my system to a full TDM system with 16 tracks of real-time TDM plug-in processing all running on an Apple 7100/66!

1995 – Digidesign merged with Avid Technology. Avid was a major customer of Digidesign as Avid used the Digidesign cards and interfaces for the audio side of their products. Avid made its name developing digital video editing software and hardware, including the Avid Media Composer platform.

The merger was announced at the AES Show in November 1994 and was completed in early 1995. Avid Vice President Of North American field operations Rick Cramer called the venture a logical outgrowth of Avid’s growing relationship with Digidesign.

We used Digidesign’s Audio Media and SA4 boards in our own products. We have been buying 25% of their production output, so the merger makes good business sense.

Digidesign’s solid distribution network was also seen as an attraction enabling Avid to break into home and recording studios, markets Avid hadn’t been able to access particularly well prior to the merger.

However, but after the merger, both companies continued to operate independently in the market. AudioVision, based on Digidesign components with an Avid software front end for post-production and ADR, was given to Digidesign product development but was subsequently quietly dropped, even though it included some great features including folders in the clip list, a feature still not included in the current version (2018.1) of Pro Tools.

1996 – Pro Tools III PCI – The Disk I/O card was ported to the PCI-x format but offered little new advantages. It was still capable of 16 track record-playback and expansion to 48 tracks with additional cards, just like its Nubus


1997 – Pro Tools|24 – This release saw the introduction of a redesigned 24-bit DSP audio card capable of 32 tracks (expandable to 64) with increased DSP power and support for Mac and Windows NT with PCI-x hardware, 24-bit audio, 32–64 voices and the PCI DSP Farm had the Motorola 56002 processors.

The introduction of 24-bit technology not only brought a higher resolution but at the same time provided 32-track playback on each card, more DSP performance and moved away from the Digidesign on-board SCSI technology. Finally, you could use commercially available SCSI cards to connect to multiple hard drives.

 Digidesign Pro Tools v4.0 System and Edit Window

1997 – Pro Tools 4.0 – With this release, came destructive editing, automation improvements, and AudioSuite plug-ins.

Other new features added to Pro Tools 4.0 were OMS, which was required for MIDI and Synchronization Services with Pro Tools Systems, Memory Caching of TDM Plug-Ins on PPC-based systems, changes to the Playback Buffer, Playback Engine operation and Track Record Enable Operation.

 Pro tools v3.4 the first free version of Pro Tools

1997 – Pro Tools Free (3.4) – In November 1997 Digidesign announced Pro Tools 3.4 PowerMix, the first freeware

software-only version of Pro Tools. Digidesign produced a CD-ROM containing a full version of Pro Tools 3.4 which included Pro Tools PowerMix, a Power Mac application that provides two simultaneous record tracks, up to 16 playback tracks, 64 virtual tracks and two bands of digital equalisation per track.

I used this software together with an Apple PowerBook 3400 and a Digigram PCMCIA card that went in the expansion slot on the MacBook to be able to record with Pro Tools on location with a laptop for the first time. I then supplied a similar system to one of my clients and they used it to edit an American road trip documentary series on the road as they were travelling.


1998 – Pro Tools 24 MIX and MIXplus – Pro Tools 24 MIX came with 64 voices, expanded DSP abilities and billed as a more powerful system with 300% more DSP power than a Pro Tools 24 system. Pro Tools 24 MIXPlus was the MIX Core and Mix-Farm Bundle that brought 700% more DSP performance. The term MIX apparently came from the idea that you could ‘mix in the box’ – using a system without an external mixer, which was unimaginable for many users, even back in 1998 but the core version carried a list price of $7995. Pro Tools | 24 Mix offered 8 to 72 channels of Analog and Digital I/O, up to 16 channels with the Mix Core Card and 16 channels per Mix Farm or Mix I/O Card.

 Digidesign Pro Tools Pro Control Fader Pack & Edit Pack

1998 – ProControl – Digidesign introduced the first in a series of control surfaces for Pro Tools after more than three years of announcements and a failed initial development.  ProControl provided motorised, touch-sensitive faders, knobs, and switches designed for maximum accessibility to Pro Tools recording, mixing, and editing functions. ProControl also included an analog Control Room section, for monitoring control and studio communication. Pro Control used Ethernet

connectivity to the host computer.

Later, ProControl could be expanded by adding Fader Packs, and by adding a Digidesign Edit Pack. Each Fader Pack provided 8 additional fader strips and controls. Up to five Fader Packs could be used in conjunction with one Main Unit. An Edit Pack provided a pair of touch-sensitive, motorised joysticks, built in Pro Tools keyboard, high-resolution metering, and other features for surround mixing and professional production environments.

Digidesign Pro Tools V5.0 Features Diagram – Click on the image to see a larger version.

1999 – Pro Tools 5.0 – With the 5.0, Digidesign released the first Pro Tools version with a MIDI Editor, including two different MIDI record modes, Replace and Merge as well as MIDI Input Filters to determine which data types would be recorded. MIDI recordings could be initiated with either Wait For Note or Countoff modes. When it came to MIDI editing, MIDI could be edited using a ‘piano-roll’ mode as well as being able to draw MIDI controller data in breakpoint form as well as adjust note velocities.  Other MIDI related commands added included Quantise, Transpose, Split, Change Velocity and Change Duration. Automating MIDI track volume, pan and mute parameters in the same way as audio tracks became possible, and the Pencil tool was extended to MIDI track editing.  New audio editing tools were added including a new Object Grabber and Separation Grabber, as well as a time compression and expansion mode to the Trim tool. Multiple rulers were added with Pro Tools 5 and for TDM users it was now possible to have Continuous Scroll during Playback as well as Continous Scroll With Playhead.

1999 – AVOption – Digidesign introduced the first AV Option for recording and playing digital Avid video.

 Digidesign Digi 001 System

1999 – Digi 001 with Pro Tools LE  – Pro Tools LE was introduced as a host-based Pro Tools environment with Real-time AudioSuite (RTAS) host-based processing. The small 24-track LE system with PCI card and 19″ Interface with 18 individual I/Os finally made Pro Tools affordable even for small studios and musicians.

The Digi 001 was billed by Avid as a complete audio/MIDI, hardware/software solution in one box, ideal for recording, processing, mixing and mastering solution for home studios, multimedia creation and budget-minded radio production. The Digi 001 came with eight analog inputs and outputs, eight channels of ADAT optical I/O, and two S/PDIF I/O channels — all at 24-bit resolution. Two of the analog inputs had microphone pre-amplifiers with gain control and phantom power. With a one-in, one-out MIDI interface, an additional pair of analog monitor outputs, and a headphone output with separate volume control, Digi 001 was designed to function as the sole mixer in the user’s production environment.  I installed a lot of these into radio production facilities both inside and outside the BBC here in the UK.

With the Digi 001 came a new type of Pro Tools software – Pro Tools LE, the host-based
version of the Digidesign’s software. Pro Tools LE was designed to include everything the user needed in a home or project studio, including 24 playback tracks of 16 or 24-bit audio, MIDI sequencing, and the DigiRack bundle of Real-Time AudioSuite (RTAS) and file-based AudioSuite plug-ins with an AutoSave session capability and multiple levels of Undo.

Pro Tools LE’s MIDI functions were designed to be an intuitive extension of its audio capabilities. It offered a sample-accurate view of MIDI and audio tracks in a single window,
eliminating the need to shuffle between multiple windows. Pro Tools LE featured a responsive MIDI engine, allowing the user to hear edits immediately, even on the fly. Plus, it had graphic controller editing (including drawing), and you could change MIDI data with Quantise, Transpose, Split, Change Velocity, Change Duration and more.

 Pro Tools 5.0.1 serial number window

2000 – Pro Tools 5.0.1 – This update brought serial number authorisation for the LE software and Low Latency Monitoring for the Audiomedia III and Digi 001 hardware as well as support for Windows 98. Digidesign added a De-esser plug-in with this release as well as DirectConnect TDM plug-ins. The Digidesign Output Drivers extension was replaced by the Digidesign Control Panel to enable you to use Digidesign hardware with Apple Sound Manager compatible applications.

 Pro Tools 5.0.1 Free Software CD

2000 – Pro Tools Free – This was a trimmed down version of Pro Tools 5 LE that let you record up to 8 audio tracks, 48 MIDI tracks, up to 5 inserts and 5 sends per track and 16 busses to route to. It worked with 16-bit or 24-bit sessions of audio, had RTAS support and worked with any interface, not just Digidesign interfaces.

There wasn’t a Pro Tools demo of the full version because you could download Pro Tools Free and install it on your Mac OS 9 or Windows 98 computer. Pro Tools Free was discontinued in 2003 when Pro Tools moved to Mac OS X and Windows XP and there was a 12-year wait for another free version of Pro Tools until Pro Tools First came along in 2015. This free version of Pro Tools was excellent for radio producers and I ‘supplied’ and installed a lot of these around the UK.

In the next episode of The History Of Pro Tools, we look at how Pro Tools developed from 2000 to 2007.