The History of Pro Tools Part 3- 2000 to 2007

The History of Pro Tools Part 3- 2000 to 2007

  Win - Avid Pro Tools 12 Perpetual License Courtesy Of RSPE Audio Solutions Worth $599

This is the third 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 Pro Tools 5.1 which brought surround to the world of Pro Tools through to the release of the C24 control surface.

 Pro Tools 5.1 Edit & Mix Window

2000 – Pro Tools 5.1 – This was the first version of Pro Tools to support surround sound, from LCR through 5.1 up to 7.1. To handle all these extra channels, we saw the arrival of multi-mono and surround versions of plug-ins as well as a new I/O window. Beat Detective came in Pro Tools 5.1 for TDM systems only and for music users it changed the way we edited music forever.

Pro Tools 5.1 brought stereo tracks to all versions as well as Quad (2+2), LCRS (3+1), 5.0, 5.1, 6.0, 6.1, 7.0, and 7.1 tracks to Pro Tools 24 MIX and MIXplus Systems. Surround pan controls were integrated into the Pro Tools interface for the first time, with each track supporting independent panning on its outputs and sends. The Output window allowed you to view and control the panning of each track with an X-Y panner display and a 3-knob panning mode. The surround panner also featured fully automatable controls for front, front-rear, front-to-rear, and centre percent divergence.

A new plug-in came with Pro Tools 5.1 to help to work with Surround. SurroundScope provided a real-time, display of a stereo or multichannel track’s phase, surround position, and dB levels in a single window.

Pro Tools plug-ins became available in Multi-channel or multi-mono modes as part of the integrated support for working in surround in Pro Tools 5.1.

In the Region List (now called the Clip List) they added a hierarchical menu-style display of stereo and multi-channel regions. To view the individual regions that make up a multi-channel region, you just needed to click the arrow next to a master region’s name.

A new I/O Setup window was added to Pro Tools 5.1 to allow users to define custom I/O routing for inputs, outputs, inserts, and busses with the ability to create, recall and import custom I/O setups. All connected audio interfaces appeared in the I/O Setup dialog for easy visual reference.

Moving away from the surround feature set, Beat Detective for TDM Systems was added to Pro Tools 5.1. Beat Detective automatically detected the tempo of a session and conformed an audio track or selection by separating it into regions (clips) and aligning it to the beats. Beat Detective performed groove extraction, automatic tempo map creation, quantisation of regions to a groove, automatic region trimming, and edit smoothing through crossfading.

 Digidesign Control 24

2001 – Control 24 – This was Digidesign’s second attempt at a control surface. The Control 24 included Focusrite preamps as well as being a control surface with 24 touch-sensitive motorised faders, 16 Focusrite Class A Mic Preamps, Control Room Section capable of up to 5.1 surround monitoring, Dedicated EQ and Dynamics switches on every channel. It connected to Pro Tools TDM systems via high-speed Ethernet, with LED display for transport location, integrated submixer with 8 stereo inputs and Touch-Sensitive automation of plug-in parameters using faders in Plug-In Flip Mode.

 Pro Tools HD Core and Process cards, 192 and 96 interfaces

2002 – Pro Tools | HD – At the NAMM Show in early 2002, new Pro Tools HD hardware was unveiled as the successor to Pro Tools TDM. Pro Tools HD was a DSP accelerated system that supported 96KHz and 192KHz sample rates for the first time as well as larger mixer configurations than previously possible. Digidesign introduced the new Pro Tools HD hardware in conjunction with the 192 I/O Audio Interfaces and released Pro Tools 5.3 software to support the new features.

The other big changes that came with Pro Tools HD were the improved track count and TDM time slot improvement, that enabled users to use surround panning and plug-in architecture in a big way.

 Pro Tools HD System Usage comparision With MIX3

Check out these 2 System Usage screenshots. The left-hand one was from a Pro Tools 24 MIX3 system and the right-hand one was from a Pro Tools HD 2 system. Please note the more effective use of DSP in the HD2 and the TDM time slot count increase as the MIX 3 had 256 slots while the HD had 512 slots.

 Digidesign 002 Interface and Control surface and Mbox 1 interface

2003 – Mbox and Digi 002 – The small, light blue MBox allowed Pro Tools to operate for the first time without a plug-in card on a laptop or PowerBook.  It was a 2-channel USB audio interface with analog and digital I/O and featured Focusrite Mic-preamps, 24-bit clean I/O, Zero-latency monitoring, and is 100% USB powered. List price was $495 including Pro Tools LE v.5.2)

The successor to the successful Digi 001 series was a combination of hardware controller, mixer and audio interface. The Digi 002 and 002R were connected via FireWire to the host computer and offered 32-track audio recording/playback.

The 002’s hardware resembled a compact digital mixer, it featured the familiar faders, knobs and buttons, plus a set of displays, which made the necessary assignability of the controls much easier to deal with. On the rear panel were the connections that in other digital recording systems would reside on a rackmount recording interface or breakout box. Aside from the control surface aspect, the big departure for the 002’s hardware side is that there was no longer any need for an interface card inside the computer, as the FireWire connection was used for high-speed, bi-directional MIDI, audio and control data transfer. This was Digi’s first FireWire product.

On the 002 there were 8 analogue ins, the first four of which had both phantom-powered XLR mic sockets and balanced jack connections at mic/line/instrument level. Guitars could be plugged into these inputs, which each have a gain control and switchable low-pass filter, without the need for a preamp. The remaining four analogue ins were on balanced jacks, switchable between +4dBu and -10dBv operation. In addition to those eight inputs, there was a useful pair of Alt Source phono inputs, which took the place of inputs 7 and 8, if used, and allowed audio inputs from CD players or the like to be brought into a session.

Moving on to digital inputs, there was a co-axial S/PDIF input and an optical digital input that could function either as an alternative S/PDIF input or as eight channels of ADAT interfacing.

On the output front, aside from the obvious matching eight analogue outs (a pair of which routes the main stereo mix out of the system), eight ADAT outs and S/PDIF out, there was an analogue stereo monitor output on balanced jacks, and an Alt Main analogue stereo out on phonos which mirrored the main stereo mix.

Remaining connections comprised a MIDI In and two Outs, a front-panel headphone socket, a footswitch jack (for activating punch-in/out), and an auto-sensing mains power socket, which meant that the 002 could work anywhere in the world.

Monitoring was simply implemented, there were separate controls for the main stereo monitor output and the headphone socket, with a Mono switch for checking mono compatibility of the stereo mix. The main monitor could also be muted, leaving the headphones operational. The Alt Source stereo phono input could also be routed to the monitor (and headphone) output. This could be useful in a live situation, with the 002 in stand-alone mode (to route pre-set music over the house PA, for example). In the studio, with a simple external mixer, you could create a separate monitor mix for overdubbing musicians and feed it back into the Alt Source inputs, leaving the main mix untouched.

The 002 controller linked to the host computer via FireWire, in contrast to other controllers, which connected via MIDI. The main feature of the front panel was the bank of 8 motorised faders. Above the faders were corresponding Mute and Solo buttons, a bit higher again are eight ‘Sel’ buttons, used to select channels for editing, arm them for recording, and so on, and eight rotary encoders, each with a green LED ring above as a value readout. The LED rings could be switched to provide channel output metering, above again were 8 LCD ‘scribble-strips’, one per channel, which displayed abbreviated track names.

The rotary encoders could be assigned to control a variety of parameters, including pan, aux send levels for PTLE’s five sends per channel (A-E) as well as plug-in parameters. Values for these showed in the scribble-strip displays momentarily as the parameter was altered. Parameters that might be more suited to fader control than rotary control, such as send levels, could even be assigned to the faders instead, via a ‘Flip’ button.

The other main section of the front panel is the transport area, featuring Play, Stop, Record, Rewind and Fast Forward keys, plus an RTZ (Return to Zero) key. You can get straight to the end of a Song by using the Shift ‘modifier’ key (more later) plus Fast Forward. We’ve seen one or two mentions on Digi forums of people finding the transport keys ‘sticky’, but the review unit showed no evidence of this.

Dedicated controls above the transport activated loop playback and loop recording modes, and accessed QuickPunch punch-in mode. Three Windows buttons brought the Mix or Edit window to the front and show/hide the window for whichever plug-in was currently being edited.

 Digidesign HD Accel and Core Cards

2003 – Pro Tools | HD Accel system – Digidesign released their latest DSP card, rather than a being completely new system, the HD Accel PCI cards were designed to slot into Digidesign’s Pro Tools HD system. The ‘master’ HD Core card was unchanged, additional cards could now be Accel cards or the original HD Process cards.

In addition to the extra plug-in power, HD rigs with these new cards benefited from 50 percent higher voice counts, giving a maximum of 192 audio tracks at 44.1 or 48 kHz.

 Digidesign 96i I/O Interface

2003 – 96i I/O – Digidesign introduced the 96i I/O audio interface than offered 16 inputs that was pitched as an affordable interface option for musicians who want to play their keyboards and synths in Pro Tools.

 Digidesign digi 002 Rack Interface

2003 – Digi 002 rack – The 19″ – 2U rack version of Digi 002 came on the market and offered the same features as the Digi 002 without the control surface. I had one of these for many years as it was a very convenient interface with my laptop for location recordings of radio documentaries, and discussion programmes as well as smaller music sessions.

Digidesign Pro Tools V6.0 What’s New Edit and Mix Windows – Click image to see a larger version.

2003 – Pro Tools 6.0 – V6.0 brought support for Mac OS X, a complete re-design of the user interface and the new DigiBase Browser.

There are three types of browsers provided on all Pro Tools systems: Volume browsers, the Workspace Browser provided tools to perform file management tasks you would otherwise have performed in the Macintosh Finder or Windows Explorer like finding, copying, and deleting files, and creating folders. Volume Browsers provided databasing and file management for local and network volumes (if available). The Project Browser provided searching and management tools for files referenced in your current session, regardless of where they were stored. Finally on TDM Systems, Catalogs provided the ability to store snapshots (aliases) of volumes, folders, and files as Catalogs. I quickly got to grips with this and used it as my sound effects catalog system for many years as I could at last search, audition and import sound effects quickly and easily into my sessions.

DigiBase and the DigiBase Pro option that was included with the TDM systems combined a browser-style interface with an integrated databasing engine, optimised for Pro Tools data and media management. For the first time, DigiBase browsers provided databasing tools for searching, sorting, auditioning, and importing audio, session, OMF and other types of files. Multiple browsers can be displayed and arranged, with custom display settings provided to optimize your work environment.

Other features added in Pro Tools 6 were that the Selector tool could now select horizontally and vertically, allowing selections across multiple tracks with a single click and drag. A Relative Grid Mode for editing audio and MIDI regions not aligned with Grid boundaries. A raft of MIDI feature improvements, which included New MIDI Services, support for up to 256 MIDI tracks. Flatten and Restore MIDI Performance, MIDI Time Stamping, MIDI Track Trim Tool improvements, and the Pencil tool could trim MIDI note and controller data.

With Pro Tools 6.0, plug-ins could now be inserted or removed “on-the-fly” during playback on Pro Tools|HD and Pro Tools|24 MIX systems. Bizarrely Pro Tools LE 5.1 and later could already support inserting or removing RTAS plug-ins during playback.

Pro Tools 6.0 brought a number of new plug-ins including a new Click plug-in, D-fx plug-ins which included DigiRack Chorus, Flanger, Multi-Tap Delay, and Ping-Pong Delay, Digidesign’s DPP-1 plug-in, which provided real-time retuning and pitch correction, was included as a stock plug-in and renamed as DigiRack Pitch and D-fx D-Verb, which provided non-real time reverb processing, is now included as D-Verb AudioSuite was included as a stock plug-in for the first time.

There were a raft of improvements to Pro Tools 6.0 LE including 32 Voiceable Tracks on Digi 001, Mbox, and Toolbox hardware. Pro Tools LE sessions could now include as many as 128 audio tracks (with 32 voiceable tracks maximum), 128 Auxiliary Input tracks, 64 Master Fader tracks, and 256 MIDI tracks.  Time Trimmer for dragging a region’s start or end to time-expand or time-compress a region. V6.0 also brought Commands Focus and the QuickTime DV Playback Through Firewire option.

2003 – Pro Tools 6.1 – This brought support for Windows XP and ReWire. Most of the features in Pro Tools 6.0 were Mac OSX only, so Pro Tools 6.1 brought the new features introduced in v6.0 for Mac OSX to Windows XP.

Pro Tools 6.1 also brought a number of new features for both Mac OSX and Windows XP users including support for Advanced Authoring Format (AAF) but you needed DigiTranslator 2.0 software as well as Pro Tools to import AAFs.

DV Toolkit Option for Pro Tools LE was also released which enabled LE users to unlock time-code features for working with film, video, or digital video in Pro Tools LE, and opened a much more cost-effective option for audio post-production than Pro Tools TDM.

Pro Tools 6.1 brought support for the ReWire technology developed by Propellerhead Software as an RTAS plug-in on Pro Tools TDM and LE systems. ReWire provided real-time audio and MIDI streaming between applications, with sample-accurate synchronization and common transport functionality. Waves Time Shifter was added to the Pro Tools TC/E Plug-In pop-up menu.

 Digidesign 32 fader Icon D-Control

2004 – ICON D-Control – control surface with Pro Tools HD Accel – For the first time, the new D-Control allowed Pro Tools users to mix larger TV/film projects within the workstation without using a conventional mixing console. The basic configuration for D-Control was 16 faders and a centre section, with the option of having the fader ‘buckets’ positioned on either side of the master module. The D-Control channel strip had 6 rotary encoders and the centre section had dedicated rotary controllers for EQ and Dynamics. The keyboard and trackball trays were removable to cater for left handed and right handed use, or for the addition of a mouse as a replacement for the included trackball.

Track count, DSP and input and output configurations were all determined by the connected Pro Tools system. Monitoring control was handled directly and independently of Pro Tools by the separate XMON unit. XMON was an analogue rack-mountable 2U control box connected to the Icon via an RS422/MIDI connection to the monitor section on the Icon.

The XMON analogue audio connections were addressable from the monitor panel with physical connections on 7 D-Sub connectors, facilitating Main, surround and cue inputs and outputs alongside talkback i/o, two listen mic’s, two AFL paths and a pair of mini speaker outs.

 Digidesign Command 8 control surface

2004 – Command|8 Control Surface – The Command|8 was a low-cost USB-based control surface for Pro Tools, developed in a collaboration between Digidesign and Focusrite running on Windows XP or Mac OS X.  The main features of Command|8 included 8 fader strips, each with a motorised, touch-sensitive fader, rotary encoder, LEDs, and Solo, Mute, and Channel Select switches, an analog monitoring section, 1 input and 2 output MIDI interface, LCD for data display, transport controls and mode switches, navigation and Zoom controls. This was probably the longest supported Pro Tools control surface and we featured it in our Hidden Gems series back in 2014.

 Pro Tools 6.4 Features

2004 – Pro Tools 6.4 – The key feature for the TDM version of Pro Tools 6.4 was delay compensation for managing DSP delays that occurred on audio tracks, Auxiliary inputs, or Master Faders because of plug-in use and mixer routing. With Delay Compensation, Pro Tools 6.4 was able to maintain time-alignment between tracks having plug-ins with different DSP delays, tracks with different mixing paths, tracks that were split off and recombined within the mixer, and tracks with hardware inserts. To maintain time alignment, Pro Tools 6.4 added the exact amount of delay to each track necessary to make that particular track’s delay equal to the delay of the track that has the longest delay.

Other new features introduced in Pro Tools 6.4 were support for the D-Control and Command|8 control surfaces as well as the AVoption|V10 option for Windows systems, +12 dB Fader Gain for increased mixer gain, TrackPunch audio recording mode, Track Input monitoring, Plug-in menus by category, 23.976 fps timecode support,  Pro Tools interface changes, Transport controls displayed at the top of the Edit window, consolidated Machine Control and Remote Control preference page.

 Digidesign Pro Tools 6.9 Features

2005 – Pro Tools 6.9 – No sooner had Digidesign released Pro Tools 6.7 than they released version 6.9. Thankfully, this got all the versions back in sync. Quite a few of the improvements were for audiovisual work and included options that were only available in v6.6, improved on them and brought them into one unified version. For instance, Pro Tools 6.9 worked with the Avid Mojo and Digidesign AV Option V10 video I/O peripherals on Windows platforms.

Pro Tools 6.9 brought up the number of buses up to 128 and the number of auxiliary tracks
up to 160. Digidesign changed the way of handling multiple sections including selecting or deselecting non-contiguous selections on tracks, region list and Show/hide lists.

New keyboard shortcuts were added to enable users to change the track view (for instance between Waveform and Volume or Pan graphs) and to do this on a number of selected tracks simultaneously.

In the Operations tab of the Preferences window, some new Solo Latch options were added. Latch was the way Solo had always worked before v6.9. With the new X-OR (Cancels Previous Solos) option selected, however, pressing another Solo button would deselect the previous one. On TDM systems, the Solo button could work as a PFL (Pre Fade Listen), as an AFL (After Fade Listen), or Solo In Place (which is how Pro Tools worked before v6.9). There was a new option in the I/O Setup window that allowed users to set which hardware outputs the PFL or AFL signal path would use.

There were a number of small changes to the I/O Setup window, including a New Track Default Output pop-up menu, which allowed you to select busses as well as output paths.

In the old days, when you went to select a plug-in you got a long list starting with the Digirack plug-ins and then all the third-party ones in alphabetical order. Then we got grouping by categories, which helped no end, and then Digidesign added the option to choose how to categorise the plug-ins using a drop-down menu in the Display tab of the Pro Tools Preferences window. You could choose between four options. Flat List, listed the plug-ins in alphabetical order; Category was the system used in v6.7, where the list was organised by function into categories such as EQ and Dynamics; Manufacturer arranged your plug-in list according to who made the plug-in, so all your Waves or Digidesign plug-ins would appear in a group; Category & Manufacturer combined the two options above into one menu list, with the categories first and the manufacturers underneath.

There were a whole raft of new features in Pro Tools 6.9 most of which are specific to the TDM version. Digidesign added support for the new Icon D-Command control surface and new capabilities for Icon D-Control systems such as inline console emulation, new automation features and more. The new EQ III plug-in was bundled as standard, while Pro Tools 6.9 improved integration with third-party sound library managers on Windows XP and incorporated a ‘Send to DigiDelivery’ command to facilitate collaboration through Digidesign’s file delivery system.

 Digidesign Icon Surround Panner

2005 – Pro Tools 6.9.3 – This Surround Panner module featured an integrated 640×480 colour LCD touchscreen, two touch-sensitive joysticks, six mode buttons for each panner, direct control over panning and divergence via the touchscreen. ICON operators could use the touchscreen to enter snap automation moves or place sounds with touchable on-screen speaker icons. Surround Panner included two encoders, which featured 15-segment LED rings. In addition, a new AutoGlide function panned sound automatically from one position to the next.

 Digidesign Icon D-Command

2005 – D-Command, the little brother of D-Control came on the market. The base model had 8 faders, the extension offers another 16. The D-Command was designed to provide similar functionality to the D-Control, but in a smaller unit at a lower cost. It retained the basic elements, such as dynamics and EQ sections, monitoring, channel strips, XMON and so on, but provided fewer physical controls. Unlike the D-Control, the D-Command Main Unit included eight faders. An optional D-Command-specific Fader Module provided a further 16 faders, to give 24 in total, but you could only use one Fader Module with each D-Command Main Unit.

Digidesign-Mbox-2-Front-and-Rear.jpg

2005 – Mbox 2 – The Mbox 2 was developed from the ground up, exclusively by Digidesign, with newly designed preamps and new A/D and D/A converters. The Mbox 2 offered many of the same input and output options as the original Box, with a few important changes. First of all, Mbox 2 added MIDI so that using a keyboard controller, external sound module, or any other MIDI device no longer required another interface. The integration of MIDI also meant that you were less likely to run out of USB ports if your computer has only two.

While the original Mbox was meant to stand in a vertical position, Mbox 2 let you position the unit vertically or horizontally. Mbox 2 came with two faceplates, which could be quickly swapped using the included hex wrench. One faceplate featured a large handle that made the unit easier to carry. When Mbox 2 was positioned horizontally, the handle tilted the unit up toward the user for easier access and in the vertical position, the handle added stability. The second faceplate had a smaller rubberised grip that let you place Mbox 2 flat on a desktop and reduced the space you needed.

Like the original Mbox, Mbox 2 offered 48V phantom power with input selectors to choose between mic, line, or direct instrument inputs. Mbox 2 also added a built-in pad button to attenuate hot signals by 20 dB.

While its predecessor allowed only two inputs at a time, Mbox 2 offered four — two analog and two digital. That meant you can route in the signal from an external source with digital outs and still record any combination of two guitar, vocal, keyboard, or other tracks — all at the same time.

 Digidesign Pro Tools 7 Features.

2005 – Pro Tools 7.0 – This version brought support for Apple’s PCIe G5 and the new Mbox2 interface on Pro Tools 7.0LE.

Digidesign introduced a new ‘.ptf’ file format with Pro Tools 7.0, which wasn’t backwards compatible with the previous session format. The new V7 format was the first time that there was one consolidated Mac and Window format that made the PC/Mac compatibility tick box obsolete. To maintain backwards compatibility, Pro Tools 7 could still open older Sessions, and there was an option to save Sessions in a ‘version 5.1-6.9’ compatible format, if you needed to, as that was the only way to open PT7 sessions on older versions of Pro Tools.

The Fader range was fixed at the +12dB level and support for up to 10 sends per audio channel (split into two blocks of five was added. There was support added for up to 160 inputs and outputs for audio tracks at 96kHz.

Pro Tools 7 didn’t look much different from version 6 with the only major change being a reworking of the menu organisation, so rather than having dedicated menus for MIDI and Movie operations, along with track-related commands in the File menu, there were three menus labelled Track, Region and Event in Pro Tools 7.

The Track menu contained commands for creating new tracks, deleting and grouping, along with other track-related functions like Split Mono and Make Inactive. Similarly, the Region menu contained Region-related commands, and the Event menu was where you’ll find most of the commands for manipulating MIDI and Tempo Events that were stored in the MIDI menu in previous versions. Many of contextual menus were cleaned up in a similar way.

Whilst the visual changes in PT7 were minimal, once you started working with the application, there was enhanced functionality in almost every area. For example, the Duplicate Track command now had options for choosing how many copies of the selected tracks could be made and which settings could be duplicated to the newly created tracks. The Show/Hide List became the Track List, with extra options that organised the List in track-type order, by groups, name etc. One other user-interface improvement was the inclusion of ‘tooltips’ and a further numerical upgrade was that PT7 Sessions now supported up to 999 memory locations, up from 200.

Pro Tools 7 brought a single integrated region list for audio and MIDI Regions. This meant that region list commands, such as Find, with its new Find History operations, no longer discriminated between MIDI and audio regions.

Pro Tools 7 also introduced a new type of Region called a Region Group.  which made handling blocks of tricky edits that you wanted to keep together, it reduced the possibility to lose regions as you moved content around. The advantage over Consolidate is that you could ungroup the Region Group and revisit the edits even if you had edited the region group.

Instrument tracks made their first appearance in Pro Tools 7. In previous versions of Pro Tools, you needed both a MIDI track and an Auxiliary Input track to handle the growing number of virtual instruments. The new Instrument track consolidated the MIDI and audio track functionality into one track that accepted a MIDI input and provided an audio output.

Instrument tracks appeared on the Edit window as if they were MIDI tracks, The MIDI Input was specified in a new Instruments View, available on both the Edit and Mix windows. The Instrument View also contained a MIDI meter that showed MIDI data being played on that track or being recorded.

2005 – Avid acquired Wizoo – Digidesign spent $5 million in cash on the acquisition of Wizoo Sound Design, GmbH, headquartered in Bremen, Germany. Wizoo was a developer of virtual instruments, sample libraries, and real-time effects led by keyboardist, sound designer and author Peter Gorges, Steinberg Media Technologies co-founder Manfred Ruerup, and film composer Hans Zimmer. Wizoo-branded products included Darbuka, Latigo, and WizooVerb. At the time, Avid Vice President and General Manager of Digidesign Dave Lebolt said…

“By bringing on board the creative vision of founder Peter Gorges and his team, we plan to deliver powerful integrated synthesis and sampling instruments that provide the highest levels of quality and reliability for music creation, post-production and sound design. In addition to the great products Wizoo currently offers, we look forward to delivering new products for the Pro Tools platform that will be equally as ground-breaking as Turbosynth and SampleCell were earlier in our history. The addition of the Wizoo R&D team’s expertise will allow us to continue to drive innovation, creativity and unique capabilities on the Pro Tools platform, maintaining its lead as a creative standard in the industry.”

Wizoo-branded products continued to be distributed worldwide through Digidesign’s M-Audio business unit with all future products branded and distributed by Digidesign. The result of this acquisition was the creation of Advanced Instrument Research (AIR) as a development arm of Avid to create virtual instruments and plug-ins for Pro Tools.

 Digidesign Pro Tools HD PCIe cards

2005 – Pro Tools | HD PCIe – Apple changed to PCIe slots in their G5’s in late 2005, and many PC manufacturers changed over around the same time. PCIe used a smaller connector type than PCI and PCI-X. As a result, Digidesign launched the PCIe version of Pro Tools HD cards. The new HD Accel Core featured accelerated DSPs such as the PCIx Series Accel Cards. In essence, there was no performance improvement from the Accel PCIx cards, it was a format change so that Pro Tools HD hardware could be installed in computers with the PCIe buss.

 Digidesign Pro Tools 7.2 Features

2006 – Pro Tools 7.2 – Version 7 was the big user interface overhaul, and was largely aimed at music composition users. 7.11 added native support for Intel Macs, the beefed-up Music Production, DV Toolkit 2, and the Hybrid & Xpand! Instruments. Version 7.2 added a large array of new things, but the biggest single theme was a suite of high-end mixing and post-production features. It was an HD only release and was particularly useful if you had an Icon controller.

The track grouping system, which has not changed for several years, was given a makeover in 7.2. There was an entirely new Groups dialogue, which appeared when you created a group, and also when you chose the new Modify Groups command with three new tabs: Tracks, Attributes and Globals. Alongside the redesign of the existing group system came a whole new way to control grouped tracks: VCA Master faders, an idea borrowed from analogue mixing consoles. A VCA Master fader was assigned to an existing mix group from the standard output selector. All the faders in the group then responded to the VCA Master as though it was a track in the group, but with some important differences. Firstly, the rest of the tracks would no longer affect each other when moved and used the VCA Master to set the overall level. The Master has Mute, Solo, Record Arm and Input Mode buttons, which controlled the same buttons on the grouped tracks intelligently.  On D-Control and D-Command, all VCA Master faders could be accessed in the centre section as part of the Masters custom group. Another feature was the ability to immediately summon all the members of a VCA Master’s group to appear in the Custom Faders area.

The Tracks tab, let you add or remove tracks, which up until then had been very fiddly. Panners could now be linked, whereas, until v7.2, they were always independent of groups. Send windows gained a new FMP button (Follow Main Pan); which was especially useful when setting up headphone mixes, alternate mixes, or stereo effects sends.

Pro Tools 7.2 introduced the option to store, view and edit Trim automation data as a separate Automation Playlist. It used the same display concept as the VCA Master Faders, with the resultant fader moves of the original and trim graphs drawn as a yellow graph. The Trim automation could be suspended, allowing you to A/B the original and trimmed versions. This was a major step forward from the previous destructive Auto Trim feature.

Pro Tools 7.2 was the first version of Pro Tools to make proper use of two-button mice by adding contextual menus accessed by right-clicking. For example, groups could be deleted by right-clicking in the Groups list, a task that was previously a real pain. There were over a dozen different places in the GUI that would now respond to right-clicks. As well as accessing various existing commands, right-clicking accessed some new functions, such as the ability to change I/O and buss names directly from the mixer.

The most notable change in editing capabilities was a much greater degree of flexibility when editing sections that included fades. Now, you could move or nudge a Region that was crossfaded with another, and the fade was recreated at the new boundary. Similarly, you could trim a Region in or out and fade ins/outs were kept at the new Region edges. You could even pick up and move fades, or nudge them.

A new free plug-in package was released at the same time as 7.2 called Signal Tools that was a metering system split into a stereo version called Phase Scope, and the multi-channel Surround Scope. Level metering could be switched between most of the formats you could think of, like Peak, RMS, Peak+RMS, VU, Venue (the Digi live console), and PPM (BBC, Nordic or DIN). Both the stereo and surround versions featured a standard -1 to +1 phase meter for measuring phase across the left and right channels, or any two selected surround channels. The stereo plug-in featured a Lissajous scope display, while Surround Scope had a standard surround ‘jellyfish’ display. I remember these plug-ins with mixed feelings as the BBC PPM was badly out of calibration under reading by around 4dB!

Pro Tools 7.2 supported multiple video tracks, although only one could be active at a time. Video tracks could now be edited in the same way as audio. Audio tracks could be edited at the same time as video, and you could even make Region groups that included both. Video tracks also now had the same multiple-playlist functionality as audio tracks, so you could store any number of different versions of the video.

When working against a Quicktime movie, the video display updated correctly as you performed audio edits. You could also resize the movie window freely, so you could fill a whole monitor with the video if you wanted. Finally, you could now play Quicktime movies through Avid video hardware, which made it much easier to move a Session to a studio using a Pro Tools system equipped with the AVoption V10 or Mojo peripherals.

 Digidesign Mbox2 and Mbox2 Mini

2006 – Mbox 2 Pro; Mbox 2 Mini – The new Mbox 2 Pro was the first portable Pro Tools interface that connected to the host computer via Firewire rather than USB. As a result, users got more I/O, a phono preamp and word clock support among other bonuses.  Digidesign reinstated the combo sockets from the original Mbox for the mic/line inputs and repositioned the DI inputs to the front panel. Digidesign maintained the separate monitor output that they introduced on the Mbox 2 and brought back the proper separate line outputs that the original Mbox and they also multiplied, giving the Mbox 2 Pro six analogue outputs.

The number of simultaneous inputs increased from four on the Mbox 2 (two analogue and two digital) to six (two mic/line, two line and two digital), with the MIDI In and Out sockets introduced with the Mbox 2 retained. A nice ‘pro’ touch was the addition of external word clock sync, both in and out.

The two extra line inputs (3/4) offered a choice of connectivity. You could use the conventional TRS balanced jack inputs, but the M Box 2 Pro also included an RIAA phono preamp, with two phono sockets for connecting a turntable. You selected the phono preamp by pressing the Phono button on the front panel to the right of the Aux input level. Digidesign thoughtfully included an earth terminal, which most turntables need to stop them from humming.

 Digidesign 003 & 003R interfaces

2007 – 003 and 003 Rack – The Digidesign 003 family replaced the 002’s predecessor and brought better converters. Like the 002, the 003 combined a multi-channel audio and MIDI interface with an eight-fader control surface, while its rackmount sibling included the interface without the control surface. The 003 range followed the Mbox 2 Pro and included word clock in and out ports.

Digidesign introduced the second headphone output into the 003 family. The two headphone outputs normally mirrored outputs 1/2 in Pro Tools and were independent of the monitor outputs, but the second headphone output could mirror outputs 3/4 when the ‘3/4-HP2’ switch was selected. Both headphone outputs could be fed with the Aux In signal when Aux In (to monitor) was enabled. The headphone outputs were not affected by the Monitor Mute switch but did follow the Mono switch.

Digidesign redesigned the mic preamps for the 003 and 003R, with the dynamic range improved by nearly 6dB and the total harmonic distortion reduced five-fold.

The 003 was designed to function as a flexible MIDI control surface for software other than Pro Tools, and its MIDI Map buttons allowed users to specify what messages its various controls sent when you put the 003 into MIDI mode. The 003 supported two different banks of MIDI Map presets, corresponding to MIDI Map buttons A and B, and you could edit, name and recall custom MIDI map presets.

The 003’s control surface underwent an overhaul with respect to its predecessor. Digidesign added a proper dual-concentric jog/shuttle wheel in addition to the 002’s ‘pseudo’ wheel, which was just a set of navigation buttons. The outer ring of the wheel was a shuttle control, which automatically put Pro Tools into Shuttle mode. The inner part of the jog/shuttle wheel was a jog control, and when rotated automatically put Pro Tools into Jog mode. In this mode, you could move the Session transport (and cursor) forwards or backwards by small amounts, enabling you to find edit points by listening. The jog control also had a couple of other functions. It could be used to bank tracks to different faders: to scroll the display of tracks on the 003. It could be used to continuously zoom in or out horizontally or vertically on all tracks.

On the 003, Digidesign the encoder indicators now surround the encoders and the meters are vertical LED bar-graphs and they added an option whereby the bar-graphs could display the automation status for each track. New controls included a Save button: with what is now the usual double press equivalent to choosing Save in the File menu of Pro Tools. Digidesign added a Mem Loc (Memory Location) switch that provided access to all Memory Locations in a Pro Tools Session and could be used to recall Memory Locations.

The new Default button could be used in conjunction with a Channel Select switch to reset a fader (or fader-mapped plug-in parameter) to its default setting, which is the same as Alt/Option-clicking a control.

Digidesign provided Write, Touch, Latch, Read and Off switches that represented the options in the Auto pull-down menu in the Edit or Mix windows. The automation mode could be set from the 003 for a single track, all selected tracks, or all tracks in the Session, and you could also suspend automation globally.

The 003 was definitely an improvement over the 002 in all areas, but it was clearly aimed at new customers who previously might have looked at the 002, rather than presented as an upgrade path for existing 002 users.

 Digidesign Mbox Micro

2007 – Mbox 2 Micro –  The M Box 2 Micro had a refreshingly minimal feature set: it provided a headphone output with a thumbwheel volume control, and that was it. The Micro was a lightweight metal device about the length of a cigarette and perhaps four times as wide, that connected to your computer via a USB 1.1 connection. You could either plug the Micro directly into a USB socket or use it with the bundled 8″ long extension lead. The Micro’s robust output level was welcomed by those who needed to work in noisy environments. It was a very cost effective entry point into the Pro Tools world as it came bundled with a copy of Pro Tools LE and those who acquired their material from a field recorder as many of my radio clients did, it was an excellent low cost and compact solution.

 Digidesign C24

 

2007 – Digidesign C24 – The new C24 replaced the Control 24. The large height, which was often criticised in the old Control 24, was significantly reduced and the new C24 was oriented more towards the hardware controllers on the market at the time.

The C24, offered 24 bankable channel strips, each with a touch-sensitive, motorised fader, motion sensitive encoder and LED ring, as well as dedicated Mute, Solo, Select, Input, Record, EQ, Dynamics, Insert, Send, Automation illuminated switches and dual-row LED scribble strip displays that let you easily keep tabs on each channel.

The C24 came equipped with a 5.1 surround analog monitor section for post-production work, and a built-in talkback mic and inputs for remote talkback and listen-back. Next came four buttons for the four edit modes in Pro Tools: Shuffle, Spot, Slip and Grid as well as buttons for Trim, Select, Grabber, Pencil and the Smart tool.

The C24’s 16 preamps boasted a frequency response that is flat within 1dB up to 100kHz, equivalent input noise of –127dBu and total harmonic distortion plus noise of 0.004 percent at 1kHz. these inputs could be switched to accept line levels or high–impedance instrument inputs too, and there was an additional eight–input line–level submixer.

The C24 has a meter bridge and the meters reflect the on–screen software meters, Just below the meters were the controls for the microphone preamplifiers, gain control, a clipping indicator. Just one button control, which cycled through Mic, Mic with high–pass filter, Line, and Line with high–pass filter, with Phantom power switched in blocks of eight preamps.

There were no fewer than 19 buttons controlling automation globally. These covered automation modes, enables and ‘write to’. ‘Write to’ takes the current values of automation parameters and writes them to other parts of the tracks, in a variety of ways — all the way to the end, for instance.