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Digidesign Pro Tools 8 Review (Bonus Material)

April 7, 2009
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A FISTFUL OF PLUG-INS

With each new release of its flagship software Pro Tools, Digidesign expands the plug-in bundle. Version 8 really ups the ante by introducing a slew of new effects and virtual instruments, mostly designed by A.I.R. (Advanced Instrument Research), a subsidiary of Digidesign.

The included virtual instruments are functionally straightforward and sonically solid. Mini Grand delivers seven separate piano models you can customize extensively (see Web Clip A). Vacuum is a virtual analog synthesizer with all the controls you''d expect and then some (see Web Clip B). Xpand!2, a unique blend of sampler and synthesis workstation, comes with 1.5 GB of sonic content (see Web Clip C). DB-33 is a Hammond organ emulation you can also apply to audio tracks for Leslie effects (see Web Clip D), and Boom is a feature-laden drum machine with tons of preset patterns you can build from (see Web Clip E).

Pro Tools 8 supplies a heavy dose of new distortion and amp-simulation plug-ins (see Web Clips F and G). Bomb Factory/Tech21''s SansAmp, Digidesign''s Eleven Free, and A.I.R.''s Distortion, Lo-Fi and Fuzz-Wah are all flexible tools for finding just the right amount of grit, from subtle harmonic enhancement to downright decimation. Digidesign''s long-admired and widely used D-Fi suite comes stock with Pro Tools 8 as well.

A.I.R. also developed three new reverb plug-ins, all of which sound quite good. Non-Linear Reverb produces ''80s-style reverb effects, whereas Reverb provides more-natural-sounding rooms and ambiences. Spring Reverb does a fantastic job of emulating the spring sounds of guitar amps and some of my favorite rackmounted reverbs (see Web Clip H). My main beef with all three of these plug-ins is that there is no mono-to-stereo version, so using them as inserts on a mono track gives you only a mono output, which I found annoying.

Ditto for the delay plug-ins: there are only mono or stereo versions. Dynamic Delay allows a signal''s envelope to duck the delayed signal, which helps keep things from getting cluttered. Multi-Delay is a classic multitap delay with cross-feedback and separate panning for each of the five taps. The remaining A.I.R. plug-ins—Chorus, Enhancer, Ensemble, Filter Gate, Flanger, Frequency Shifter, Kill EQ, Multi Chorus, Phaser, Stereo Width, Talkbox, and Vintage Filter—each offer a unique way to make your tracks either stand out or blend in.

Trillium Lane Labs, yet another Digidesign subsidiary, makes a number of excellent plug-ins, four of which are included in Pro Tools 8. The automatic panning plug-in TL AutoPan moves a mono track around a multichannel (stereo to 5.0) field. TL Metro is a full-featured click-generating tool, and TL InTune is a responsive instrument tuner. TL MasterMeter gives a comprehensive picture of whether intersample digital clipping will occur in consumer digital-to-analog conversion processes.

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