We reviewed Pro Tools 11 back in February of 2014 and we came away with a newfound admiration for this industry-standard application, so when Avid released version 12 of Pro Tools, we were quite interested to have another look. True to its nature, Avid packed a ton of new features and improvements into Pro Tools 12 and once again showed why people serious about audio production are serious about using Pro Tools.
Note: In this review, we are focusing on what's new in Pro Tools since our review of Pro Tools 11. For a full review of Pro Tools itself, check out our review of Pro Tools 11.
Let's have a look at what version 12 brings to Pro Tools users. We'll then have a look at what's new in version 12.3 (released in November) and what's new in version 12.4 that was just released.
New in Pro Tools 12
Pro Tools 12 brought several new features to Pro Tools users, including many in the area of I/O settings. Avid significantly reduced the complexity of creating and opening sessions with the new Dashboard dialog. (The Dashboard replaces the Quick Start dialog.) The Dashboard not only simplifies the process of creating and opening sessions, but it also presents templates in an easy-to-work-with format. All of the same options are here that you're used to in the Quick Start dialog, but they're presented in a way that we felt made more sense.
Another new addition to Pro Tools 12 is the Metadata Inspector window. The Metadata Inspector makes it easy to view and edit metadata about a session. You can add information such as the artist, contributors, and a title. Additional data points such as the tempo, bit depth, sample rate are included as well.
Other areas of improvement are in the area of I/O setup, and there are a lot of them! Of these, there are a few that we really found to make our workflow much better. First of all, you now get virtually unlimited bus paths, and you can also create sub-paths for each bus, a feature that makes bus paths more recognizable for more complex sessions. We liked the ability to create sub-paths, a feature we found particularly useful for our 5.1 mixes, and because you can save your I/O setup configuration and load it later, it's easy to have complex I/O paths within easy reach.
Monitor Path is a killer feature, and it alone is well worth the upgrade to Pro Tools 12.
Obviously, an I/O setup you have when creating a session may not exist when a session is opened later on another machine. Pro Tools 12 makes it easier than ever to recognize unavailable hardware inputs and outputs by displaying them in italics. It also highlights successful remappings by showing them in green. Identifying where a bus was previously mapped before it was remapped is also dead simple thanks to a new Previous Output Mappings column.
Another super feature that we absolutely love is the new Monitor Path feature. You configure the monitor path for the output that you use to monitor audio in Pro Tools. When you open a session that was previously configured and saved on another system, any bus that is assigned to the monitor path will be automatically assigned to the monitor path on your system, saving you from any headaches in trying to remap busses. Monitor Path is a killer feature, and it alone is well worth the upgrade to Pro Tools 12.
New in Pro Tools 12.3
Pro Tools 12.3 is a free upgrade for Pro Tools 12 users, and it includes a ton of new features. In fact, 12.3 feels more like a major version update than it does a minor update. But hey, who are we to complain about getting new features for free?
Commit Tracks and Bounce Tracks
Pro Tools is efficient at making use of system resources, but if you have a large number of tracks with a lot of effects and plug-ins, it's still possible to end up taxing resources in a session. Pro Tools 12.3 introduces the ability to commit one or more tracks (or a selection) to a new track. (Pro Tools 12.3 also introduces the ability to bounce tracks with the choice of including volume and pan automation.)
Commit Tracks creates a new audio track and you have the option of including automation, sends, and group assignments. You can consolidate clips (combine multiple clips into a single clip on the new track), a very useful feature to keep sessions clean. You can also decide what Pro Tools does with the original source tracks. They can be hidden and made inactive (a good choice if you're trying to save on resources), made inactive without hiding, deleted, or left alone.
The Commit Tracks feature is a great tool for those who collaborate with others because it allows you to commit tracks that might be using plug-ins that are unavailable to folks you are collaborating with. You can even right-click on an insert and choose Commit Up To This Insert from the menu to commit a track with only certain inserts, making the feature even more flexible.
Committing MIDI using drag and drop is so cool that each time we do it, we smile with great satisfaction. It's a feature that we now can't live without.
One other thing we have to mention. You can now commit MIDI tracks using drag and drop. Simply drag a MIDI clip to a new track and it will be committed as audio. Committing MIDI using drag and drop is so cool that each time we do it, we smile with great satisfaction. It's a feature that we now can't live without.
Configuring fades is now improved with the ability to save up to 5 presets and easily switch between them. Simply configure your fade and then Command+Click (Cntrl+Click on Windows) on the desired preset button to save that as a preset. You can save all of your fade settings to either the root settings folder or the session folder. In addition to that, the Save Session Copy feature allows you to save a copy of the session fade settings folder or the root fade settings folder along with your session.
A new Batch Fades dialog allows you to use different settings for fade in, crossfade, and fade out all within the same dialog.
Another cool new feature in 12.3 is Clip Transparency, making it easier when you're moving a clip. This feature works with both audio and MIDI clips, and it makes it much easier to make minute adjustments to clips by allowing you to see the original clip location as you're moving a clip.
There are other improvements in Pro Tools 12.3 as well, including a Default Format popup menu when creating new I/O paths, enhanced MIDI import options, and more. For a full overview of everything that has changed in version 12.3, see Avid's documentation.
New in Pro Tools 12.4
Pro Tools 12.4 just released, and it adds a Track Freeze feature that nicely rounds out the Track Bounce and Track Commit features that came with version 12.3. Track Freeze makes it incredibly easy to free up resources used by a track without committing or bouncing, and because you can easily unfreeze a previously frozen track, editing and tweaking the track and then refreezing it is a snap as well.
Just as with Track Commit, you can choose to freeze a track up to a particular insert, making it possible to free up resources used by some inserts while retaining the ability to adjust other inserts in the chain.
iPad Control with Pro Tools | Control
If you own an iPad Air or iPad Mini 2 or later, you can use the free Pro Tools | Control app to control Pro Tools from your iPad. We're not talking about some kind of cheesy, quasi-functional control like you can get from some other DAWs. We're talking some downright amazing control of Pro Tools, from tracking to mixing to punching in audio and much more. Best of all, you get a beautiful interface that makes remote control of Pro Tools the high-quality experience you demand. (Pro Tools | Control requires Pro Tools 12.1 or later.)
We were hoping to do some testing of Pro Tools | Control for this review, but we're still waiting on an iPad Air 2 to use for testing. Look for an addendum to this review after the new year with details on our experience with Pro Tools | Control. In the meantime, check out Avid's website for more details on Pro Tools | Control.
With each subsequent release, Pro Tools adds significant features that solidify its place as the industry-standard DAW for audio professionals. However, the subscription-based options also make it a viable choice for anyone who wants to produce professional-quality audio and video productions. Avid continues to impress with significant features added to minor version upgrades, features that not only give us new capabilities, but also ones that can dramatically alter our workflows for the better.
If you want to check out some of the great capabilities of Pro Tools without investing any of your hard-earned money, check out Pro Tools | First, a completely free version of Pro Tools to get you started. If you want to use some of the cool new features we've outlined in this review, go grab a free 30-day trial of Pro Tools and find out yourself how much you can accomplish with Pro Tools 12.