(sonicArts) pro tools intro

Pro Tools and DAWs

Unlike stereo audio editors, Pro Tools is an example of a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Pro Tools relies (mostly) on non-destructive processing and mixing. The program allows for multiple sounds to be used at once by reading from the multiple sound files, applying gain changes as indicated by mix commands, and applying processing through plugins. When you have completed a mix (or at any stage along the way), you “bounce” your project to stereo, which mixes and applies all processing to the individual tracks.

Since a DAW project has a more complex organization of files than a stereo audio editor, and a more complex set of preferences and setup, it is important to understand setup and file organization for a DAW project.

First Step – Preferences

Open Pro Tools. Once the program has finished loading, open File | Preferences…, and select the Processing section.

Everything that we need to check is in the Import section. Select

  • Convert Imported “.wav” Files to AES31/Broadcast Wave.
  • Automatically Copy Files on Import
  • Convert Copied Files to Session Format

Do not select “Don’t convert Sample Rate on Import. Also, choose either No Files or REX and ACID Files only for “Drag and Drop from Desktop Conforms to Session Tempo.”

Finally, set Sample Rate Conversion Quality to TweakHead (Slowest).

Choosing the above options will make sure that any audio file in use by your project has a copied stored in your audio files folder for the project, and that all your files have been converted to the same sample rate and format using the best quality possible.

Setup Options

Once you’ve set your preferences, you should check to make sure Pro Tools is using the correct hardware and input/output (I/O) setup. In the lab, the settings should be correct for you, but people always seem to make changes.

From the Setup menu, choose Hardware…. The mBox 2 should be the hardware selected for use.

From the Setup menu, choose Playback Engine…. The top choice should match your selection in the Hardware setup. (my picture was taken without an interface connected and doesn’t show an mBox.)

Under settings, you should match may choices:

  • H/W Buffer Size: 1024 Samples
  • Host Processors: 2 Processors
  • CPU Usage Limit: 70%
Smaller H/W buffer sizes have less latency (delay between action and audible result), but increase the CPU load. Host processors tells PT how many processors to dedicate to its tasks. The iMacs in the lab have four processors. You need to leave at least one CPU for other program tasks, but I find that my computer runs more smoothly overall if I allow for 2 processors for the rest of the computer and 2 for PT. The CPU limit should be in the 70% range, so that the operating system can also function while you are running PT.

Opening/Saving a project

When you create a new project you select the sample rate, bit resolution and file format for the project. For now, choose 44.1 kHz as the sampling rate; 16 bit as the resolution, and BWF (Broadcast Wave Files) for the file format. Once you ok these selections, you will be asked to name your project. Although your project is blank at this point, Pro Tools must allocate files and folders when you begin work. The name you select will become the name of a folder containing your project files and folders. You will have an Audio Files folder, the data file (with the same name as the project folder), a Session File Backups folder, and a WaveCache.wfm file (speeds up the drawing of waveforms on the screen). In the picture below, the folder originalSounds is a folder that I added to the project that contains my original sound files (normalized in this case). By keeping the original files in the same folder I will simplify backing up the entire project, only having to copy one folder (the parent project folder).


Pro Tools has two main windows: the edit window and the mix window. You may also see a floating transport window. The edit window has your tracks (nothing showing at first) showing horizontally like an audio editor, with waveform representations for each track. The edit window also has a Clips pane to the right that shows the audio files that have been imported into the project and any clips made from those files.

You can close the transport window and incorporate the transport tools into the top of the edit window by clicking the top-right triangle button and choosing transport from the drop-down menu.

The Mix window shows a virtual mixer, with individual channel strips for each track. You can switch back and forth between the edit and mix windows with CMD-= (command equal).

To use audio files in a PT project, you must import them into the project. The easiest way to do this is to drag them (multiple files are ok) from your desktop into the Clips window pane. PT will copy the files to your project’s audio files folder, converting their sample rate, bit resolution, and file type if necessary.

More will follow…


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