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Mix Blog Studio: Pro Tools 2020.11 Boosts Performance, Adds Features

Mike Levine is loving the host of new features and the reduced strain on his CPU load in the latest Pro Tools update.

Because Avid rolls out Pro Tools updates several times a year, new features are spread out and individual updates are often relatively minor. But not always. Pro Tools 2020.11 was pretty significant. I recently updated to it, and I’ve been quite pleased with the new features.

One big surprise was the new Dark Mode. Pro Tools has had its classic look for so long that it was a bit shocking to see a new alternate GUI. I have not been a fan of the trend to dark GUIs, but I instantly took a liking to this version. I can’t explain it, but I’m enjoying it and haven’t switched back to the Classic look.

On a more substantive note, with 2020.11 Avid has now embedded Celemony Melodyne Essential into Pro Tools, which gives you some of the functionality of the higher versions of Melodyne, though most is heavily stripped down. Still, if you don’t have Melodyne, it will undoubtedly be useful. Perhaps more importantly, though, the integration of Melodyne has allowed Avid to incorporate a separate Audio to MIDI feature into Pro Tools itself, and it’s quite impressive.

All you have to do is drag any audio track into a MIDI or Instrument track, and you get a dialog box asking which algorithm you would like to use for the conversion. (Alternatively, you can copy audio and paste it as MIDI.)

You get seven seven choices in conversion algorithms, including Automatic, Universal, Percussive, Percussive Pitched, Melodic, Polyphonic Sustain and Polyphonic Decay. I’ve had impressive results both with monophonic and polyphonic conversions. As a guitar player, I love that I can use this feature to convert guitar parts into MIDI to use with synths and samplers.

Read more Mix Blog Studio: The Good Kind of Drama.

Version 2020.11 also included several other new or changed features, including a significant update of the Bounce to Disk function (now separated into Bounce Mix and Bounce to QuickTime windows). You can now bounce sessions as Dolby Atmos ADM BWF files. Also new are improved capabilities for import and export of QuickTime files.

But what has impressed me the most about 2020.11 is how stable it’s been. Until this upgrade, my Pro Tools experience (I use the native version) was dogged by way-too-frequent error messages saying, “Pro Tools has run out of CPU power.” These errors happened not only on large sessions but sometimes even when I only had a few plug-ins open and was just getting started tracking a song.

From everything I could find out, the settings I was using for Pro Tools and my computer were as they should be for maximum performance. As a point of comparison, I also use a lot of other DAWs for my work as an editor and writer, and none of them had the kind of repetitious CPU problems that Pro Tools did.

But everything changed for the better when I upgraded to 2020.11 (native), and I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance. Looking at the 2020.11 release notes, I don’t see any overall optimizations for CPU efficiency, but there is a new “Optimize Performance at Low Buffer Sizes” feature. I’ve experienced significantly better performance at all buffer settings.

Here’s an example of the differences I’ve noticed. I was mixing a relatively large session (by my standards) of 26 tracks and 34 channels, with a lot of plug-ins. Before the upgrade, I had to Freeze almost half the tracks to keep the CPU usage errors at bay, with the buffer set to its maximum size, 1024. This is on a Mac Pro, albeit a “Garbage Can” model, with 32GB of RAM.

But with 2020.11, I was able to unfreeze all those tracks and run without CPU issues. I even tried setting the buffer down to 256, which in previous versions I’ve used would have led to beaucoup problems with a session of that size. I could even adjust plug-ins in real-time without CPU errors, which would have been impossible in previous versions.

Something clearly has changed performance-wise for native Pro Tools, and I hope everyone who runs native Pro Tools experiences similar improvement. (Pro Tools 2020.12, which is basically a maintenance update is now the current version.)

I’ve not always been happy with the way Avid has managed Pro Tools, both in terms of features (or lack thereof) and customer relations, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Pro Tools 2020.11 is quite impressive.