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Product Reviews

Avid Pro Tools Ultimate – A Real-World Review

Rich Tozzoli shares how he uses Avid Pro Tools Ultimate in the real world.

Undeniably, without Pro Tools, I could not do what I do on a daily basis. Throughout the years, it has allowed me to compose thousands of TV cues, mix countless records and 5.1 projects, and score and sound design many videos to picture.

Ever evolving, Pro Tools is now available in three flavors: Pro Tools First, Pro Tools, and Pro Tools Ultimate. The “free” version is called Pro Tools First. While you can still use First for free, you can also pay a few dollars a month to add options including Track Freeze, the ability to save an unlimited number of projects, additional Cloud storage beyond the provided 1 GB and more.

Meanwhile, Pro Tools (Standard) is $599 for a perpetual license with a one-year upgrade plan; it may also be purchased via monthly or annual subscription. Pro Tools includes 5 GB of included sounds; 60 effect plug-ins and virtual instruments; a max of 128 audio tracks/32 inputs; 128 aux tracks; 12 months of software upgrades and more.

At the top of the food chain is Pro Tools Ultimate, previously known as Pro Tools HD. This is the one I use. It allows/includes up to 192 inputs; 1,024 MIDI tracks; 512 instrument tracks; 64 video; 7.1 surround; Atmos and Ambisonics mixing; 115 included AAX plug-ins; and more than 5 GB of sounds and unlimited busses, all at up to 32-bit 192 kHz. With a one-year subscription, the monthly cost for Pro Tools Ultimate is $79.99, or $84.99 per month without the one-year commitment.

Software Tech: Is Inexpensive Pro Audio Software Over? by Craig Anderton, Sep. 30, 2019

With regard to video, Pro Tools and Pro Tools Ultimate now include 4K/UHD support, and MP4 video works much better thanks to an updated codec. Ultimate’s multichannel capabilities now include Dolby Audio Bridge functionality. (You can set the Playback Engine to the Dolby Audio Bridge.)

Like most other things in Pro Tools, there are several ways to complete a task, and everyone tends to have a unique workflow. For example, Richard Chycki (Rush, Dream Theater, Aerosmith) uses Ultimate in tandem with the Dolby Production Suite to work on his multichannel Atmos mixes. He rarely has need for a hardware renderer (the RMU), as he renders ADM WAV files via the software Dolby Atmos Renderer, which also provides real-time rendering of the Atmos mix for monitoring.

Aside from the standard mixing/editing and multichannel capabilities, one of my favorite aspects included in Ultimate (and Pro Tools) is the Avid Complete Plug-In Bundle. As a composer, these can push your rig to a whole new level because they include Dynamic and EQ, Effects, filters, emulators, reverb and delay, stompbox effects and virtual instruments. I’ve used Air Expand 2 to fatten up brass sections and layer timpani and strings. I’ve put Black Sprig (blackface-era Fender Spring Reverb) and Eleven MK II (which has 33 different amps) on a clean guitar and added subtle touch of DC Distortion (kind of like a Tube Screamer). I put Air Fuzz-Wah on a clavinet part and crushed it with a bit of Smack compression. These are not just “throw in” plug-ins—they are immensely useful and spur on sonic creativity.

Avid Launches Pro Tools 2019.5, May 10, 2019

There are a few extra small but important details that I’ve noticed when working with Ultimate. I like that it lets me name tracks faster with the “Name” field in the New Track dialog (that saves a lot of time!), as well as the ability to create or delete tracks during playback. Since I work quite fast, my favorite is the ability to add plug-ins while the track is playing. (Thank you, Avid!) You can also highlight a clip and use the Avid plug-ins to apply dynamics, EQ and so on to that clip. This is very useful because it’s applied in real time and can be tweaked like a plug-in.

As an in-the-box mixer since the earliest days of Pro Tools, I can definitively say that Ultimate is a refined piece of professional software. It can cover virtually every piece of ground in the world of mixing, editing, composing and multichannel production, and do it with an all-in-one solution.