The latest iteration of the industry-standard DAW, Pro Tools, is only available via subscription. So what’s right for you? Let’s find out.
It’s been a long and winding road for Pro Tools: surely the most widespread DAW in the professional studio world. Pro Tools seems to have moved with the times (back in the day, you could only use proprietary interfaces like the MBox and 002 — remember those?) and simultaneously dug in its heels (the AAX plugin format, for example).
Now, Pro Tools has gone the way of Netflix and moved to a subscription-only model. With the announcement has come a significant streamlining of the DAW’s offerings, meaning that punters have a simple choice: Artist, Studio, and Flex.
So which one should you be going for? Let’s have a closer look at each to find out.
Artist – USD $9.99/month or $99/year
As the name implies, Pro Tools Artist is aimed at the musician who is crafting productions in their home studio. That’s not to say that you can’t run a pretty sizeable live recording session, with 16 tracks of simultaneous recording inputs on offer.
Maxing out at 32 audio tracks, you won’t be using Artist to mix a symphony orchestra, but with 32 instrument tracks and 64 MIDI tracks, it can still be the hub of an expansive pop production that makes use of audio tracks and virtual instruments.
Stock Pro Tools plugins have become more sophisticated in recent years and artist gives you access to more than 100 effects across dynamics, EQ, reverbs, delays, and virtual instruments. Throw in Melodyne Essential and you’ve got a pretty substantial package for a (relatively) modest financial investment.
Studio – USD $31.99/month or $299/year
If you’re ready to move up to the big leagues, Pro Tools Studio represents a significant jump in session horsepower. The limitations of Artist might curtail the mixing ambitions of aspiring engineers, but the shackles are well and truly thrown off in Studio.
With 512 audio tracks, 512 instrument tracks, 1024 MIDI tracks, and support for the Carbon interface, there’s enormous capability under the hood. Plus, with 128 aux and VCA tracks, and 64 master tracks, it’s flexible enough to handle pretty much any mixing project.
There are also 64 simultaneous recording inputs, so you probably could get that orchestra in if you have the space. And though Studio has surround sound, Dolby Atmos and Ambisonic mixing capability, there’s one more step up if you’re driving truly epic post-production projects…
Flex – USD $99.99/month or $999/year
You might’ve thought that Studio covered all the bases — and it does if you’re working on a purely musical project. But if you want a Pro Tools subscription that excels in high-end post-production — as well as everything you might need in a musical situation — Flex is the answer.
2048 audio tracks! Who needs that, you might ask? Well, if all the audio and music from a fully-fledged Hollywood project is going to live in one place, you’ll be wanting as much as much grunt as possible. 64 video tracks is another headline figure here and a number worthy of consideration if you’re on a cinematic project. Flex also supports HDX and HD native interfaces for those with existing pro-level interfaces.
Yep, it’s expensive, but it definitely puts the “pro” in Pro Tools. With ExpertPlus support included, this is the system for post-production facilities where time is money.
In summing up, there’s obviously a wide range of capabilities across the three tiers. And it’s worth noting that if you sign up for an annual subscription in Artist, Studio, or Flex, you’ll get access to the Inner Circle rewards program (basically a whole load of free and discounted third party plugins).
For the vast majority of hobbyist musicians — or more serious musos and producers who are also chipping away at projects from home — Artist will cover most of your needs. Studio and Flex are thoroughly professional platforms with price tags to match.
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