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Hands-on with Pro Tools First

Hands-on with Pro Tools First

Manufacturers are pretty generous with their boxed add-ons these days. From sample packs to plugins to cut-down DAWs there’s usually a something in the box for you.

What if though, the interface you want doesn’t come with the DAW you want? What if you’re happy with your old interface, but you were never a fan of the software it came with or it doesn’t work or your new system? What if you want a DAW that is the stepping stone to the industry standard? What if you want to be using a DAW that will give you the experience to use the same DAW they use at Abbey Road?

You’ll want to download yourself a copy of Pro Tools First.

Pro Tools First Review

Why are we telling you about Pro Tools First?

While we are an award-winning blog, we are also a music shop, so why would we tell you about something you can’t buy from us?

Well, we want y’all to get the best from your studio, be that from supporting your coursework at college, getting your band’s EP recorded, or remixing your friend’s progressive 2-step opus. And if you’ve got the ears, but not the DAW, Pro Tools First is a great choice.

And, of course, it sounds its best when you listen through a Prism Sound Atlas and a pair of Focal SM9s! ;-)

What is Pro Tools First?

Pro Tools First is a free, cut-down version of the industry standard DAW Pro Tools. Let’s take a read of how Avid describe it: “Pro Tools | First is simple enough for beginners, yet sophisticated for experienced musicians, enabling you to quickly compose, record, edit, and mix music. Entry to the industry’s most trusted audio workstation has never been easier.”

And they’re probably right about that.

Looking at the Pro Tools feature comparison chart, you quickly realise that Pro Tools First isn’t just an overly-limited piece of software good for nothing other than letting you quickly run out of tracks and having to buy the full version.

First of all, you get 16 audio tracks that can run at up to 96 kHz and be mono or stereo, and you can work at up to 32 bit (should you, for some reason, decide you need to).

Mixing in Pro Tools First

Not only do you get 16 audio tracks, you also get 16 MIDI tracks, 16 Instrument tracks, 16 Auxiliary tracks and unlimited buss tracks. Not too shabby a haul for a free download now, is it? You also get Elastic Audio, Elastic Pitch, support for EUCON controllers such as the Avid Artist Mix, and the basic haul of plugins you want to get started, including a 7-band EQ, compressor, reverb and delay.

Limitation-wide, the biggest is perhaps the limit of 4-channel simultaneous recording – you won’t be recording the whole band at once with a multi-miked drum kit! – and with the same on the output front, you won’t be sending everything outboard to mix on a desk or through more than a couple of channels of outboard hardware. For most users of Pro Tools First though, these limitations probably won’t be an issue.

Hands-on with Pro Tools First

I’ll admit I’m a Pro Tools rookie. I started with Cubase, got into Ableton Live at version 1.5 and have stayed with that since, with occasional forays into Logic. So, while I’m reasonably happy with how a DAW works, Pro Tools was an unfamiliar environment.

Something I had been finding though, was that, when I was working in Live, I was maybe spending too much time mixing as I went, not great when you’re supposed to be in a creative frame of mind. I thought that by perhaps composing in one DAW and mixing in another, I might work more efficiently by compartmentalising the different roles. It was worth a go anyway.

I registered for an Avid account – I already had an iLok account (you don’t need a physical iLok though) so that part was covered – hit download, installed the software and opened it up.

Pro Tools First Mixer

Having not read the documentation, I was a bit alarmed as I opened the first template file and there was an error saying that Pro Tools couldn’t open the required virtual instrument. A quick apology to my pride and a read of this solved that.

The introduction to Pro Tools First pdf is actually quite an easy read as manuals go and, at 43 pages, isn’t too much of a slog.

After acquainting myself with the various menu options, I closed the software, and opened it again as a blank canvas so I could start creating the tracks I wanted on a clean slate.

While I’m by no means a master yet, what I will say is that I was recording multiple tracks through my interface, importing stems I’d produced in Live, programming MIDI parts and starting to get a rough mix on the go all within about 15 minutes.

With my background in other DAWs, I will admit I found some of the routing options and settings a bit peculiar at first – I would expect to route individual tracks to a master, and only the master to the hardware outputs for example – but you get used to it fairly quickly.

All in all then, Pro Tools First is not a bad little DAW at all! You can use it to get a feel for the Pro Tools environment, for some reasonably serious home recording, producing and mixing, and it’s free! Can’t say much fairer than that.

There are however, quite a few other limitations that are somewhat more inhibitory, and these really may be a deal-breaker for you, depending on what you want to do with it. If you’re on a Mac, Garageband is probably a better start-to-finish package, and Presonus Studio One Prime is another well-specified competitor. Having really only downloaded it to give it a go though, I think it might end up staying on my hard drive for a while yet…

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Red Dog Music is the UK’s friendliest musical instrument and pro-audio dealer. Between our 5000 square foot Edinburgh shop filled with an incredible range of products, and a London showroom in Clapham specialising in high-end instruments, dj and pro-audio, Red Dog Music has you covered from north to south and from performance to playback.



About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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