28 October 2012

Home Studio: The long walk from Sonar 7 to Pro Tools 8 - Part 1


Note: This is an entry that I've already posted in Spanish on February/2009. Just revisiting it, since it has some interest for people walking the same path.

After some time visiting the studio of a friend of mine, I'ver realized that, for recording, mixing and editing, Pro Tools is the way to go. Seen how he cuts, pastes, build the fadings, etc, I've realized that works way faster than myself with Cakewalk SONAR 7 Producer Edition.

One more issues is that, I am bringing my SONAR projects to studio and, then, I start to hear some low and high frequential content that I wasn't able to hear at home and, that they seem to be revealed there magically thru his monitors.

So, I made some money, selling all my guitars except for one and, y bought an audio interface Digidesign DIGI-003 Rack Factory, that includes Pro Tools 7.4 LE and, the possibility to upgrade to 8.0 LE for free.
I bought also a couple of autoamplified near field studio monitors (Dynaudio BM5A) and, a headphones to monitorize the mix (Sony MDR7509HD), that I am still waiting for.
At this point of time, I have to monitorize my work with my old multimedia speakers (Creative Gigaworks T20) and old headphones (Sony MDR-V700). Since I still didn't received everything, I am just playing with Pro Tools, trying to learn something useful. I cannot go further in mixing tasks until I have my studio monitors.

So, consider this entry as the first experiences of a Cakewalk SONAR user that tries the Pro Tool path.


Incredible complex!!!!.

SONAR is being smoothly installed. You give the installation Key and everything goes fluidly. Later, you can apply the additional patches, downloaded from Internet, that are very easy to identify, locate, download and install, with clear instructions about the requirements for each patch and what's the correct installation order.

Pro Tools needs that you create first an user account in http://www.digidesign.com/ and, that you validate the product there before you can even start the installation, therefore, if you don't have an Internet connexion, you are sold.
The installation disk comes with several folders were you have programs and additional plugins. From those, you are not clear about which of them were included in your purchase.

Every plugin has to be validated, as well. So, you need to go to your Digidesign account and look for the validation keys for each included plugin. If that plugin belongs to a third party, you will additionally need one more account in such Third Party's web, among their own validation key.

If your plugin wants an iLok key (an USB device that hijacks one of your available USB ports, just because is mandatory for Pro Tools) then, you will need to create an account in http://www.ilok.com also, and you will need to synchronize your licenses within your iLok USB key.

When you finished installing the additional software (Ignition Pack Pro 2, AIR, etc) and, you already created all the necessary accounts, then it's time to validate the upgrade to version 8.0 LE and, you have to download all the installation files from Internet.
After my first try, I've downloaded a corrupt file (after 4 hours downloading). So, I searched in Internet for some kind of Download Manager software, to better ensure the download quality and to be able to stop and resume download at any time.
Surpresively, to install the Upgrade, you must first uninstall 7.4 before. But... wasn't it an UPGRADE???.
Some of the plugins I had are now gone while new ones appeared so, the dance of licenses starts again. Damn!.

Digidesign people: please, think on the final user and make it userfriendly!!!.

Windows' sound

I've removed my old sound card, a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum, to avoid any potential issue with that Rack 003. The Rack 003 isn't being populated in the list of Windows Audio Cards so, there is no way to route Windows' sounds thru the Rack 003.
¡What a nice!.

You to Youtube and you can watch the video and hear nothing. You cannot replay music with your Windows Media Player, etc.
I've lost a lot of time looking for some alternative solution. I've read that there is certain Driver for Windows that allows to use the Rack 003 with Windows, even without installing Pro Tools.
There is the possibility to install some third party utility, that allows to add windows applications to the list of the driver so, you can add the WM Player, etc.
So... I went to Digidesign site and downloaded the driver and the software tool and, I tested both.
First issue: the standalone driver cannot be installed if you already have Pro Tools installed. Oh my God!.
Second issue: there are available drivers for version 7.4 but, there is none available for 8.0.

So..... whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat now?.

Like my PC has an integrated audio card in the motherboard, I decide to activate it and to reroute the exit of such a cart to one auxiliary input of the Rack 003.
How smart I am!. How good I feel!.
Testing, testing... NO SOUND!
Uh? eh? ah?

If you wanted to hear your auxiliary input, you should push that nice button that says "Aux In".
Ok, let me push y and... I can start to hear Windows' sound.
Nice, nice, really nice. Time to check the damn program. I can believe how smart I am. How good I am resolving problems. Starting Pro Tools....
Uh? eh? ah?

Now, I want to hear my Pro Tools session, I have to push again the button "Aux in", to "disconnect" Windows' sound.
Theoretically, If I use the button "Aux in 7-8" then, I would be able to hear the auxiliary input within Pro Tools but then, inputs 7 and 8 remain inactive for recording (not an issue in my case). I try this option and... IT DOESN'T WORK!. Once that Pro Tools gets the control, forget Windows.

Man, all this is driving me crazy!.

And, what about Pro Tools?

Comparing it to SONAR, the learning curve is way higher.
By example, to be able to ear the metronome while recording, you need to add an instrument track, inserting an instrument called Click.
The 4 different edition modes could be really useful once you have very clear how to work with each one and when to use them but, they are a nightmare if you never used something like this.
To route a track to some auxiliary bus is a child's game in SONAR, you just create a new bus when you need it and you route the track's output to such a bus and then, that bus can be routed to one more, etc.
Same thing in Pro Tools seems more cryptic, you first needs to route the track to an internal bus (and you have just 8 mono buses or 4 stereo!!!) and, from that bus to an auxiliary track that reads from that bus.

The number of maximum tracks and buses in SONAR is just limited by the processing power of your PC but, in Pro Tools, that number is being limited with the Program's version.
Even all this, I've decided to learn Pro Tools, because it seems to be the standard in Studio and, I am planning to use it to record and mix but, I think I will remain using SONAR to work with MIDI tracks and, to be able to use some of their high collection of plugins and virtual instruments.

Time to test SONAR with Rack 003


Damn!, I cannot hear any of my SONAR's projects. I planned to bounce my midi tracks in audio format to lately import them into Pro Tools and, now it seems I cannot use SONAR because the program just hangs when I try to start replaying any project.
Digidesign people: think on the final user, try to do your products more compatible!.

Revisited Final Comments

Certainly my first steps with Pro Tools were an authentic nightmare and, to install first version 7.4, uninstall it and reinstall version 8.0 probably was the wrong of the possible paths but, it seemed the natural one since what I had was an upgrade from 7.4 to 8.0.
Some time later, I had everything uninstalled and started the installation directly with version 8.0 and, avoiding to install things that I know (this time, yes) that weren't included in the pack and, everything went smoother but, as complex as mentioned above in the rest of aspects.

Also, the issue with SONAR freezing immediately after pushing the PLAY button was due to some of the many options of Sonar. After discussing it with the tech people, I was able to play SONAR projects by using the Rack 003 card.

Windows audio issues were also solved later, as soon as the fresh installation of the version 8.0 was done, the Rack 003 card was listed under the Windows Audio devices and then, everything worked flawless but, with the restrictions already mentioned above so, the windows sounds are being disconnected when Pro Tools gets control.

My second entry related to Pro Tools will talk about this things and, include a better insight between SONAR and Pro Tools differences. This current entry was the tale of a nightmare installation.

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