29 October 2012

Home Studio: The long walk from SONAR 7 to Pro Tools 8 - Part 2


This entry was posted on March 2009, in my old Spanish blog and, it's a continuation of the previous entry, where I've described the incredible complexity of Pro Tools installation and, my first impressions, coming from Cakewalk SONAR 7 PE.

One more related entry (also posted during 2009) will complete the "trip" from SONAR 7 PE to Pro Tools 8.0 LE.

Current Situation (at March 2009)

In my previous related entry, I've already talked about the installation issues that I've suffered while installing Pro Tools 8.0 LE. In the meanwhile, I've contacted Digidesign because I was unable to work with the audio interface Rack-003 and Cakewalk SONAR 7 PE. The answer I've received from Digidesign is: "Contact Cakewalk". What a wonderful, useful and friendly technical service!. I am impressed!.

But, as I am old cat, I already contacted simultaneously with Cakewalk. After 3 mails technically correct but, perfectly unuseful, I've received a mail that really fixed the issue. Thanks, Cakewalk!. You are slow but, at least, you attend your customers!.

So, if you have SONAR 7 PE and you want to use it with Digidesign Rack-003, be sure to unmark following option:

Options -> Audio -> Advanced Tab -> Use Multiprocessing Engine

After unflagging such an option, the Rack-003 comes back to life and it can be used flawless with SONAR 7!.
While all that was happening, I've also received my near field monitors (Dynaudio BM5A) and the headphones (Sony MDR-7509HD) and, I was able to route the monitor's output of the Rack-003 to one input in my PC's audio card.
The output level of the Rack-003 is so high that my integrated audio card delivers a very high distortion level. I had to lower the input level below a 10% in such an input and, even like this, I still have distortion.
But, ok, that's enough to route the output of Pro Tools to my multimedia speakers and check the portability of the mix.

I think that the integrated audio card (RealTek HD) is introducing interferences. In fact, I think it's even catching radio aficionado's talks. I've removed my old Creative X-Fi audio card and, as I give it as a gift to a friend of mine, I cannot go back.

My short experience with Pro Tools 8.0 LE as experienced user in SONAR 7 PE   Since I've got both DAWs properly working, with the same audio interface, I can establish some comparisons here.
First - learning curve

The learning curve in Pro Tools is higher but, I really think it worths more the time spent to learn Pro Tools in depth. There are a lock of tricks that allow you to cut, copy, paste, duplicate, loop and any other common edition need in a faster way that can be done with SONAR.

Second - the sound

Using same source material and working it both, in SONAR and Pro Tools, any possible doubt is gone. Pro Tools sounds better!. PERIOD!.

Third - plugins
Pro Tools can seem a bit weak respect of plugins, if we compare it with the big amount of plugins that are being included with the purchase of SONAR 7 PE but, the sound quality that is being obtained with Pro Tools' plugins is radically different to the one obtained with SONAR 7 PE plugins. PERIOD!.
Additionally, it's easier to tweak the controls of Pro Tools' plugins and achieve good results.
The virtual instruments sound "more professional" also, in my honest opinion.

Forth - Recording
Recording tasks are easier with SONAR. You can always to choose between to hear or not the track you are recording, even if you aren't recording. Pro Tools is a bit more complex. To hear one instrument, you should arm the track (R) and, change the option Track -> Input Only Monitoring to Track -> Auto Input Monitoring. In that case, you will hear the already recorded track until the punch spot (where you start to record) and, when the punch spot starts you will hear the direct sound of your instrument. In SONAR you are able to even hear both parts simultaneously.
Something that I don't like in Pro Tools is that you cannot control the input volume inside Pro Tools. You should control the input volume in your sound source. So, if if you have a signal level very high in you input, the results will be clipped and distorted. There is no way to attenuate the input level in Pro Tools.
SONAR has a better approach, in my opinion, allowing you to monitorize the recording level and, allowing you to adjust it with the fader control, to avoid distortion during recording. The bad thing in SONAR is that the input level becomes the output level of the track, also.

The takes are better organized in Pro Tools (Regions) and, they are easier to work than in SONAR.

Fifth - Edition
If you work with audio, Pro Tools is simply faster than SONAR for editing tasks.
It's really easy to cut and paste, duplicate regions (parts of a track) or complete tracks, to establish loops with audio files (with options as to reproduce loop until next loop, etc.). Crossfades between two adjacent regions or including all regions of a track are really easy to do (and they work really good!).

Pro Tools include 4 different edition modes and, each one is useful for a very defined task. In my opinion, it worth the time to learn each one (or at least 3 of them) to speed up your edition work.
One of the things that its driving me crazy in Pro Tools is the Tempo. In Pro Tools you can work with any kind of audio file, independently of the preset Tempo so, you can have the metronome set up to 100 bpm and, maybe you are recording parts at 190 bpm.
In SONAR, Tempo is a keystone. When you import an acidiced wav, the file will automatically converted to the Tempo of your session and, the file length will fit to the score.
Pro Tools is more complex. The acidized files doesn't convert to the Tempo of your session, by default. There are some tools that allow you to adjust the wav file to your Tempo but, they modify the pitch of the sound.
I guess there should be any other way, by example to import wav files as Ticks, instead of Audio and then, to use tools of the Elastic Time set to better control the importation of such a files but, at this moment, it is not clear for me how to do it.
Something that I like in SONAR and that I am missing in Pro Tools is the possibility to explore acidized loop, hearing them with the session's tempo. Pro Tools is playing the file preserving their original tempo so, it's quite difficult to understand if the file will suit your session or not.

Options for Midi and Score are way huger in SONAR. PERIOD!. Pro Tools is mainly focused to audio.

Sixth - Mixing

In SONAR you can create an unlimited number of tracks. That limit is only restricted by the processing capacity of your PC. In Pro Tools the maximum number of tracks depends on the version of the program that you purchased and, they are really few. Same happens with the auxiliary buses, which number is even lower. By example, Pro Tools 7.4 allows 8 stereo buses or 16 mono buses. Pro Tools 8.0 allows you 16 stereo buses or 32 mono buses. To double the number of available tracks and buses, you need to purchase some additional pack that costs a lot of money.

Anyway, the routing options (sends) of Pro Tools are more naturals and follow the pattern of studio mixing desks. Controls are more complex to understand if you come from Sonar, because the send level of each track to the bus is hidden and, you need to open the bus to adjust it.

But, overall, mixing tasks are more comfortable in Pro Tools. Like the sound is more accurate, it's way easier to achieve a good mix.

Importing and exporting files, Sonar is more versatile. It can work with more file types than Pro Tools and, it automatically readjust file's formats to your current project. You can mix files of any resolution (16, 24 or 32 bits) and any sampling frequency (22.1, 44.2, ...); Sonar automatically and transparently adapts the files to your project' settings, without modifying the original file.

Pro Tools is more restrictive, in this sense. You select the settings for your project just before creating it and, then, every imported file should be converted to suit your project' settings and, once you fixed the settings for your project, you cannot change them later. In Sonar, you can choose to change your settings at any time, going from 16 to 32 bits, without impact.
So, the way to work with files in Sonar is more advanced and flexible than in Pro Tools.

To be continued...

I am still learning the basics so, I will come back with additional info, once I am more familiar with Pro Tools.

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