A guide to different versions of Pro Tools

Knowing your HD system from your M-Powered can easily baffle the Pro Tools newcomer. So we’ve put together the following guide to make things a little clearer, and help you decide on the right Pro Tools for you.

When Avid released Pro Tools 9 back in November, it marked a major departure from their traditional product model. Pro Tools 9 removed the requirement for Avid-branded audio hardware, meaning that users can now choose Pro Tools HD hardware, a Pro Tools LE interface such as an Mbox or 002/003 unit, or pretty much any other audio interface by a third-party manufacturer, depending on what your needs are.

The majority of users have welcomed this, calling it a huge step forward in terms of opening the platform up to a wider user base. But it has also created a fair bit of confusion – especially with the arrival of the HD Native platform. Before we get stuck into Pro Tools 9 though, let’s just briefly recap the Pro Tools 8 lineup so we can see how the new versions have improved.

Pro Tools 8 HD. This version required HD hardware to run an HD core system, such as HD1, HD2 or higher. Pro Tools 8 HD supported the TDM plug-in system that utilised DSP on the cards to run plug-ins and the mixer, as well as the native RTAS plug-in format. It also supported up to 192 audio tracks and 192 channels of I/O, all in full surround.

Pro Tools 8 LE. An all-native version of Pro Tools that required an LE interface to run. It shipped with Mbox, 002 and 003 products, offered up to 32 tracks of audio and native host-based mixing (just RTAS plug-ins, no TDM). With no surround mixing, Pro Tools 8 LE lacked the timecode ruler and full synchronisation options of Pro Tools HD.

Pro Tools M-Powered. With pretty much identical software specs to Pro Tools LE, this version worked with M-Audio interfaces instead.

On top of these, there are also three expansion options:

Music Production Toolkit. An expansion pack for Pro Tools LE and M-Powered which increased the track count to 48 tracks, added half a dozen plug-ins and unlocked the MP3 export option and Multitrack version of Beat Detective, previously only available in the HD version.

DV Toolkit. For Pro Tools LE only, this expansion unlocks a collection of post-production facilities otherwise only available in Pro Tools HD, including the timecode ruler, Digibase Pro and Digitranslator OMF import/export, plus increased 64-track count.

Complete Production Toolkit. A combination of Music Production Toolkit and DV Toolkit, this essentially unlocks every feature of Pro Tools HD that is otherwise missing from LE (with the exception of any processing that requires the DSP cards), track count is increased to 128, full synchronisation features are available as well as surround mixing up to 7.1.

Improvements in PT 9

Hopefully that’s gone some way in clarifying what each former Pro Tools product is and does. Now we’ll look at the latest additions to the family, Pro Tools 9 and Pro Tools HD 9

There are now just two Pro Tools flavours – Pro Tools 9 and Pro Tools HD 9. There is no LE 9, and no M-Powered 9. Pro Tools HD 9 is the version that you need if you are using an HD Core system or an HD Native Card, and Pro Tools 9 is the version for everyone else. Pro Tools 9 will work with any core audio or ASIO-compliant sound card, including Avid’s own 003 and Mbox ranges. It does not ship free with any interface, but is rather a full priced boxed copy of the software.

A fully standalone piece of software that can work with any audio interface, PT 9 is also a lot more fully featured than Pro Tools LE, essentially including all the features from DV Toolkit and Music Production Toolkit. It can handle up to 96 simultaneous tracks, sample rates up to 192kHz, 32 channels of I/O and 256 internal buses. The Digitranslator OMF import/export option and MP3 option are included, as is Beat Detective – the full multitrack option which now has full automatic delay compensation. Also new is native support for EuCon control surfaces.


As previously mentioned, all the features of the Music Production Toolkit and DV Toolkits are included in Pro Tools 9 and therefore no longer available to buy. However, the Complete Production Toolkit (now in its second version) is still available and, as before, unlocks the remaining HD-only features, so you get 7.1 surround mixing, VCA mixing, up to 192 tracks and advanced editing tools. Complete Production Toolkit 2 also includes support for Avid’s ICON control surfaces.

Pro Tools HD

HD-wise, there’s not so many new features in Pro when compared to the changes in the native version. The surround panner has been improved, and there is variable stereo panner depth available. MP3 and Digitranslator options are included (as they are with Pro Tools 9). Perhaps the most interesting new feature is that Pro Tools HD 9 will run in full HD mode if HD hardware is present, but if not then it will run in standard Pro Tools 9 mode. The Pro Tools HD 9 licence also includes a licence for the Complete Production Toolkit which is great for HD owners who also want a portable rig, as you can move sessions to the portable system and not lose surround capabilities, VCA faders or advanced automation modes. Lovely.

Getting the right system

HD Native systems require Pro Tools HD 9. Even though there’s no onboard DSP for mixing and plug-ins, HD Native is still an HD product and comes with the same full feature set. At the moment, there are still Mboxes and 003s available that have Pro Tools LE 8 in the box. When these have all gone, the interfaces will ship with just a driver disk. There will also be versions that are bundled with Pro Tools 9, but these will be more expensive.

If you own a Pro Tools HD system, then you just need a Pro Tools HD 9 update. If you own Pro Tools LE, you can buy a Pro Tools 9 crossgrade. You will also need an iLok if you don’t already own one. If you own M-Powered, there is an M-Powered crossgrade available.

For more information, there’s a very useful table over at the Avid website where you can compare all the products against each other. You can also call our audio team for more Pro Tools 9 or Pro Tools HD 9 advice on 03332 409 306, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Rob H
Rob H
Call us: 03332 409 306

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