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5 Tips for Audio Recording Hard Drives

Hard drives are hard.

hard disk drive with Pro Tools logo as the platter

You want to record audio in the modern age? You don’t have a Zildjillion dollars to be able to record to tape? Even so, it all ends up digital. You need some hard drives.

Five Audio Recording Hard Disk Drive Tips

Hard disk drives aren’t all the same. Picking out the right one can be tough. Here are some things I’ve learned — sometimes the hard way.

1. Heed the DAW makers’ suggestions.

If AVID says that Pro Tools doesn’t support it, don’t expect it to work. Legit DAW makers will post the system requirements for their software/hardware. Look them up. Follow their recommendations and instructions. Spoiler: You’re probably going to have to spend more than you had planned for.

2. Faster is better.

A faster drive means it read/writes faster. And faster read/writes means more tracks and/or higher quality.

Traditional hard disk drives have platters that spin. A hard disk drive that spins at 5200 rpm really isn’t fast enough — it’s like red-lining a Geo Metro. 7200 rpm is better. 10,000 rpm better still.

And then there’s flash drives, which are way faster than hard disk drives.

There are also seek times to consider, for which lower numbers are better. Seek time is the baseline amount of time in milliseconds that it takes for a drive to fetch data.

I have found that drive manufacturers don’t always make these stats readily available. When in doubt, assume the drive doesn’t meet spec (because it likely doesn’t).

3. Data interfaces matter.

Hard drives have come with lots of data interface flavors: PATA, SATA, USB (1, 2, 3), FireWire (400, 800), Thunderbolt, Ethernet, and some are even wireless. The data interface dictates bandwidth, which roughly translates to how many tracks you can record at once and how much latency your playback will suffer. More bandwidth is better, which translates into better recording and mixing experiences. Again, check your DAW maker’s system requirements and choose the drive with the fastest and most forward-compatible data interface.

Also make sure your computer can handle the data interface type you’re choosing. And find out if the data port you intend to use on your computer is sharing a bus with any other peripherals in your computer. That can adversely affect your bandwidth, causing a data bottleneck.

4. Bigger isn’t better.

For tracking and mixing, you don’t necessarily need a 3 TB drive. (Unless, of course, you’re recording a 10-piece prog-rock group with 40 minute “works” at 32-bit 192kHz.) Save the big, slow drives for backups and archiving. Use smaller, faster drives for works in progress. If you have more than one project going at a time, consider using a small drive for each project, so the different project files are not interleaved with each other on the drive. This will speed up read/write times, as the drive will not be jumping around on the platters trying to find the files for the current session. This also saves money, since really fast and really big drives are expensive.

5. Always have a backup.

Have a backup plan, because hard drives fail. All the time. More so than any other part of a computer. Make sure to always backup your work after every session, whether recording, editing, or mixing. And make sure you have an extra drive ready in case one goes down during a session. I can’t stress this enough. Millions of ones and zeros (i.e. your priceless recordings) can go poof at any time — and there’s never a right time for that. Buy more hard drives. Make backups like a chronic. Sleep well.

Coda

So there you have it: my top five hard drive tips. Comment below to let me know what you would add to the list.

And enjoy some “Tainted Love” made with old hard disk and floppy disk drives…

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FIX: Waves Preferences “Don’t ask me again”

Make that Waves Preferences pop up dialog window go away forever WITHOUT having to uninstall and reinstall your plugins.

The Problem

After doing a fresh install of Pro Tools and my Waves plugins, this Waves 9.2.100 Preferences dialog window (pictured below) kept popping up every time I fired up Pro Tools.

screen grab of Waves 9.2.100 Preferences dialog window

Checking the “Don’t ask me again” checkbox didn’t seem to be working.

I searched for some solutions on the Google machine and found some forums were recommending a complete uninstall and reinstall of all Waves plugins. This didn’t seem necessary. Here’s the fix I used:

The Fix

  1. Quit Pro Tools.
  2. Trash the entire Waves Preferences folder. The folder is located in the Preferences folder in your user Library folder, not your system Library folder. A quick way to locate the folder is to switch to the Finder and hit Shift+Command+G. A Go to Folder dialog window will pop up. Copy and paste the following line in that field and hit enter.
    ~/Library/Preferences/Waves Preferences

    Put that folder in the trash and empty the trash.

  3. Start Pro Tools.
  4. A window should pop up asking you to select the Waves 9.2 Plug-Ins folder. By default, it should be located in the Waves folder in your Applications folder.
    /Applications/Waves/Waves Plug-Ins

    Once you’ve located the folder, click Open.

  5. The Waves 9.2.100 Preferences dialog window should pop up again. The “Don’t ask me again” box should be checked. If not, check it and hit OK.
  6. To test if everything worked, quit Pro Tools and start it again. The Waves dialog window shouldn’t reappear.

About the Fix

I adapted this solution from a somewhat unrelated problem I found on Sweetwater Sound’s SweetCare Knowledge Base. The fix definitely works for the following system set up. YMMV

  • OS X Mavericks 10.9.3
  • Pro Tools 9.0.6
  • Waves 9.2.100 plugins

Please leave a comment below if this helped you or not.

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FIX: You are opening the application “Pro Tools” for the first time.

There’s a first time for everything. This is not one of those times.

Blame it on entropy or whatever. Things get messed up. Apple’s OS X is no exception.

In the last few months, I started getting this error a lot:

screen grab of an OS X alert dialog box

You are opening the application ”Pro Tools” for the first time. Are you sure you want to open this application?

Except, it’s not true. I open Pro Tools nearly every day. The alert isn’t very important, but it was beginning to get annoying seeing this pop up every time I wanted to record.

So, a little googling and I found an answer on StackExchange. It involves using the command line on your Mac, which can be a bit scary if you’ve never done that before. But it’s a single command, so you should do just fine. Here’s the quick and dirty summary…

Terminal application icon

This is where the Matrix is on your Mac. There’s no green falling code or woman in the red dress. There may Agent Smiths lurking though.

The Fix

  1. Open the Terminal application (found in /Applications/Utilities/).
  2. Copy the following command (all of it… the whole long line) and paste it after the prompt.
  3. /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.framework/Versions/A/Support/lsregister -kill -r -all local,system,user
  4. Hit the Enter/Return key.
  5. The process will begin. It may take a minute or two to finish. Do not quit the Terminal application while the command is running.
  6. Eventually the process will complete and another prompt will appear. Now you can quit the Terminal app.

This command resets all of the first run warnings. So any application that requires that will be reset. So you should see the alert one more time for each of those applications and then it will go away for good.

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Export MIDI from GarageBand

GarageBand likes to keep MIDI data hidden and inaccessible. Here’s how to extract it anyway.

GarageBand icon with MIDI cable superimposed

Apple’s GarageBand makes it relatively easy to sketch out an audio demo, but it does have some severe, intentionally-crippled limitations.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of built-in support for exporting MIDI data.

Performances are stored inside the session file in some sort of MIDI fashion, but Apple doesn’t give users an easy way to get that information out. Major bummer. *looks west towards Cupertino, squints eyes, shakes fist in air, mutters under breath*

However, a nice guy named Lars Kobbe has put together a workaround/hack that extracts MIDI data from the reluctant clutches of GarageBand. You can download his GB2MIDI Apple droplet script from his site: MIDI-Export in Apples Garageband. Here’s the direct download: GB2MIDI.ZIP

The article is in German, but instructions in English are found near the bottom of the article (just before the comments section). Getting the MIDI data out involves several steps. Here’s my summary of the process.

How to Extract MIDI Data from GarageBand

  1. Join (Command-J) regions of a track you want to export
  2. Convert that region to a loop via Edit > Add to Loop Library (NOTE: In GarageBand 10.1.0 this menu item is now located under File > Add Region to Loop Library )
  3. Find the newly created loop file (an .AIF with MIDI data hidden inside it) in the folder: Macintosh HD (or whatever your system drive is named)/Users/(your home folder)/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
    or the abbreviated: ~/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
  4. Drop that .AIF file on Lars’ GB2MIDI droplet
  5. Grab the freshly extracted .MID file, which should appear in the same folder where the .AIF loop was. If not, see the comment section below.
  6. Import the .MID file into a respectable DAW (basically almost anything other than GarageBand).
  7. Make next hit record.

That last step is optional, but I say go for it. 😉 Let me know if this helped you.

Locating The Files

UPDATE 2014-08-10

If you’re having trouble locating the loop file, it may be because your Library and/or Users folders are hidden, as later OS X versions have been wont to do.

To unhide the Library folder, open the Terminal application, which is found in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder. At the prompt type the following:
chflags nohidden ~/Library/

To unhide the Users folder, type this into Terminal:
sudo chflags nohidden /Users
Then enter your administrator password.

Look for the newly unhidden Users folder in your hard drive’s root folder. It should look something like this:

screenshot highlighting location of User folder

After running “sudo chflags no hidden /Users” you should see the Users folder (highlighted in red in the image above) appear under the root folder of your hard drive (often named “Macintosh HD” by default).

For more on the hidden Users folder issue check this article from The Mac Observer. It seems the problem was introduced with iTunes 11.2 when Find My Mac is enabled. Another blog suggests that updating to iTunes 11.2.1 fixes the issue.

GarageBand Alternatives

UPDATE 2016-02-04

This GarageBand MIDI article has regularly been one of the most popular posts on my site. That means there are a lot of people using GarageBand and discovering its unfortunate MIDI limitations. The best bit of advice I can give to any musician or audio engineer still using GarageBand is STOP. I know that may sound harsh, but GarageBand is intentionally made to be consumer-grade software. If you’re serious about recording, take the time to investigate other DAWs. Find an alternative solution. There are many to choose from and nearly every one of them is less limited than GarageBand. They range from super affordable to “professionally priced.” Here’s a list to get you started. (Some links are affiliated.)

Pick any of the DAWs above (or find another — this list is by no means exhaustive) and you’ll find it much easier to work with MIDI. Let me know what software you chose.

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FIX: Pro Tools “You do not have appropriate access privileges (-5000)”

Oh, yes, you do!

A friend gave me a Pro Tools session on a thumb drive. I copied the entire session folder to my external hard drive and opened it. After changing the routing to work on my system, everything played back fine. Then I tried to clean up the session.

Every time I attempted to cross fade or consolidate an audio or MIDI region, I would get an error like this:

screen shot of a Pro Tools error dialog

“Could not complete your request because You do not have appropriate access privileges (-5000)…” Why do you build me up, Buttercup? Capitalize ‘You,’ then award me negative five thousand points…pssh.

The Fix

Seeing the “access privileges” bit, I figured the problem was probably an operating system issue, not a Pro Tools thing. The session files were indeed set to ‘Read Only,’ which is why I could play back the session, but couldn’t do anything to the regions or fades.

Here’s how to fix the issue.

  1. Close the session. You shouldn’t have your Pro Tools session open while changing its permissions.
  2. Select the session folder in Finder. Make sure the session folder is highlighted, not the files inside the session.
  3. Get Info. Hit Command-I (capital i) or from the Finder menu select File > Get Info. An Info window will pop open.
  4. Change all privileges to ‘Read & Write.’ At the very bottom of the Info window is a box with a list of users and their privileges. They should all be set to ‘Read & Write.’ You may be asked for user password to unlock and verify the change.
    screen shot of Sharing & Permissions file metadata

    Not listed are NSA permissions, which by default are set to ‘Collect All,’ but, like, totally isn’t a violation of your privacy.

  5. Close the Info window. After making the privilege changes, try reopening your Pro Tools session and editing some regions. If you can, this fix worked for you.

Why does this error occur?

Many common problems that Macs develop are related to file permissions errors. Files are given various permissions to maintain privacy between computer users and prevent users from easily messing up the operating system.

Permissions can get wrecked when disks are removed without being ejected and during unexpected shut downs. That’s why it is important always to try to eject disks and shut down your Mac properly.

Permissions can also get messed up during copying and moving of files or while installing software. That appears to be why I experienced this error. During the copying of the files, the permissions were never changed to grant me access. Simple problem, simple fix.

UPDATE 2013-10-30

After encountering this problem on several other sessions, I tried another method and found a better (and probably more proper) solution. Try this in addition to or instead of the above fix:

In the problematic Pro Tools session, pop open the Disk Allocation dialog (Setup > Disk Allocation…).

screenshot of the Setup menubar item in Pro Tools 9

When the dialog window opens, you’ll be presented with a list of all the tracks in your session and the location where that track should be located. If you’re having problems creating fade files and getting the sort of error that brought you to this page, then you’ll probably see something like the picture below.

screenshot of the Disk Allocation dialog window in Pro Tools 9

As you can see, not all of the tracks had their disk allocation pointing to the right place. To fix them, select all of the incorrectly allocated tracks, then click and hold the little up/down arrows on the right hand side. A little window will appear and ask you to select a folder. In my case, the session file was looking on my internal system drive instead of my external audio drive. Choose the correct location of your session files and click OK. That should solve the issue. Let me know if this worked for you.

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FIX: Pro Tools An unexpected authorization error 14051 occurred.

This might be the solution.

Screen shot of Pro Tools error dialog

Error
An unexpected authorization error 14051 occurred.
ID: ePAY : 14051 / Dngl : 1595

I got this error a few days ago. It’s a new one for me. What caused this? Good question. I have no idea. Pro Tools wouldn’t really start after this.

As usual the Avid forums weren’t very helpful. Which led to this tweet…

For the record, at the time the error occurred I was running OS 10.8.4 and Pro Tools 9.0.6 on a Mac Book Pro with an iLok 2.

The Fix

I had to force quit Pro Tools. Then I unplugged my iLok 2 and plugged it into a different USB jack. Presto. Working again. Not sure what caused it, nor if switching USB jacks was actually the fix, but I did get it working again after doing so. Hope this helps somebody.

UPDATE

I confirmed again that switching which USB jack the iLok 2 was plugged into made the difference. I would think that this is a problem with that particular USB jack, but all other USB devices work just fine plugged in there. Hmm…

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Haas Effect Panning

A little history plus a free download of plug-in settings for Haas Effect panning.

History

A smart guy named Helmut Haas discovered a bunch of cool things about the way our human brains decode the sounds we hear to determine the direction of where those sounds originate.

Back in 1949, Mr. Haas found that early reflections of sounds help our brains decipher where the sounds came from. We can tell a noise came from the left not simply because we hear it in our left ear, but also because the sound bounces off a wall to our right and hits our right ear a very short time after it hit our left ear. Almost instantaneously, the brain detects the short time between the two signals and tells us, “Hey, that sound you just heard came from your left. Better turn your head to see what it was!” This happens so quickly that we don’t really even think about it. We just “know” it came from the left.

Haas also recognized that early reflections are basically copies of the initial sound that are delayed slightly. He started messing with people’s heads. He pointed speakers at them and firing sounds with very short delay differences. Then he asked the test subjects which direction the sound seemed to come from.

His conclusion: Not only is it fun to play with sounds, but also 40 ms (milliseconds) is some kind of magic point for our brains. If an echo is more than 40 ms after the initial sound, then we hear the sounds as separate instances. But if the delays happen within 40 ms or less of each other, then we perceive them together as merely directionality cues of a single sound.

For example, if a sound hits our right ear and the same sound hits our left ear 0.3 ms later, we don’t hear two sounds, we only hear one sound coming from approximately our 1 o’clock position.

And so the Haas effect was named after him.

Panning

Engineers have implemented the Haas effect as an alternative to panning. Most of the time panning works just fine, but it does have limits.

Sometimes panning leaves the location of the audio feeling indeterminate, smeared, mono, or one dimensional. This is why a lot of engineers skip the pan knob altogether and mix LCR.

To effectively localize a track in a stereo field using the Haas effect, engineers have to do a couple things. They duplicate the track, pan the two tracks hard left and right, and then apply a delay to only one of the sides. The delay is applied to the side opposite of the side from which the sound is intended to perceived as originating.

Typical delay times for this technique are increments of 0.1 ms from 0.1 to 0.7 ms. This yields linear movement across the stereo field. You can think of it like this chart shows.

diagram of pan knob and delay times in ms

Example: Want the sound to come from 9 o’clock on the left? Delay the right side by about 0.4 or 0.5 ms.

Download

After researching the Haas Effect, I decided I wanted to try it out in a mix. Since the settings must be very exact, setting it up correctly can be a bit confusing. Presets to the rescue!

I made these presets for the stock Digidesign Mod Delay II plug-in. These presets only work for this specific plug-in and Pro Tools. If there’s interest, maybe I’ll make more presets for other DAWs in the future.

Installation

Download this ZIP file, unzip it, and drop the folder and included presets in the Mod Delay II folder in the Plug-in Settings folder. On a Mac it’s probably located at Library / Application Support / Digidesign / Plug-In Settings / Mod Delay II, but may be in a different location on your system.

Setting up the tracks

Insert an instance of the Mod Delay II (mono/stereo) plug-in on the mono track you want to Haas-ify. Select the preset you want. No need to duplicate tracks. Bingo.

Haas Effect Panning

screenshot of Pro Tools session

Digging Deeper

Understanding how to use the Haas effect properly means you need to understand and pay attention to things like stereo-to-mono compatibility and comb filtering, as well as other stereo field mixing techniques. As with all effects, have fun but be careful not to over do it. Experiment and do your homework. Then let me know if you find learn or discover anything cool. Here’s a cool video that got me thinking about the Haas effect. This video no longer available.

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FIX: Could not complete your request because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..

Here is how I fix this Pro Tools error.

The Error

Really? A typo in the error? Grrrrr...

Really? A typo in the error? Grrrrr…

Ever get this error? Can’t open your session, right? Not only is it a major workflow stopper, but the double punctuation typo at the end is annoying as well.

Luckily, the solution is quite simple.

The Fix

This is the quick fix that works for me and my particular setup of hardware/software. Your mileage may vary.

  1. Quit Pro Tools
  2. Restart Pro Tools
  3. Open the session that wouldn’t open before
  4. Get back to work

But why?

The IT mantra “Have you tried turning if off and on again?” waves the problem away like a magic wand, but why is this problem happening in the first place?

The last time this error occurred for me, I noticed that it was after I had ejected my audio hard drive, removed my iLok, and left Pro Tools open, but put my machine to sleep before Pro Tools could issue the panic message: “Hey! Where’s your iLok, buddy?! That’s it! We’re shutting this whole thing down.” Then when I went to reopen the last session I was working on, boom, the error in question occured.

I’m guessing that between the time I ejected everything and the time I plugged it all back in and tried to fire it up again, Pro Tools had switched its default sample rate from whatever my Mbox 2 Pro says it was to whatever my MacBook Pro thinks it should be. Then when I try to open a session with a particular sample rate that doesn’t jive with what the current rate is, Pro Tools freaks out because it thought it knew what was right, but doesn’t even know anymore, man.

Disclaimer: I don’t actually know how or why the error is occurring. These are just my slightly educated stabs in the dark. If you know anything more about this error, why it happens, and, most importantly, why there’s a typo in it, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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FIX: Pro Tools Audio Device Buffer Underflowed

How to get a Pro Tools rig up and running when the error message “The audio device buffer underflowed…” won’t go away.

The Error Message

Screen captured image of Pro Tools error

The audio device buffer underflowed. If this occurs frequently, try decreasing the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine panel or remove other devices from the audio firewire bus. (-6085)

Occasionally this error pops up in Pro Tools, usually after I return from a meal in the middle of a long recording or mixing session. The session file will only playback audio for 1 second or less and then the error message pops up. Apparently, Pro Tools 9 is a workaholic and doesn’t like taking lunch breaks, at least when running on the particular combination of MacBook Pro, Mbox 2 Pro, and Western Digital hard drive that I’m using.

Following the directions to decrease the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine panel doesn’t seem to help. In fact, not only does decreasing the buffer size seems contrary to the suggested way to solve a buffer underrun, but it then sometimes throws this error message:

Screen captured image of Pro Tools error

A CPU overload occured. If this happens often, try increasing the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine Dialog, or removing some plug-ins. (-6101)

The Fix

I’ve tried a lot of things and the problem seems to be related to the hard drive and firewire ports. Here’s how I fix it.

  1. Save and Close the session.
  2. Quit Pro Tools.
  3. Eject the hard drive used for recording audio.
  4. Unplug the audio hard drive and Mbox 2 Pro (or the audio interface you’re using).
  5. Wait 10 seconds.
  6. Reconnect the audio hard drive and audio interface.
  7. Restart Pro Tools.
  8. Reopen the session and press Play.

If the session plays back without stopping, then it worked. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you, which reminds me of a “Deep Thought” by Jack Handey.

If you ever crawl inside an old hollow log and go to sleep, and while you’re in there some guys come and seal up both ends and then put it on a truck and take it to another city, boy, I don’t know what to tell you.

Hopefully this solution worked for you. Let me know if you’ve had the same problem, what hardware you are running and if this solved the problem.

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FIX: Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.

Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program. If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed […]

Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.

If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed me to jump around from my Mbox 2 Pro, Mbox 2 Micro, and MacBook Pro’s built-in sound card. This has been really handy while trying to finish up my album on the road. But, apparently, all that hardware hopping can cause the playback engine to get stuck in some funky states that don’t so work –if at all. See my previous post “FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value” for a similar issue.

Obviously, the problem has something to do with the playback engine. Since the error dialog only offers an ‘OK’ button, which closes Pro Tools, there doesn’t seem to be a way to work around the problem. There is not even a way to know what hardware Pro Tools is expecting.

Until now.

The Fix

I found a simple solution via this Sweetwater forum. The answer given there details how to get Pro Tools running on a PC, but I found that it worked for Macs too and without having to install any drivers. The fix is kind of like booting Pro Tools in safe mode. Simply hold the ‘N’ key while starting up Pro Tools. This will bypass the normal start up sequence and open up the Playback Engine window. Now you can select the correct playback engine and continue using Pro Tools.

In my situation, Pro Tools was looking for the last connected device (my Mbox 2 Pro), but since it wasn’t available it opted for the next available option: my MacBook Pro’s line input, which doesn’t make a very good playback engine.

Let me know if this fix worked for you.

Note

This problem may have been fixed in the Pro Tools 9.0.2 update that came out yesterday, though I’ve not been able look through the 9.0.2 Readme file in detail or to test this out on the updated software. I’ll update this page when I find out more. Since I still receive regular hits on this post, I’m assuming this problem is not solved yet. Maybe in a future update…

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FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. […]

Pro Tools error

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. I found several items relating to Windows and Pro Tools 8, but nothing for a Mac running Pro Tools 9. After messing around a bit I figured out the problem was with my playback engine. Here’s how I solved it. Let me know if it works for you too.

Open the Playback Engine dialog under the Setup menu item.

From the menu bar select Setup > Playback Engine… to open the Playback Engine dialog window.

Playback Engine menu item

The problem is with the Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.

By default, my current engine was set to “Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.” It’s odd that this Pro Tools would leave it that way after an installation since AVID states that it is not supported in OS X.

Select another engine

Select your current playback engine.

The fix is easy. Simply select the right playback engine. Your options may differ based on your setup.

Select your current playback engine

In my case, I usually would edit with my Mbox 2 Micro, but since Pro Tools 9 gives us so many more options for hardware compatibility, I selected Built-in Output. I was able to edit some vocal takes using my Macbook Pro’s speakers instead of pulling out my headphones. Nice!

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