For people looking to get into music recording and production on a computer, for the first time, there’s a bundle that says “Pro Tools” on the box that costs correction: as little as just $99. It really is Pro Tools software; it’s certainly streamlined (some basic track limits, no multitrack recording), but still with a serious complement of recording, mixing, and effects, and even some nice virtual instruments. Beyond that, your choice is which hardware you’d like in your “value meal”:

For vocalists: The Vocal Studio has a cardoid condenser mic – that’s a USB mic you can connect directly – plus a stand and a case.

For “recording:” The Recording Studio gives you a simple 2-in/2-out audio interface so you can connect your own mic/line/instrument input.

For keyboardists: The KeyStudio is a 49-key synth-action keyboard with mod and pitch bend, plus and an audio interface (the 1-in, 1-out M-Audio USB Micro).

Correction: $99 is the price for the keyboard and vocal bundles, $129 for the recording bundle with Fast Track. (I had an early press release that said pricing was $129 for all three.)

The target readership for CDM may not be in the market for this bundle — though it is a ridiculously cheap way to add Pro Tools compatibility to your rig, if you just need to trade session files. But I know we also have a lot of readers who offer expertise to other folks. Do let us know what they think – if they’re turned on, or turned off.

See additional analysis on what the larger implications of Avid’s strategic shift may be.

If you’re a beginning user, I don’t doubt that this software will get you started. You get over 5 GB of instruments and loops, 60 virtual instrument sounds, reverb / chorus / delay / flanger / phaser / compression / EQ effects, reasonable track counts (16 audio, 8 instrument, 8 MIDI), 3 insert slots per track for “up to 3 simultaneous effects,” buses and send/return routing, and 2 simultaneous audio inputs and outputs. So you can’t do simultaneous multitrack input or surround hardware, but you’d need a different audio interface for that, anyway.

Actually, so that you can email this story to your nephew or niece who’s just starting out and considering options, let me translate to English:


This is a well-priced package that gives you the hardware and software you’d need to record podcasts, voice-over, and vocals for music (Vocal Studio), play some synths and instruments (KeyStudio), and input your guitar or instrument (Studio), and in each of them, record, edit, and produce musical arrangements. You get some virtual instruments to play with, some pre-stocked sounds, and all the editing and arrangement you’ll probably need.

It’ll run on Mac and Windows machines with modest specs (see the product page for the full details), though you will need these audio interfaces connected for the software to start. (You can’t simply use the headphone out jack on your MacBook or PC laptop, for instance, which is possible in some competitive software. The interface is effectively used as copy protection for the software.)

-Peter, speaking English

I believe that there are other ways to put together a good studio for this price, of course. There are some terrific “bargain-priced” music apps out there, actually more than I have time to use. It’s time to refresh CDM’s own budget recommendations for a variety of different kinds of users. But I actually think the presence of this option, with the “Pro Tools” name, could raise the visibility of the whole area. And since ultimately comfort with musical tools comes down to preference, the big question is whether a new user likes the Pro Tools interface and the package here.

More photos of the included gear below – nothing glamorous, but certainly not bad for the price, let alone with the software bundle.



  • radian

    SAW Studio's price gets more amusing by the day.

  • Joshua Bogart

    Maybe they should've called these packages "Amateur Tools", oh wait….that's not good marketing, nevermind.

  • JP

    Well, I think the point here is something mentioned in the post (which might be underscored): "(…) it is a ridiculously cheap way to add Pro Tools compatibility to your rig, if you just need to trade session files".

    So, for pros using Logic, Nuendo, Cubase or whatever else, is a good copatibility option. Even more, in my case, it would be a good oportunity to add a new cheap condenser mic to my (rather small, rather minimal) collection.


  • Will

    I love "Peter speaking English."

  • It happens rarely, but it does happen.

    And yeah, if you're loyal to another DAW but wanted Pro Tools file interchange, I think the VocalStudio is the way to go. $100, you get a handy USB condenser mic, and a reasonable copy of Pro Tools. Of course, in an ideal world, file exchange formats would work, but I could still see this being useful to have around.

  • Geoff Smith

    Maybe but it would be quite strange always plug a pair of headphones into a vocal mic!

  • alhogar

    So if I'm using the KeyStudio version can I record audio into Pro Tools using an existing non-M Audio USB interface? I understand that the controller acts as a hardware dongle, but what about audio in?

    With the microphone and Fast Track versions I assume any USB MIDI keyboard controller will work…so is the KeyStudio version the least useful of these three? The product image shows the USB controller-only version of that keyboard and not the one (shown in the other post) which is also a USB audio interface…

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  • I remember ProTools Free.

  • apoclypse

    I bought Fast Track pro as my first interface a while back. It was awful. I could hardly get any gain out of it. When I got a mac, I got a Presonus Firebox, and now I have an Ensemble, thinking of getting a Duet for on the go. Either way I've never been a fan of ProTools. I'm more of a Logic guy. I think ProTools is overrated, but its an industry standard so we have no choice but to deal with it.

  • @nick kent i love ProTools Free. it's running on a PIII 600mhz with 512MB and a Lexicon PCI card with breakout box. Lexicon reverb is all I ever wanted.

  • Aaron

    I cant find any information on the protools website, or maybe Im not looking in the right spot. Where can I find out more about this?


  • velocipede

    Been thinking about getting a cheaper M-audio keyboard for my almost 5-year-old. Maybe if I get this one, she can learn to use ProTools so I don't have to learn another DAW…

  • I think CDM may have actually beaten Avid to posting their product. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This still shows the previous Session line:

    Once I see a proper link, I'll pass it along.

    @velocipede: Actually, if it's just the keyboard you want, you might do just as well to pick up the keyboard or watch for a clearance deal on the Session bundle (and just ignore the software). eBay / Craigslist also a good bet.

  • Glass

    Wow, I have a Digi002 and MBox, but carrying then around sucks. Now I'm seriously considering M-Powered…

    Much better than the MBox Micro that costs around 250 USD…

    How does M-Powered compares to LE?

  • This is not M-Powered, I should note. LE and M-Powered are actually nearly identical. But Essentials has more limitations, some of which I'm still confirming, but the big one being you only get 2 ins, 2 outs of audio at once. (You also get the track counts I mention above, but that's less of a big deal.)

    I believe you also have a limit of 3 audio inserts per track, times the number of tracks you have. Avid's PR says "for three simultaneous effects"; I *hope* that means per track and not per session.

    As far as I know, ReWire and RTAS and such all still work but I'm awaiting a proper comparison of the different products.

  • Wilbo

    That was my question, how is this different than M-Powered? I got a copy of Pro Tools M-Powered for free when I bought a $100 PCI M-Audio interface, are they just replacing that deal with this? Or is this just a different approach for something that's kinda the same?

  • dyscode


    <cite>I got a copy of Pro Tools M-Powered for free when I bought a $100 PCI M-Audio interface</cite>

    WOW that is definately NOT the standart deal for M-Powered – this ws a HUUUUUUGE Bargain!

    M-Powered has all LE feature execpt

    -no POWR Dither

    – any M-audio Interfaces as Dongle

    – plus iLok as dongle

    – no DV Toolkit

    – no Satellite Option

    – max track count 48 (LE has 64)

    also for now M-Powered has the lowest of a 128samples Buffer but they are working on it to got down to 64 samples buffer

    Compared to them PT Essential does SEEM to have:

    3 Plug-In inserts (MP/LE: 10 insert)

    16 Audio track (MP/LE: 32, upgradable)

    8 Instrument Tracks (MP/LE:32 any Mix of Audio and Instrument Tracks)

    0 Send (MP/LE: 10)

    0 Busses (MP/LE: 32)

    1 or 2 Inputs (MP/LE:18)

    1 or Outputs (MP/LE:18)

    8 MIDI Tracks (MP/LE:128)

    Interface Dongle (MP: iLok + Interface Dongle/ LE: Interface Dongle

    that´s as far as I can make out now. More details need to be revealed.

  • Jeff

    I guess some of you cant hear the difference.

    My goodness.

    I think the cheaper bundles are great value for money.

    And when you move up to TDM its happy days!

  • RFID


    PT LE and M-powered have identical track counts, toolkits notwithstanding.

  • @dyscode:

    That does indeed look correct with one important exception: you definitely have sends and buses in Essentials. Not totally sure on the counts, but they're there. To me, the really significant difference is multitrack recording and output. If that really doesn't matter, Essentials appears, based on what I know about it so far, to be a pretty decent version of Pro Tools. There are track and insert limits, but not the kind that's be too painful. The caveat is "based on what I know about it," and of course, if you don't like Pro Tools, it's definitely not a bargain then. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • This is an interesting move. I personally am still not all that interested in protools, however I agree with others that this could be a cheap way to have file transfer compatibility with the millions of people that do use protools.

  • alhogar

    still no mention of this on M Audio website, not even under press releases…and no mention anywhere from Google except references to CDM wow…

    I just wanna know the details on these bundles and if I can use Pro Tools "lite" without any kind of dongle (as it seems)… if so then the Vocalist and Keyboard versions seem like great deals to me…$99 for decent, useful gear and a free copy of Pro Tools to play around with…

  • We're ahead of the curve on CDM. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Seriously, there was a press release with an embargo that lifted yesterday, so we didn't even break any rules to publish this.

    Unfortunately, we're *so* far ahead of the curve that I'm behind on some of the details… stay tuned…

  • Sasa Rasa

    @Geoff Smith: I believe the headphones connector is for zero-latency monitoring of the signal being recorded.

    @Peter: I would like to know if the software included is really a lightweight version of PT. I'm afraid it could be a rebranded version of M-Audio Session.

  • dyscode


    good to know there are Sends and Busses, I guess they left it out of the picture because it will be too disturbing for the Target Audience.


    I can use Pro Tools “lite” without any kind of dongle (as it seems)…

    sorry to dissapoint you but the 49 Keyboard is about the biggest dongle I have ever seen! :->

    Essential will not start up without that keyboard being connected.

    @Sasa Rasa

    This is definately NOT Session.

  • I had just cropped the image. We should have more on that soon.

    This is not a re-branded Session, that's correct.

  • Amateur Tools !?

  • Richard Connor


    Did you get an iLok or was it just a demo version? A definite bargain if you got an iLok….

  • MountainKing


    Interesting stuff!



    I can use Pro Tools “lite” without any kind of dongle (as it seems)…

    sorry to dissapoint you but the 49 Keyboard is about the biggest dongle I have ever seen! :->

    Essential will not start up without that keyboard being connected.

    Quote end!


    If I have another M-Audio interface (PCI, USB FW or whatever) …. Pro Tools Essential will NOT work?

  • Les Cayes


    Newbie Tools, perhaps?

  • dyscode

    @Mountain King,

    Ok I do not know for sure…

    and this question needs clarification.


    the press release on this page not only hints that 'dongle feature' I TOTALLY think AVID is capable of doing such a thing just to make sure Essential doesn´t cut tooooooo deep into the LE/MP line.

    HOPEFULLY I am wrong.


  • alhogar

    I'll be surprised if there's any dongle requirement at all for this version of Pro Tools. The "dongle" was always the M Audio brand audio interface (PCI/USB/Firewire) with M Powered. That 49-key controller is the version they sell now for $99 as KeyRig 49, not the KeyStation 49i version that sells for $250. At the mass-market point they're going for with these bundles they can't ALSO require everyone to have an M Audio brand interface…talk about returns. So if the included hardware acts as a dongle the only one that makes any sense is the Microphone version…because you could still use any other mics and controllers right? They have to let you use a separate audio interface…if that mic is the only audio input option then its useless for anyone but a casual podcaster. And they can't demand that you happen to have an M Audio inteface, not at the consumer/impulse buy level. I just don't think they can cripple Pro Tols to the extent required to make these hardware options into dongles. They MIGHT package a separate USB dongle in the box, but why add the cost at this price point? The logical thing is that its dongle-free. I am prepared to be 100% wrong however.

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  • dyscode

    wishful thinking :-/

    logic and marketing never go together.

  • Anyone know if my Transit will work with any of these versions? I bought it thinking I could use it with LE, but it turns out I need M-Powered (which is as expensive as getting an MBox 2 Mini with ProTools LE included, so forget it).

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  • dyscode

    from the official digidesign info

    <code>About Pro Tools M-Powered Essential:

    Pro Tools M-Powered Essential software is only included with the product bundles listed above. It is not sold separately, available for download, or intended for use with any other products.</code>

    so no Transit etc.

  • curiousman

    a few q's for the keystudio:

    1.can i burn the end result to cd's for demos? it possible to get vocals through keystudio? the keyboard itself any good just for messing around for fun? (i dont mind getting a keyboard+1 usb midi+crappy version of protools for 125$)

    4.Basically, can i make a decent demo cd with this?

  • AA

    I got the vocal studio bundle today for $169 ($179 RRP in Australia-the mic is well built and can reprpduce sounds pretty fine.

    The Pro Tools Essential software isn't as fully featured as other editions (i.e. limited undo, no elastic audio ot 3rd party RTAS plugin support o changeable settings) but still has enough features to get you started like a included version of DigiDesign's structure sampler (impressive-60 sound sets) and lots of loops and audio content.

  • This article is poorly written. These are 3 completely separate bundles EACH costing $100 to $130 plus… I don't understand why the author refers to it as a package as if all three are included. Also I dont understand what he means with multitracking not permitted. The whole point of a home studio is to multi track. Can I record 1 track then another and another separateley? Maybe he means you cannot record a guitar and a vocal at the same time in separate tracs…

  • tre

    how may i purchase this

  • tre

    how may i purchase this

  • tre

    how may i purchase this