To many users, it’s been a long time coming, but using Pro Tools software no longer means working exclusively with Pro Tools hardware. Pro Tools 9, announced today, is a “software-only” version. That is, you can use it with your hardware – your audio interface, your DSP tools of choice, even the built-in audio hardware on Macs and PCs when you’re on the go.

Users are likely to remain fiercely loyal to their DAWs of choice, including Logic, DP, Cubase, SONAR, and Ableton Live. But today’s announcement is nonetheless big news for production. It means, on one hand, those tools may have to compete more directly with Pro Tools, at the same time that Pro Tools software has to compete more directly with them.

Now supported:

  • Core Audio (Mac), ASIO (Windows) drivers: Now – as other DAWs do – Pro Tools will work with third-party hardware. Want to connect a MOTU or RME audio interface? On a plane rearranging tracks and want to plug into your MacBook headphone jack? Now you can.
  • Automatic delay compensation The other end of the Pro Tools equation had once been relying on their DSP. Now, with automatic delay compensation included in-box, it should be easier to use outboard DSP effects from other vendors, like the TC PowerCore system or Universal Audio plug-ins.
  • OMF/AAF/XMF interchange should make it easier to share files with users of other DAWs and non-Avid video solutions like Apple’s Final Cut.

Plug-ins in Pro Tools are still RTAS/TDM – no VST or AU support – but, well, that makes some sense. Major plug-ins are available for both, and adding another format would add additional support costs without any major advantages. (Supporting plug-in specs is tricky.)

Naturally, this being the version “9” release, there are workflow enhancements, as well:

  • More tracks and buses. Previously limited, PT now supports up to 96 mono or stereo-only tracks in the software version, and expands voices, buses, and aux tracks in both the software and HD versions.
  • Time Code Ruler for easier video sync / post.
  • More bundled in-box features (Beat Detective, DigiBase file management, full Import Session).
  • EUCON hands-on control support (along with Avid, third-party options), updated 7.1 surround panner, variable stereo pan depth (closer to what you’d get from an analog console), and other enhancements).

Pricing: US$599 and up.
Availability: November 12.

If you want some follow-up questions with Avid, please fire away.

Other news: there’s some blurry purple lighting effect action on the box. How about that?