Pro Tools 9: Rethinking IO Setup

One of the most noteworthy changes to Pro Tools 9 is how it manages outputs and buses. It’s main-screen.pngall good news here with Pro Tools 9 taking on a fresher view of IO with a more organized approach. Simple and often-repeated workflow tasks that used to take multiple steps are now more integrated and automatic. To get your head around Pro Tools’ new IO attitude, let’s get some “historical� perspective.
Track Submixing and Aux Sends
Like an analog console, Pro Tools allows you to use buses, inputs and outputs to route signal around inside the box. For instance, a bus can route audio from a number of track’s outputs to an Aux input for global control, or you can Send audio from a channel, post-fader, to an Aux input which could carry a plugin or group of plugins for effects such as reverb, delay and more.

In past versions of Pro Tools, this was accomplished as separate tasks, but now Pro Tools 9 integrates all these steps into one operation with the addition of the New Track option on every track and send output. (see fig. 1). After choosing New Track, you can specify the type of track (Audio, Aux or Instrument), then name the bus path and track in one step (see fig. 2). Pro Tools creates new or renames an existing bus for your specified task and lists it on the newly redesigned bus page (see fig. 3). It’s a very simple method that dramatically cuts workflow time. You can also assign multiple channels this way by first selecting a group of channels, then hold opt+shift before you pull down and select New Track from the Send or Channel output.
Paths and Subpaths
Pro Tools 9 has also changed how IO setup traditionally routed audio to gear outside the box. For instance, from IO setup, you used to designate and label outputs to route signal to specific locations, then carve them up into subpaths to better address separate or multi-channel inputs on hardware. But now, in Pro Tools 9, as never before, the output and bus functions are linked. This theoretically streamlines the process of moving sessions between Pro Tools 9 systems by letting you take your bus settings along with you, then remapping them to another system’s IO from the bus page.

Pro Tools 9 achieves this in part by moving the ability to make subpaths from the output page to the bus page. It’s easier to understand if you think of it this way: The output tab in the IO setup is your 30,000 ft. overview of the physical analog and digital interface outs, while the Bus tab is your zoomed in “street view” representing a breakdown of these master paths.

Creating Your IO World
Pro Tools 9 is versatile and you can run it old school style with buses and outputs numbered by the system. But in my opinion, to take full advantage of Pro Tools 9s new IO setup capabilities, it’s best to start with a blank output slate. You can do this by going to Setup – IO – Output tab, and select all outputs by holding option then clicking on any path. Once all paths are selected, use the Delete key to remove all paths. Then do the same on the bus page. (see fig 4). Inputs are not effected by this new setup so should be managed as they always have, whichever way you’re comfortable and accustomed to.

For starters, let’s dream up a system and use it for our sample setup. Let’s say our Pro Tools rig has a 5.1 playback system, a hardware 5.1 capable reverb using digital IO, and an 8 channel analog cue system for tracking that can be used as combinations of stereo or mono signal paths. Of course we’ll have to own an über amount of IO and cards to handle all this so let’s say we have an HD3 with 3 HD IOs providing 32 analog plus 24 AES/EBU digital in/outs.

Let’s start from the output tab under Setup IO. Here we’ll create master outputs for our system without worrying about specific subpaths because we will handle that on the bus page. Click on New Path, name it HD IO 1-6, choose 5.1 from the pulldown, and be sure to check the “add default channel assignments� box before you click Create (see fig. 5). If you don’t click this option, you’ll have to manually load the paths by clicking on the first empty box to the right of your path name and Pro Tools will lay out the channels according to your preferred multichannel setup.

Now let’s go to the bus page and see what happened (see fig. 6). Pro Tools 9 created a bus path (left of screen) that is mapped to the physical output path we just created under the output tab and named them both. This next step is key: Rename the bus path (left) to Surround Master (see fig. 7). By doing this, you can choose this output from any send or track out, and see the actual signal path. This is a great way to document what’s going on in a complex system especially on a system with multiple users (see fig. 8). Also notice on the channel output, the bus subpaths have been automatically created by Pro Tools 9. As you can see, this can get a bit cluttered so you may have to clear out unnecessary paths to clean up your output list.

Then create a path for the remaining two outputs on the first HD IO by clicking New Path on the Output tab, name it HD IO 7-8 and choosing stereo as the format. These are stragglers but should be accounted for. Pro Tools will create bus subpaths automatically on the bus page.

Once you have the idea of this, you can make the paths for your other hardware. If you follow the model above, you will see both the name of the gear and the physical output it is mapped to from the output or send pulldown, without going to Setup IO.

There is one last thing to keep in mind with this new setup. Buses mapped to outputs don’t count against your total bus count: despite it looking like you are using a bus, it goes behind the curtain and you get your bus back. So there are plenty of buses to go around in any size system.

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