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|Digidesign Music Production Toolkit
Review by: Scott Kahn
|Features Usability Sound Documentation & Product Support
Price Contact Info Overall Rating—Product Summary
If you’re using Pro Tools LE 7 to record or mix large music sessions, the Digidesign Music Production Toolkit (Music Production Toolkit) is an expansion option that you really can’t afford to live without.
Besides adding some fantastic plug-ins to your collection, the Music Production Toolkit expands the core functionality of Pro Tools LE with higher track counts, additional features, and improved functionality.
Digidesign has been promoting Pro Tools 7 as a complete tool for music production; not just recording. Its sequencing capabilities were significantly improved upon from version 6 and a host of additional features were added with this capability in mind.
For musicians looking to Pro Tools as a complete music production environment, inclusion of the Hybrid synthesizer plug-in in this bundle is a fantastic bonus because it is a great sounding and useful soft synth. We would have been perfectly happy to use the Music Production Toolkit without the inclusion of Hybrid but, now that we have it, you can bet we’ll end up using it on various productions.
Despite considering this package essential for your studio, we have on small gripe. Some of the Toolkit’s functionality should really be included within ProTools LE at no additional cost – particularly the expanded track count. If your computer meets or exceeds Digidesign system recommendations, limited track count shouldn’t be forced upon the user by a software-limited control (Pro Tools does a fine job of notifying us when we run low on processing resources).
Music Production Toolkit includes the following plug-ins:
Music Production Toolkit goes further and expands core Pro Tools LE 7 functionality in the following ways:
Installation of the Music Production Toolkit was straightforward on our Power Macintosh G5 2 Ghz Dual-core running OS X with a Digidesign 002 Rack interface, and all plug-ins ran problem-free.
Our 002 Rack automatically recognized the Roland keyboard that we used as a controller. Running Hybrid was as simple as creating an instrument track and inserting the instrument plug-in. We could devote an entire product review to the Hybrid synthesizer but, in short, it was easy to select from an extensive preset collection of sounds, and editing sounds was easy thanks to a very straightforward user interface.
Hybrid has a built-in sequencer for creating animated rhythmic sounds with percussive elements, and the integration with Pro Tools was beautiful. There was no special configuration needed to synchronize our sounds with the Pro Tools session. Changing the master tempo map for our session automatically adjusted the tempo of Hybrid’s sequences and arpeggios.
The Trillium Lane Labs TL Space convolution reverb gave us as much control as we might want from this type of reverb. It included models of a few different rooms, as well as a plate, all highly customizable, and we were able to easily apply reverse reverbs timed to the tempo of our songs.
The Smack! LE compressor has a vintage analog-style interface with simple controls for basic compression and limiting settings. Depending on the method of compression used (normal, warm, optical), various parameters were automatically enabled or disabled both physically and visually, making use of this plug-in extremely straightforward. We appreciated the high-pass filter that rolls off frequencies below 80 Hz, useful for removing some room noise, thumps on the microphone stand, vocal pops, etc.
We also appreciated the built-in help interface within the Smack! LE plug-in. Holding our mouse button down over a knob’s label provided helpful pop-up reference information. We would like to see this kind of usefulness applied to more complex plug-ins (both from Digidesign as well as other manufacturers) where it would be particularly useful and save us trips to the reference documentation.
SoundReplacer, a long-time Pro Tools studio standard finally moves to LE systems in the Music Production Toolkit. It worked identically for us as the TDM version, and we had no trouble replacing drum hits with new samples. Overall, however, SoundReplacer isn’t as capable as some of the other similar products we’ve used.
The DINR noise reduction plug-in is a non-real-time AudioSuite plug-in, and it was particularly effective at lowering or removing noise from tracks when there were recorded sections of noise (without vocals or instrumentation) available for analysis.
The MP3 option was a welcomed convenience. It was very easy to select everything from resolution settings to entering track data and music categories, and creating MP3 mixes from within Pro Tools was a huge time-saving option.
We’ve often times heard end users wonder aloud and complain that they had to pay extra money for the MP3 export capability in Pro Tools ($20). While some companies have written their own MP3 codecs for use in their software, Digidesign licenses their MP3 codec from the Fraunhofer Institute, which is the German organization that invented the MP3 format. As a result, they have to pay a license fee for each use of the codec.
Beat Detective is great for extracting tempo from audio tracks and cleaning up imperfectly timed hits. Now, Pro Tools LE enjoys the same multi-track feature that was formerly only available on TDM systems. If you like to use Beat Detective for cleaning up performances, the multi-track capability makes a big difference in overall sound quality. With the old single-track feature, shifting a drum part on one track might leave artifacts in place on other tracks if there was bleed-through from room mics. This improvement enables you to correct parts across multiple tracks, though we didn’t test this new capability.
The Music Production Toolkit includes some outstanding sounding plug-ins.
We loved the Hybrid synthesizer. Despite not specifically looking to add a new virtual instrument in our studio, this synth stopped us in our tracks for at least an hour just to play around with it. It generated great classic analog-style sounds, and it made very cool shimmering and sparkly ethereal sounds. The sequencer-driven sounds provided ample musical inspiration. All of this from something we didn’t really think needed to be included in the product bundle!
Smack! LE could be our new favorite compressor. It sounded warm and musical with everything we threw at it – vocals, bass guitar, and even stereo bus mini-mastering of our session files.
The TL Space native Edition convolution reverb sounded great, too. The halls and plates were clean and highly adjustable to suit our sonic tastes.
The MP3 export option generated MP3 files at a variety of different settings and all sounded as good as you can expect from this format. We used the 160 kb/sec and 190 kb/sec settings and had great results.
Documentation and Product Support
Music Production Toolkit installation places thorough PDF documentation for the individual plug-ins as well as documentation for the overall collection in the Digidesign documentation folder.
The Digidesign Music Production Toolkit sells for its retail price of $495 MSRP. We’ve never been more conflicted over a product’s price before! As mentioned earlier, we believe that some features belong built into Pro Tools LE at no cost. And, since not all of us really need Hybrid, we would have preferred to see the package sold without Hybrid for a little less.
But, on the flip side, Hybrid sells separately for $249, which is a good value on its own. And, if you price out Smack! LE and TL Space Native Edition, these two plug-ins alone cost more than this entire package. So, if you’re going to make use of the compressor and reverb, these features alone make this package a very good value. Throw in the expanded Pro Tools features, and some occasional use of Hybrid, and you’ll end up with an outstanding value.
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