I’ve been using ProTools for years now and there have been all sorts of updates in that time, some minimal, some sweeping, but none so big as the behemoth that is ProTools 9. Along with the recently-released new Mbox line, ProTools 9 redefines ProTools and does away with the old LE level of software altogether. The most revolutionary, or perhaps evolutionary, aspect of ProTools 9 is that you no longer need to hook up an Mbox or a ProTools M-Powered unit to run the program. That’s a first for this series, and it’s something users have been asking for ever since ProTools first came out. For folks like you and I that means we can now drag our laptops around to edit audio in ProTools without having to lug our Mbox as well – all you need is your computer and your iLok with your ProTools licence. ProTools 9 will run standalone on Avid hardware, or on third-party audio interfaces, and it includes an enhanced feature set including automatic delay compensation, higher track counts, EUCON open Ethernet protocol support, which allows users to include Avid’s Pro Series and Artist Series controllers and consoles. Oh and get this: there are no feature or functional differences between ProTools HD 9 software and ProTools 9 software with the added Complete Production Toolkit 2 option.

So apart from being able to do everything in the box, what exactly is different compared to, say, ProTools LE 8? Check this out: 96 simultaneous playback tracks (mono or stereo – add the Complete Production Toolkit and you can beef this up to 192) instead of 48; 32 simultaneous tracks recordable, compared to 18; 64 instruments instead of 32; 160 auxiliary tracks compared to 128. A whopping 256 audio busses instead of 32. The routing possibilities of this thing are huge and will open up a whole new world of signal routing, and therefore, creativity. Other cool features include the inclusion of multitrack Beat Detective, and MP3 export as a standard instead of paid option.

ProTools 9 doesn’t feel particularly different to ProTools 8 in terms of setting up your workspace and getting the job done, but it’s the aforementioned little things that make a huge difference. The operating environment will feel immediately familiar to established ProTools junkies, but I’m pleased to report that I seem to experience far faster, smoother performance (could it be because ProTools 9 has official Snow Leopard support whereas my old ProTools 8 did not?). I used ProTools 9 with my Mbox 2 Pro, and I can only imagine how well it would perform with third generation Mbox interfaces (which I reviewed a few months ago and can’t recommend highly enough).

If you’ve been holding off on getting ProTools because you didn’t want to be tied to an Mbox, you now have no excuse. This is definitely the smoothest ProTools experience I’ve had on any of my computers, and the expanded track count and included MP3 export are certainly extremely welcome features that will make a lot of people happy. Is it worth the price of crossgrading or upgrading? Well, yeah. Personally I’d be happy enough to pay the price for the ability to go Mboxless for mixing/editing/composing alone, but the performance improvements are also extremely welcome. Avid seems to really be on a slash-and-burn charge to remind everyone why ProTools is so revered, and more than a few users who strayed from ProTools over the years are probably going to be lured back by all the subtle and major improvements in ProTools 9.