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Which Version of Pro Tools is Best to Buy?

To get straight to the point, Pro Tools 2020 for $29.99/month is the most popular option. Gets you all of the major features, at a low monthly price compared to spending hundreds up front. Get it here.

Whether you’re an experienced recording enthusiast or you’re putting together your first home studio, you’ll likely record, process, and mix many of your tracks using audio editing software. Audio editing programs have become commonplace in professional studios and are generally known as DAWs or digital audio workstations. For recording enthusiasts, DAWs provide a cost-effective means of creating tracks, podcasts, and demos. Among the most widely used and popular of these audio editing suites is Pro Tools. Recording enthusiasts who are interested in jumping into home recording or who need to update their software will find flexible options in the Pro Tools line.

Evaluating Your Options

The first full version of Pro Tools was released in 1991 and ran $6,000 per copy. Originally designed to work exclusively on Apple computers and the Mac operating system, the program is now offered in a PC-compatible version. Recording enthusiasts who want to buy this powerful audio editing suite today have many more options than consumers did in the early ’90s. In addition to choosing from different software programs, shoppers must also choose from different product families within the Pro Tools line.

Before you shop, take some time to think about the recording tasks that you plan to handle on a regular basis. Think about the tools and capabilities that you need from a software suite in order to handle tasks efficiently. Those shoppers who are new to recording suites should watch online demos of the programs to get an idea of how each suite’s interface works. If possible, it’s also a great idea for shoppers to spend time interacting with Pro Tools at a software or music store.

Transitioning to Pro Tools from Other Studios

If you want to make the switch to Pro Tools from another DAW or audio editing program, you likely have special concerns about how well your knowledge of one program will translate to another. While it’s important to remember that there’s always a learning curve, Pro Tools boasts one of the most user-friendly, straightforward interfaces in the world of audio software. Users who work with other Mac programs, especially video editing programs like Final Cut Pro, will find the program’s tools and interface familiar.

Transitioning should also be relatively easy for those switching from other programs or for those who want to use Pro Tools on a PC for the first time. Because Avid was one of the first producers of music software, many of today’s audio editing suites are built with the same design sense and logic as Pro Tools. The program’s timeline in particular has been adopted as a standard style for many audio editing programs, making it easy to jump into with little training.

Choosing Between Pro Tools Software Families

Once you’ve determined your recording needs and have considered your previous experience with DAWs, you’ll be able to take an in-depth look at the Pro Tools family to determine which version of the program will best meet your demands. As you shop, remember that a wide variety of audio interfaces can also be used to enhance recording capabilities. Most of these interfaces come bundled with at least Pro Tools First. If you’re debating between two versions of the program, be sure to look at upgrade options for the most basic version. Avid does offer reduced-cost upgrades to some users who own older or lighter versions of Pro Tools.

Pro Tools First

Pro Tools First is the free version of Pro Tools. It’s a great way to start learning the basic functions of Pro Tools as well as actually perform basic sessions. It is great for podcasts or small scratch recordings with its limited number of channels. You only have access to stock plugins but they honestly get the job done well. 

  • 16 MIDI, Instrument, and Auxillary tracks each
  • Elastic Audio
  • Automatic Plugin Delay Compensation
  • Programmable Time Signature Changes
  • In-depth MIDI Editor
  • Includes Light and Dark Themes
  • Ableton Link Support

Pro Tools 2020

Pro Tools 2020 is the current full, standard version of the program offered on the consumer market. This version of the program is considered professional-grade and offers almost all of the tools and editing capabilities that most recording enthusiasts will need on a day-to-day basis. Pro Tools 2020 supports 32 inputs and can record 128 tracks at 48 kHz. Determining the number of instruments or devices and tracks used for your everyday recording projects will help you decide if this version of Pro Tools offers enough power for your work. Pro Tools 2020 also offers the following features and capabilities:

  • Loop recording and track comping
  • In-depth MIDI editing
  • Elastic time and pitch
  • Beat recognition
  • MP3 export options
  • Offline bounce
  • Avid video engine and 4K/UHD support
  • Audio to MIDI
  • Includes Light and Dark Themes
  • Ableton Link Support

Pro Tools Ultimate

Pro Tools Ultimate is an extended version of the base program targeted primarily at professional studio users and experienced home recording engineers. This program is designed to be used with any of Avid’s external interfaces including the MTRX, HD, and Control Surface lines. This version of the program offers scalability, meaning that the maximum number of inputs and tracks can be increased and other extended capabilities can be added to allow for a professional-grade editing experience. This version of Pro Tools is recommended only for experienced users who already know what types of interfaces and plug-ins they’ll need to complete tasks.

Pro Tools HD offers all of the features listed for Pro Tools 2020 plus the following features and capabilities:

  • Surround-sound mixing
  • Advanced Audio Editing
  • TrackPunch/DestructivePunch
  • ADM Export
  • Advanced audio editing, mixing, and video editing capabilities
  • Support for all Avid and Pro Tools interfaces

Weighing Your Options Side by Side

For the majority of recording enthusiasts, choosing the right version of Pro Tools is simple with a little knowledge. Use the chart below to compare the features of each program side by side so that you can determine whether or not a given build will meet your demands. Remember that some features are dependent upon external interfaces.

Pro Tools FirstPro Tools 2020Pro Tools Ultimate
Simultaneous Tracks at
48 kHz/ 96 kHz/ 192 kHz
16/ 16/ 0128/ 64/ 32384/ 192/ 96
Maximum Inputs432192
Maximum Instrument Tracks16512512
MIDI Tracks1610241024
Maximum Sample Rate32-bit,
96 kHz
192 kHz
192 kHz
Video Tracksn/a164
Included Plugins23116116

Making the Most of Pro Tools

Buying the right version of Pro Tools ensures that recording engineers and enthusiasts of all experience levels can create professional-quality audio tracks. As you shop, remember to prioritize your own recording habits and needs. It’s also a good idea to make an inventory of all of the interfaces used for recording. This helps to ensure that you buy compatible software and that you know exactly which Avid interfaces can be paired with your software for maximum productivity and flexibility.

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Pro Tools 2020 — $29.99/mo

Pro Tools 2020 Professional Monthly Subscription $29.99/mo. Powerful music software that typically retails for around $599.