Pro Tools Quick Tip: How to Time Align Tracks

Pro Tools Quick Tip: How to Time Align Tracks

November 14, 2014

Sound or audio is, by very definition, the changing of atmospheric pressure perceived over time. This also ties into a term known as “phase”. Phase can be described as the time relationship between multiple waveforms, measured by the difference between periods of compression and rarefaction. Some times, even though our audio is recorded at the same time, the spacing from the instrument to the mics may cause phase issues that can be fixed by knowing how to time align tracks.

In our latest Pro Tools Quick Tip, CRAS instructor Phil Nichols shows us how we can use the power of digital audio workstations (DAWs) to time align tracks after they have been recorded. This can provide a fuller, cleaner sounding final product.

In this tutorial, we’re going to look at time aligning tracks inside of Pro Tools. Whenever you have multiple mics on the same source, such as multiple mics on a guitar, or maybe you have a bass DI and a mic on the bass amp… If you have close mics, distant mics… In this situation you have a potential for negative phase interaction. Phase interaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in some situations, the way that multiple mics can react, especially if there is a time arrival difference between these, it can result in frequency cancellations that are not musically pleasing.

Now ideally, this would be addressed in the recording process when mics are placed. However, in many cases a mix engineer may have no involvement in the recording process. One engineer may record, and then pass that off to another engineer for mixing. In that case, the mix engineer may find that attention to these types of details – mic placement and phase – may not have been thoroughly checked. That results in the mix engineer dealing with what some could call “mistakes” that were made earlier. The phase relationship between things such as the bass DI, the bass amp, close mic, and distant mic, can be adjusted to improve the musical or preferred sound quality. In this session, we are going to look at a bass DI and a bass amp recording.

Now in reality, if you were recording a bass DI and a bass amp, the bass DI signal would technically arrive to the recorder first. With the mic on the bass amp, there is a distance between the speaker and the microphone, and that produces a time delay when compared to the direct connection provided through the DI box. So when trying to adjust the relationship between these two tracks, the bass amp should be shifted to match the bass DI position.

In this session with the bass DI and the bass amp, we will zoom in on these to tracks. At first glance, it may look great, like they are in the same place. But you want to zoom in really close. Even zooming in a little bit closer it may look alright, but as you zoom in even closer you can start to see some discrepancies.

Zooming in even closer to the waveform at the sample level, you can really see how these interact. For example, on the bass DI, you can see that the peak of the waveform lines up with the trough of the waveform directly below it, on the bass amp track. The corresponding peak is actually to the right, or slightly later in time. That’s caused by the distance between the speaker in the bass amp and the microphone that was used to record it. Ideally, those peaks should be in the same position. And theoretically, that would provide the most complimentary musical sound, but that is strictly personal preference. So to time align these, we would need to shift the bass amp closer to the bass DI. One way, of course, is by using the grabber tool and dragging the audio clip, but I want to look at a different way.

Sync points in Pro Tools allow users to quickly slide or align clips. Now in this case, since I want the bass amp to be adjusted or moved, what I’m going to do is find the beginning of the peak, or the rise. Create a sync point there by pressing Command + ,  (comma). Of course, these are the quick keys you would use for the Mac OS. At the bottom of the track, a small green triangle denotes the sync point. This point is what we would want to align with the corresponding point in the bass DI. So I’d find the same zero crossing (the point in which the waveform crosses the centerline from the trough to the peak) on the bass DI.

Now, we need to move the sync point from the bass DI over to the cursor position of the bass DI. To do this, to move the sync point of the bass amp to the current cursor position on the bass DI, hold Control and Shift while grabbing the bass amp clip. That will immediately shift the sync point of the bass amp clip over to the cursor position of the bass DI clip. You can also create different playlists to compare the two later.

By having multiple playlist, you can quickly toggle between the edits and listen to the sonic difference. Soloing both the original bass DI and the bass amp tracks, you can listen to the initially recorded sound, and then switch playlists to listen to the time aligned version and pick which you prefer.

There is an obvious sonic difference. Which one sounds better depends on who’s calling the shots. It really has to be taken into context. Listen to it with the other tracks that are in the session, and choose the one that is most complimentary. But even soloing the two tracks, there is a distinct difference between the sound of the unaligned bass amp and DI tracks, versus the aligned. Personally, I find the low frequencies to be more complimentary when they are aligned.  But that’s your call to make in your own unique situation. As you can see, it’s worth checking into. If you get a song to mix that you did not record, or even if you did record it, zoom in to check to see if there is the potential for negative phase interaction.

Spend some time, trust your ears, definitely use your ears…don’t just rely on the visuals

Happy hunting!

Check out more of our tutorial videos on our CRAS YouTube channel here or feel free to look into everything else we offer in our comprehensive curriculum.

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Top Ten Pro Tools Quick Keys

Top Ten Pro Tools Quick Keys

August 29, 2014

Pretty much every aspect of life these days is computer controlled (shout out to Frankie Bones!). To be a good audio engineer, you must be a good computer user. One thing that will absolutely make you stand out in a crowded computer lab is your proficiency behind the QWERTY keys. The mouse is perhaps the most commonly used computer peripheral, but the keyboard can absolutely out-perform it in many cases, if you know what you are doing! So to be an elite Pro Tools ninja, you must know your quick keys.

10. Command + = : Switches between Mix and Edit windows. This also brings the windows up from the dock if you’ve minimized them!

9. Command + 1 through 7 : Selects an appropriate tool. This can save you a ton of time by not having to go back and for from the center of the edit window to the tool bar.

  1. Zoomer Tool
  2. Trimmer Tool
  3. Selector Tool
  4. Grabber Tool
  5. Scrubber Tool
  6. Pencil Tool
  7. Smart Tool

8. Option + C : Clear Clip Indicators. While you can click on individual clip lights to clear them, this will clear them across the board.

7. Option + Command + M : Narrow Mix Window. Sometimes you just want to focus on mixing and levels, and by narrowing each track you can see more of your session on screen at once. Toggle this quick key again to see more detailed info on each track again.

6. Shift + Command + N : Creates new tracks. As a bonus, you can also toggle how many of each sort of track you need without the mouse as well!

  • Command + Left/Right Arrow – Change Track Format
  • Command + Up/Down Arrow – Change Track Type
  • Shift + Command + Up/Down Arrow – Add a new track row

5. Command + G : Create a Track Group. There are tons of options you can use with track groups that can maximize the quality of your workflow. Check out our resident Pro Tools expert Phil explain some of the benefits of working with track groups!

4. Command + F : Create a fade. Depending on your selection, this can bring up the batch fades window, create a fade in/out, or create a crossfade.

3. Enter (num pad) or Fn Return : Create a memory location. Most commonly used for creating visual cues and quick jump markers in time to identify different parts of our song, like verse, chorus, or bridge. There are many additional features to memory locations beyond just storing a time in the timeline!

2. Command + Spacebar or F12 : Record! Probably the most important feature of Pro Tools, right? But remember, sometimes the Mac OS preferences may override these quick keys. Sometimes F12 may be mapped to turn up the volume on a laptop keyboard, or open the Dashboard. Command + Spacebar is also commonly used to activate Spotlight to search for files, so keep that in mind and adjust your preferences accordingly!

1. Command + S : Perhaps the most important quick key you should absolutely know. Save! My hand permanently rests on my keyboard in this configuration. I’ve seen so many projects lost because users forget to save, then perhaps Pro Tools crashes, you get unexpected errors, power outages. Save early, save often!

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Pro Tools 11: Upgrade Questions Answered

Pro Tools 11: Upgrade Questions Answered

August 5, 2013

Avid has recently released Pro Tools 11, and while it has a lot of great advancements, a lot of people are concerned with some of their previous projects not being compatible. So along those lines, there are a lot of people who are hesitant to jump to the new software, while there is also the crowd who like to move to the newest gear and software as soon as they can.

Currently, there are a few good reasons to upgrade to Pro Tools 11:

-Improved performance and memory usage, due to the new Avid Audio engine and the face that 11 can access as much ram as is installed in the machine. On Pro Tools 10 and lower, the software was only capable of accessing a maximum of 4GB of RAM, with the exception of the HD10-only feature of disk caching.

-Offline bounce. Avid boasts that this is sample accurate, and our tests do seem to confirm its quality. This is a great feature that can save people a lot of time, especially if they are working with a lot of long sessions.

There are a few misconceptions floating around about issues with upgrading to Pro Tools 11:

-If you upgrade to 11, you have to run 11. This is not true. You will have to surrender your current 10 license, but the license you receive in return is a Pro Tools 10/11 combo license. Part of the upgrade process to Pro Tools 11 includes upgrading the Pro Tools 10 to the latest issue – 10.3.6. While previous versions of Pro Tools could not be co-installed on one machine, 10.3.6 and 11+ work just fine together.

-If you upgrade to 11, you will lose all of your plug-ins. While some of the plug-ins may not be compatible with the new 11 AAX format, a lot of manufacturers are working on porting their plug-ins, and many have already.

Now for the reasons not to upgrade:

-Incompatible hardware. Pro Tools 11 requires an iLok 2, and does not support the original blue or red iLok 1 models. Many computers, both desktop and laptop, may not be supported by the new software. You can find the Mac supported  and PC supported models here. 4GB of RAM is required in either model, with 8GB required for video processing. Of course, the more RAM the better. Most newer Mac laptops support up to 16GB of RAM!

-Incompatible software. Mostly referring to the OS, Pro Tools 11 does need to be run on the latest versions of the operating systems. This means if you are on a Mac, you need to be at 10.8.4, and on a PC it requires Windows 7 SP1 or greater.

-Incompatible plug-ins. With the new Avid Audio Engine, it does require 64-bit AAX supported plug-ins. When 11 was initially released, there weren’t a whole lot of 3rd party plug-ins in this format, however those manufacturers are working on porting theirs over. You can find a list of the currently supported AAX plug-ins at Pro Tools Expert.

Many people have used plug-in wrappers previously to help use their older plug-ins on newer systems. Sugar Bytes was working on a VST to AAX wrapper, but that was quickly pulled down due to licensing issues that are still needing to be sorted out with Avid. Nomad Factory does have a suite of plug-ins for audio effects and processing that are fully AAX supported. Vienna Ensemble also offers a host of plug-ins for synths and virtual instruments. Arturia has also released an updater that will update most of their plug-ins to the new format, although there are a few exceptions.

But with all that said, the people who have adopted Pro Tools 11 for the most part are enjoying it. The graphical interface was overhauled much more than any of the previous versions, adding additional metering options among other things. There are of course growing pains, moving into new software, but Avid did one thing right with their co-install option. Many people have been using that to track in 11, and then export their session to Pro Tools 10 format to mix with their standard configuration of plug-ins. Avid has also included a variety of new stock plug-ins to Pro Tools 11 to help bridge that gap as well.

Do you have any questions still unanswered? Post them here and I’ll research them for you!

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