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Music Production

Pro Tools First: A Complete Review

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Music Gateway Team


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Let’s do a Pro Tools First review! We’ll cover the look, feel & functionality of it and see what the Pro Tools First limitations and strengths are.

AVID Logo, manufacturer of Pro Tools and ProTools First

What Is Pro Tools First?

Pro Tools First is the free version of Pro Tools. Yes, it is genuinely free! All you will need to do is enter your email and create an account but we’ll get into that below…

First Thoughts on Pro Tools First

Ok, let’s jump in. Firstly, I’m going to be testing Pro Tools on Mac. I’m using a MacBook Pro 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 and an Apollo Twin, two pretty industry-standard hardware systems for running any music software.

So I really like the simplicity of the Pro Tools First download from the Avid marketplace, It’s quick and easy, with no faffing around. All you need is an email and you’re good to go. Although, it would be a good idea for you to look up the Pro Tools First system requirements before you go ahead.

I already have a Pro Tools account so everything was really fast for me to set up. If you are new to this though, you’ll need to do create a Pro Tools First sign-up/account. Also, If you’re using Avid and want to use the full version of Pro Tools First, iLok is a requirement, so keep that in mind. However, you can use the Pro Tools First app without this. Avid has some helpful information online on how to activate pro tools’ first licenses using the iLok Cloud.

Before you start using the software you need some sort of audio interface. This simply is something you plug your mic and guitars/keys/bass or whatever you want into. The audio interface converts the digital signal into audio files. You also plug your headphones and speakers into it. You don’t need anything crazy to start off with, Pro Tools make some really great ones.

I’ve owned a few from the Mbox family, But there are loads on the market which do the same job. USB versions are great for starting off.

Guy on mixing desk doing a pro tools first tutorial

Going Hands Down

On opening the free version of Pro Tools software it looks great. A little different from the full version as expected, and maybe slightly cheaper looking, I’m talking specifically about the faders; still cool but looks like a slightly older version. All in all, it’s very similar, just slightly fewer options on some of the main functions as I look around quickly.

On loading an instrument track I notice the only option I have is Xpand. It’s a really great soft synth, you can pretty much reach for any instrument you could think of, but at this point, I’m really missing the piano that comes with the full version. You can see that there are very few Pro Tools First plugins.

It’s my go-to instrument for songwriting or starting most projects. Xpand is the only synth available and there’s no option for another virtual instrument which is a little disappointing.

Not only that but when trying to import a third-party virtual instrument just for kicks I’m quickly shut down, they don’t allow this so it’s Xpand or nothing. They’ve also included a load of free bundled loops available which is useful for getting any project started.

The Comparison

The MIDI is the same as the full version which is great, very easy to use and familiar. I feel that Pro Tools have really stepped up its game with MIDI in the past few years. There is one big drawback with this version though. When I try to bounce the MIDI to audio it won’t let me.

This is quite annoying as you really can’t do anything creatively with MIDI editing tools the same way as with audio. This is essential for any creative producer to be original and unique from the get-go. It does let you freeze midi like the full version which is cool for space saving but then again, you can’t do anything with frozen MIDI.

The plugins are simple, nothing really going on here. Starting with the compression, It’s great for beginners, but you’ve only got one to choose from, really basic stuff. Same goes for the EQ, It’s awesome and I use it all the time in the full version in pretty much every record I make. But it’s a tiny taste of what the full version can offer.

Pro Tools on Mac desktop

Let’s go to the mix window now. The number of tracks is always important when making music I think, as I try and go past 16 tracks it stops me. You could very quickly use up at least 10 tracks nowadays for just drums, So this version has huge limitations here.

Check-Out of the Effects

Ok let’s talk effects: You’ve got one reverb and one delay; quite disappointing. Although with a bit of talent and imagination, you can do some crazy things with just these, most music producers are going to get bored very quickly with this. It doesn’t allow any third-party plugins like Waves or Apollo but I guess that’s the point, It’s all geared up to get you to move to the full version.

When you’ve filled up your 16-track masterpiece and thinking of bouncing it’s still very easy, just like the full version. The big difference is it doesn’t have the mp3 option, which let’s be honest, we all need. So it’s just WAV format for now.

If you’re just starting out or have never owned a DAW and want to try recording for the first time without spending any money then I would say this software is for you. On that basis, it’s awesome because it’s so basic.

One compressor, one EQ and one virtual instrument. It’s not confusing you with a crazy amount of options. After all, I recorded for about ten years without the use of any compression or the ability to cut, move and chop things up in a digital system.

You also have the same sound quality as most hit records are made with these days. If you’re more advanced and want something simple just for writing or getting those ideas down then this is so ideal. You’re not gonna be able to make the next Daft Punk record on it but you could certainly write the next ‘Get Lucky’ demo on it.

So when it comes to comparing Pro Tools First vs Pro Tools specs, the important things to know are:

Specs Comparison

 Pro Tools FirstPro Tools 13
Number of Audio Tracks16128
Midi Tracks161024
Full Record, Edit, Cut & CopyYESYes
Track Freeze, Commit & Bounce AudioFreeze OnlyYes
Full import session data from other sessionsNoYes
Auxiliary Tracks16128
Included Plugins2380
Virtual Instruments16
Maximum Sample rate32Bit (96 kHz)32Bit (96 kHz)
MP3 OptionNoYes
Third Party Plugins/InstrumentsNoYes
AVID Cloud CollaborationYesYes
Number of Projects3Unlimited

You also have to have into consideration the main difference, which is the price. As mentioned before, Pro Tools First is completely free, while an up-to-date Pro Tools subscription starts at £20.25 a month (not including any add-ons).

In Summary, I would say Pro Tools First is a great taste of the full version, especially for its look and feel of it. If you just starting out this is the DAW for you. However, it might put some more advanced producers who are looking for something different from ‘Logic’ or ‘Reason’ with how few plugin-ins & VST instruments are included in this version. But take it from me, don’t let this put you off. The full version is top-notch!


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