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Chapter 4. Starting a New Session > Creating an I/O Setup

Creating an I/O Setup

A signal path refers to the way that audio is routed in, out, and through a Pro Tools session. A signal path can have many different configurations. For instance, you may want to bus audio to a DSP plug-in, or output audio to an external hardware effect. This signal path configuration is called an I/O Setup. For more on I/O Setup, see Chapter 2: Software Basics.

Using the I/O Setup dialog box

The I/O Setup dialog box (Figure 4.13) lets you create I/O Setups. Use this checkerboard-like dialog box to define track inputs and outputs, inserts, and bus paths. You can save your definitions as I/O Settings files for use with later sessions. (See Importing and Exporting I/O Settings Files later in this chapter.)

Figure 4.13. The I/O Setup dialog box.

To open the I/O Setup dialog box:
Make sure your audio interface is enabled and configured properly in the Playback Engine dialog box.

Choose Setups > I/O Setup (Figure 4.14). The I/O Setup dialog box appears. Its parameter controls include the following:

Figure 4.14. Choose Setups > I/O Setup.

Path Type Selector: The Path Type selector lets you choose a path type (input, output, insert, or bus).

Expand/Collapse Paths Button: The Expand/Collapse Paths button lets you expand the path name to show sub-paths associated with a main path.

Path Name Column: The Path Name column displays the current path name. Enter a new name in the field to rename a path.

Active/Inactive Button: The Active/Inactive button lets you turn a path on or off.

Path Format Selector: The Path Format selector lets you choose a format (mono or stereo) for each path.

Channel Grid: The Channel grid lets you map out paths between the I/O interface and channels in a session.

Path Tools: Path tools let you customize paths. Path tools include New Path, New Sub-Path, Delete Path, and Default.

Default Output Selector: The Default Output selector lets you set the default output assignments for new tracks.

Audition Path Selector: The Audition Path selector lets you pre-configure Audio Regions list previewing.

Meter Path Selector (Pro Control only): The Meter Path selector lets you set the paths displayed across the Pro Control Output meters.

What Is Gain Staging?

It’s all too easy to accumulate noise on your recordings when levels are set too loudly or too softly. Gain staging can help you keep your recordings clean.

A gain stage is any point in an audio signal path where the audio signal is amplified (boosted) or attenuated (cut). The volume knob on your stereo, for instance, is a gain stage. Likewise, every amp, pre-amp, fader, and effect in your Pro Tools system is a gain stage. The process of setting all gain stages in a system to their optimal values is known as gain staging.

Before you begin recording or mixing, check the levels on each gain stage in your system. Start by optimizing your audio source input levels; then, optimize levels on all inserts, sends, and outputs. Avoid clipping audio signals (making them too loud), which can produce notoriously unpleasant digital distortion.

For more information on audio input levels, see Chapter 6: Getting Ready to Record.

Defining new paths

The I/O Setup dialog box lets you define main paths and sub-paths. Main paths are logical groupings of inputs, outputs, inserts, or buses, such as a stereo (two-channel) output. Sub-paths are signal paths within the main path. For example, a main path stereo output has two mono sub-paths (Figure 4.15).

Figure 4.15. Main path stereo outputs and corresponding sub-path mono outputs.

You can define new main paths and sub-paths in the I/O Setup dialog box.

To create a new path:
Choose Setups > I/O Setup.

Click a path type tab (Input, Output, Insert, or Bus) (Figure 4.16).

Figure 4.16. Click a path type tab (Input, Output, Insert, or Bus).

Click the New Path button, or press Command-N (Macintosh) or Control-N (Windows).

Or, select a main path and click the New Sub-Path button.

Double-click the Name field and enter a path name. (The path names appear globally in Pro Tools’ track-routing selectors.)

Choose a format (mono or stereo) from the Path Format selector (Figure 4.17).

Figure 4.17. Choose a path format (Mono or Stereo).

Configure other path types (Input, Output, Insert, or Bus).

Click OK.


  • You don’t need to configure the I/O Setup before you begin recording—Pro Tools’ default I/O Setups are adequate for most basic recording situations. As you expand your system, however, you’ll likely want to experiment with new I/O Setups.

Mapping channels

Once you’ve defined a path, you can map it in the I/O Setup dialog box’s channel grid (Figure 4.18). Channel mapping is subject to these limitations:

Figure 4.18. The I/O Setup dialog box’s channel grid.

  • No two main output paths, insert paths, or main bus paths can partially or completely overlap.

  • A new output or bus path must be entirely independent of other paths, or it must be a sub-path completely contained within a main path.

  • Output and insert paths can overlap, but they cannot be used at the same time.

To map channels:
Select a main path or sub-path (Figure 4.19).

Figure 4.19. Select a main path or sub-path.

In the row for the selected path, click in the grid column under the audio interface and channel (Figure 4.20).

Figure 4.20. Map channels in the channel grid.

Re-mapping channels

You can move individual assignments to different channels and redefine a path.

To re-map channels in a path:
  • Drag the channel to the new location in the grid (Figure 4.21).

    Figure 4.21. Re-map a channel by dragging it to a new location in the grid.

    Other channel assignments automatically move (shuffle) to accommodate the dragged channels.

Making paths active or inactive

Paths can be active (on) or inactive (off). You can switch paths between these states on single tracks or session-wide.

To toggle a track path assignment between active and inactive:
  • In either the Mix or Edit window, Command-Control-click (Macintosh) or Control-Start-click (Windows) on a track Input, Output, Insert, or Send selector. Inactive paths are italicized and grayed-out in the track path selectors (Figure 4.22).

    Figure 4.22. Inactive paths are italicized.

To toggle a global path assignment between active and inactive:
Choose Setups > I/O Setup.

Select a path type tab (Input, Output, Insert, or Bus).

Click the Active/Inactive button (Figure 4.23).

Figure 4.23. Click the Active/Inactive button.


  • Active paths use system resources. Make paths inactive whenever possible to conserve CPU power and improve system performance.

About I/O Settings files

When you start a session, you can choose from several I/O Setup configuration options:

  • Default I/O Setups: These Pro Tools factory pre-sets give you useful basic main path and sub-path definitions.

  • Custom Presets: You can store and recall custom presets using the import and export features of the I/O Setup dialog box.

  • Last Used: The most recent I/O Setup configuration is saved as a Last Used settings file (Figure 4.24).

    Figure 4.24. The Last Used settings file.

Importing and exporting I/O Settings files

You can import and export I/O Setup configurations as I/O Settings files. This lets you save I/O Setups for reuse.

To export and save an I/O Setup configuration:
Click Export Settings in the I/O Setup dialog box (Figure 4.25).

Figure 4.25. Click Export Settings to save I/O Settings files.

Name and save the settings file (Figure 4.26).

Figure 4.26. Name and save the settings file.

To import an I/O Settings file:
Click Import Settings in the I/O Setup dialog box (Figure 4.27).

Figure 4.27. Click Import Settings to import a settings file.

Select the desired settings file in the dialog box. Click OK.

You’ll be asked if you want to delete the existing unused paths (Figure 4.28).

Figure 4.28. Choose whether to keep or delete existing paths.

Select one of the following:

Yes if you want to delete existing paths. This re-maps the original session path definitions to your current audio interface.

No if you don’t want to delete existing paths. This adds session paths to the current I/O Setup.

Initializing I/O Setup

Before Pro Tools recognizes a new I/O Setup as valid, each path must have a name, a format (mono or stereo), and a valid channel mapping. See Mapping Channels earlier in this chapter for channel mapping requirements.

To set the current I/O Setup configuration:
  • Click OK in the I/O Setup dialog box.

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