Avid Pro Tools Perpetual Software License vs Subscription Guide

A guide to navigating which Avid Pro Tools product to buy - new users, existing users & non-retail versions (student/teacher/academic).
Avid Pro Tools

Avid Pro Tools Software is switching to a subscription-based sales model.  Similarly, a lot of software manufacturers have lately.  Avid, Adobe, and Microsoft Office have all made the transition.  Avid changed up its product structure last year and they couldn’t have made it more confusing.  They’ve all but abandoned the perpetual license ownership sales model and are actively tying to push customers into their subscription-based sales model.  Perpetual licenses however available for purchase.  In addition, the company formerly known as DigiDesign rebranded Pro Tools HD as Pro Tools Ultimate adding further confusion. 

Add in non-retail software versions – student/teacher, academic institutional, cross-grades, upgrades, & reinstatement and update plans and you’ll be lucky if you find the correct software product to fit your needs.  For example, some big-box retailers had to hire developers to create GUIs to help their customers find the right product.  Even then those doesn’t give the correct results all of the time. 

Additionally, all online software sales are final.  No returns, exchanges, or refunds.  No exceptions.  Manufacturers tend to work with customers in these situations, however resellers will not. 

In this article I’ll explain what each Pro Tools product line offers and how to navigate upgrading or changing your product status.  

Avid Pro Tools Current Product LineUp:

  • Pro Tools | First

  • Pro Tools

  • Pro Tools | Ultimate

avid pro tools

Pro Tools First

Since its creation in 2015, Avid’s free version of Pro Tools and can be downloaded here.  You’ll need to create an account or sign in if you already have one.  Most importantly, make sure to check your computer passes system requirements.  Pro Tools First is comparable to other free or inexpensive DAWs from software manufacturers like Steinberg with Cubase Elements ($99.99) and PreSonus with Studio One Artist ($99.95). 

As with any ‘light’ or ‘intro’ DAW features are limited. Pro Tools First allows a max of 4 inputs (depending on your audio hardware), audio projects max out at 16 Audio, MIDI, Instrument, & Aux tracks each, NO video, and you have access to only 23 of Avid’s plugins. 

Other editing, mixing & mastering limitations exist, too.  Still not bad for a free DAW, though.

Pro Tools

Avid’s most popular Pro Tools version.  Can be purchased as a perpetual license ($599) or a subscription, billed monthly ($34.99) or annually ($299). 

Pro Tools comes with everything you need to make complex, beautiful sounding recordings including 64 inputs (depending on hardware), 256 audio tracks (mono / stereo), 1024 MIDI tracks, 512 Instrument tracks, 128 Aux & Routing Folder tracks each, has support for video (1 track), unlimited busses, and comes with 120 free included plugins.

While editing you have access to the all new Audio-to-MIDI feature, Sibelius score editor, beat detective & input monitoring.  Moreover, mixing features include clip gain, track freeze/bounce, VCA mixing, & AAF/OMF/MXF file interchange allowing you to exchange projects with other users on other DAW platforms.

Above all, with any software check your system requirements before purchasing.

Pro Tools | Ultimate

Avid’s flagship DAW.  Formerly marketed as Pro Tools HD, this product includes everything mentioned above plus LOADS of more features.  In addition, this product can be purchased as a perpetual license ($2,599) or a subscription, billed monthly ($89.99) or annually ($799).  

Includes 2,048 audio tracks, 1,024 MIDI tracks, 512 Instrument, Aux & Routing Folder tracks, 64 video tracks, and the available sample rate increases to 192kHz.  Moreover, mix in surround sound or Dolby Atmos with Netflix Production Technology Alliance support and a host of other high end features.  Pro Tools | Ultimate is designed for the professional user and is mostly employed by film and movies studios, advertising agencies, and professional recording studios world-wide.

As with any software, check your system requirements before purchasing.

Subscriptions vs Perpetual Licenses

Subscriptions Come With More Free Stuff

Besides the differences contained in this Pro Tools comparison table, Pro Tools subscription plans work exactly the same way as perpetual licenses do except for a few main differences.  To clarify, with either users get basically the same core software content and functionality. 

Subscriptions include the Avid Complete Plugin Bundle ($49.99 USD/year value), HEAT ($495 value), UVI Falcon ($349) value, Celemony Melodyne Essential ($99 value), and 3 months of Antares Auto-Tune Unlimited.  Meanwhile, perpetual licenses with an active Avid update plan DO NOT include these 5 plugins, but do include the remaining 115 free plugins.  

Subscriptions Do’t Work If You Don’t Keep Paying

Here’s another main difference, and this is key.  Pro Tools subscription plans WILL NOT RUN if users do not keep their plan current or active.  Perpetual licenses however will allow users to open and use Pro Tools for as long as they have a computer with an operating system able support the software.  Likewise, purchasers of any perpetual license plan receive free updates and support for 1 year after date of activation.

Perpetual Licenses Are Becoming Subscriptions

A big drawback to perpetual licenses is Avid’s Update & Support Plans, which basically turns a perpetual license into a subscription, just more a more expensive one.  Subsequently, if users purchase a perpetual license and do not purchase an update plan after 1 year, their account will become inactive.  Similarly this means they will no longer receive Pro Tools software updates and support.  Likewise users who wish to update their perpetual license will find their only option is to purchase another perpetual license or subscription plan at full retail value.  Most importantly, expired perpetual licenses will continue to run.

Also, customers who wish to switch from a perpetual license to a subscription plan must surrender the perpetual license. This effectively defrauds a customer’s license ownership and previous investment.  

Purchasing Pro Tools

New Users & Owners of Pro Tools LE or Pro Tools Express (InMusic Edition)

Decide which version of Pro Tools and wether you want a subscription or a perpetual license.  Here are the available options:

Existing Users

Here’s where things get confusing.  As a result, we’ve separated things into 3 main groups to help you find the correct product solution:

  • Pro Tools
  • Pro Tools | Ultimate
  • Pro Tools non retail (Educational/Student/Teacher/Academic) 

Pro Tools

Prerequisites – Owners of Pro Tools 9 or later, Pro Tools Express (Avid Edition), or Pro-Tools M-Powered only.  Owners of Pro Tools versions 8 or earlier, Pro Tools LE & Pro Tools Express are considered ‘new users’.

Pro Tools | Ultimate

Upgrade an existing Pro Tools Perpetual License

Upgrade an existing Pro Tools | Ultimate Subscription – Avid Pro Tools | Ultimate 1-Year Subscription Renewal (Retail, Download) ($799)

Pro Tools (Native) Student/Teacher

New Users

Upgrade an Existing Perpetual License

Pro Tools (Native) Academic/Educational Institution

New Users

Upgrade an Existing Perpetual License

Pro Tools | Ultimate Student/Teacher

New UsersAvid Pro Tools | Ultimate 1-Year Subscription Audio And Music Creation Software (Education Student/Teacher, Download) ($299)

Current Subscription RenewalAvid Pro Tools | Ultimate 1-Year Subscription Renewal (Education Student/Teacher, Download) ($299)

Prerequisites – Teachers and staff purchasing Avid Pro Tools products for institutional use only. Users must be employed by an accredited, government-recognized public or private university. Likewise from a college, for-profit career/vocational schools that grant degrees and/or certificates, and schools for instrumental instruction/tuition.  

Eligibility verification is determined by Identit-e.  Similarly, further clarification on Academic Eligibility & Verification can be found here.

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