Test Drive: Avid’s Pro Tools 11

BOUNCE ME

One of the long-standing gripes about Pro Tools has been its inability to perform real-time bouncing, aka “offline bouncing.” On more than one occasion, I have personally delivered that well-worn gripe to the development staff, first at Digidesign, and now Avid. They’ve all heard that tune before, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they wanted to fix it but simply could not, given the old and well-patched audio engine. Well, now they have. The Bounce dialog box now comes with a checkbox to enable off-line bouncing. No more real-time bounces, waiting for a full 60 seconds to bounce a 60-second commercial. More importantly, no waiting 30 minutes to bounce a 30 minute radio show, or consolidating that 30 minute radio show into one file to avoid bouncing altogether while losing the ability to apply any real-time effects. No more applying off-line AudioSuite effects to specific segments of a file, one region at a time, and then consolidating.

No, off-line bouncing has finally brought Pro Tools into the second decade of the 21st century. (And it has given PT 11 a feature that most other software audio editors have had since the beginning of that century). All snark aside, this really is a big deal for Pro Tools users. So how much faster or we talking about? In most of the sessions I tried, off-line bounce appeared to be about 10 times faster than real-time. Users running very large sessions, using a large number of DSP-based AAX plug-ins, reported bounce times somewhat less than that. This appears to be due to the fact that all DSP-based AAX plug-ins are actually converted to their native counterparts at bounce time. The DSP-based versions won’t do real-time bounce, which is why avid and other plug-in manufacturers provide both versions (native and DSP-based) of their plugs, and the DSP versions have native code in them so both versions sound the same.

And there are other benefits. Delay compensation is built-in to both the native and the HD version. If you’re not aware, delay compensation compensates for the delay time that some plug-ins generate on playback and ensures that all tracks are playing back in sync even if they have differing types and numbers of effects processors on them. It’s not a big deal for a single voiceover track, but it is a big deal in a production situation.

The maximum sample rate for both HD and non-HD remains 32 bit, and 192 kHz (hardware dependent). Total track count remains about the same as with version 10. For an HD system, the maximum playback count is 256 tracks at 48 kHz; for a non-HD system, maximum playback is 96 tracks at that same sample rate. Maximum simultaneous recording track number is 256 for HD, and 32 for non-HD.

Pro Tools 11 also includes some improvements to the onscreen mixer. The level meters are now 30% larger than they were, making them easier to see from a distance, and they can be configured to show different types of metering ballistics and scales. In addition to the classic view, you can now set the meters to show you sample peak all the time (there are also two other new scales that are primarily designed for live sound use). In addition, you can now see all of the sends in expanded view simultaneously. And there are more, very specific improvements that apply only to the HD systems in the areas of metering, gain reduction metering, and advanced metering scales.

WE DON’T NEED NO STEENKIN’ HD

Given the processing power increase as a result of the rewrite of all the software, it’s difficult to see why even a big radio production studio would need a full-blown, DSP-based HD system. Computers are wicked fast, and Pro Tools HD native systems, which consist of an HD native card and an Omni interface are substantially less expensive than the smallest HD TDM system was just a few years back. But an HD system is still several thousand dollars, even if it is native. I do my work on a regular old Pro Tools native system, and the step up to version 11 feels better to me.

I could go on about being disappointed in the lack of changes in the software for version 11, but given the fact that the software has been completely rewritten I can understand why so few changes were made in features. Having said that, there is still some expense involved in upgrading even my vanilla rig. Between the software upgrade itself, which is $299 on Avid store, and the price of plug-in upgrades, it’s a fair chunk of change. If you make your money with Pro Tools as I do, and you work on long form programs as I do, you might indeed find it a worthwhile update. If not, then you may just be better off using what you have.

For more information worldwide, visit http://www.avid.com.

SIDEBAR: AAX -- Current Status

Given that Pro Tools 11 can only use 64-bit AAX plug-ins, one might be interested to know the current state of AAX compatibility for both Avid plugs and third-party plugin publishers. Well, there’s good news and bad news, yet again.

If you are a native Pro Tools user and only use the stock plug-ins, you’re golden; all Avid’s plug-ins have been converted and work. The exceptions include plug-ins which had been developed by or distributed based on agreements with third parties, and most of these are HD-oriented; Amp Farm and Echo Farm, TC Electronics plugs, and even TL Space and Click.

The situation for third-party plug-ins varies from developer to developer, but many companies were ready with 64-bit AAX variants of their plugs at release time, and most of the others have caught up as of this writing. The list has become long since PT 11 was released, and includes many of my personal favorites; Wave Arts’ AAX plugins are available, as are Blue Cats Audio’s and DMG Audio’s. Of particular interest to voice actors, Source Elements’ Source Connect is also compatible, as is iZotope’s entire range including RX3 noise reducer. And while it took them a bit longer than other companies, Waves’ full line of plugs are available for both HD and native systems, and in glorious 64-bits.

So where is the bad news? For the most part, the upgrades to AAX and/or 64-bit are not free. Most companies allow discounts for current users, but these range from acceptable to “I might as well buy another copy” pricing. I also understand the reasons why -- the fact is that the task of porting an RTAS-format plugin (or the format formerly known as TDM) to a 64-bit capable, AAX-format plug involves a lot of expensive DSP and User Interface programming. That stuff ain’t free, and doing it will not generate much in the way of incremental sales, and the bills must be paid. Having said that, it may well weigh heavily on an existing user’s decision whether or not to upgrade to PT 11. It can be a wickedly expensive proposition.

You can get information on the status of your favorite plug-ins by visiting http://www.avid.com/plugins. 

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