AF’s Weblog

January 25, 2011

Avid Pro Tools 9 Review

It was THE event at the 2010 AES show in San Fran: the launch of Pro Tools 9 took center stage and generated a lot of expectations. Pro Tools 9 is not merely a simple update. It is in fact a small revolution for Avid, given that the famous DAW is now open to the external world — for the first time ever.

Over the last couple of months there were rumors everywhere about the possibility of, one day, being able to use the well-known digital audio platform independently from the dedicated Avid hardware interfaces… All of you who have been patiently waiting for that moment can rejoice: now Avid Pro Tools doesn’t need Avid hardware to work, and still deliver a high performance. Or at least that’s the assertion by the American manufacturer — the leader in the digital pro audio and video markets.

Surely the most skeptical will think that it will only be possible with a “light” version of the software or something. Wrong!  We mean THE Pro Tools 9 — an almost “unique” version that works with all sorts of digital audio interfaces. However, when searching for more information on Avid’s website things get a bit more complicated, considering that there are several possible configurations at very different prices!

In order to make things clear, we will start by giving you an overview of the main software and hardware configurations and then introduce the new features offered by Pro Tools 9.

Set Menu or à la carte

Avid Pro Tools 9

Until now, the options to use Pro Tools were quite simple because they were limited: you could choose between an expensive Pro Tools HD system (including at least one DSP Core card upgradeable with Access cards) or the more affordable Pro Tools LE system with limited functionality (the price depended on the interface you chose)… Today, the configurations are quite different, although there is still some hierarchy when it comes to features (and price).

The first version is still the flagship in Avid’s DAW range: Pro Tools HD 9. Like its predecessor, this update of Pro Tools HD 8 works only with HD Core and Accel PCIe cards (including nine DSPs each) and is sold bundled as before: HD1 system (with one Core card), HD2 system (with one Core card and one Accel card) and HD3 system (with one Core card and two Accel cards). There is no surprise up to now.

The real change comes with the second version called Pro Tools HD Native, which is a piece of software that provides exactly the same features as the “HD” version but without a DSP card. Instead, Pro Tools HD Native is sold with a PCIe card with two Mini-Digilink ports that allow the user to connect any HD interface to it, like the new Avid HD I/O interfaces: 16×16 Analog, 16×16 Digital, HD MADI, and the new HD Omni! In other words, this Pro Tools version is the first “HD version” that can work without a dedicated DSP card… In fact, the compatibility between Pro Tools HD Native and the UAD-2 card system has just been officially announced… Does it start to make sense to you now?

Last but not least, the product range includes another version, simply called Pro Tools 9, which is very similar to the HD version and works on both Mac and PC platforms, regardless of your ASIO or Core Audio digital audio interface. This new hardware-independent version has the clear goal of competing with other native sequencers.

Let see if it can succeed!…

Pro Tools Will Always Stay Pro Tools

It’s true that the Pro Tools concept doesn’t change with this new update. We will probably have to wait some more time before certain features appear in the Avid software. Despite all, the manufacturer wants to listen to what its users have to say through IdeaScale.

 

And let’s make something clear: the fact that Pro Tools is used by the vast majority of professionals is not only due to the brand’s effective marketing. Apart from the proven quality of the ready-to-use hardware/software solutions in the HD range, Pro Tools has always had a great response due to the design of the software itself. Although it lacks some features, the software allows for an easy and fast recording, editing and mixing of audio, in comparison to other tools that make things much more complex because of their sophistication (for example, until version 4, the side chain was incredibly complex in Cubase and Nuendo compared to Pro Tools…).

 

For primary tasks, Avid’s sequencer is not disappointing at all and allows the user to work well and fast. That’s the main reason why it remains the first choice of many professionals and why it can be very appealing to beginners who can easily get scared by the endless menus, tabs and options in some competitor products… If all sequencers offered a demo version, these differences would be obvious, making the user’s decision much more easier.

Conclusion

By ensuring the compatibility of its flagship product with the external world, Avid took a huge step forward, which will certainly delight many professionals and semi-professionals: from now on, you can take the software anywhere, and even if it’s not an HD version it allows you to do some serious work.

After the major update that version 8 represented, we expected more new features and plug-in improvements. And we are still in shock by the price of the Complete Production ToolKit, which addresses professionals mainly. Although the “big” Pro Tools is now affordable to all budgets, it is not the best tool for everyone. And now that it can be really compared with other sequencers it could suffer from the aggressiveness of its competitors. But, since Avid is not a company that rests on its laurels, we are looking forward to seeing how this market will evolve…

Advantages:

  • Pro Tools usable with third-party audio interfaces!
  • Ease of installation/use/configuration of the software
  • Possible configurations
  • Improved I/O setup
  • Easier bus routing
  • Latency compensation (finally)!

Drawbacks:

  • Few new features compared to version 8 in terms of functionality
  • No VST/AU support
  • Complete Production Toolkit for HD version too expensive for non-professionals
  • Not all audio interfaces are 100% supported
  • Bounce only in real time

To read the full detailed article see:  Pro Tools 9 Review

 

March 3, 2010

Digidesign Eleven Rack Review

Digidesign surprised the world last year when they brought out a guitar amp simulator for Pro Tools called Eleven. They have now launched Eleven in rack format for applications in the studio and on stage. Let’s take a look at Digidesign’s youngest child…

Eleven RackGuitar amp simulations have already won their place in the hearts of guitar players years ago for several reasons: they give you a big sound without having to disturb the neighborhood, they save space and provide all the effects and amps you ever dreamed of. These advantages are decisive both in the studio and on stage. But most guitar players get very sentimental when it comes to their gear and it can be hard for them to set their favorite amp aside. The only reason they would do that is because of the sound–with capital S–, which is the holy grail for any electric guitar player. Amp simulations sound better and better every time with more sophisticated algorithms and convolution technology that faithfully recreate speakers and mics.
Eleven RackConvolution technology started to make its way among hardware speaker simulators like the Two Notes Torpedo, but also among software tools like the latest Guitar Rig version, Revalver and Digidesign’s Eleven. In fact, Eleven is basically a plugin for Pro Tools developed to compete with the leading products on the market; but it was hard to set it apart from its competitors, in spite of its good sound.

Thus, Digidesign decided to put its plugin into a hardware rack making it a convenient tool for studio and live guitar players. How did they do? The answer is here…

Hardware Amp Simulation

Eleven RackEleven Rack is a two-in-one product: it’s a fully standalone amp and effects simulator (it doesn’t require to be connected to a computer), as well as a digital audio interface compatible with Digidesign’s sequencer Pro Tools. Let’s start from the beginning, the amps simulations.

Eleven Rack offers few surprises in this regard, it includes the same amp simulations as the software version with the addition of some effects and interesting features…

Once unpacked, you’ll discover a nice looking 2U orange/black rack piece. The front panel has an aluminum border and plastic buttons and knobs. It looks nice and serious; time will tell if the knobs can withstand the assaults of a guitar player. The front panel also has a large and easily readable backlit display surrounded by switches and knobs, whose function depends on what the display currently shows. In normal mode, the “Scroll” encoder allows you to browse among the different presets (about 100) and the “SW1” switch allows you to select the different display types, while the knobs under the display are assigned to the different amp settings. The knobs are not motorized, but they turn on orange when close to the saved value and red otherwise. A “save” button allows you to store your settings and an “edit/back” button gives you some insight on the unit’s heart.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Eleven RackDigidesign tackles the guitar market with an interesting product for both studio and stage applications. It provides less amps and effects than Guitar Rig or Pod X3 Pro but the sound quality is very good – convolution certainly plays a key role in that. Eleven Rack is very versatile thanks to its numerous inputs, outputs and routing possibilities, and it can be used for many applications, especially reamping. The True-Z input is a real treat. The Pro Tools 8 LE bundle with its plentiful effects and virtual instruments adds a lot of value to Eleven Rack. At about $900 ($200 more than the Pod X3 Pro with its numerous modelings), it seems to be a bit expensive at first sight, but the bundle is very interesting and Digidesign took a lot of care with the sound quality, which is almost impeccable. We only miss a dedicated volume control for the phones output. Nothing is perfect!

Advantages:

  • Nice design
  • Simulation of famous amps and effects
  • Convolution technology for speakers and mics
  • Overall sound quality
  • Versatility
  • Possibility to make reamping
  • Number of inputs and outputs
  • True-Z guitar input
  • No need for a computer on stage
  • Comprehensive digital audio interface
  • Mic input with phantom power
  • Sold with Pro Tools 8 LE and its plugins
  • Eleven’s GUI in Pro Tools

Drawbacks:

  • No Eleven plugin version
  • GUI only available within Pro Tools
  • It lacks some amps and effects
  • Only two mic positions
  • Plastic knobs
  • No independent phones volume control

To read the full detailed review including sound samples see: Digidesign Eleven Rack

October 30, 2009

Mackie Onyx 820i Review

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:29 am

It’s been a while since the first Onyx mixers with the FireWire option first came out, and now Mackie carries on with the Onyx 820i, which comes with Pro Tools M-Powered. Hmm…so what does M-Audio think about that?

Mackie Onyx 820iAt AudioFanzine, we were very surprised when we first received the Onyx 820i. We have not heard anything about a new Mackie analog mixer series sold with ProTools M-Powered, and there was also no information about it to be found on the web! The unit comes with “universal” drivers compatible with DigiDesign’s sequencer. As we write this review, we still don’t know if this is the result of a cooperation between ProTools and Mackie or if the manufacturer just took the liberty to use the software. What’s more, even though the pack we received included the Onyx and Pro Tools M-Powered, the latter is not an integral part of the product that you will find in stores. So let’s focus on the mixer then…

Unpacking

We like the overall design of the mixer, and the aluminum chassis gives it a sturdy and classy look, which is a very good point considering it’s an entry-level mixer. The plastic knobs–from the solo and mute buttons to the EQ controls–will be familiar to all Mackie users. The mixer’s compact dimensions (14.2″ x 9″ x 3.8″) and weight (9.7 lb.) make the mixer seem sturdy. We’ll have to see if this holds true under real-life conditions. It also has four rubber feet on the bottom side so it’s a mixer that will surely stay in place.

Now, let’s have a closer look at the technical features of the Onyx…

Conclusion

Mackie did an amazing job breaking the $500 price barrier with this compact analog mixer with three mic preamps, effective EQs and an 8 in/2 out FireWire interface. The quality design and manufacturing of this small Onyx make it a pleasant surprise. Mackie learned from previous mistakes and the 820i proves to be very comprehensive, as well as a good solution for live and studio musicians. The fact that it is ProTools compatible is already the focus of heated discussions because it seems Mackie might have tampered with DigiDesign’s system. Nonetheless, you’ll still have to pay an extra $250 for the sequencer, which raises the price to $750. It’s not that expensive but it makes us wonder why instead of bundling their highly recommended Tracktion software, Mackie encourages us to buy a competitor’s software…

Advantages:

  • Quality/performance/price ratio
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Effective Perkins EQ
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Pre or post-EQ FireWire

Drawbacks:

  • Preamps too limited for some applications
  • Only two computer output channel
  • Pro Tools compatibility smells like hacking…
  • Pro Tools M-Powered not included ($250 extra)…

To read the full detailed article see:  Mackie Onyx 820i Review

January 12, 2009

Test: Digidesign Pro Tools 8 Review

The Return of the King?
Pro Tools 8: The Test

The new Pro Tools has arrived armed with a bunch of new features: Elastic Pitch, thirty new plugins, five new virtual instruments – Boom (drum machine), Mini Grand (piano), DB-33 (tonewheel organ), Vacuum and Xpand!² (synthesizers), as well as Structure Free and Eleven. Let’s take a closer look at this latest release from DigiDesign…

First glance

lancement

While installing everything seemed to proceed normally. I chose my options and off it went! After a few minutes, I was asked to reboot the computer, which I did. Everything seemed ok…, well, almost everything. The old PT7 version was overwritten by the new version without any warning. It nevertheless kept my old plugins and extensions. Note that PT7 plugins work in PT8, and also vice versa!

I started the program up, but immediately ran into a problem. It crashed while trying to execute “stereo mixer.dpm” and “surround mixer.dpm”. I got rid of these files in the Plugins folder in Applications support. I re-started the software and it worked! Now during startup it checks for Digidesign product updates, and in the future it will also check for updates for certain brands’ plugins. One pleasant surprise: the LE version is compatible with the full range of Digidesign interfaces, from the Mbox 1 to Digi003 and TDM cards.

fenêtre edit

Once past these startup issues, a new window appeared: “Quick Start” which manages the opening of sessions. So you can choose to create a new session from models (templates) that finally have their own extention (.ptt) and a folder to manage them, located in Applications/Digidesign/Pro Tools/Session Templates. You can therefore create many templates without the risk of overwriting them with a simple backup. There are basic templates for creation, recording and mixing. The different models are nice to start off with, but it’s better in the long run to take the time to create your own to have your specific routing and display. You can also create a blank session, open a recent session, while choosing different session attributes in the lower part of Quick Start. This can sometimes be slow, but you can choose whether or not to show Quick Start at startup, which is a good point. You can also open a session, while pressing “shift”, that will load the session without loading its plugins and therefore avoiding the many issues that can arise when there are no plugins installed on your machine. You should be aware that when you close a session, the plugins stay loaded in the DSP (HD version only), which speeds up the process when opening similar sessions.

fenêtre mix

Once a session is started, you’ll finally discover the new graphic interface that looks softer and more curved. It’s nothing too extreme and you’ll be able to recognize your good old Pro Tools despite a trendy “glossy” look and sober colors. There’s a light gray background for the editing window and darker one for the Mix. Some people will be reminded of Logic, while others will think of Live or even Cubase. In any event, the colors are less aggressive, so staying in the studio for hours in front of your screen is less tiring for your eyes, and also for your morale.

Now let’s take an in-depth look…

Conclusion

PT8 has been developed to attract those who still have reservations or who use other sequencers. The virtual instruments sound good, which makes you want to use them. Plug-ins are much more numerous and sound surprisingly good. You still can’t export preferences with a session other than with Finder, but this is a small detail. Templates, that you’ll need to take the time with to record display configuration, tracks, routing, and other features, will be a real time saver in the long run. The Arrange function allows you to store all windows in cascade or tile, this has been used in a lot of other software. PT8 has had a considerable face-lift with its new design that’s not bad, especially for long sessions. Ergonomics are in general very nice and remain coherent with earlier versions. Omnipresent in professional audio and video, Digidesign is now targeting, more than ever before, home studios, composers, musicians and DJs … basically, everybody who makes music, because they would henceforth be able to export demos to a professional studio project using the same software. A multitude of small improvements make it a very serious competitor of other sequencers. It’s therefore a complete music production tool from start to finish.

New GUI
Alternate playlists
MIDI and Score editors
New keyboard shortcuts
48 track support (LE & M-Powered)
Template management
Virtual instruments
AIR plugins
MIDI offset Beatclock

AIR plugins – GUI too similar
No keyboard shortcuts for creating playlists
Score editor slows the system down in writing mode (LE)
No latency management PT

To read the full, detailed article see:   Pro Tools 8 Review

August 26, 2008

M-Audio Fast Track Ultra review

M-Audio recently presented their latest addition to the Fast Track family: the Ultra, a USB audio interface with 4 Octane preamps, integrated effects, and advanced routing. Is it a worthy successor to the Fast Track dynasty? Lets take a look…

Fast Track Ultra

M-audio already has quite a bit of experience with audio interfaces, and models such as the Firewire 410 or the Fast Track pro were big hits (technically as well as commercially). Since they’re on a roll, they’ve decided to expand their “Fast Track” USB interfaces with an “Ultra” model, which has evolved out of the Fast Track Pro, which itself evolved out of the first Fast Track.

You can read the full test of M-Audio Fast Track Ultra on Audiofanzine.

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