Avid’s announcement of both Pro Tools 10 and their introduction of the Pro Tools HDX platform certainly made some big waves at AES conference this year. The latter was of particular excitement as it represents the first major overhaul of the Pro Tools DSP platform in around nine years.
While most coverage of these two announcements (ours included) looked at them as two separate entities, to get the full scope of exactly how far Avid has moved forward with this release, you really have to consider them in combination with one another, as it definitely lays out the roadmap for where Pro Tools is headed.
For a recap of the new features, you can read our release summary here, but what I want to do in this article is share my opinions on why Avid has really excelled with this release, and also address some of the comments people have raised about it.
Let’s deal with the most important point first. Starting with the new HD I/O interfaces, and continuing through the Pro Tools 10 and HDX platform releases, Avid has focused on the one area that most manufacturers are overlooking – it’s improving the quality of its system. While addressing performance through the disk caching and scheduling advances, and massive DSP power increases, Avid is improving the sound quality of the entire system by moving from fixed point processing to 32-bit floating point with 64-bit floating point summing. This means vastly increased headroom and much less chance of clipping.
Avid has also introduced a brand new plug-in system with the AAX format which, as well as taking advantage of the increased headroom, also provides a seamless transition between DSP-based and native versions of the same plug-in. And it’s all 64-bit ready, meaning a smooth transition to a native 64-bit version of Pro Tools, without various bits not working.
And that stuff’s important, right? If you’re in the market for a DAW system, surely the prime consideration should always be which one sounds best, and any advance in that direction is a good thing. But as with any new version of a popular system, there were flurries of posts, tweets and random shoutings from people about how Avid had made a “colossoal oversight” in not including whichever feature they felt they needed.
Here are some of the most frequently voiced complaints…
It isn’t 64-bit
That’s true. Pro Tools 10 HD could have been 64-bit, but then it wouldn’t have supported the older HD cards. They simply don’t have the architecture, hence the introduction of HDX cards. RTAS and TDM also don’t support 64-bit, therefore Avid now uses AAX. Usefully, Pro Tools 10 gives an interim period where both hardware systems are supported, to allow users to transition. I’m sure those that can recall the day Apple announced new machines that had Firewire instead of SCSI and USB instead of serial ports (or for that matter, the arrival of Intel chips) will remember the feeling of hearing that all their peripherals had become obsolete overnight. With Pro Tools 10 HD remaining 32-bit, obviously Pro Tools 10 has to as well. Interoperability is paramount to Pro Tools users who need to move sessions between different systems.
But we need 64-bit!
Lots of manufacturers have now released 64-bit versions of their DAWs. However, most have focused on just one thing – being able to access more RAM for virtual instruments. This is obviously a great thing if you use huge sample libraries, but what you’re essentially getting is a straight port of the 32-bit application that can use more memory. There’s no rewrite to increase audio quality and, more often than not, a broken feature set (plug-ins that now require a ‘bridge’, no ReWire support, incomplete video support and interchange formats not working, to name a few common ones). A 64-bit version of a DAW could be capable of sounding much better, but that doesn’t always seem to be a priority. When Pro Tools eventually does go 64-bit, it will be offering a lot more than just extended memory access.
There’s no Track Freeze…
No. But you can still either a) bounce or b) use the much improved Audiosuite plug-ins workflow to render tracks. Both of which are basically the same.
…and no non-realtime bounce
There are two points here. Firstly, how important is that? Would you ever deliver a finished master to a client that you hadn’t heard all the way through? Secondly, some applications are not able to use all the system resources during the bounce phase. A heavy session can actually take longer to bounce in non-realtime if it is, say, only able to access one core of the processor.
HDX is an expensive upgrade
It’s not cheap, but at least there is one. Mixing desk manufacturers, for example, don’t give you an upgrade path when they release a new model. For those who have bought HD in the last year it probably seems harsh, but then there’s still a full year of HD being supported by the current version of the software and even long after that it’s still going to be better than almost any native offering. For those who bought HD when it first came out, nine years represents a huge return on investment so for those guys, being able to upgrade to the HDX at a dramatically reduced cost is a huge bonus. What other recording equipment could you have bought nine years ago that wouldn’t be utterly worthless by now?
Who needs HDX when computers are now so powerful you can run everything natively?
Well, presumably anyone who wants to increase the plug-in capability of their system by at least five times. Or anyone who wants to be able to monitor through plug-ins with extremely low (as low as 0.70ms) latency. Those features are very important to some professional users.
There will always be those who flip-flop between different applications every time another manufacturer releases an update, aggrieved it hasn’t delivered every feature they had imagined. Doubtless we’ll hear the same again next time Apple release an update to Logic from people who want the features Ableton Live users have. But for the majority of Pro Tools users, it reaffirms their faith in Avid – as with the move from Mix to HD, they have once again delivered an upgrade that, above all, makes things sound better.
As always, it’s great to hear opinions from Pro Tools fans as well as other DAW users, so let us know your thoughts on Avid’s latest update in the comments box below…
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