Some would suggest that the Pro Tools Ideascale site is a good idea, helping users feedback their ideas to Avid to be considered for inclusion in future versions of Pro Tools. Whilst in principle it sounds like a great idea in practice it must be a bloody nightmare to deal with. Granted, some of the top suggestions are worthy ideas to consider for inclusion, yet others range from the plain barmy to those who simply don’t know how to use Pro Tools, rather than any insightful product development ideas. I write this knowing that Ideascale has been cited, on numerous occasions by Avid, as a driver behind product development. Right at the top of the list have been features that 99% of users have been screaming out for years for. Thankfully these do not include a two voice bass synth for left handed drummers or the option to colour code every MIDI note with a different Skittles flavour.
Pro Tools 11
I’ll cut to the chase, for those wanting a lot of bells and whistle, more stuff to fiddle with, you ain’t got it. For those who wanted the next generation of rock solid 64 bit DAW, Avid delivered.
In short Pro Tools has had a heart transplant not a boob job and as a professional I’m pleased, in fact I might go as far as saying I’m ecstatic.
So let’s see what boxes have been ticked;
DAE Is Dead - Tick!
Yes DAE is gone and has been replaced with a brand new Avid Audio Engine (That’s AAE for future acronymic use), an audio engine for the 21st century, DAE was invented in the last century (really) and was one of the main contributors to many of the error messages we all grew tired of trying to decipher. I’m yet to meet anyone, including Avid employees, who have a clue what half of the error codes mean. AAE promises to give more power on the same machine, so for those users who trot out the ‘I need to buy a new machine to get more power’ then this version of Pro Tools may just stop that.
64 Bit Architecture - Tick!
Part of me wants to put the flags out, another part of me simply gives a sigh of relief. It’s great to have a 64 bit version of Pro Tools, but one can’t help having the same kind of feeling you have when the council eventually moves the abandoned car at the end of your street - it should have happened sooner. We could beat up on Avid, but to be fair this generation of developers have had some serious work to do, finding themselves painted into a 32 bit corner by previous Digidesign/Avid coders. Getting to 64 bit was no mean feat, it is a tremendous achievement but, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, it doesn’t make Pro Tools cutting edge, simply catching up with the other DAWs that went 64 bit a long time ago. One can’t help wonder what trolls who like DAW wars are going to use against Pro Tools in future discussions … silly me, their DAW can display MIDI notes in different Skittles flavours.
Offline Bounce - Tick
Dare I say ditto to the above point? Again, a long overdue and welcome addition to Pro Tools, it does however make me wonder what I’m going to do with the time saved by this feature. Joking apart, 150x bounce with plug-in accuracy is going to save me a lot of time, so thank you Avid.
Low Latency Input Buffer - Ohhh
Now here’s something we were not expecting and something very interesting. Remember the coin flip one would make between latency when you were tracking a part and Pro Tools falling over for lack of CPU power - 64 samples or 1024 samples? Low latency Input Buffer lets you have your cake and eat it, and it does this by managing the output buffer and at the same time allowing you to set very low input buffers so you can track with minimal latency. I think this is a winner, it will also give those who can’t play in time one less thing to blame.
Dynamic Host Processing - Ohhh again!
Another unexpected feature and very smart too. If you have a track of audio, which I assume is not consolidated to the length of the session, then Pro Tools reduces the CPU load to any plug-ins that have fresh air running through them and grabs it when the track has audio. Again, another unexpected but welcome option in the fight for more power on Native systems.
New Metering - Ohhh
It’s about time the meters in Pro Tools got a makeover, but Avid have gone to town on the metering. The new meters are 30% taller and also offer gain reduction feedback from any dynamics plug-ins used in the channel - even better a combined gain reduction readout if you are using multiple dynamics on the channel. Then we come to the choice of metering, with more meters than a central London street - in fact at our count 17 different options - Mike is apoplectic - even better you can chose different metering for the master bus than the rest of the channels. The metering options are going to be a godsend for those working in broadcast and post who need to deliver to exacting standards.
There are also mini-meters on each insert point to let you know that audio is passing through the plug-in, I’m yet to see this working in practise, but it might be a handy feature when scanning a large mix session.
Multiple Mini Faders - Nice
The option to have a single send in a Pro Tools channel assigned to a fader has always been nice, but not being able to use that on multiple sends has been a bit of a bind - this restriction has now been removed and allows for a huge matrix of sends on a mix - its time to order a bigger monitor!
HD Video Handling - Good
Long overdue and somewhat ironic that a company like Avid, with a strong pedigree in video workflow, have not implemented a better video handling option in Pro Tools before. However in Pro Tools 11 we now have (what we are told) is the Media Composer video engine sat right inside Pro Tools allowing native import of video, without the laborious transcoding of video before import. Better still, once the video is within Pro Tools you can then choose to watch it at a proxy playback quality, you can also edit it right there in the timeline. All of these features are most welcome and great to see within this incarnation of Pro Tools. Good work Avid.
Helping With The Transition
There’s a lot of other minor stuff too to talk about - you can watch or listen to our 45 minute ‘Everything You Want To Know About Pro Tools 11’ here, but a few other things are worth noting. The first one is that Avid will ship 11 and 10 and allow you to install them on the same machine (a first for some years) and very helpful as we all transition across to the a new 64 bit AAX platform. This should reduce the blood sweat and tears of the journey for many of us.
Secondly, whilst there are those who think that any upgrade cost is too much (confusing Avid with Habitat for Humanity) we all felt the cost from Pro Tools 9 to 10 were both a bad policy and a car crash of marketing. Avid seemed to have listened and on the whole the upgrade costs (for what is effectively a new piece of software) are not bad at all. The HD jump from Pro Tools 10 to Pro Tools 11 is nearly half of the cost when they announced Pro Tools 10 and the other costs are also not extreme.
For users waiting for this version of Pro Tools has felt like waiting longer than for a hip operation on the National Health Service, so just imagine how the Product Managers and developers feel? I’ve been told off the record that this version of Pro Tools lays the foundations for lots of other cool stuff, none of it confirmed so I’m not going to fuel speculation. There are some obvious omissions such as formalising the track hack for saving channel strips, it seems a little odd that this was missed, but when you are faced with limited resources then you have to make those kind of decisions.
I think the title encapsulates my thinking, whilst it would have been easy for Avid to give us a boob job, they went for a heart transplant. Anyone who depends on Pro Tools will appreciate that the latter is a far better option - it may not get you as many wows at a trade fair, or indeed as many sexy headlines (forgive the pun), it certainly won’t make you as many friends from those who spend their time comparing DAW features in forums. However, what it should do is give those who depend on Pro Tools rock solid performance with the minimum of limitations, a 21st century DAW.
Avid (Digidesign) invented the DAW and for good reason Pro Tools has been ubiquitous as the professional DAW. Many loyal Pro Tools users, including myself, have seen many other companies add essential features to their DAWs which Pro Tools has continued to lack. I’ve never wanted to get rid of Pro Tools but my racehorse was beginning to feel a bit like an old mule - it did the job but it wasn’t going to win any races.
The team at Avid should be applauded, not because they gave us 64 bit and offline bounce, that would have simply been catching up, but because they were innovative and smart enough to go the extra mile and give us even more to improve performance and workflow.
One sticking point for many will be the transition to AAX and the omission of some pretty serious players to the party. One reason for that may simply have been that AAX in Pro Tools 11 is 64 bit and so vendors would need to recode the 32 bit versions, they may have simply delayed until Pro Tools 11 was shipping, which is in a couple of months time. We understand that there are working versions of Waves, Arturia and many other companies in beta, so our guess is that most companies will be ready when it ships.
There is one thing that does puzzle me - with all these performance features for native computing, one has to wonder how many people will be able to run Pro Tools without HD/HDX hardware. If Avid were in it simply to sell hardware, then Pro Tools 11 is a funny way of showing it.
I mentioned race horses earlier and yesterday we had the Grand National - I didn’t put any money on that race, but if I were a gambling man then I’d put my money on Pro Tools 11 - it’s a winner!