Pro Tools 11 has eventually shipped, just as promised before the end of Q2. Avid’s financial constraints meant that whatever happened, once the marketing machine pressed the fire button at NAB then it had to be with us by the end of June.
Pro Tools 11 promises greatly improved performance and better workflows, much of this due to the monumental task of porting Pro Tools (software built on decades of 32 bit legacy code) to 64 bit, which as you can imagine is no mean feat. At the same time Avid had the challenges of the new AAX plug-in platform, created by necessity rather than some marketing whim, legacy HD hardware and shoe horning some essential features such as offline bounce, that had frankly left Avid languishing behind some of the new kids on the block. Make no mistake about it being the industry standard is not the same as having all the features that other products have - a schoolboy error many critics of Pro Tools make. Professionals don’t buy Pro Tools for an endlesss list of features, but for workflow, performance, scalability and unbeatable editing.
I say this to underline that if you were hoping that Pro Tools 11 was going to ship with a brand new plug-in that tunes soprano midgets or a zillion loops containing everything from crushed walnuts to apes playing drums, you may have hitched to the wrong wagon and will be sorely disappointed. Pro Tools is used on everything from huge movies scores, top recording studios and yes also those who make music for a hobby, this is easy to forget when wanting features. Pro Tools caters for such a broad church that they have to make product development choices based on that - not what might suit a small number of people.
That’s a long winded way of saying that Pro Tools 11 promises power and workflow improvements over previous incarnations, so any review has to concentrate on these claims and see if Avid’s product managers have delivered what Avid’s marketing managers promised.
We have taken much longer over this review than previous Pro Tools reviews, partly because to really assess if the claims made by Avid are true you have to do extensive testing, most of this around the new Avid Audio Engine, which is central to the improved performance. What hasn’t helped in this research is the sparse information regarding how it really works and it has taken us some time and almost Columbo style “one more thing” tenacity to garner the information we needed. If you dig a little you can find a video from our friend Gill Gowing who does a good job of outlining the new features, but it would be nice not to have it hidden in a video called multiple times the processing. It would be good to see some articles, videos and indeed a manual section telling users how to get the best from these features.
In the absence of finding this information easily there are a few of things you need to know about the new AAE when comparing performance.
Firstly the dual buffer handles input and playback buffer sizes, so when you drop down your buffer size unless there is some kind of input such as an AUX or a channel in record/input monitoring then changing the buffer doesn’t utilise the low buffer setting but continues to play using the best possible playback buffer size. Of course that makes sense, one buffer (you can alter) for input and one you can’t for playback which is running at the higher rate, but if you want to run VI performance tests using this new dual buffer then you must have one of the aforementioned engaged.
Secondly when changing buffer sizes you need to allow the AAE do some maths, normally about 5 seconds before pressing play or record. You can see it happening when changing buffer sizes or indeed adding plug-ins, open up the CPU usage meter and watch it shoot up for a few seconds and then drop right back down and settle. You can also see this if your have Dynamic Plug-in Processing engaged, which leads us to…
Thirdly, if you turn on the dynamic plug-in engine but have all your tracks running the whole length of your session without any edits then you may not see much change, if any. If however you have cuts across the timeline with blank space where nothing happens either as audio or MIDI then you should see a difference. On a personal note I must be a little OCD because I do like all my tracks consolidated and hate having it all smattered across the timeline, so this may take some getting used to.
Gripes aside, we’ve now spent nearly a week testing Pro Tools in all sorts of ways, opening old sessions, creating new tests and checking things like offline bounce (again we would love to know why some bounces run at 60x and other seemingly similar ones at 4x) we are guessing but a more definitive answer would be nice. We have also been looking for bugs and yes as to be expected from any new software there are a few, but nothing life shattering.
Pro Tools 11 does what it says on the tin - it is considerably faster, enables one to open considerably bigger sessions - for example in our VI test which you can see here we managed to create a Pro Tools 10 session containing 98 Xpand2/Dverb channels and then it not only fell over but then refused to reopen the session. When running the same test in Pro Tools 11 we got to 256 Xpand2/Dverb channels but then ran out of tracks NOT power. Note that Avid only claim 128 supported instrument tracks.
When you add to this the offline bounce feature, essential when you do start to run out of power, then you start to realise that the kind of things that drove, in particular composer, nuts when working are greatly improved. It’s hard to overestimate how much of a creativity killer either getting “buffer error 7534” or simply having to find crappy workflows to deal with impossibly high buffer settings were - after a week’s work in my studio I can say they are virtually a thing of the past… virtually?
Yes virtually and here’s the rub, it’s impossible to fully ascertain how good the performance of my favoured virtual instruments and plug-ins is because I can’t use them. This is the chicken and egg conundrum for Avid, do they release Pro Tools without all the AAX plug-ins ported or wait. As we said at the start of this review once the announcement was made at NAB then Avid were against the clock, with or without the plug-in vendors. A combination of issues with the SDK, PACE and other existing vendor commitments mean we now see that some of our beloved plug-ins are not ready. This means it is impossible to say how all the plug-ins are going to perform in Pro Tools 11, saying that our guess is that by the time a 30 day trial runs out there will be considerably more than there are now. In fact it’s not even a guess, we know many of them are ready and going through final testing, you can see them arriving daily in reports and updates on our site. In some ways by the time the magazines come to review Pro Tools 11 then they may have an entirely different story to write.
Secondly the removel of TC/E and drag and drop from timeline has not gone down well, but we’ve already had a response from Dave Tremblay at Avid on this issue, so we should hopefully see a resolution sooner rather than later.
So power aside what else does Pro Tools 11 offer? It offers new metering, including multiple metering standards and dynamics metering for HD owners. It offers better visual routing with the new matrix routing view in sends. It also offers a complete revamped video engine all of which are long awaited features for post editors and studios alike. Mike will be doing some in-depth video and written articles for the post aspects of Pro Tools 11.
Pro Tools 11 is without doubt a landmark moment in the history of the Pro Tools platform. I’ve been using it since the days of Digidesign Sound Designer, then I had 2 tracks running on a Mac IICX at the cost of around £15,000. Thankfully Pro Tools 11 is a fraction of the price and offers both music and post production users greatly improved power and workflow enhancements.
Should you buy it? If you are a current Pro Tools user then yes, it is without question a huge improvement over previous versions of Pro Tools. If you are thinking about moving DAWs then check it out, it might be for you now it has the improved power and workflow enhancements, however another DAW may suit your workflow and wallet better.
When should you buy it? Only you can make that call, but the simple answer is when you have the plug-ins you need in AAX format so that your workflow is not interrupted - before then would be somewhat ironic. Our poll seems to indicate the feeling of many existing users, you can see the results here.
Our advice is to download the 30 day demo from Avid, it co-exists with Pro Tools 10 so you can carry on working and evaluate it on the same machine at the same time. By the time the trial is over you may have all your plug-ins ported and then you can make the choice.
An excellent version of Pro Tools from Avid and for this reason it gets Editors Choice.
- Improved power with 64 bit engine and new AAE
- Better VI performance
- Offline bounce
- Enhanced workflows
- New video engine
- Poor third party plug-in support at launch, especially for VIs
- Sparse information on key features
- Removal of essential workflow features that may prevent some people switching
- Some of the HD only features only are a little mean, such as multi bounce sources
- No TDM support