I’m not an early adopter, I’ve always been happy to remain comfortably behind the times. With music, books, films and the like I’ve always thought that if something is any good, I’ll hear about it eventually. But when it comes to sorting the good from the bad, I’m happy to let others do the initial hard work. As for new developments in all things audio and particularly Pro Tools this attitude still applies to some extent. I keep abreast of new announcements from the trade shows, the DUC and of course Pro Tools Expert. I read reviews and documentation, but I have never felt any compulsion to use something just because it is new. New often means better but not always.
I think it’s understandable that it will always be the eye candy which receives the most attention in a new release of any software and while many of us would prefer to believe that we aren’t that easily influenced, I for one would be the first to admit that when I finally upgraded to PT11HD, although I knew that the possibilities offered by a 64 bit release was the really important thing, actually I was most excited by the gain reduction meters in the mixer. Ooh! - Pretty lights.
Avid Pro Tools Channel Strip
Looking a little further back, the new feature of Pro Tools 10 which seemed to get the most attention was the Avid Channel Strip. New plug-ins are like software sound bites for marketing departments. They are self-contained and easily “quotable” around the web as pictures of the plug-in window and offer instant gratification to the new user regardless of experience. As such I was looking forward to trying Avid’s Channel Strip plug-in when it was released all that time ago.
Everyone has their favourite plugins but I have noticed a discrepancy between what I think my favourite plug-in are and the plug-ins I actually use the most. I would think it reasonable to assume that the plug-ins I think of as my favourites should also be my “go to” choice. Here’s the thing – I hardly use Channel Strip. Why?
What Are Channel Strips For?
What is the point of combining EQ and dynamics plug-ins into a channel strip? Mike asked the same question in his comparison of available channel strips in Sound on Sound back in 2007. The principal reason he identified was that a channel strip used fewer insert slots. However since then the available inserts per channel has doubled from five to ten so that reason could be seen as no longer relevant, I certainly think that if you are using over ten inserts on a given track you are doing it wrong.
Having all the controls all in one place could offer workflow benefits, though I would suggest that this can also become counterproductive as window size and interface complexity increase. The tabbed format with collapsible panes of Channel Strip suggest that this was a concern to the developers at Avid.
Another advantage might be the possibility of a one-touch bypass of both EQ and dynamics processing using Command+Click, though personally I find I want to bypass one or the other more than I want to bypass both. In Pro Tools 11 the new shift+C and shift+E shortcuts offer workflow improvements which could actually be hindered by the use of a channel strip plugin if the EQ and dynamics sections of that single plug-ins do not respond individually to shift+C and shift+E (more on this later). Of course The Avid Channel Strip is only one example. While I haven’t tried all the available offerings, I am a longtime user of the Waves SSL4000 channel strips and the McDsp Channel G, both of which feature on my favourite plug-in list but I find I use both far less than this would suggest.
Stock Plug-ins – Always available
So back to my original point, if I don’t use channel strips, why not? The first reason is linked to the peculiar status of the stock plug-in. Because of my work my personal Pro Tools system is only one of many systems I use regularly. The thing I value almost as much as reliability is consistency. My personal plug-in assets are fun certainly, they are an indulgence too but if I start a project and there is any chance at all that I will want it to open on another system I will avoid any plug-ins I know are not available elsewhere. Of course there are ways around this but if there are stock plug-ins which will do the job and are available everywhere then there has to be a really good reason not to use them. This is sounding like the perfect reason for using Channel Strip but as I said I tend not to. So what do I find myself using? Well probably 80% of the time it has always been EQ3 and Dyn3.
Rather than explain what I feel about these plug-ins it’s probably easier to explain my thoughts on Channel Strip. Come back for part 2 to see what I like and dislike about the Avid Channel Strip.
Julian Rodgers is a certified Avid trainer who currently trains young people in Music Technology