With the release of Waves Tracks Live many people have downloaded the software and thus far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I’d already looked at the features and made a quick test recording but how does it perform in its intended role - live multitrack capture? I tried it this week and I have to say its very, very good.
Find out how I got on.
The gig was in a small venue, with a permanently installed PA and backline. It's usually an arrive, power up and play kind of gig and the available set-up time reflects this. I had an hour of set-up time including soundcheck. A recording of the gig wasn’t expected and if I was going to multitrack the gig it would have to get set up quickly or not at all. However, if the recording didn’t go well no-one was expecting it so there was little pressure. If it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen - perfect!
The venue is all analogue with a Midas Verona at FOH and an Allen and Heath Mixwizard 12M monitor board. The six monitor mixes can be controlled from FOH or the monitor position and either configuration is quickly configurable via an XLR patchbay at the monitor position. This system isn’t set up with multitrack capture in mind but the monitor board has a built-in passive mic splitter. By running monitors from FOH, the monitor board could be repurposed to provide discrete outputs to the recording system. The monitor board didn’t feature direct outs on its input channels so outputs had to be appropriated from elsewhere. With 12 mixes, there were more than enough outputs available, particularly in combination with mic inputs on the interface for mics which weren’t needed in the PA mix such as the drum overheads - the venue was small enough for an acoustic kit with just kick and snare through the PA. The gig was 30-40 minute sets from three bands and a solo artist. The patch list went as follows:
- OH L
- OH R
- Bass DI
- Guitar SR
- Guitar SL
- Acoustic DI
- Vox SR
- Vox C
- Vox SL
So a simple live tracking situation. It was a spontaneous decision to record the show, which was taking place in a college. Recording to the system drive of my 3 year old Macbook Pro (for important work I would always avoid this) using a hastily borrowed 002r (working well with Yosemite with the latest driver) and a Focusrite Octopre connected and clocked via ADAT I had 16 inputs available with 12 mic preamps if needed. As mentioned earlier, the monitor mixer has no direct outputs and although the 12 auxes offer enough outputs for discrete capture, the mix outputs are XLR M and the line inputs on the 002r and Octopre are all 1/4” TRS. There weren’t enough XLR F - TRS leads available to use the outputs and even if there had been, finding them in the available time would have been a challenge. However an 8 way TRS loom was available and although I hate bodges like this, the most practical way to connect everything was by half-plugging the TRS loom to the aux output insert points. The cable run was short and I was confident that dropping the balancing wouldn’t be a problem in this particular environment. Because the room was relatively small the overheads and electric guitar mics weren’t needed in the PA and could be patched directly into the mic inputs on the 002r. This left seven sources from the PA mix to be routed via auxes on the monitor board to the Octopre. Done!
Waves Tracks Live In Use
So on to the software. I tried installing Tracks Live on another computer so I didn’t have to use my own machine during the gig but the borrowed Mac was running 10.7 Lion(!). I tried anyway - I can confirm Tracks Live doesn’t run under Lion! Setting up the audio interfaces to run with Tracks Live is extremely straightforward. The available audio interfaces are listed and after selecting one, tracks are created for all available inputs, though unwanted tracks can be removed by right-clicking in the track header. Hardware buffer latency defaults to the highest setting available, while you can lower it, system latency isn’t a priority for live recording. In a capture situation monitoring is straightforward. In stereo out mode, as opposed to multi out mode, which is designed for virtual sound check applications, a rudimentary mixer is available offering faders and pan pots. Track naming is achieved by double clicking on the default track name and typing, just don’t forget to hit enter before selecting the next field. At the top of the tracks list is a global record arm button which record arms all tracks in the session.
Individual record arm buttons on each track are available and allow track punch behaviour during record. The master solo clear button illuminates to let you know if tracks are in solo when the mix window is closed. Input monitor buttons are available on each track allowing flexible use of virtual sound checks similar to that available using the Avid S3L. The top of the screen is occupied by a mini version of the full screen meter page. With meters being as important as they are in this application, the meters in Tracks Live offer a variety of ballistics, peak hold times and a max peak level to aid the monitoring of headroom.
Tracking was uneventful, which is obviously the way it should be. Tracks for the SPDIF inputs on the 002r were automatically created, I forgot about them and recorded to them for the first set. Disabling them is as easy as punching out of record on those two tracks without stopping record, try that in Pro Tools Vanilla! During tracking there is a useful System Lock feature which locks the keyboard to prevent any accidental pressing of the keyboard. I’m unclear at this stage about exactly what happens in the event of a power outage. I tried force quitting Tracks Live while recording and while the crash recovery window promised to recover the audio back to the session, it didn’t work as expected for me. I’m afraid I just can’t bring myself to deliberately pull the power on a computer which is writing to disc. Not even on someone else’s machine. I’ll leave that to someone unluckier than me to discover.
The tracking in Tracks Live was intuitive with helpful touches showing a product designed with input from the kind of people who actually do this kind of work. All good. However it was the ease with which I was able to export material from Tracks Live into a Pro Tools session which left the lasting impression. I expected to import the audio files into Pro Tools using import audio and to trim out the sections I wanted In Pro Tools because I expected it to be easier. I know Pro Tools well. I had used Tracks Live twice before - ever. As it turned out selecting an in and out point and exporting audio from specified tracks couldn’t have been simpler. The morning after the gig I prepared a Pro Tools session of a single track from the previous night’s recording in as long as it took a cup of tea to brew. Admittedly the tea was a little stewed but it didn’t go down the sink. If you’re from the UK you’ll know that’s not long!
I have recorded gigs to Pro Tools in the past. If you know what you are doing it is very effective though I am reluctant to use my iLok in such a public setting. Alternative software might include Reaper or Studio One. On the subject of Presonus software Presonus’ Capture offers a live tracking solution but is tied to their mixers.
Using a Firewire connection to a Behringer X32 or similar can offer discrete tracking straight from the mixer to any suitable DAW. Any network based system will offer ultimate flexibility and tracking to any DAW software using AVB, Dante or similar will do a great job but when choosing which software to use I can’t think of any reason to use anything else over Tracks Live. Hardware recorders offer peace of mind, the best of which include the Joeco Blackbox and very high end solutions like the Klark Technik DN9696.
For a hardware independent solution I have to say Tracks Live is the best solution I have come across.
I expected Waves Tracks Live to work as expected, to capture audio isn’t all that challenging. The thing which impressed me most is how much has been left out. There really aren’t any extraneous features here. It is a product with focus, which has yet to suffer the feature-creep which can dilute the effectiveness of a product. I want to try Tracks Live in a playback application, providing a virtual soundcheck.
Tracks Live is based on Ardour, the open source DAW project, but even if Waves didn’t write bespoke code for this product, what they have done and have done extremely well is identifying precisely how many features are necessary to get the job done and included only these.
This is software with no learning curve - exactly what I want when I’m busy making sure a show goes up on time!