We get a lot of people asking us what we think is going to be happening in the world of recording during any given year. but before we share our 5 audio recording industry predictions for 2018, let's take a look at our predictions for 2017 and see how well we did...
1. Multi-Protocol Interfaces
For a long time, those buying an audio interface have had to take a bet on a certain protocol. If you wanted to use Pro Tools HD, then you had to go DigiLink. If not then it was perhaps Thunderbolt, USB or more recently an ethernet based connection like Dante. We predicted that there would be many more multi-protocol interfaces coming to the market and it would appear we weren't short of the mark with this prediction.
MOTU 828es - announced 26th September 2017 - AoIP (AVB) Thunderbolt2 and USB2
Focusrite Red16 Interface announced 14th September 2017 - AoIP (Dante), Thunderbolt3 and DigiLink
Antelope Audio Goliath HD Reviewed October 5th 2017 - USB3, Thunderbolt2 and DigiLink
Antelope Audio Zen Studio Plus reviewed July 11th 2017 - USB2 and Thunderbolt
Focusrite Red 8Pre reviewed May 27th 2017 - AoIP (Dante), Thunderbolt2 and DigiLink
Antelope Audio Orion32 HD reviewed 19th January 2017 - USB3 and DigiLink
2. Audio Over IP
It wasn't that long ago that Audio Over IP was considered something that geeks might use. Over the last couple of years, brands like Focusrite Rednet and DigiGrid have been working hard to get studios to consider using Ethernet for moving audio around the studio.
DiGiGrid M Recording Interface, DiGiGrid D Audio Interface and check out our free tutorial on Using SoundGrid Studio To Route Audio Between A DiGiGrid D And Two Computers.
3. Augmented & Virtual Reality
AR and VR have continued to take off in a number of sectors including games and education and of course they need immersive sound to complete the illusion. In 2017 we have seen a number of key developments and product releases...
4. More Specialist Plugins
We all love a bit of retro and vintage recreation, but where plug-ins excel is doing things not possible with hardware.
We predicted a continuing acceptance amongst even some Mac users that Windows computers are a viable computer for pro audio. With the announcements like these...
...and the developments in Pro Tools friendly Windows computers that are cost-effective...
So there you have it, I think we can score 5/5 for our predictions for 2017, so what about 2018...
Our Predictions For 2018
1. Communication Between Plug-ins
The thing which set us off thinking in this direction was the recent release of POWair by SoundRadix. It’s not immediately obvious but one of the cleverest things about this plug-in is that it is two, apparently separate processes, a leveller and a compressor, but they are not entirely separate. The adaptive compression feature uses information from the leveller to enable the compressor to do what it does. But why stop at two sections of a plug-in talking to each other?
Looking at how iZotope have implemented a degree of communication between instances of Neutron and Ozone is, I think, a significant development. FFT Analysers are already commonplace in EQ plug-ins but while they generate huge amounts of data, it strikes us that they don’t do much with it and if the last ten years has illustrated anything it’s that there is huge potential in combining data together into bigger and bigger sets.
For years we have interpreted summed audio (the mix output) and addressed the issues our ears, or the analyser on the mix bus detect by going back to the source tracks causing the unpleasant build-up of frequencies at the summed output and reducing levels at the source tracks. This is part of the skill of the experienced engineer but the potential for analysers to start this job has been there all along, all that was missing was the connections to be made between the various analysers and EQs.
This is clearly only the start and this part of a process we see as related to but slightly different from the AI developments which are currently being discussed elsewhere. This is about collecting and sharing information. AI is about devising rules about what to do with that information but there is plenty of room for people with ears and the ability to make those decisions to benefit from the sharing of information between tracks and plug-ins in a session.
2. Cheaper Thunderbolt Peripherals
Thunderbolt isn't a new thing but it hasn't yet become the ubiquitous interconnection it should have been. One reason is that PC support for Thunderbolt has been slow. Some of this is, of course, the inevitable "chicken and egg" situation which arises when manufacturers wait for demand which doesn't develop because manufacturers are waiting for demand etc...
Things are better than ever on this front, this is in part due to Intel's decision to integrate Thunderbolt into its processors. Previously, including Thunderbolt in a PC needed extra hardware, with the hardware already on the processor hardware thunderbolt support is installed by default.
But more significant perhaps is Intel's decision to make the Thunderbolt 3 specification available on a non-exclusive, royalty-free basis. Because of this third parties will be able to integrate the interface into their own silicon, so even budget-conscious PC manufacturers using AMD chips will be able to support Thunderbolt.
For Mac users, the choice has been between relatively expensive Thunderbolt peripherals or the cheaper USB3. For interfaces, there have been convincing performance reasons to invest in Thunderbolt interfaces but for storage, many have been staying with USB3 because of the cost of Thunderbolt. Because of this new licensing arrangement from Intel and the possibility of third-party hardware at the peripheral end, the restrictive "cost per port" burden of implementing Thunderbolt looks likely to be significantly reduced. Until now Thunderbolt proliferation was held back by a cost per port, hence so many interfaces and hard drives wanting to be at the end of the daisy chain by only providing a single port. Now the cost of a Thunderbolt hub will be down to hardware only with no artificial, per-port costs.
And then there is USB C. With Thunderbolt 3 becoming universally supported, the potential confusion over which protocols any particular USB 3 cable supports will hopefully subside. I'd expect to see far more Thunderbolt peripherals around in the future.
3. The Beginning Of The End For Proprietary DSP In DAWs
This prediction leads on from the rise of Thunderbolt. Lower latencies in Thunderbolt can be indirectly attributed to a technology in it called Direct Memory Access (DMA). This is a Thunderbolt peripheral’s ability to transfer data to and from the RAM directly without the intervention of the CPU. When the CPU isn’t required for the data transfer between peripheral and Host Computer, it’s freed up for things like plug-ins and processing.
Advances like these open the way for processors like the i9 series to be able to concentrate on real-time processing, which leads to the advances in Round Trip Latency (RTL) we've seen recently in some DAWs.
As soon as you design a software infrastructure around a proprietary chip (anything other than an off the shelf processor), you give it a finite lifespan. This isn't the case with "Native" processing, as "desktop-style" processors are far more common, so there is a clearer future roadmap. Producing proprietary hardware is not cheap either. You can understand why lots of companies are concentrating more on software or Native processing, than hardware.
4. More Pro Tools Computers Will Be Windows Computers Because Of The Price Of Mac Computers
With the all the rumours regarding the price point and feature set of the iMac Pro, including claims that a fully featured iMac Pro could be as much as $17,000. In reality, this has turned out to be $13,200 for the fully featured machine from the Apple store through to the base price of $4999.
Looking at the current range of 2013 Mac Pro Trashcans to get a sensible 8-core trashcan with the memory and boot drive in a cheese-grater, a trashcan comes out at $5400.
Add this to Apple's limited information about a new modular Mac Pro to be released sometime in 2018, which although no price points have been announced, we can expect to see it closely connected to the iMac Pro pricing, buying a professional Apple machine for a Pro Tools system is not going to be a cheap do in 2018 and beyond.
Remember that you will also need to get a Thunderbolt to pci-e expansion chassis as well if you want to turn Pro Tools HDX hardware and the whole thing is getting out of hand.
When Mike bought his current Mac Pro cheese-grater Mac Pro he paid just short of £2000 for it, say around $2600 back in 2012, you can see if anyone is looking at replacing a cheese-grater Mac Pro considering an appropriately specced Windows machine could be a sound business decision for a Pro Tools computer.
On the team, James chose to make this very decision when hs cheese-grater Mac Pro came to the end its life. James explains...
Over the space of two years, I upgraded my Mid 2009 Mac Pro 4.1 to be a very powerful machine. It went from being a single quad-core processor machine to having two 6 core processors with 48Gb of RAM and a super powerful graphics card. (You can find out more about this upgrades in other Pro Tools Expert feature videos). This machine ran Pro Tools perfectly well for 90% of the audio work, I do but I was finding it getting very sluggish when I am dealing with video productions, graphics and other heavy lifting jobs. I decided that the only real option left to me was a new machine and as we are well aware there are no new Apple Tower machines available so I made the what some people would call drastic choice to move over to "the dark side" and switch to a Windows Machine.
You can read the rest of his story on why and how he changed to an HP Z840 in his series 'From Mac To Windows'.
Dan is in a similar position with an old Mac Pro cheese-grater coming to the end of its life. In our team article Replacing A Mac Pro 5.1 'Cheese-grater' For Pro Tools Production - What Are The Options? Dan explains his situation...
Sadly though, my Mac Pro's service will have to come to an end soon. Over the last 12 months, it has started to show some serious signs of ageing, not necessarily in computing power but in everyday performance and reliability. At some point, it will be detrimental to my studio business, if I continue to ignore the clear signs of a failing Mac. In the very near future, I will have to replace this Mac Pro before it fails and leaves me compromised.
Although Waiting for a 2018 Mac Pro was the most popular option in our poll Replacing A Mac Pro 5.1 'Cheese-grater' For Pro Tools - Wait For Next 2018 Mac Pro 7.1 Voted Most Popular Solution the second most popular option was Purchase a Custom Built Pro Tools computer and Alan Sallabank, our resident Pro Tools Windows specialist, covered this in his article Pro Tools - Is 2017 The Year Of The Windows Self Build?
So we expect to see a much higher proportion of Pro Tools computers being Pro Tools computers running Windows rather than Apple manufactured computers, running the macOS.
5. The Continued Normalising Of The Role Of Women In The Audio Industry
In July we wrote The Problem With Women Working In Audio, an article that got a lot of interest. Both from those who want to do all they can to see more normalisation and celebration of women working in our industry and from a minority of men who think a woman's place is not in the studio.
If you fall into the latter group then we have some bad news for you, we expect 2018 to be the year when there will be a continued normalising of the role of women in our industry.
There are already plenty of talented producers and engineers working in this industry who happen to be women. Ask any of them, and they don't want to be known as a 'woman in audio' but want to just get on with the job. They deserve the same rights, opportunities and protections men already take for granted. Women don't want anything special; they just want to get on with the job without having to worry about sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of gender bias.
Expect to see more women appearing as role models for brands, in interviews, seminars, and of course, working in a studio near you.
It's absurd we are even having a conversation about this in 2017, we predict 2018 will see more significant strides made in this area, and that can only be a good thing in our opinion.