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. At the beginning of 2018, we laid out our 5 predictions for the pro audio industry. Before we present our predictions for 2019, in this article we take a look at our predictions for 2018 and see how well we did...
Communication Between Plug-ins
Looking at how iZotope have implemented a degree of communication between instances of Neutron and Ozone in 2018 iZotope were the brand that have owned this sector with the development and release of a dedicated Relay plug-in. With Relay, you can now…
Measure Intelligibility with Insight 2’s Intelligibility Meter: This is a brand new meter in Insight 2 released in 2018, which helps you to measure the relative intelligibility of your vocal or dialog and visualise how clearly it will be heard in different types of listening environments.
Remove masking from your vocal with Nectar 3: With the release of Nectar 3, Relay now communicates with Nectar 3’s Unmask mode and provides automatic processing to remove masking frequencies from your vocal track.
Visualise the spectrum of different tracks against your entire mix with Insight 2’s Spectrogram: Insight 2 will communicate with individual instances of Relay and display them on your spectrogram, with customisable colours. For example, see how Relay is used to create a Christmas tree with instances of Relay into Insight 2.
Mix all of your tracks in a visual space with Neutron 2’s Visual Mixer: With Relay on your tracks or busses, you can open Visual Mixer and adjust pan, gain, and width directly within the Visual Mixer plug-in, included with Neutron 2 Advanced.
Have you seen other plug-in developers using inter plug-in communication successfully?
Cheaper Thunderbolt Peripherals
Thanks to Intel's decision to integrate Thunderbolt into its processors, 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.
In mid January 2018, Universal Audio announced the Arrow, which they claimed was the first bus powered Thunderbolt 3 interface.
At NAMM in January 2018, Lynx announced the Aurora (n) Pre 1608 Interface With Mic Preamps with twin Thunderbolt 2 ports as an option using their LSlot Expansion Card system.
In March 2018, Universal Audio announced that they were shipping Thunderbolt 3 option cards for their Apollo Rack Interfaces. that they announced at Winter NAMM 2018, which are compatible with the new Intel Thunderbolt 3 technology on the latest Mac and Windows computers. Universal Audio CEO and Founder, Bill Putnam, Jr. told us…
“We’ve worked hand-in-hand with Intel to create rock-solid Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on Mac and Windows for Apollo that enables customers to get the most out of their audio workstation environment.”
Focusrite introduced the Red 16Line - 64x64 Mini DigiLink and Thunderbolt 3 Interface, which we reviewed in March 2018 and includes 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports. James said…
“The R16L sports two Thunderbolt 3 connectors, not Thunderbolt 2 as the Red 4 and Red 8 units have. This initially rang alarm bells with me as I do not have a Thunderbolt 3 equipped Mac. But with the addition of a £16 adaptor, I was able to connect my 2012 MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 1 to the new R16L with Thunderbolt 3. Thank you Focusrite for including a Thunderbolt 3 cable with the R16L.”
In September 2018, Universal Audio announced their New Apollo X Series Of Rack Mounted Interfaces that takes everything we know, love and depend upon in the already highly successful Apollo range and gives us 50% more DSP processing power and even better A/D and D/A conversion along with twin Thunderbolt 3 connectivity to your Mac or Windows PC.
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.
Although producing proprietary hardware is not cheap it is why we expected that lots of companies would be concentrating more on software or Native processing, rather than hardware. However, in 2018 this proved not to be the case with the likes of Antelope, with their FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) effects system and effects like compression, tape emulation, and their AFX2DAW, which enable users to employ the real-time FPGA FX power in their preferred DAW environment. Add to this the continued expansion of other proprietary DSP platforms like Waves and UAD there doesn’t seem to be a desire from brands to look at an open DSP platform based on CPU processor chips, which see as a real shame.
In 2018 we also took a look at part three of Alan’s Scan 3XS PowerDAW review. We dropped a pair of HDX cards into that machine and tested it against running the same Dolby Atmos mix session “natively”. The results were very interesting. Alan found that when using the HDX cards the system actually used double the amount of system resources. Alan also found that the UA Apollo Twin, using external DSP also puts more load on the host system. Alan goes on…
“If you thought that adding DSP would take the load off, you’re unfortunately wrong. I did the maths and worked out that the Scan PowerDAW machine had native processing capabilities roughly equivalent to FIVE HDX cards.”
Food for thought and more reasons for manufacturers to consider offering more ‘native’ solutions.
More Pro Tools Computers Will Be Windows Computers Because Of The Price Of Mac Computers
When Mike bought his current Mac Pro cheese-grater back in 2012 he paid just short of £2000 for it, say around $2600. With the price point and feature set of the new iMac Pro, the price turned out to be $13,200 for the fully featured machine from the Apple Store down to the base model price of $4,999.
Moving onto the new MacBook Pro with i9 processors the top of the range model comes in at $6,699. Although a more sensibly speced machine comes in at around $3,899, as Mike found out when he looked into the MacBook Pro as a potential replacement Pro Tools computer.
Then more recently came the new Mac Mini 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 coming in at a more reasonable $2,499 but of course as with the other Apple computers the Mac Mini doesn’t come with PCI-e slots, hard drive bays and so on. To get an Apple based solution for Pro Tools HDX, you will also need to get a PCI-e expansion chassis as well, although if you only want one slot the Sonnet Breakaway boxes are cost effective.
But if you want a decent processor count you are looking at an iMac Pro or Mac Pro Trashcan, both of which are so much more expensive than the cheese-grater Mac pro machines were when they were released.
So what sort of price can we get a decent Windows based Pro Tools Computer?
Lets look at Alan Sallabank’s current main system, cost him around £900 to upgrade from his old i7 rig. If he had to buy the case and peripherals it would have come to around £1300 total.
The base spec is an i7 6-core 12-thread 4GHz CPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, Asus X99 Motherboard with dual Thunderbolt 2, SATA 3, USB 3.1 and M2, and an NVidia GTX660Ti 2GB GPU. Alan continues…
This has now evolved into somewhat of a beast, with 32GB RAM and 6TB of SSD storage, 4 of which drives are in a hot-plug-able caddy. The system absolutely flies, goes from cold boot to running a busy Pro Tools session in around a minute and consistently totally outperforms any Apple machine at the same price point, even double that price point.
Scan computers are continuing to make excellent value and performance machines in their 3XS PowerDAW range - see Alan’s reviews for more details and how he managed use their system to replace a Trash-Can Mac Pro, even being able to use the same Sonnet chassis over Thunderbolt. not that we needed it as Alan found that there were plenty of user accessible PCIe slots (remember those Apple?) available to fit two HDX cards.
Take a look at Alan’s Windows laptop review from earlier this year - a very capable Thunderbolt 3 equipped, user upgrade-able laptop that cost around £1,500 that in his experience out-performs a MacPro 5.1 Cheese-grater with dual 6 core Xeons. Alan goes on to explain…
Windows machines have been at this relatively low price point for incredible performance, for years, but the industry itself hasn’t helped, being very snobbish about their Apple machines, in the vain hope that the saying, “You pay for what you get” will somehow apply to their outdated overpriced un-repairable machines. For just £1500 you can get a capable laptop that runs Pro Tools straight out of the box, without having to worry about being locked into an operating system that isn’t supported by your DAW manufacturer or having to break the bank to get a machine with a reasonable amount of RAM or a decent GPU.
James Ivey decided to replace his pimped cheese-grater Mac Pro with a Windows 10 machine over 18 months ago and he has to admit he hasn’t really looked back. James goes on to say…
“Although my HP Z840 Workstation set me back just over £1400, I believe the real price for the the machine, specced as I have with twin 6 core Intel Xeon processors, a powerful GPU and 64Gb of RAM would have set me back around £2500 but this is still a fraction of what a like for like specced Mac would have cost and at the time there was no Mac of this spec, other than a very pimped old school Mac Pro cheese-grater. In 2018/19 £2000 is going to buy you the mother and indeed father of machines for audio, and video if that is your want!”
In July 2018 Creative Blog Author Builds A Hackintosh Then Compares It With Mac Pro And iMac Pro And Asks Was It Worth It? Watch the video in the article and also check out the blog post with build cost and benchmarks to see his results and his feelings about the experience and the machine. We found it to be a very balanced article and useful information for anyone interested in the Hackintosh route.
The Continued Normalising Of The Role Of Women In The Audio Industry
In July 2017 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 vocal minority of men who think a woman's place is not in the studio.
The AES has been working hard to redress this imbalance. In both the AES NY Convention in 2017 and 2018 they had all-female panels, chaired by Lisa Ferrante-Walsh, Director of Engineering at iZotope, which provide an excellent role model for encouraging women into the tech industries.
The UK branch of the Audio Engineering Society has its first female chair Dr Mariana Lopez and she has declared that gender equality in our industry is a key part of her role and as a result, AES UK is supporting the HeForShe campaign and has put in place bursaries for female engineers thanks to the support of brands like Nugen Audio and iZotope.
Here at Production Expert, we have also worked hard and in extending our team of writers on the Expert sites you will see that our team now includes 4 excellent specialists in their fields who happen to be women.
Check out some of the articles they have produced including…
It is also good to see that there are a growing number of excellent audio professionals who happen to be women. Take a look at another article ADR Sessions - What Are Benefits Of A 2 Person Workflow Over A One Person Workflow? to see how UK post house Goldcrest Post Production are developing and training extremely talented women to work in a highly pressurised environment of ADR.
That said, it has not all been rosy in the area of gender equality in the pro audio industry. In 2018 we had the example when we reported about the misguided attempt by China based MIDIPLUS to market their MIRROR audio interface by pitching it to women with its design and form-factor. However, it was a misguided attempt that appears to have been as much more of a cultural issue than a gender issue as we reported a week later when MIDIPLUS Issue Apology Over Marketing Of MIRROR 'Women Only' Audio Interface.
More recently there has been the case of Music Technologist & Music Blogger Karis Page, who describes herself as “a qualified music technologist with two degrees, experience working in live sound, studios, radio stations, toured across the world with various bands/artists and have been a music director for a major record label” but who was turned down for a job because the interview panel…
“believe that the job role would not be suitable for a female as it is a very complex nature of work”.
They said this in the letter saying that she wasn’t successful. Initially Karis wouldn’t say who the company was but in the end announced that it was a UK based job agency.
So we still have some work to do on this, but we here at Production Expert we continue do all we can to present positive role models of talented audio professionals who just happen to be women.
4 Out Of 5 Is not Bad
So there you have it, I think we can score 4/5 for our predictions for 2018. As to our predictions for 2019, watch out for articles in which we outline our 5 predictions for 2019.