Pro Tools 11 joins the 64-bit world with a brand new audio engine, fully rebuilt AAX Native and DSP plug-ins.
Through the many updates of Pro Tools, Avid has made great strides to increase the overall strength of the program, with the discussion of a 64-bit operation hovering for a while now. Now in Pro Tools 11, I can confidently say that the future is here, and it sounds amazing.
A Bold Step Forward
A brand new, rebuilt-from-the-ground-up 64-bit Avid engine delivers more RAM and processing power than ever before, so a user can integrate as many Virtual Instruments (256) and other plug-ins as needed. I added up to four to five instances of VIs and/or plug-ins per channel on sessions I was working on to “push” the program beyond its normal limits, and it cruised along barely breaking a sweat. The program’s dynamic host processing maximizes the plug-in count through reallocation when audio is not present, and will deactivate the plug-in, saving valuable processing power. Pro Tools 11 also uses dual buffers for playback and recording, allowing for lower buffer levels, minimal latency issues and overall added performance.
Pro Tools 11 finally adds the offline bounce feature, something I was always jealous of with my Logic user friends. Delivery speeds at around 150 times faster than online bouncing also includes multiple output sources. This is a big time-saver, as I have clients who want multiple versions of mixes to reference, and this feature lets everyone hear very quickly that their music is translating on a variety of output devices. Pro Tools 11 also includes expanded metering for HD users, something I found very useful, especially when toggling between edit and mix screens. I’m mindful of how much gain reduction and overall output is happening in my mixes, and having access to metering on dynamics plug-ins per channel and overall broad range metering (VUK, PPM and Pro Tools Classic) is a gratifying addition to get a quick visual summary to know I’m staying close to where I want my output levels to be.
Avid did not forget about the film, TV and post communities, and Pro Tools 11’s Avid Video Engine allows users to play and edit a wider range of video formats (DNxHD, RED, MXF, QuickTime, XDCAM, AVCHD) than in the past, and drop them directly into the timeline without transcoding by using the same core engine as in Media Composer. Users can also monitor video playback on a variety of sources such as Avid Mojo and Nitrus DX, AJA and Blackmagic Design. Avid’s Satellite technology is now also integrated into Pro Tools 11, and post facilities equipped with HD will be able to sync and control up to 12 HDX, HD Native and HD TDM systems with Satellite Link and the required SYNC HD interface.
Going With the Flow
Pro Tools 11 features the new Avid audio engine which shuts out some legacy hardware (see the website for a complete list), though it allows Pro Tools 10 to live simultaneously on the same machine. You can also open Pro Tools 5.1 sessions in Pro Tools 11, and save sessions in the current software back to version 5.1.
HD users should refer to the Avid device drivers page on the website to find what drivers they will need to install, as the older TDM and Core interfaces are no longer used for processing. I installed some updated hardware drivers for a Lynx Aurora 16 on my Mac Pro tower, and Pro Tools 11 HD saw the interface right away and was performing as it did before. Pro Tools 11 requires an iLok 2 key and authorization, which allows the user to travel with their key and integrate into any workstation wherever they are.
The AAX plug-in format was introduced in Pro Tools 10 originally as a 32-bit configuration, and has been a source of debate since. Knowing that 64-bit was on the horizon, many manufacturers saw this coming and got to work on encoding their products for the upgrade. Companies such as McDSP, Crane Song, iZotope, Metric Halo, Massenburg Labs, Toontrack, Rob Papen, Fab Filter and Plugin Alliance (Brainworx, SPL, Elysia, Maag) were some of the first to integrate and improve their products inside the 64-bit AAX format.
I was hesitant to be able to use Pro Tools 11 without my trusted Waves (Native) and UAD plug-ins. The Sound Toys bundle is a major contributor as well to my achieving solid and creative mixes. UAD, Waves and Sound Toys are all now onboard with 64-bit AAX, and performing flawlessly, and my computer was enjoying the extra breathing room.
Proof Is in the Power
I received the authorizations from Avid in my iLok while preparing for a road trip, so I downloaded the necessary software to my MacBook Air (8 GB of RAM) and was ready to go. I opened up the system usage window so I could keep an eye on how the computer was behaving as I stacked up some processing. The interface has not changed much, but higher resolutions are now an option that I’m sure video and post users will take full advantage of. Like many users, I depend on my knowledge of quick commands to keep a session moving.
Right away I discovered some commands that will make my life that much easier from here on out. Audio, aux, instrument, and master tracks are now accessible by double-clicking the assigned keys related to the track you want to apply. Also, if you double-click the last track you open, it will create another of the same type next in line. You can also now bypass all inserts and sends (A-E, F-J, or all) with single-hand commands as well. Avid has finally provided a new, improved Click AAX, as well, which includes a four-second fade-in feature on the Transport, to protect your ears from louder sections when scrolling through locations.
I pulled up a previous session I had been working on in Pro Tools 10 and started in on a mix that I planned to finish later on my HD rig. I made a few adjustments with clip gain (added in Pro Tools 10) to some audio. I opened a couple of instances of VIs to support the drums, and then added about eight more to see how the computer would deal with them, as well as the 60-some-odd tracks of audio. The CPU bumped up momentarily, then settled in nicely. I began adding EQs and compressors to all the audio tracks, and again, after a moment, Pro Tools 11 was passing audio and I began making adjustments. I found that I was going to be able to finally have mixes move from my laptop to my HD rig with only minor adjustments.
Steven Slate’s Trigger is also an important part of supporting my mixes, and I now can use it easily on both rigs. Quick synth parts via VIs I chose to add to help choruses lift were a snap, even with all the additional processing. I found I needed to add a quick guitar part in the bridge and was a little worried about the latency issue with all the processing I had added. The multiprocessor cores and new dual buffers are now set to default at 1028 for playback, but only loaded when audio is passing through them. The second buffer is controllable by the user, and can be set at very low levels to allow for accurate monitoring on my native rig. I set the buffer to 128, and was able to easily perform the part I was looking for.
Once I got back to my studio I spent some time with the HD installers and found I needed a few more steps to get Pro Tools 11 up and running. I opened the program and right away noticed the enhanced metering feature, which I have grown to rely on more with each new session. The visual aspect allows me to keep an eye on my overall dynamic range, and I don’t have to open another metering plug-in on a second screen as I did in the past.
The 64-bit architecture and new Avid engine really shines on my HD rig, as I tried to push the computer past where I knew it would normally crash, and my Mac Pro tower cruised through almost every test. Higher-sample-rate sessions (88.2 to 192) proved to be a bit more problematic, but I typically am not operating with high levels of track counts at high sample rates. I did a few tests with offline bounces and noticed that some sessions bounced quicker than others, possibly due to the amount of processing being done in the session. Having multiple output sources is a real time-saver and came in handy when I needed to output some tracks from a session to be used for live performance. In the past, this would take me anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes per song; it now only took about five minutes.
As a Pro Tools user for many years, I always look forward to improvements in the program. While a bit nervous about embracing a change in recording technology in the beginning, I grew to depend on it. Now that Pro Tools 11 is here, again I am faced with a change in the platform I have spent the most time using to make music. My initial skepticism with the AAX format was one of caution, as I didn’t want to spend valuable hours working to get back to square one. The complete reworking of the engine has not only made the platform more stable than ever, it is allowing me to work more fluidly than ever. Original reports of Pro Tools 11 were that everyone was waiting on third-party software to play catch up. After using the program for the last several months with limited and now full support of my additional tools, I can fully say that Pro Tools 11 has created a platform for all of us to push beyond were the program previously allowed us to go before.
Chris Grainger is a producer/mixer/engineer and owner of Undertow Studio in Nashville.
PRODUCT: Pro Tools 11
PRICE: $299 crossgrade from Pro Tools 10 Native/$399 from PT9/$599 crossgrade from Pro Tools 10HD/$999 from PT9HD
PROS: Improved audio engine, 64-bit, offline bouncing, low-latency input buffer for recording, Avid Video Engine.
CONS: Some Avid hardware and TDM/Core/Accel systems not compatible with 11.
If you’re using processing as part of your sounds for live tracks, then group the elements of your recorded mix into drums/loops/perc, bass, synths, guitars, and vocals. Select the group to bounce and create WAV files according to your output needs. Use the meters to adjust your track outputs and apply a stereo compressor or limiter lightly to even out each group’s bounce. The offline bounce feature will let you test your tracks quickly and make changes to get your live show sounding as close to studio-quality as possible.