While out of the budget of many home musicians, Pro Tools HD remains the lifeblood of the studio, broadcast, and live worlds. Make no mistake – even in a slow-moving economy, that’s still big business. Users sometimes accept Avid’s hardware grudgingly, but revisions are significant news.

Avid has promised a series of new products for its audio lineup; the first major announcements have arrived in the form of revised audio interfaces and a software effect for adding analog warmth to mixes. Both are targeted at Pro Tools HD. (The audio interfaces also support Core Audio and ASIO on Mac and Windows, respectively.) They’re also the first to sport the Avid logo on the faceplate, though I suspect it’s the claims of improved quality that will earn the most interest from customers (and, likely, the most natural skepticism).

I was invited to a private press event last month at which Avid discussed their strategy and unveiled the new products. I would say the two major themes were quality and openness. In practical terms, that means that Avid claims these pieces sound better for your interface dollar, and that we’re beginning to see (legitimately) support for industry standards — see MADI, below.

There are three new HD interface offerings:

  • HD I/O. 2 RU rack, 16×16 analog, 16×16 digital, 8x8x8 analog and digital. See full specs. US$3995.
  • HD OMNI An all-in-one, 1 RU rack, 4×8 analog, 2x S/PDIF, 8x ADAT, 4 mic pres, 1 headphone out. Full specs. US$2995.
  • HD MADI If you have to ask, you probably don’t need it, but MADI is a very big deal in terms of finally connecting Pro Tools HD to an industry-standard multichannel audio format. In fact, MADI likely should have become a broader de facto standard earlier. Specs mostly blank as I write this. US$4995.

Of these, the Omni seems like a particular sweet spot, particularly in that it is more compact. Note that it is HD-only, not an LE interface.

All of these boxes, as before, require internal computer PCI-bus cards to connect.

Avid’s competitors and critical users alike read CDM, which means that low rumbling sound, a bit like distant thunder, is probably them complaining about some features HD interfaces have lacked for some time. The HD boxes now operate as standalone mixers, offer headphone jacks, and an ample selection of inputs worthy of their studio name. Those are features hardly new to the audio interface world, particularly once you get well into four-digit gear.

The quality question is more elusive, though. On one hand, while a lot of audio hardware easily undercuts the price of these boxes, low cost is easy when you’re willing to make some quality compromises. On the other, I’ve talked to plenty of studio engineers who feel the HD interfaces haven’t necessarily hit the “pro” level they claim. (In fact, take the previous verbiage, drop the mention of “HD,” and we could have had pretty much the exact same conversation in 1998.)

On paper, at least, the next generation of HD interfaces is different. Avid has replaced the mic pres on previous models with newer options for the Omni and the I/O, something they emphasized at the press event. They’ve also looked at filtering and clocking – clock and jitter being major contributors to real-world performance. While comparing across product lines is harder, at the very least, the newer HD interfaces should be better than the older ones. By how much, and how this compares to competitive entrants, is something I hope the CDM community will continue to investigate – as well as starting to take these kinds of issues to task across product lines and budgets.

More on all of this soon, so if you have questions – and especially if you fall directly in Avid’s target market and can talk about how you use these products in the real world – send them our way.


HEAT, Analog Warmth in Two Knobs

To me, the most interesting announcement Avid made is one that’s getting a lot less attention. The problem isn’t new: how can you model the sophisticated nuance of tape in a digital realm?

HEAT, an analog warmth simulator for processing your Pro Tools HD mix, is the creation of Dave Hill, the legendary audio engineer, producer, and designer. Dave’s been responsible for a lot of the best gear involving tubes in the last couple of decades, with notable creations for Summit Audio and now his own vendor Crane Song. (Think pieces like the < ahref="http://www.cranesong.com/stc8.html">STC-8 compressor.)

Dave isn’t new to TDM development; his Phoenix suite of plug-ins were an earlier attempt at doing what HEAT does. But Phoenix, from a design and interaction standpoint, was a bit more cluttered. You got a suite of plug-ins rather than a single solution, with bizarre labels like “Gold,” “Sapphire,” and “Opal” on a knob called “Luster.” (Sounds like the Spaceballs school of technical nomenclature. “They’ve gone to plaid!”)

HEAT is different. For starters, it’s not a plug-in. It’s a single, global control, as seen in our image above, which you enable or disable for tracks. When you want to impact the tone, you turn the tone knob. According to an Avid source at the press event, that was by design, so that you intuitively find a sweet spot in the sound rather than try to intellectually work out what impact you want. That knob actually consolidates a number of related simulations, which is something I hope to follow up with Dave about later.

I’ll say this: with HEAT and some other rivals entering the space, the days of bouncing out to tape may be over. Another prediction: while HEAT is not available in a native version, I’ll bet CPU-bound competitors will eventually get the sound right, as well.

HEAT is for HD only, at US$495. If you do have an HD rig or access to one, it’s available as a 30-day trial.


I expect Avid did not anticipate one unfortunate, topical coincidence of the name. How many studios in Cleveland do you think will buy a license?

  • mythic

    ive heard rumors also, of an 'eleven box'…

  • @mythic: you mean, other than this?

  • "Analog Warmth Software" sounds like a phrase from a dystopian world called 1984

  • aje

    Is the HD OMNI interface aimed to some extent at the home studio market – i.e. drawing more home users into the HD market…? It seems to be kinda …AFFORDABLE! …

    Seriously – from your insider brief is this part of their aim now?

  • @aje: No, it's not. Then again, while I said that *generally* Avid's gear isn't in the reach of home studios, someone might shell out $3 g's to get this and run HD at home. There's nothing stopping anyone from doing that. And some of the "home" studios these days are pretty special places.

  • rockridge98

    To say that the Pro Tools HD interfaces "support Core Audio" is being pretty charitable. The PT HD core audio driver has always been buggy, interferes with other core audio drivers, and only addresses the first 8 channels of your system, no matter how many channels of HD hardware you have connected. I gave up on using my HD hardware for anything but Pro Tools, and bought some cheap used MOTU interfaces for everything else.

  • @rockridge98: I can't comment directly on it because I haven't used it yet, but those drivers are no longer exclusive of other drivers / other applications accessing the same device. I've requested more detail on this from Avid.

    But yes, by "supports Core Audio," that's the claim of Avid as it would be the claim of anyone who ships drivers for a platform. Quality and performance is very often variable in drivers.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    $495 for two software knobs? How do we know it's not just a bomb factory compressor? The free one that came with protools 6.9 makes my tracks sound nice and "analog" too…..

  • @Charlie: Well, whether it's worth $500 to everyone is definitely an open question. I prefer to get any warmth via other means, myself. (Maybe I should introduce an effect for adding "coldness.")

    But I can tell you that the software really is the creation of Dave Hill. It's not Bomb Factory, period. It's an improvement on his previous work, of which people were a big fan.

    And I do have a lot of respect for Dave and the way his head works; I think he's done some terrific engineering, and his mindset about sound and electronics is likely to appeal to most of the audience here on the site, even if a limited fraction of the audience may or may not go buy this add-on for Pro Tools HD.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    Maybe I was too harsh. But for 500 bones I better get at least a guide book with eq curves and charts and a bunch of equations written out that I'll never understand about tape bias frequencies and saturation and electron discharge variation ratios in vacuum tubes or some such. Really though I like that it only has two knobs.

  • Absolutely. I'm going to talk to Dave about just that. I expect he won't give up all his secrets, but it is documented what parameters are bound up in tone; I just didn't want to speak here from memory from that presentation, because it'd be better to go to the source.

  • Wow. They've really lost it.

    Why not build better interfaces instead of making plugins to make up for low quality components?

  • @Andre: Come on. I think it's a stretch to suggest that HEAT is supposed to cover for bad converters and audio circuitry. Avid claims they've improved pres, clock, and converters on the new boxes. Now, that is yet to be tested, but I don't honestly think they're trying to roll out HEAT on the same day to hope you mask that with effects. Analog tape emulation simulates coloration that is unrelated to the quality of the audio interface.

  • @Peter: was there any talk of updating any LE interfaces with the AVID name during your private press event? I'm looking to upgrade my 002 rack but still don't want to fork over for HD..

  • No news on LE. But the "AVID" name will definitely be on everything; "Digidesign" as a moniker has been retired (not that that's the reason you're upgrading, of course)!

  • shim

    personally, i will continue to avoid PT HD like the plague (or swine flu) cuz Logic just feels so right to me…but hey peter, why not have a warmer/tape satch plug-in smackdown? that would be GREAT! and then i'd be very curious to hear what the audience thinks.

    i'll still bounce to tape but i have witnessed 2 plugs so far that are getting pretty toasty.

    lastly, $500 for "heat" is retarded. unless dave absolutely nailed it…did he?

  • That's a great idea.

    One entrant should definitely be *tape*. These days, you might be able to pick up a decent reel-to-reel for $500.

  • mythic

    @Peter, yes something like an "mbox eleven" so you have standalone 'eleven' operation but dont have to lug a rack for it…i would think it would be sweet to have foot pedal operation on it…i heard some in the know Sweetwater employees were being dismissed for bringing the topic up in an online forum…

  • mythic

    and as for the new HD interfaces, they look pretty cool but unfortunately adat is limited to 48k…so im still going to go for the BLA mod on my 003

  • mythic

    @Peter, something else I am very curious about is when Pro Tools LE will recognize more than 2GB physical memory…I'm not sure about the old or new HD systems limit you in regards to that, either…

  • Ivan

    This is me, or the effect of HEAT is very very very subtle ? I had a look for the video from the avid website, I just can't hear the difference between the effect enabled and bypassed…

  • JollyRogered

    This makes me laugh – especially in the light of this excellent piece you did a while back:
    "Biggest myth of all: Perception and reality are one and the same".
    Check out the audio myths workshop video, and then the demo on the Heat page; the Heat video is telling us what to hear, no!? How many of us could tell the difference blindfold?
    If the emperor is not actually still naked, I don't think he's dressed in a $500 suit, and I think I can still see his d*ck – even with the Avid badge!

  • spinner

    Avids trying to corner the pro market having lost the project and home studios to Logic and Ableton…… It's a pretty empty part of the sky so in short terms I understand how that can make sense….. It just reeks of desperation thats all………
    In the long run Avid will run the risk of getting thumped from the throne
    if someone comes up with something more cost efficient.
    Music pro's might be loyal to PT but post and live are not, they'll change if something better comes along……

  • brian

    Honestly, even if these products do sound incrementally better and the prices are 10% lower, who cares? How could this be enough to justify a refresh? Is it more about rebranding with the Avid logo? That 1u item seems like a nice change up, but what I want to see is a comparison list between the two hardware products to see what has really changed? Plenty of great sounding records were made with the now inferior D/A of the former line, so I'm not sure I buy the whole "its much better sounding" pitch.

    I'd love someone to put together a non-marketing rollup of features that qualify as 'new'. From the website and this short review, I don't see enough here.

  • The idea that the subtleties 'tape sound' can be objectively modeled and then reduced to two dials in a digital plugin is a joke played on consumers. The processing in question may subjectively improve the the signal according to some peoples taste, but calling it analog warmth is by definition a lie. It is a digital distortion algorithm based on certain peoples reductive assumptions about why analog sound is appealing. Next thing you know people will be downloading themselves into computers and living forever. lol

    I'm all for digital instruments, and from what I see here, AVID themselves may not be explicitly claiming it to be analog sound. However, the fact remains, if you want to enjoy the subtleties of analog sound it's not so hard, you make the final version analog — either press a record or make tapes.

  • rich

    HEAT gave me a flashback to Cubase VST/32's true tape emulation, which as I recall was a bit rubbish. Hopefully things have progressed in the last nine and a half years.
    Glad they've updated the interfaces, they were in dire need of a refresh. They were slightly upstaged by the announcement of the new modular Apogee, but it looks like a decent update and allowing MADI is definately a significant step in the right direction. I think a lot of people were hoping for a dramatic update of HD, or at least a DSP refresh, but this is a lot better then a poke in the eye. Some people have pointed to the new digilink connectors as evidence that new cards are on the way, but might just be space saving.

  • rich

    @bluegreengold. The real problem here is that 'analog warmth' is a stupid vague term. It's meaningless whether used to describe the effect of analog gear or that of some DSP.
    All pretty academic however. If it sounds nice and someone else is paying then I'll use it.