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?