Several months ago, Avid announced the release of Pro Tools 11 to much fanfare and hype. If you saw the official Avid release video, you got the impression that we were about to see the next big thing. Has it lived up to that kind of hype? In a word, Yes!
The type of changes that were made directly impact anyone working on audio projects for music or tv/film, and most users will see a significant change in workflow to take advantage of these new features.
It turns out there’s a lot more to the latest version of Pro Tools than we first thought. Sure, it’s nice to have 64-Bit Processing, a new Avid Audio & Video Engine, along with a host of other improvements. I’m sure you are asking, “how is this going to improve my work?”. Let’s take a look at what we’ve discovered so far about Pro Tools 11.
First, the initial installation of Pro Tools 11 looks and behaves different than in versions past. Avid has made the installation process a lot easier than in previous releasees, all you have to do is drag the Pro Tools icon to your Application’s folder and it does the rest.
Pro Tools 11 Install Window
Once you’re done installing the software, you will notice the usual “Avid” folder where you would find Pro Tools is no longer there. Pro Tools now appears on it’s own in the Application folder.
Pro Tools 10 - Application Folder
Pro Tools 11 - Application Folder
Furthermore, you will find that the folders previously found in the Applications > Avid folder have now been relocated to the computer Documents folder. A first for Pro Tools. The Documents folder is where you will find useful things such as Plug-In Setting files, I/O Settings, as well as Groove files used for MIDI Groove Quantize.
One other important change to note is the location of the Plug-Ins folder. Along with the Plug-Ins (unused) folder, they have been relocated to a new area of your Operating System. They can now be found under the Application Support folder of the Mac OS Library folder. As many long time users will attest, knowing where these folders reside can help in trouble shooting potential issues with the software.
Speaking of plug-ins, there is one important change to note. The former DigiRack TC/E Audiosuite plug-in is no longer available. It has been replaced by TimeShift. The former TC/E plug-in was a part of Pro Tools for many, many year, and there have been a few ruffled feathers with its departure. I think once you give TimeShift a listen, you’ll understand why there was no need to have two built in AudioSuite plug-ins that do the same thing.
On a more personal note, I would like to also say goodbye to a longtime friend, the Virus Indigo. The Indigo plug-in has been a staple in every session I’ve worked on for more than 10 years. It was not carried over from the former HD systems to the new HDX architecture. This marvelous synthesizer has also been present on countless hit records spanning all genres of music. I am keeping my HD system so I can still have this great synth.
One of the other changes made to Pro Tools 11 is the enhanced graphics and resolution allowing it to take advantage of Hi-Def displays such as the Apple Retina Display. Overall, the graphics have gotten a lot smoother and less “pixelated” than in previous versions of Pro Tools.
One of the features in Pro Tools that got the most changes when it comes to graphics is the track meters. Not only are they taking advantage of the enhanced graphics engine, they are also 30% larger than previous versions of Pro Tools. In a side by side comparison you can see just how much larger the new meters are.
While we’re on the subject of metering, there are also a host of new meter types in Pro Tools 11. These changes have been a request of professional engineers for many years in order to accommodate the various media types whether it’s for Music, TV Broadcast, or Film. Avid have gone to great lengths to make sure all of the common types of metering from around the globe are represented with a total of 17 different metering options in Pro Tools HD (Pro Tools non-HD has 4 metering options).
These new metering options include VU, RMS, PPM (Peak Program Meter), as well as the Bob Katz K Series metering specifications. You can check out more about metering and get a great history lesson from Mr. Katz at his website.
Along with these new metering types, there are also now options that allow you to show meters in the Send assignments, gain reduction meters on the Inserts, as well as showing gain reduction on the track itself. These features are reminiscent of expensive, large format consoles such as an SSL.
You can access the menu to change metering type as well as showing the various gain reduction meters by right-clicking on the track meter display.
The gain reduction meter displayed in the Insert Assignment
The gain reduction meter displayed in the track itself
The vast majority of the changes we’ve talked about so far will not have a huge impact on most people’s day to day work. Music industry engineers don’t really switch metering ballistics that often, even people working in TV/Post usually have one or two main scales they are utilizing for their work. The biggest change to Pro Tools that will affect all users is the new Avid Audio Engine (AAE). This is not merely a re-branding of the former Digidesign Audio Engine (DAE), but rather a completely new, from the ground-up, engine, designed to take full advantage of 64-Bit processing. There are several aspects to how the new AAE affects your session, let’s take a look at what you can expect to see.
First of all, you will notice there is no more option for selecting how many CPU’s you are assigning to Pro Tools. The new AAE can effectively manage the CPU loads across multiple processors making it unnecessary to manually assign how many of your CPU cores to use.
You can see how much of your CPU load is being used by Pro Tools by opening the System Usage Window.
A huge difference between the older version of Pro Tools and 11 is the ability to dynamically assign power as needed. With previous version, when a plug-in was assigned on a track, even if there was no audio on the track itself, the full power to run that plug-in was held in reserve. This realistically meant that you could max-out your system without having any audio on the tracks. No more!
Pro Tools 11 analyzes the plug-ins on a track, along with the audio, to allocate more or less of the CPU resources based whether or not audio is present on the track. This allows you to have lots of plug-ins active and know they will only drain power when they need to, not all the time. As you play your session, keep on eye on the System Usage window to see these CPU meters move in real time.
Another very useful aspect of the new AAE is the Low Latency Input Buffer. This new feature allows non-HD users to have the benefit of instantaneous signal output while recording that has always been out of reach. You no longer have to change your H/W Buffer size to accommodate recording or playback. With previous versions of Pro Tools you would have to switch the H/W Buffer Size to a lower setting for while recording and a higher setting for mixing. This would always cause problems if you had to record some parts after you started mixing and tweaking the song. Once you reduced the H/W Buffer, a lot of the plug-ins wouldn’t be able to run at that lower setting. To alleviate these issues with Pro Tools 11, all playback tracks are set with a fixed, high level buffer and any track with an active input is automatically switched into the low latency buffer when it is Record Enabled. Talk about the best of both worlds!
With the 64-Bit transition, every aspect of Pro Tools has been re-written to take advantage of modern computer platforms. A very noticeable improvement over the previous versions is how Pro Tools 11 manages huge amounts of RAM. Previous versions had a limit of 4GB that would max out very quickly especially when using Virtual Instruments. It didn’t matter how much RAM was actually installed, the older architecture could not physically address more than 4GB. With the new engine, you can now access the totality of the RAM installed in your computer.
For the Mix Engineers out there, you have not been left behind. This new AAE also bring with it some very useful mixing features that are sure to be a hit with everyone. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the #1 most requested feature in Pro Tools 11, Offline Bounce. You asked for it, and they finally gave it to you. The ability to render mixes in “faster than real time” has long been a dream of many a Mix Engineer, Radio & Broadcast Engineer, TV & Film Engineer, basically anyone who has ever worked with audio. The new AAE enable Pro Tools 11 to render mixes in up to 150x real speed! This is all dependent on the complexity of your session as well as the power of your computer. As with all great things, there is a slight catch and it all depends on what you consider Mixing. If your mix is entirely “in the box”, you will have no problems bouncing offline. Even for HDX users utilizing HEAT in their mix can do an offline bounce. However, if you are using any external processing or MIDI devices, you cannot do an offline bounce. External devices, hooked up via audio cables, adhere to the fundamental rule of electricity flowing through cables. You can’t make the audio signal flow through that awesome Lexicon reverb any faster than playing it back in real time. Unless you are using outboard processors in your mix, you should encounter no problems with “offline bounce”.
You can access the offline bounce feature in the Bounce to Disk feature of Pro Tools. A few changes to note in the Bounce window: there is now an “Add MP3” button, you can share with Soundcloud and Gobbler, naming the file directly within the window, as well as a new Bounced Files folder in the Session.
Due to the abundance of new features, each with their shiny newness, I am extremely excited to really start putting Pro Tools 11 through it’s paces. We will start breaking down each of these new components and keep you updated with tips and tricks to maximize your workflow.
Have fun pressing buttons!
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Mihai Boloni is a talented engineer and long-time Pro Tools educator who is fortunate to draw from thousands of hours logged in studios around the globe. Mihai is a Certified Expert Instructor who has an array of Pro Tools experience, which ranges from songwriting, post-production, and dropping' big fat bass across the land. As an industry professional he knows first-hand the value of Pro Tools mastery for artists, producers and engineers. Mihai is a dog lover and the proud father of 2 beautiful Irish Setters.