By Frank Wells.
Avid announced today its first new hardware and software products developed under the Avid brand—flagship I/O options and a new software processing paradigm for Pro Tools|HD dubbed HEAT (Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology).
Tony Cariddi, segment marketing manager for professional audio at Avid tells Pro Sound News that “now that we’ve come together as Avid, we’re more customer focused than ever before.” In ongoing evaluation of customer priorities, Cariddi says that two consistent concerns dominate: “The underlying steam for this launch is sound quality and flexibility.”
On the hardware side, the new, “from the ground up”-designed HD Series of interfaces supplants the various existing Digidesign 192 and 96 models. The line consists of three HD I/O configurations and the HD Omni and HD MADI. The 2RU HD I/O versions are 16x16 analog, 16x16 digital and 8x8x8 analog and digital. The conversion circuitry in the analog models are top shelf, says Cariddi, in design and implementation.
“There was a ton of attention put into the analog front end, the filtering for the conversion, keeping the signal path as short as possible,” he says, as well as focus applied to clocking, a new power supply and to isolating that supply from the rest of the circuitry. Latency is cited as 20 percent lower than with the 192 interfaces—overall latency at 96 kHz sampling for a path from analog through a Pro Tools|HD Core DSP card and back to analog is .5 mS, according to Bobby Lombardi, senior product manager for Pro Tools. The HD I/O, Cariddi concludes, has “incredible specifications, but even more important, it just sounds amazing.” 192 kHz single-wire AES3 and SPDIF interface is supported, along with S/MUX optical. A/D circuitry includes a new soft knee analog limiter (“Curv”) as well as the familiar hard limiter. The digital interface supports 16 channels of AES3, TDIF and ADAT Optical interface.
Pricing for the HD I/O Series has been held to levels comparable to their predecessors, beginning at $2495 for the digital-only option, $3995 for the 8x8x8 analog and digital option and $4995 for the 16x16 analog option. The initial offering includes Pro Tools|HD and I/O bundles that will save near $1,500 off the price of the separate components for HD 2 systems and about $2,000 for HD 3 systems. Cariddi says that Avid wanted to make it easier for new users to get into an HD system, even though, “We’re so confident, from the feedback we’ve gotten and the specs and from what we’ve been hearing ourselves the last few months, that the product is the best that money can buy.”
The HD MADI I/O offers an Avid solution for interfacing with coax electrical or optical MADI streams for up to 64-channels of digital I/O. The 1RU $4,995 device offers the “rare feature” of sample rate conversion on both input and output of the I/O with appropriate clock connections. With the SRC employed, the system input could accept one sample rate and interface with Pro Tools running another sample rate, with the output clocked to yet another sample rate. “The bigger picture here is that we are supporting open architectures,” says Cariddi, “listening to the way people want to work, and we’re giving them solutions to get there.”
The HD Omni is an ‘all-in-one’ I/O interface featuring two mic pres, a well-appointed monitor section that accommodates signals up to 7.1 (with integrated fold-down options), an alternate monitor path, high-end headphone out and a 14 X 26 “Persistent Mixer.” The latter can be set up on the front panel or via software, and functions even when the associated computer is turned off for continued monitoring of external sources. The HD Omni is billed as a complete $2,995 solution for small studios and portable rigs, and as a flexibility extending add-on for bigger systems.
Cariddi calls HEAT a “game changer” kind of software option that’s not a plug-in. Avid has noted that some end-users are employing plug-ins like Crane Song’s Phoenix tape emulator across every channel of a project. Crane Song design guru Dave Hill worked with Avid to develop HEAT, which offers tape, tube, and transformer emulations that are applied globally with pre- and post-insert options plus bypass on a channel-by-channel basis. HEAT has two simple software knob global controls labeled “Drive” and “Tone.” At 12 o’clock on the Drive control, the effect is off. “When you’re pulling it to the left,” says Cariddi, “you’re essentially adding tape harmonics to the material. When you’re pulling it to the right, you’re adding tape plus tube, or as Dave [Hill] describes it, ‘It’s odd harmonics to the left, and to the right, it’s odd plus even.’” The tone control operates as the name implies, says Cariddi, with a “non-linear tone sweep” that behaves “somewhat differently, depending on where the drive control is set.” Hill calls the HEAT process “a giant leap forward in analog modeling.” Avid’s description of the software claims that HEAT “allows customers to add the realism of vintage analog sound to the Pro Tools mixer via a single global control—eliminating the time consuming and complex task of managing plug-in changes across multiple tracks and allowing customers to remain focused on the craft of mixing.” Cariddi reports that post-beta testers find they like kicking HEAT in from the start to mix against. The $495 software option for Pro Tools|HD is available for download with a free 30-day trial.
Cariddi says a private screening of the new hardware and software options was recently held at The Village Recorder in Las Angeles, to rave reviews. Of HEAT, engineer Andrew Scheps commented, “It kind of makes everything sound a little more expensive.” Producer/engineer Ed Cherney quipped, “This is something I’m going to abuse for like the first 10 songs I do.” Avid also quotes producer/engineer Dave Cooley as commenting, “I’ve been looking for a flexible software solution for years that could add some of the energy back that I get from using hardware and vintage equipment. HEAT brings me what I’ve been looking for—an analog sound that can be added quickly and effectively to get the job done. I can’t wait to start using it on mixes right away.”
On the hardware side, Avid quotes producer Butch Vig as saying, “Avid’s new HD I/O converter sounds really natural and transparent. These new interfaces have a really nice, smooth air to them—a silky quality that blows away the competition.” Avid cites R&B songwriter/producer Mishke as saying that “HD OMNI will make it a whole lot easier to make music. To have one piece of Pro Tools HD gear that combines all of the monitor controls, preamps, as well as analog and digital I/O, in a single unit is incredible.”
The HD series of interfaces and HEAT software are available today, worldwide, though the dealer chain is learning about the new tools at the same time as end-users so initial hardware and boxed software supplies will be limited as Avid ramps up production. The new hardware and software will require Pro Tools 8.1 to operate, which is available as a free download to registered Pro Tools 8 users.