11 January 2014

Home Studio: Migrating to Pro Tools 11. Some reflexions about.


I've started using Pro Tools as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) around 2008 and, started with version 7.4 LE but, I've bought it just in the moment I had an indult to use 8.0 as soon as it was available, what occured really soon so, we can say that I am mostly a PT 8.0 LE user.

I was really happy with my old PC, with Windows XP Professional edition, my Pro Tools and some plugins I had purchased. But, as soon as I've started to buy serious plugins and to start recording my stuff then, issues popped up.

One of the worst issues that I had was related to a notable delay between the reproduction monitoring and the input recording. Such a big gap lead me to lots of mistakes, since there is no way to go with the click when the reproduction of what you are recording happens half second later.
Most of advanced DAW softwares were using delay auto-compensation and, I ever wondered why the most used DAW in Studios hadn't such a valuable feature.

Other issues were related to the hardware itself. Disk wasn't speedy enough, memory was low and, the CPU (even being an Extreme Edition) started to be highly overloaded with new brand plugins.

I was delaying the need to go for a higher version of Pro Tools for a long while, because that meant to upgrade (or replace) the complete PC and, probably the Operative System.

But, environment pushed me hard. Windows XP support is going to be discontinued very soon (if it isn't already over), what meant that I better go for a never Windows version.

First version of Pro Tools featuring delay auto-compensation was Version 10, which wasn't available for Windows XP but, only for Windows 7 (and then, for Windows 8). That was the one I've planned to buy in a future.

Well, since XP is gonna be discontinued and Pro Tools 10 worked for Windows 7 and 8, I've decided that it was time to change everything: PC, Operative System and Pro Tools version. But then, I've seen that PT 10 wasn't listed anymore and, that Avid was pushing hard PT 11.

Since PT 11 works in real 64 bits, a 64 bits operating system is a must and therefore, I've decided to jump really high and go for Windows 8.1 64 bits.

And this blog entry is all about the issues I've found when jumping so high. Maybe it will let you to better weight whether to go for PT 11 or stay in PT 10.

Buying Pro Tools 11 crossgrade

Once, I've decided to go ahead with Pro Tools upgrade, I went to Avid site and searched for Pro Tools 10.
Huh?. What?. Where is PT 10?.
Avid was talking about PT 8, 9 and 11 but, no trace of PT 10.
What's happening?. I'd swear it was there a couple of month ago !!!.

Ok. It seems that PT 11 includes PT 10 also and, both are independent versions of PT that can be installed in same machine. I wondered why. Answers came later.

Well, reading a tad more, I saw that PT 11 works just with 64 bits AAX plugings, that means that I cannot reuse my RTAS plugins. WHY ???.

It seems that AAX plugins are enhanced versions of PT plugins, that should deal with the new PT Audio Engine, which (as per Avid words) is way more efficient and powerful than the previous DAE (which worked with RTAS plugins).

There are two versions of AAX plugins, those that where compiled for 32 bits systems and those that where compiled for 64 bits systems. PT 11 works just with 64 bits AAX plugins, while PT 10 is able to work with your old RTAS plugins, as well as with 32 bits AAX plugins.

It seems as if PT 10 was the bridge between the old legacy Digidesign Pro Tool versions and the new Avid Pro Tool versions. While PT 10 can handle everything, PT 11 is very restricted.

Since Avid insists to define PT 11 as the biggest step forward in DAW software, I wanted to check first PT 11, before deciding what to do.

But, what about our investment in plugings for our previous versions of PT?.
Ah, ok!. If you want to use your expensive RTAS plugins, you can use PT 10 version.
So good, so nice. If you want to re-use your investment you cannot work with the top notch PT11.
Therefore, have I to work with PT10 and, when everything is ready, to import the project in PT11 to give the final touch to projects?. Crazy.
I mean, if PT 10 is able to work with RTAS stuff, couldn't Avid developed some software inside that new engine to run 32 RTAS plugins inside?.

With all those doubts rumbling in my head, I went ahead. Purchased a powerfuler PC, with speeder disks, lots of memory and a good CPU. Installed Windows 8.1 64 bits edition, some basic tools and, went for PT 11 download.

Huh?. Ah?. Were is my activation key?. I don't see PT 11 listed in my products area!.
Reading more carefully, PT 11 needs the license to be downloaded to a Dongle Key (iLok) version 2.
So, my old iLok doesn't work?. Ok. Purchasing a damned iLok version 2 and, waiting until I get the iLok to start installing my new brand PT 11. How excited I am !.

Aha. I've got the license in my new iLok 2. I've transferred also all my other licenses (not demo ones) to iLok 2 and, started installation of PT 11.

I was very happy to see that, this time, Avid made a single downloadable file for the complete process.
I've installed PT 11, started the Digidesign Rack 003 interface and opened an old project.

Damn!. It doesn't recognizes the audio interface.
After some tries, I've decided to search for info in Avid site and, voilĂ , you need to install FIRST drivers, which aren't included in PT 11 !!!.
Downloaded and installed drivers. This time the interface comes back to life.

Browsing the user's interface.
Mmm... just the old Audiosuite but, in AAX format, and just a couple of plugins that seem to be new (at least to me).
Overall, it looks the same (nice!) and, you can find everything where it was. This time, the interface was translated to Spanish (nice!) so, I am feeling at home.

Hmm... I am missing instruments and other plugins. Wait, there is some download named AIR Creative Collection. Let's download and install it.
Nice. Most of the stuff that came with my Rack 003 Factory bundle is there.

I am wondering how can I install the Music Production Toolkit 2 that I own.
No specific updates for PT 11 and, it seem those kind of products are discontinued!.
Every license contained in such a kind of bundles ended with an LE is not elegible for upgrade to PT 11 so, bye bye to Smack! LE compressor, among other LE plugins included in MPT2.
Fortunatelly, the MP3 bounce tool is already included, among the rest of not LE things.
Well, crossed feelings here. In one side, I always thought that all that was included in MPT2 should come stock in any PT version but, in the other side, I've payed a bunch of money for that extras and, half of my investment has gone.

Reviewing configuration menus, I see that now you can define a project working at 32 bits and 48 KHz (finally, a Studio setup!), what means a good improvement respect of previous versions that allowed a max resolution of 24 bits.
You can force PT to automatically translate the audio files when importing from a previous version to your project resolution and, what is even more impresive, you can change your project's resolution at any time, something that was impossible in previous versions.

In the ASIO controller (Windows Control Pannel), I can see that you can select the input volume for each pair of channels (1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8) and, you can setup the resolution and sampling rate for each one separately. Very nice!.

I/O Configuration is easier now and, you have a clear way to identify each input, output and bus and, even to determine the hardware delay for each input / output.
On Menu Options, the sought-after Delay Compensation options. Nice, nice, nice.

Everything looks the same but, with better resolution and more rational configuration options.

The Hell of Plugins

Before trying PT 10, I wanted to check the availability of 64 bits AAX version of my purchased RTAS plugins.

IK Multimedia plugins

After trying PT 11 alone, it was time to start upgrading my plugins. I remembered that IK Multimedia was delivering AAX versions of their plugins so, my investment was ensured with IKM.
Effectively, I've downloaded new versions and, everything was ready to be used in AAX format.

Just a side note. Version of IKM plugins that work in 64 bits AAX format are those delivered with the Custom Shop (T-Racks CS and Amplitube CS). So, if you have T-Racks singles, those aren't available as AAX plugins.
Since I went myselft for an upgrade from T-Racks Singles to T-Racks CS Grand some time ago, my plugins are read to use in PT 11.

IK Multimedia is one of the very few plugin makers that will preserve your investment.

But, the awesome ARC 2 hasn't a 64 bits AAX version!!!!.
What the hell?.
This is a priced plugin and a must in any home studio!!!.
It has a 32 bits AAX version to be used with PT 10.

RNDigital Plugins

To me, Inspector XL is a key tool. All their meters are a must for me to mix ITB during the night, since they offer me more information that the headphones for some critical hearings.
Therefore, I wanted to check if there was an AAX version ready to download, as in the case of IKM plugins.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?. Roger Nichols is dead !!!. RNDigital site is down !!!.
Searching Internet....
Whaaaaaaaaaat?. Some legal issues with the real developer ended closing Rogern Nichols sites and, that plugin isn't available anymore. Elemental Audio that was selling it is also down.

I am really upset. That plugin was key in my toolbox and, costed a bunch of money just being a set of meters.

SoundToys plugins

Well, SoundToys site seems to be alive, still but, they doesn't seem to update their software very often.
There is no AAX version available. No way.
Well, this set of plugins is very specific and, I am using basically the Reverb plugin by Sonnox so, I am not missing really nothing here.

Sonnox plugins

I remember to have seen AAX versions of Sonnox plugins available so, let's go there to download them!.
If you want the AAX versions of Sonnox plugins, you have to pay 15 GBP for each one and, even so, there are some plugins that aren't still available in AAX format.
I've spent a lot of money in Sonnox plugins and, now, I have to spent around 150 Eur more to have those working for PT 11.

Sonnox plugins were the hell expensive. Very bad I have to pay an extra fee for PT 11.
I've decided to buy one by one, when I really need some but, this leaves me with very few weapons!.

FXpansion plugins

Seeing the issues with AAX versions of my RTAS plugins, I bought long time ago the FXpansion RTAS Wrapper, which was able to convert around 98% of my VST plugins into RTAS versions, directly usable under the AudioSuite Menu.

I have an idea!!!.
They will probably have now an AAX wrapper and, therefore, I should be able to wrap all my RTAS plugins to be used with PT 11.
What a great idea!!!.

Oh, not!. They don't have an AAX wrapper and, they will not do it!!!.
SAD, FXpansion. Your RTAS wrapper was an awesome tool.

TT Dynamic Range Meter

Another of my key metering tools, that costed my some money, on Tyschmeyer' site.
Well. There is no AAX version available to download and, the original maker (Algorithmix) isn't maintaining or selling it. So, another great plugin to the trash can.

It seems that now, Brainworx is selling an enhanced version of such a meter but, isn't available as an AAX version. What a pity!.

It seems that the only affordable alternative to solve the lack of the Inspector XL and TT Dynamic Range will be to buy Blue Cat's Meters. More money, OMG!.
I'm downloading all Blue Cat's freeware plugins to check which quality level do they have, before taking a decision. They seem very complete but, complexer, not dummy-proof.

ToonTrack plugins

Long time ago, I've purchased first the EZDrummer and several EZX expansion packs and, about one year later, Superior Drummer 2.0 and several SDX expansion packs.
Those are rarelly used, when I have to manually sequence some drums parts.

Well, it seems that ToonTrack did their duties and their products are up-to-date, providing 32 bits and 64 bits versions but, the installation is a bit messy. You have to install the original product version and, then to apply first late 32 bits update and then the 64 bits update. You better leave installation directories as default, to avoid weird results.

After a couple of days, downloading and installing everything, I've opened a PT 11 session and, inserted an Instrument Track to check if EZDrummer and Superior Drummer where available.
Both are now listed as Instruments for PT 11. Nice!.
Trying Superior Drummer... ok... Authorizing it. It seems to work.
Trying EZDrummer... CRASH!!!!. PT aborted.

I have to troubleshooting this. Will update status in a new blog entry.

112dB Plugins

Just one 112dB plugin I've purchased, the Red Monitor. This plugin allowed me to mix with headphones simulating same conditions as if I was hearing the mix thru monitors and, was a key plugin to silenty mix, without disturbing my family. Results where very close to real thing so, I liked it very much.

It seems that 112dB plugins are compatible with every PT version except 11 but, 64 bits AAX versions "are in the pipeline" (as per 112dB words).

Please, make it free!.

Massey Plugins

Well, currently Massey Plugins are compatible with PT up to version 10.
Fortunatelly, that guy is working on 64 bits AAX versions (in Beta Phase as per October 2013).
Knowing how Massey does things or they will be available for free or they will be available for a ridiculous upgrading price.

What about PT 11?. Does it Deliver?.

I was a Cakewalk user for a very loooong time. After visiting some little Studios, I've realized that the to-go DAW was Pro Tools and, when I've tested my old Cakewalk songs in Pro Tools, I've instantanelly noticed a nice improvement in sound, just using stock plugins.

Well, comparing PT 8.0.5 LE to PT 11, I can say that I am feeling same improvement level. Things sound more "airy", more "correct" and, I am not feeling the sensation that the delicate nuances are being missing.

Stock plugins work better, smoother and clearer than in PT 8 and, I see the possibility to make a good mix just using stock plugins.

I was highly impressed with their new Channel Strip plugin. IMHO, this single plugin can do everything you wanted for a track or bus. A master piece of software, indeed.
I've tested it in every single track (bypassing previous plugins) and, it had an usable preset to be used for each track (which I tweaked just a bit to my taste) and, in all them it made an awesome, crystall clear and musical work. My congratulations, Avid people!. This is the best Avid plugin ever.

I've loaded one of my well known songs but, some tracks where missing. I've probably lost some information when swapping the PC so, I cannot blame PT for this. I will do further tests with new stuff, in any case.

I've loaded their demo session and, I was impressed with the bunch of tracks that were loaded, with lots of virtual instruments and, lots of plugins. I've opened the System window to check resources use and, I was impressed how low the CPU and memory usage where.
There are not so many audio tracks in that demo so, it's difficult to know how efficient it will be with audio tracks. Most of tracks where midi tracks triggering virtual instruments.

The Master Meter is also a nice tool to see if your Brickwall Limiter is doing its task and, it seems that IKM Brickwall Limiter isn't able to control everything. There are lots of oversampling events so, I guess I need to go for that 64 bits upgrade of the Sonnox Limiter.

I've tested several IKM plugins, mainly in the main bus but, also in some instruments, just to check if PT 11 was able to stand that load (IKM plugins are running with the highest resolution, what means a lot of load).
Everything worked smoothly. No issues and, awesome musical results (well, that's why I love IKM stuff).

I take advantage of this testing session to check the cryptic IKM Quad processors and, the Quad Imagine was a nice discovery, allowing me to widen the stereo image, just for those bands I wanted it.
I've also used the Bus Compressor (awesome as a glueing compressor, with a very light compression and gain makeup) and the (I confess it, underrated) OptoCompressor, among any other typical studio ones: Fairchild 670, White 2A, Black 79, etc. All them delivered good sound.

I still don't like their Metering suite. I think it's bogus or, I cannot understand what the hell is it doing.
Even pushing the mix hard, RMS levels stay always around -20dB, while I clearly see in other meters (as in the Limiter) that RMS are way over -20dB, maybe around -12dB.
That's why I loved Inspector XL and TT Dynamic Range Meters and, that's why I need to solve this ASAP.
I'm missing the K-System all the way!.

Overall, from a reproduction point of view, PT 11 seems a step over previous versions and, that channel strip is a top-notch workhorse that will make lot of people to smile, when using it in their mixes.
Don't forget to try it!. It's a GREAT plugin!.
The drawback is that it looks like a tad arcane, with lots of parameters and possibilities.
Best approach is just to recall some of its presets and then, to tweak a little bit something.
It deserves an in deep analysis to fully understand this incredible good tool.

Lots of tests are still pending and, very specially, those related to recording and, how PT 11 handles the delay or low latency monitoring.
I'm still pending on testing PT 10 also, that seems the Island I need to go to preserve my previous investment in plugins.


Pro Tools 11 seems the near future but, it cannot be the present. The present is Pro Tools 10.
Plugin makers are still dealing with their 64 bits AAX versions. Some will do that for free, some will charge you more or less money for an upgrade.

Currently, you cannot expect to smoothly re-use all your purchased RTAS plugins with Pro Tools 11.
It seems that Avid shaked the plugins market and, due to the highly technical development behind any audio plugin, it's gonna take a while for makers to have their plugins ready for a 64 bits AAX version.

Will I recommend to crossgrade to PT11?.
Yes, indeed.
It will take a while to have all your wanted 64 bits AAX plugins ready but, since PT 11 includes PT 10, you can buy PT 11 for tomorrow and use PT 10 for today.

Go for a 64 bits PC and Operating System. This will ensure you that you will be able to use PT 11 once everything settles. In the meanwhile, you can use that 32 bits PT 10 in a 64 bits platform without issues and,  you can process tracks in PT 10 and import processed audio files to PT 11.

In a next blog entry, I will share my tests of version 10. I hope I will recover all my beloved plugins there but, how the system will work?. How nice it will sound?. Would it be a notable sonic difference respect PT 11?.
Ah, Ah, Ah!. Too many questions to be answered.
Stay tuned.

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