The People Behind Pro Tools 11

New Software, New Focus

Rumors about Pro Tools 11 had been building for months, and with NAB and Musikmesse just around the corner, we knew we were onto something big when Avid invited us out to their Bedford, MA headquarters last week to meet their new executive team and “see some new technology.” Sure enough, it was the announcement everyone was waiting for: Pro Tools 11 was here. By now, almost anyone loitering around any audio forum or high-end studio figured they already knew what was coming in the upgrade, and they’ve have been right about a lot of things: Version 11 features a new engine built from the ground up to support 64-bit architecture, integration of Media Composer, dynamic host processing, lightning-fast (as in 150x-realtime) offline bounce, plus enhanced metering and other workflow enhancements. Rather than focus on every detail of the new software enhancements (you can read about them all HERE), we thought we’d share some insights we took away from our conversations with the executive team, to put the release in context.

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During our visit, there was a clear emphasis on simplicity and streamlined workflow in Version 11—whether you’re working on feature-film post production or recording in your home studio. To meet that goal, Avid has placed a great deal of effort on engaging the user community (largely through global advisory boards and crowd-sourcing features)—a relationship they admit was due for improvement.

“We’re as excited as ever about the changing dynamic and business model and participating in these fantastic ideas that people have…we want to make that easier, we want to make that lower cost, we want to make it more powerful…We really think we need to be more collaborative with our clients, the whole community, and I think you’ll see that moving forward,” said new CEO Louis Hernandez. “We are lucky to have a very passionate and engaged customer base, and they’re not shy about giving us input,” added Chris Cahagan, SVP, product and services.

Work on 11 had begun long before version 10 debuted, and even as 10 was released, Avid announced to the community that something even bigger was in store. “If you look at the mix engine that was in Pro Tools 10, the mix engine in 11 is brand new,” said Cahagan. “We took everything we learned over the past couple of decades and completely changed and modernized…in 2011, we also announced a new generation of plug-in platform, which is necessary to make this work as efficiently as you can; you’ll see some really cool stuff [in 11], how we can dynamically load balance plug-ins between the DSP and the host to get a ton more flexibility and a ton more processing power; all that’s not possible if we are in some way still trying to preserve something that came in 2002. “

At the same time, they wanted to avoid contributing to the “upgrade fatigue” that frustrates DAW users on every platform. To that end, Pro Tools 11 and 10 can now be installed on the same computer (though they cannot run together), and 11 is session-compatible all the way back to PT 5.1 (and that compatibility is bi-directional).

Avid know they’re not the first to offer a 64-bit architecture, but they emphasize that the technology is not just about 64-bit, it’s about being smart about understanding what’s happening in the session. “What is 64-bit gong to give you? In and of itself, it’s going to give you a lot more adjustable RAM,” said Audio Marketing Director Tony Cariddi. “It can help if you’re working with thousands of files, or a long-format project; also, virtual instruments that require a lot of sample memory. But it kind of stops there. So if we just wanted to go just execute on that, we could have delivered this a lot quicker,” he explained, adding that the new system intelligently allocates processing where it’s needed. (As we watched the system usage window during our demos—which ran on a Mac Mini and included dozens of virtual instruments—we could see smooth, predictable operation.)

High-end users will be the first to benefit from the release of Pro Tools 11: We’ll see releases for Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD this quarter; Pro Tools Express will be upgraded later. What does this mean right now, to musicians in home studios?

“Before, with Pro Tools, you had to be an expert on how everything worked internally. We’re trying to hide that,” said Rich Holmes, Director of Pro Tools Product Management. “The other thing is, if you look at what we demonstrated today, the computer used to support that is a Mac Mini. What you can do with Pro Tools with a very small hardware investment, in terms of compute power—you can get what professionals use.”

They acknowledge that musicians with limited resources have to make tough budget decisions. Avid offers new Fast Track interfaces for $179 and $299 that include high-quality converters, metal cases, and other high-end features. “And when you look at the price point of that, someone will be able to get into it for as low as $179 then take advantage of the Pro Tools crossgrade to 11 for only $399,” says Cariddi. “For less than 600 bucks, they’re getting Pro Tools 11 and an interface.”

So what can we expect next from Avid? “We’re looking at significantly enhancing the Pro Tools line; you’ll also see us look at the rest of the value chain, look at how we can connect the digitized content that we create to the consumption,” says Hernandez. “Because we’re early in the chain, we feel we have a lot of opportunities to automate the chain because we recognize that the way content is being created, distributed, the way its being consumed is changing fairly rapidly.”