The Plug-ins You Use Are An Important Factor When Choosing A Pro Tools DSP Solution

08-30-2014 04:00 PM

Our recent article regarding making a choice for a DSP powered Pro Tools rig seemed to resonate with a lot of you. We’ve had a lot of discussions with users both on and off the blog regarding the decision to go DSP.
As a follow up, we wanted to talk about how the plug-ins you use may greatly influence which DSP powered platform you use.
In our earlier article we covered the issues of huge track counts often needed in sound stages and large studios, we also discussed the need for low latency monitoring at large track counts, so we won’t be going off that ground again.
In this article we are mainly going to talk about the plug-ins you use in your Pro Tools sessons, as this plays a large part in how DSP resources are consumed, especially in mixing.
We also talked about virtual instruments in our earlier article, in most cases DSP processing is nigh on pointless in this situation as so few VIs (almost zero) run on DSP chips.
So the plug-in you use may well determine which route you take.
UAD Powered Plug-ins

If you are mainly using UAD plug-ins then it makes a lot of sense to run Pro Tools natively and then use UAD cards in their various forms as well as the hugely popular Apollo - which allows for near-zero latency with plug-in monitoring on the tracks.
Waves DiGiGrid

The same can be said if you are mainly using Waves plug-ins, then DiGigrid can be used to power a lot of your Waves plug-ins. What must be made clear is that native Waves plug-ins do not work on DigiGrid and need to be upgraded to SoundGrid, for many this is an additional cost, so please check before you make the leap to calculate the total outlay of making this switch.
DigiGrid works in two ways, Pro Tools HD hardware and natively. If you use it with existing Pro Tools hardware then you are going to be using up voice count for the processing of each instance of the Waves StudioRack. If you are running without Pro Tools hardware then you are going to simply use the DigiGrid power, in much the same way you would with UAD.
Avid HDX

HDX may give you a performance boost, but some of the biggest names in plug-ins have not made the switch to AAX DSP and are highly unlikely to, so if your sessions are full of these plug-in then they will only run in native AAX format. Here’s just a few, including VIs that have NOT gone to AAX DSP.

  • Waves
  • Universal Audio - UAD
  • Slate
  • iZotope
  • Spectasonics
  • Native Instruments
  • Toontrack
  • Fabfilter
  • Exponential Audio

As you can see there are some big players not on AAX DSP, so make sure you do your homework before you put out for HDX power or you may end up not using it for powering your favourite plug-ins.

However, if your mixes are full of these equally popular plug-ins then it may be worthwhile;

  • Avid
  • McDSP
  • Sonnox
  • Plug-in Alliance
  • Softube

Both of the lists above are incomplete, but it gives you a rough headline look at what you’re going to get.
A Further Consideration

It is also important to remember that in order to get some features in Pro Tools such as input monitoring, surround mixing and larger track counts then you need Pro Tools HD software and that means buying Pro Tools hardware… so Avid have you over a barrel. There are some work arounds to this problem, if it’s about larger track counts then you can use a secondary DAW like REAPER and ReWire in, or use VEP5 to host all your instruments. The other solution is to buy the hardware and HD software and then sell the hardware without the software brand new on Ebay - theres a lot of those listing if you look, there are also some people sellling the software, but make sure if you try to buy Pro Tools HD software that you buy the activation card NOT the iLok asset as this may not be possible to transfer.
To see the full list of Pro Tools native and HD differences we have this handy list here.
In Summary

So as you can see, it is worthwhile considering what plug-ins make up the majority of your sessions before committing to any particular DSP platform.
Many of us work with a mixed economy of DSP solutions, but if you need to make a decision for one, then decide carefully or you may end up with an expensive mistake.