Why One Pro Tools Expert Sold His Pro Tools HDX System And One Is Keeping His

12-17-2014 12:38 AM

A lot of Pro Tools native owners wonder if Pro Tools HDX is for them. It’s a big decision to invest even in a basic Pro Tools | HD hardware system, comprising of an Avid Pro Tools HDX card and an Avid Omni interface.
It is said that there is nothing more attractive than something you don’t have, in some ways Pro Tools | HD hardware can fall into the category, for some its seen as the pinnacle of the Pro Tools family. In technical terms it is, Pro Tools | HD hardware offers a number of benefits over Pro Tools native, these include;

  • Low latency
  • High track counts
  • Greater headroom

Avid want us to all to think that we’ve not arrived unless we have Pro Tools | HD hardware.
However Russ and Mike decided it would be a good article to tell you why Russ, who has owned a Pro Tools | HD hardware system based around an Avid Omni and HDX card, has decided to sell his and why Mike, who owns a Pro Tools | HD hardware system based around a HDX card, and an 8x8x8 interface with a cheese grater 2.4 GHz 8 core Mac Pro is keeping his.
We hope that this article, giving both sides of the story will help those of you considering Pro Tools | HD hardware the right information to make the right choice for YOUR SITUATION.
Why Russ Sold His Pro Tools HDX System

I’ve been in the world of recording since the early 1980s. I worked for a dealer selling Digidesign Sound Tool, a Mac based stereo audio editor costing around £20,000 including the Mac. My background is as a songwriter and composer, and I’ve been using Pro Tools to do that for around 15 years. Once Digidesign started making the LE version of Pro Tools I was thrilled, it allowed me to write in my home studio and then take the sessions to professional studios and carry on working on ‘real’ Pro Tools systems. In the early days composing in Pro Tools was painful, then Digidesign started to add more features such as instrument tracks, better MIDI implementation, AIR instruments and it made Pro Tools a much better platform for me to work in as a composer.
One of the biggest issues for me when working in Pro Tools over the last few years was its inability to deal with virtual instruments efficiently and a lot of the time I was having to find workarounds to make sure I could get big sessions at low latency. I recall working on a piece of music for a German TV advert in Pro Tools 9 and using a lot of instances of Omnisphere, the only way I could get to complete the session was to bounce down to stereo stems as I built the track up. It was moments like this that tested my patience with the old 32 bit architecture in Pro Tools.
Then I invested in an Omni and Pro Tools | HD Native hardware to help improve my workflow and for a time I saw some improvement in the speed and efficiency, but still my workflow improved. Finally I invested in a HDX card to help improve the speed and efficiency.
However the were a number of milestones that changed it all for me and made me wonder if my Pro Tools | HD hardware was a white elephant in my workflow, these were;

  • Pro Tools 11 - the 64 bit architecture has greatly improved the efficiency of Pro Tools, especially for virtual instruments. You can beat up Avid about a lot of things, but Pro Tools 11 is a winner when it comes to unlocking native power. Which leads me to my second thing…
  • I own a new Mac Pro ‘trash can’ which is a beast of a machine, I spend most of my time tracking and mixing at low buffer settings, it hardly breaks a sweat most of the time.
  • UAD - I track and mix with a lot of UAD plug-ins, they use their own DSP power from the Apollo and UAD card I own. It seems silly to own DSP I don’t really take advantage of.
  • The lack of AAX DSP plug-ins, especially virtual instruments, of which right now 99.9% of AAX VIs are native only and not DSP. Knowing many of the plug-in developers personally I know the chance of them ever being DSP is as likely as me running for US President.
  • The new Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt, offers me a great sound, flexibility to use it on other DAWs and also super low latency. The latency has to be heard to be believed, it really is very low when tracking.
  • I own the Pro Tools HD software so I don’t need to pay the HD Hardware tax to get it.

All the things above added together mean that whilst Pro Tools | HD hardware is still an essential part of some studio workflows, it really offers me no benefit. Native power gives me all I need as a composer using VIs, combined with a UAD powered plug-in platform and the Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt interface.
Why Mike Is Not Selling His Pro Tools HDX System

I have had an HD or TDM based Pro Tools system using additional cards and Digidesign/Avid interfaces since my second Pro Tools system, with my first was an AudioMedia 2 card That second system was a TDM system running on an Apple 7100/66 machine where I could get 16 tracks of audio with real time TDM processing and minimal latency. So I have come to rely on the key features of an HD type system. although I have recommended and used many Pro Tools Native systems for small scale post production work, on the rare occasions I have used a native system for tracking, the latency has caught me out because I have become so used to my HD systems which have minimal latency. I went from my first TDM system though each of the HD DSP iterations that Digidesign and then Avid produced. However when it came time to replace my TDM HD2 system, I did think very carefully about what I should do.
Should I go to Pro Tools Native, Pro Tools HD Native or HDX? You can read some of my deliberations in this very old post. Back in 2011, I had a Harpertown Mac which it became apparent wouldn’t support the new HDX cards, so the decision got even harder because I would have to replace the Mac Pro as well if I wanted to go HDX. So my choices in 20111 where…

  1. Do I keep my HD2/192 system on a Harpertown Mac and just upgrade to Pro Tools 10 HD software?
  2. Do I upgrade my HD2 to HDX? If so I will need to buy a new Mac and that isn’t going to be cheap to get one that is as powerful as my current 8 core Harpertown.
  3. Do I cross grade my HD2 to HD Native?

For me the decision in the end was having the best tools for the job, I suspect if I was only undertaking dubbing work, I might well have gone for the HD Native route, but I do music work as well where I can be dropping in an orchestral strings session, with everyone getting their monitor mixes from Pro Tools and I don’t have to worry about H/W buffer size, latency or track counts, I just do it and having all that additional hardware and no latency worries at all swung it in the end, having that peace of mind that it won’t complain when I ask a lot of it under pressure clinched it for me. So even though it was the most expensive solution back in 2011 I decided it was the most reliable one for me and my clients. I wouldn’t have to worry about stressing the system and most importantly that latency would not be an issue and I could provide my clients with a reliable service.
But that was back in 2011 with Pro Tools 10. Since then I have had to suffer the desert that is the world of AAX DSP plug-ins and learn to adjust and find replacements for what were then my go to plug-ins. Pro Tools 11 has come along with its complete re-design. My work profile has changed, I am doing a lot less work than before that would benefit from the features that come with an HDX system. In theory I could possibly do without HDX but I would always feel nervous about loosing the HDX features that I have come to rely on, and so my hand on my heart, even today I would make the same choice, I would still prefer to have the security that an HDX system provides me even though it has a significant cost penalty. For me that security and reliability especially with track counts and latency still make having an HDX system a no brainer.

As you can see, when it comes to choosing a Pro Tools solution it is not as simple as thinking Pro Tools | HD hardware is the best. It’s more a case of considering which Pro Tools solution is the best one for you.
Ironically Avid have made the decision harder for everyone, now that Pro Tools is 64 bit and does not depend on Avid hardware to work native Pro Tools systems are offering powerful solutions without the need for DSP.
So when considering which Pro Tools system you should chose, make sure you understand what you need to do with Pro Tools, otherwise you could find yourself with either an expensive white elephant or a system that’s not up to the job.