Pro Tools 11 ReviewSeptember 1, 2013
Pro Tools has long been known as the industry standard in the realm of digital audio workstations, and with good reason. Its intuitive layout is the best out of all of the DAWs I’ve used, and nothing beats Pro Tools when it comes to audio editing. While practically every major studio throughout the world owns a copy of the program, it can’t be denied that the base code for the Digidesign Audio Engine was getting pretty outdated. Avid knows this well, and has decided to completely overhaul the coding for its software in Pro Tools 11, with its all-new Avid Audio Engine built from the ground up for stability, efficiency, and to take advantage of 64-bit hardware. The optimized coding now unlocks the potential of your computer’s full processing power, allowing for more CPU-heavy effects, virtual instruments, and plugins than ever before.
All this newfound power comes with a price, however, and the main gripe many users will have with Pro Tools 11 (for the moment) is that it only supports 64-bit plugins built for its new AAX format. Many of the biggest companies like Waves, Soundtoys, Slate Digital, and UAD are already in the midst of transitioning their plugins to the new format, but in the meantime, many go-to plugins just do not work in Pro Tools 11. Thankfully, Avid is providing those who purchase Pro Tools 11 with a copy of Pro Tools 10, which acts as a bit of a bridge as it is still capable of handling RTAS plugins. Both programs can be installed on a machine at the same time, which definitely makes the transition a bit easier.
Pro Tools 11 features Dynamic Processing, which makes much better use of multiprocessor cores. Now, CPU power is only used when audio is passing through plugins, as opposed to previous versions where that power was being sapped constantly from the second the insert was activated. For instance, say you have a guitar solo in the middle of a song with a ton of EQ, compression, delay, reverb, stereo widening, etc. In Pro Tools 11, those effects will only engage the CPU processing power when that section actually plays, instead of wasting CPU throughout the whole song. Another big improvement is the use of dual buffers. The playback buffer size is automatically set to 1028 samples for stable playback, while a secondary buffer can be customized for low-latency recording. Also, Pro Tools 11 is no longer tied down to accessing only 3GB of RAM as previous versions were. This version can see every bit of my PC’s 16 GB of RAM, opening up huge possibilities for things like virtual instruments, which previously had to be used extremely judiciously. Now you can set your mind’s creativity free with drum sample libraries, orchestral libraries, bass sample libraries and more all running at once. The dual buffers also allow users to add overdubs with low latency, while monitoring through a full mixing chain.
Offline Bounce is another huge improvement, one that users have been begging for for years. When you right-click on the output of a mixer track, a new dialog box pops up that allows users to bounce tracks offline at speeds up to 150 times that of standard real-time bouncing. This is a huge time saver, and especially great for bouncing stems or multiple mix versions. You can even add an MP3 file, and there’s also an option to add the offline-bounced file right back into the session, which essentially acts as track freezing. Combined with the Dynamic Processing and the new Avid Audio Engine, Offline Bounce will certainly reduce the CPU strain of giant sessions and create a much faster, less stressful workflow. Another great thing is that automation is time-stamped and sample-accurate in Pro Tools 11, so you don’t need to worry about offline and real-time bounces sounding different. This is great news for users that want to save time bouncing long sessions like podcasts, radio shows or movie soundtracks.
Overall, Pro Tools 11 is a fantastic update, featuring a completely overhauled audio engine and many features users have been crying out for. While the lack of AAX supported plugins at launch is a bit of a disappointment, the transition was a necessary evil to bring the Pro Tools platform into the future. It shouldn’t be long before most plugins are ported to AAX, and once these growing pains are over with, we’ll be left with one of the most powerful DAWs available on the market.