As this is a huge step both for Avid and the users, I decided to test it thoroughly. We all saw the marketing videos, but as usual, using is believing. Please understand that this is a software review, it won’t cover any other things like price concerns, etc.
Avid declared that this is a huge change, a gigantic leap in sound and speed. Let’s see. As soon as I’ve downloaded the installer, I jumped right into the install process. Of course, as usual, before anything could happen, I made a complete system backup. I always do this and I recommend the same to everyone. Backup ready? Ready to go now.
Installing the new release was a breeze. No hiccups, nothing, just a usual software install. No surprise here, this is the way it should be. To be honest, the install process can hardly cause any problem on a well maintained machine.
For the sake of a real thorough test, I’ve used more than one machine. As many of us often need to work on the move, I thought that using multiple machines with different sound cards will make this test more like the real world usage.
After the first launch, I decided to give the included demo session a try. It gives a good overview about the new features, and all the new things got markers so anyone can quickly check out the most important changes. At first, I was surprised how fast this new release is. The gui of the plugins loads faster. I’ve tried different plugs: avid, soundtoys, waves, air, massey, slate, all loaded faster. While this doesn’t seem to be a very important thing, over the long hours of work this can speed up the process. Of course I’m not talking about hours here, but be honest, at the end of a tiring 12-14 hour session almost everyone can get angry waiting for things like loading some plugins.
Without really going into details, I just quickly made some fast edits in the session, edited some plugin parameter. After a few minutes of playing around, my impression was that Pro Tools 10 is seriously snappy. And I mean it, not just a modicum, considerably. Compared to PT9, it’s not only a feeling, it is measurable. Anything you do, touch, edit, modify seems to happen faster as if PT10 would ask you to do even more. With this in mind, I decided to literally torture it! 🙂
I’ve got some pretty big sessions that are very good for testing purposes. One huge live concert dvd session with well over a hundred tracks, 100+ plugins, almost 3 hours of video, tremendous amount of editing, etc. The other is a sound effects editing session with huge track count, many plugins, automation everywhere, elastic audio on many tracks. And just for fun, a few music projects with plenty of virtual instruments, lots of playlists, etc.
First I’ve loaded up the huge live dvd session. I know this session intimately as I have spent months editing and mixing it both to stereo and to surround. And as the band was unable to decide what to keep and what to throw away, I ended up with multiple versions of the concert. This means overwhelming amount of edits in the session. I chose this particular session because it could make our main machine fall onto its knees, throwing many buffer errors onto the screen. So many that at end I had to make a brand new assembly session to finish the project. So enough said, this is the evil session. Without any alteration I loaded up into PT10. It gave me some errors, but not nearly as much as with PT9. And remember, I’ve used the same machine which couldn’t really handle this session before. I decided to try one of the new features, the disk cache. As soon as the ram cache filled up, the wild session turned into a usable one. I was quite surprised. I thought it would be a good thing if I get less errors, but I didn’t expect that it can be an easily workable session. I made some additional edits, some record to disk tasks, and PT 10 delivered whatever I wanted. I hardly got any buffer errors. Instead of the past, it was a pleasure to work with the huge session again.
I tried my other test sessions, and all went smoother than before. Much smoother. Don’t get me wrong, many of these sessions were ok on the previous release, but now with this iteration, each and every session is faster, more responsive than ever. Actually I am surprised that Avid didn’t make a bigger deal from this fact. They mentioned it, but not really emphasized it.
Clip based gain
I really missed this feature before. I’d been working with nuendo for years long time ago, and I loved this feature as it made my life much easier. Back then when I embraced Pro Tools, I seriously missed this. I developed some workaround which were not bad, but still not the same. Now with PT10 we got clip gain. And I must say the implementation of this feature is amazing. Besides that we are able to edit clip gain with little faders (lower left-hand corner of the clip), additionally we can manipulate it with the smart tool or with the keyboard. Both function can be switched on or off from the view menu/clip/clip gain line – clip gain info. This is the static clip based gain. But it can be dynamic as well. Use the pencil tool to draw in any shape you want. This is pre of everything. Think of it as you would see a conventional mixing console’s gain. So yes, you can edit the hell out of your clips, and still have your full automation untouched! This feature alone can substantially make our editing job much faster. Not to mention other things like you can easily ride gain into a compressor, edit sibilant voice without ruining your automation, etc. And as an added bonus you can convert your edited clip based gain into volume automation and vice versa. It is not only allow you to keep things backward compatible, but also gives you flexibility. The waveform gives you instant visual feedback while you’re editing the clip gain. Easy to fall in love with this, and once you’ve tried you’ll never want to go back again.
Real time fades
It was high time! No more waiting, no more missing fade files. With this the disk load reduced with a good amount. In a normal session there can be hundreds of little fades, but from now on these are not separate little files. This alone caused huge speed increase. These are the little things you’re going to appreciate more when you’ll be editing for long hours. And for me, the fact that I don’t have to worry about missing fade files is a nice touch.
The new hero! In my experience this feature alone can make an old machine feels like a new one. Do you think I am overreacting it? Well, in my tests where I’ve used the disk cache, there were serious improvements in how the machine could handle the session. Switch it on, wait a little till the timeline is cached, and go. Without the disk cache some of my test sessions were throwing many buffer errors. But with the disk cache on, the very same sessions worked without a hiccup. It’s a good feature even if you don’t have huge amount of ram, but obviously more is better here. Pro Tools polls your computer and subtract the result with 3GB (mac) and 4GB (win). This is very important as it makes this feature literally fool proof. You cannot crash your system as it always get enough ram for the other tasks. I’ve tried to purposely crash two of my systems with different things like constant jumping all over the timeline, use less ram for disk cache, use more, made edits on the fly, etc. but I failed. It was stable all the time no matter what I did.
Of course the disk cache, the nas support, and all the other goodies couldn’t be here without the new disk engine. In this release one of the most serious under the hood change is the completely rewritten disk engine. The benefit is obvious even without the disk cache feature, but combined together this is really a huge step forward.
AAX the new format
At first I wasn’t really aware of the shortcomings of RTAS and TDM. But as I researched a bit I soon realized that this change was the only viable option for Avid. And hopefully it soon become a very good option for us. AAX can possibly be everything RTAS and TDM could’ve never been. Fast, efficient, maybe cheaper as the development process is unified to some degree, more flexible. It is beyond the scope of this review why Avid didn’t adopt AU or VST, but anyone with some research can find out the reasons. You can trust me on this, they had very good reasons to avoid those other formats, and mostly technical ones, not business.
The channel strip
The first AAX plugin comes with PT10 is the brand new channel strip based on the famous euphonix system five console. System five is a respected and good sounding console! And while I didn’t have unlimited time, in my tests I’ve found the new plugin to be extremely good. Really. There is a very good sounding eq section with four bands, two additional filters, an expander/gate and a compressor/limiter. Versatility is the key here. The channel strip is very cpu efficient and you can change the process order however you need it. It is not a plugin with a big esoteric analog mojo, but if you need an all around high quality channel strip, this is a very good choice. I bet that many will compare it to different 3rd party plugins, but in my opinion this channel strip is that good you will have hard time justify many 3rd party plugins’ cost.
A new downmix plugin is now included. This is a brand new Avid AAX plugin, not the Neyrinck plugin they gave with the cptk before this release. The only thing you should be aware of is that it can make Lo/Ro, but cannot make Lt/Rt. Mod delay III is completely reworked. It works at any sample rate and in mono or multichannel formats too.
This is only the beginning of the AAX era. No question Avid is going to rewrite all their plugs to the new format, hopefully sooner than later. This is a perfect opportunity for them to show the world how AAX can perform against the other known formats. As RTAS and TDM formats are often criticized for their inefficiency, now they have the chance to convince everyone that the new format is future-proof and necessary.
The other gazillion things in this release
I realize that this review can hardly cover all the new features and enhancements. So I decided to mention a few more things in a nutshell, that will make my life easier. Not all of these are big things, but many minor improvements which can help us a lot in our daily work.
One is the new bus interrogation feature. In a huge session we can easily get a precise overview about input, output, send, insert assignments. This is not only good for quickly checking things, but this way anyone can easily modify specific parts. For example we can gather and view channels using the same reverb, or checking stems if they contain everything we need.
We have plenty new things for control surfaces and further improved Eucon support. This means even better integration and customizability of the system. The audiosuite improvements are things that we’ve been waiting for a long a time. Again, the implementation is great, very straightforward operation. Now we are able to use multiple audiosuite plugs simultaneously and have more options on how we would like to process our clips. Metadata is almost always preserved now. We have some nice touches like the reverse option for audiosuite reverb and delay plugins.
and there’s even more:
- increased voice count
- much higher limit for automatic delay compensation
- support for 32bit floating point audio files
- interleaved files
- export selected tracks as new session
- wave extensible audio file formats
- RF64 file format support
- 24 hour timeline
- support for 12 systems with satellite link
- low latency monitoring with core audio and asio hardware
- add to itunes library
- share with soundcloud
- new aaf and omf import/export features
- solo and mute indication in the edit window
- automation follows edit indication