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More than a year with Pro Tools and S6

Maybe a bit late to summarise, it’s already 2016. To be honest though, the end of the year is not the end of the busy schedule so maybe even the start of this new year is just as fine to take a look back and sum up what was it like to use the Avid S6 controller with Pro Tools during many, many demanding production.

Early adopters

We are early, I should say very early adopters. It is because the launch of the S6 was perfectly timed to our bigger development plan. Although back then it seemed a bit bold to jump right into the latest-greatest control surface, we thought that just as with the Icon series, it must be something Avid really take seriously. We decided to purchase two M10 S6 controllers. It fit the budget, and our thinking was if it really is that great, later we can change the brains to M40, buy some additional fader bays and maybe even screen modules for even greater integration and comfort.

The other thing is, you can’t mention any other controller on the market which deliver all the points:

  • deep integration with Pro Tools and Nuendo
  • scalable and easy to make custom configurations
  • will be supported for many years
  • able to become smarter by every update
  • able to reach out to developers

We considered some other products from different manufacturers, but all failed quickly when we tried to check all points. I thought there was going to be a much tighter race, but apparently we had an easy time with the decision.

The first steps

When the huge package (actually lots of little boxes) arrived, obviously we couldn’t wait for another day, immediately started to assemble the controllers. We were all excited like the little child at Christmas day…

And after a few hours of work we had the first working Avid S6 in Hungary. The credit goes to my trusty colleague who assembled it all together while I was working on the MacPro and Magma cases. First it was a strange experience to see that to build a controller today, you might need more knowledge in computer technology than in audio. But hey, it was 2015, we knew it’s not an old analogue monster.

S6 brand new

I won’t describe every tiny thing in detail, all software installation went fine, without any issues, including the S6 activation and software update. The first test run was, of course, like magic. We were unmeasurably happy, I played with it like an amused teenager with his new iPad.

Back then the S6 was not that clever. The Icon series had more features, even the Artist series knew a few trick the S6 couldn’t even emulate. But honestly we put our trust in Avid. I know it may raise some eyebrows, but so far for us, Avid has been responsive and helpful, much more so than other competing companies.

The plan

The plan was ambitious, and probably a bit bold. As we have multiple studios in the building, serving a complete video department, the national radio and tv, commercial channels, foreign broadcasters, producing concert DVDs and CDs and mixing for web we wanted to have the S6 to be also used in live broadcast situations with Pro Tools.

Many told us that it’s simply a bad idea. Others told us that we must be on drugs, while some just thought we might missed our daily pills. Still, our aim was clear: use the S6 with Pro Tools in live and in post production.

To make this really efficient I made some templates that looked like a current digital console today, all channels had a channel strip, had some audio buses, 8 VCAs, and at least four effects. This was the basis for the more demanding and complicated templates. My thinking was to start small and try to expand on that foundation if that works. And, drumroll… it worked so fine that it even surpassed our expectations.

It was the time I still missed quite fundamental things from the S6 software wise. But I didn’t have to wait for long until Avid release the first big update for the controller, transforming the somewhat basic feature set into a much more promising one. I always tested the new versions in one studio, while the other was still on the older version for safety reasons. I follow the same precautions today, but frankly, so far every software update on the S6 has been almost perfect, didn’t cause any show-stopper things to happen.

S6 in action

We’ve some issues on the Nuendo side with PCs, but that might has to do something with our PC hardware configuration. It’s still nothing serious, but we have to be more cautious updating them. On the Mac side though, we never had a problem.

I must say, the attitude of the S6 developer team could be the best example before every company. They are really helpful, very encouraging about user input and it is evident that many of them is or was working professionally in some field in the music and post industry, because they really understand us and improve current things while introducing clever, great new features. Can’t praise them enough honestly.

The results so far…

So, after a bit more than a year, it’s time to look back and summarise our experiences.

Regarding the evolution, we’re very happy with the S6. So much so in the next few years we plan to expand our inventory, maybe swap the brain modules to M40s, plan to purchase screens, fader, knob and process modules, and have even more S6 in the studio department.

With Pro Tools Avid introduced the much debated subscription model. I won’t go into detail here, for us, as a corporation it is a good thing. For my own personal things, well, so far I think it’s good, but time will tell. We have seen rapid update cycle recently which suggest Avid has its momentum with Pro Tools, surely partly because they want to convince the user base to subscribe to their new model. If they continue to improve Pro Tools with the same speed and dedication as they did in the last 1 or 2 months, I’m sure everybody will agree with me that this new system is good for us. Although they introduced some features incredibly slow, I have to say the implementation of the new features are top notch.

And lastly, let’s see our statistics: during the last year we did more than 200 shows with the S6, many of which was quite demanding live broadcast events.

The usual workflow is to record all input channels, record stems if required, record a stereo or 5.1 master mix, while recording all automation (usually volume and send automation). So now, let’s see the results:

During this period, we didn’t have a single crash! Yes, you’ve read it right, NOT a single one (knock on wood…).

PT session

So contrary to the popular internet belief that Pro Tools is unstable, etc. it seems to me that is actually very, very stable and solid. Hope to be able to tell you even greater stories about this at the end of the year.

But now, Happy New Year to everyone, I promise you’ll read many great articles here in 2016!