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Tag: artist series

Plugins and control surfaces

There are two very important things according to plugins. One is obviously how you like the sound of it, the other is how easy, convenient is to use it. The first goes without further comment. Read about it, download the demo, test it, and if you really like what it does, buy it. I could go into details (again), but in my opinion it’s pretty straightforward, because if you happen to dislike the plugin sonically, there’s no question, you won’t ever use it. So let’s assume we found our plugin and bought it.

Here’s come the second really important point, the ease of use.

Graphical User interface

The very first thing we see is the “face” of the plugin. It can be simple or artistic, or it may depict some vintage gear. The main point is how much do you like it? I know it’s strange to read this about plugins, but think about it for a moment. If you like the look of it, it’s more likely you’ll use it, your brain’s going to remember all the important controls and their exact position. And be honest, we all like a nice GUI, after all we stare at it for long hours on a typical mix session.

Just a very short personal note on this. While I really like these shinny, beautiful GUIs, I think sometimes plugin manufacturers should spend more time on usability and easy of use than graphics.

Technical issues

We cannot avoid some technical stuff when we try to find our trusty tools.

Obviously it’s very important to check if the plugin is available in the format our DAW support. In my case it’s AAX Native and it’s a bonus if AAX DSP also supported. I don’t want to derail my own post, but this DSP thing might need a bit of explanation. Although today’s computers are immensely powerful, in post production there are serious reasons why we like to have the DSP option. One, that is most mentioned on the online forums is latency. Namely when you have a full mix and need to record some overdub with the full mix still going intact, you might end up with latency issues with a Native only system. If your session is not so huge, then it wont’ be a problem.

For a quick example I just describe the last feature film score mix I did. I tested this on both Native and DSP systems, and believe me, a very, very powerful Native system would choke under the burden of this session:

  • 280 tracks
  • approx. 1000 plugins inserted
  • almost all HDX2 DSP was used up
  • 38% of a 6 core trashcan MacPro used up
  • session had a 1.5 hour-long HD video

Although I haven’t tested this, but using Native system only would be very demanding with a session like this.


This is a big one for me. It can be a world class plugin, but if the company behind it has a bad support, or the plugin constantly crash the DAW, I won’t use it.

I’ve found that some companies are much better at making efficient, stable plugins than others.

Other important consideration is how good is the plugin when it comes to automation. In the post audio world we heavily rely on automation, so plugins need to be 100% reliable. Otherwise you never know what really happens, and every bounce can be different, defective. On certain things you might spot the difference, but in a heavy mix it takes more time to find what causes the strange feeling that something is off. In a big supersession it can take forever to check every automated plugin.

Control surfaces

The last point is how the plugin maps on surface. Some would say that you can adjust the parameters with a mouse, which is true in essence, but when you have a huge mix, you need to have a more tactile control in front of you. To be honest, in 2015 it’s still surprising to me that many plugins simply not, or not well mapped to surfaces.

One particular example is Slate Digital plugins. I love some of their stuff, but the mapping is just unusable. Let’s take their Mixrack as the example. It is a very versatile tool as you can change the order of the processors, but if you look at the surface, you’ll see this:

mixrack s6 map

So, instead of clear parameters, you see this hodgepodge of letters and parameters. Obviously if you use different chains, the letters corresponds to completely different parameters. It’s not simply inconvenient, it’s unusable.

It’s a known issue at Slate, I’ve even emailed them, but their response was far from promising. They simply stated they know about the issue but have no solution right now. That’s it.

I know some would say it is because Slate has some competing product with the Raven, but I think any pro audio company who really thinking in long term should take this issue very seriously. I travel a lot, work a lot in different studios and controllers are everywhere. From the small few fader unit through the Artist series up to the fancy Avid S6.

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Future plans

Fortunately the company I work for is really interested in keeping up with current technology and letting us have the best possible environment in our daily operation. Of course (quite obviously) this does not mean that we can buy anything we want, but with clever and well thought-out development plans, we are allowed to define the development path and to choose certain equipment.

It’s not a great secret that I’m most interested in areas which is somehow Avid related:

  • Pro Tools
  • Plugins
  • Controllers
  • Miscellaneous equipment (storage, thunderbolt devices, etc.)

This year we have a fixed budget, so we can and should define what to purchase, but we must met the budget. But the most important thing is, new things must be integrated into the current technical environment. This is extremely important for a number of reasons. On one hand, we have very little time to install and test everything, on the other hand, in this little time we even have to teach our colleagues how to deal with the newcomers in our daily operation. And last, no matter how big change we plan, it must work in our current system.


Pro Tools

We plan to purchase 2 Avid Pro Tools systems. In the main studio which produces every imaginable thing on earth, we planned an HDX2 system with 128 input via 2 MADI interfaces. The computer will be a brand new MacPro with a Magma extension to handle the HDX cards. Thunderbolt external storage will be used during the recording sessions but as a backup the Mac will be connected to the local studio network, so right after we press the spacebar, we’ll able to backup the material to our central storage, which has automatically backed up for safety.


The other system will be a Avid Pro Tools HD Native system with 64 inputs via Madi, again, with Thunderbolt external storage. This system will serve in a smaller room, but if we happen to need it anywhere else in the building, then this would be the one we move around. The computer behind will be another MacPro with exactly the same specs as the other one.


It is also important that these workstations will serve not only as recording machines but as post computers as well, so they’ll have the exact same plugin pack in order to move sessions between them effortlessly. For easier usage both rigs will have a labelled Pro Tools keyboard and a programmable Kensington ExpertMouse.


This was a harder debate as it seems everyone has a quite strong opinion about controller surfaces. The preferences spread across from we don’t need a controller through Steinberg Nuage to any Eucon based one. Frankly, in 2014 I think it’s silly to invest into anything other than Eucon based ones.

I’ve tried and worked on some SSL hybrids and wasn’t really impressed. The build quality for that price is not so good and the integration with the DAW is subpar. It is a somewhat missed opportunity.

Steinberg’s Nuage is a very strange animal in my opinion. For me, it seems like a empty Yamaha console with very limited functionality. First, it only supports Steinberg DAWs properly. You could use it with other DAWs, but then you’ll be imprisoned into a not fully ironed out HUI emulation. Second, it only supports Nuendo 6 and upwards, but in our experience this iteration is simply put a bug-forest. Third, for this price I think HUI is unacceptable, especially given the fact that Nuendo is Eucon compatible too.

So, like it or not, it seems that Avid is the only company who take this market really seriously. Anyone who worked with large format controllers know what I’m talking about. Sadly, most of the times even the artist series is a much better choice than certain manufacturers’ so called controllers.


So, after careful consideration we decided to purchase 2 S6M10 with 24 faders. Right now we don’t have the necessary means to buy a huge S6M40, but if the M10s will be so reliable and good, in the next few years we might invest into bigger S6 setups.
I’ve already read through the manuals, and frankly, there are lots of places (probably too many) where there is a line says: “not implemented”. I truly hope that this will change soon. The two M10 will be used with Pro Tools and Nuendo so we’ll have the ability to test it in different environments.

For the smaller edit rooms we’ll buy some Artist series controllers, a mixture of Mix and Control.

Things we need to solve

There are a few things that need to be addressed before we can use all the equipment. As this building is extremely busy, I would dare to say that the busiest in Hungary, every room serves multiple purposes. On one night you might record a huge symphonic orchestra, but the other morning you might start editing or mixing a TV show in the very same room, with a VO session in the afternoon, and list could go on. The same goes for almost every other place here. With this in mind, we need M10 frames that have wheels. Almost all of our Studers are movable too. Unfortunately Avid doesn’t (and probably can’t to be fair) offer the variation we need, but our distributor seems to have all the necessary knowledge to design and manufacture special frames for us.

Another issue we don’t know how to solve yet is the question of internal network. We have a special two room space in one of our studios which has a KVM matrix so it doesn’t matter where you sit, you can use any of the workstations presented in the machine room. While this is a great thing and very flexible, the two rooms will have different controllers. One will have S6M10, the other will have the Artist series. So the big question is how the very same machine would be able to use different controller?
We plan to build a shared controller network where every controller station would have its own dedicated switch and then we’d have a central switch. The S6 and the Artist would belong to different IP ranges. In theory it should work as everything will be Gigabit speed. But in practice I’m not so sure. I don’t know if it is possible to have the S6 and the Artist software on the very same machine. Still waiting for Avid to answer these questions.
By the way if any of you have some experience with a somewhat similar setup, please feel free to share your knowledge, it would be appreciated.

So this is it for the Avid part of the story. We have a tight deadline, as we need to purchase, install and test all the things in July and August. In September we need all the tools in our daily operation.

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