Get ProTools HDX Power Without the Giant Price Tag
Avid Omni Interface

Get ProTools HDX Power Without the Giant Price Tag

We all know that Avid’s Pro Tools software is considered the pinnacle of professional audio production. Whether that’s true or not is a matter of heated debate, but what isn’t up for debate is it’s price tag. In this article I’ll show you how to get HDX Power with a smaller price tag.

The Basics

Check it out. Avid would like you to invest in Pro Tools as an independent creative, because it’s “widely known as the industry

Pro Tools
Pro Tools DAW is arguably the industry standard for Post Audio

standard.” Well, although it’s true nearly every post house in Hollywood uses Pro Tools, most of them use versions which are 4 years old and hardware which is even older. Why? Because the cost is so high to upgrade. Mega high. I’ve walked into a post house hoping to create a relationship and do a project there – and walked right out – because they’re running Pro Tools 8 (it’s now at 12), and their excuse for running an inferior DAW on terrible sounding old Digidesign interfaces was, “it’s just more stable…”  LOL. Not only must you upgrade your software and hardware, but you also must upgrade all the third party plugins which Avid so conveniently renders inoperable with every major upgrade. It’s one of the reasons why the good folks at Waves Audio gave up on Avid, and created their own audio hardware acceleration system: DigiGrid.

Here’s the stats as they stand at the end of 2017:

Pro Tools HD (required for surround mixing) $2,499 + $399/year after that.

Digilink License $299

Avid HD OMNI Interface $2,499

Total so far: $5,297

Ouch. And although you can use any interface you’d like with this system (say, a MOTU Ultralite MK-IV) you won’t get zero

Avid Omni Interface

latency recording or throughput. You’ll also only get 256 tracks of audio and you’d better have a starship of a computer, because Pro Tools will be running in “Native” mode which means it uses your internal computer resources to run the session. And while you may be thinking that 256 tracks is a WHOLE LOT of tracks…it isn’t. Just imagine a standard set of 32 music stems – which are stereo – which means you just burned 64 of those tracks for music alone. You’ll easily have 35 dialog tracks. Ambiences in 5.1? 40 or more. Foley? 24 or more. Sound effects? 150 stereo tracks +. Bummer. The music guys look at our post audio sessions and marvel. But it also means we need to have access to 512 or higher, and a Native Pro Tool rig isn’t going to cut it.

The clever folks at Avid have developed killer audio hardware called “HDX” PCIe cards which accelerate and process audio data

The $2,999 HDX Core Card carries 256 tracks and massive plugin processing

to the tune of 256 tracks each with TONS of on-board plugin processing capability. The issue is that those same clever folks force you to use Avid interfaces if you’re going to do this…and at $2,500-$7,500 each…and the HDX card itself being $2,999, you’re into it all for a ton of cash.

Ad to this issue, if you have a mac pre-trash-can and you’ve got less than 2 PCIe slots left or your PC has run out, you’ve got to buy some kind of chassis to give you additional ports, and if you’re a trash-can mac person, then you’re into a t-bolt chassis from our friends at OWC. $199. WORSE YET, although you can still use the plugin processing built into the Native Pro Tools system while HDX is running, adding a single HDX card doesn’t get you to 512 tracks. You have to buy two HDX cards for that.

All in for 512 tracks, you’re into it for $13,994 + $399/year. Yeah. No thanks. Compare this with Adobe Audition where you’re doing $30/month (for Audition Only) and you can buy the aforementioned MOTU Ultralite for $599. Done. Of course, you’re not getting to Pro Tools prestige or functionality, but you can certainly be up-and-running for under $1k easily. Still, there are strong advantages to working in Pro Tools especially if you have to export your mixes to a post house or need to expand beyond 5.1 (since currently Audition only mixes out to 5.1).

The Workaround

I have a buddy of mine who resells all of this stuff, including old-but-good Mac Pro computers. I asked him about this

OWC T-bolt 3 PCIe Chassis

situation, and he showed me how to upgrade to 512 tracks of HDX by shaving off many thousands of dollars and getting some cool additional kit in the process.

First, there’s nothing to be done about the $2,499 HD entry price or the $299 DigiLink fee. If you’re not a Pro Tools user you gotta Pony that up – unless you can find a version 11 of Pro Tools on Ebay (anything earlier isn’t worth it). There are a few ads on Ebay where folks are selling their perpetual licenses, but I’ve not heard of anyone trying it. It’s certainly worth the risk, however: $400 vs. $2,800. Let me know if any of you try this and have success.

Second, my buddy sells the HDX cards at a strong discount. As a result, you’ll save $1,600 on those two HDX cards right away.

Third, there’s nothing which can be done about expanding your computer to host more PCIe cards. You gotta find a Magma Chassis, the aforementioned OWC solution or whatever can work for you. Either way, you’re looking at $199-299.

Finally comes the interface situation. While Avid demands that you buy it’s most up-to-date hardware, HDX still works just fine

with older Pro Tools hardware. Case in point: the Digidesign (which became Avid) 96 IO. Sure, it only goes to 96k, but in a mix

96 IO
Digidesign 96 IO

you’re at 48K anyway. And, no, it doesn’t sound very good. It also doesn’t have very good preamps for recording. Why would we use this machine if it sounds so bad? We wouldn’t. At least not for audio processing. For $300 you can get one of these, which works great with HDX cards. The 96 IO has one redeeming quality: it has ADAT Lightpipe IO. Yep. 8 in/8 out standard ADAT which can then go to any interface you choose – like a MOTU 1248. From there, you use the killer audio IO of that interface and you’re golden. Although you can use any interface you like which has 8/8 ADAT IO. What’s the price now?

Pro Tools $2,499

DigiLink License $299

PCIe Chassis $250

2 HDX cards $4,400

MOTU 1248 Audio Interface

Digidesign 96 IO $300

MOTU 1248 Interface $1,495

Total: $9,243

Sure. I know. It doesn’t look a whole lot better. But you just saved $4k. If you bought Pro Tools used, you’d save $2,300 and your total would be under $7k. I get it, still a far cry from the easy $600 for Adobe Audition. But, if you’re looking to get into Pro Tools, these are the breaks. Sorry. Still, to save $4k is awesome, and if you’re interested in doing this, drop me a line, and I’ll happily hook you up with my guy who can put all this together for you.

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Be sure to check out our articles on Surround Sound here:

#audio #cinema #editing #filmmaking #mixing #sound #dialog #surround sound #5.1 #7.1 #speaker placement #waves audio #adobe audition #jbl series 7 #rode microphones #motu #primacoustic #spatial audio designer #direct sound

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