On July 2nd, when Avid announced that it was selling off multiple audio and video product lines, it was easy to miss the big picture. More Avid layoffs accompanied the news, and many people focused on the negative as Pro Tools users fretted about the future of their long-familiar DAW and I/O hardware provider.
But there’s two sides to every story, and the positive angle was that the respected M-Audio product line, along with the less-visible AIR Software Group, had a welcoming new home: Rhode Island-based inMusic, a company with expertise in the space via its ownership of Akai Professional, Alesis, and Numark, as well as other music production, performance and DJ brands.
It’s been an interesting journey for M-Audio, the company which was founded in the late 1990’s by a California Institute of Technology graduate named Tim Ryan. Originally dubbed Midi Soft and then Midiman, Ryan and his colleagues quickly grew their baby into a competitive manufacturer of audio interfaces and MIDI keyboards. Avid, suitably impressed, bought Midiman (which had been doing business under the M-Audio name since 2000) for a cool $174 million in 2004.
But even with a number of successful recording and DJ products (KeyStudio, Fast Track, Torq) and high-profile users (Black Eyed Peas, Skillrex, The Crystal Method), at some point M-Audio no longer fit in with Avid’s plans. M-Audio changed hands earlier this month, with a new HQ just down the road from Avid’s Burlington, MA base of operations.
What drives mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the audio sector? In an industry where the users have had to deal with what seems like a nonstop downgrading of their music’s value, it’s interesting – and not a little bit validating — to know that the builders of audio tools still are seen as valuable.
We interviewed inMusic’s Director of Marketing, David Frederick, about the market forces that led to his company’s new acquisition.
How would you characterize the inMusic group of brands — what is the common thread of the products that you supply to the marketplace?
I would characterize them as diverse and synergistic. All of our brands blend leading technology, innovation, functional usability and creative inspiration across all market segments and price points. Combining that with our drive and passion to deliver world-class products, we strongly believe inMusic is uniquely positioned to deliver the most innovative and creative tools available to musicians, composers, producers and DJ’s all over the world.
The common thread we supply to the market is a family of premium brands that reach across a broad market segment. In many cases, our products leverage common intellectual property which helps democratize creativity and functionality across all our product and brand lines. The biggest thread is our passion and focus on delivering products that meet and exceed the needs of our customers. This thread drives everything we do at inMusic.
When did inMusic become interested in acquiring M-Audio, and why? How did you see it complementing the brands you already had such as Akai, Alesis and Numark?
inMusic is always on the lookout for unique and complementary opportunities that help us deliver world-class products.
Our interests and Avid’s aligned in regards to our acquisition. We were interested in M-Audio and the AIR Software Group because they not only offered unique, market-leading products, but they fit our model of growth and product strategy. Further, both M-Audio and AIR Software Group have unique and extremely valuable technologies and intellectual properties, which inMusic will be able to leverage for the benefit of its other brands and their customers.
In the pro audio/consumer audio space, what are the primary considerations that a company thinks about when deciding about an acquisition? What are the benefits, and conversely what are the liabilities that you have to weigh?
Of course this question is different for different companies. For inMusic we look at a variety of tactical, strategic and growth considerations. For us, it’s all about delivering world-class, innovative products for our customers.
Things like IP, technology enablement, synergistic or complementary offerings, cross utilization of IP, market share and position, human capital, growth opportunity and sustainable competitive advantage all factor into the calculations of an acquisition like M-Audio and AIR Software Group.
In all acquisitions there are assets and liabilities. These must always be weighed against the overall tactical and strategic objectives. It also goes without saying that one company’s liabilities are another’s assets.
Along those lines, M&A on this level is relatively rare in the pro audio/consumer audio space. Why would a product line like M-Audio no longer be essential to one company — Avid — but still worth investing in for another, inMusic?
I can’t speak to Avid’s thinking outside of what they have discussed in their press release and announcement call. In regards to inMusic, making investments in quality, innovative and dynamic brands is what we do. Again, it’s all about innovating, delivering and offering the best products in the world.
How many M-Audio employees will remain with inMusic? How will you decide who carries over?
As a private company we do not disclose our financial information or the terms our acquisitions. However, having said that, we are retaining key personnel from M-Audio and AIR Software Group that will help support, develop and further innovate and extend offerings both at M-Audio and AIR Software Group and our existing brands.
What is your view on the long-term prospects of the pro audio/consumer audio sector that M-Audio, and inMusic’s other brands, occupy?
My view is that the pro audio/consumer audio sector is always rather volatile and evolving. Those companies that can adapt and leverage the shifting sands seem to do well. Those that can’t, well, they seem to drift.
It’s a tough market sector. You have many factors that influence its behavior. In one regard, the democratization and enablement of creative technology has empowered a new generation of customers to engage in the creative process. In another, the market seems to be bifurcating into discrete pro and consumer segments with the “prosumer” segment dissolving away or at minimum having its lines blurred between the tradition triad market segment: consumer, prosumer, pro. This creates opportunity for some and disaster for others.
For us, we are laser-focused on delivering world-class products for all our customers across all market segments. That focus enables us to be responsive versus reactive in our approach to how we serve the market. This model has clearly served us well.
We are truly excited about the long-term prospects of our industry. inMusic is growing by leaps and bounds. We are leading and engaging in our respective market segments. We are developing innovative and exciting products, and we just acquired a fantastic brand, product line and amazing technology.
For us, both our near term and long-term future is bright. For our customers, dealers and partners, our family of brands delivers quality, innovation, value and in-demand products.
– David Weiss
Last week, we covered some of the best large diaphragm condenser mics around at an entry-level price of $300. This time, we’ll move up a bracket to review some of the most useful condensers available from $500 to $1,500 new.
Keep in mind that this list is no way conclusive. It only promises to offer a proven handful of options that I’ve used time and again, and which have consistently performed as some of the best in their class.
Also remember that this list focuses only on new condenser mics, and does not include ribbons, dynamics, or a whole array of used and vintage microphones that can be equally good options.
With that out of the way, here’s the roundup:
The Workhorse LDCs
AT4050 ($700 street)
As we mentioned last week, Audio-Technica was among the first companies to make condenser mics ubiquitous with their AT4033. They would ultimately take what they learned from the success of that mic and apply it to the slightly more expensive, significantly more well-rounded AT4050.
This is a mic that repeatedly fails to sound bad. It may never have the shimmer of a C12, the body of a U47, or velvety response of a U67, but it was never intended to. The 4050 was designed as an affordable, transparent, swiss-army knife and at that, it succeeds without question.
It’s a workhorse of a microphone that’s become a staple at pragmatic studios, where it’s routinely used on percussion, voice and acoustic instruments. It now occupies a niche once monopolized by the AKG C-414, and although it’s a mic may not always dazzle, it will never disappoint.
AT4047 ($700 street)
Eventually, Audio-Technica decided to build a condenser mic that would offer a little more character and attitude than the decidedly neutral AT4050.
The resulting AT4047 is a design that’s loosely based around Neumann’s classic FET 47. This mic has a bit more midrange “push” than the 4050, and I like mine on kick drums, bass amps and guitar cabs. It also suits plenty of male vocals, especially when a little body and edge are called for.
C-414 ($800-$950 street)
There may be more distinct versions of the AKG C-414 than any other major microphone in history.
For those of you who are confused by all the models, I recommend the audio history of the C414 I wrote for Trust Me, I’m a Scientist. And for those of you who are in the market for a new mic, just know that there are currently two versions of the 414 available: the relatively flat XLS and the intentionally brighter XL-II.
I’m still a fan of my vintage versions of this mic, but the newest models are well-built, and address some issues I had with the original pattern switches. Their self noise has also been brought down significantly.
To my ear, these new versions sound a little leaner and tighter than some of the originals, but this might be well suited to modern tastes. It’s also worth remembering that the differences can sound slight to some ears.
However your tastes run, the 414 has been a studio staple since it was first introduced, and it’s still a natural choice on drum overheads, stringed acoustic instruments, horns, pianos, amps, and just about anything you can throw at it. I tend to like the brighter “II” versions on acoustic guitars and voice.
Sputnik ($700-800 street)
The Sputnik is a funny-looking, affordable tube microphone that’s much better than I expected. According to its product literature, it was designed to sound like a hybrid of two of the most classic mics in history, and aims to deliver the upper midrange bump of the U47 and the high-end lift of a C12.
This can be a recipe for disaster in most inexpensive mics, but somehow the Sputnik pulls it off. It has a sound that’s forward and clear with just a bit of attitude and tube grit. It may not a great choice on already bright-sounding instruments, but the Sputnik can add life to dull-sounding tracks without taking them into the realm of irritation.
The Sputnik is a good character condenser for a mic locker in need of some zest on the cheap. It sounds more balanced than many affordable, bright condenser mics and there a closeout deals on this now-discontinued model at several dealers.
C 451 B ($580 Street)
For some reason, people seem to have forgotten all about the AKG C 451 B. It’s a small-diaphragm design that hasn’t changed too much over the years. At one time it was one of the best bets in small diaphragm condenser mics. Today, it still delivers a sound that’s pretty, clean, and crisp, and still does well on acoustic stringed instruments and in all sorts of tight places. The price hasn’t risen too much over the years, either.
MK-012 ($380+ street)
The Oktava MK-012 has become one of the most popular small diaphragm condensers of the past ten years, thanks in part to rave reviews in Tape Op Magazine and online. These mics are affordable, versatile and a great deal when purchased in pairs.
To my ears, the sound of the MK012s is a bit more broad and “throaty” than some of the other popular SDCs on the market. I like them on hi-hats, toms, and on sensitive acoustic instruments that don’t agree with brighter-sounding condensers.
KM-184 ($850 street)
Neumann makes a few mics for under $1,500, but the one I think deserves serious consideration at most studios is the KM-184.
Detractors say that this mic isn’t as silky or smooth as the original KM84. That’s true, and by design, the KM-184 offers a bit more presence than the originals. This seems to be a general trend across microphone brands, and some engineers argue that using a slightly brighter mic saves them from applying the equalizers they’d reach for otherwise.
Despite the changes over the years, the KM-184 remains a well-balanced mic that can be great on acoustic guitars, string instruments, snare drums and others. If you can find an original at a good price – then yes – those are definitely nice too.
The “Blue Collar Boutiques”
195 ($1,000 street)
The Bock Audio 195 is a big, clean-sounding mic with a special “fat” switch designed to deliver extra heft. It’s a good deal on a good FET condenser from one of the best makers of high-end boutique microphones in the world.
MA-200 ($1000 street)
Want a bright, airy, affordable microphone that sounds really good? The MA-200 has one tube, one polar pattern and one sound that works especially well on voice. This mic has quite a bit of lift in the high band, but it never sounds sizzly, spitty or harsh.
The MA-200′s silky, enhanced top-end is what I often want a mic to sound like when I’m done EQing it. It’s not always the right mic, but when it is, it can be the perfect mic. Try it on voice, overheads and acoustic guitar.
22 251 and 2247 ($1,300 street)
Peluso makes excellent re-interpretations of the classic Neumann U47, AKG C12, and others for a fraction of the price. Models start at a list price of around $1,500 and go up from there. In a similar vein, Lawson and Telefunken are also worth a look, although both companies tend toward at a higher price-point.
That’s it from us from now. Stay tuned for future roundups featuring favorite dynamics and ribbons. And as the economy continues to improve, don’t be surprised to see us run features on some of the most coveted condensers around.
In the meantime, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below.
I started working as an audio engineer just as the home studio market began to blossom into what it is today.
This means that throughout my career, I’ve been as much of a counselor as a craftsperson, because so many of my clients spend nearly as much time recording at home as they do working with me in conventional studios.
I get calls every week for help with everything from key commands to console routing, but out of all the advice I’m asked for, the number one question might be: “I’m just starting to record at home. I have X dollars to spend and want a Y-style microphone. Which one should I buy?”
Category #1: The $300 Condenser
One of the most common requests from musicians just beginning to self record is for a recommendation of an entry level large-diaphragm condenser, at price of about $300.
I’m not sure why this is such a popular request, and my first instinct is usually to ask why they’re so sure they want an LDC, and why at that price.
For about the same amount, some of the best dynamic mics ever made are viable choices for many voices and instruments. And for just a bit more, there are a slew of small and large diaphragm condensers that would be a welcome addition to any commercial studio.
But that’s a topic for a whole separate article. The question of the $300 condenser comes up a lot, and it deserves a straight answer. It’s true that a home recordist with an inexpensive dynamic mic, an affordable condenser, and a halfway decent interface can cover a lot of ground – given patience, taste, some kickass music and maybe just a little bit of help now and then.
Here are few of the low-priced condensers I’ve encountered several times without developing the urge to throw them out a window.
Audio-Technica 4040 ($300 Street)
In the early 90s, Audio-Technica helped revolutionize the microphone market forever by introducing the AT4033. At the time, it was one of a small handful of reliable LDC microphones available for under $1,000.
Since then, the company has improved its designs, releasing now-classic affordable workhorse LDCs like the AT4050 [enter to win one here!], 4060 and 4047. Like many other manufacturers, they’ve gotten better at making mics cheaper too, and have had some great success with the AT4040.
While the 4040 resembles a single-pattern version of the more expensive 4050, it has a sound of its own. On paper, the 4040 has a bit more of an upper midrange “push” than the 4050,with a soft peak around 6-7 kHz and then another, slight high-frequency lift around 10 kHz.
In practice, the 4040 sounds just a little bit “tighter” and “leaner” than the 4050 to my ears. At best, the 4040 leaves out some of the boxiness of the 4050 – At worst, it misses out on some of its big brother’s body and realism. But at half the price, it’s a great design from a reliable manufacturer, and one of the better bets in its price bracket.
For $300, the 4040 is a remarkably neutral and well-balanced microphone. Like the 4050, it’s the kind of workhorse that’s unlikely to disappoint on most sources – Even if it sometimes fails to dazzle.
Rode NT-1000 ($300 Street)
20 years ago, Rode rose to become one of the first names in affordable large-diaphragm condensers right alongside Audio-Technica. They set their aim at a slightly lower price point and effectively dominated the entry-level condenser market for a decade. Their NT1A was a bestseller then, and with a street price under $250 it still remains one of the most popular mics in its class even now.
Rode’s designs sometimes catch flak for being overly bright, even harsh in the top end. There’s some truth to those claims – A few of the company’s most popular early designs including the NT2 and the NTK could sound airy and articulate at best or sizzly and thin at worst – But with the NT-1000, the company took a different tack.
The 1000 is easily one of the smoothest and roundest sounding of Rode’s less expensive designs, and compared to the rest of their line, it’s a real sleeper and unfortunately under-recognized as the solid all-around performer it is.
The NT1000 can be flattering without sounding hyped, and sound natural without being clinical. For $300, you could do a lot worse.
M-Audio Luna and Solaris ($300 Street)
In contrast to the fairly neutral AT4040 and the relatively smooth NT-1000, these M-Audio mics have a tone that’s more “forward” and maybe even a bit edgy.
I once mixed a record where the band completed many of their overdubs at home on a Solaris, and was surprised to find the tracks were pretty easy to work with. I found myself using tricks to take a little bit of the edge off here and there, but the tracks had attitude and presented few problems for that production. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their performances were great – That can have the effect of saving almost any tone.
The AKG C3000 series seems to get mixed reviews, which may be why this line can be such a steal on the used market. Like any of the mics on this list, the 3000 may not be perfect, but it can sound as good as anything in the right context. I once mixed a few tracks where the artist had used a C3000B as a primary mic, and found that while it was a little bland, the sound was well-balanced and never offensive in the top end.
The Sennheiser company is responsible for designing a few of the best dynamic microphones of all time: The MD-421, the 441 and the 409. Now, after distributing Neumann for more than 20 years, Sennheiser has jumped into the low-priced condenser market with the MK-4. It’s a mic designed for the project studio, and has a slight high frequency tilt from 3kHz all the way through 10kHz and above. I’ve yet to try a review unit of my own, but the mic seems to be getting high marks from consumers who have decided to take a stab on this new design.
Studio Projects, sE, MXL (various models)
Although I’ve never had a personal experience with any of these mics that made me think twice about them, there are other engineers I respect who have vouched for them. sE, and Studio Projects seem to have loyal followings, and some of MXL‘s designs have developed their own cults of mod-happy evangelists.
Choosing Your Mic
As always the best thing to do is to try some mics for yourself and to base your decisions on your own idiosyncratic tastes.
Any of the microphones we’ve covered today could be a good call for home recordists eager to pick up acoustic instruments or voices with a bit more detail on a tight budget. But before jumping to purchase any of these models, know that for recording voice, horns and amplified or percussive instruments, there are dynamic moving-coil microphones in the same price range that are among the best in their class. And for recording acoustic instruments and voice with great detail, an investment of just a couple hundred dollars more can begin to afford any one of an array of workhorse condenser mics that often see a lifetime in rotation at conventional studios.
Look for recommendations in both of these categories in a future issue.
Avid has announced the availability of the new M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 ultra-portable keyboard controller, as well as the M-Audio BX D2 studio monitor series, the latter of which represent the next generation of the BX Deluxe family.
The Keystation Mini 32 (MSRP: $99.99) is a 32-note, USB bus-powered keyboard controller designed for mobile musicians. The controller is small enough to fit in a backpack, with features including:
• 32 low-profile mini-keys, enabling musicians to play two-handed parts
• Highly musical velocity curves, allowing keyboard sensitivity customization to individual playing styles
• Four assignable controls, including a knob, providing real-time control of DAW and virtual instrument functions
• USB bus-powered, plug-and-play connectivity including iPad compatibility (iPad Camera Connection Kit required; check specific apps to verify MIDI support)
According to Avid the BX D2 series monitors—comprised of the BX8 D2 (MSRP: $599.99) and BX5 D2 models (MSRP: $399.99) — have a new look and improved sound. For studio and post-production professionals, the BX D2 series features:
• Technology leveraged from high-end M-Audio monitors, providing enhanced acoustic performance, especially in the low-frequency range
• Kevlar low-frequency drivers and waveguide-loaded silk dome tweeters, providing rich, defined bass and smooth, clear highs
• The BX8 D2 features an 8” woofer and 130 watts of distributed power and the BX5 D2 is equipped with a 5” woofer and features 70 watts of distributed power, for cohesive and accurate sound
• Optimized rear port, providing extended low-frequency response
Avid has announced the availability of Pro Tools MP 9. The software is the latest version of Pro Tools, and is specifically designed to work with select Avid M-Audio audio interfaces to provide a professional, stable platform intended for personal studio and mobile music creation.
In addition, Avid introduced all-new bundles that combine Pro Tools MP 9 software with select M-Audio interfaces.
Pro Tools MP 9 leverages the same core functionality found in Avid’s Pro Tools software. New Pro Tools MP 9 features include Automatic Delay Compensation for phase-accurate mixes. In addition, MP 9 provides MP3 export capability.
Avid’s Pro Tools MP 9 software will be offered standalone for use with select M-Audio interfaces, as well as in all-new bundles with the M-Audio MobilePre, Fast Track Pro or Fast Track Ultra interfaces.
Pro Tools MP 9 highlights:
– Studio-standard composing, recording, MIDI sequencing, editing, and mixing features
– Support for a wide variety of M-Audio hardware interfaces
– 48 simultaneous 24-bit mono or stereo tracks and up to 96 kHz fidelity
– Over 70 virtual instruments and effects plug-ins
– Automatic Delay Compensation and MP3 export
– Session compatibility with professional Pro Tools studios around the world, facilitating collaboration
Pricing and Availability:
Pricing for Pro Tools MP 9 is USMSRP $299.95, and upgrades are available to existing Pro Tools M-Powered users for $199.95.
Pricing for Pro Tools MP 9 bundles begins at $329.95 for Pro Tools MP 9 + MobilePre, $399.95 for Pro Tools MP 9 + Fast Track Pro and $549.95 for Pro Tools + Fast Track Ultra.
All options will be available worldwide on May 16, 2011.
Avid continued its blitz of new product releases this week. Most significant is the introduction of the next generation Mbox, joined by a new version of the M-Audio MobilePre, as well as the weighted Oxygen 88 keyboard controller.
The Pro Tools Mbox family is now in its third generation. For portable recording, mixing and production with Mac and PC, users can choose between the Pro tools Mbox Pro ($899), Mbox ($679), and Mbox Mini ($399). New features of the Mbox include:
– Redesigned hardware — The Mbox has been redesigned from the ground up, and according to Avid delivers best-in-class audio quality. New workflow enhancements include a professional-grade soft clip limiter that improves overall audio quality by letting users capture hotter signals while recording; and a multi-function button allowing Pro Tools Mbox and Pro Tools Mbox Pro users to control software parameters without using the computer mouse or keyboard.
– Greater flexibility for composing with Pro Tools LE or DAW of choice – the Mbox now has seamless support for Pro Tools LE (of course!), Ableton Live, Apple Logic, Fruity Loops, Steinberg Cubase, and more, ensuring greater session compatibility. New drivers include ASIO, Core Audio, WDM, MME and multi-client drivers.
Mini and Mbox ship this month, while Mbox Pro will be available in Q4.
Next, the second-generation M-Audio MobilePre ($179) has been released. For Mac or PC, it allows easy recording for guitar, vocals, keyboards and more directly into the computer.
Lastly, Avid also rolled out the M-Audio Oxygen 88 ($749.95). A USB MIDI controller keyboard, it features:
– DirectLink technology — Automatically maps keyboard controls to common mixer and virtual instrument parameters, giving users hands-on control over the mix and music, without complicated set up or user configuration required. DirectLink works with several DAWs including Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro and Steinberg Cubase.
– 88-note hammer-action keyboard.
– 32 assignable buttons, knobs and faders — For greater control over virtual instrument and DAW parameters. Dedicated Track up/down buttons allow focus on the creative flow of recording and mixing music, intended to minimize back and forth between the QWERTY keyboard and MIDI controller.
Avid continues to expand their line of Pro Tools products, today announcing the introduction of Pro Tools SE. For the most part, the software will come packaged along with hardware bundles designed to ease first-time PT users and emerging artists into Avid’s ubiquitous music creation environment.
Music composition, editing, and production are all intended to be streamlined with the following new bundles:
– Avid KeyStudio ($129.00 USMSRP) Pairs a 49-note, velocity-sensitive M-Audio KeyStudio keyboard with Pro Tools SE music creation software
– Avid Recording Studio ($119.00 USMSRP) For recording guitars, instruments and vocals at 24-bit/48 kHz, using Pro Tools SE and an M-Audio® Fast Track® audio interface
– Avid Vocal Studio ($99.99 USMSRP ) Optimized for recording vocals for use in songs, soundtracks, podcasts or voice-overs, with Pro Tools SE and the M-Audio Producer USB microphone
As experienced in a recent press preview demo, Pro Tools SE software appears to provide users with a lean-and-mean PT suite. It allows up to 24 tracks (16 audio tracks, 8 virtual instrument tracks), with the standard collection of PT plug-ins — reverb, EQ, guitar amp/distortion effects, etc… It also offers more than 100 different virtual instruments, and 3 GB+ of audio loops. Integrated video tutorials about compose/record/edit/mix functions on the Pro Tools SE platform are also included.
The announcement of Pro Tools SE follows last month’s introduction of a number of all-new Pro Tools HD hardware and software products. It is also coming concurrently with what appears to be a low-key rollout of the Mbox 3 interfaces, news of which has just begun to appear around the Web.
According to Avid, their renewed commitment to two-way communication with customers, along with the current market environment makes it very timely for Pro Tools SE to hit the shelves.
“Following the introduction of the Pro Tools M-Powered Essential last fall, we’ve continued to work closely with our customers and as a result we’ve implemented as much of their feedback as possible to deliver the new Pro Tools SE hardware bundles,” says Andreas Panizza, Segment Marketing Manager, Consumer Audio/Video for Avid. “For example, the Quick Start interface and the learning content included with the Pro Tools SE application are the direct result of ongoing conversations with our customers and make the application even easier to use.
“With the advent of music talent shows like ‘American Idol’, ‘America’s Got Talent’ and ‘Singing Bee’, in addition to the explosion of music-based video games like Rockband, Guitar Hero and others, Avid has not only fostered a new potential market — by providing a lot of the technology behind aforementioned shows/games — but is now also offering another creative outlet for today’s youth and the general public interested in recording, mixing and creating their own music.”
Avid sees applications for users beyond the primary consumer target market. “By design Pro Tools SE is a simplified version of the recording and mixing tools used by the pros in the recording industry,” Panizza notes. “Any user who begins music creation with Pro Tools SE can actually save a recording session on a memory stick and walk into a professional recording studio with a Pro Tools HD system and continue mixing and recording without having to learn a new interface or application.”
– David Weiss
Avid announced today that it has introduced a new series of hardware and software solutions for Pro Tools|HD. In addition to changing the way Pro Tools|HD users work with their systems, the company is hopeful that these new tools — HD I/O, HD OMNI, HD MADI, and HEAT (Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology) — can help usher in a new era of how users look at the audio side of Avid.
On the hardware side are three new Pro Tools|HD Series interfaces, all of which have been designed to attain a serious upgrade in A-D and D-A conversion quality. According to Avid, the HD I/O, HD OMNI and HD MADI Pro Tools|HD interfaces will enable users to achieve extremely high quality audio via digital audio conversion quality improvements, realize a variety of new configuration options, and experience increased support for open digital standards like the MADI protocol. Features of the new interfaces include advances in design, filtering and clocking and flexible digital I/O connectivity, supporting a variety of formats.
There is also a new soft-knee analog limiter called Curv in the HD OMNI and HD I/O systems, which is intended to cut the time users spend re-recording and editing by tracking hotter signals when recording, preventing distortion when overloading inputs.
HARDWARE DEBUT: HD I/O, HD OMNI, HD MADI
Starting with the HD I/O, Avid is offering its Pro Tools|HD users a system intended to give users highest-quality audio record and playback, with the option of three space-saving configurations — 16×16 analog, 16×16 digital and 8x8x8 analog and digital — in a 2 RU rack mountable interface. Pricing for the system begins at $3,995.
“The HD I/O is a product that’s customer-driven,” says Tony Cariddi, segment marketing manager for Avid audio. “A top concern across the board for independent professionals is sound quality and fidelity, and a big request was for a unit to do 16 I/O, symmetrically.
“The HD I/O does both of those. It will exceed customer expectations for sound quality — we’ve seen that in initial listening sessions with some guests [including Butch Vig]. I think people will respond well to the 16×16 I/O.”
Gearheads will have to give the sleekly designed HD OMNI ($2995) a good hard look. A compact 1RU unit, it provides Pro Tools|HD users with an everything-under-one-roof solution for recording, mixing and monitoring. Its features include state-of-the-art conversion, two world-class mic pre-amps, headphone outputs, a full-featured surround monitor section and a 14×26 channel persistent mixer that functions even when the computer is off, meaning that users can users can listen to CDs, MP3 players, keyboards and drum machines without the need for an additional mixer.
According to Max Gutnik, director of Avid audio product management, the market for the HD OMNI is independent professional and post customers in single-suite environments. “They’re saying, ‘We’d love a solution where we can record, do conversion, monitor and track, and we don’t want to have to buy eight rack spaces of gear in order to do that,’” he explains. “They want a more compact form factor.
“Obviously, this type of product has been done before. We said what we want to be able to provide for this customer is an all-in-one box that doesn’t compromise the quality in any way. That’s the challenge.”
Gutnick acknowledges the difficulties in making a unit that does a lot of different things well, but he contends that Avid has achieved just that with OMNI. “Historically, when one puts a box together that’s a jack-of-all-trades, it’s generally a master of none,” he notes. “So we paid attention to every facet here. It’s a pretty innovative box in that it sounds amazing, functions great, and integrates well into Pro Tools. Listening to the problems of the customer gave us something that does surround, tracking and monitoring in one box.
“So to sum up, the HD OMNI is for someone who wants to be able to accomplish everything they need to do with one box.”
For the hardcore user in MADI-land, HD MADI ($4,995) was designed to enhance workflow and speed up production time for broadcast, live sound and post production sound professionals, offering them the ability to easily connect Pro Tools|HD systems to industry-standard MADI infrastructures, without the need for a format converter. The system features built-in sample rate conversion on all inputs and outputs, so that users can integrate into workflows with multiple sample rates (upstream and downstream) via a single, 64-channel 1 RU rack mountable interface.
MEET THE HEAT
No one ever accused Pro|Tools HD of having that elusive analog warmth, but that just may change with the introduction of the HEAT (Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology) software suite ($495). Knowing that street cred was essential to roll out something like this, Avid recruited no less than digital/analog expert Dave Hill of Crane Song.
With the HEAT software option, Pro Tools|HD systems are intended to come much closer to providing mixers with the warmth and sound of tubes, tape machines and analog consoles, but achieved sans outboard or by managing plug-in changes across multiple tracks. Instead, HEAT is designed to provide the summing yumness of real-world hardware to every track in the Pro Tools mixer using a single, global control.
“HEAT brings the magic, if you will, for Pro Tools mixes,” explains Tom Graham, segment marketing manager, Avid audio. “We recently were at a shootout with Tony Cariddi at (Los Angeles studio) The Village. We spent the day bringing up a mix on an analog Neve board, then A/B’d comparing to a Pro Tools mix summed in the box.
“So it was a Pro Tools mix summed in the Neve with 16 channels of output, and then a Pro Tools mix summed internally with the HEAT option turned on. The response from the people there was very enthusiastic. It’s an exciting thing.”
REBOOTING PRO TOOLS
As Avid rings in the new, they are most definitely ringing out the old. The Digidesign name, a music production mainstay since the mid-80’s (the company was originally founded as Digidrums in 1984), went from being a symbol of innovation and progress in audio to one associated more closely with frustration and aggravation in the years since its acquisition by Avid in 1995.
Even as its flagship product, Pro Tools, achieved ubiquity in professional audio environments of every stripe, Digidesign’s name also became synonymous with poor customer service, questionable upgrade policies and general aloofness. Arguably, Digidesign was a victim of its own success and some accompanying shortsightedness: It had made a product that did enough things so well that everyone bought it, then fell short in supporting its customers sufficiently after the sale.
Now, in the summer of 2010, the Digidesign brand has been completely laid to rest, and Avid wants the new HD products to serve notice that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated. Welcome, if you will, a company that plans to do a better job of listening to its many, many customers.
“In April of 2009, we announced that we were joining our five businesses — Avid, Digidesign, M-Audio, Sibelius and Pinnacle — under the Avid brand,” Tony Cariddi says. “Creating a single business unit lets us leverage innovation across our audio and video technology portfolio for all of our customers — from the enthusiast to the enterprise.
“This brought about some internal realignment to better support our efforts — we now market to customer segments, rather than by product — and has led to some external changes — a new Avid logo, a new Web site, new packaging, new branding on Avid products, etc…
“After talking with many of our Digidesign customers, we discovered that most people identified more with the product names — such as Pro Tools, VENUE, ICON — instead of the company name. As such, all Digidesign products are now branded ‘Avid’ – for example, Avid Pro Tools; Avid VENUE, and on.
“Another significant change at Avid that has actually been in the works for several years is our concerted focus on the customer and their needs,” Cariddi continues. “The HD Series interfaces and HEAT are a perfect example of customer-driven product development. Our professional users told us that sound quality, ease of use and flexibility were their top priorities and these products are the answer to these requests.
“What we didn’t change, however, is our core Digidesign team of audio experts — the same seasoned professionals that have brought you a myriad of Digidesign audio innovations over the years are also behind the breakthrough hardware and software Avid is talking about today.
“In terms of what to expect from Avid and our Pro Tools line, you’ve seen a taste of what can be accomplished when we apply our collective engineering skills — products like Pro Tools M-Powered, Video Satellite between Media Composer and Pro Tools, and Sibelius integration into Pro Tools. While we can’t offer comments on future development, you’ll continue to see us focused on becoming even more ‘open’ across all of our product lines to give our customers more flexibility and choice when it comes to workflows. We also remain committed to innovation and answering customer requests for new features and solutions.”
Whether all this will result in shorter wait times for technical support calls, or pricing policies that are viewed as fair and reasonable across the board — both huge priorities to Pro Tools’ customer base — remains to be seen. But Avid believes strongly that in answering their users’ other stated desires, company and customer can inch back to loving each other and, yes, making beautiful music together.
“People are saying, ‘What’s different now that Digidesign is Avid?’” Max Gutnik says. “We’re really trying to take what we call an ‘outside-in’ approach. We start with the customer’s problems and needs, and translate that into what the right solution is. I don’t know if that’s always been the case, but it certainly is the philosophy of Avid: solving customer needs.
“So we’ve solved customer problems, what does that mean? We want to make sure people know that means we’re providing the best product money can buy, built with customer input. Between the I/O quality and HEAT, we’re really trying to change the game around expectations of our systems.”
“Clearly, the theme for this launch is sound quality,” Cariddi adds. “That was overwhelming, the strongest feedback we received from our customers is that sound quality is the most important thing to them.
“We’re really addressed that with these solutions. They let people work the way they want to work: HD OMNI, an all-in-one unit, HD MADI and the sound quality and flexibility of building HEAT into the Pro Tools mixer. The conversion is the underlying theme that connects all of this together.”
– David Weiss
Avid is rolling out new versions of its M-Audio Axiom USB MIDI keyboard controller series: the Axiom 25, Axiom 49, and Axiom 61.
Enhancements to the series improve workflows for music production and live performance — opening up seamless support for third-party DAWs, enhanced keyboard action and a redesigned user interface.
Features in the new versions of the Axiom 25, Axiom 49 and Axiom 61 include:
DirectLink technology: Provides dedicated control surface functionality that automatically maps keyboard controls to common mixer and virtual instrument parameters, giving users hands-on control over their mix and their music. DirectLink works with popular DAWs, including Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro and Steinberg Cubase.
Enhanced keybed: An updated semi-weighted, piano-style keyboard delivers a musically satisfying playing experience.
Redesigned user interface: Offers better ergonomics for the studio and stage with an angled top panel that makes controls easier to access and view in any environment. New low-profile mixer-style faders (Axiom 49 and Axiom 61 only) enable a hands-on mix experience, while smooth rotary encoders provide control over software and MIDI parameters. All models provide informative feedback via a graphic LCD, which is centrally positioned on the Axiom 49 and Axiom 61 for easy viewing.
The Axiom 61 is $499.95; the Axiom 49 is $439.95; and the Axiom 25 is $319.95 at US MSRP. Products will be available July 18 worldwide.
For more information on pricing and features, visit: www.avid.com