Avid Pro Tools|HD Native With HD OMNI Review

Jun 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Brandon Hickey



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Altogether, the HD Omni was an impressive, new direction for HD hardware design. In general, the overall sound of the ADC and DAC are leap-and-bound improvements from the early 96 I/O and 192 I/O. There is a much greater sense of realism there than I’m used to hearing with Avid hardware, suggesting a much greater accuracy in clocking. The inputs’ analog technology also surpassed the expectations put into place by devices like the C|24. There is a bit more color than seen before, most evident in a fatter bottom end but without compromised detail in the top. The instrument inputs exhibit the same analog technology as the Eleven Rack. Properly structuring input impedance to make a guitar truly sound like it’s plugged into an amp when feeding an emulator plug-in is rarely executed with the authenticity I heard here. I also really dug the input limiter settings. Either a soft clip or soft-knee limiter are selectable pre-digital conversion, allowing for your choice of a more transparent clip protection or a more aggressive and musical, analog smack. Both sounded great for their individual purposes.

The monitoring section performed all of the needs of a stereo control room admirably. Its function as a surround monitor controller, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. Pleasant features included output calibration settings like individual output trims for each speaker, settings to designate hardware outputs as +10dBu feeds direct to powered monitors or +24dBu line-level outputs to other devices, and an SPL-based display. Front panel metering displayed the output order designated by your routing configuration. Management of settings available through Hardware Setups could also be accessed through the front panel when using the hardware in the absence of Pro Tools.

Downmixing provided little user control, however. I’m still unclear as to what is happening if a fold-down setting is applied to a 5.1 output downmixed to stereo. The term “fold down,” in my experience, usually implies matrix encoding, and based on my tests it seems that this might be what’s happening as the phase relationship of the surrounds summed to the fronts seemed altered. I’d appreciate some mention of specifics in the documentation. Avid suggests purchasing software such as Neyrinck SoundCode downmixer. I find it interesting that Neyrinck has provided Avid with a SoundCode Stereo downmix plug-in that is included in the CPTK2, and that plug-in is exclusive to that package. Given that Pro Tools 9 with CPTK2 is supposed to be one step down from HD Native, it seems that this plug-in would be included with HD Native or the HD Omni. Instead, a similar, but more fully featured version can be purchased separately from Neyrinck for $350.

Finally, the entire design suggests that this is a device meant to be right in front of the engineer, who is critically listening to their monitors. It’s also pretty apparent that the design accounts for a singer being nearby when cutting vocals with a mic and headphones plugged into the front panel jack. Neither of these goals seem hardly practical in the presence of the overwhelming fan noise exuded by the HD Omni. Even with headphones on, it drones and whirs at a very apparent loudness level. Many vocals I tracked in the same room as the HD Omni were unusable because of the noise. The included literature states that the device must stay cool and to avoid racking it, use a solution where the sides are covered. This is an issue that should be addressed.

While many are looking at Pro Tools|HD Native as an admission of defeat, or a first step toward studios stepping down from HD systems, I hardly see it as that. Full-blown HD systems will continue to be the backbone of the film mixing and high-end recording industries with no foreseeable end in sight. Meanwhile, it’s clear that Avid realizes that stripping features wasn’t keeping people buying Pro Tools|HD, it was just forcing them to turn to other pieces of software. In between, there have always been rock-solid professionals who appreciate the role of HD systems and have continued to buy them for the right reasons. When looking for a powerful system that can be trusted day in and out, providing plenty of I/O and low latency, Pro Tools|HD has always been a no-brainer. Pro Tools|HD Native recognizes that with the powerful computers of today, this same level of reliability can be accomplished at a lower overall cost by maintaining what is really important and removing what is not. The PCIe-based throughput, employing a proprietary audio driver, gets the job done with or without the additional DSP provided by traditional HD core cards. The end result is that the prestige of Pro Tools|HD is now more affordable than before.

Brandon Hickey is a freelance engineer and audio educator.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Pro Tools|HD Native product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Pro Tools|HD Native product page.

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