Avid, creators of the legendary Pro Tools audio recording, editing and mixing system, last week furthered their quest to eliminate the inherent latency of typical USB and FireWire audio interfaces by announcing a pair of new Pro Tools HD Native interfaces that take advantage of the ultra high-speed Thunderbolt connection standard found on the current crop of computers.
Don’t get too excited though, because even if you were able to purchase one of the new Thunderbolt interfaces, which come in either desktop box or PCIe core card format, as a single item, you’d still need to purchase an additional Pro Tools HD I/O audio interface to hook it up to. As it is, you can only buy them as part of a bundle – the new ‘interfaces’ do not have any audio in or out connections themselves, they’re just bridging devices, a means of utilising the speed of the data throughput of the Thunderbolt port on current computers, in preference to latency-prone USB and FireWire ports. This means that the price of the cheapest available bundle, consisting of Thunderbolt interface, Pro Tools 10 software and compatible HD OMNI audio interface, comes out at a whopping $4999USD (around £3300GBP).
Pro Tools|HD Native + HD OMNI System £3,299.00 (£3,958.80 inc. VAT)
Pro Tools|HD Native + HD I/O 8x8x8 System £3,999.00 (£4,798.80 inc. VAT)
Pro Tools|HD Native + HD I/O 16×16 Analog System £4,599.00 (£5,518.80inc. VAT)
Pro Tools|HD Native + HD MADI System £4,599.00 (£5,518.80 inc. VAT)
Mbox Family / 00x to HD|Native + HD OMNI Exchange £2,599.00 (£3,118.80 inc. VAT)
For the moment at least, Avid are not offering the unit on its own to accommodate the needs of users who already own a compatible hardware interface.
Although I’m always excited about new Pro Tools gear, I can’t help feeling that Avid have dropped the ball with this, especially where the limited purchasing options are concerned. The opportunity was there for them to come up with a truly affordable solution that harnesses the power of the current crop of Thunderbolt-enabled computers without the need for the kind of expensive ancillary hardware that puts the full power of the excellent ProTools software firmly out of most people’s reach, thereby fostering an unwelcome atmosphere of elitism. The days of having to remortgage your house to obtain top-notch audio production equipment are over, but nobody seems to have informed Avid that the word ‘Pro’ is not necessarily synonymous with the word ‘exorbitant’.
On the plus side, Avid do claim excellent latency performance, down to 1.7ms @ 96kHz sampling rate with a 64 sample buffer, and although it doesn’t look like it, the desktop device is rack-mountable using screws found on the underside. It has an external power supply, but this is apparently only required when using the device with a Thunderbolt cable longer than 6ft – copper Thunderbolt cables shorter than this are capable of powering the unit over the cable. The built-in headphone amp is the same as found on the OMNI interface, but it seems you can’t use it to monitor anything unless you have at least one HD I/O interface connected.
So what’s the point of this device, you may ask? Why not just add Thunderbolt ports to the existing range of interfaces? Well, according to Avid, fitting a Thunderbolt controller inside an existing HD interface would necessitate a stronger and louder cooling fan, which customers don’t want. Conversely, putting the Thunderbolt controller in a separate box like this reduces heat problems, as the heat generated by the controller is dissipated via a heatsink that forms part of the unit’s casing, and therefore the device doesn’t need a fan.
It’s handy as a means to connect an I/O interface to a Thunderbolt-equipped laptop or iMac with no expansion slots, delivering all the features of HD Native, but what if you already own an HD interface and want to buy the Thunderbolt device separately? Or if you want a Thunderbolt interface for monitoring while editing, without having to shell out for an HD interface? Apparently, Avid claim that, although with the current software the HD Thunderbolt Native interface does require an HD interface to be connected, they hope to enable operation without one in the future. Which could explain the currently somewhat redundant-looking headphone port.
Until then…..UAD Apollo anyone?