Pro Tools HD I/O converters in recording studio

New Pro Tools HD I/O converters

Doing the right thing is rarely easy. But,”Am I doing the right thing?”… this was the question that plagued me as I broke the seal on my new Pro Tools HDX card. But let me back up a bit.

I’ve been running a Mac Pro 8 core with a PT HD3 system (48 ins 40 outs) since 2008 and it was a beast of a system. I do mostly audio production (most all of it being done at 96k,) but also do a fair amount of programming and composing so I run Vienna Ensemble Pro with a bunch of high quality (resource hogging) virtual instruments. The 8 core, running PT 8.1 on OS 10.6.8, did a great job keeping up, so I put off upgrading to PT10 as long as I felt I could.

Dan Rudin's Pro Tools HD3 system

Old Pro Tools HD3 system with 192 I/O’s and 8 core Mac Pro

Pro Tools 10 is sexy. I’ve been using it in other studios for quite a while now and while it didn’t blow me away running on an HD system, it is near unstoppable on a good HDX rig. Tracking an orchestra at Ocean Way Nashville recently, I had, at one point, 90 tracks playing back and 12 in record (with quick punch enabled), all at 96k 32 bit. And I was doing crossfades while it was rolling. That is solid.

The Plan

So, with a few weeks clear in my calendar, I ordered a Mac Pro 6 core 3.33 machine (32 gigs of ram, SSD system drive, and running Mountain Lion) and an HDX with a couple of HD I/O units. I’ll keep one of my 192’s and end up with 40 inputs, 48 outputs and my 8 core (also with 32 gigs of ram) will get the Apogee 8000 and become a dedicated Vienna Ensemble Pro server, serving virtual instruments via ethernet and leaving my PT computer with lots of breathing room.

Purchasing HDX is simple enough. If you are upgrading, you’ll need to give your sales person (special thanks to Kenny Bergle at Sweetwater) the serial numbers of the hardware you are trading in; cards and I/O’s. As the physical stickers on the cards themselves are small and can be hard to read in while installed, it’s easiest to get the serial numbers from PCI cards with the DigiTest tool, located in Pro Tools Utilities folder. Avid gives you a return shipping RA and 30 days to ship your trade in items back.

Pro tools HDX card and video card, note the yellow aux power cable

What Went Wrong 1 – Know your video card.

The HDX cards have fans to keep them cool, and so they need to plug into one of the PCI Aux power jacks on your computer. Mac Pro’s have 2 of these jacks so it’s typically not an issue (Avid provides a multi-node cable so you can connect as many as three HDX cards to one aux power jack.) However, some video cards, like the killer ATI Radeon card that came in my new computer, require both of the power jacks themselves. While you could power the video card with a y-cable from one of the jacks, this may cause power issues (due to current draw) when doing demanding video and audio work.. not a gamble I was comfortable with.

In the end, I traded the video card for the one in my 8 core, an accelerated card that only needed one aux power jack.

What Went Wrong 2 – Permission to Mountain Lion

Apple’s Migration assistant is really pretty great. Since I was finishing a mix when the new computer arrive, rather than move the computer or remove an internal drive, I connected via ethernet and let Migration Assistant run over night. It was SLOW via ether net (through a 10/100 router that I’ve replaced with a gigabit switch… more on that), but it all got there.

Then it came time to clone my library drives. Since the 8 core was to become a VI server, I wanted to leave those original drives in that machine. So I put the 8 core in transfer mode, moved the machines physically closer, hooked up a firewire cable and started to copy the original drive to an internal drive in the new machine. It would not copy. Time and again, I got a system error that said the D.S. file could not be copied. I tried showing all hidden files (in Terminal, enter defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles YES; killall -HUP Finder to show all files and defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles NO; killall -HUP Finder to return to normal) and NOT copying the D.S. file, but that didn’t work. This permission error stopped copying via Carbon Copy, Synchronize Pro and Super Duper, even when I re-set permissions on every folder and file by hand.

The fix was mounting the SATA drive to be copied IN the new computer (by the way, the drive adapters are different between older and newer Mac Pros so you have to re-mount them.) For some reason, this let OS ML copy the files. Yeesh. After transfer, I changed the drive adapter and put the drive back in the 8 core.

What Went Wrong 3 – ilok adventure

A while back, ilok switched over to an app based system for managing your licenses, replacing the out-dated web based system. But when I downloaded the app, it was VERY slow and would not complete the transfer of a license I had received to one of my iloks. After a couple hours of trying to do this on both computers, it dawned on me to have the iloks plugged in to the computer on startup…. that was the trick. While you can hot plug iloks all you want for normal use, apparently they need to be present at start up for the app to function properly, no idea why, maybe it’s just my systems.

Now that that was working, I went to put my PT 10-11 license onto an ilok, only to find out that you must have a generation 2 ilok for this. Crap. I have 9 iloks already but here I was, running out to Guitar Center to buy another. Oh, well. Authorization and installation went fine after this.

Pro Tools HDX in Mac Pro

Pro Tools HDX in 6 core Mac Pro

Successes

Once installed, I opened PT 10. Almost all of my plug-ins worked without upgrade (they were all very current anyway,) even with the jump to OS ML. Nice. I had to re-aim all of virtual instruments to the new Library drive on the 6 core, but that’s pretty typical of a big move.

I then opened my orchestra VI template on the 8 core and PT template on the 6 core. VEP is so easy to use and the PT session saw the 8 core instruments without a hitch. Individually the instruments played fine, with no noticeable delay via ethernet. but if I played a few instruments at a time, it started to get glitchy.

Adjusting the HW buffer in PT and the streaming settings of the VI’s helped but I was still getting glitches playing back a small score of about 14 instruments. Looking at the whole system, I realized that maybe the older 10/100 ethernet router in my machine room was the bottle neck. I ran out and bought a gigabit switch and, voila, glitch free connectivity!!

Midi delay within PT seems much, much better now. And there are new score editor set-up features for generating print music, like spacing between staves and systems, so I took the time to get my score just the way I like it in my PT orchestration template to speed up quick prints for smaller sessions, sweet.

Pro Tools 10 screenshot

Large mix session in Pro Tools 10 HDX system



Audio Rules

As audio production is my principal use of Pro Tools, now that I had my composition tools all set up and tested, it was time to test the mix and record capabilities of the new PT rig.

After opening a few “in the box” mix sessions I had recently done on my HD3 system to check compatibility (they opened fine and actually sounded a bit better to me,) I opened the recent score recording with a track count of 119 at 96k 32 bit to see what the system could really do.

I proceeded to do a mix, all in Pro Tools, and… wow. Running off an internal SATA drive (I have 12T internal SATA for recording), I didn’t have a single DAE error, used less than half of my HDX card and barely touched the native CPU usage. And giving PT 12 gigs for caching, the entire 5 minute score loaded into ram for instant playback every time.

Happily Ever After?

So I now have an incredibly solid system, capable of great creation as well as great recording and mixing. I love that there is now scarcely any midi delay when playing through PT. I love that AAX Native (and even RTAS) plug-ins report perfectly to the delay compensation engine in PT 10.3. Later this week I’ll do a 5.1 version and a mix through my console as well. And I can’t wait to track through the new converters next week to see how that has changed too… hopefully for the better 🙂

5 Responses to “Pro Tools HD3 to HDX System Upgrade – A Survival Guide”

  1. Awesome Dan! You are my hero and I wish all customers had your persistence and insight into computer recording. Thanks so much for mentioning me, I really appreciate it!

    Sincerely,

    Kenny

  2. Andre says:

    It amazes me, what Pro Tools users all find exciting in 2014. No delay on virtual instruments. Wow.
    I was thinking about getting an additional Pro Tools rig, but after some reading around I suppose I will stick to Sequoia and Nuendo.
    I don’t quite get what the PT fuss is about.

  3. Chris says:

    Dan – Thanks for taking the time to create this post. Just doing an HDX install and found your notes to be a big help.

    Chris

  4. Dan Cantor says:

    Thanks for the awesome blog! I ‘ll show this to my Boston PTUG group.
    I’ve done the same….Ive been on HDX for 6 month but I went to Mt Lion and PT 11.1.2 last night. The thing that is bugging me is the loss of use of Sync IO. I mostly use it to tell the Big Ben and the 4 convertors what Sample rate the session is at. Now with out it, i have to walk over and change the big ben for every sample rate variation. Also I miss cosmonaut, amp farm and few other little plugs ins.
    best luck to you and your rig!
    Daniel

  5. Dan Rudin says:

    Thanks, Dan! Glad to be helpful. Yeah, I said goodbye to AmpFarm years ago (I think I have Pod Farm now.) The worst for me was losing the Virus synth plug-in when I went to PT 10… it’s just the same as having a beloved hand tool or microphone stolen from you. You bought it, you used, loved it and then…

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