Pro Tools 9 signals fundamental, user-friendly change at Avid

In the course of a demonstration of Pro Tools 9, along with Avid’s new hardware boxes, I had the opportunity to speak with several key members of the company’s Pro Tools marketing team. Avid Pro Tools strategist Bobby Lombardi and pro audio segment marketing manager Tony Cariddi discussed the ways in which the company’s new hardware and software reflect a distinct change in the company’s business model.

The particulars of Pro Tools 9 and the new HD Series hardware interfaces have been public for some time now. The new hardware boxes for Pro Tools HD provides significant improvements in AD/DA conversion and preamps and offer significantly better support for open standards like MADI. The big news with Pro Tools 9 is the platform’s move to enable software-only operation, support for third-party (non-Avid) audio interfaces and support for the EuCon Ethernet protocol to expand control surface options to include Avid Artist Series computer controllers and Pro Series consoles (formerly under the Euphonix brand). It also features significantly more channels.

According to Bobby Lombardi, these changes in product architecture are a reflection of a new approach adopted on a corporate level by Avid.

“It was about two years ago that the company decided to make a dramatic change in the way we approach the market,” he said. “Everything is keyed around really listening to our customers, to really get close to them, find out the pain points and solve them.”

Prior to the release of Pro Tools 9, this new attitude was reflected in such product upgrades as Pro Tools 8.04 (a bug fix), followed by Pro Tools HD Native.

“The launch of Pro Tools 9 software was the culmination of all that, the thing that ties everything together,” Lombardi said. “What’s really special is that it’s a completely open piece of software that supports core audio, ASIO, and still has incredibly tight integration with any Avid hardware interface. For the first time, Pro Tools customers have a choice of what interface they want to use, with more capability, more mobility and more flexibility than ever before.”

This theme of openness can be tied directly to Avid’s decision, announced last year, that it would no longer use the Digidesign brand name, both in software like Pro Tools and in hardware like mixing consoles. While many outside the firm saw this as a waste of brand equity to shore up the parent company’s brand, the actual intent was to make a clean break with the closed “Digi-ecosystem” approach of the past.

“What Avid has done is to make a total commitment to our customers, and the release of Pro Tools 9 allows us to highlight that in a loud and vocal way,” Cariddi said. “To announce a new brand image is just talk, but to release this series of products that clearly address customer concerns in a positive and consistent way — that’s the payoff. Frankly, Digidesign would never have released a product as radical as Pro Tools 9, and it’s the Pro Tools name that people are connected to.”

The other quality that the new Avid approach embraces is collaboration.

“That really ties in with the change from being customer-focused to customer-driven,” Lombardi said. “We go out of our way to learn what is needed and deliver it. Things like delay compensation, MP3 integration and a time code ruler are now integrated across the board, in every version. And the reason is that our customers requested it.”

One result of this new approach is a simplification of the Pro Tools line at the professional level.

“There’s no longer a Pro Tools SC, MP or LE in this space,” he said. “There are just two products now: Pro Tools 9 and Pro Tools HD9. The difference is the inclusion of the Complete Production Toolkit in the HD version; that’s the upgrade path. The HD Native version assures the best performance no matter what. If you have a million plug-ins running and want to overdub at near-zero latency, .44ms or even less at high sampling rates, Pro Tools HD9 is the only solution. ”

This new approach will certainly benefit broadcasters, not only in the inclusion of video-friendly features like delay compensation and onboard time code ruler, but in the smooth path to the future.

“I think one thing that will excite HD customers, especially broadcasters, is that when they upgrade to 9, for the first time, they will be able to pull the iLok off the main system, pop it in their laptop and take their work on the road with them,” Lombardi said. “It creates mobility and portability, and it’s just part of the normal upgrade price. That’s a phenomenal value.”

“It’s really a discussion of what it means to be Avid,” Cariddi said. “Recognizing that we are in a collaborative field and embracing that in how our products are designed — then quality. Pro Tools is a professional product, and the quality bar had to be raised to reflect that, both in terms of sound quality and feature development. It’s that kind of thinking that led to this change, that led to Pro Tools 9 and the new hardware. It’s a reflection of what it means to be Avid, and that will continue.”