From Pro Tools HD to Carbon

HDX DSP power in a 1U audio interface.

In recent years Avid, the company behind creative tools such as Media Composer, Sibelius and Pro Tools, have concentrated on their software offerings and not so much on their professional audio hardware. Even when they have released new Avid branded products like MTRX, the 2U replacement to the HD IO series of interfaces, these were a re-brand of the stunning DAD AX32 rather than fresh, from the ground up Avid creations. However, in the past 18 months Avid have re-entered the hardware sector in a big way, first with the MTRX Studio and now with the 1U Pro Tools Carbon interface. And for the first time since the highly acclaimed Eleven Rack over 12 years ago, Pro Tools Carbon is squarely aimed at the music creation sector rather than post production. So if you are a professional singer, song writer, high-end Project Studio owner, or band with a passion for recording and you are looking to raise your recording “game”, or maybe you are currently running an older HD TDM system and you what to upgrade, read on to find out all you need to know about the new Avid Pro Tools Carbon interface and the Pro Tools Hybrid Engine.

What Is Pro Tools Carbon?

The new Pro Tools Carbon is the 1U centre to your recording, mixing or mastering work flow, offering up to 25 inputs and 34 simultaneous audio outputs. Carbon connects to your Mac computer (running Mac OS Catalina 10.15.6 or later) via the AVB audio over IP standard so you won’t find a USB or Thunderbolt port on the front, back or sides of the chassis. Simply connect a Cat5e or Cat6 cable from the first port on the rear panel of Carbon to the ethernet port on your Mac, using an approved Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adaptor if your Mac does not have a built in network port.

Carbon offers 8 mic/line inputs over XLR/TRS combination jacks. The mic pres are an ultra-transparent padless design with the ability to vary their input impedance to best match the microphone or recording tone you are going for. We then find 6 1/4 inch TRS instrument inputs again with the variable impedance switching. This is clearly more than just a nod back to the True-Z input from the Eleven Rack that made that unit feel so good to play though.

On the back of Carbon we also find a pair of 25 pin D-Sub connector offering 8 channels of live level I/O. High quality TRS outputs for your monitors. 16 channels of ADAT optical I/O. A pair of BNC connectors for Word Clock sync. A footswitch jack and a pair of ethernet sockets.

All in all, enough connectivity to make Carbon the central hub of your studio or production space.

What Else Comes With Pro Tools Carbon?

Carbon also ships with a vast array of 118 extra plug-in goodies. As well as a one year perpetual licence for Pro Tools, you get the full Avid Complete plug-in bundle as well as premium AAX plug-ins including the Arturia Rev PLATE-140, Brainworx bx_masterdesk, bx-Purple Audio MC77 compressor, bx_rockrack and bx_console N. The McDSP 6050 Ultimate Channel Strip, UVI Model D and Falcon, Native Instruments Vintage Organs, Embody Immerse Virtual Studio  and a 5.4 Gb sample and loop library. In short, you are not going to be left wanting for processors to tweak and hone your sound. It’s all their waiting for your creativity.

The other audio trick that Carbon is hiding behind it’s very stylishly designed front panel is the ability to run Avid and third party AAX DSP plug-ins using what Avid are calling their Hybrid Engine.

What makes Pro Tools Carbon Different?

Avid Carbon Pro Tools audio interface in studio rack with iMacAs I have already said Pro Tools Carbon is not just another USB or Thunderbolt audio interface, and while there is nothing wrong with this approach, Avid have done some serious out of the box, blue-sky thinking to create a new way of working to get the very best from the host processing of your computer and Carbon’s onboard HDX  DSP processing.

Under the very solid outer shell, Carbon is equipped with 8 HDX DSP processors and a custom designed FPGA (Field Programable Gate Array) to allow you to record and or monitor with real time effects in your signal path with next to zero latency. The little Lightning button between the Group and Automation mode selection in the mix window allows you to toggle DSP mode on or off. When you record arm a track and the lightening logo is Green all the associated tracks including busses and sends are automatically switched into DSP mode to maintain the super low latency recording experience. Any plug-ins I have instantiated on those tracks are also automatically switched (where available) into their AAX DSP equivalent and I can record and monitor with my desired tone and effects with no latency messing up my performance. If you wish, to save DSP power, in cases where you are recording a number of track simultaneously,  you can choose to make channels DSP safe as there may be no need to worry about latency on a reverb return. However this is something you can configure channel by channel.

Who Is Pro Tools Carbon For?

Even though Avid’s Pro HDX system has been around for a number of years, it is still the  gold, go to standard for professional recording, mixing and mastering facilities the world over. However, there is no easy way to say it, it’s not a cheap solution. If you are currently running an older Pro Tools HD TDM system and you want to upgrade you could well be looking at a five figure upgrade bill. But then along comes Pro Tools Carbon, offering you many of the benefits of the HDX, AAX DSP workflow and signal routing with all the benefits of being able to make the most of your host computer. If you don’t need to record more than 25 simultaneous audio signals, and let’s face it, most studios don’t Pro Tools Carbon could be the competitively priced answer to your audio prayers.

Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that Carbon sounds great. The mic pres are clean sounding and the ability to vary the impedance to match the mics you are using is very handy, particularly if you are a fan of ribbon mics. From a real life working point of view the headphone amps are powerful enough to drive your cans to satisfy even the loudest of drummers and the front panel control has been nicely designed to give you clear colour coded feedback on what you are adjusting and the status of both the input and output sections at the same time. The pots, knobs and buttons feel great and the unit has a modern, clean look and feel. Clearly Avid as taken a look at the competition and woken up to the fact that the look of your gear in the rack matters.

Pro Tools Carbon is not going to be the interface that someone new to recording rushes out to buy, however, it’s not designed to be. Carbon, is for the creative music professional who has realised that real quality does come with a price tag and is willing to pay for quality but they don’t need a no holds barred HDX rig at the price tag that comes with it. Carbon offers a feature set that is going to serve you well for years to come, either standalone, or hooked up to an existing selection of studio toys. Carbon could well be the interface that gives you exactly what you know you need  as well as a whole lot more you didn’t know you were missing.




About the Author

This article was written by James Ivey for HHB Communications. James Ivey is a musician, engineer, producer and freelance audio evangelist and has had an interest in music tech since his parents bought him a Tascam Porta 01 for Christmas aged 11. After studying for a degree in audio engineering at London Guildhall University, James went on to tour the word as drummer with a number of successful bands and now lives and works from his home studio just outside London. If you can hit it, strum or pluck it to make a half decent noise then he’s into it and will try to record it. As well as working with established and up and coming artist, James also works with some of the world’s most successful audio brands producing training, tutorial and demonstration materials. He is also a founder of The Studio Rats, a band of studio musicians who work with different singers and song writers to produce radio ready music.


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