Pro Tools show-stopper

I've been enjoying Pro Tools 9 too and haven't even applied 9.0.x updates, but on Thursday night I had a showstopper.

I was playing multitrack for a show and it played two cues from different times in the playlist simultaneously. Took a reboot of my Mac to fix it.

I've seen a lot of weird PT stuff over the years, but I've never seen anything remotely like that.

HD, maybe?

I just snared a Magma 4-slot PCI expansion chassis for less than $200. It came with a PCI host adaptor.

Since my plan is to run Pro Tools on a used Macbook Pro with an ExpressCard slot (for expandability), all I need is to purchase an ExpressCard host adaptor. Then whatever I put in the expansion chassis will work with the Macbook.

With more and more PCI Pro Tools cards coming onto the second-hand market, this could be a semi-cheap way to get Pro Tools HD.

For now, the unit will serve as an external RAID drive. It holds four hard drives and I also just got a 4-port SATA card.

ADA, I found you

Thanks to Myles Mumford and an ebay buyer who backed out, I now have 16 channels of Creamware converters.

The next step will be the Focusrites.

ADA, where are you?

As you may know, I have the buggy version of Pro Tools M-Powered, which allows 32 tracks of simultaneous recording, and an M-Audio ProFire Lightbridge. But I have no converters yet, so this system is useless for now. I was considering a couple of Behringer ADA8000s for the time being. The mic pres are crap but the converters are OK (though one can get a lot better). However, if I want to record hi-res (88.2 or 96 kHz sample rates), I need 96k converters.

Well, they're not so hard to come by, although they're very expensive. And they're mostly A/D converters only. Wouldn't it be nice to have ADAs? There are a few things around, for a lot of money, like Lucid and Lynx. But these either have no ADAT lightpipe I/O, or not enough. For example, the 16-channel Lynx Aurora has an optional ADAT card, but that has only two ports which would allow 8 channels of S/MUX, not 16. The Sonic Core (was Creamware) is the same.

I just discovered that the new Focusrite Octopre comes in two versions: mic pre only with ADAT out, and mic pre with dynamics and ADAT in and out. The ADAT ports on both are capable of S/MUX operation, providing 8 channels lo-res or 4-channels hi-res.

So to do 16 channels hi-res I would need two of these. I could then use another 16 channels of converters without the hi-res option to do 32 channels lo-res, because of course the Octopres can do lo-res too.

And the best bit? RRP on the ADA version is $900 a piece!

How to upgrade a Pro Tools HD system cheaply

That got your attention, didn't it?

As some of you may know, Digidesign announced the end of support for PPC systems. This causes a problem for PPC owners who still want to use their HD systems. Unless you bought the very last G5s, you have PCI slots in your machine. And if you bought earlier, and bought a great big HD system, you probably bought an expansion chassis to hold all the PCI cards your computer wouldn't (since it has only three slots). Your new Mac Pro will have PCIe slots.

So now, if you want to get future version of Pro Tools (from 8.0.3) you need a Mac Pro, or maybe a Macbook Pro with an ExpressCard slot and a cardbus interface to your expansion chassis.

Problem is, a lot of users bought the Digidesign 64-bit 7-slot chassis. This was actually made by Magma and is otherwise known as the PR7464. We have one at work, though it doesn't have the model ID anywhere on it, so it took a while to figure out whether that was what we had.

Now it turns out that most, if not all, of those chassis do not work with a Mac Pro. What you need is a chassis with the Pericom bridge chip. So I took a look inside ours. Lo and behold, there's a great big Pericom chip. It's not the one shown here, but I was hopeful.

Whoops! Turns out that's a clock chip. I haven't been able to find the (incompatible) Intel or DEC chips. So now we have to buy another expansion chassis. And those things are not cheap.

Actually we need two. The studio computer has two HD cards inside it, so we need a new chassis for those cards anyway. But the HD3 system (three cards) is in the existing chassis.

It is possible to replace the boardset inside the chassis. That's about US$1450 instead of $2500. But that's not a big saving after having to spend $2500 on a new chassis and also get two computers.

All this took more than a week. The person from Magma turned out to be helpful, but I could have figured it out sooner if she'd read my first couple of emails properly. I thought what we wanted to do was pretty plain at the start. Still, while Magma is the only game in town for PCI expansion (since SBS disappeared and one wouldn't trust those cheap things now appearing on ebay), they probably do way more business with server farms and the military. As usual, audio is marginal.

Goodbye $15000. (If we can afford it, that is.)

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