Alongside its Pro Tools 10 and HDX unveiling, Avid turned some heads by recently announcing it was replacing its RTAS and TDM formats to a new format called AAX, “Avid Audio eXtension.” Now, your first reaction may not be unbridled enthusiasm, exactly: it seems the last thing users are likely saying is, “yes, please, I’d like a new plug-in format to worry about.” But I wanted to give the engineers at Avid a chance to tell us what they were thinking and why they made the move.

Avid’s product announcements have unfortunately coincided, presumably because of the financial calendar, with unpleasant restructuring and downsizing news, a topic NYC-based audio engineering site SonicScoop takes up. However, I prefer to focus here on the engineering side of what’s happening; we can look at Avid’s business and the changing business landscape another day. (For what it’s worth, I’m not as bleak as SonicScoop about the industry at large – least of all because I think the larger audio market remains healthy, even if Avid has been caught adapting to a new marketplace.)

The picture painted by Avid is one of a smooth transition to AAX. Now, of course, you’d expect them to say that, but I think they do have some specific technical reasons that, even with the change of name, the shift should be friendly to Avid developers. I’ll let them explain, though.

Bobby Lombardi, Senior Pro Tools Product Manager goes into the technical details of what AAX, and what it means for Pro Tools developers and users.

CDM: The main draw appears to be the ability to switch between native and DSP-based processing more easily, correct? From the end user perspective, can you get into specifics on what a user will see and how this will differ from RTAS/TDM?

Bobby: Visually, a user will see that the RTAS/TDM pop-up on the Pro Tools 10 Plug-in header has changed to Native/DSP. The exciting part is what they will hear. In the past, with HD Accel systems using a 24-bit fixed point processing environment, and host-based systems using 32-bit floating point processing, the gain staging could be quite different and produce significantly different results. With the introduction of AAX, sessions that migrate between host-based and DSP-accelerated HDX Pro Tools systems will sound identical.

How much work will it be for developers to migrate from RTAS/TDM to AAX?

Moving from an existing RTAS plug-in to AAX Native is relatively simple. Plus, once a developer has an AAX Native plug-in running, it will take a small amount of development effort to support AAX DSP. In comparison to TDM 56k used with the legacy HD hardware, AAX DSP is much easier to support and developers do not require specialized skills in writing 56k assembly code, so it opens up the opportunity for many developers to create DSP accelerated versions of their plug-ins.

We’ll still see parallel, separate versions of plug-ins for AAX Native and AAX DSP, correct? And some will, as with RTAS, presumably be native-only?

This is really up to the individual developer. Some developers may find it strategic to support one or the other, however Avid’s goal with this new format was to simplify plug-in development and reduce the complexity to support accelerated hardware.

RTAS and TDM are listed as “legacy” formats. Is Avid making any commitment to how long they’ll last?

The RTAS and TDM formats will continue to be supported in the 32-bit versions of Pro Tools but will not be supported once Pro Tools is released as a 64-bit application. The new AAX plug-in format is the bridge to 64-bit plug-ins for the Pro Tools and Media Composer platform.

Avid has expressed a desire to embrace open formats, but why is there still no common, industry-wide plug-in format? (Actually, there may be no good answer to that question, but I feel obligated to ask!)

We absolutely do embrace open platforms because they can open workflows that enhance the user experience. Part of the experience we need to ensure is that it’s stable, integrates well on our control surfaces, and provides a long-term commitment to the customer. For these reasons it’s important that we can design the plug-in architecture. For example, without designing AAX we could never give customers a plug-in environment that supports both DSP accelerated and native Pro Tools systems and ensure they delivered 100% sound parity. We hope that by providing a modernized AAX SDK for plug-in development, developers will find it easier not only to support Avid’s products, but also finding it easier to develop for non-Avid plug-in formats.

Any word on when we’ll see third-party plugs with AAX support?

More developers are coming online each week with their AAX offerings. We had over 25 developers showing over 60 individual AAX plug-ins at the AES tradeshow in NYC last month, and expect to see many more at the upcoming NAMM tradeshow. With the ability to provide all Avid third party developers a optimized development path to DSP-accelerated plug-ins, we do expect to see more DSP-accelerated plug-ins on the new AAX platform than the legacy TDM platform.

Thanks, Bobby. And for one other take, I happened to get to talk to Universal Audio about their transition. UA, given that they have their own DSP platform and support Avid’s rival packages, certainly aren’t dependent in their business on the Avid ecosystem (though you can be sure it makes a big part of their market). Anyway, here’s what they say; I’m guessing other third parties would say something similar, but if you’re a third party reading and wish to comment, please do so, and don’t let the fact that I only have UA here dissuade you.

Lev Perrey, Universal Audio Director of Product Development, responds to CDM:

Universal Audio intends to support AAX Native in conjunction with UAD-2 DSP accelerators ­ exactly like we have just completed with RTAS support in UAD Powered Plug-ins v6. There is no announcement as of yet as to when the transition to AAX will be complete but we are actively developing and committed to the Pro Tools platform. Pro Tools 10 does support RTAS and initial testing with UAD plug-ins shows it to work just like Pro Tools 9.

As for the significance question, for UA moving to AAX Native should be similar to our recent migration to RTAS ­ although it will be easier for us now moving to AAX since we have fully invested in direct Pro Tools development and better understand the Avid SDK.

We’ll continue to follow this story. Thanks to Avid for getting us more details; I know it’s appreciated.

More info:
AAX Audio Plug-ins @ Avid

  • http://www.bitbasic.co.uk simioliolio

    fantastic positive release from avid. once again, another step taken to give all other daws a run for their money.

  • BlueSpark

    Isn't this all just a tacit admission of the inferiority of the split dedicated-DSP/native approach?

  • Peter Kirn

    @BlueSpark: Don't see how. The basic division between native and DSP-based in Pro Tools remains the same with AAX as before. Just the nomenclature gets cleaned up. So it could be a tacit admission of the inferiority of having two acronyms, especially fairly arcane ones. ;)

  • http://noisepages.com/members/sighup/ Steven Hamann

    I'm confused by one of his answers, how do they support open platforms? Are they releasing the AAX spec in the same way that Steinberg has released its VST spec? So soon we might see other AAX hosts?

  • http://xfader.com REGEND

    Pro Tools is not 64 bit is what I get out of this news…but…we will eventually get there.

  • Radiophobic

    simioliolio: Nothing here has given me any inclination to want to even give protools any more of a glance than I already have. You want to see DAWs that are going to give the competition 'runs for their money', look at Studio One or Reaper. 

    As it stands, the people who are keeping protools afloat are doing so because they are studios or they already have a lot of money invested. Make it too expensive or complicated, you are going to start loosing even those clients.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    We absolutely do embrace open platforms because they can open workflows that enhance the user experience. Part of the experience we need to ensure is that it’s stable, integrates well on our control surfaces, and provides a long-term commitment to the customer. For these reasons it’s important that we can design the plug-in architecture.

    Which is why we refused to participate in the cross-industry GMPI effort to design a common plugin API, and its also why, having done the design part of AAX, we intend to continue to prevent open source implementations of plugins using this API. Because hey, it works for Steinberg, right?

  • Alexandre

    "We absolutely do embrace open platforms because they can open workflows that enhance the user experience."

    Oh my. What a great way of answering the question without actually providing any sort of useful answer.

    Dear Avid, are you licensing SDK compatible with GPL and other common free licenses or not? It's as simple as that.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    Peter, next time see if you can actually get a technical guy from Avid to answer questions rather than a marketing person. Unlikely I know, but the level of hot air in these reponses is enough to get a 100 track HD system off the ground with a balloon.

  • http://www.vguitarforums.com Steve Conrad

    Thanks for the news – I'll happily stay with Reaper for my DAW of choice.

  • http://soundcloud.com/nonplus just b

    " In the past, with HD Accel systems using a 24-bit fixed point processing environment, and host-based systems using 32-bit floating point processing, the gain staging could be quite different and produce significantly different results"

    transaltion: Digidesign has been lying about their fixed point engine (TDM/HD) and it's (lack of) fidelity for years.

  • http://www.musicbydo.com dO

    Mo' formats, mo' problems :( … but we'll see

  • Arvin

    ++ on just b

    As Rich Hilton noted on the sonicstate podcast this week, this is just a transitional release for the eventual upgrade to 64bit, and a tacit acknowledgement that their marketing about their fixed-point foundation was essentially bunk. They were treading water until they could come out with a competitive platform, and they're not all the way there yet.

    If Apple comes out with a solid LogicX at the same reduced prices on their Mac App Store they sold their other Pro apps (Aperture $79 down from $200, FCPX $300 down from $800-$1000) we may see LogicX at $150 or so. What will Avid do then, especially since it's losing money (and shedding employees) now?

  • Ulhuru

    @just b : no lack of fidelity, just different gain structure, so while you could get away with "overs" in Native systems, DSP fixed point would require that you remained below 0dB full scale, unless you liked a fair bit of digital distortion. But eventually this is just what some will miss… 

    > hey, just invented a niche market for a future "PT9 warmth" AAX plug-in! 

  • Geoff

    Sometimes you could attempt to be a bit more critical Peter, especially when someone from Avid says: "We absolutely do embrace open platforms".

  • Peter Kirn

    The "open platforms" reference I believe refers to things like interchange formats and control protocols. It's obviously not happening with plug-ins, which was the implication of my question.

    This is a product manager, not marketing. I have some opinions about all of this, but I didn't necessarily want to mix them with a Q&A; I preferred to let these answers stand on their own.

    But no, the SDK and format I understand it are anything but open, even relative to the availability of SDKs for AU and VST.

  • http://www.gesslerproject.com gesslr

    I was considering picking up PT9 but am glad I didn't given the upgrade policy to PT10. Doubt if I will ever make the leap…seems rather rapacious. 

  • Peter Kirn

    I just want to be clear about why I'm not editorializing here — there's more to cover:

    We have multiple threads to discuss here. One is the Pro Tools upgrade path. The other is what these signal processing and gain structure details mean more generally, which is irrespective of DAW (and as many, many folks have pointed out, other DAWs already offer 32-bit floating point or 64-bit floating point signal paths).

    The most immediately relevant information in Avid's comments is that the current plug-in support will be fully deprecated in the 64-bit release of Pro Tools.

    So I think there are some additional questions to ask Avid and consider independently on both issues: how that upgrade path is going to work, what the cost to their users will be, and why they're making some of these claims on sound and what they mean.

  • loydb

    For those tl;dr

    1) No 64-bit. We're committed, along with Ableton, to partying like it was 2005.

    2) Remember all those overpriced TDM plugs? Hahahaha. Deprecated. Lube up and get ready for AAX.

    3)"We're committed to open" should be replaced with "We're committed to (getting our customers to) open (their wallets)".

    Seriously, if there was a just and loving god, every time time talking head says "We're committed to open" when they mean just the opposite, they'd be struck by lightning.

  • Samuel Van Ransbeeck

    I think I will leave PT for what it is. I bought it because it was supposedly the industry standard but what I understand is that it is heavily overpriced. When I will make my superrecord that will sell 50 million copies, I will go to a studio which has PT, but for now I will start to work with Cubase or so.

  • Peter Kirn

    @loydb: Well, they're saying they *are* going to 64-bit; it's the transition here that I have questions about – I think that's everyone's concern.

  • http://www.inoutfest.org Flplsx

    Avid's in a very peculiar place right now. They need to make transitions gradually to keep the pros happy who can't really spend time re-learning software to do their jobs. It's impossible to please everyone, and I don't think they're doing a terrible job.

  • ex-fanboy

    from friend Cick Master Sync:

    Well Pro Tools 10 is here everyone!!

    I for one think it is a joke!!! How about getting PT9 right first avid?

    I have to use pro tools for a large part of my job as an audio post engineer and I can tell you with bitter experience that PT9 is not yet fully supported and to release a new version demonstrates a lack of respect for its huge customer base!!!

    Seriously it was only a month ago that when booting up to start my mornings work (on an important project with really tight deadlines) that pro tools informed me that a "critical update" was available, now knowing avid's legendary (or lack of) customer support, experience told me not to just install this update, as avid would have you do, but to wait as this more often than not totally f*$ks with your setup and if you manage to get it to boot up you will definitely be messing about with some setting or another, and therefore loosing a major part of my working day. Upon deciding to have a quick glance at the relase notes for the update i quickly discovered that this was a BETA update and came with warnings about stability :snuffy:

    Get real Avid!! You wax lyrical about the professional DAW of choice and yet have the nerve to release a beta on your pro tools 9 customers a couple of weeks before you release version 10….What was this update a test bed for PT10 features..

    That leaves me more than a little mad, if I had the choice I would not ever ever ever use your SHITTY, DINOSAUR, BLOATED OLD CODE, ANTIQUE ATTITUDE, PIECE OF CRAP SOFTWARE….EVER AGAIN…YOU TOSSERS!!!!! (for those wondering why i have to use it, it standard practice in audio post to share projects direct form avid media composer via OMF/AAF which we do at work between edit suites ect).

    I believe you can use a gain control within your clips "Oh WOW amazing!!!!! My God Ive been asking about that for 10 years!!!!"

    As you can probably tell I am getting madder and madder as I write so I think its time to stop but I long for the day when somebody like Ableton come along and decide to shake it up a bit and offer a genuine audio post alternative…

  • ex-fanboy

    sorry 'bout the language there but i thought in this case it was justified – sorry if anyone was offended!

  • Logic Pro User

    Stupid Avid. I don’t even use SlowTools and I got Native Instruments pushing me updates for this stupid AAX format.