The Digidesign Eleven rack review. Is this effects processor any good? are the sounds great with your guitar? are the Protools worth the effort or a dead loss? Find out in this inside and out review.
Digidesign Avid Eleven rack and Protools LE (it came with V8 at review time).
This is a LONG Review... and it's for ordinary guys - not techies - so if you are a techie... and want to drool over the ins and outs - go to the Avid site... this review is not written for you. When the Eleven Rack was first on the street back in November 2009 I ordered one (wow a long time ago but little has changed since) - right there and then. What a great bargain I thought! Imagine a whole rack of effects and a FREE Protools LE. I always wanted to dabble with Protools and I suppose this was my opportunity to play a little for what was effectively almost free software.
Click the images for a larger view
In any case... like I said I bought it.
Firstly let me say that there was a problem in registering this unit on the internet (necessary at the time to download some other software this unit came with). Actually that took a week to solve with Avid only contributing to my frustration. Firstly the frustration of waiting WEEKS on end (about 9) for the kit then waiting to get it registered properly.. not a good start - in fact at one stage I used to call 'Avid' another name - 'Livid' because that's all they did to me - make me livid and they did not seem to care. For a moment I thought this was a Roland review...
Well what did I get. A smooth black and orange box that looks cool, with a few ins and outs such as:
Microphone input and controls with phantom power - Front
lots of control knobs on the front (see specs for details) - Front
Phones output on the front.. groovy... - Front
Output to amp 1 from the front for use with a real amp (maybe more later) - Front
A 'True-Z' input for the guitar - this can change the input impedance of the Eleven rack depending on which amp or effects is first in the signal chain - Front
FX Loop I/O 1/4 TRS IO for inserting mono or stereo external effects stuff in to the signal path. This can be line level or guitar level - at the back
Main outputs - do as you will with these - at the back
Output to amp 2 from the back of the Eleven rack - at the back
Digital IO AES/EBU up to 24-bit, 96Khz - at the back
S/PDIF in and out on RCA connectors - at the back
AC Power in - at the back
Line in (stereo or 2x mono) - at the back
MIDI I/O - in and out standard 5 pin - at the back
Expression Pedal/ footswitch input - at the back
Then there's the Protools LE software and of course the plugins you get which are extensive (I believe they dropped including this but I could be wrong its been a while since I checked).
I'm not going to talk for hours on end about every last detail of this system - because its all over the net and I have better things to do. But I am going to highlight the things I like and don't like - which could well apply to you too - in this way it's a fairer view of the kit and is a view that nearly every other review will avoid like the plague - after all they all have some reason to give a good review - don't they? They mainly take ads of one kind or another and make money from that... I don't...
First inside view
As you can see from this image above and the next few inside the box its a little sparse - but it IS digital so they have some excuse I suppose...
As they say on the PCB - Main Blues Rack
Main DSP Processing Chips on-board
Processing Power to the People
Switch Mode Power Supply... a little weedy
OK enough of these pictures..
Well its made reasonably well for a product that is clearly made in China. I like the 'Engineered in the USA' bit printed on the PCB which makes you feel good - but the truth is, its from China anyway - just like the Ibanez copy guitar featured on this site (yuk), and thousands of other pieces of guitar equipment these days. Much used to be made in Taiwan - and I can tell you the Taiwan kit was usually top notch, but some of the Chinese stuff... well lets just say it's a maturing manufacturing base where they don't always do exactly what they should.
But the good news is that this is well made - the only little concern is that tiny power supply - and you can see how much that cost to make - I suspect less than $7US so overall a relatively low cost rack unit. I have experience of costs in China for Switch Mode Power Supplies and I will not be too far out with production cost of this PSU.
What about the software I hear you say, most
insides of units are the same?
To be fair, most are the same, some are excellent and some are exquisite - this one is OK.
The software is where we all make a killing? right?
Well, actually yes and no.
Yes you do get the software but no - you probably are not going to run this on your netbook. I actually spent more money and time on making the PC run this software effectively than I did on the whole Eleven rack system.
Ill say it again - it cost me more for the PC than all the rest put together. If you really think you are going to run Protools LE (or for that matter any other Protools) on a PC worth 3 cents (or pence) you are going to be in for a massive surprise, no matter what Avid, the dealer, or anyone else says - you can't run this software on a low specification computer in any professional operation - maybe you think your bedrooms a pro operation...
By the time I had spent the money on the right PC in my studio rack to drive it all my PC comprised of:
Intel i7 2.93 Processor and new board
Windows 7 64 Bit
A big fat hard drive (well actually two of them) one for Protools and one for the rest
a decent display card and a big fat monitor
A nice new Protools Keyboard (so I could use all the shortcuts) there are many
And there's more which I have long forgotten about thankfully (like cables)
I passed on the $11500.00 (street price) controller
I did already have a reasonably good Intel Quad Processor Q6600 2.66ghz Processor in a machine in my studio which ran all sorts of software, indeed some of the best around and loaded the Protools LE on there - only to find that when you use this software in earnest in a real studio then it gets a little dog eared on regular kit - and my Q6600 was not regular kit. But by the time you have other stuff running on there it all starts to go a little pear shaped, then you get to learn about a thing called 'latency'.
What's 'latency' I hear you ask... well it is the single most piece of aggravation you can have when you record, record then record some more, then put to use those plug ins, then play it all back and record to that little mix... pretty soon you will find that the music is out of time with what you play - if you are not careful... and if you want to use 32 tracks - don't bother - you WILL be disappointed...
Another shortcoming (at the time) was that Avid did not support Windows 7 in any shape or form. I had the 64 Bit version of windows 7 and they guaranteed nothing... what's new from any manufacturer? But this one said to run the software on Windows 7 - we're just not helping you to....
Which leads me to Protools 8.1 for real - NOT the LE Version.
That's right - there is another version. But don't get too carried away and buy (yes buy) and install that. The Pro version costs really big money, you will need processing cards for input and output and many other things I really are not going to bore you with. AND it costs a fortune (even on eBay) - so THATS what the pro's use? NOT the wimpy LE version thrown in with this Eleven rack I suspect to make you feel good!
Actually, I'm being a little unfair. But you should be told what the problems are and I've told you - bet you did not read this anywhere else huh?
The Protools LE is ok if you treat it as what it is - a simpler much lower cost version of the real deal that does not need as much of anything to make work. See, the real deal can use plug in processing for the Pro version - the problem is that those cards can run $3000.00 each and you can use many. In fact, for the Protools LE if you already have a great high powered PC and all the I/O you will ever want or need then the Protools LE is OK. If you like that sort of thing. But I guess you would like it? you bought it? right?
OK? come on, what do you mean?
Well I would harp on all day about this software, except that pretty quickly, with most software recorders (and I have many more of all the ones you have heard of) I rapidly fall back to tried and trusted hardware that does not have to be driven by a computer expert (which I am) or you have to buy training videos for (which I did) and you can get really great results from which in the case of Protools LE for many reasons - I did not.
Its not that the Protools LE is rubbish, or that you might have to spend some more money making it work (you will). But once you use Protools LE you will see why lots of people buy external controllers, short cut keyboards, books, manuals, training videos and other stuff simply to get to grips with a recording package. And here is where I have issues with this software - why bother when you can do most of the same stuff (if not all) with much easier software to use and the other stuff works on a regular computer, with regular keyboards etc.? without ALL the PAIN that you will undoubtedly have with Protools LE - or indeed with Protools the real deal.
Maybe some might say that Protools is used by the pro's - its the best recording software system there is, maybe Protools Pro is (at a price and with those caveat's for training), but this Protools LE package is probably not. Some might confer that the extra flexibility is worth the agro alone with a software package like this.... maybe, but you will need SERIOUS money and serious hours to get anything approaching in your studio what the Protools LE capacity is. And I can tell you, in my view, that investment in time alone is not worth it for me.
But maybe you like to do that sort of thing rather than writing and playing music? For some it will be their 'utopia' but for me? Well I have it relegated to the also ran in my studio these days. I can understand why Protools does not in fact rule the world.
In use, with the right hardware, the all encompassing knowledge you need to drive Protools LE, I can confirm its good stuff... but remember what I said above on the subject of this software for the average musician. A 'no brainer' is not what springs to mind - actually I would think VERY carefully about Protools of any kind, and especially if it involves lots of money leaving your bank account.
Lastly, it is important to say that if you look at the Effects (within Protools LE) they are extensive, you can choose all the favourites but can also choose amps (there are 12 in all), cabinets (six), actual effects (17), patches (208 rigs comprising of 104 memory presets for you and 104 presets from the factory). Maybe Ill cover a bit more on this later and relate to the use of some of these features below and exactly what use they are to you. Maybe I won't!
There was an awful lot talked about with the 'True-Z' input and how it is revolutionary - 'this changes everything' or something like that. In my view that was a great marketing statement to make this unit stand up and be 'different' than the plethora of other rack equipment out there which does a lot of stuff similar to this - its a bit like the paint job... if you get what I mean from a marketing point of view. For my part in the 'True-Z' thing... ok, its adjustable - that's it. Really, I struggle to hear any difference at all - maybe it's my old beaten up ears from the stack, or those all too loud headphones for all these years...
Maybe I'm missing something here, but if that 'true-Z' thing was not fitted I would be hard pressed to tell and as for the paint job? That's a subjective thing and actually I like orange... but not particularly the amps.
The Eleven rack IS a flexible product because of the signal routing and other facilities it includes such as the volume pedal input and switching. But more of that later...
They made a big thing of 'Reamping' in their videos with a guy telling you just how great this is and how you will use it all the time and... well the answer is you won't use it all the time. In fact, unless you have screwed up in some way, it's unlikely you will use the reamping facility much or ever.
A good example where you would use reamping in a studio goes like:
Work a session on guitar and use a real amp to record say a mid distortion sound
Record the remainder of the track and other instruments
Get to the mixing stage and find out that the distorted amp sound is not right for the track
Of course, now there is a problem - you have a finished guitar part that is sounding bad in this song. OK, get in there and record it again - OR NOT if you have the Eleven rack.
With the re-amp feature in Eleven rack, because the guitar is actually recorded clean, and then the effects and distortion are added later, you have two choices: Firstly, just change the distortion, amp, cab, effects etc. until it sounds right in the track - and that's not too difficult in Protools and Eleven Rack software. OR you can send out the 'clean' guitar to a real tube amp, throw the signal through the amp, capture the output with a microphone and record that input to another track in Protools LE or another capture method.
Whoa... this all sounds great - I'll use it all the time won't I? No... because how often do you get the basic sound wrong and have to record the part again from the top? I've been recording since the early 70's and can't count on one hand the number of times I had to do that. In fact I can't even remember once! But if you are a person who is always recording crap sounds (unlikely), or maybe just like to twiddle with a track until you get it improved to something that you could not have foreseen when recording the track then this may well be for you. If anyone finds a guy like that, and he's in your band, you could be a while in making that next great album... in fact, you COULD be years!
I could go on about the effects but I won't bore you all with them - suffice to say, most are in there and most are useable - the Eleven rack in stand alone mode is as useable (in my opinion) live as it is useable in a studio environment. But don't depend on that Triple rectifier sound - it might take a while to get it - it's not there by default - well it is, but not as we know it...
There are many ways to set up this unit, for live stuff, you might well use the regular things most of us do, external effects, midi controller (you can use the DMC ground control featured under the Triaxis section of this website - check it out) and an external footswitch (momentary single or dual) OR expression pedal. That will work well live and you can send the line outs to the FOH desk (as you can with a System Mix Plus from DMC) and also to your stage amp - nice...
The studio setup can be similar if you want it to, but it all depends on the studio - and I'm going to leave it at that for the studio setup because you could extend this page another thirty pages longer and not cover everything. I like the Eleven Rack hardware, because for the most part, its relatively simple, reasonably easy to set up, works with what we all already have and I don't have to spend a fortune if I use it live and without Protools LE. I already have a midi controller... I also like the way you can store effects in there right from the Protools LE software and sound the same live as you did on the recording in the studio. Strangely enough, I actually did not use that feature myself, but I did like it in there and you will too. Unless you think the sounds are not up to it - I was not too impressed with reflections back to the Line 6 POD 2 and the GT-10.
Talk about Sounds:
Features abound on this unit, especially in the software - but like I said earlier, that can be a bit of a daunting task if you're just a regular guitarist - like many guys are. There is no doubt that there are some great sounds in this unit if you have lots of time to root them out and coax them out - some are there, but most need some work to be very convincing.
I watched one guy on YouTube showing off how he had emulated the sound of a Triple Rectifier by Mesa Boogie with the Eleven Rack and he was really happy that he could do this. I'm happy for him too.
But wait... the regular Triple Recto sound in the Eleven Rack pales in comparison to the real deal make no mistake of this, and anyone who says different is foolish at best. I wonder just how many hours this guy spent working on that Triple Recto sound (with the Triple Rectifier amp next to him in the same room) to get that sound which was similar - there is no doubt that it was - but not from the factory stored one. It will have been long hours indeed. He then goes on to say that the Eleven Rack is 'better' than his Triple Rectifier amp - well maybe where he comes from, for him, it is better but I suspect that when he wakes up as most of us do with these emulations and listen long and hard then he will probably change his mind.
But that guy is missing one thing about the Eleven Rack when he says it's 'better'. He has achieved one (yes one) sound that the Triple can do in less than 10 seconds of adjustment, he has his one sound, and the owner of the Triple Recto (or any other great amp) can eat him alive all day with sounds that make the Eleven rack about as much use as a Roland GT-Pro (see the review in this site). And the Triple rectifier can make them all in 10 minutes flat!
There is NO comparison whatsoever between the Eleven Rack and ANY real tube amp that is a brand leader. It's not that I'm one of those old guys who knows no better (I do) but it's really that simple. Not one of these style of units tested by me to date (and the Eleven rack is absolutely not alone in this) compares well to the real deal tube amp. I'm talking of course not about the effects in the Eleven Rack, which are reasonably good if you have the equipment for the Protools LE etc., but those distortion sounds they always seem to put in there. You don't have to use the amp and cab sounds, but I suspect many buyers of the Eleven Rack will. I have an Eventide Eclipse - an awesome unit - but frankly the distortions in that are just the same (awful) - I would not use them even if I was drunk! (and the Eventide is real money in comparison to the Eleven Rack).
The distortions and cab simulators are in my view a pretty thing to include, and if you like out of the ordinary sounds (compared to real tube amps and cabs) then these sounds will be for you. But why not just spend $30 or so on a cr*p pedal and do it that way - it could be a similar result if you feel so inclined. You CAN improve those in the Eleven Rack so it's not all bad news. For me, those sounds were never going to be what I wanted and I did not buy the Eleven Rack for that purpose. It's probably because I have lots of real amps all around me that I just don't hack it with these emulations of amps in the Eleven Rack or any other similar unit to date. But my advice is to get to listen to one of these units properly - and not just through some cans at GC or wherever...
When i bought this unit, after listening to the hype from Avid (Digidesign) and others I thought this was going to be a really great unit. They said I could throw away my amps, rack gear and so on, and get the exact sound I do in the studio live.
What a great Idea... Then they talked about the 'True-Z' control and how that would also change my life forever (remember 'this changes everything') and how I would not be able to live without it all... another great idea... and how the Protools LE software was an awesome recording tool that was the leading recording software in the world.
Wow, this is getting better all the time...
Now wake up. I still have those amps...
Here's what I found less good in summary:
Average distortion sounds unless you have a week or two to spare comparing to the Triple Rectifier you have sitting at the side of the Eleven Rack (I guess not)
Some good sounds in the effects, but Protools LE, its requirements for serious recording, and it's complexity let the Eleven Rack down somewhat
Cost of other equipment, training for LE whether books, video or other stuff far outweigh the benefits of the Eleven Rack in my opinion
Avid (Digidesign) support was at best average. Filling out the warranty form took two weeks because they did not accept their own warranty details on their online form for registration, this stopped me from downloading other 'free' software that I wanted to evaluate. Maybe this is why they are sometimes called Pro Fools?
The Protools LE printed intro manual that came with the Eleven Rack was just about useless - until I visited the bathroom
At the time delivery was as bad as it gets - I waited over 9 weeks for my unit to arrive.
But there are some nicer points as to why you would buy one of these and I would summarize these as follows:
Some nice effects
Lots of support online for Protools LE from Forums
It's reasonably easy to use if you don't get too much in to Protools LE
Some of the sounds are ok, but don't expect that Triple Recto to show itself easily
At one time I thought it could cook eggs....
You could use the 're-amp' technique if you have nothing better to do today
Do I use this Eleven Rack every day? What about once a month? Absolutely not.
Would I buy another one? No.
What about the Profools (oops I've been wanting to say that all the way down this page but am running out of space) Protools LE? No thanks, I just press record on my 24 track Mackie, use my O2R96 desk and outboard Eventide H7600 for effects and I'm done. A bit of Wavelab, a bit of mastering and there's the CD. If I worked with Protools LE - see y'all in two to three years with my next album.
But what about the 'True-Z' and all those other great features? Nope.. I don't use them, I no longer want to work with Profools and I have grown away from Orange colours.
What's left? Well I could use those awful distortion sounds (as it comes in the box and some of you might disagree with that statement) but I don't like bumble bees so I'll pass on those and keep the crappy tube amps like Marshall, Engl and Mesa Boogie stuff... maybe it's just me stuck in my ways. That must be it... but ask yourself this. When did YOU see a REAL pro (any real pro) using one of these on stage. I don't see Steve or Joe using one, for that matter, come to think of it - I don't know ONE real guitar pro using this stuff in any meaningful way. Except that guy on the videos...
And before you all come and rip off my neck - like I said earlier - their Protools is not this one - this is the Protools LE version without all that I/O that is also VERY expensive even second hand - there's absolutely no comparison, no matter what the screen looks like. Also you will regularly see controllers costing $15-20k connected to the Protools Pro full version in a Pro setup. All in cost? $30-50K. Like I said...
Please don't think that I don't like the Eleven Rack. I do.
It's just that I don't have lots of time, and I refuse to spend more on the Protools LE setup to make it work as it should with all the bells and whistles... frankly this exercise has put me off Protools somewhat. Before the Eleven Rack I often wondered about Protools (the real deal) in my studio with the decent controllers, the I/O etc. and gave it all very serious consideration. But after using the Protools LE - I have decided that this solution for recording serious musical stuff is not for me. Some guys will love it, I loathe it...
Notice how I keep coming back to that Protools stuff? Once you have experienced it you will either be a convert - or not. If like me, you spent about $1500 (£1000) to make the LE version work and you can't seem to like it... you too might just think what you could have bought instead? At least the studio PC has had an upgrade so I can do other things with it so its not all wasted effort.. is it?
You answer the last question yourself.... I now have my own insight in to this one.... and I'm not telling any more!
I was just thinking about this rack unit as I write this review - I did have a bit of a thing about the footswitch/volume pedal... you can have one of these connected - but only one at any given time so if you are controlling say a wah, or the volume, then you are not going to switch on or off an effect with a switched pedal. Once again... its back to getting your money out and buying a midi controller device like the Ground Control from DMC Corp... and once again, that in my opinion is another shortfall.
If they had just thought a little more about some of this stuff, and, if every time you want to do something (other than just using this rack unit as you would say a GT-Pro) you have to go and spend a pile of money, it somehow makes me feel that the Eleven Rack is just not the bargain I spoke about at the beginning of this review - remember the beginning? I suppose if you were simply going to use the Eleven Rack as a regular processor then you might even buy a competitors product because by the time you have all this hacked you could have bought a Fractal Audio Axe-FX... now that's a story yet to arrive on this site... who knows you could be reading all about it sooner than you might think.
That my friends - is a look at the Eleven Rack, without getting technical with the really nitty-gritty of this product, this review reflects exactly the way I found the Eleven rack and it's 'free' software called Protools LE.
I STRONGLY recommend that you take a good look at this equipment, it's requirements (not the recommended minimum PC specifications which will probably give a poor result for you) and view the cost to get good results and everything else before you buy it. Or get it in writing that you can return it for a full refund if you don't like it - or run out of money trying to like it!
For anyone who wanted a more in depth technical view - I could not cover this product with all its intricacies (especially the Protools LE) even over a whole site such as my Eleven Rack site (coming soon) and as such I have to limit some space on this site. I have better stuff to devote this space to that can enhance the guitarist in much simpler and more effective ways than this piece of equipment. So now you know....
I hope you like the review, which is singular, but fair in its approach and maybe you agree or disagree... but this is my view... Eleven Rack for sale anyone?
Here's a link to the manufacturers site: www.avid.com/us/products/eleven-rack where you techies can get all that techie stuff you love and read all the sales and marketing rubbish until you are as full of it as they may well be!
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