TAFE Queensland invests in Pro Tools Carbon to turbocharge its music production suites.
When TAFE Queensland opened its Coomera-based, purpose-built studio and production facilities back in 2011 it was a huge step forward for audio education in the Gold Coast region.
TAFE is all about industry relevance and connection, and providing meaningful vocational education. This is manifest not only in the course content (headlined by the TAFE’s Bachelor of Contemporary Music) but also in the equipment choices — leaning heavily on studio gear that students will encounter in the ‘real world’, so to speak.
No surprises here: Pro Tools is the DAW of choice with AVID Pro Tools hardware: HD systems in the two larger recording space and, back in 2011, Digi 003 desktop units for the five smaller production rooms.
Some 10 years on, the case for upgrading the Digi 003 hardware was strong and budget became available.
The choice was made to upgrade ProTools Carbon hardware and the difference is like night and day.
Each of the five production suites are identically kitted out. Each control room is based around a ProTools rig running on an Apple iMac. Eight external mic preamp inputs arrive via an outboard unit and ADAT lightpipe, while there are guitar and bass modelling DI devices. A 500-series ‘lunchbox’ with a Lindell Audio-based combo of mic preamps and compression provide an optional flavour that floats between rooms on request.
Attached to the compact control room is an acoustically isolated live room, large enough for a drum kit, piano and couple of additional musicians.
The upgrade to Pro Tools Carbon has significantly enhanced the capabilities of the setup.
“The Digi 003s were great for a long period of time,” recalls Senior Lecturer Brad Hosking. “But being an educational space they have been worked hard and showing signs of age.
“The obvious upgrade choice for us was Pro Tools Carbon. Our courses aren’t necessarily software specific, but we tend to always come back to Pro Tools as our key learning platform, partly because it’s an industry standard and partly because most of our staff rely on Pro Tools in their professional lives outside of TAFE. Carbon’s Pro Tools integration is deep, while the extra DSP offers us super low latency tracking through Pro Tools plugins, all at a price point that’s quite attractive, especially when you’ve got to upgrade five studios simultaneously.”
The first thing Brad Hosking and his colleagues noticed about the refreshed Carbon-based studios, was the sound.
“The sound of the preamps and the conversion is excellent, certainly a huge step up from our old Digi 003. The clarity and the detail is exceptional.”
Additionally, having the Carbon’s eight high-performance preamps was an immediate boost for the production suites, all available and accessible via the well-endowed patchbay.
Carbon’s four onboard headphone outputs has also been a huge advantage, not only can students use the onboard headphone amps for tracking in the control room, there are enough independent mixes to take care of the musicians. “Carbon allows us to provide tailored mixes to each of the four headphone outputs. We’ve routed Outputs 3 & 4 to the live room for high quality cue mixes to the musicians — much better than the low-cost multi-output headphone amps we previously had in the live room.”
LOW LATENCY TRACKING
Carbon makes good on the low latency promise of tracking through any of the professional DSP plugins bundled with Pro Tools. By clicking on a channel’s DSP Mode button in Pro Tools, the audio processing load is lifted from the host computer and carried by Carbon. The extra dedicated processing power allows the students to apply high-quality effects and processing while tracking. These plugins will be instantly familiar to students with Pro Tools at home, while the school doesn’t need to lean on expensive or esoteric outboard for professional results. “There’s no question the low-latency monitoring results in improved performances,” asserts Brad Hosking.
EASE OF USE
Ease of use is always a big consideration in an educational setting.
Few things frustrate students more than getting ‘stuck’ and not being able to progress because of a technical hitch they’ve encountered. A lot of students’ practical work is self directed and can go late into the night. So it helps if the equipment is straight forward enough for the students to troubleshoot most problems themselves.
“Carbon’s interface doesn’t require much explanation,” according to Brad Hosking. “It’s easy to change channels and switch between inputs and outputs. It’s a pro piece of kit but it feels like it has students or novices in mind when it comes to ease of use.”
The AVID Control iOS app allows the students to be even more independent. With the app on their tablet or iPhone they can easily manipulate the transport controls in their Pro Tools session — no need to hit Record and dash to the live room.
The move to Carbon also precipitated a switch to Apple Macs as the Pro Tools host for the production suites. TAFE Queensland lecturer, Eric Coelho, took care of the installation and experienced smooth sailing: “almost plug ’n’ play, really”.
The extra ethernet port on the back of Carbon also provided Brad Hosking and the TAFE with the confidence that their investment is safe. “There’s that promise that we can expand our Carbon setup or easily redeploy down the track if necessary. Our Digi 003s lasted 10 years and there’s every expectation the Carbons will remain at the heart of our production studios for at least that long.”
TAFE Queensland: https://tafeqld.edu.au/courses/18892/bachelor-of-contemporary-music