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Eleven Rack: The future of DAW Plugins?

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Digidesign recently released their new 899$ Eleven Rack hardware product. Eleven Rack provides DSP acceleration of the Eleven guitar amp simulation plugin for ProTools LE and ProTools HD. In a way, it’s a replacement for the Line6’s Pod Xt Pro or Fractal Audio’s AxeFX rack units, but with tighter ProTools integration. Digidesign is following the footsteps of Native Instruments and TC Electronics by releasing hardware racked versions of DSP-hungry plugins.

Market Pressures

It’s no secret that lower prices and powerful multi-core native solutions are threatening the premium 10,000$+ ProToolsHD hardware solutions. By releasing dedicated boxes, Digidesign gets to accommodate low-end ProTools LE users while preserving the high-end ProTools HD market. The boxes are mass-produced in China, so they are just a cheap yet sophisticated dongle for the software. Very much like an iPhone. Genius!

I fully expect to see dedicated rack units for synths, bass & drum plugins. Guitars are first because there’s already a thriving market for such dedicated units. Being able to play live with the same box running the same program used for recording is a definite plus. Amp simulators have started to go beyond trying to emulate real amps and have started to produce sounds of theirown. The Fractal Audio AxeFX is the leading example of such approach.

Automatic Documentation

One feature that got me excited is that Eleven Rack can now save the plugin parameters in the metadata of an audio track (WAV & MP3 files can contain text tags). This means that plugin parameters can be recalled on a region-by-region basis. This form of automatic documentation of rack gear setting is something I’ve been wanting for years. The following video shows you how this is done:

Bye-bye Piracy

A rack version also helps in fighting rampant software piracy, which has affected many plugin authors. Apple are not affected by this since their core business is selling Mac hardware. The more users the better. Therefore, they can afford to reduce prices for Logic and remove complicated software protection schemes such as dongles. Software-only vendors are not as fortunate.

Physical hardware is here to stay. Get used to it.

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