Digidesign: Eleven Rack

Reading time:

In May, 2008 gp looked at new amp modeling software from Avid‘s Digidesign brand with the Spinal Tap referencing name “Eleven.” We were suitably impressed: “Every model has a large helping of the sonic depth and complexity found in a high-quality amp,” and “Eleven has the least latency of any modeling software I have tested,” were just some of the raves from yours truly.

Yet Digidesign was not done; they have come up with an audio interface that removes any remaining latency, as well as offering those glorious amp tones to the live performer in a two-space hardware interface called Eleven Rack, which, with its solid, striking coppery orange and black housing, appears simultaneously business-like and fashionable. Each unit comes with a full version of Pro Tools LE 8.0.1; this is essential as this software version–available to all Pro Tools 8 users–allows access to the full menu of recording features in Eleven Rack. With its wealth of I/Os and its phantom powered XLR mic input, Eleven rack is a fully functional DAW interface, but more about this after we jump into the live aspect of this device.

Jacking into the Guitar Input and plugging a set of headphones into the Phones output, I powered up and was immediately impressed by the glowing amber pointer lights on the six hefty Control knobs. The large, easy to read LCD screen showed a page containing instant access to the current amplifier settings (you can choose various patch or “rig” display views as the default–a rig contains amps, effects, speakers, etc).

Pushing the Edit/Back switch enters the rig chain page. There, the Scroll knob to the screen’s right allowed me to choose which element in the chain to edit (effects, amps, cab, etc.). Once chosen, the SW1 switch accessed the control section for that element. The amber knob lights change to green when effects are chosen for editing. Whether editing amp or effect related parameters, the lights switch to red when the parameter is moved away from the preset default, changing back to amber or green when returned to the original setting.

Finished gaping at the light show, I put on the headphones and began checking out the presets. I was taken aback that the sounds were not as I remembered from the software review; they rather tended toward trebly–becoming fizzy and raspy when distorted. I was sure that it was not my headphones (Sony Professionals) but having experienced less than stellar headphone outs on other pieces of exceptional gear, I moved along to plugging Eleven Rack into an amp–in this case, an Orange Tiny Terror.

The rack offers two brilliantly placed amplifier outputs: one on the front panel for easy access to any amplifier input, and one on the back for easy access to an amp’s effects return in case you want to bypass the amp’s preamp section. This second output can also be used for employing two amps in stereo.

Eleven Rack has a wealth of output routing (see specs), so setting up the amp version required holding down the Edit/Back button and choosing the Output 1 option. I also chose the “Rig Out No Cab” option to remove the speaker cabinet and miking emulations. I kept the amplifiers and effects in line, though you can also switch off the amps and just use the effects. Let me say right here that all this scrolling, switching, paging and controlling is incredibly intuitive–I barely had to crack the manual. On the rare instances I needed help I found the documentation easy to understand.

Keeping the Tiny Terror set clean, I started checking out the effects and amp sims. Aha!–this is the Eleven sound I remember–rich, complex, and deep, with no raspiness or digital fizz. The character of each amp managed to come through despite the coloration of the Orange head. At no time did I feel like I was playing through emulations. Volume and pick attack felt like the real deal thanks to the True-Z guitar input, which automatically changes the input impedance to match whichever amp or effect is first in the chain. This is not a simulation but, rather, an actual analog switching of the impedance to match whichever vintage amp or effect your guitar is plugged into. You can also manually control the impedance of the True-Z input and set it to a value that suits your particular playing style.

Running into the effects return of an Egnater Rebel 30 head sounded even better, but made me long for global control over Eleven’s amp outputs (there is one for the XLR Main monitor outputs). Digidesign states that the wildly varying outputs of different amps reflect their actual volume, but in the absence of this global master, some leveling of presets would have been welcome for auditioning purposes. (Digidesign is considering this among several other control enhancements for future firmware updates).

The original Eleven software didn’t include any effects. The array added here all sound very good, but is restricted to the basics–no Whammy pedals or ring modulators. If you miss your Moogerfooger, you can just load it into the effects loop and place it anywhere you like in the chain. I plugged in an Electro-Harmonix POG 2 and it sounded right at home. Of course when used in recording there is a wide array of Pro Tools effects plug-ins available.

A series of buttons on the face avails instant access to distortion, modulation, reverb parameters and the best delay pedal. The FX1 and 2 buttons go directly to the parameters of the effects chosen for those chain slots. You can repeat only the modulation effects in the FX1 and 2 slots, and/or add compressor and graphic EQ effects. You can therefore load your chain with two flangers or two choruses, but are only allowed one type of distortion pedal at a time–no running one 808 sim into another, or into a fuzz.

An expression pedal input allows control of either of the two wah models, the volume pedal within a particular rig, or the overall rig volume. It can also be set to change up to four effect parameters at once. I had fun shortening the length of the Tape Delay while increasing the feedback for some cool runaway repeat effects.

So far our Eleven Rack is a terrific sounding and feeling multi-effects processor/modeler, but where this Digidesign product comes into its own is in recording. It is recognized as a USB 2.0 audio interface by most DAWs, but as of this writing, to use all of its recording features you need the included Pro Tools LE. (Most features will work in Pro-Tools HD and M-Powered but not USB audio).

One of these features is the Eleven Rack control menu, which allows easy access to rigs, drag and drop arranging of effects, etc. The hardware is so simple to navigate you probably won’t miss the computer control function if you don’t use Pro Tools, but a feature you might miss is the way Eleven Rack can embed all the patch parameters in an audio track. This allows effortless recall of the exact sound used in tracking for punch ins performed hours, days, or months later. Cool! Also, only in LE will Eleven Rack’s reamping capabilities allow you to send a recorded mono dry guitar signal out of your computer through USB, for modification by the rack’s modeling effects and then back in to another stereo track, or out through the Eleven’s amp outputs to actual amps, miked in the studio.

Eleven Rack set up without problems and performed flawlessly to specs in all regards, whether live, or as a versatile recording interface with Ableton Live, or into Pro Tools LE. It sounded amazing through real amps or monitored through the unit’s Mains outputs while recording beautiful tones into a DAW.

Regardless of which recording software you use, by powering complex algorithms with its own DSP and allowing direct monitoring off of the hardware, Eleven Rack solves two of the major problems of software amp modeling–CPU usage, and latency. In doing so, Eleven Rack offers more than a wealth of great sounds, it makes modeling easier to use and more inspiring to play than ever.

One thought Digidesign: Eleven Rack

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *