Avid Eleven Rack by ksound
All-in-One Guitarist's Solution
The Eleven Rack from Avid is pretty well-known now as a fully equipped audio interface for Mac and PC with guitar-centric features plus enough other features to allow the capture of most other instruments in a typical band setup.
- 8 simultaneous inputs
- 6 simultaneous outputs
- 16 amplifier models (29 with the expansion pack, including 2 bass amps)
- Several cabinet emulations
- Guitar effects: Distortion, compression, graphic EQ, modulation, delay and spring reverb.
- Studio Effects: Reverb, parametric EQ, compressor, modulation (all but reverb are with expansion pack only)
- Comprehensive routing options for re-amping, live and studio application
- FX loop (mono or stereo)
- Microphone preamp with 48v phantom power and 20dB pad
- 2 digital inputs (S/Pdif and AES/EBU)
- 2 line inputs
- 2 configurable outputs to external amplifiers
- True-Z variable impedance instrument input
- Headphone output
The Eleven Rack is very easy to use, which comes as good news for me as a guitarist. To me, having to do much tweaking, configuring and programming is simply not rock 'n' roll and I like to preserve a sense of Rock 'n' Roll as often as possible!
It is very much like using a real amp. Switch it on, wait for it to boot up (a bit like waiting for the tubes to warm up in a real amp) and start turning the knobs. The 6 front-panel knobs control whatever you have set as the default display view. One of which is the general controls of the amp model. In this mode, the knobs act just like the volume and tone controls on a traditional amp. As a standalone guitar amp it very much presents itself in the way you would expect from a guitar amp. Instantly familiar.
The biggest problem with amp modellers is how they feel to play. There is certain kind of feedback you get from playing a guitar plugged into a real amp. It's hard to pinpoint, but to me it almost feels like a physical force that connects the two. According to Avid, this is due to impedance activity between the guitar's pickups and whatever they are plugged into.
The True-Z input seems to go a long way to recreating this phenomenon. It's not 100% there compared to a real amp, but it certainly feels more real than any other guitar amp emulation system I have used. It can be used in auto mode, which changes the value depending on which effect you have activated of the units stomp-box models, to match what the change in impedance would be if you were using the actual pedal that the model is based on. Personally though I find the setting too bright for my taste and keep the True-Z set manually at it's lowest impedance setting, which seems to roll off the top-end and reduce the gain slightly. To me this sounds more vintage, which is what I'm after. I'm into traditional guitar tones rather than modern ones.
Live Routing Options
The unit has two outputs labelled as "Output to Amp". These can be used to feed a signal to an external amplifier each and can be individually tapped off of a different position in the Eleven Rack's signal path. For example you can have your main rig outputs (full emulation of everything) coming out of you main outs and going to the front of house, whilst having another output that comes after your stomp box models, but before your amp model going to your Fender Twin on stage and another output feeding your full rig signal to a full range monitor system on stage. I have used a similar type of routing setup in the studio when I wanted to record some feedback from a real amp, whilst at the same time recording the modelled sound and the DI sound to separate tracks. I wasn't using the Eleven Rack as the interface though, simply going into the interface at the studio I was recording at.
I personally use Protools, which makes the Eleven Rack even more of a breeze to use and more satisfying because of the integration of the hardware and software features. The drop down menus in the GUI within Protools make configuration changes very quick without any menu scrolling and the routing in and out of Protools and the unit via the USB cable are really handy.
Reamping has never been so easy. The fact that the DI signal's recorded level is calibrated and fixed means that you have no input trim going into the eleven rack at the instrument input and as such, leaves your recorded DI at the exact level it would be at the input of your amp. Therefore, no level adjustment is necessary to get your re-amping level right. Re-amping through one of the amp models is all done effectively within Protools because although the signal is going out to the Eleven Rack itself, it is not leaving the digital domain. I love the re-amping feature and use it all the time. I tend to clean up the DI guitar before re-amping, so I can eliminate any hum or other noise that may become more obtrusive once amplified through the amp model. The result is wonderful. This alone has transformed my recorded guitar tones.
Before I got the Eleven Rack I was a little apprehensive and skeptical. The audio samples on the Avid website were OK, but nothing that blew me away. I was however in need of an audio interface and, at the time, wanting Protools LE I didn't much fancy an Mbox2 or a DIGI003. The Eleven Rack was my choice under duress as it were. (This was before Protools 9 was out and universal interface compatibility).
Being a guitarist and an engineer who provides (amongst other things) re-amping services I became interested in the Eleven Rack. I decided that the quality of the amp emulations wasn't really important to me because if they were not very good they would at least be a way to conveniently capture a guitar DI and easily reamp through a real speaker and mic, which I was fully expecting to have to do by the way. I was very much of the belief that it would no-where-near compete with a real amp for recording.
I have been very surprised and pleased with the reality of this unit. The sounds have impressed me so much and the results I have got are so good to me that I have not recorded my real amps for over a year now and my clients that have benefited from the guitar tones I have provided them with the Eleven Rack have been blown away by the results. I like to have happy clients!
The FX sound very authentic too. For example the BBD delay is modelled so well that the input gain, when cranked, sounds just like it does when you do the same on the analog hardware version. Avid seem to have modelled the entire stomp box, not just the effect. My favourite models are the Tweed Bass, Lux Vibrato, Plexi and J45 (expansion pack only). The Blue Line bass amp is very good too.
The studio compressor is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it can come in handy. In similar style to the forthcoming UA Apollo, you can record a microphone through the studio effects (say the compressor and para EQ) on the way in and print the effects, but the compressor, whilst useable is limited in its use for me due to the lack of metering. You can only guess at how much gain reduction is taking place. I don't use it all that much.
All in all, for the guitar sounds. There is not much to complain about. I really do love the sounds this box creates. Unless you have a very, very nice sounding room and front end, coupled with a few choice classic amplifiers, you will probably be totally satisfied with the guitar tones coming out of the Eleven Rack.
Sound Quality as an Audio Interface
The sounds of the amp models are very good, but lets not pretend that as an audio interface the Eleven Rack is not exactly high-end! It's A/D and D/A conversion is adequate, but far from amazing. I have been using the S/Pdif ins and outs to take advantage of the conversion of my Apogee Mini DAC and Mini-Me when mixing and/or recording with microphones, but I always use the built in A/D of the Eleven Rack for the guitar because I like the True-Z input and I am totally happy with the resulting sound.
The Apogee conversion on both sides is noticeably better, but not enough for me to keep the Apogee units. I actually want to get a UA Apollo, so I am selling the Apogee Mini boxes to raise funds! Since taking them out of the chain I have been getting used to the sound without them and to be honest, there is less difference than I originally thought. The built in mic preamp is surprisingly quiet, seeing as it is a generic, standard IC type preamp and I find it sounds quite good if you don't run it too hard. It helps that I have a fairly high output microphone. (Blue Baby Bottle).
The headphone amplifier is pretty low quality however and does distort quite easily. This is my least favourite part of the unit.
The unit seems to be well put together, but I am still skeptical as to how well it will withstand live use. I am soon going to be using it live for the first time and I have a flight case for that purpose, but I can't help thinking that it would be better to have one for studio that never moves and one for stage use. It just doesn't seem to be built for the rigors of the road!
The knobs, switches and connectors however all seem very sturdy and smooth. Nothing wobbles about or feels like it's going to break off. As far as studio gear goes it's very well built. I've had this unit nearly 2 years and it still feels new to me. That's as much to do with the fact that the novelty of using it still satisfies me no end.
A very versatile and high-performing box of tricks. There are all the traditional guitar sounds you will likely ever need and plenty of modern, high gain sounds too. Whether they will suit 7 or 8 sting guitarists tastes is another matter entirely.
Very nice integration with Protools, providing an all-in-one box solution for project studios and guitar-toting songwriters and composers. The price is very affordable and they are readily available, making the Eleven Rack one of the most attractive options for guitarists and recording enthusiasts looking for great performing toolbox to add to their enjoyment of making music.
The Eleven Rack is not perfect and there is still nothing like plugging into a real amp, especially live. However it's priced very competitively and delivers a huge bang for the buck in my opinion. It also has helped me impress clients and boost the reputation of my business since it's introduction to my studio. Not to mention inspired me to write loads of songs using it.