Asbjoern Andersen


With Pro Tools being as ubiquitous as it is, it’s a useful addition to pretty much any studio setup. Building a Pro Tools rig, however, can take a large bite out of anyone’s budget – but it doesn’t really have to be that expensive, as demonstrated in this guide by Jeff Shiffman, co-founder of Boom Box Post and Supervising Sound Editor on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Loud House.

Along with his colleague Kate Finan, the team has built several powerful Pro Tools rigs without spending a fortune. Here’s how they do it:

 

The modern post production professional is inevitably tied to some kind of software. For a sound designer, that software is undoubtedly Pro Tools. There are other options out there but the truth is none have come close to breaking through the stronghold Avid has on the market. I haven’t walked into a single professional sound facility that wasn’t running one iteration or another. And for good reason. Pro Tools makes our job fast and efficient, and for my part is pretty much transparent in the creative process. Sure, each new version comes with glitches and quirks but when you add it up, it’s a stellar piece of software. Affording this software is another story.

When I started in the industry, on top of purchasing a decent computer, having a legit rig meant shelling out insane sums for stacks of HD cards paired with sync and I/O devices. Even then, there were limitations to track count and processing ability. Editors were keenly aware of just how far they could push their gear before things started to go haywire.

These days, things are different. Computers have long since become powerful enough to handle the heavy lifting required for basic editorial and mix and Avid is moving toward a more software based business model. So what makes for the best balance of power and affordability? In starting Boom Box Post, we’ve built a lot of rigs and I think we’ve struck a great balance. Here’s how we go about building Pro Tools systems that are powerful and relatively affordable.

You’re not going to mix the next summer blockbuster feature, but you’ll do just fine with about 95% of the work out there.

A few caveats. This system has more than enough steam to edit and mix a significantly track heavy television series or medium size film. You’re not going to mix the next summer blockbuster feature, but you’ll do just fine with about 95% of the work out there. In the same regard, there are many cheaper ways to get your hands dirty with Pro Tools. If you aren’t in the position to take on this kind of work just yet, maybe jump in with a Mac Mini and standard Pro Tools and bookmark this post for when the need arises.
 

Computer:
The backbone of your rig needs to be reliable. Time tested and rock solid, I like the Mac Pro models from early 2010 (code name Nehalem). You’ll do fine with a Quad-Core 2.8 Ghz and finding a refurbished model on ebay is a snap (search for this model number: MC250LL/A). They seem to get significantly cheaper every month and there’s a glut of them to choose from. These computers sport dual display output (a must) and multiple Firewire 800 (which we still utilize) and USB ports. Adding PCI-E cards, serial drives and RAM is dead simple. Despite being over 5 years old, these are standards that are still widely supported by third party manufacturers making this model the sweet spot where technology meets price point.
 

Memory:
Aim for 24-32GB of RAM. Short of this, try and get one on the cheap with as little RAM as possible and buy a RAM kit to easily upgrade this yourself. I like macsales.com for their efficient website portal and great prices.
 

Storage:
Adding a solid state to a Pro Tools machineI’m loving SSD’s (solid state drives). If you haven’t yet worked on one, you’ll be amazed at how fast they power up and shut down your computer. Restarts are a fact of life and you’ll quickly appreciate the time saved. Plan on grabbing a 240GB SSD to use as your main system drive. On top of all your application needs, this is more than enough storage to cover the inevitable random downloads and other miscellaneous junk that bogs down a system drive. Fill up two more HD spots with dedicated media drives. One drive each for projects and video files; a 2TB and 1TB respectively. This will get me through a handful of series before I need to offload to our backups (which you should be doing regardless). Of course your mileage may vary. Unfortunately they aren’t making SSD’s large (and cheap) enough for these yet so I go with the reliable Western Digital Caviar Black drives.

Pro Tip: You’re not going to find an older model Mac Pro with an SSD system drive. Since you’re going to replace this drive on any rig, should you find a used computer for sale with a large (1TB or above) system drive, take advantage of this by planning to format it as one of your two media drives.

 
Pro Tools Software and Interface:
For track count and surround capabilities, any working sound designer and mixer will probably need to go with Pro Tools HD. That’s the call we’ve made. I like the HD Native systems and with these Mac Pro computers, the PCI-E card is the logical choice. Going with Thunderbolt means jumping in on a much newer (and thus expensive) computer. Since it’s not internally installed, thunderbolt has the advantage of possibly graduating to a newer system down the line, but for my money overall I’m willing to gamble that neither PCI-E or Thunderbolt is a guarantee, so you might as well go with the cheaper complete system option. For an audio interface, we use the OMNI HD I/O.

It’s a simple clean solution with lots of power and options

A simple D-sub cable gets you all the XLR outs you need for surround. As a bonus, you get a really great preamp for recording on the fly as well as some optical ins and outs (which we use to monitor Soundminer through the internal sound card). It’s a simple clean solution with lots of power and options.

Pro Tip: You can find any manner of AVID products online, usually brand new and cheaper than retail. Even better, I’ve found that a lot of these listings are coming from a few sources. Usually online music shops and the like. You’d do well to hit them up directly and ask for a sales quote. Chances are they are trying to meet a certain price point on Ebay to cover fees and would be willing to work directly with you for a cheaper price point. Find yourself a sales rep you like working with and make the connection. Going forward, this relationship can end up being very valuable for both parties as you will inevitably grow your gear along with your career.

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
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    The Library includes:
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    The library is available as 4 individual packs of related sounds (Balloons, Fire, Horns and Toys). So if you are only after balloon sounds, then you can grab only the balloon sounds! Of course, all 4 packs can be picked up together as a heavily discounted bundle!

    Read more about each pack below:

    Note: The sounds in the audio sample have some panning added; the sounds in the library itself are centered.

    Party Pack – BUNDLE (2,000 sounds, 1.98 GB)
    This pack contains all 4 of the individual packs below at a heavily discounted price:

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)

    For a grand total of 2,000 party sounds!

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    This pack brings you 649 balloon-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Air Pump (Manual)
    • Bouncing (Single and Multi)
    • Deflating (Regular, Squeaking, Farting, and Loose)
    • Friction (Hair, Hands, and other Balloons)
    • Inflating (Mouth and Air Pump)
    • Popping
    • Punching Balloons
    • Stretching
    • Tying (Short, Moderate and Long)

    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
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    • Party Poppers
    • Safety Gas Lighter
    • Sparklers (Still, Movement and Water Extinguishing)

    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
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    • Very Long (over 5s)

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    Recorded in 2018 and 2019 with a stereo shotgun microphone.

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Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

Furniture:
Audio desks are fancy and extremely professional looking. They are also very expensive. You can easily double your room budget just by picking out a decent sized piece. Instead, I suggest you go with a desk that speaks to your personality and doesn’t break the bank. As long as it has enough room for a keyboard and perhaps a shelf for a couple of visual monitors, you’ll be good to go.
Using furniture from Ikea for studio building
Ikea has plenty of options, most of which are highly customizable. Picking up stands for your audio monitors will give you the opportunity to pick a much smaller desk and to be very deliberate with their placement. You can find stands like the On Stage SMS6000 that do the trick for a very reasonable price. I prefer fancier looking ones for my front Left and Right (since they are fully visible), but if cost is an issue you can always start with a these in a stereo rig and then graduate them to the rear when you upgrade to 5.1.

A professional audio rig doesn’t have to break the bank. We’ve found that this formula is the best possible solution for where things stand today. That said, the technology and price points are constantly changing. The important thing to note here is to utilize creative thinking not only in your work, but also when purchasing gear for yourself. There are many creative solutions to finding the right fit. All you need is a little time to think it through… and a lot of patience for Ebay.

Disclaimer: Neither the author, nor Boom Box Post, Inc. or A Sound Effect has been paid to endorse any of the aforementioned products.

A big thanks to Jeff Shiffman for the insights on affordable Pro Tools rig building. You’ll find him on Twitter here, and his colleague Kate Finan here – and they have a blog up over at Boom Box Post here.
 

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  • Foley Switch Play Track 124 sounds included $20 $12

    124 recordings of various switches and buttons, flipped, pressed and clicked. This collection contains household light and lamp switches, radio buttons and a variety of other activate and click presses.

    Recorded in 2018 and 2019 with a stereo shotgun microphone.

    All sounds were recorded and edited at 24-bit / 96Khz resolution and mastered to broadcast quality, with only the best final sounds selected for this collection. Each audio file includes embedded meta-data.

    40 %
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    Ends 1561500000
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  • Destruction & Impact Bullet Impacts Play Track 320 sounds included
    Rated 4.00 out of 5
    $35

    Prepare for impact! This EFX Bullet Impact collection features a huge number of impacts into cars, metal, walls, water, body impacts, as well as passbys, ricochets and underwater passbys.

    A must-have for for actual bullet and combat sounds – and for adding oomph to many other types of impact sounds too!

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  • Household Cooking Play Track 500+ sounds included $32

    A collection of hunger-inducing sounds of cooking: Includes sounds of frying, boiling, pouring, stirring, whisking and many more sounds from the kitchen.

    Just updated:
    New cooking sound effects have been added to the library, bringing the total number of sound files to 478, for more than 500 sounds!
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Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Fire Medieval Play Track 605 sounds included $59

    The Dark Ages are calling! With this curated package full of high-quality sound effects everything in your medieval world is brought to life. From objects like doors, chests and fire over foley sounds like steps, chains and gore to weapons such as the crossbow, sword, hammer and axe. This compilation provides a solid foundation of „ready to use“ sound effects to give your project an authentic medieval feeling.

     

    The Library includes:
    Horse, Textile, Impact, Whoosh, Armor, Chain, Gore, Step, Chest, Door, Drawbridge, Fire, Gate, Mechanical, Flag, Portcullis, Carriage, Axe, Blade, Bow, Catapult, Crossbow, Hammer, Knife, Quarterstaff, Sickle, Sword

  • Vehicles Classic Vehicles Play Track 40+ sounds included $20 $15

    Classic vehicles is a jam packed high-quality classic vehicle sound library filled with fantastic engine starts, engine revs, engine idles, door opening/closing, kick starts and much much more! Recorded at 24 bit/192 kHz you'll be able to pitch/bend these sounds to your hearts desire to create some truly monstrous sounds! The vehicles in this library are: a custom 1930 Ford Model A with a V8 flathead engine & a 1967 Triumph Bonneville. Let this pack be a small but powerful addition to your sound FX library.

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1562018400
  • Designed in Imperial Russia, spread around the world, this is the rifle of Zaitsev and millions of other Soviets and non-Soviets alike, sounding off through the bloodier moments of the 20th century, and sometimes this century too.

    Shooting was recorded at the outdoor range, with additional handling foley taken at the studio. The all-angle library includes the recording of distant shots on Sennheiser Ambeo, and on Neumann U87s in quadro formation. Our mic-ing and capturing process has been intricate enough to give you all the sound versatility you'll need for use in a fully dynamic project, and also for the ability for these sounds to pass for not just authentic Mosin fire, but also for a generic bolt-action internal magazine-fed 'old rifle' sound.

    Also included are several pre-designed mixed sounds for quick-use without additional mixing needed. Our comprehensive library of this WW1, WW2, and freedom fighting classic weapon stands ready to fire!

  • Fabric Party Pack Play Track 210 - 2000 sounds included From: $15 From: $13.50

    An extensive collection of party-related sounds, “Party Pack” brings you 96kHz/24-bit stereo recordings of balloons, party horns, matches, sparklers, party poppers, confetti, various toys and more!

    The library is available as 4 individual packs of related sounds (Balloons, Fire, Horns and Toys). So if you are only after balloon sounds, then you can grab only the balloon sounds! Of course, all 4 packs can be picked up together as a heavily discounted bundle!

    Read more about each pack below:

    Note: The sounds in the audio sample have some panning added; the sounds in the library itself are centered.

    Party Pack – BUNDLE (2,000 sounds, 1.98 GB)
    This pack contains all 4 of the individual packs below at a heavily discounted price:

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)

    For a grand total of 2,000 party sounds!

    Party Pack – BALLOONS (649 sounds, 716 MB)
    This pack brings you 649 balloon-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Air Pump (Manual)
    • Bouncing (Single and Multi)
    • Deflating (Regular, Squeaking, Farting, and Loose)
    • Friction (Hair, Hands, and other Balloons)
    • Inflating (Mouth and Air Pump)
    • Popping
    • Punching Balloons
    • Stretching
    • Tying (Short, Moderate and Long)

    Party Pack – FIRE (210 sounds, 424 MB)
    This pack brings you 210 fire-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Matches
    •• Extinguishing (Blowout, Burnout, Shaking, Water)
    •• Igniting (Close and Distant)
    • Party Poppers
    • Safety Gas Lighter
    • Sparklers (Still, Movement and Water Extinguishing)

    Party Pack – HORNS (662 sounds, 573 MB)
    This pack brings you 662 classic party horn sounds from over 20 different horns, covering numerous durations:

    • Very Short (under 1s)
    • Short (1 – 2s)
    • Moderate (2 – 3s)
    • Long (3 – 5s)
    • Very Long (over 5s)

    Party Pack – TOYS (479 sounds, 323 MB)
    This pack brings you 479 toy-related sounds, including the sounds of:

    • Chattering Teeth
    • Confetti – Plastic (Single and Multi drops, Movement, and Picking Up)
    • Duck Whistle
    • Groan Tubes
    • Hand Clapper
    • Lip Whizzer
    • Oidz Magnet
    • Pig Toy
    • Plastic Whistle
    • Shell Shaker
    • Wooden Train Whistle

    10 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561845600
  • Foley Switch Play Track 124 sounds included $20 $12

    124 recordings of various switches and buttons, flipped, pressed and clicked. This collection contains household light and lamp switches, radio buttons and a variety of other activate and click presses.

    Recorded in 2018 and 2019 with a stereo shotgun microphone.

    All sounds were recorded and edited at 24-bit / 96Khz resolution and mastered to broadcast quality, with only the best final sounds selected for this collection. Each audio file includes embedded meta-data.

    40 %
    OFF
    Ends 1561500000
 
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3 thoughts on “How to build a powerful Pro Tools rig – without breaking the bank:

  1. This is not very good advice… there are FAR better rig configurations that would make this setup look like what it really is… antiquated. Do yourself a favor and do not follow this articles advice.

    • Hi Bryon, thanks for chiming in! Of course you’re right that there are far better rigs than this, but they’re going to cost a lot more too. I know Jeff and the team are mixing 5.1 TV series on setups like these, with a huge track count. So the takeaway here is that a carefully selected, older rig – with some modifications – will get you very far for substantially less than you’d (very easily) spend on a new one.

    • I should be clear here that this post is intended for independent editors and small studios. Any large studio should have the capital to invest in technology that will hold up for many many years. When amortizing the cost of these rigs, I’d be more than happy to get 3 years out of the part that appears antiquated (the Mac Pro). The emphasis here is on the AVID hardware and finding the most affordable way to get it running.

      Any computer configured for Pro Tools is completely subjective. There are hundreds of options here. This is just one man’s take and by no means a one size fits all solution. We found through a lot of trial and error that this setup is simple, upgradeable and just right for our purposes.

      As I write this, I have a 256 voice session printing entirely in the box to 5 sets of 5.1 and 5 sets of LtRt stems, taxing the CPU around 70% while running HD video and plenty of live plug-ins (in addition to a bunch of other apps). That’s the hardest we need to push a rig and I still have plenty of power to spare. The system specs may appear antiquated, but I have in front of me reliability at a reasonable price.

      That said, Bryon is someone I worked with for years and I do not take his comments lightly. Simply put, he is much more of an expert on this topic than I am. I’d be very curious to hear what his solution is for the same power and price point.

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