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:  
  • Holograms is a versatile and comprehensive collection of hologram sound effects. It’s separated into modular categories, giving you maximum flexibility in designing holograms and holographic interactions of all shapes and sizes. Categories include small/medium/large hologram activations and drones, positive/negative/neutral ui beeps, interference, radio transmissions, alarms, and telemetry. The energy drone/activation source is also great for force fields, shields, and all manner of sci-fi energy textures.

    – 391 files
    – 948 total sounds
    – 96 kHz / 24 bit
    – modular categories to mix and match

  • Recording of a Swedish Strv 121 tank


    The Swedish 1989 Stridsvagn 121 (Strv 121) sound library provides 371 clips in 25.56 gigabytes of audio. Based off of the German Leopard 2A4, this tank showcases the sound of a 47.6 liter, V12 cylinder, diesel turbo engine.

    11 synchronized takes share a total of 29 onboard and exterior perspectives. The 20 onboard perspectives include recordings from the interior, exhaust, tracks, 3rd-person perspective, and engine with ramps and steady RPMs. The 9 exterior perspectives include slow, medium, and fast driving while the battle tank passes by, reverses, departs, and arrives. There are also shut downs, revving, idles, start ups and others. The package also provides bonus four-channel Ambisonic AMBEO recordings of the interior cabin, performed effects of steering wheel movements, mock driving performances, throttle moves and other sounds, and impulse response recordings from inside the vehicle.

    The sound library also shares complete embedded metadata support, 5 custom mixes of the onboard perspectives, metadata import files for keywords in seven languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, and easy-to-use mixing sessions.

  • Low-price. High-quality. Essential.

    A collection of 50 essential firework sound effects, including launches, crackles, whistles, close, distant and multi displays!

    The sounds are fully compatible with the Universal Category System (UCS) – a public domain initiative establishing a standardized category list for the classification of sound effects.

    Note: All of these sounds (and more!) are included in the 96 General Library.

  • [ATTENTION: This preview only simulates gameplay to demo a portion of the library’s content.]

    Plunge your players into the worlds of ancient Greece with ultra immersive mythology-themed sound effects and high quality win tunes for your slot game! With 310 top quality audio assets (155 original sounds), each one is handcrafted and optimized to be the perfect addition to your slot game, offering a massive value to players of any Greek Gods/Ancient Greece themed casino game!

    DOWNLOAD NOW and captivate your players from the first spin!

     

    ALL SLOT GAME SOUNDS INCLUDED

    Any sound needed for an immersive and engaging slot gameplay is included, so transform your project with this staggering collection of meticulously designed sounds! Whether you need any User Interface SFX – BUTTON SOUNDS, BET HIGH and BET LOW sounds, MINIMUM and MAXIMUM selection sounds, NOTIFICATIONS, TRIGGERS, REVEALS, REEL SPIN STARTS, REEL SPIN LOOPS, HUMS and WHOOSHES, simple and special ANTICIPATION REEL STOP sounds – or ZEUS, HERA, MEDUSA, POSEIDON and various Creatures Voice Overs and Sound Effects, Multi-Level WIN PAYOUT TUNES with and without COUNTER ROLLUPS, COIN SOUNDS, SYMBOL SOUNDS, anticipation-building WIND UPS, as well as BASE GAME (multi-level layered or full mix) MUSIC LOOPS, FREE GAMES/FEATURE MUSIC LOOPS, Sounds and Music for SUMMARIES and TRANSITIONS, they’re all here, offering you the perfect sound always within reach!


    GRAB ATTENTION, BUILD CONNECTION

    Whether your slot game is land-based or online, each asset has been painstakingly optimized to cut through the background chatter and immerse your players deep within any ancient Greece adventure like never before! Keep your players coming back for more with inviting sounds and catchy music that will grab their attention, reward play, and build long-lasting connection!


    INCREDIBLE EASE-OF-USE, INSTANT RESULTS

    Enrich your title in seconds with beautifully mixed, AAA quality sounds brought to you by our team of industry veterans, whose 1000 slot games worth of experience have culminated in this extraordinary sound pack! Each audio file is drag-and-drop ready, presented in high-quality MP3 and WAV formats with meticulously labeled keywords, so you can create the perfect gaming experience for your players in a matter of moments!

    For your convenience, we have included each asset in High-Quality WAV (44.1 kHz, 16 Bit) and MP3 (320 Kbps) formats.


    DOWNLOAD NOW and reward your players with this jackpot of music and sound effects that provides your game with any audio you could ever need!

     

    ANCIENT GREECE GODS SLOTS at a Glance:

    • 310 Audio Files (155 original sounds) – all in High Quality WAV and MP3 formats

    • Symbol Sounds, Buttons and other Interface Sounds, Reel Spin and Stops, Trigger Sounds, Selection and Reveal Sounds, and more!

    • Music Loops, Multiple Layering, Numerous Variations and Edits, Multiple Level Win Tunes, Payouts and other Celebration Tunes + much more!

    • Gods and Mythological Creatures Voice Overs and Sound Effects – Medusa, Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Monster Roars and Screams, and more

    • Ready to use – requires no editing, labeling or splicing. Categorized, organized and individually labeled files for maximum use efficiency

     

    DON’T DELAY any longer, you are only a step away from bringing your game to life. Take action and DOWNLOAD NOW!

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1623880799
  • There’s always room for more Footsteps in your sound collection and this library offers you up 170+ recordings of male and female steps, skids, stops and jumps using a variety of footwear on several surfaces from dry treated Foley stages and natural environments such as household bathrooms and kitchens with room reverb.

    Footwear includes boots, sneakers, stilettos, platforms and slippers on carpets, concrete, tile wood and snow.

    We also included multiple isolated parquet flooring creaks to round off this extensive collection of fancy footwork.


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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  • Cinematic & Trailer Cinematic Feel Play Track 700+ sounds included, 59 mins total $59 $45

    Cinematic Feel is a plus to have for your cinematic productions and to add loudness to your mix. A package of Bass Drop, Boom, Bram, Downshifter, Drone, Riser, Rumble, Stinger, Whoosh and more. Dark, Light, Electronic and Natural feel.

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  • Weapons of World War II is Super Thumps first of many sound libraries recorded and designed by film and video game industry veterans!
     
    This library features 14 different weapons, some of them quite rare, that were commonly used in World War II between German and American forces. The weapons were recorded at various distances, perspectives, and firing modes with a wide array of microphones. They have been compiled together and designed with a punch at 96,000 Hz, 24-bit, ready for you to easily drop into your project! Each weapon contains multiple variations and versions.
     


    Weapons included:

    M1919 Browning Machine Gun – Single Shots, Burst, Full Auto
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    M3 Grease Gun Submachine Gun – Single Shots, Burst, Full Auto
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  • Instruments Swell Play Track 500+ sounds included From: $18

    Swell is a performable Kontakt instrument and sound effects library designed to create natural sounding cymbal swells with a variety of different cymbals and performances. Cymbals include gongs, orchestral suspended cymbals, crashes, chinas, sizzle ride, and others.

    Swell is divided into 2 parts: natural and designed.

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    The designed collection uses samples based on the natural recordings that have been transformed into entirely new and different sounds using heavy processing and layering. It was created to produce interesting design and transition sounds quickly and easily. Swell includes over 200 fully designed rises.

    In addition to the carefully recorded sounds we have created a truly useful and flexible Kontakt instrument. This instrument ties the mod wheel to an entire matrix of effect parameters that you can manipulate in real time for instant complexity.

    Swell is available in two versions

    Key features for the Swell Lite Collection

    • 70 unique recordings
    • full res total coverage of the Zildjian A Custom 18″ cymbal
    • fully functional kontakt instrument for the Zildjian A Custom 18″ cymbal
    • 25 designed cymbal swells with Kontakt instrument
    • option to upgrade to the full collection at any time for the difference in price
    • .nki files require full version of NI Kontakt 5.3 or higher

     
    Key features for the Swell Full Collection

    • 500+ unique recordings
    • The entire “Natural” collection
    • The entire “Designed” collection
    • 6.5 GB total
    • 12 Kontakt fully programmed unlocked .nki files
    • .nki files require full version of NI Kontakt 5.4.3 or higher

    Note: Can be used without Kontakt too!
    All Kontakt instrument libraries include fully unlocked and accessible metadata tagged .wav files. You don't need any version of Kontakt to use these files as a standalone sample library.
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Holograms is a versatile and comprehensive collection of hologram sound effects. It’s separated into modular categories, giving you maximum flexibility in designing holograms and holographic interactions of all shapes and sizes. Categories include small/medium/large hologram activations and drones, positive/negative/neutral ui beeps, interference, radio transmissions, alarms, and telemetry. The energy drone/activation source is also great for force fields, shields, and all manner of sci-fi energy textures.

    – 391 files
    – 948 total sounds
    – 96 kHz / 24 bit
    – modular categories to mix and match

  • Recording of a Swedish Strv 121 tank


    The Swedish 1989 Stridsvagn 121 (Strv 121) sound library provides 371 clips in 25.56 gigabytes of audio. Based off of the German Leopard 2A4, this tank showcases the sound of a 47.6 liter, V12 cylinder, diesel turbo engine.

    11 synchronized takes share a total of 29 onboard and exterior perspectives. The 20 onboard perspectives include recordings from the interior, exhaust, tracks, 3rd-person perspective, and engine with ramps and steady RPMs. The 9 exterior perspectives include slow, medium, and fast driving while the battle tank passes by, reverses, departs, and arrives. There are also shut downs, revving, idles, start ups and others. The package also provides bonus four-channel Ambisonic AMBEO recordings of the interior cabin, performed effects of steering wheel movements, mock driving performances, throttle moves and other sounds, and impulse response recordings from inside the vehicle.

    The sound library also shares complete embedded metadata support, 5 custom mixes of the onboard perspectives, metadata import files for keywords in seven languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, and easy-to-use mixing sessions.

  • Low-price. High-quality. Essential.

    A collection of 50 essential firework sound effects, including launches, crackles, whistles, close, distant and multi displays!

    The sounds are fully compatible with the Universal Category System (UCS) – a public domain initiative establishing a standardized category list for the classification of sound effects.

    Note: All of these sounds (and more!) are included in the 96 General Library.

  • [ATTENTION: This preview only simulates gameplay to demo a portion of the library’s content.]

    Plunge your players into the worlds of ancient Greece with ultra immersive mythology-themed sound effects and high quality win tunes for your slot game! With 310 top quality audio assets (155 original sounds), each one is handcrafted and optimized to be the perfect addition to your slot game, offering a massive value to players of any Greek Gods/Ancient Greece themed casino game!

    DOWNLOAD NOW and captivate your players from the first spin!

     

    ALL SLOT GAME SOUNDS INCLUDED

    Any sound needed for an immersive and engaging slot gameplay is included, so transform your project with this staggering collection of meticulously designed sounds! Whether you need any User Interface SFX – BUTTON SOUNDS, BET HIGH and BET LOW sounds, MINIMUM and MAXIMUM selection sounds, NOTIFICATIONS, TRIGGERS, REVEALS, REEL SPIN STARTS, REEL SPIN LOOPS, HUMS and WHOOSHES, simple and special ANTICIPATION REEL STOP sounds – or ZEUS, HERA, MEDUSA, POSEIDON and various Creatures Voice Overs and Sound Effects, Multi-Level WIN PAYOUT TUNES with and without COUNTER ROLLUPS, COIN SOUNDS, SYMBOL SOUNDS, anticipation-building WIND UPS, as well as BASE GAME (multi-level layered or full mix) MUSIC LOOPS, FREE GAMES/FEATURE MUSIC LOOPS, Sounds and Music for SUMMARIES and TRANSITIONS, they’re all here, offering you the perfect sound always within reach!


    GRAB ATTENTION, BUILD CONNECTION

    Whether your slot game is land-based or online, each asset has been painstakingly optimized to cut through the background chatter and immerse your players deep within any ancient Greece adventure like never before! Keep your players coming back for more with inviting sounds and catchy music that will grab their attention, reward play, and build long-lasting connection!


    INCREDIBLE EASE-OF-USE, INSTANT RESULTS

    Enrich your title in seconds with beautifully mixed, AAA quality sounds brought to you by our team of industry veterans, whose 1000 slot games worth of experience have culminated in this extraordinary sound pack! Each audio file is drag-and-drop ready, presented in high-quality MP3 and WAV formats with meticulously labeled keywords, so you can create the perfect gaming experience for your players in a matter of moments!

    For your convenience, we have included each asset in High-Quality WAV (44.1 kHz, 16 Bit) and MP3 (320 Kbps) formats.


    DOWNLOAD NOW and reward your players with this jackpot of music and sound effects that provides your game with any audio you could ever need!

     

    ANCIENT GREECE GODS SLOTS at a Glance:

    • 310 Audio Files (155 original sounds) – all in High Quality WAV and MP3 formats

    • Symbol Sounds, Buttons and other Interface Sounds, Reel Spin and Stops, Trigger Sounds, Selection and Reveal Sounds, and more!

    • Music Loops, Multiple Layering, Numerous Variations and Edits, Multiple Level Win Tunes, Payouts and other Celebration Tunes + much more!

    • Gods and Mythological Creatures Voice Overs and Sound Effects – Medusa, Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Monster Roars and Screams, and more

    • Ready to use – requires no editing, labeling or splicing. Categorized, organized and individually labeled files for maximum use efficiency

     

    DON’T DELAY any longer, you are only a step away from bringing your game to life. Take action and DOWNLOAD NOW!

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1623880799
  • There’s always room for more Footsteps in your sound collection and this library offers you up 170+ recordings of male and female steps, skids, stops and jumps using a variety of footwear on several surfaces from dry treated Foley stages and natural environments such as household bathrooms and kitchens with room reverb.

    Footwear includes boots, sneakers, stilettos, platforms and slippers on carpets, concrete, tile wood and snow.

    We also included multiple isolated parquet flooring creaks to round off this extensive collection of fancy footwork.

 
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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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