Gear Talk: Eleven Rack

Have all your favorite amps in one box with the Eleven Rack from Avid Technology!

Digital amplifier modeling has always been a sensitive subject with most guitar players, whether professional or amateur.  Recently, there are a few products that have really done a good job of providing great amplifier models and keeping the guitarist in mind when it comes to use on stage and in the studio.  One of these products is called the Eleven Rack.  The Eleven Rack was created by Avid Technology and is a great tool for guitarists of all skill levels.  It does have a hefty price tag on it, but it’s well worth the money if you play often, in the studio and/or on stage.  I put together a post that reviews the Eleven Rack and includes a couple video presentations as well.  I hope you enjoy it!

Avid Technology shared a walk-through video of the Eleven Rack and all its features.  Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA5aEWzggno&feature=related.

Ultimate Guitar put together a great review of the Eleven Rack that answers some of the questions you may have about the product.  Check it out at http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/reviews/guitar_effects/aviddigidesign/eleven_rack/index.html.

Ease of Use: We live in an age where the do-it-yourself DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), at home or in the studio, has become commonplace and affordable. Musicians in basement and professional studios now have the capability to compose, record and produce sophisticated tracks. However, up until very recently, there has still been some learning curve involved when recording guitar tracks, in particular, as the amp would need to be mic’d, or an amp simulator would need to be run into a mixer or input box, and then the musician had a huge list of DAW software to choose from, and hope that everything played nicely together. A further inconvenience was that whatever signal path and tone was chosen in the studio was not easily reproducible in a live environment.

DigiDesign, now a part of Avid, has the answer with their Eleven Rack. This rack-mounted hardware is an all-in-one amp and FX modeler, as well as a complete interface to the industry-standard Pro Tools software. In addition, a complete Pro Tools LE 8 software package comes bundled right in the box, providing you an end-to-end solution for home recording.

The Eleven Rack is not meant just for recording and performing with guitar, however. A mic input, complete with phantom power switch, provides a vocal input to Pro Tools as well. Further, MIDI inputs and Line inputs allow for any MIDI-enabled instrument (keyboards, synths), or line-level instrument (i.e. electronic drums, acoustic-electric guitar, etc.), to be recorded as individual tracks into Pro Tools as well.

Finally, the Eleven Rack is also designed with live stage-use in mind. A footswitch and expression pedal input allows setup for live channel switching and volume/wah functionality, and similar to other amp modelers, the various guitar tones are setup in banks of 4 (labeled A1-A4, B1-B4, etc.), and displayed on a big, bright screen for easy reading on-stage.

It is important to note that, due to the “swiss-army knife” approach of the Eleven Rack design, that there are only one or two inputs of each type provided. The Eleven Rack certainly could replace several devices in many existing home studios, and would probably be sufficient for most basic recording setups, but you cannot record, say, 8 channels of individual audio from electronic drums, for example, and assign a gain and volume to each one. To do more advanced setups and mixing, moving up to a higher-end dedicated recording interface is recommended. // 9

Sound: Amp modeling is a touchy subject with many guitar players. Many feel, and write or blog about at length, about how there lacks a certain touch sensitivity and feel to modeling, compared to playing through a tube amplifier. The initial plug-in and test of an amp simulation is where most guitar players will immediately embrace or shun any digital technology. Rest assured, the engineers at DigiDesign have made sure that Eleven Rack is among the best-of-the-best when it comes to guitar tones.

It’s important to note that this review was based on the Eleven Rack expansion pack, which brought the Eleven Rack up to the latest-and-greatest firmware and available tones at the time of this writing. In addition, the tones were reviewed with a Paul Reed Smith Modern Eagle Quatro Stoptail guitar, and a MacBook Pro for recording into Pro Tools.

DigiDesign promotes the strength of its “True-Z” guitar input, which adjusts the input sensitivity and gain of the incoming signal to better match the digital technology within the Eleven Rack, and provide a more pure and transparent tone. Does it work? The tones were flat-out incredible. The first preset tone is very much like the oft-desired blue channel on the Bogner Ecstasy 101B amp head. The bass and grind hit the tone right on the money, and was a joy to play. Dialing through various tones modeled on Marshall Plexi’s and JCM800’s, Mesa Dual Rectifiers, and many more mainstays of the rock amp market was a blast to play. Each tone reminds one of a famous song, and inspires you to keep on playing. Further, the cleaner tones were lush, with the Fender-style tones, in particular, very reminiscent of the originals.

The FX are also a joy to play. Various distortions, modulations, delays and more are available at the touch of a button, and plenty of presets are available to teach you how a particular signal chain and tone was put together. Editing is easy via the buttons on the front of the Eleven Rack, and even better, when plugged into Pro Tools the presets can be modified and saved right from the computer. // 10

Reliability & Durability: The Eleven Rack comes housed in a sturdy, rack-mounted housing with built-in rack ears. Screws also come in the box, to mount the unit to any standard rack (the Eleven Rack uses 2U of space).

The connections all feel tight and high-quality, and the knobs and switches on the front and back of the unit are very tough. The power switch looks and feels like the heavy-duty ones used as power switches on many of today’s amps, and clearly this has been built for extended road-use as well as studio-use.

A nice touch is that, like most rack-mounted devices, there is no pesky ‘wall-wart’ for powering up the device. Simply plug the included adapter into any power strip or wall connection. Every part of the Eleven Rack seems to be designed carefully for the needs of the modern home or stage musician. // 10

Impression: While, for the purposes of this review, we didn’t get a chance to test Eleven Rack on-stage, it was certainly a showstopper in the home studio. While those new to Pro Tools may require a little time getting used to the layout, a book is included that teaches the basics of how to record and edit tracks. In addition, a training DVD is included that provides advanced video lessons for those wanting to learn more.

We setup the included Pro Tools LE software, and then copied over the included second disc of drum beats and other samples. Within moments, we had a new session created, and had a few drum loops arranged in sequence to setup a backing track at our desired tempo. Then, we dialed in the tones we wanted on the Eleven Rack, and were recording multiple guitar tracks and takes that sounded amazing on the first try. In addition, we were able to record bass and vocals and build an entire song with just one recording interface and one laptop, with no amps or pedals!

The Eleven Rack is truly a great-sounding and well-designed product, and it has already earned a permanent place in our home studio.

Lastly, I found a demo video of the Eleven Rack and a few of the presets that are offered on the product.  Hear it in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEJCqwf2Joc.

Avid Technology has done a great job with the Eleven Rack.  Guitarists have been raving about the product with good reason.  There are plenty more videos and information out there to get more answers about the Eleven Rack, but I hope you enjoyed this introduction to such a great product.

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Thanks and stay tuned!

Mike

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