Behind the DiGiGrid DLS Audio Interface for Pro Tools

In this Sonic Scoop feature, Waves VP Mick Olesh talks about the benefits of DiGiGrid DLS, an audio interface that lets Pro Tools users connect to the Waves SoundGrid system both in the studio and live.

We confess – when we first encountered Waves’ DiGiGrid DLS solution at the 135th AES, we couldn’t get our heads all the way around it. On the surface, we could see that this was a particularly powerful audio interface, working alongside of a SoundGrid DSP server for Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools HDX, but we wanted to know more than we could learn that day in our lightning tour of the system.

Hence our latest “Research & Development,” where we gave Waves the opportunity to go deep into the inspiration and design of DiGiGrid DLS. Is this hardware/software hybrid, made with studio and live audio engineers equally in mind, for you? Let Mick Olesh, Waves EVP Sales & Marketing, enlighten you on the unique capabilities of this formidable black box.

DiGiGrid DLS

Demystified: Waves DiGiGrid DLS

Sonic Scoop: From the 10,000-foot level, how do you define DiGiGrid DLS? Is it a hardware solution, software solution, or both?

Mick Olesh: DiGiGrid DLS is one piece of a larger infrastructure and solution named Waves SoundGrid, which provides processing and networking solutions to the studio and live markets. This solution is comprised of both hardware and software.

DiGiGrid DLS is an Ethernet audio interface and SoundGrid DSP server for Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools HDX systems. It provides DSP power for hundreds of SoundGrid-compatible plugins while also supporting 64 channels of audio from your Pro Tools hardware. A built-in network switch makes it easy to connect multiple workstations.

This specific hardware and software solution is tailor-made for various types of users. The first solution is for Pro Tools HD, HDX and HD Native users, allowing them to maintain the operation and functionality of Pro Tools HD software and hardware and simply “add” on the benefits of Waves SoundGrid to an existing system.

The DiGiGrid DLS hardware and the accompanying SoundGrid Studio software work as a bridge/tie-line between these two systems. Once this connection is established, the end-user has the option to add further SoundGrid-compatible hardware devices to the system, stream audio between Pro Tools and up to eight different host applications, and even offload plugin processing to an external server.

The second type of functionality for a different user type is to use DiGiGrid DLS as a standard audio interface, with almost any ASIO/Core Audio application. Since the DLS does not have physical I/Os, it is paired up with third-party I/Os that have analog/digital inputs and do the AD/DA conversions. These I/Os are controlled via the SoundGrid Studio Application and are streamed through the Waves SoundGrid ASIO/Core Audio driver.

DiGiGrid DLS flowchart

Go with the flowchart

Waves is known in the audio community for its software. When did you start to get the idea that hardware offerings were needed, and why? What made DiGiCo the ideal partner to form DiGiGrid?

Waves has been manufacturing hardware and software solutions for several years: the L2 hardware processing systems, MaxxBCL, the Y16 Yamaha card and MaxxBass are all part of a long list of hardware products that we have created.

Being a leading audio plugin manufacturer, we at Waves recognize the needs of the audio market and fortunately have the ability to turn these dreams into reality. Since the gap between live and studio engineers has become narrower and these jobs often overlap, we wanted to provide a solution that will enable engineers to take the same tools they are using in the studio with them on the road.

Waves SoundGrid was first introduced to the market as a solution for live (FOH and monitor) audio engineers who required real-time processing, to be used through the application called Waves MultiRack. To accomplish this effectively and to make the solution accessible to a wide market, Waves couldn’t rely on existing standards. Waves recognized the benefit of processing audio on Intel-based servers as opposed to DSP solutions, substantially lowering manufacturing and developments costs. We also realized the benefits of streaming this audio over Ethernet.

Since the MultiRack solution was very smoothly integrated into DiGiCo live and broadcast consoles, it seemed very natural to partner up with the leading manufacturer of the highest-quality live consoles and to increase the offerings of I/O and processing to both the live and the studio markets.

What was the hole in the audio networking market that you felt you could address with DiGiGrid DLS? In other words, what did you sense that audio professionals and artists needed from their Pro Tools setups that wasn’t out there yet?

The audio networking abilities and performance of SoundGrid exceed the abilities of our competition in terms of latency and channel count. The SoundGrid infrastructure also offers additional benefits besides networking – and this is all included in the same system.

First, DiGiGrid DLS gives Pro Tools users the option of offloading processing power from their Local CPU.

Second, the networking abilities allow additional inputs to Pro Tools at low cost. SoundGrid allows you to share and allocate I/Os across the network – the physical location of the box becomes less relevant. A facility can have I/Os and preamps in a common area, such as a live room, and connect these I/Os to multiple rooms via a single Ethernet cable, substantially lowering construction costs.

Connecting an additional host and computer is very simple, whether this is a stationary, floating or guest computer.

DiGiGrid DLS also lets you use existing third-party interfaces such as Avid 96/192/Symphony with the latest version of Pro Tools, vs. the need to update your entire system.

As you began to design prototypes of DiGiGrid DLS, how did the project start to evolve? What new ideas did you start realizing were essential in order to completely solve your users’ problems?

The main goals for this project were to provide the user with processing, networking and real-time recording, using a highly intuitive infrastructure coupled with quality hardware systems.

Can you explain some of these functions that you feel are revolutionary, not just evolutionary?

Evolution becomes revolution when one takes the time to develop and lead this evolution and not keep it for themselves or wait for someone else to take responsibility.

Waves is expanding this platform on both the hardware and software sides, partnering up with additional third-party manufacturers who see the benefits and future of this system.

The functions that are revolutionary are: (1) moving away from DSP processing to an Intel-based server processing, which immediately benefits the end-user; (2) networking in the studio which allows users to utilize their network port without having to add hardware as I/Os via dedicated drivers; (3) low-latency round-trip processing; (4) recording while processing with any qualified DAW in low latency; and much more...

In terms of the GUI, what kind of experience did you want to ensure that the user has? How do users interface with the GUI for maximum workflow efficiency and creativity?

Waves goes through many cycles developing controls and GUIs, trying to give the user maximum flexibility and ease of use. We try to combine new ideas with old conventions.

Finally, what’s the big lesson you’ve learned from creating DiGiGrid DLS? How is that going to help you and your team with the next hardware and/or software you design?

We learn from every project. We hear from the marketplace about new methods and use cases we hadn’t necessarily thought of, and we are sure that this will expand even more.

Interview by David Weiss. Originally published in Sonic Scoop, Feb. 10, 2015.

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