Multiple DAW studio, DigiLink vs Thunderbolt?

I’m in the process of setting up a second room at our studio and I need to finally take the plunge into (ugh) protools. Up until now I’ve never used it, so I’m completely uneducated when it comes to the seemingly impenetrable world of gear/licenses/ports that PT/PT Ultimate require.

Here’s my main question that I can’t find a straight answer to: since the rig will undoubtedly be home to multiple DAWs (PT, Logic, and Ableton), the problem I’m running into is whether or not I’ll be able to use non-PT DAWs reliably if we get converters that use DigiLink (i.e. running Ableton on HDX hardware), or vice versa: if we’ll be able to reliably run PT HD/Ultimate on thunderbolt-equipped hardware. We’re currently using non-HD protools, but I don’t want to make our system non-upgradeable should we choose to upgrade the PT software. Any help solving this would be appreciated!


I’ve been out of the PT world for awhile now but I dont think you’d run into many issues using something non-avid hardware related as your AD/DA converters on regular PT software. A lot of my friends are using standard PT with a few Apollos on a Mac Mini and are running just fine in their studios.

Maybe i havent looked into Pro Tools HD often but i feel as if new computers are fast enough now in 2020 that it probably isnt useful unless you are working in a film/TV environment. (Maybe?)

I’m not sure if this answers your question or not.

@brndnwilliams you may have some insight on this?

Ultimate is a niche use case - it’s for if you need to do sessions that are over 128 tracks, need over 32 channels of I/O, use 96k or higher sample rates, mix in 5.1/Ambisonic, etc. But if you do end up needing to pony up for Ultimate, it can run natively without needing any special hardware.

Digilink is niche too - Pro Tools hardware is kind of like an Apollo, you offload DSP to dedicated hardware for low-latency tracking through plugins. It’s amazing if you’re T-pain and it’s 2007 and you need to track through Auto-tune. But its outdated and locks you into an insanely expensive proprietary ecosystem. So skip it and just go Thunderbolt.

For another hardware option - for multi-room studios Dante is the shit. It’s Audio-over-Ethernet, so you just plug all of your devices into a router and send anything anywhere with the click of a mouse. You can freely send I/O between rooms, mix and match all kinds of hardware without worrying about clock sync, etc. We’re using it on a studio build right now and I’m just in awe of the capabilities. But it’s a lot more complicated than getting a couple Apollos (what I personally use).

I know Pro Tools is annoying/intimidating but it’s so much more powerful than any other program. Any audio-engineering-oriented task is way easier than in Ableton, like tracking a band or layering and comping vocals. I used to slave Ableton to Pro Tools, with a Push controlling it and Ableton tracks bused to their own tracks in PT - DM me if you need any help getting your head around how it works.

For example, you could jam in Session mode along with other singers/instrumentalists and have your individual Ableton tracks recorded as audio in Pro Tools alongside theirs. Then you can send that session out for other people to overdub/mix without having to print out a bunch of stems, and still be able to change the Ableton arrangement at any point in the process! (And personally I really enjoy working with printed audio because the urge to tweak dissipates.)


what’s drawing you to HD or Ultimate over the regular, being someone who hasn’t used it before? I believe any DAW will work on your Avid hardware. I no longer use Avid hardware but I used to and I believe I had some other DAWs running at that time. Whats attracting you to the Avid hardware over something else? I haven’t heard any of my peers purchase Avid hardware in what seems like a decade. How many channels of conversion do you need? Right now I’m using Antelope Goliath bc I need the pre’s and extra channels of conversion but I was using Apogee Symphony before that. I have no issues using Pro Tools reliably or any other DAW for that matter. My only tip would be to use something that has a lot of support on the web- even just on forums. I bet you’ll find a million ppl who will answer any question about Universal Audio on reddit or wherever but probably less ppl able to chime in about Avid hardware. oh- pro tools is my DAW of choice and I use it everyday. the only times ive ever had issues is when I used to run a hackintosh and I accidentally updated pro tools when my operating system wasn’t equipped for it (since it wasn’t a real Mac)

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thanks SO much for this detailed response, it’s super helpful and I haven’t been able to get this much clarity elsewhere. love the rewire ableton>pt concept, that would be pretty seamless! will dm if I dig into it.

we’re actually looking into Dante for the future - it’d be perfect for trying to link our two separate structures. unfortunately we’ve found it’s just not a language that most engineers who come through readily understand and would require a much longer tutorial hang at the beginning of every project.

@brndnwilliams we weren’t even looking at standard avid hardware, but rather apogee symphony converters that use the DigiLink port. the pt ultimate thing is mostly because clients keep asking us if we have it tbh. we’re currently only running 24 channels of I/o, so normal pt has been fine so far functionality-wise. but should that increase in the future, I didn’t want to have to fully replace our converters if we wanted to switch over to ultimate.


The sick part with Dante is that all the complicated bits are strictly in the initial setup. After that, everything just appears in Pro Tools as any ol interface channels would - mic preamps from the other studio would appear right alongside mic preamps sitting next to them, no extra explanation or routing required! It can be totally invisible to the end user.

Our use case a podcast studio that will have a lot of self-operators who are brilliant journalists & writers but are easily overwhelmed by the slightest bit of technology. The back end is super complicated but it appears to them as magically simple!

BUT back to Digilink and Ultimate! I looked into it further and realized that without Digilink you are indeed restricted to 32-ch I/O in Pro Tools even if you’re using the Ultimate software. So to have more I/O you do need to get either an HD Native Thunderbolt or a HD PCI card, and enter the Digilink ecosystem. (FYI - you can use an inexpensive Focusrite Rednet 5 to bridge Digilink and Dante and get the best of both!)

The Apogee Symphony is a great choice and would leave you a lot of options to grow. The key is balancing the expense vs the opportunity cost of clients who would go to another studio based on the I/O count. Another option is the Burl Mothership - the swag factor could tempt engineers who would perhaps prefer 32 channels of Burl over more channels of something else.


I’m gonna second the opinions in here and say either use TB interfaces or take the time to use Dante, and the latter especially if the rooms are gonna be linked.

I’ve recorded at a few places that have network I/O and the initial setup can be annoying but it’s unreal what you can do with it afterward.

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I feel like with multiple rooms Dante is the way to go. ProTools sucks and I use it everyday. I won’t lie, I love editing/mixing with ProTools but it’s oppressive in its I/O and licensing. Bought a perpetual license in 2017, didn’t pay for upgrades at the start of the year (missed the deadline) and now the only way to keep that license current is to literally give up the perpetual license for a discounted subscription for 2 years which then goes to full price. Really, I hate Avid.


I think that is only the case if you buy from Avid. Sweetwater and Alto will sell you a new support plan for a year. there are two versions- one for ppl like you and me whose perpetual has run out and one is for ppl who still have an active plan. I think the latter is 199 and the one you and I would need is 299.

@madeofoak gotcha- I would go with symphony then. it’s as simple as adding cards to the interface. Good luck