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Pro Tools Carbon Review and Guide: All You Need to Know

Pro Tools Carbon Review and Guide: All You Need to Know

Pro Tools Carbon was promoted as a revolutionary interface for all home-based producers craving Avid’s zero-latency, endless editing instruments, and top-quality sound. But does it meet the expectations? I have summed my experiences into this Pro Tools Carbon review and guide.

After some hiatus, Avid was largely considered to be out of the game of in-house music gear manufacturing. Therefore, its recent launch of a brand new Pro Tools Carbon interface came as a big surprise.

I must admit that to me; it was a pleasant one – despite some faults and drawbacks, I have always admired the attention to detail and non compromising approach to sound quality that shined through all the Avid hardware.

Needless to say, I had to try Carbon in my studio as soon as possible. Now that I’ve finally had the chance to test it, I’d like to share my first impressions and experience with you.

Bottom Line Upfront: Pro Tools Carbon is a lovely interface with impressive sound, great monitoring, and lots of potential, thanks to the built-in software, plugins, and sound library. However, you must tick several key boxes to enjoy it, including owning an Apple computer and using Pro Tools DAW exclusively. If you’re looking for a universal solution, look elsewhere.

Key Specifications of Pro Tools Carbon

Check the main specifications of Pro Tools Carbon software below.

Total Power

200W Peak Power (100 Watts Total RMS)
Compatible operating system MacOS 10.15.7 or later
Channels 8
Inputs Combo mic/line – 8 balanced XLR/TRS with Variable Z (impedance) on inputs 5–8

 

DB25 line – 8 balanced via 25-pin D-sub

Instrument (Var. Z) – 2 unbalanced 1⁄4-inch TS

Digital – ADAT: 16 channels at 44.1–96 kHz, ADAT: 8 channels at 176.4–192 kHz

Outputs DB25 line – 8 balanced via 25-pin D-sub

 

Monitor – 2 balanced 1⁄4-inch TRS

Headphone – 4 stereo 1⁄4-inch TRS

Digital – ADAT: 16 channels at 44.1–96 kHz ADAT: 8 channels at 176.4–192 kHz

Preamps Yes, built-in
Included software Pro Tools; 1-year subscription for perpetual parachute; 115 AAX plugins (>70 AAX DSP plugins), incl. UVI Falcon, the Avid Complete Plugin Bundle + HEAT 5.4 GB sound library
Dimensions 24 x 20 x 7 inches
Accessories Power cable, Ethernet cable, rackmount screws, desktop feet, registration card
Latest price Click here for the latest price

Core Features of Pro Tools Carbon

Pro Tools Carbon

Just like the Pro Tools software, the Pro Tools Carbon interface is a perfect companion to any recording artist or producer.

Unlike Avid’s Pro Tools HDX, released about a decade ago, which clearly aimed at large (and expensive) productions, Carbon smartly reflects the brave new world of at-home studios, freelance sound engineers, and DIY musicians who comprise larger portion of the industry than ever before.

How good this all-in-one solution really is? Let’s check its defining features one by one.

Design

The design might seem like a rather unimportant aspect of an audio equipment, but it’s not just about the looks; it is also about the convenience of use.

If you use your device daily, you will learn how to appreciate all the thoughtful and practical details of the interface that fasten your workflow and boost your creativity – or curse the whole unit if they’re missing.

In this regard, Carbon is a fine tuned machine that really understands the way you want to use it. It has a clean and organized front panel layout with all the important control points easily accessible and logically organized.

Thanks to the powerful light indication, it is also easy to monitor the Carbon’s performance visually, even in a dark room and from some distance.

Software

Pro Tools Carbon

Like the name of this interface unmistakably suggests, Carbon is specifically designed for use with Avid’s Pro Tools digital audio workstation, which is one of the best music production software in the world. This comes with some significant advantages and also some downsides.

This device comes equipped with a 1-year subscription to Pro Tools perpetual parachute,115 AAX plugins (more than 70 AAX DSP plugins), including UVI Falcon, the Avid Complete Plugin Bundle, and HEAT 5.4 GB sound library. Right out of the box, effortlessly, and at a great value.

This provides you with lots of creative options. But, on the other hand, if you’re used to combining multiple DAWs and hope to bring some of your favorite third-party tools onboard, this is not going to work very well.

Although you can link external DAWs to Carbon via CoreAudio, you won’t be able to take advantage of the advanced functions of the Hybrid engine.

Hybrid Engine

Avid’s new Hybrid Engine is designed for the Pro Tools mixer, and it is available only for Carbon and Pro Tools HDX users. Unlike Avid’s older engines, with Hybrid, you don’t have to choose between DSP and Native in most cases anymore, which makes things clearer.

Hybrid runs the mixer natively on your computer – only active record-enabled tracks are still running on DSP, benefiting from the low latency. You can now toggle tracks from low‑latency DSP mode to flexible native processing per track with a single touch of the button.

This feature was apparently thought through really well, making some logical automated solutions for you on the background when you’re busy focusing on your mixing. It also works seamlessly with all the effects and plugins. In general, I see this as a great upgrade.

Monitoring

Pro Tools Carbon allows you to manage up to three individual sets of stereo speakers and four sets of headphone levels – all straight from the control panel. In addition, the functions include dim, mute, and integrated talk-back microphone.

This gives the device great potential in both studio setup and live settings. As for now, Carbon does not support multichannel monitoring, but this might change with possible future integration of Pro Tools Ultimate (at least that’s what the somewhat obsolete ‘Surround’ feature suggests).

Connections

Pro Tools Carbon boasts comprehensive analog and digital connectivity located mainly at the rear of the unit. However, some of the connectors you’d probably expect are missing.

To put it straight, forget about any USB or Thunderbolt ports here until you’re willing to invest in some rackable extensions. AVID is clearly committed to the AVB Ethernet protocol, which can connect the device to your computer directly or via some approved adapters.

As of now, the Carbon interface cannot be daisy-chained with other equipment. Nevertheless, the availability of the second Ethernet dock might imply some plans to change this in the future.

Besides linking to your computer, the interface also connects to all kinds of mics and instruments through various inputs and outputs (see the list in the specs table above). To sum it up, it is a complete recording bundle in a box. You won’t really need much more.

Compatibility

One of first things to check whenever you’re looking for a new audio gear is compatibility with your existing setup. And here comes the most important limitation of the Pro Tools Carbon interface.

Carbon supports EXCLUSIVELY newer Apple computers running on at least MacOS 10.15.7 (or newer). So if you’re in the team Microsoft, you can simply forget about Carbon and skip the rest of this review – at least for now.

Avid claims that this issue is caused solely because AVB is not natively compatible with Windows, which could be resolved in the near future.

As I have already elaborated earlier, there’s no point in investing in this hardware if you’d like to take advantage of some other DAWs besides Pro Tools. To wrap it up, Pro Tools Carbon is designed for a specific group of users and doesn’t provide much versatility out of this box.

Warranty

Carbon is sold with a 1-year limited hardware warranty. This means that if your interface needs to be serviced within the specified term, you can ship it straight to Avid for a professional repair with up to 6 weeks turnaround.

You might also consider purchasing a Pro Tools Carbon extended 3-year hardware support service inclusive of a zero-downtime advance replacement of the unit if it needs to be repaired.

Pros of Pro Tools Carbon

Pro Tools Carbon

Here is a summary of a few reasons why I think this interface might be worth your money:

Sound Performance

First and foremost, we all expect our interfaces to sound great, and in this regard, Pro Tools Carbon leaves very little to be desired. Both its digital and analog performance is up to the highest standards you can expect in this class.

Included Software and Plugins

Pro Tools Carbon comes with a generous package of sounds, plugins, and tools included in the built-in Pro Tools DAW. If you need to invest in good software anyway, this is a great deal and also a convenient solution with guaranteed seamless compatibility.

Sleek and Practical Design

Pro Tools Carbon looks neat, but it also boasts a very convenient and thoughtful layout of the controls and indicators. The small space on the slim front panel is used to the maximum, but it is not chaotic. As a result, it is straightforward to get into the zone and let your creativity flow freely.

Improved Engine

Carbon’s Hybrid Engine is a nice improvement, allowing a seamless transition between DSP and Native processing and turning up the overall workflow speed in general.

Cons of Pro Tools Carbon

If you cannot cope with some of the following limitations, I wouldn’t suggest buying this interface:

It is Only Suitable for Apple Owners

Pro Tools Carbon is clearly targeting users of Apple devices. However, if you make your music on a Windows-based computer, this interface, compatible only with Mac OS, is not going to work for you at all.

It is not Convenient for Third-Party DAW Users

This interface is great for die-hard fans of Pro Tools, but if you plan to use some other DAWs at least occasionally, too, it offers only limited usability. You can, theoretically, use CoreAudio to link the device with other DAWs, but you will miss all the advanced features of this interface.

No USB or Thunderbolt Ports

Pro Tools Carbon is wholeheartedly focused on Ethernet connection. If you’re a fan of USB, Thunderbolt or any other modern types of connection, you can see this as a limitation.

It is Quite Expensive

Pro Tools Carbon has many pro-grade features and qualities, yet its target group still consists mainly of at-home enthusiasts or independent producers. For the people who do not make any substantial revenue from music, Carbon’s price tag can be discouraging (check the price here).

Are There any Alternatives?

Universal Audio Apollo x8p

Universal Audio Apollo x8p

Universal Audio Apollo x8p is often referred to as an interface that resembles Pro Tools Carbon the closest, even though x8p was actually introduced much earlier.

The devices are mainly similar in their construction and appearance: both have rotary push-switch encoders and preamp function controls (phase, +48V, stereo link, input toggle, etc.) located in almost identical positions. I find Apollo x8p, however, less smooth and sophisticated.

Nevertheless, Universal Audio Apollo x8p, a 6×22 interface with 8 Unison preamps, is definitely a better solution for PC users thanks to its wider compatibility. It will also cost you a bit less.

Avid Mbox Pro

Avid Mbox Pro

The iconic Mbox is another popular audio interface made by Avid and specifically adjusted for seamless cooperation with Pro Tools software. Although it is now a bit outdated, and you might probably even have trouble finding it unused in stores, it is still a classic with great potential.

The Mbox comes in three versions: Mbox Mini, Mbox, Mbox Pro. The more you’re willing to pay, the more features and tools you will get. Although even the basic model had impressive recording capabilities in tits prime days, now its the Pro version that is still worth the purchase.

Learn more about this older yet still powerful interface in our full Avid Msofbox review.

Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820

Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820

If you’re not ready to invest so much resources in your new interface, Behringer’s U-Phoria might be decent replacement for Carbon. It is a 24-Bit/96 kHz interface with Midas mic preamplifiers. It also comes with 8 XLR ports and phantom power.

Unlike Pro Tools Carbon, U-Phoria is equipped with a USB port. It is also compatible with all the popular recording DAWs, including Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, Ableton Live, etc.

As for the U-Phoria’s audio processing quality, well-trained ears will certainly hear the difference between the sound of a pro-grade beast like Carbon and this entry-class device. Nevertheless, U-Phoria is still a decent pick for beginners.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pro Tools Carbon

Question: Does Pro Tools Carbon come with Pro Tools?

Answer: Yes, there is a special 1-year subscription to Pro Tools software included in the interface right out of the box. This license in annually renewable and gives you full access to all the features of this great digital audio workstation.

Question: What version of Pro Tools do I need to use with Pro Tools Carbon?

Answer: Pro Tools Carbon interface was released in 2020, and it won’t work with any older version of Pro Tools DAW than Pro Tools 2020.11.

Question: Do the plugins that come with Pro Tool Carbon still work if I don’t renew my Pro Tool license?

Answer: Yes, these sounds and plugins work on the basis of individual perpetual licenses.

Question: How much free memory do I need on my computer for Pro Tools Carbon?

Answer: You need at least 16GB of free RAM to allow Carbon to install and work properly, but 32GB is recommended.

Question: Is the Pro Tools Carbon worth it?

Answer: Carbon’s quality does certainly reflects its price, but it still is quite an expensive device. If you’re a beginner or restricted by your budget, you can start with some less expensive and comparably good interface (check our tips on the best music production software for beginners too).

Final Thoughts – Is Pro Tools Carbon the Right Interface for You?

If you’re looking for a first-class interface, Pro Tools Carbon will certainly pop up as one of the recommended options. But is it really worth the investment?

To sum up my personal experience, Carbon is genuinely great interface packed with impressive features, advanced technologies, and thoughtful design elements, allowing you to unleash your creativity without (almost) any constraints.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that Carbon is a gilded cage in some regards. For example, it restricts you from choosing the connected computer, limits your options with third-party products, and asks you to renew your licenses for the preselected software every year.

If this naturally corresponds with your preferred setup or intentions, I say go for it. Otherwise, I would suggest thinking this decision through thoroughly.

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