MARCH 14, 2023

Pro Tools | Carbon: Building a Portable Pro Tools Recording Studio

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Hear how Pro Tools | Carbon helped Boston-area music producer Brian Charles keep his music projects on track by providing him with a portable recording solution after a tragic fire destroyed his beloved studio, Zippah Recording.

When I lost my studio to a tragic fire last year, we were in the middle of nine full-length albums. The heroic firefighter that retrieved our hard drives probably didn’t realize how many musical moments he was saving when he lifted them out of the sooty water. After spending many thousands of dollars for data recovery services, I found myself with a new hope, and something positive to focus on in the aftermath of the tragic loss. I needed to find a way to pick up where we left off with the making of these records.

I started looking into putting together a portable Pro Tools recording studio —something I could put in a rack and bring anywhere. Those of you that know me know that I’m nothing short of resourceful (I’m the guy who was offering drive-in recording during the lockdown). I was going to figure this out.

I had been used to using a Pro Tools | HDX system, so I needed something powerful that could record without latency. I also needed something that could run my CPU-heavy mixes. And, not without having a studio anymore, I needed something that was easy to move around to different places (to studios, as well as non-typical recording spaces). After many hours online, I landed on Avid’s Pro Tools | Carbon.

Pro Tools | Carbon is a single rack space that has HDX DSP built in, as well as a whole host of other features that made it possible for me to integrate lots of peripheral gear. Carbon is equipped with eight analog line inputs and ten analog outputs—and the eight inputs can be toggled between those line level inputs or the eight onboard mic preamps. This allowed me to easily integrate my outboard mic pres with the push of a button. If I was traveling light, I could easily use the onboard pres which sound very open, transparent, and clear.

Carbon is also equipped with 16 channels of light pipe (a.k.a. ADAT optical). This is a huge feature for me because it allows me to easily integrate a 16-channel headphone mixer system. Carbon has four built-in headphone mix outputs that can be configured in the hardware setup of Pro Tools and easily assigned in the I/O setup, but I wanted to also be able to integrate multiple headphone mixers so that the artists can each control their own headphone mix. I was able to connect the 16 channels of optical outputs to a Behringer Power Play unit using two simple light pipe cables. The Power Play then sent Ultranet (via Ethernet) out to multiple headphone mixers…just brilliant!

Speaking of Ethernet (AVB), Carbon connects to my MacBook Pro laptop with a single Cat5 cable, making it possible to travel light and also place my laptop in another room (very far away) during mixing…which means no annoying computer fan in the room with me!

After a year of nomadic sessions, I’m grateful to have had this Carbon system to keep my artists and me making records.


  • Brian Charles

    Brian Charles has devoted the past 30-plus years to producing, engineering, mixing, and performing music, working with thousands of artists in almost every genre imaginable. He’s also the founder of the plugin company Rare Signals, and an assistant professor at Berklee College of Music.

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