About a year and a half ago I decided I needed to upgrade my modest home recording setup to something more professional. I have experience recording on analog gear as well as ADATs, and at home I'd been recording with a Roland VS1680 hard disk recorder. I had several requirements I needed to meet, and I needed something physically small. At the time, I was living in a small apartment in San Francisco and didn't have a lot of room for my studio. I needed to be able to recall and automate my mixes. I wanted at least 16 tracks, and I wanted something that works well with multitrack recording of live bands (drums, guitar, bass, etc.) and allows me to record at least ten tracks at a time. I wanted something that could be expanded and grow if I needed it to. I wanted something that edited easily. I don't go crazy with edits, but when I need to make one, I want it to go quickly and easily. I wanted something that sounded really good. I mostly do acoustic and electric guitars, real drums/percussion, etc. I've always loved the way analog tape sounds and wanted to capture that sound as closely as possible. And finally, I had a very limited budget: $3000 or so to spend on a new recording/mixing system. (I already owned a number of good mics, preamps, etc.)
I looked at my options. I considered analog tape but I kept feeling there might be a digital solution that would better meet all my needs. Some of the PC-based systems like Nuendo seemed cool at first, but it seemed people used those mainly for overdubbing, editing, and mixing. They weren't so well suited for live tracking. Of course I considered Pro Tools, but I really couldn't afford the quality system I wanted to achieve. And then I looked at a system called PARIS. I had heard of PARIS a little bit over the years but didn't know much about it. It always seemed like the forgotten DAW. So I dug a little deeper and realized it would meet all my requirements. And then I found a used PARIS system for sale about 20 minutes from my home and bought it.
PARIS (Professional Audio Recording Integrated System) is a DAW system originally released by Ensoniq in 1997, designed for either PC or Mac. It seems that PARIS was originally designed to take Pro Tools head on. It's a DSP-based system, meaning that all audio processing takes place on dedicated DSP chips, not on the computer's native processor. The heart of the system is the EDS1000 card. Each card provides support for 16 tracks, with four-band parametric EQ on each track. Up to eight cards can be installed on one computer for up to 128 tracks. The EDS1000 also provides processing for some very high end DSP-based effects: reverbs, compressors, delays, etc. VST and DX effects are available in PARIS as well as the ability to easily use outboard gear either as an insert or with a send/return. I/O capability is provided through an external rackmount chassis that connects to the EDS1000 with a SCSI cable. The MEC (modular expansion chassis) comes standard with four 20-bit line inputs, four line outputs, S/PDIF I/O, word clock I/O, a headphone jack with level control, and front panel LED indicators. But that's not all. The MEC also provides slots for nine expansion cards. These cards provide eight 24-bit analog inputs, eight 24-bit analog outputs, and ADAT I/O. Finally, there is the C16. This is an external controller that has 16 long-throw faders, transport controls, jog wheel, and numerous buttons to access and control most aspects of the software.
The history of PARIS is interesting. Since day one, a small company called Intelligent Devices developed the PARIS software, while Ensoniq handled the hardware and marketing. At some point Emu bought Ensoniq, and from what I can tell, PARIS development and marketing was slowed. Sure, you'd see ads here and there, but Pro Tools really took advantage of their superior marketing and quickly became a household name. About a year and a half ago, PARIS software 3.0 was released, and there was a small resurgence of PARIS in the audio press. Then a few months ago, Emu announced that they could no longer produce the EDS DSP chip (the heart of PARIS) and that they would no longer be manufacturing hardware. Rumors persist of a software upgrade being issued from Intelligent Devices, but none has yet to appear.
So it would appear that PARIS is dead, right? Actually, quite the contrary is true. PARIS attracted musicians, engineers and producers because it was easy and intuitive to use, was designed to be a no latency tracking powerhouse, and more than anything else, it doesn't sound like a DAW. In my opinion, PARIS is the best sounding DAW. Whether it was design genius or a happy accident, the combination of PARIS A/D converters and its mixing engine produce the most analog sound of any DAW I've ever heard. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
The PARIS newsgroup (www.greatidea.com/paris/) has been ground central for PARIS users for several years. The folks trading ideas, sharing tips, solving problems, and making music here are really inspiring. Recently, this community has taken the DIY aesthetic one step further - a group of PARIS users led by Chuck Duffy has been developing new drivers and new DSP effects for PARIS. They are continuing to develop this system even without the support of the original manufacturer. They refuse to switch over to another system simply because nothing sounds as good as PARIS.
When I first started this article, I talked with several PARIS users. I asked them all why they used PARIS as opposed to something else, and they all told me basically the same things: it's intuitive and easy to use, it's easy to keep the creative flow going with PARIS and most of all, it sounds better than any other digital system out there, bar none.
I've been using PARIS for a year now and have to agree with all the above. My wife and I write and record a lot of music under the name Small Wonder, and from the first session with PARIS, it was apparent to both of us that this system really is something different. It sounded big and present, it was easy to get things to sound right, and it was fun to use. As a result, it helps to inspire creativity because you don't feel like you're always fighting the equipment or having to make sonic compromises. The first mixing session was a joy as well. A little EQ here and there, a little compression, and everything just falls into place. I found myself needing to mix less yet getting great results. Everything just gels together so easily. And unlike any other DAW I know of, you can actually push the levels in PARIS much like you can with analog gear. This is one of the unique properties PARIS users talk about and love; as you push the PARIS level you get a tape compression and saturation type of thing going on. It's simply amazing and can add a character to mixes that I've only heard with high-end analog gear.
It's really a shame that PARIS didn't become an industry standard like some other products did. From a tracking and mixing standpoint, I've yet to find any DAW remotely as good as PARIS. But because it lacks a big reputation, you can find used hardware priced very reasonably. For example, I bought one EDS1000, one MEC, one eight-in card, one eight-out card, one C16 as well as a brand new copy of 3.0 software for $1800. I bought a new AMD PC with monitor, two big hard drives, CD burner, for about $1200. So for $3000, I put together a very powerful 24-bit recording system that is stable, easy to use, and sounds amazing.
It's funny how PARIS has mostly been forgotten or overlooked by the major recording press. Yet because of its ease of use and superior sound quality, it looks like it will continue to be used and developed by those who don't care about hype and would rather focus on making music. Currently I know of at least one very high-end professional big name studio that relies on PARIS for its main tracking and mixing system. There are also numerous mid-sized and project studios around the world using PARIS to create and capture great music everyday. Until there is another system that sounds as good as PARIS, I will continue to be a very happy user, along with many others. PARIS could very well become the world's most sought after "vintage" DAW!