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Avid Eleven Rack Guitar Processor/Computer Interface - Now with Conclusions


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Welcome to another pro review!

 

I saw the Eleven Rack in California last fall, and was very impressed. The company wanted to do a pro review, and sent me a unit - but then they decided they wanted to wait a bit. Well, one major aspect of a pro reviews is the whole real-time/blog nature, so although I did check it out for a review in EQ magazine, I dutifully put it aside until...now.

 

I've really been looking forward to this for several reasons, not the least of which is that I get to play guitar a lot while checking it out smile.gif But the other thing is that even the first time I saw Eleven Rack, it was obvious that it had been designed by People Who Actually Play Guitar. One of the main "twists" with Eleven Rack is that yes, it's a guitar-centric interface for Pro Tools LE or HD (not M-Powered, unfortunately - what's up with that?) but you can also use it on stage as your main processor - you don't need a computer to use it. In fact, DvK has made a cab/130W power amp for it where you can slide Eleven Rack right in, and start blasting your audience into submission. Given that it's currently going for about $900 street price, the double-duty aspect means that you're basically getting a really capable audio interface for $450, and a heavy-duty stage FX processor for $450.

 

In either context, it includes modeled amps and effects, with the amp based on the Eleven plug-in for Pro Tools. When I first heard the rack, though, I was certain it sounded a bit better than the plug-in. Avid confirmed that by being part of an integrated system, that was indeed true.

 

Given the on-stage angle, I was pleased to see that there's plenty of I/O, BIG lettering, white-on-black legible labels, etc. In fact, before getting too much further into the details, let's do our traditional Pro Review Photo Tour.

 

The first attached image shows an overall view of the rack from the top, so you can see the depth. This is a substantial piece of gear; it doesn't feel light or like corners were cut on the packaging.

 

The second attached image shows the left side of the rack. As I said - big buttons, nice labels. The knobs are a little close together for my tastes (I'm not exactly a little guy), but it's great to have them available for tweaking.

 

The third attached image shows the display, which is big and readable. The knobs below correlate with the knobs on the display, but there's a very interesting twist: Referring to the fourth attached image, although it's not real obvious in the picture due to the lighting, the cursor on the left knob is red, and on the right knob, orange. This works like nulling-style automation - the knob glows red if the knob's physical position doesn't match the programmed position, while orange indicates the knob is at the programmed position. Nice.

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Continuing our tour, the first attached image shows the right side of the rack. The guitar input is on the front, where it should be of course, but you also have phones and a "to amp" out. Grouping these on the right keeps cable clutter out of the way of twisting the dials or pushing buttons.

Moving in closer, the second attached image shows a close-up of the mic input and front-panel output section. The mic input has phantom power and a pad, although I'd expect those. What's not expected is the "True-Z" function for the guitar input, which we'll get into later. Suffice it to say that Avid has made a serious attempt not just to emulate the sound of an effects chain/amp, but also, how your guitar reacts to the input impedance - an important part of what makes a guitar feel responsive.

Also note that the jacks and switches are attached with real nuts and lockwashers; they're not just soldered to a circuit board, and poking out through a hole. Extra credit for that.

The third attached image shows the section in the middle with the effects enables. The switches are a big target, and use lighting to make them easier to use. And yes, there's a tuner button that doubles as tap tempo.

The fourth attached image is a little preview of what happens when you start diving into the screen: You get all kinds of informative graphics. This one shows which effects are connected in series, and you can move the position of the effects within the chain. One thing you don't get: Parallel chains, as this is a strictly serial effects processor.

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Now let's turn our attention to the back, or what I affectionately call "I/O land" because there's lots of it.

The first attached image shows the entire rear panel. Moving in from left to right, the second attached image shows the FX loop. You can use stereo effects, and choose between line level and stompbox levels - an essential detail that some companies forget.

Going further to the right, the third attached image shows the jack for the expression pedal/footswitch, and the digital I/O - AES/EBU in/out, S/PDIF in/out, and USB (yes, it's a USB interface, not FireWire).

Finally, the fourth attached image shows the rear panel audio I/O. I love that you have XLR balanced outs and 1/4" phone jack ins, but also note the choice of +4dBU or -10dBV output level, and the ground lift switch. There's also a second output to amp (that supplements/complements the one on the front) and MIDI in/out (the out also serves as a thru).

So that's an overview of the unit, and hopefully gave you the feeling of looking over my shoulder as I checked it out. Next, we'll look at Eleven from the stage standpoint - listen to the sounds, check out the effects, describe the architecture, and get into tweaking. Once that's under control, then we'll move on to using it as an interface.

Do you think that with an Eleven Rack sitting here I'll use my MBox 2 again? I doubt it...but we'll find out for sure!

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Hi Craig!

This is Hiro, the Product Manager and principle designer for Eleven Rack. Thanks for putting together the great feature summary and excellent photography of the product.

Ever since we launched Eleven Rack, I've been swamped and haven't had much opportunity to fully engage with everyone participating in all the forums and discussion groups. So, I'm really looking forward to being a part of this Pro Review and will be checking in regularly to provide answers to any questions that come up.

cheers,

Hiro

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Hi Craig -

Just a clarification on using Eleven Rack with Pro Tools LE vs Pro Tools HD & M-Powered

Included in the purchase of Eleven Rack is the full version of Pro Tools LE software. Eleven Rack functions as a Pro Tools LE audio interface on systems running Pro Tools LE v. 8.0.1 and higher.

Eleven Rack will also work with Pro Tools HD or M-Powered systems but not as an audio interface. Connecting Eleven Rack via the USB 2.0 connection to these systems allows you to take advantage of many of the Eleven Rack specific features in Pro Tools like the control window and the embedded Rig settings (which I think your review will eventually cover).

To route Eleven Rack audio into your Pro Tools HD or M-Powered system, you will need to connect Eleven Rack via the analog or digital audio connections to your HD or M-Powered audio interface.

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Hello Hiro, welcome to the pro review! Having the product manager/principal designer monitoring the thread will be great, as people will probably be able to get insights they wouldn't get any other way.

I spent this afternoon setting up Eleven so it would be easy to use with the computer and also easy to photograph the screens (I think the display is a very important part of Eleven, and THANK YOU again for making it readable!!), and will be doing some playing tonight so I can start off with audio examples. I think people will get sucked into the review once they hear what it sounds like.

Also, thanks for the clarification on using the HD and M-Powered. I knew you could always just feed the audio output (either the analog or digital outs) into another interface, but did not realize you could use the control window. I guess that's one of many things I'll find out during the course of the review smile.gif

Also, let me add one more thing. We invite manufacturer participation for several reasons. First, it's like having a 24/7 fact-check where if I have some kind of oversight, you can bring it to my attention. Second, users might have specific questions for which I would not know the answer, like whether you have any updates planned. Third, and this is where I think you might be very helpful, I'd be very interested in any information on how people are using the Eleven Rack. I will of course putting it through its paces, but you might be aware of some more "off the wall" applications, like a drummer using it with electronic drums, and how they use it.

So again, welcome. I must say that so far, Eleven sure is easy to use. I really don't have to strain my brain much to make it do what I want.

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Of course, the first thing you need to do if you're playing guitar is tune up. Lately for me, that involves using Gibson's Robot Tuning technology, so I'm covered smile.gif. But when I pull out one of my non-Robot guitars, I appreciate a tuner with a nice, legible display (see the first attached image - like the one in Eleven Rack.

It's pretty simple; you can adjust the reference pitch, and it's chromatic so if you have a seven-string guitar, no problem. It also reads harmonics, in case you're in a mood to adjust intonation. The only other parameter is that you can mute the output while tuning.

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Now let's dial up some presets and listen. These aren't modified in any way, I just wanted to give you the virtual experience of sitting down with a guitar, calling up some presets, and noodling around - which is what I did.

As we'll be getting into Pro Tools later in this review, I thought I'd try Eleven Rack with the V-Studio VS-700R interface. No problem: I just connected the AES/EBU in and out (I used the VS-700R's clock), and went into the User Options screen to make sure the ins and outs were in order. The "operating system" is consistent, once you get the hang of it; for example, the Edit/Back button will always take you back where you came from, and many "second level" functions are accessed by holding a button rather than just hitting it.

Anyway, here are some audio examples, in no particular order. The file name contains the patch that was used in case you have an Eleven Rack and want to follow along...check out the attached files.

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And after these, it's time to go to bed. I particularly like the last one, Tape Echo Ambient, as it gives a hint that Eleven Rack can do a lot more than just rock guitar patches.

See you tomorrow!

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Quote Originally Posted by steve350 View Post
What kind of footswitch can be used for this unit? What functions can the footswitch do?
There are actually three different types of external control you can do with Eleven Rack.

Starting with the non-MIDI part, there's a 1/4" TRS jack for either Expression Pedal or Single or Dual Footswitch. I'm testing the footswitch part with the BOSS FS-6 dual footswitch (first attached image). This is a very versatile footswitch that's my "go-to" footswitch for testing, as you can change the polarity of each footswitch, as well as choose momentary or latched response.

For the Expression pedal, I'm using the BOSS FV500H (second attached image) because it can function either as an expression pedal or standard volume pedal. (If you don't have an expression pedal, you can always do the old trick of connecting the in and out jack from a standard volume pedal to a Y cable, which then terminates in a TRS connection you can plug into an expression pedal input. However, the taper will likely be wrong, as an expression pedal has a linear taper and a volume pedal has an exponential taper).

Unfortunately, you can't use an expression pedal and footswitch simultaneously; you need to go into the User Options menu (third attached image) and choose one or the other. If you choose Expression, then you'll have the option to calibrate the pedal. If you choose Dual Footswitch, then you can choose one of 16 options for each switch. Typical would be stepping up and down through presets (as shown in the attached image), but you can also enable/disable effects blocks (e.g., Mod on/off).

However, if you need more control, then a MIDI foot controller is the way to do, as it can do everything the Expression pedal and Footswitch can do, and a lot more.

In fact, we're a little ahead of ourselves, but let's talk MIDI for a bit. Eleven Rack responds in Poly mode to individual MIDI channels, and you can toggle MIDI thru at the MIDI out jack. You can also enable sending front panel control changes as MIDI continuous controller messages to Pro Tools LE as well as via the MIDI out jack.

As to which parameters you can control via MIDI (and of course, these can be controlled from within Pro Tools so you can do MIDI automation of parameters - this is great for creating subtle, or drastic, changes in the Eleven Rack sound over the course of a track), the question is more which parameters can't you control. There are over 100 parameters exposed for MIDI control, both switched and continuous, including effects settings, effects on/off, paralleling of the front panel knobs, etc.

So yes, there are a lot of control options! And feel free to keep the questions coming, I'll be happy to provide answers as I continue exploring the various aspects of Eleven Rack.
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The basic sound unit in Eleven Rack is the Rig, which consists of all the elements (amp, effects, virtual miking, etc.) that make up a particular tone. There are 104 unalterable factory preset rigs, which come duplicated as 104 editable user rigs (rigs are arranged in 26 banks lettered A-Z with four numbered rigs per bank, e.g., rig A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, etc.). Editing is possible from the front panel or via a control window in Pro Tools LE, but it's worth noting that front panel editing is far less painless than many other multieffects. Part of this is the big display, and part of this is a logical interface.

There are three main "top views" of rigs, which you step through with the SW1 button-I mention it by name because it does a variety of functions, and will be mentioned later. The default mode (first attached image) is a basic view of the rig name and pertinent controls; you can specify which set of controls is visible for a particular rig. For example, if the amp sound is something you'll want toi vary easily, you can display the amp controls. On the other hand if you quick access to delay parameters, you can show the delay controls instead.

Hit SW1 again, and the display goes into "simple" mode (second attached image). As you can see, there's the rig number and name, in nice large type for onstage use. Hit SW1 again for "detail" mode (third attached image). This shows the various components that make up the rig, and the on/off status of various effects. Note that many rigs come up with certain effects enabled, but others are "waiting in the wings" if you want to use them. Details mode is great for showing you at a glance what's available in a rig.

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A rig can have quite a few components: Amp, cabinet, virtual mic setup, FX loop, volume pedal, and seven simultaneous serial effects (you can move effects anywhere in the signal chain). Because we're dealing with hardware DSP, there's enough horsepower to allow using all seven effects simultaneously; as far as I can tell so far, inserting a complex effect like reverb doesn't diminish the total number of effects you can use.

You dig deeper into a rig by hitting the Edit/Back button and entering "rig view." Rotating the scroll knob steps through each effect or function "slot," with an arrow showing the currently-selected slot (first attached image). Controls along the bottom affect top-level functions; for example, this image shows that the Input slot is selected, and you can choose the type of True-Z input characteristics (more on this shortly).

As you keep rotating the scroll knob, at some point the screen will flip to the next page (there are four pages total) that shows what's in the chain (second attached image). Again, the knobs relate to what's selected; if FX1 is selected as shown, you can choose the effect that will sit in this slot. With the Distortion effect slot, the associated knob chooses the distortion type.

Continuing to rotate the scroll knob takes you further down the chain (third attached image). Here you can see the amp model is selected, and it's currently set to Plexiglas. The fourth attached image shows the end of the chain, and note that the display is set to show the distortion controls when the display is in default mode.

One other nice touch: Note the four squares in the upper right of each display. This provides an overview of where you are in the chain.

So, what conclusions can we draw so far?

One very important aspect of the user interface is that it's definitely designed in layers. The top layer is the fastest and easiest to access. Go down one more level, and you're sort of in the same kind of space and choosing effects and patching them together. Go down yet one more level, and you can start changing effects parameters and other, more "detailed" edits. As a result, in general what you need to adjust the least requires the most steps to access, but that's not always the case - like being able to choose which controls are shown in the default display.

So far, I feel that editing from the front panel with Eleven Rack is very user-friendly, and I wouldn't be afraid to make some quick tweaks even in an onstage situation. The more I work with Eleven Rack, the more I feel that a lot of time and effort went into specifying and implementing the user interface. Let's see if more detailed editing leaves the same general impression.

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Quote Originally Posted by avidgtrpm View Post
Included in the purchase of Eleven Rack is the full version of Pro Tools LE software. Eleven Rack functions as a Pro Tools LE audio interface on systems running Pro Tools LE v. 8.0.1 and higher.
Thanks for the review Craig and Hiro. I'm looking at picking one up for my home studio but a little confused how the audio interface works.

I was originally planning on purchasing an MBox 2 and a guitar plug-in. Would purchasing an 11R perform the same function, making the MBox 2 redundant and unnecessary?

If so, I would want to use the s/pdif input for recording non-guitar tracks (vocals, keys, etc). Is this possible?
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Quote Originally Posted by roland View Post
I was originally planning on purchasing an MBox 2 and a guitar plug-in. Would purchasing an 11R perform the same function, making the MBox 2 redundant and unnecessary?
I hope Hiro chimes in with his product manager opinion, but I have an MBox 2, and with Eleven Rack sitting here, doubt that I'll ever use MBox 2 again except with my laptop.

If so, I would want to use the s/pdif input for recording non-guitar tracks (vocals, keys, etc). Is this possible?
Eleven Rack has a mic input and line input, which you can record basically the same way you would record guitar as long as you're using Pro Tools LE.

Of course if you have a signal source with S/PDIF out, you can feed that into the Eleven Rack, as you would the guitar, mic, or line signal.

As to why you would use the S/PDIF out, there are three main reasons.

1. If you want to feed the Eleven Rack out into a non-Pro Tools LE sequencer. This allows getting a digital quality, processed output into any DAW that has a S/PDIF interface.
2. For live use, some digital mixers have S/PDIF inputs. You can feed the Eleven Rack directly into it if desired so you don't have to use analog cabling and take up two analog inputs.
3. AFAIK, Avid interfaces for Pro Tools can't be "aggregated" (i.e., use multiple interfaces at the same time). So for example, if you're using an 003 to record your band and you also want to use Eleven Rack, it won't work as an interface (although I believe you can still use all the control panel stuff for programming). So, you could feed the Eleven Rack S/PDIF out into the 003 S/PDIF in, and record the combination of signal sources.

Bear in mind I'm still not an Eleven Rack expert (but I'm getting there!). So Hiro, did I get the answers right?
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Quote Originally Posted by roland View Post
I was originally planning on purchasing an MBox 2 and a guitar plug-in. Would purchasing an 11R perform the same function, making the MBox 2 redundant and unnecessary?
Relative to an Mbox 2, it's my opinion that Eleven Rack is far superior option for the recording guitarist:
  1. Regardless of session size or H/W buffer setting, almost no latency when recording thanks to the signal processing built into Eleven Rack
  2. Unlike a typical DI input, Eleven Rack has a dedicated and specially designed (True-Z) guitar input can chnage input impedance. This is big part of what contributes to the authenticity and feel of our amp and effect emulations. It also takes some of the work out of recording electric guitar because you don't have to mess with the signal level. It's optimally set to work with the amp and FX emulations. With a plug-in, you have to be very weary of what kind of level you feed it otherwise you could get very compromised results.
  3. Knobs and buttons that you can use to control your amp and fx settings
  4. Dedicated outputs to interface with the input of guitar amplifiers
  5. AES as well as S/PDIF digital I/O
  6. You can create sessions with sample rates up to 96 kHz and stream more than 2 channels of audio to Pro Tools. You can record line, mic, digital, DI and Eleven Rig signals all at the same time.
  7. For the price of the product ($899 is the typical street price), not only do you have a great recording interface and software but you also have a powerful pre-amp and FX processor for live use. If you buy and Mbox 2 and a guitar plug-in, you're already in somewhere around $650 depending on the plug-in. I guess you could think of it this way: you're getting a better audio interface and a killer guitar processor for only $250 more than an Mbox2 set up.
The one advantage that the Mbox 2 has over Eleven Rack is the 2nd mic input.

Obviously, I'm somewhat biased on this. When I looked at how we could create a product for guitarists, the whole software plug-in based approach using typical audio interfaces was really unappealing. In some ways, it can create more problems than it solves. To deliver a solution that truly improves on how we track electric guitar, we had to control everything your guitar signal goes through: from the input circuit, to the built-in signal processing, to the recording software and back.

I'm nuts on this architecture and could go on forever about it. This is how I believe all audio interfaces should be designed...
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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton View Post
As to why you would use the S/PDIF out, there are three main reasons.

1. If you want to feed the Eleven Rack out into a non-Pro Tools LE sequencer. This allows getting a digital quality, processed output into any DAW that has a S/PDIF interface.
2. For live use, some digital mixers have S/PDIF inputs. You can feed the Eleven Rack directly into it if desired so you don't have to use analog cabling and take up two analog inputs.
3. AFAIK, Avid interfaces for Pro Tools can't be "aggregated" (i.e., use multiple interfaces at the same time). So for example, if you're using an 003 to record your band and you also want to use Eleven Rack, it won't work as an interface (although I believe you can still use all the control panel stuff for programming). So, you could feed the Eleven Rack S/PDIF out into the 003 S/PDIF in, and record the combination of signal sources.

Bear in mind I'm still not an Eleven Rack expert (but I'm getting there!). So Hiro, did I get the answers right?
Yes, you are very correct. The other use case is for all our pro customers using Pro Tools HD rigs. We sell a lot of Eleven Racks to these guys so the S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital connections are there so they can connect it to their HD interfaces (192 i/o, 96 i/o, etc).
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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton

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There are three main "top views" of rigs, which you step through with the SW1 button...

 

With the latest version of the firmware (v. 1.0.2), we added a fourth view which gives you access to the more critical volume controls of a Rig. This is great for live use when Eleven Rack is connected to guitar amplifiers, monitoring rigs or some combination of both. If you haven't had a chance to 'normalize' the output level of your Rigs, having these controls up front gives you easy access to your output levels for on the fly adjustments. It spares you from having to enter the edit mode and navigate to those settings.
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Quote Originally Posted by avidgtrpm View Post
With the latest version of the firmware (v. 1.0.2), we added a fourth view which gives you access to the more critical volume controls of a Rig.
First of all, thanks for all the info. Don't be shy about giving your insights into design philosophy and such - as long as you don't start speaking marketing-speak, which doesn't seem to be your style, it makes a Pro Review a more interesting read.

Is the firmware out yet or is it still in development?
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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton View Post
First of all, thanks for all the info. Don't be shy about giving your insights into design philosophy and such - as long as you don't start speaking marketing-speak, which doesn't seem to be your style, it makes a Pro Review a more interesting read.

Is the firmware out yet or is it still in development?
The update is available from the Avid website:
http://avid.custkb.com/avid/app/self...p?DocId=363691

Here's the detailed description of the update:

What's New in Firmware Version 1.0.2:


* Fixed LCD display freezing when receiving multiple MIDI program and

controller messages simultaneously

* Enabled Digital Input when Eleven Rack is using internal clock

* Fixed unwanted converter noise artifacts

* Fixed unwanted EQ quantization noise

* Added new display mode: Rig Volume Controls

* Added new User Option: Persistent Volume Pedal Control

* Added new User Option: Volume Knob can know control Main Volume,

Output to Amp Levels or combination of both. Also provided Main &

Headphone Mute controls.

* Added new User Option: Cab Resonance when Cab is bypassed

* Added new User Option: MIDI CC Reference Chart

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Quote Originally Posted by avidgtrpm View Post
With the latest version of the firmware (v. 1.0.2), we added a fourth view which gives you access to the more critical volume controls of a Rig. ... If you haven't had a chance to 'normalize' the output level of your Rigs, having these controls up front gives you easy access to your output levels for on the fly adjustments. It spares you from having to enter the edit mode and navigate to those settings.
I discovered this in 1.0.1 almost immediately when simply auditioning presets. If you're quickly searching through sounds for yourself or a client, you'll want to hear the Rigs all at the same loudness (more or less) so that you're not distracted by varying volume levels while trying to make judgments on tone quality alone. Making those volume-normalizing adjustments (by having to go into edit mode) breaks up the flow.

I'm glad the 1.0.2 update addressed this, and that it was so quick in coming. I appreciate the other added features, as well! thumb.gif
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Another great add was the ability to use the front panel volume knob to control the Rig output volume through all of the outputs including XLR main outputs and the front and back "Output to Amp" outs. Incredibly helpful for live use.

Also, the USB can be used into a non-native DAW. I've used it through Garageband, and have read of others doing so with Logic, Cubase and Sonar. All you need are the standalone ASIO drivers installed onto the computer-which was automatically installed onto my Mac with the PTs install. When calling up the Eleven Rack input source in the DAW, you will use outs 3 and 4 to get the stereo processed signal.

Love the info. packed review fellas, as well as Hiro's input.

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