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In-depth Feature:  SONIC LAB - A Brace of Converters
We help choose a new AD/DA for studio Goldfrapp
Nick B writes: .

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No flash plug

10:18 mins
To Work...
Okay, let me start by saying - this is actually a video feature - to watch it, just click on the format you prefer...

Converters are not what you'd generally call a compelling product range, being as generally they don't have sexy knobs or add to one's cool factor if your looking for a pose - but some do have plenty of lovely metering lights....

However, I suggest that they are an essential part of any setup and indeed, even if you dont know it, the way you listen, record or mix is influenced by them on a daily basis.

Almost every contemporary piece of audio gear has converters of some description, from your home CD system (assuming you still have one) to the MP3 player. Audio cards, digital desks and the like all impart their own particular flavour or colour when turning analog to digital or vice-versa.

It's amazing how easily you can become used to below par audio - not that I'm suggesting that much gear these days has terrible converters, but when you start to investigate what the sound _could_ be like if you were to spend a little more on a dedicated AtoD or DtoA, it's a real eye opener. For this you need to be able to A/B sound sources to tell the difference with some decent monitoring.

So, being in the same vicinity as electronic music duo Goldfrapp, Will Gregory, one half of the Grammy nominated duo (yeah, OK, so they didn't win this time) asked me to bring together a few units so he could make an informed decision on what to buy for their recent studio upgrade. The idea being that we could compare them in a familiar studio environment.

For the purposes of this test, we got hold of the Presonus Digimax FS - an 8 Channel mic pre equipped, unit, the Apogee Rosetta AD800 - again 8 channels of i/o, and the relatively unknown Lynx Aurora AD16 - a 16 channel system, that also comes in an 8 channel version.

We also borrowed a Krell 300CD unit (upwards of $4k new!!) which we took the digital output straight into the Golfrapp O2R 2 track digital return - this circuit is independent of the master desk clock setting, and we took the analog out and put that in to a couple of channels of our convertors (AtoD) took the ADAT out of the converters inito the O2R ADAT input. This meant we could easily A|B between the Krell digital source and the AtoD of the converter.

The AtoD part was of most interest to Will as once in, the audio generally stays in the digital domain until mix - although he's subsequently taken delivery of a 1970's Audix analog desk - favoured by the BBC into which the 16 outs of the AtoD will go for summing when in a mix or submixing role. So DtoA will come into play soon.

Presonus Digimax FS

Presonus Digimax - the connectivity of the Digimax is by far the best, in terms of analog - with direct outs for splitting the signal for monitoring, insert points for patching in external gear as well as the AtoD in and AtoD out. Also the variable gain for the mic/line inputs could be just the thing for a hands on recording interface, but in this instance it was unnecessary due to the studio configuration. As far as the sound went, it didnt really compare to the tow higher end units, the width and depth was not as evident but certainly not shabby by any means.

Apogee ROSETTA AD800

The Apogee name is one that is synonymous with audio quality - indeed many Pro Tools users take advantage of the TDM of HDTDM cards available and prefer them to be the front end of their systems, The 192kHz is an optional extra we since discovered, so when compared to the Lynx, its lacking in specifications when one considers the price. We also felt that when compared to the source material, it was coloured to some extent and not as transparent as the Lynx. It seemed to perform best when it was working to it's own internal clock - the sound became more impressive, but still not neutral.

Lynx Aurora

For channel count, this had the other two units beat. For the money 16 channels of i/o up to 192kHz is quite a feat. Of course, this would be rather meaningless if it didnt sound so darned good. We really could not tell the difference between it and the digital source of the Krell in blind tests. It seemed equally impressive when clock master or slaved to the Apogee - with no change in sonic quality. We did have some difficulty with the ADAT card and routing Digital in via ADAT to the analog outs, this was due (we were told) to a firmware problem in the LS-ADAT card. It will be replacing it but in the meantime we were able to get up and running with a little tech support and using the remote control software via MIDI to set up the routing.

We had to download the routing software from the Lynx site, which was straight-forward enough, but the documentation was non-existant.

Happy Ending
Subsequently Will decided that the Lynx Aurora was the one for him - the sound and the number of channels just made it the obvious option.

BTW, did I mention that this was actually a video feature - click on the format you prefer..

Presonus Digimax FS
- 8 XMAX Class A microphone preamps w/ trim control
- 24-bit resolution, 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96K sampling rate
- 96k ADAT input and output (dual SMUX)
- JetPLL jitter reduction technology for ultra tight synchronization
- Direct outputs and inserts on every channel
- Word clock input and output
List $799.95
Street $599.95 / £499.99

Apogee AD800
8 channels of premium 24-bit AD/DA conversion
Sample rates up to 96k with optional 192k upgrade
8 channels of AES, ADAT I/O
"Soft Limit" for maximum digital level without overs
"UV22HR" for superior dither to 16-bit SPECS:
Analog i/o on DSUB connectors
AES i/o on DSUB connectors
Wordclock i/o
Single expansion card slot
X-Symphony Card - for Symphony PCI
X-HD Card - ProTools HD
X-FireWire Card
X-Video Card
X-Digi-Mix Card - for legacy ProTools Mix
List $2,995
Street $2,695.97 /£1,899

Lynx Arurora 16
Simultaneous 16 Channel Analog I/O and 16 Channel AES/EBU I/O
24 Bit / 192 kHz A/D and D/A
192 kHz AES/EBU I/O Supporting Single and Dual Wire Modes
LSlot™ Expansion Slot for FireWire®, ADAT®, ProTools|HD® and Future Interface Options
On-board Digital Mixer Provides Flexible I/O Routing
Word clock I/O with Lynx SynchroLockâ„¢ Jitter Reduction Technology
LS-ADAT - 2x ADAT i/o
LT-HD - Pro Tools HD
LT-AES 8ch AES or SP-DIF i/o
LT-FW - FireWire card (coming 03.2007 apparently)
List $3,295 Street: $2,999.95 / £1,999.99

More Resources              Articles - full listing
  • Presonus
  • Apogee
  • Lynx
  • Source Distribution

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