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A/D and D/A Converters Upgrade?

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by Keala, Jul 10, 2014.

  1. Keala

    Keala Active Member

    I have a RME Fireface UFX as my interface.
    The UFX AD DA converters have received excellent reviews.
    Would like to know your opinions if I should spend the money to upgrade the converters.
    I don't want to be spending $2,000 plus on a new converter unless it would produce a noticable change in sound quality.
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    You have to work out where in the quality ladder you want to be. The converters in the UFX are excellent for their price range, but, as with most things, you can get even better ones by paying considerably more money.

    The other thing you should do is a check on both the rest of your recording chain and your acoustic environment. It is often the case that people focus on one particular aspect of their room and equipment without evaluating where money would be best spent in the overall scheme. I'm not saying this is necessarily true in your case, it's just that you didn't provide any other details of your gear and room. There's a danger of splashing out on something like converters only to find you can hear no resulting improvement because it's other aspects of your recording chain that are the weak points.
    bigtree and kmetal like this.
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    This is a great subject to discuss, and so often overlooked in the grand scheme of the DAW.

    In my hired-gun engineering travels, I've had the opportunity to work with RME on several occasions, and I always found it to be nothing less than stellar sounding.
    (Of course, most of what I run into is M-Box, M-Audio, and other run of the mill consumer grade models, so pretty much anything other than these would sound great to me. It's not as if every client I work for has an Apogee or an RME.)

    For your situation, I can't say as to whether the investment would be "worth" it - what I mean by this, is that while I'm certainly not doubting that anytime you upgrade your converters or audio I/O (with conversion built in), that you'll notice an improvement... but the real question is, will you notice a two thousand dollar improvement? LOL... and only you can really answer that, because it's so subjective, and as Bos mentioned, relative to your other gear...as well as your room/environment. Can you be specific as to why you feel you need an upgrade? I'm not being a smart-ass here, I am sincerely curious. Is it something in particular that you are hearing with your current I/O?

    Speaking for myself, I've recently come to the point - after treating my room - to where I'm now absolutely positive that I need a serious upgrade in my pre/converters.

    Truthfully, I'm sure I've always needed this upgrade, but since treating my room, it's become far more noticeable. I'm now hearing things I didn't pick up on before, because the space was such a smeary and skewed mess prior to treating it. Now, I'm really hearing the converter results... and brother, I'm not talking about hearing it in a good way, either.

    The low-quality conversion appears most evident on mid-hi and hi frequencies, (although of course they are effecting the entire bandwidth as well)... The quality - or lack thereof - is most noticeable from around 1k and up, with the worst sonics happening between 5k and 12k. I hear it a lot on vocals, primarily S's (sibilance)and a harsh upper mid range.... as well as on acoustic guitar, hi hats, crash cymbals, electric guitar - both clean and crunchy - and pretty much anything where the fundamental frequencies occur around 1 - 6 kHz.

    So, I guess I'm good for 2 out of 3....My batting average is on the high side -I have a good sounding room, and a variety of very nice mics (Neumanns, AKG's, Shures, EV's, etc) to choose from, a good monitoring rig, all of which is a good thing. The bad thing, the (very) weak link in my chain - the curve ball I haven't been able to hit, LOL....is my pre /converters.

    I've been considering RME as my next step, and have been for quite awhile now, so I'll be watching this thread to see what you and the others have to say.


  4. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    It's doubtful that the converters from RME are the weakest link in your recording system. And while they may not be boutiques, there are plenty of pro recordings done w RME stuff. Usually conversion is one of the first places home recordists lack in their input chain but your doing alright there.

    It's very likely based on what you posted that if your willing to spend 2k on converters, your not very happy w your recordings, and it's prob not the converters. From the instrument itself, to techniques, to the room/monitors like has been mentioned, those are the places to look first, as your converters are widely accepted as good.

    D- the rme stuff has a great reputation, but their stuff isn't quite as new as some of the other stuff, I've used the UA Apollo and it is really really good sounding, and feature rich. If I were in the market for a new one, that would be my choice hands down. Or an apogee quartet, would be in There too. But UA while not being boutique stands up to the apogee stuff I've used, and add in the processing, it's a force that has not been matched yet in its range. Especially the ability to track w and print the effects, it's a super cool device. Worth a very serious look if u ask me.
  5. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Money doesn't fall from the sky so it's quite normal that we want to put it where it counts.
    Since I don't know what your setup looks like and what you do, it's hard to say if this is the right place to invest. The UFX AD DA is not a bad converter to start with.
    But I'd say, if your room is not well tuned, start there. If you don't have accurate monitors, start there.
    If you only record 1 or 2 tracs at the time, put the money on 1 or 2 good preamps.
    If you could use more mic inputs, you can get a 4 pre with converters for around 2000$ (ex : ISA 428 or UA 710)

    Tell us more about what you do.. ;)
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Personally, I think the Apollo is about the worst choice anyone can make for two reasons,

    1. it steers you closer to more plug-ins, smearing and phase ( its a trap).
    2. I hope someone will please post a good example of a session tracked with an Apollo that corrects me from this blanket statement because so far from what I've heard, they sound terrible to me. Everything from latency to exactly what Donny just described (harsh upper freq (phase issues, banging pipes and lack of headroom) is what I hear coming from the Apollo. And, the total BS about tracking via an LA2A emulation got me excited 2 years ago but I don't hear it, not remotely close comparing it to real gear. So, what are they selling us then? :rolleyes: Aren't we on the third new and improved build of that? I thought the first version was everything amazing. Its the epitome to the saturated affordable recording sound.
    Sorry, I'm not trying to rain on the parade here, but I need more proof on that UAD stuff lately. Its all starting to look and sound like Avid all over again. :censored:
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    To add to the already excellent advice, unless you are going to spend some serious coin, aor at least the addition of some analog to your thinking, most of us would be better off buying a used PreSonus StudioLive or even better, the new AI stuff which is what I'm looking into. I seriously doubt there is much better than this until you start spending $10,000 and upwards on mics, pres etc.

    Need proof? Check out

    All done on a StudioLive 16.4.2. He has a lot more examples of his work on that console that is amazing sounding.

    just saying...

  8. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    The studio live actually surprised me how good it was for recording when I used it. The effects are kinda weak, IMHO, but it's a solid buy.

    I have heard my cousins and it was a huge step up from the digi 002. Which could be the worst. I really haven't messed w it on my own so I'll have to do a track before I truly decide, but the fab DuPont demos where they supposedly use just the UAD Apollo and plug-inssounds killer. So based on both, my best guess is you've heard some badly recorded stuff, and the demo is exceptionally recorded?
    As far as the plug-inssounding like the real thing, I wish companies would just give up on that stuff. Maybe something like a digital reverb emulation or something could come close, but really? A 2u tube compressor? I don't ever believe them. Basically at best I think you get attack/release tendencies and eq curve, but having not heard a real la2a I can't say. I know the any 1176s emulations I've used don't sound like the hardware one I use.

    To be fair, a lot different hardware models sound different, I've owned 2 Mesa triple rectifiers and they sound distinctly different. But still why do pluggin company's try to say how close they sound to the hardware? They really should stop w those claims, I've never met anyone who has felt they were true.

    I still think less plug-insof any type yield better recordings, but for me to really speak on this thing, I'll have record an acoustic track or something and post it.
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Kyle, this may be the first time we disagree. :) I'm not winning any friends over my UAD opinion either, but who's listening anyway. Its a big world and a very affordable product that people seem to love.

    The Fab stuff I heard through that was horrible. Full of headroom crush and distortion. The converters sound like metal. Download the Liza Colby tracks and take a good listen. I tried mixing that stuff from the contest he had a year back and my ears hurt from the processing. The upper mids are horrendous and bass was mush.
    Being able to dissect those tracks told me the truth on that system.
    Latency : Try lining up the tracks and you'll see what tracks are effected from the processing in comparison to the others where he went direct. Listen to how those converters break up when she starts pushing her voice. I'm not the only one that mentioned this but it sure didn't get any press.

    I'm sure it is a fun system and better converters than the digi stuff but but far from pro sounding.
    Is there an A/B comparison online anywhere? I'd love to hear another example because I really don't want to be slamming it this bad.
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I'm starting to wonder if I should be looking at a StudioLive 16 or an AH Zed as an answer. There's no way I can afford the RME with the number of channels I need - while I normally don't use more than 4 at a time on a day to day basis, there are times I require 8 when I'm tracking live drums.

    I've seen the Presonus on eBay for as little as $900, and there's no way I'm gonna get a better deal than that with any of the other nice I/O's RME, Apogee, etc., for 16 I/O's of good pre's and converters with 16 track-at-once capability.

    That being said, almost anything I'd get right now would be an improvement over the Tascam 1641 I'm currently using.
  11. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I can see several StudioLive 16.0.2 mixers on Ebay US starting at around $900, but you also ought to check out the A+H Zed-R16 on there at $1100. Having used both types, for the sort of mixing work I do, I prefer the sonics of the analog desk with additional digital I/O (Zed-R16) to the digital desk with analog I/O (StudioLive). This is despite the pre-amps on the StudioLive range being about the best I have come across on a digital mixer in this price bracket. It's really the EQ that makes the difference for me. However, one thing I find an annoyance on the Zed-R16 is the lack of a channel solo-in-place button, but you get used to working round that.

    Slightly surprisingly, the Zed-R16 can be used as a DAW control surface whereas the StudioLive cannot, if that makes any difference to you.
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    It's gonna be awhile until I can afford to do any upgrading at all... and when I do, I'm going to look seriously at both the Presonus and the A&H, and I have to be honest, the thought of the Zed also being able to act as a control surface does indeed pique my interest quite a bit.

    In the meantime, I've been thinking of what I can do to better my conversion with what I have on-hand now.

    I need you guys to either tell me that this would be a better move than what I have working now, or simply a lateral move that won't change things to any great degree, or that might not make any difference at all,
    So here's what I've been thinking:

    I am currently using a Tascam 1641 Pre - I/O. It supports rates from 44.1k, up to 96k, all at 24 bit. The preamps are most certainly not what I would consider to be pro grade, but worse than that is the conversion.
    Since my recent acoustic treatment, I am hearing very nasty artifacts, most noticeably in the upper mid and hi frequencies.... for the sake of narrowing it down, let's call it 1k and up.

    I also have a MOTU 2408 Mk1 Firewire stand-alone converter. It supports 44.1 and 48, ADAT, TDIF and it also has 8 Analog ins and outs, although they are RCA.

    I've been thinking that I could perhaps use the Tascam for the preamps (I also have a few low budget tube preamps as well) and bypass its conversion stage by simply coming out of its analog outputs to the RCA inputs on the MOTU, where I can select the correct sampling rate and bit resolution to the DAW. Would this work? Will the MOTU be better in conversion quality than that of the Tascam?

    Ya know what? Forget it. I just looked at the specs for the 2408 Mk1 and it only supports 20 bit resolution when using the analog inputs... so I guess I answered my own question, and the Tascam still appears to be the better choice, I guess. Well, so much for that idea. Damn. :(

    I'll leave this post up anyway though - if no one objects - in case someone else out there may be doing a search for specs on the Mk1, or perhaps be in a similar situation.

  13. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Yup, I think you may have answered your own question, Donny. However, if you really can patch the Tascam pre-amp outs to the MOTU analog ins and digitize with that, it would be worth trying it just to see if the sonics are any different. By using reasonably high-level signals you should not encounter too much of a problem with the MOTU 20-bit converters, but if you get the same nastiness in the range above 1K, it could mean that the converters are not the only suspects and you may have to look a bit wider.

    I've not used one of those older Tascam boxes, but I didn't think that you could get at the individual analog outputs of the pre-amps, since there are no direct outs and no insert jacks. There is a Mix knob, but is it correct that it alters the balance between a mono mix of all the inputs and a similar mono mix of all the outputs? Another interpretation would be that it changes the fraction of the digital signal between USB-in and USB-out that gets converted for the individual line outs. The first route would give you some idea of the sonics of a mono mix, but in the second case the monitoring route would include a double conversion (A-D and D-A) and would thereby defeat the object of this particular exercise. As I said, I've not used one of these boxes and I'm only going on what's implied by the manual, so I well may be completely wrong about all this.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    There are several analog outs on the 1641; analog outputs 1&2 and 3&4, along with L&R monitor ( control room) outputs as well. Now, whether or not these outputs are pre or post conversion stage, I don't know, but it will be crucial to know which is the case - because if all the available analog outs are post conversion, then there'll be no point in adding another unit where it would just hit another conversion stage.

    The Mix knob controls the balance(s) between the input signal and the output signal from the DAW, both balances are stereo.... not that there is a separate left and right control, but one master volume for any signal either sent to - or from the DAW, whether it be mono or stereo.
  15. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Surely the analog outs are sourced from the USB only, and it's only the monitor out that can have any of the live input mixed with it? I could find nothing in the manual about this. I hate manuals that don't have a full block diagram!
  16. Keala

    Keala Active Member

    Hi DonnyThompson and KMetal,
    I am getting some pretty good sound with what I have but after reading the glaring reviews of those high end converters, one can't help wonder if it can get much better.

    pcrecord - This is a list of my equipment. I do Hawaiian music. I instruments I use in my recordings are: Archtop guitar, ukulele, upright bass, steel guitar.
    My room has acoustic treatment. I record one track at a time.

    Neumann 49
    Electro Voice RE20
    AKG Perception 200
    Studio Project C1
    Shure SM81
    Shure SM57
    Miktek C5MP

    Pre Amp's:
    Avalon 737
    RNP 8380
    True Systems P-Solo

    RME Fireface UFX

    Yamaha HS80M
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well you certainly have some nice gear on that list. ;)

    The thing I'm noticing on the RME's that I have ofund in my affordable range are that none of them have 48v phantom power... so I would still need some kind of preamp to front-load it with, which seems a bit odd...
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I suppose that I could use the monitor outs... but again, being that the MOTU supports only 20 bit on the analog inputs, well, it doesn't really make much sense... truthfully, I'm not even sure how I would clock that, or what would happen, in that Sonar supports 16, 24 and 32 bit float. So, how would Sonar react seeing a 20 bit digital stream? Or would 32 bit float be the answer? Am I correct in the thought that 32 Float is a shifting bit resolution?

    LOL My brain hurts.

    edit... wait a sec, here... what am I thinking? I could just record at 16 bit, right?
  19. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Donny, if I'm not mistaken, the clock is not on the bits but the khz. So you would clock 20bit 44khz easily with any project of 44khz.
    Never care to try or research if you can fit a 20bit signal on 24bit project.. at least you could put your project in 20bits ;)
  20. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    This has taken a bit of a crazy turn.

    Patching the Tascam into the MOTU is not to be considered a long-term proposition, but rather a diagnostic test. Assuming for a moment that you can get at the analog outputs of at least two of the XLR/TRS input channels before they arrive at the Tascam's A-D converter, these could be taken to the MOTU for digitization and onward shipment to your DAW. On paper, you have a downgrade in that the MOTU is 20-bit conversion and not 24-bit, but the point is that it's a different converter. Performing this test would allow you to tell you whether there is a substantial difference in the sound when using the MOTU converter instead of the Tascam's, and hence form some sort of an opinion of the Tascam's pre-amps independent of its converters. The effect of the MOTU 20-bit conversion is not going to mask big differences in the conversion quality; remember that standard CD format is only 16-bits, and that can sound quite acceptable with good engineering.

    The test comes down to whether you can extract at least a pair of pre-amp analog outputs from the Tascam, and in the absence of any semblance of a block diagram in the Tascam manual, I can't answer that question. The monitoring mix control may be of use here, but unless there is much more to the box that meets the eye, I don't see it giving more than a mono mix of all the inputs.

    BTW, the 20-bit converted values arrive at the DAW as 24-bit with the 4 least significant bits all set to zero. Just proceed as normal.

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