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Do computers have a sound?

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by kmetal, May 5, 2016.

  1. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    hey all. I've been bouncing this around around in the noggin. Take DAW of your choice, and picture a basic 24trk audio mix, with a pluggin on each channel. This type of session would run on just about any computer hardware from the last ten years.

    If you had the identical sessions, running on the exact same hardware, and same drivers/OS, on two separate computers. One as basic as it gets, but can handle this session without errors, even if it's pushed. Another, super high tech state of the art computer.

    if you a/b the two systems, while listening live, and then auditioning the mix downs, (however you arrive at 2 track), would they produce identical results? In theory and in person?

    I just got curious about this after starting to learn that there's different tolerance/quality levels of eletronic components, which seems to be one of the big selling points on higher end, and original vintage gear. If there was a MOBO created with 'boutique' caps and resistors, does this contribute to the daws final result? Is it a question more of longevity of the system instead? Is it just a limit on peak performance, or reliability?
    Kurt Foster likes this.
  2. pcrecord

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

    I'm a bit surprised by the question but let me say what I think
    I think digital is a series of 0 and 1 and the sound you are recording or playing back isn't at all modified by what kind of electronic parts your MB CPU, Memory or HDD have and their quality.
    It's true, any analog circuits your audio go through (like your audio inferface analog circuit prior to AD or after DA) will change the sound but in the digital domain it won't. At least the industry says so.

    BUT, this is a big But... ;)..
    We've spoken on tolerances of ressources of the computer. At some point with all the calculations, some bits could be droped or jitter could be introduced in the signal and that can influence the audio quality.
    Thing is at this point in computer and software development I would expect that the creators of DAWs would be compensating in some way for the possibility that the CPU/Memore/HDD overuse could at some point degrade the sound
    I wish that the sound would not be altered until it's too much and the audio engin start to fail or give clicks and pops to indicate it has too much to do..
    But in reality, it is possible that the sofware makers have this big secret of signal tolenrance and the audio is different at a certain amount of ressources use.
    This is a theory, no one dared to say, explain or test this. It's just me asking the question, is it possible it could happen?
    kmetal likes this.
  3. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    Identical, all sound hardware and daw engine being equal :).
    kmetal likes this.
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Makzimia's correct - the outputs will sound identical, providing everything else that could make them sound different does not do so.

    I helped a friend-of-a-friend recently who was transferring his mix setup from a desktop computer to a super new laptop. The software transfer had gone well, and his USB interface plugged into the laptop without problems, but he wasn't happy with the sound from his monitors compared with how it used to be. Before going there and hearing it, I had assumed this was going to be some sort of latency and/or buffer size problem, but no, on hearing it, the sound was "fluffy" and had an indiscernible background to it. I thought for a few moments, then did the simple thing of pulling the d.c. power connector out of the laptop while it was playing. Instantly, the sound recovered to how it had been from the desktop. I left the poor guy struggling on the internet to find a "professional" power supply for his laptop to replace the cheap, noisy POC it had been delivered with.

    kmetal, Brien Holcombe and audiokid like this.
  5. pcrecord

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

    I know laptop's power supply are a pain. Specially if you use the internal sound card...
    I had many DJ including myself complaining about that. I'm not doing DJ job anymore but I wonder how good those two products would perform

    Of course it doesn't apply to Bos friend who already had an external audio interface already.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Same: my experience, laptop PSU can be problematic / weak for pro audio.
    kmetal and pcrecord like this.
  7. Brien Holcombe

    Brien Holcombe Well-Known Member

    "the sound was "fluffy" "

    That's a new one for me :)
  8. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    My computer makes a kind of whirring-rattling sound. I think it's one of the fans, or the hamster wheel. Maybe that fluffy sound is from hamsters.
    kmetal likes this.
  9. Brien Holcombe

    Brien Holcombe Well-Known Member

    Mine runs off of electricity...can you say electricity? Sure you can. It is only loud when the quad processor kicks in, which is all the time!
  10. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Coincidentally, my computer does the same thing....but mine is more a "brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" sound ;)
  11. Brien Holcombe

    Brien Holcombe Well-Known Member

    Well when it gets fluffy, unplug it.
  12. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Is that saying basically the underlying audio/code Ect was the same, and it was the power supply 'masking ' the presentation of the audio/code?

    When a power supply effects the sound, is it a matter of just proper supply voltage, or is it a build quality thing? Would in theory a generic and high end power supply 'sound the same' all other things equal? I'm sure it's not a simple thing and probably a question of overall build and design, like interfaces and everything else.

    Is it an issue of headroom? That's what got me wondering if cheap small caps, and generic power supplies might be causing some headroom issues. I know Davedog had mentioned a while back that Mac minis were inadequate for recording due to shabby power supply. Is it wise to use more moderate levels on moderate computers, just like how a power starved audio interface like mine, tends to crap out sooner than better interfaces? Or is -18dbfs (or whatever each of you use for standard) the same across the board? Does it differ in ad vs da stages?

    the reason I asked the original question, because I had remixed a song on my iPad in cubase, that was originally done on a Mac Pro and DP. I found the sound of the iPad mixes to be more solid sounding. The fact that a $450 tablet and app, on a set of mackies in the living room, could hang or outdo a 2k pro computer, multiple motu interfaces, every pluggin waves had, (I only used a few of my favs), and a set of Meyer HD 1 had me wondering. My experience was not scientific obviously, but it had me thinking about what is really effecting our sound.

    All this talk about power supply came yesterday, while I was discovering my new computers psu uses a propriety 10pin plug for the motherboard. Apparently it's common for of the shelf computers to have this. It seems like the quality of psu is a fundamental element in the quality of a piece of gear.
  13. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Every case will be different. In the one I described above, the noisy PSU did not modify the underlying recorded sound in any way, it simply added different types of noise to it. As the power consumed by the computer and USB-powered interface varied with the amplitude envelope of the audio waveform, the added noise got modulated by the audio, hence the "fluffy" sound that Brien liked the name of.
    kmetal likes this.
  14. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Fascinating. It's amazing how many possibilities there are. Thanks for the story boz. I'm in a fascination phase with 'straight wire' or 'selective coloration' however u wanna put it. So I'm trying to learn how all the components interact, and how their individual designs and integrations differ, both hardware and software.
  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I don't believe that computers have 'a sound", all things being equal in terms of specs and hardware, the only "sound" you would likely get would be a sonic degradation of some kind, like if the hardware had cheap converters, or as Bos mentioned, an insufficient power supply... those things can add bad things to audio, but that's not the same as a computer having a "sound" like certain pres, consoles or other OB gear.

    That being said, I do believe that different DAW audio engines have different "sounds"... but it's not my intention to rehash that old debate. You either believe this to be true, or you don't.
    kmetal likes this.
  16. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Would say cheap/under spec caps, or an underpowered/inefficient power supply have any effect? If the computer or processor is lacks headroom in a psu sense, would that cause a starved sound, or does it simply not translate like that. What about error rate differences in drive type, like SSD vs hdd? Does less mechanical parts mean less errors? Or does that not matter, because it all goes down the same pipe ususingn standard protocol?
  17. pcrecord

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

    I'm no computer hardware specialist. I think there will always be errors but if they are well bellow the tolerance, it won't affect sound.
    Underspec caps will fail sooner but I'm guessing they will do their job until they do.
    I do record big projects on ssd and small ones on hdd and I hear no difference in the sound quality.
    I do use this very often to check my drives status : http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskInfo/index-e.html

    The power supply is another story because many component need power to work properly
    In Boswell story, what affected the sound was a lack of power in the usb port which directly relate to the audio interface performance.
    I'm guessing (again) that if you'd deprive the cpu of some DC power, it would run slower or crash before you could hear the difference.
    kmetal likes this.
  18. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I didn't take measurements or investigate in any great detail in this case, but my conclusions at the time was that the problem was due to circulating currents at the mains power supply's switching frequency.

    You hear apocryphal stories about the design process of power supplies of this type being "value engineered" by chopping out components of the clearly over-designed prototypes until the unit fails to work as a d.c. supply, and then putting the last component back. I'm not a switching power supply designer, so my experiences in this matter mainly relate to the design of the audio part of the hardware, but I have on occasion been deeply disappointed by what can happen to a great-sounding prototype after it gets handed over to the Production Engineering department for manufacture. No names.
    kmetal and pcrecord like this.
  19. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    That's paraphrased from a story about Colin Chapman and the Lotus 7. He is said to have removed frame tubes until it collapsed of its own weight and then put the last one back.

    As far as digital errors, when I master a CD I export the finished audio, re-import it and do a null test. I haven't done a lot of them but they always null perfectly.
    kmetal and pcrecord like this.
  20. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    That's what's making me wonder if other connection types would be immune to this. For instance if he was using the Ethernet port via Audiodante networked audio. I'm fairly sure Ethernet can also supply similar voltage and amperage as USB/FireWire can. Would the laptop still have been noisy, using a different connection.? If not, perhaps the power supply is only partly to blame.?

    Would lack of power in a desktop cause a similar thing? For instance, my stock Lenovo psu is a gross 250w peak (and it's lovely proprietary 10pin) mobo plug. They installed a trash can graphics card stock, which is specs a min 300w psu. Does all the sudden my audio interface lose headroom now? Not just my case but in general. I'm thinking of just taking the card out and using the Intel onboard, to save power consumption, since there's not really a great need for a low end graphics card.

    Obviously electrical headroom is good design, from the way it enter the house thru final use. I guess I'm trying to narrow down when other things in a circuit are interfering w audio, and if those things are necessary. In other words down to a mobo component level, how much could you remove from the 'signal path' so everything serves a purpose directly related to audio. As straigh wire as it gets, for a dedicated audio recorder.

    I studied the replica/remake circuits and build, for the 1176, (I'll link it if I can find it), but the dude did high end replicas some had point to point wiring, Ect. But as a watched the evolution of the 1176s 3-4 revisions it seemed almost without fail, components were REMOVED, from the design, as the circuit was 'improved' or updated. It seems to hold true in a few of the other things of that nature I've been looking at. It seems like the circuits got consolidated, and smaller, with less stuff, over time.

    Now it could be the corporate axe in most cases, like bozs. But even when Danny rebuilt/modded the trident channel modules, he mostly removed stuff, mainly caps, and replaced the ic chips, to gain 6db more headroom in the form of less noise. And also over specd some stuff in the psu and power related things in the strips themselves.

    What is a circulating current at the mains power supply? Is this something to beware of in all psu's, like a cheap import desktop switching power supply.?

    That's pretty reassuring, at least if it's making mistakes, there in the same spot! I've got about 150 CDs to import, this calms my paranoia a bit.

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