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Interfacing outboard converters

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by BobRogers, Feb 3, 2008.

  1. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    This is probably just idle curiosity considering my financial situation, but I'm a little confused about how people with outboard converters typically interface with their computers. I realize that a lot of people have "legacy" interfaces that have converters and pres, and put their outboard converters through these. But say you are designing a a system from scratch. Most of the converters I've seen aren't designed to interface directly with a typical computer. Do you get a PCI interface? Something else?
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    One of the biggest questions would be whether you're using a laptop or a desktop.

    If it's a laptop, you're limited to PCMCIA or ExpressCard Bus or Firewire/USB.

    For desktops, you obviously add PCI as well.

    Most people don't integrate external converters nowadays, they use interfaces. However, those that do use one of the following methods -

    Use ProTools (since the interface is included) and get a converter with a PT HD interface.

    Use a converter that has a Firewire connection (Apogee, Lynx, Mytek)

    Use a PCI card that has AES or Lightpipe Inputs (Lynx or RME are the most popular.)

    Or buy a Sony Sonoma, Genex, Sadie or Pyramix system which includes I/O capabilities.

    Personally, I've recently gone from a PCI card to an interface. Using an external interface that has digital inputs seems to me to be the most flexible means of doing this nowadays since I can take it from one computer to the next rather easily.

    This also allows me to have more channels. For example, the RME Fireface allows me to bring in 12 analog channels (up to 10 discrete) but allows me to bring in 16 more in digital. In addition, I don't know any outboard converters at the same price as the RME that can even come close to competing with the Fireface in regards to sound quality and flexibility.
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Well, converters are just that - they convert from something to something. Since we're primarily talking here about analog-to-digital converters, the input side (analog) is pretty well defined by number of bits, a 0dBFS spec, an input impedance and noise figures. The output (digital) side will have been designed to an interface standard targeted at a particular market, although many products have either multiple output interface standards or interchangeable modules to interface to different standards. Some of these standards (e.g. PCI, FireWire, USB) are those directly available on a computer, while others (ADAT lightpipe, AES/EBU) are primarily for connection to other studio equipment and would require an additional card to convert to one of the computer standards.

    I suppose the trick is to get the conversion performance you require in a piece of equipment that has not only the digital output standard that you use today but also the capability of morphing to whatever you will be using next. There is also the point that Jeremy C raised about flexibility - a busy recording engineer is constantly having to re-group his gear to meet new assignment challenges, and the ability to move converters easily from one computer to another may be very valuable.
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I hear what you guys are saying. I guess what prompted this question is that I was looking at getting the Mackie1200f interface as a way to move away from PT. Well I turned down that gig, so there is no pressure to make the move as quickly. I've gone back to my plan to buy some higher quality preamps over time. The problem I had with buying the Mackie unit is that I already have a ton of preamps in the general price/quality range. Yes, the Mackie pres are probably somewhat better than those in my Digi 002, A&H board, and Focusrite Octopre, but its another incremental improvement (looking only at the pres). So I was wondering if I couldn't just bypass all of that by gradually building up a collection of better pres (right now looking at a rack of 500 series) while using the units I have now and then buying a multichannel converter when I'm ready to switch software. What I'm getting from you guys (and looking at various spec sheets) is that doing this would be feasible, but (1) pretty darned expensive and (2) not nearly as flexible as buying an interface like the Mackie or the RME fireface. So I think the short/ medium term plan of building up the pre collection is still on. By the time I'm ready to switch software there may be other products on the market that make this decision either less or more confusing.

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