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Masterlink...Loud CD Playback

Hey guys,
I have recentyly bought an Alesis masterlink. I have done some mixdown work with it and it sounds great! I also use it for playback of recently released CDs (last 5 years or so) and they just sound horrible. It sounds compressed to death, lifeless, almost hollow. Not to mention the occasional digital pop and crackle. I watch the meters on the masterlink and they hardly move off -1 dbfs and sometimes actually clip.
What I'm getting at, are the conveters so much better that you hear these things that consumer gear can't reproduce or is it my masterlink.
Older CDs sound great on this thing! And, yes I've checked cables and all that jazz. Any input would be grateful!

Thanks, Duane


Pro Audio Guest Tue, 09/26/2006 - 06:11
I never used a Masterlink as I prefer to mixdown into a dedicated DAW but, I will offer the following opinion.

As you know, most CDs are now mastered quite LOUD! However, that should NOT cause distortion if your system is properly calibrated.

The extra compression you hear would have to come from the Masterlink itself but, you'd have to look at the manual to see if it has an AUTO limiter function or other such auto level adjustment.

When I play CDs I go digitally from my CD player into a DIGITAL patchbay and into one of my D/A converters. Becasue most CDs are indeed mastered quite loud (except for classical, jazz, and few others..) I have to turn my MASTER level down or my ears would bleed. However, I hear no distortion or pops, etc... That's becasuse even the loudest CD can't go over 0 - that is, even if they are very poorly mastered.

For example: try ripping a song that it's causing the distortion in your system and play that song back into a program like Sound Forge (if you ahve it) or similar app. You'll be able to see the meters as well as see the waveform. Songs that are heavily compressed will look much like a near-solid tube (if you view the entire file at once). That is because the compression changes the density and the limiting clips the top in an almost straight, horizontal line, if you will.

Now, if you play back the song file from within you DAW (with all levels set to "0") and you get the same exact sound as your Masterlink then, it's the CD. Otherwise, if the sound file plays back 'clean' it means that your Masterlink may be adding some compression and/or limiting and level maximizing at playback.

Where is your Masterlink Analog OUT connected?

Kev Tue, 09/26/2006 - 15:07
DIGIT wrote: I Where is your Masterlink Analog OUT connected?

that's a very good question
I don't know the specs
IF the Masterlink analog output were capable of a few dBs above what the input of the monitoring system could handle cleanly then things will sound very bad
especially on stuff maximised to within 0.5dB of FS
and this goes for even the slightest mismatch

at the moment new gear seems to be around 20 to 22dBu for max levels
and some lower at 18
so it you think there could be an issue
try a 3 or 6 dB line pad
there's no harm in giving your monitoring system a little headroom
and the noise floor change should not be noticed with only a 3 or 6 change

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 09/26/2006 - 16:08
Hey Kev and Digit,
Thanks for your comments and insight to my problem. It's hard to imagine that something that sounds decent on a home or car stereo would sound that bad on the masterlink. I guess I can use it to show people what todays loud mastering can do to their recording!! :cry:
To reply to your question, "what is it plugged into?" The +4 balanced XLRs on the back of the masterlink are plugged into my +4 balanced TRS 2-track playback on my recording board.
I guess I'll have to buy a CD player from the pawn shop to do the playback of newer " Hotter " CDs so visiting musicians don't think my stuff is crap!!!
How ironic!!!! :(
Thanks, Duane

Kev Wed, 09/27/2006 - 16:23
you do need to check your Digtal Levels and the internal compression limiting as DIGIT says

Does it sound bad through the Headphone output on the front panel ?

find me an online spec sheet for your Masterlink
I can only find the MasterLink ML-9600 High-Resolution Master Disk Recorder
check your manual and tell me the MAXIMUM analog output level
+4 balanced XL is just not enough infomation

+4 balanced TRS 2-track playback on my recording board.
is not enough infomation

which board ? (exactly so we can find a spec sheet or schematic)
do check the spec sheet
what is the MAXIMUM input level for the TRS 2-track input ?

+4dBu or +4dBm is only a nominal level and without headroom details or maximum levels it won't tell you enough about what is goinf on with analog I/O when the digital levels at at or near FS

from the Alesis site for the MasterLink ML-9600 High-Resolution Master Disk Recorder

Nominal Input and Output Level
_Balanced: +4dBu (-15dBFS)
_Unbalanced: -10dBV (-15dBFS)

Maximum Output
_Balanced: +19dBu = 0dBFS
_Unbalanced: +5dBV = 0dBFS

Input Impedance
_Balanced: 15k Ohm nominal
_Unbalanced: 10kOhm nominal

This should be ok into many line inputs even if they are 600 ohm.
The output may noty like to be double terminated.

I often would use a line PAD to bring that level down by 14 to 20 dB depending on situation
ProTools alignments of say -14dBFS=+4dBu (see 1 dB difference)
or -18 /20dBFS for DigiBeta video tape units
and other basic interfacing requirements between units

that's enough for now
shut up Kev