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Which quality of the soundcard for mastering?

Hey, mastering guys and gals,
Some people says, that if I use for the mastering software equipment only, I don't need any expansive sound-card, because everything is doing in digital process. I mean that good soundcard is necessary for good monitoring of the mastered sound.
Thanks for any opinion.

Comments

Cucco Sun, 09/17/2006 - 11:43
Well...if you only plan on using plug-ins for mastering, then the soundcard has no impact whatsoever on the sound.

However, for monitoring, yes you do need a decent to good soundcard.

In reality, if you're just using plugs for mastering, the caliber of the soundcard is probably not that important as you're likely to not notice a big difference between big, expensive cards like the Lynx cards or cheapos like the Creative Labs, etc.

J.

Zilla Mon, 09/18/2006 - 16:12
From an electronic stand point, the card must be able to send and receive digital signals with accuracy and low jitter. From a software point, the card's drivers need to be written well so that data can transfered between card and application in a stable manner without degradation.

So my opinion and experience is that even though you are *only* transfering digital audio, quality does differ from card to card.

DavidSpearritt Tue, 02/06/2007 - 03:30
Zilla wrote: From an electronic stand point, the card must be able to send and receive digital signals with accuracy and low jitter.

There is no jitter transferred in the digital domain, all that matters is the data is bit accurate.

From a software point, the card's drivers need to be written well so that data can transfered between card and application in a stable manner without degradation.

Again, assuming pure digital transfer, "without crashing or dropping bits or changing bits" is closer to what the card needs to do.

So my opinion and experience is that even though you are *only* transfering digital audio, quality does differ from card to card.

Doubt it, unless the card is broken. Does ribbon cable quality (assuming data perfection) from your HDD inside your computer make a difference? No of course not!

Zilla Tue, 02/06/2007 - 09:43
DavidSpearritt wrote: There is no jitter transferred in the digital domain, all that matters is the data is bit accurate.
Which digital domain you are specifying. If you are referring to the domain which exists between the audio card and the motherboard, then you may have a point. In my post, I was referring to the domain which exists between the card and the outside world. In this scenario a digital audio clock certainly comes into play. Should that clock not be stable, or the input receiver or output driver be poorly designed, then jitter may very well be greater than one would want.

DavidSpearritt wrote: Again, assuming pure digital transfer, "without crashing or dropping bits or changing bits" is closer to what the card needs to do.
Mostly..yes...I think.. but I'm sorry, I just don't know what a "pure digital transfer" is. Maybe you would elaborate. None the less, it appears (to me) that driver code can influence sonics. For example, switching between ASIO and MME/WDM drivers for the same audio card can subtly change the sound. Maybe this has more do with the particular protocol than code quality. Even so, theoretically, there should not be any sonic difference because its still the same data, no? Yet...

DavidSpearritt wrote: Doubt it, unless the card is broken. Does ribbon cable quality (assuming data perfection) from your HDD inside your computer make a difference? No of course not!
We have found that ribbon cables can indeed make a difference. Differences which can be captured on hard drive. Differences which are perceived all the way down to the final burned CD. For some these differences would hardly be significant, and this would be a totally valid judgment. So doubt all you like, I hope you won't mind if I stand with the evidence of my own ears. Should you find yourself in Hollywood, feel free to stop by, have a cup and have a listen yourself.

DavidSpearritt Tue, 02/06/2007 - 12:48
Zilla wrote: Which digital domain you are specifying.
Any digital transfer, the only place the DATA is reclocked is in the DAC, every transfer before that is buffered.

Should that clock not be stable, or the input receiver or output driver be poorly designed, then ...
Its broken.

I just don't know what a "pure digital transfer" is. Maybe you would elaborate.
Any transfer of data in the digital domain.

None the less, it appears (to me) that driver code can influence sonics. For example, switching between ASIO and MME/WDM drivers for the same audio card can subtly change the sound.
This is implausible and debated many times.

Maybe this has more do with the particular protocol than code quality.
No that can't be it either, its all just data flowing along, if one bit is dropped or changed then the system is broken.

We have found that ribbon cables can indeed make a difference. Differences which can be captured on hard drive. Differences which are perceived all the way down to the final burned CD.

Big sigh here.

So doubt all you like, I hope you won't mind if I stand with the evidence of my own ears.
Of course not, I respect that you hear a difference, but you are listening to a broken system.

Should you find yourself in Hollywood, feel free to stop by, have a cup and have a listen yourself.

Thanks Scott, I would like to meet you and listen to these anomolies. :)

Cucco Wed, 02/07/2007 - 18:47
None the less, it appears (to me) that driver code can influence sonics. For example, switching between ASIO and MME/WDM drivers for the same audio card can subtly change the sound.
This is implausible and debated many times.

Maybe this has more do with the particular protocol than code quality.
No that can't be it either, its all just data flowing along, if one bit is dropped or changed then the system is broken.
It seems as though this should be VERY easy to test.

Send the same signal into the workstation digitally. One using one driver type, the other using any other variety.

If there is in fact a difference a simple phase reversal would reveal the differences.

Anyone game (and have the extra 10 minutes to try it?)

Mr. Spearritt - I think you know I'm always game for tests like this. Set up the parameters and I'll run it accordingly.

J.

Michael Fossenkemper Thu, 02/08/2007 - 20:37
Theoretically this is true, but in the real world I don't find this to be true. I can run the same audio on the same computer from the same hard drive through the same DAC using only different software and it sounds different. I don't see my system as being broke, but I do hear a difference. there can be many things that cause this difference and I can spend countless hours, days, months trying to find out why. OR I can just go with the better sounding one. It's not a subtle difference either. I can run say protools in OS9, play the same audio in OSX and it's different, then play it in logic, different yet again. I'm not tech geek so I can't tell you exactly why although I know enough to paint myself into a corner. But I've got things to do and sessions to complete so I go with what sounds the best to me.

DavidSpearritt Fri, 02/09/2007 - 01:28
Michael Fossenkemper wrote: Theoretically this is true, but in the real world I don't find this to be true.

That's because people's idea of the real world, is to conduct flawed experiments, like ...

I can run the same audio on the same computer from the same hard drive through the same DAC using only different software and it sounds different.

Careful testing is required with software comparisons, checking that no unintended dithering or plugins or gain settings are active. Firstly, very basic testing is required, simple WAV file playback, with the digital output just before the DAC being recorded and data compared, then one works from there.

I don't see my system as being broke, but I do hear a difference. there can be many things that cause this difference and I can spend countless hours, days, months trying to find out why.

Or, you could try to get to the bottom of it with some simple tests, actually there aren't "many things that cause this difference" at all.

OR I can just go with the better sounding one. It's not a subtle difference either. I can run say protools in OS9, play the same audio in OSX and it's different, then play it in logic, different yet again. I'm not tech geek so I can't tell you exactly why although I know enough to paint myself into a corner. But I've got things to do and sessions to complete so I go with what sounds the best to me.

Well, this is a sensible way to go, but you then can't really say one sounds better than the other until you know why, to eliminate any faulty experimental technique. As there is, clearly, no consensus amongst industry professionals about the best sounding software, this is proof positive that flawed experiments generally drive these conclusions.

Michael Fossenkemper Fri, 02/09/2007 - 08:14
Well I've been around the block for awhile and like to think I know a little bit about what i'm doing though I don't really spend time conducting conclusive experiments as to why software sounds different. But when there are a few vet engineers sitting in a room and we all turn and look at each other when we hear a difference... now most of these differences I hear are when you have the audio engine perform some kind of calculation. I'm guessing it has to do with how and where the calculation is being performed, but I don't know. Now when I say "best one" of coarse that's my subjective opinion and is any thing processing wise in audio. are you saying that all audio software or engines perform the exact same calculations in the same way?

Cucco Fri, 02/09/2007 - 08:22
Michael Fossenkemper wrote: are you saying that all audio software or engines perform the exact same calculations in the same way?

That is the argument in fact.

David and I have definitely voiced our opinions on this subject numerous times in the past(opposite opinions that is). We even did a mild test, which, arguably proved his point. However, my thought on the subject (and on that particular test) is that it's not simply how an audio engine *PLAYS* the file, but what happens when calculations are performed on it.

Personally, I have heard significant differences between files with computations performed (even as small of a computation as a simple hard pan then bounce - using no dither).

Since I no longer have Cubase or any other DAW than Sequoia, I certainly can't put my money where my mouth is, but my ears convince me enough that I don't need to "prove" it to myself. I'm content with my decisions. I think that's what it comes down to.

aracu Fri, 02/09/2007 - 08:22
The quality of every component in the computer is related in some way to
the overall audio performance. The sound card especially so,
because depending on how well it´s drivers are written will determine
how well it will function with all of the software. So you want the highest
quality audio interface/soundcard as possible with the best possible track record of compatability and updating it´s drivers for the audio programs
you use. Also, has been already said, with as good converters as
possible to play back the audio. Some good soundcards are made by
Lynx and RME (and Egosys, more popular in Asia). Lynx probably
has better converters, while RME may have better or more complete
drivers. Top of the line Egosys is high quality, low cost, not great technical
support.

Cucco Fri, 02/09/2007 - 08:37
There's really no doubt that soundcards make a difference. Especially when it comes to conversion (A to D or D to A).

However, if a purely digital transfer is involved, driver differences should make NO difference. The fact is, you're receiving a straight binary stream. Either it receives it (and writes it to disk) or it doesn't. If it receives it and you don't have a 1 for 1 match, something IS wrong.

In otherwords, the sound card is either *dropping* bits or modifying bits. If it does either of these...sell your card on Ebay.

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 02/09/2007 - 09:36
A guy I used to work with used to complain endlessly about "how bad Sony ACID sounded" compared to our other programs. He'd complain about this on an almost daily basis. We get project files from people in all different formats from people who work in their home project studios, so we run about 5 different DAW programs.... and he claimed to hear differences in one or two of the programs. Usually his complaining was confined to ACID, but occasionally he'd complain about the "sound" of other programs.

Personally being the EE type, I always thought my friend was crazy and just hearing things.... My hypothesis at the time was: I think what he was hearing was the pricetag difference between one DAW program and another.

Still I never dismissed his opinion entirely since I was never truly familiar with how the software works internally. Intuitively, youd think all drivers and DAWs are doing the identical thing (more or less)... maybe not. My other hypothesis was that he had some setting wrong in ACID and was maybe truncating files instead of dithering when he rendered them.... but he'd complain about the sound even when the files were not rendered yet.

DavidSpearritt Fri, 02/09/2007 - 10:54
I don't want to start another long thread about this as its all been done before, many times, eg. here is a classic thread...

http://

1. Michael, yes, this is what I am saying, all the big name DAW's now use the same calculation routines, ie accepted best practice methods. If one was noticeably better than another, we and the other software teams would know about it.

2. I am assuming that we are using a high quality external jitter immune DAC, and that no domain changing is occurring in the sound card, that is a can of worms and obviously one will sound better than another depending on the differences in conversion, this is not the argument here.

3. Aracu, the "quality" in a purely digital system is less important than where a domain changes and completely irrelevant if data is transferred correctly, which is the whole reason we went digital in the first place, ie to eliminate variations in sound. We are talking a purely digital system. My Nagra V digital recorder is no better than an M box if we are both using an external digital source. No better, as long as the bits are recorded without dropping or changing any.

With respect ...

Michael Fossenkemper Fri, 02/09/2007 - 13:53
So If i'm playing a file in a "system" and the only thing that changes is the software playing back the file, then I'm just hearing things. I find that kind of hard to believe, unless you are just talking about the major players in the last few years. I don't believe protools 5.0 is using the same coding, or whatever it's called, as 7.0. I can believe that in the last couple of years the better stuff gets around a eventually makes it's way into all of the platforms.

also what does jitter have to do with it if the audio is being played in the same system?

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 02/09/2007 - 14:27
Here is a possibility that may not have been thought of. I coincidentally stumbled upon an article today which shows that this could, at least be partly responsible in some situations.


It was an article on the various stereo panning laws, and as many of us know, the various softwares allow you to adjust this to your exact specs, or at least, choose from a default menu of the most common.

Now, normally, the "default" is -3dB sin/cos panning..... This is kindof the defacto universal standard... but some people like to tweak it. One thing I have noticed is that on my various DAW programs... sometimes this gets changed inadvertently by somebody... and sometimes when you get a new program it may not even be -3dB by default but 0dB instead. I just reinstalled SONAR today because my old one was crapping out, and I noticed it was on 0dB sin/cos (not sqr rt) law by default instead of -3dB.

The panning law used changes the sound quite a bit... its not like its a piss ant insignificant difference which is barely noticeable. So... that could be one theory which not only is technically sound... but practically speaking... its a possibility also. If the default setting gets changed in the menu... its going to change the way the stereo field is perceived.
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