High End Converters

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by PCM, Aug 27, 2005.

  1. PCM

    PCM Guest


    So this is more of a poll than a question I assume. But lately, my RME converters have been acting funny (I think the clock may be going- or bad optical cabling...not sure yet) so I've just been using my DIGI002r.

    I have to say, that when I really listen, I can't tell much of a difference. Obviously RME doesn't compare to Lucid, Benchmark, Lavry etc....but I guess my question is...with so much "hating" on mid-level converters...are they really as important as people say?

    I've been reading Kurt's posts on converters for some time now, and while at first I didn't agree with his posts, I'm starting to think that the price of good electronics and clock tehnology has come down so much, that a 002r or Motu traveller or whatever else mid-level conversion is good enough for anyone planning to mix down in a large studio.

    Honestly, I've taken some really crappy tracks to the studio (before I bought "good" gear), and the engineers have worked it into beautiful polished recordings.

    So seriously, for someone like myself who engineers (but is mostly a recording musician), the mid-level converters seem to be more than capable.

    I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts and opinions as to how much good conversion improved their overall product. Because I don't want to spend money on new outboard conversion (assuming my RME is even broken).

  2. TornadoTed

    TornadoTed Guest

    It is important as it is part of the input signal chain. However I think it's one of the least important in the chain and the one link that you can 'get away with' having cheaper gear which certainly can't be said of mic-pres and mics. It's certainly something I'm going to seriously look at once I've got my mic-pre and mic collections nailed and not before. IMHO the differnece between great and average mics and pre-amps is far greater than great converters and average ones.
  3. PCM

    PCM Guest

    my point exactly. I've already got great outboard gear that sounds really good even through the 002r. Now, a couple years back i had a 001 and that actually sounded pretty crappy. But IMO, that is a "low-end" piece of AD/DA gear rather than mid-level.
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Hey PCM!

    I kind of agree with Ted and I kind of disagree. While I agree that, when factoring in the following:
    Outboard gear
    The AD is the least important part of the signal.

    However, (a BIG however), the sound that a bad A/D can impart on a track can be just wretched! Think brittle, fatiguing high end, sloppy, non-defined low register and a etchy mid-range. IOW, bad conversion can make a song tough to listen to.

    My advice is to get the best that you can afford and don't feel in anyway that you can "skimp" on ADs and be okay.

    FWIW, there are some Myteks on ebay for a damn good price.

  5. tedcrop

    tedcrop Guest

    I am using the Apogee converters Rosetta and 16x and have my whole system clocked to big ben. I was using Multiface converters. I am not knocking RME but GD with the apogee stuf there is no comparison--none it hands down blows it away--period. I can hear a major difference in the low end, the high end and the stereo field.
  6. Duardo

    Duardo Guest

    I agree that the differences with converters are more subtle, especially when you compare the various "mid-priced" options from companies like MOTU, RME and the lower-end Digidesign stuff. However, when you do get into the higher-end stuff (Lavry, Apogee...especially the newer stuff...and even the Digidesign 192) the differences aren't as subtle, although they're still not nearly as noticeable as the differences between many of the preamps on the market. Especially since preamps vary greatly in terms of color...intentionally...where just about every converter out there is designed to impart as little character on the sound as possible, so the differences that are there will not be there intentionally and will likely just be differences due to price and design differences.

    I think it also depends on what you're recording. If you're doing more purist acoustic-type stuff or very sparse arrangements you'll likely notice the difference more than if you're doing more with electronic instruments (which often will have to pass through D/A converters that are inferior to even the cheaper A/D converter), distorted instruments, or anything that's heavily processed. All that stuff can easily mask the subtle differences. Even the preamps can make a difference...you're much more likely to notice the difference through a "cleaner" signal path (GML/solid-state transformerless Millennia/Grace-type stuff) than through a path with more "character" (Neve-ish/API-ish/tube/transformer Millennia-type stuff) which, based on Kurt's stated preferences, may be why he doesn't feel that the extra expense of better converters is warranted.

  7. lastounce

    lastounce Guest

    I tried the RME adi 8 pro DS against the rosetta 800 and the RME was the clear winner - by far! and it makes a HUGE difference against the digi002's converters. unbelievable.
  8. Duardo

    Duardo Guest

    That's funny, my impressions were the opposite...while I haven't tried the RME against the Rosetta 800 I did try it against the older AD16, and I thought the Apogee sounded better. And the Rosetta 800 is an improvement over the AD16. These are definitely subjective things.

  9. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    i tried the rme adi8 in nuendo disguise vs. the rosetta 800... with and without the bigben....

    first i tried without the big ben... both converter outputs were measured....the rme was 0.2 dB lower in output...

    still.... without the big ben the rme kicked it's butt!! more presence... more musically sounding.... the rosetta sounded distant in the mids and hyped in the lows and highs

    then with the big ben driving both the difference was smaller.... but still.... the rme sounded better.... and louder! mind you it was 0.2dB lower!

    then i removed the big ben.... the rme now sounded better still!

    conclusion.... imo the rme adi 8 sounds better than rosetta 800 WITH bigben!! i think the reason people get seduced by apogee products is their color.... (the boost in highs and lows).....

    so PCM .... if it's an adi8 converter you have get it fixed.... and rest assured that it compares pretty well to socalled "hiend" converters out there.... btw.... the benchmark isn't all that fantastic.....

    (i'm sitting here imagining a worst case scenario: a brauner mic into an avalon pre into an apogee converter! monitored on adams! hype upon hype upon boosted lows and highs... :-? )
  10. Duardo

    Duardo Guest

    If the RME was louder that just means it was calibrated differently.

    I'm not even sure if I should say that the AD16 sounded "better", but in comparison to the analog source, it absolutely sounded more like it than the RME did. If I didn't have that to comapre to I'm not sure which way I would have gone.

  11. alexaudio

    alexaudio Active Member

    Apr 28, 2005
    The conversation of ADCs seems to be a hot topic these days...been seeing comments about them on various boards here and elsewhere. I responded to some comments about ADCs on the Acoustic Forum and apologize now for repeating some of those comments if you already read that thread...

    Far as ADCs are concerned, it is important to test ADCs side by side and pay close attention to the technical variables that make certain units perform better (or worse) in certain applications. Otherwise, without taking all technical variables into consideration and accomidating for them, our opinions are quite subjective. ADC performance will vary depending on what you are using to feed them. One of several variables that is often overlooked is the nominal operating level and clip level of an ADC and ensure that the analog equipment feeding the ADCs matches relatively closely. This point is often overlooked. This goes back to appropriately setting up your levels for optimized headroom, SNR, etc. in a system. Back to good old analog days. :)

    An example:
    If you are feeding your ADCs with a mixer that has a nominal operating level of 0VU equaling 0dbu with its clip level around +20dbu, using an ADC with a nominal input level ref'd to +4db (equalling -20dbfs) and a clip level of +24dbu, you will clipping your analog equipment 4db before that of the ADC. Said another way, you are wasting 4db of useful resolution of that ADC, and thus may not be getting the full resolution and best SNR of that ADC. Or, you may be overdriving your analog components just to get perceived higher resolution on the ADC (I have scene this). If you connect an ADC that does have its nominal level of 0dbu (equalling -20dbfs) in its analog input stage and a clip level of +20dbu, your ADCs performance will be on par with the rest of your system, and your recorded results will reflect that. I have seen just this situation with someone feeding a Benchmark card frame ADC then an RME converter. Benchmarks analog components in their card frame ADCs are calibrated for +4dbu/+27dbu clip level if I am not mistaken. After I corrected his methods of evaluation, he got to hear the Benchmark for all its glory and then heard deficiencies in the RME.

    Same in point goes for high end microphone pre’s, which typically clip at between +24dbu and +36dbu. You will want to utilize an ADC that clips at +24dbu or higher to maximize overall system performance.

    That said, ensure that your input levels are the same and that you have accomidated for the differences when either shopping, comparing and testing converters. I fully calibrate both the analog and digital side of system to maximize performance. Then I will run a series of tests to compare the units and listen carefully. By doing so, I have found certain converters to perform extremely well and others poorly.

    I have not had pleasant experience with RMEs. I have only thouroughly tested the RME ADI-8 Pro. I found, when comparing those converters to others, accomidating for variables indicated above and others, that the RME converters lack detailed resolution. Their clip level is extremely low (+19dbu) and in most cases, does not mach that of other professional equipment. At the time of testing, I did find out that RME does provide modifications to allow +24dbu clip level, but the noise floor/SNR of the converter is then sacrificed. Having said all that, I have found RME has excellent technical merit on the digital side of their equipment, but lack proper understanding and methodologies when it comes to their analog design.

    I have found similar situations with Alesis, Swissonic, M-audio and a few others.

    I have not found this to me the case and have found that the "L's":
    Lucid and Lynx, both to be good mid-priced converters. Apogee is also quite nice.

    Those that I found to perform the best and most consistent are: Genex, Benchmark and Mytek. I personally have owned or utilize Benchmark and Genex, and have rented Myteks.

    Of course, if you have more $, Lavry is a wonderful unit, and then if you have lots of $, Prism and EMMLabs are both excellent.
  12. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    nice one duardo..... did you read what i wrote??

    the rme was 0.2dB LOWER in output..... :shock:

    i know the importance of calibrating the output level when you listen.... of course the first thin i did was to run 1kHz out of both conversters....

    as i had to use the same channel on the mixer for both converters i decided to give the rme a chance.... even though the level was 0.2dB down... and as i wrote it sounded louder... as a whole.... the lows and highs seemed a bit higher on the apogee.... a bit like a "smiley curve" on an eq.... i think this is why people like it.... in many cases a "smiley" will make your track seem more "finished".... but imo it's not neutral.... and anyway the midrange is far more important in delivering 90% of the information in a mix.... one can ALWAYS get more lows/highs... but the midrange is more difficult imo...
  13. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    alex..... i don't see the absolut clipping level to be something to dismiss any converter on.... if it clips i turn down the output of the previous unit... it's that simple.....

    every piece of equipment out there is calibrated differently.... and i don't care.... i use ears and meters to ensure everything is running smoothly... i know calibration is important to alot of "olskool" engineers but not to me...

    and btw..... it think you mostly skipped describing the sound of the mentioned converters... the sound should be the most important parameter of a unit.... not the calibration point...

    btw the protools hd system puts out +18dBU.... and clips at that level too.... is protools useless???

    but let's remember that sound is a subjective thing.... you have to listen for yourself!!!!!
  14. alexaudio

    alexaudio Active Member

    Apr 28, 2005
    I am not saying that the absolute clip level makes a converter good or bad necessarily. If that was the case, I'd harp on some of the other converters I mentioned...not all have the same clip point. I just was reciting what I found, tis all. I am saying that the way we, as engineers, incorporate our audio components to the digital components actually can change our desired results and can compromise overall performance, including the way things sound and thus our subjective opinions. To provide subjective opinion that gains merit, these variables do indeed way in, this can be shown in ABX testing. Sound is very important, but how we get the best sound when comparing items, these variables become crucial.

    As we all know, audio recording is an art and a science. Though it may seem old school, not paying attention the technical end of things does effect system performance, such as SNR. Things will likely sound even better if these areas are paid attention too.

    Btw, not sure which Protools HD rig you are using, but the one I have utilized at another studio here in town clips much higher than that. Even there published specs have optimum THD+N at +21dbu.
  15. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    basically i agree....

    i'm used to working on a pt hd2 system with 3 96i/o and an rme adi 8 in nuendo disguise...

    when i send +4dBU/1.223V into it it reads -14dBFS on the meters... as did the 888/24's i used before...
  16. alexaudio

    alexaudio Active Member

    Apr 28, 2005
    Are there level difference between the 96 and 192 I/O boxes? Love to know in case I run into them. I am used to the 192 I/O.

  17. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    according to digi the 96 i/o has 14dB headroom above +4dBU.... the 192i/o has 18dB... thus giving it a max in/out level at +22dBU
  18. Duardo

    Duardo Guest

    Sorry, yes, I did read what you wrote...in either case, small differences either way can certainly affect how you perceive things. Were you monitoring your outputs throught the same converters, or were you listening to Apogee AD/DA vs RME AD/DA?

    That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Why wouldn't you want your gear to run at its optimum level?

    Converters shouldn't have a "sound" to them at all...the fact that we have to describe how they sound means that they've still got a ways to go.

  19. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    ok.... i assumed you didn't..... sorry..... as it's my experience that people always prefer the louder test object... 0.2 dB seems more present.... but not in this case...

    i want my gear to run at optimal levels.... that why i use my ears and my meters to determine what's going on.... as i wrote... that doesn't mean that the ONLY way to do it is calibrating everything....

    all audio equipment has a sound.... period!!! be it an a/d an eletrolytic in series or a poweramp.... some gear is more colored than other but even really expensive gear is colored....

    i only tested the d/a part of the rosetta.... and as it sounded as inferior as it did i dismissed it.... i will test the a/d section thoroughly asap

    what i did was send the same signal from nuendo to both d/a's and moved the cables around.... the singer that was also present was able to hear it too...
  20. Duardo

    Duardo Guest

    Ah, for some reason I thought you were testing A/D's. I think testing DA's is harder to do because you generally don't have a reference to compare it to, so you do oftentimes go with what sounds "better"...but as far as converters are concerned what you really want is what sounds the closest to the source.

    When I've A-B'd A/D's with others and had the analog source to compare to we've generally all agreed which converter sounded closest to the analog signal (which, in the RME/Apogee case were the Apogee converters). At the same time we all agreed that if we didn't have that analog source to compare to we wouldn't necessarily have agreed which one sounded "better".


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