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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Sound Of Converters

It used to be that the sound of a DAW was dictated by the kind of A/D and D/A convertors you used, so much so that studios and engineers went to great lengths to buy the best, highest end units they could find. But as the years have gone by, prices of expensive chip sets used in converters have dropped so much that even the cheapest now uses almost the same components as the current best, which results in about the same sound quality.

This was recently perfectly illustrated in a shootout conducted by the excellent UK magazine, Sound On Sound, where they compared the new Avid HD Omni, and original Digidesign 192 IO, a Prism Sound ADA-8XR and a new Apogee Symphony I/O in a blind test.

While there were some differences heard between the interfaces, just about all the people involved admitted that they were splitting hairs to hear them, which I think is a good thing. While this may seem like a recipe for buying the cheapest unit possible the next time an opportunity presents itself, keep in mind that:

1) the sound of your system is culmination of your entire signal chain, not just the converters. Certain gear plays nice better with certain gear than other gear, which means that one unit might just sound better than anything else.

2) the feature set of each unit has now become more important than the sound quality, if they're all pretty much in the same audio quality ballpark.

3) you can still use the same components in different interfaces, but the way they're used can make a big difference. For instance, a bigger, better designed power supply with allow the unit to provide more headroom before distortion.

4) converters might not mean that much to your setup if you're mixing in the box.

Ten years ago convertors made a huge difference; today not as much. For once, quality gets better as time marches on.

Read the entire Sound On Sound article here.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would agree. A decade ago, when I bought my first audio interfaces, the MOTU 2408 (original) was considered a breakthrough Swiss Army Knife of interfaces. Then when it was superseded by the 24-bit 2408mk2, I heard my work take a leap up in clarity. Then I jumped to Metric Halo interfaces, which was another (very significant) leap up. Recently I went back to a high-end MOTU interface and found only very minor differences. In the past several years, at least as far as audio interfaces for computers go, there've been huge improvements, and one can make great, pristine recordings using mid-grade gear at a reasonable price point.

(I still think some of the low-end gear really shows itself, so I'd avoid it, but there's lots of affordable options.)


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