The audible differences between good converters and "OK" converters

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by Brian Scherzer, Apr 2, 2008.

  1. Brian Scherzer

    Brian Scherzer Staff Member

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    I am reviving my basement studio. One of the lessons learned from a few years ago is that I never tracked more than 2 channels at any one time, so instead of "lesser" gear with more inputs, I have gone for "better" gear with 2 channels. So far I have replaced my old Mac G4 450 dual processor with a Sweetwater Creative Station PC, my old Digi001 with a Digi003, purchased an A Designs Pacifica dual preamp, and just ordered a UA2-1176 dual compressor. I also purchased a Pearlman TM1 mic (U47 clone) to go with my Shure KSM32 and some 57s and 58s.

    If what I read about recording gear is accurate, my weakest link is now my converters in the Digi003. Before I consider plunking down even more money for outboard AD/DA, I'd like to get a better sense of what better converters will translate into in my recording efforts. If the difference between converters like Apogee, Lynx, etc. are "subtle" (maybe an extra 2-3% improvement) when compared to using the Digi003 converters, I'd be inclined to spend that money on another mic or another preamp to get a different flavor. Thus my question......what should I expect the audible differences to be with better converters? Are these differences only apparent to those with "golden ears"?
     
  2. Kenny D

    Kenny D Member

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    When I upgraded from SONAR on a PC using a MOTU 2408 to ProTools HD-2 on a Mac Pro G5 and Digi's 96IO interface(s), the difference was immediately noticeable.

    I have only bought these two recording setups, so I am no expert in everything that is out there but, I would say that there can certainly be differences in the converters.
     
  3. chrisgraff

    chrisgraff Member

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    I've got the 003, and upgraded to UA2192 converters. On some things, like distorted guitar, the $3k converters are maybe 5% to 10% better. With acoustic sources, the difference is much more noticeable.
     
  4. GuitarsFromMars

    GuitarsFromMars Member

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    Let us start with the fact I am not involved with PT at all.The interface and the mics are the two most important parts of getting the sound to the HD-I think any upgrade you might perform in either of those devices will enable you to get a better overall recording.I have a friend who just finished an album,with a 1500 dollar pair of converters-the recording sounds as good as any pro recording I have ever heard.He also used good mics.
     
  5. Steve Dallas

    Steve Dallas Supporting Member

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    I would add 2 points:

    1. IMHO your monitors are the single most important part of the recording chain. If you can't truly hear what you are recording, you can't make a good recording.
    2. There are only a handful of actual converter chips on the market. It is how they are implemented that makes the difference. For example, MOTU and RME use the same AKM chips, but RME sounds much better. Why? The analog signal path is better designed and uses better components and the RME has a better clock with lower jitter.

    I think the most bang for the buck in your case would be to have Black Lion mod your Digi003. I sent them my HD192 and think it made a 33% subjective improvement in how it sounds.

    As a post script, I would say to keep in mind that your analog outboard gear tends to hold its value or increase and digital gear is almost disposable. I would put my money into things that hold their value and just take it as a fact of life that newer/better/cheaper digital gear will be coming out all the time.
     
  6. Jayson Chance

    Jayson Chance Member

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    Good thoughts here. My $.02 is this...

    First off, the preamps and conversion of the 003 are quite improved over a Digi 002 and certainly an 001. In fact, I'd venture to call the "in the box" sound of an 003 as quite satisfactory...Pretty good, even.

    With that in mind, I think that if you are to spend more money right now, make sure you have good mics & preamps. They will make a much bigger difference.

    Sure, the high end converters are awesome, and there's a difference in overall clarity for sure. But it's not "make or break" unless you are doing a full-fledged professional album project. Even then, I hear too many demo and indie record projects done here in town on G4's & G5's with Digi 002's that sound WONDERFUL. So the engineer & individual musicians/singers/instruments make a bigger difference than converters alone.

    Don't get me wrong... Some of the HD studios I work in with the Benchmark, Apogee, and Radar stuff are amazing. But while important, I generally would shy away from jumping into high end conversion until you have all the other basics covered. To me, top-shelf converters are "icing on the cake," but the mics & pres are the "batter that makes the cake," so to speak.

    And while I'm pigeon-holed into using Pro Tools because of my work, I don't shy away from dogging Digidesign's very average LE hardware. That being said, I think the Digi 003 is getting them closer to having a satisfactory LE workstation. You should be able to get good sounds with one without *having* to use external conversion, for sure.

    If you're dead set on improving your conversion, though... I've yet to hear a SINGLE bad word about anything Black Lion does. I know a few guys here that have some of their products & mods, and everyone I've talked to says that it's wonderful. So I'd be inclined to just have the 003 modded and be done with it *if* you really feel like the converters, clocking, & preamps need to be addressed immediately.
     
  7. jdier

    jdier Member

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    That is great advise from s2

    I have never really used nice converters. I used to use Aardvark Q10's and moved to an RME FF800 and an Octamic D and the sound differences are negligible. The FF800 smokes in terms of stability, ease of use, and software implementation though.
     
  8. Brian Scherzer

    Brian Scherzer Staff Member

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    I think that I now have very good front-end gear. The Pacifica preamps and the UA1176 compressors are the best I felt that I could afford. The Pearlman TM1 mic has a lot of good reviews from users. My recording room is a basement and the best I can do is to neutralize the issues I face with the limitations of the room.

    Upcoming projects that I can envision are somewhat different than what I did in the past. I'll likely always be involved in blues, but have some friends who are into bluegrass and some jazz. I happen to love the sound of a well-played sax, so there will be less emphasis on distorted guitars and a move toward more space between instruments.
     
  9. Sunbreak Music

    Sunbreak Music Member

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    No one has mentioned it, but have you treated your room for proper acoustic response?

    It's still the most important aspect--above converters and even monitors imo.

    I can't see a reason why you would have to upgrade converters--I mean, you always can, but I'd probably go in a mic or pre direction if tracking is what you enjoy. I've heard plenty of good work from the converters you have, and also from some "lesser" ones.
     
  10. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    Not as important as it was in the days before nearfields, but still quite important. Over monitors? Not imo.
     
  11. Sunbreak Music

    Sunbreak Music Member

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    I see nearfields as more of a concept.

    In order of importance, you'd put room treatment post monitor purchase?

    In my experience, people's rooms lie to them more than gear.

    But I've had some pretty bad rooms. ;)
     
  12. Brian Scherzer

    Brian Scherzer Staff Member

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    Short of a total rebuild of my basement (not going to happen!), the best I can do is what I have done....neutralize the room. I have been into high end home audio for years before ever getting into home recording, so I utilized the same principles, adding bass traps and neutralizing reflections as best I could. The basement has cement walls, a wood ceiling, and metal ducts (unfinished basement) that had to be dealt with. It will never be a good sounding room, but I have done what I can to keep it from being a bad sounding room. I recently added the JBL 8" monitors with the "self-correction" system. I do like them better than the Mackies 824s that I had.

    Bear with me as I explain further. It is my home audio system that is the "problem" as regards my recording gear purchases. I know what incredible recordings can sound like when played on a well-matched system in a well-treated room. Every instrument sounds real and has a well-defined space in the recording. There is a blackness there where no buzz or extra noise seems to interfere with the music, and there is a deep soundstage, as well as a wide one.

    My old recordings suffer from mic placement issues, a less than stellar mix engineer (me), but I also think that I hear a "haze" over the recordings I did. The haze increases as I listen to more tracks in the tune. I have assumed that some of this is the gear itself, since it appears in every recording I did on the old gear.

    I would be the first to accept that I need to learn more about proper mic placement and mixing. For that reason, I am getting some help from more experienced pro engineers. In addition, I want to make sure that the dollars spent on gear are wisely spent, rather than blow parts of the budget on things that will have little impact. I think that the front end pieces I have purchased put me at the low end of the high end gear. The Pacifica is a pretty good dual preamp, the Pearlman TM1 may not stack up to some of the more expensive mics out there, but it will do well for its price point, and the UA2-1176 compressors are as good as I could afford. The real question I guess I'm asking is if the Digi003 converters are good enough to let through what the front end is capturing. If better converters will give me lower noise, better definition to each track and then to the sum of the tracks, smooth out edginess....and if this makes a truly audible difference.....the roughly $2k that I would need to spend would be worth it to me. If the differences are very subtle, I'd be inclined to add another good mic or preamp instead.
     
  13. Sunbreak Music

    Sunbreak Music Member

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    In that case, I'd say the converters you have are fine. And don't downplay your gear--that's really nice stuff.

    I wouldn't attribute noise or lack of clarity to the 003s. I've just heard too much good stuff come from things like Delta 1010s--but that's generally when they're in the hands of someone w/ quite a bit of experience. Sounds more like issues w/ gain staging and the usual struggles of learning the art of mixing, along w/ the mic placement you mentioned. I've been there--believe me.

    The irony is that sometimes you have to spend a bunch of money on gear to realize you could have done much better at the time w/ what you had. But it's still nice to have good gear. ;-)
     
  14. testing1two

    testing1two Gold Supporting Member

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    I think that the price point of the Black Lion mods for your 003 would be a worthwhile investment as opposed to taking the plunge into high end converters.
     
  15. tradarama

    tradarama www.PRIMEGUITARS.com Silver Supporting Member

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    I started with an Aardvark Q10 and did some tracks.....never quite captured "the" sound.

    I'm fortunate enough to have gotten a Cranesong HEDD 192....suddenly the tracks had life, sizzle and warmth.

    I recently purchased (used at a great price) an extremely nice pair of studio monitors that (believe it or not) have converters in them.

    I had the chance to run directly out of my computer into the converters in the monitors (again not cheap converters by any means)....the same great tracks sounded tubby, 1D, flat and overall just lousy. I swapped back into my standard converter and heard the tracks I loved again.

    My point is that (a) every converter has a personality and you may/may not like it & (b) higher end converters generally add some degree of clarity, fullness, and spectrum.
     
  16. johnnyguitar

    johnnyguitar Long in the tooth Silver Supporting Member

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    I never had a problem with your basement studio..I thought it was my playing!!!. Anyway, I've upgraded to Digi002 and the difference between that and the 001 is quite noticeable..I think the stuff you had before was really nice equipment and your move to 003 is going to make a huge difference in quality of sound..I've gone back and listened to some songs we did and except for a few minor bobbles the sound was quite good..a little more time on the mix with modern plugins would have been a nice touch..you might be surprised what your new rig can do when you've spent more time with it..I think recording is a lot like guitars..I've owned 4 Gazillion and everyone of them sounds like me..I've concentrated more on songwriting and playing so the technical side of ProTools has always been in the basic stage..I had a old recording guy tell me once..Son..if you don't have a purpose for every one of those notes..don't play it!!! And you should really master the equipment you have..before moving on to something new...hope this helps , my friend....
     
  17. Brian Scherzer

    Brian Scherzer Staff Member

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    For those who may not have guessed, John is my buddy in recording and the guy that writes the tunes and plays guitar on them. I have digested everything said in this thread and truly appreciate the time spent in replies. My guess at this point is that I will work with what I have and will eventually end up buying good converters once I improve my own skills to the point that it would make a difference that merits the expense. However, I will keep my eyes open for converters on the used market.
     
  18. Sunbreak Music

    Sunbreak Music Member

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    I think that's the right approach. My standard line is "don't spend the money if you can't hear the difference"--doesn't at all mean that someone doesn't have ears. I couldn't hear the difference in a lot of things when I started, but over time and with practice you begin to--esp. in the right environment. Getting into other folk's spaces really helps with that.

    It's a long journey of incremental gains, but hey--it's what we do, right? It's a calling........... :D
     
  19. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    They don't drive room nodes and standing waves and whatnot nearly as hard as "the bigs" used too. Then again, I tend to work pretty quietly for the most part.

    Unless one is hiring a pro designer and doing a purpose-built installation from the ground up (or a complete redesign/build) one can use all manner of products, both commercial and home-brew, to deal with (at least) many of the room anomalies/probs that emerge.
     
  20. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Uh... yeah, you now have very good front-end gear. :D

    I'm not familiar with the clock/converters on a Digi 003. What Jason said is pretty much what I've heard from other people, professionals with excellent ears, but I don't know first-hand.

    How do you feel it sounds compared to the 001?

    What issues are you having?
     

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