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acro



Joined: 19/04/05
Posts: 303
Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up
      #958307 - 10/12/11 05:18 PM
This gives me headaches.

I am about to order a new set of monitors in the range of £1500. I am also thinking of getting an RME fireface card. I ll hook it up to iMac my main DAW.

Now, i have a laptop with an echo indigo card on it plus a cd player and a turntable that i would like to be able to listen through my new monitors as well.

Option 1: connect them all to the RME and monitor through this. (turntable will need a phono amp).
this way signals will pass through an unnecessary AD/DA stage that i am worried would affect quality a bit..or maybe it wont be noticable.

Option 2: get a monitor controller with a few extra inputs for laptop etc. After researching this i found that you need over $500 for anything decent and also discovered that low cost passive ones have problems with stereo imaging at very low levels - something that might cause me problems as i work in post for film and often i mix at very low levels i.e. atmospheres for example.

Option 3: get that Coleman audio LS3 little switch that allows 3 sources to be connected. Can connect my iMac, laptop and cd player but no room for turntable. This seems the most cost effecting solution in terms of audio quality but i ll have to constantly switch between sources.

Option 4: Get a small mixer like a soundcraft to connect all my sources before going to monitors. I like having a mixer as it gives me flexibility that i can use for music recording/making but i am worried it ll affect signal quality.

Will i be able to notice any differences. Which option will affect my signal less? The ADDA stage of iption 1 or the insertion of a cheap mixer like option 4?
I have good ear i believe and i finally want to go one step up in my little studio set up in terms of quality.

any advice much appreciated.
thanks in advance.


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Exalted Wombat



Joined: 06/02/10
Posts: 5744
Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958315 - 10/12/11 06:00 PM
Quote acro:

This gives me headaches.

I am about to order a new set of monitors in the range of £1500. I am also thinking of getting an RME fireface card. I ll hook it up to iMac my main DAW.




The RME Fireface range are very good. But be sure you actually need the range of in/outputs they offer. You may be paying for un-needed facilities.

As to the rest - the Fireface comes with a particularly flexible routing and mixing software utility. But you'll probably find a mixer useful too. Having full control over gain structure in your signal path will probably make more difference to quality than going all audiophile over hardware.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
SOS Technical Editor


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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958317 - 10/12/11 06:05 PM
Quote acro:

Now, i have a laptop with an echo indigo card on it plus a cd player and a turntable that i would like to be able to listen through my new monitors as well.




The sensible solution would be to use some form of outboard monitor controller or preamp so that you can listen to the turntable and CD player without having to boot up the computers and without additional converter stages.

Quote:

After researching this i found that you need over $500 for anything decent




For active systems, yes, definitely... althoguh it all depends on what you define as decent of course. For £1500 monitors I'd say it would be worth spending at least £500 on an active monitor controller, and ideally rather more. However, you could go down the passive route instead...

Quote:

... and also discovered that low cost passive ones have problems with stereo imaging at very low levels




This is nothing to do with being passive, and everything to do with being cheap. It's about the tracking between the two channels as the volume pot is altered. Cheap pots are very bad at it, while expensive pots are usually quite good. Switches are infinitely better! You'll find the same image shift problems on cheap active monitor controllers.

Quote:

Option 3: get that Coleman audio LS3 little switch that allows 3 sources to be connected.




There are plenty of simple source selection switch boxes available, many with four or even six inputs.

Quote:

..but i ll have to constantly switch between sources.




If that's too challenging for you then you'll need a small mixer than you can connect everything to, fade everything up, and hear everything at once. There are many with phono input channels these days too! But then you'll have your signals going through lots of additional circuitry, which will be of very basic quality if you buy a budget coneole, and you'll have the constant noise contribution from all the unused inputs...

I'd suggest looking at the Mackie Big Knob or the Presonus Monitor Station. Both have been reviewed and both have phono (turntable) inputs:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov08/articles/presonusmonitorstation.htm< /a>
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb05/articles/mackiebigknob.htm

Better quality would come from the Audient Centro (active) or the Coleman M3PH (passive) -- but you'd need an external phono preamp for those:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb07/articles/centro.htm
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar06/articles/coleman.htm

The SMPro M-patch controllers are also very good value for the money and quite popular amongst SOS reviewers and forum regulars

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec06/articles/smprompatch.htm

Hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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acro



Joined: 19/04/05
Posts: 303
Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958334 - 10/12/11 09:08 PM
thanks for the replies guys,

Hugh
I read lots of negative comments about the transparency of the big knob and Presonus Monitor station although they both offer everything i need.
Also read bad things about the SM audio stuff. Poor build quality and problems with stereo imaging at low levels..

I would like to ask how the following options compare in terms of audio quality:

Presonus Monitor sation VS having a small mixer say soundcraft M4 or EPM6 ?

the above VS coleman audio LS3 switcher (what other switches, with more inputs, would you recommend?)

I really cant afford an expensive monitor controller like the Audient Centro or the Coleman M3PH that you suggest Hugh.
I feel the best solution right now is a good quality switcher. What do you think? (i ll live with the switching!)


I am so keen to hear my mixes and music straight through my soundcards to my new monitors and i dont want any unecessary signal degradation from extra stages..Plus i want as few devices on my desk as possible...




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ef37a



Joined: 29/05/06
Posts: 6790
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958359 - 11/12/11 07:16 AM
Acro, I really don't think a decent mixer from Soundcraft or A&H say is going to affect the quality of your sound path unduly. Yes the signal passes through a few additional op amps, but note FEW, two or three, any commercial music you hear will have passed through scores, possibly more than once!

Image troubles at low levels are, as Hugh says, inherent in the difficulty nay, near impossibilty of making a pair of accurately matched log tracks over a 60dB or so range but there is a fairly simple and obvious solution for low level work. An attenuator,insert 20dB or so and that puts the signals "back up" onto the well matched part of the pot.

Dave.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958371 - 11/12/11 10:31 AM
Quote acro:

I read lots of negative comments about the transparency of the big knob and Presonus Monitor station although they both offer everything i need.




Yes, it's the standard budget analogue circuitry problem I'm afraid. Good active monitor controller's are expensive.

Quote:

Also read bad things about the SM audio stuff. Poor build quality and problems with stereo imaging at low levels..




I've not had any build quality issues, and neither have I experienced any imaging problems in practice -- although I am careful to optimsie the gain structure to avoid the bottom quarter of the control track.

Quote:

I would like to ask how the following options compare in terms of audio quality:
Presonus Monitor sation VS having a small mixer say soundcraft M4 or EPM6 ?




The mixer will inevitably be worse because in addition to all the usual monitor control circuitry you've got additional input circuitry and mix buses.

Quote:

the above VS coleman audio LS3 switcher (what other switches, with more inputs, would you recommend?)




It's a switch, so provided it's a decent switch that doesn't tarnish or get dirty it's about as clean as it can get. Lots of hi-fi accessory companies do switch boxes and Coleman do several versions, and I'm sure a google search will turn up a dozen more.

Quote:

I really cant afford an expensive monitor controller like the Audient Centro or the Coleman M3PH that you suggest Hugh.




The budget always determines the level of quality that can be achieved. SO it comes down to how you balance the compromise between features and convenience versus quality and frustration.

Hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Jack Ruston



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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958372 - 11/12/11 10:39 AM
Personally I'd go with the Coleman. It's going to interfere less than a cheap active device. It may also be possible to upgrade the main pot with a switch at a later stage, Hugh?

J

--------------------
www.jackruston.com


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: ef37a]
      #958373 - 11/12/11 10:40 AM
Quote ef37a:

Acro, I really don't think a decent mixer from Soundcraft or A&H say is going to affect the quality of your sound path unduly.




It comes down to how you define 'unduly' and whether or not you can hear the difference on your chosen monitors. I don't know what monitors the OP has, but at that price level 'd be surprised if he couldn't hear the sonic impact of a compact budget mixer in the signal path.

Quote:

Yes the signal passes through a few additional op amps, but note FEW, two or three, any commercial music you hear will have passed through scores, possibly more than once!




There's quite a difference between a dozen op-amps in a well designed big-name console and two or three in a budget mixer. The art of analogue design is a wondrous thing! But in this case we're talking about the possible degredation between passing the soundcard outputs direct to the speakers or via a monitor controller or mixer... and in a straight A-B comparison it won't take much to be frustratingly audible, whether or not it makes any practical difference.

Quote:

... but there is a fairly simple and obvious solution for low level work. An attenuator,insert 20dB or so and that puts the signals "back up" onto the well matched part of the pot.




We have many reasons to thank the inventor of the DIM button!

hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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Folderol



Joined: 15/11/08
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958375 - 11/12/11 10:53 AM
I see Hugh and Dave have already mentioned switched pots/attenuators. This was my first thought. These don't come cheap, but that is partly because a decent quality one (non-pcb mounted) has to be built by hand. However, the parts are actually quite cheap so a D.I.Y solution might be worth considering.

--------------------
It wasn't me!
(Well, actually, it probably was)


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ef37a



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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #958380 - 11/12/11 11:24 AM
Yes but Hugh, note I did not say ANY budget mixer!

I have read (a fair bit, not had it long!) Mr Self's book as recc'ed in SoS, everybody seem to use 5532's and 072's. The Top Men get better noise floors but then they need to, they use so many bloody chips!

I will bet a 5 mtr XLR lead that the OPs' monitors have worse self noise than a properly gain staged A&H (can't speak for Soundcraft but as good I bet).

Dave.


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Martin WalkerModerator
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: Hugh Robjohns]
      #958410 - 11/12/11 01:28 PM
Quote Hugh Robjohns:

Quote acro:

Also read bad things about the SM audio stuff. Poor build quality and problems with stereo imaging at low levels..




I've not had any build quality issues, and neither have I experienced any imaging problems in practice -- although I am careful to optimise the gain structure to avoid the bottom quarter of the control track.




Hi acro - I wrote that SOS review of the SM Pro Audio M-Patch 2, and still have it sitting in my rack doing sterling service five years later.

I also took the trouble to inspect internal build quality and specifically to test out any stereo imaging problems during my review and ended up saying:

"A quick peek inside the M-Patch 2 showed that both component and build quality were good, with a four-gang pot for the main balanced level-control and a dual-gang for the Aux, both of which felt very smooth and precise. SM Pro informed me that these were hand-tested for tolerance and, unlike cheaper pots, the stereo image didn't wander about at very low settings either."

It’s a great shame when on-line comments dissuade people from buying products from a specific manufacturer, especially when they are wrong

Hope this reassures you


Martin

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YewTreeMagic


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Loc: Worcestershire
Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: ef37a]
      #958411 - 11/12/11 01:29 PM
Quote ef37a:

I will bet a 5 mtr XLR lead that the OPs' monitors have worse self noise than a properly gain staged A&H (can't speak for Soundcraft but as good I bet).




Mr Self did design some Soundcraft consoles I believe, and he certainly knows his onions as that book (and all his others) clearly reveal. But the issue here isn't about the noise floor, it's about more subtle things that amount to 'transparency' or the lack of it.

I have -- and continue to use when convenient -- passive monitor controllers like the Nanopatch and the M3PH, and active controllers like the Grace m902 and my own custom-designed BBC-style unit. I also use the monitoring facilities built in to my little Mackie 1402VLZ and Yamaha DM1000 when necessary. The former group of four options are noticeably more transparent than the latter two, and although I have reviewed and auditioned a lot of budget monitor controllers over the years I have no wish to acquire any because I can hear the veiling they introduce. Subtle, maybe, but frustrating and distracting to me... and I imagine the OP would feel the same way.

Hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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acro



Joined: 19/04/05
Posts: 303
Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958420 - 11/12/11 04:12 PM
ok,

Martin,
Yes i ve read your article a while back and was glad you found the SM patch 2 trasparent as it is cheap too.! I was gonna go for this one untill i came across various comments about it in other forums..

Hugh, i see you also use one of those (SM ptach 2) and you say you ve found no isues with stereo imaging or anything else..?
So maybe i ll reconsider.

Compact budget mixer is out of the equation i think. Shame there is no high quality small mixer on the market..
Even if SM patch is ok its only got 3 inputs. Maybe i ll look for switcher with more ins. Can anyone give any recommendations on this?

thank you all for the advice guys. Helped confirm what i already thought: i.e. A switcher is my safer bet for my budget.


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Hugh RobjohnsAdministrator
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Joined: 25/07/03
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958431 - 11/12/11 05:52 PM
Quote acro:

Maybe i ll look for switcher with more ins. Can anyone give any recommendations on this?




Here are a few to consider...

https://www.kmraudio.com/coleman-ms6r.php

https://www.kmraudio.com/coleman-ms8a.php

http://www.audiovisualonline.co.uk/product/4814/pro-ject-switch-box-4-to-2 -analogue-audio-switch-box

http://www.goldpt.com/sw4.html

http://www.maplin.co.uk/four-way-stereo-audio-switch-box-9328

http://www.amazon.co.uk/AUDIO-VIDEO-SOURCE-SELECTOR-SWITCH/dp/B005EL9HGS

Or for some quality DIY:

http://www.dact.com/html/input_selectors.html

Hugh

--------------------
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound


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acro



Joined: 19/04/05
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Re: Advice needed re maintaining signal quality in simple set up new [Re: acro]
      #958560 - 12/12/11 01:54 PM
Thank you Hugh. You are great!


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