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A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hrodulf » Tue Aug 20, 2019 12:55 pm

As an audiophile I've gone through my share of DA converters. Older delta-sigma, multibit, discrete R2R and so on...

Generally I'll say that very good conversion is more available than ever before. Even budget interfaces are about 70-80% "there", compared to TOTL stuff. I haven't done any serious sound editing, however I'm having a hard time imagining that getting the remaining 20% in conversion quality could change one's mixing/mastering decisions drastically.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby CS70 » Tue Aug 20, 2019 1:20 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
CS70 wrote:Well that's the point - the difference in the recorded signal would be printed on the two files. To perceive it, one should also have the right DA and monitoring chain and room of course, but that's the assumption.

If only life were that simple... :-)

The other really important consideration which this approach doesn't take into account is the cumulative effect of working with multiple tracks recorded through budget versus high-end converters, rather than just a single source.

I'm not saying some form of comparison file can't be created... but arriving at a valid system to evaluate the admittedly subtle benefits involved in this kind of equipment comparison is very far from trivial.


Yes, the thought had striken me. I was thinking a couple of guitars and a vocal, but perhaps it's too little still. And for these effects to be perceivable, a regular session should do, right?

Personally, though, I think it's an entirely pointless exercise.

The loudest shout-downs will always come from those who cant or won't perceive the benefits, regardless of the effort you go to in setting up comparisons, and to whom any real benefits are entirely irrelevant anyway.

Instead, I prefer to experience it first hand, and/or to listen to the views of those who have successful professional track records of working at the high-end, and who have the experience to express valid opinions on the equipment they choose and use. For example, the likes of Jack, Bob, Iestyn, Max and several others whose contributions we're very lucky to enjoy regularly on these forums...

H

I see your point, but just to clarify: I am not thinking, or caring, about shoutdowns or discussions.. the world is full of people who don't know what they are talking about, for the very simple fact that any of us can know what we're talking about in a very limited number of fields, but we happily talk about anything (unless one is Gauss, of course. Gauss could anything :) )

So that's a lost cause, not worth of anyone's time: people will have opinions taken out of thin air more often than not, and that's the nature of things. It's not a big problem unless it's a Trump or such. Certainly it wouldn't move me to do anything.

I am thinking of the potential educational value: what if we had a set of files to mix which are known to be the product of a superior recording chain, and that people open to learning could actually use to practice? Together with identical performances recorded using run of the mill equipment, so that spotting the difference (if not in sound, in ease of use) is possible? What if we had actually a number of sessions like these? A bit in the spirit of Mike Senior's "libraries".

I do not think it would be entirely pointless. Ears cannot become experienced without anything to practice, no more that you can learn to play the guitar reading about playing the guitar - or you can learn what makes a good guitar (with respect to an ok one) without trying some. One must practice - repeatedly.

It is not common to have at one's disposal high end mics, high end preamps and a high end converter and a good room to use them... and the main challenge to learning audio stuff today is that while there's a gazillion books and videos (and this forum of course), there's almost no studios left to actually practice. And certain aspects of the art (such as the one we're discussing) cannot be conveyed in a video. Jack may be spending all his time in a high-end studio, you may have high end stuff around you all the time but most people trying out don't have such access.

Of course, the biggest bummer would be that you would still need a good playback chain to hear or "feel" any difference.. but people splurge more often, in my experience, in good monitors and (often after some encouragement) room treatment, achieving reasonable playback environments; so while still there would be a treshold, having such material available would at least halve it.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Tim Gillett » Tue Aug 20, 2019 1:37 pm

Tim Gillett wrote:Claims and counter claims here. It would be good to be given an actual example where say the lower noise floor of a top converter really makes a difference, and another where it doesn't.

blinddrew wrote:I think that's already been done Tim, by both Jack and Hugh. If you've got ALL the rest of your signal chain at a very high quality, then you'll be able to hear the difference...

Only if the dynamics of the performances require it.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Jack Ruston » Tue Aug 20, 2019 3:52 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:I think Jack's earlier comments about working with high-quality equipment is apposite. While high-end converters have easily measurable technical improvements -- greater dynamic range, lower noise floor, lower distortion (of all forms), more accurate Nyquist filtering, stable performance when clocked externally, and so on -- we don't generally perceive these benefits in that kind of 'technical' way.

Instead what we perceive -- those of us who actually do audition and use equipment at this level -- is usually a sense of effortlessness and naturalness in the sound presentation, and a greater clarity with which you can hear into and around mixes.

As Jack said, it's often "...a feeling that something irritating and uncomfortable had gone." That might sound 'wishy-washy', but it's actually a very good description of my own experiences too. You just don't have to work so hard at trying to ascertain what's going on. You don't feel the need to turn the monitoring level up to hear the detail. You don't get tired as easily, and the working is just more pleasurable and comfortable.

The obvious result of being able to hear into the mix better is the ability to mix better -- because it's far more obvious what needs to be done to improve the mix, and what effect your processing is having. And you can work faster and more accurately because there's less confusion or doubt about what you're doing. You don't agonise over whether the eq or fader should be up or down 0.5dB because it's far more obvious!

H

Oh YOU

(That's a perfect description - that sense of effortless clarity changes the way you process things...It's not a noise floor issue - Most of the things I work on have little dynamic range)
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 20, 2019 4:01 pm

:blush: :D
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Tue Aug 20, 2019 5:18 pm

Bob Bickerton wrote:
hobbyist wrote:
forumuser840717 wrote:
hobbyist wrote:With so many people happy with mp3 you have to be a virtual golden eared type to think that better gear makes a sonic difference.

No. You just have to be able to learn to listen critically, understand and analyse what you're hearing. With a little effort and perhaps some training most people can do it regardless of the colour of their ears. Whether or not it's important to you is another matter.

I am happy with how I listen.
And millions and millions other folks are happy with mp3s quality.

That's entirely your choice, but around here many people aspire to produce recordings of a higher quality for those people who can and do hear a difference.

Bob

I am sure that some people do aspire to 'higher' quality which is a nebulous and subjective thing to actually pin down.

But I wonder out of the total universe of people interested in audio just what % of them really care as long as they enjoy the music and dont obsess with allegedly different sonic nuances.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 20, 2019 5:48 pm

hobbyist wrote:I wonder out of the total universe of people interested in audio just what % of them really care...

Not many... but so what? Professionals aspire to make the best product they can, regardless of how the end user chooses to consume it. And for that reason they use the best equipment they can.

There need be no other discussion about it, surely?

If you are happy using budget equipment, that's great. If you don't think there's any point in using more expensive equipment, that's fine too. That's your personal opinion and we all respect that.

However, you should at least be courteous enough to respect the opinions of others here whose professional experience leads them to a different conclusion.

H
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Jack Ruston » Tue Aug 20, 2019 7:20 pm

Our job as music producers is to deliver the best subjective experience to the listener. If better quality conversion improves our WORK, and thus that experience, that's a different issue to whether consumers are prepared to tolerate MP3 or not.

Besides, we should strive for the best possible result in any event - it's not just a question of 'doing the best work' or whatever, but we don't know what the future will bring in terms of formats and delivery. Ten years down the line there may be headphone technology that's horrifically revealing!

I'm NOT saying everyone needs to buy expensive converters. I've made my position on that clear. I'm making the point that at our end of the chain, we shouldn't be prepared to constantly compromise because of what we think the market will tolerate.

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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Tue Aug 20, 2019 7:29 pm

Jack Ruston wrote:Our job as music producers is to deliver the best subjective experience to the listener. If better quality conversion improves our WORK, and thus that experience, that's a different issue to whether consumers are prepared to tolerate MP3 or not.

Besides, we should strive for the best possible result in any event - it's not just a question of 'doing the best work' or whatever, but we don't know what the future will bring in terms of formats and delivery. Ten years down the line there may be headphone technology that's horrifically revealing!

I'm NOT saying everyone needs to buy expensive converters. I've made my position on that clear. I'm making the point that at our end of the chain, we shouldn't be prepared to constantly compromise because of what we think the market will tolerate.

J

We should strive to do good. But perfection is not possible.
And the reality of budgets and deadlines will constrain what can be achieved.

How do you measure how 'quality' <<improves (y)our work>> when the vast majority of consumers cant tell and dont care ?

There is so much more to good work than the various parameters you can measure on your a/d/a's. Preamps and mike would have so much more impact. And the quality of the song, the arrangement, and other factors dwarf the supposed quality of that latter hardware.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 20, 2019 7:33 pm

Just to contextualise a little, the choice of venues that my clients choose pretty much would always mask a lot of the subtleties in top end converter choice....the weak link isn’t always in the gear...

Obviously I know that a lot of people already appreciate this...but it becomes more obvious when you actually get out and do these things rather than read books or ‘gospel’ on the interweb...
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Jack Ruston » Tue Aug 20, 2019 7:46 pm

hobbyist wrote:How do you measure how 'quality' <<improves (y)our work>> when the vast majority of consumers cant tell and dont care ?

I don't know how many more ways I can say it...The conversion changes the decisions I make - The eq points are different, the compression time constants, reverbs etc. The balance changes. Hugh has explained this too.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Tue Aug 20, 2019 8:58 pm

Jack Ruston wrote:
hobbyist wrote:How do you measure how 'quality' <<improves (y)our work>> when the vast majority of consumers cant tell and dont care ?

I don't know how many more ways I can say it...The conversion changes the decisions I make - The eq points are different, the compression time constants, reverbs etc. The balance changes. Hugh has explained this too.

I understand it changes your decisions. But do the people buying the product care which decision you made ?

And like the response above yours noted - the venue would mask anything you did which was so subtle to fix what converters may have done.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby James Perrett » Tue Aug 20, 2019 9:14 pm

The people who pay me care about the sound I get - and they can be amazingly fussy at times. So I have to use the tools that help me to deliver the best sound that I can. Artists and labels still generally care about the sound, even if the general public is currently happy with mp3s.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 20, 2019 9:20 pm

hobbyist wrote:
Jack Ruston wrote:
hobbyist wrote:How do you measure how 'quality' <<improves (y)our work>> when the vast majority of consumers cant tell and dont care ?

I don't know how many more ways I can say it...The conversion changes the decisions I make - The eq points are different, the compression time constants, reverbs etc. The balance changes. Hugh has explained this too.

I understand it changes your decisions. But do the people buying the product care which decision you made ?

And like the response above yours noted - the venue would mask anything you did which was so subtle to fix what converters may have done.

You’re still missing the point.

Jack has a huge body of work that backs up his assertions - aside from his own personal talent, he works in a controlled environment where these things can and do matter. The same can be said of many other contributors to this forum.

More often than not, I’m working in environments that are suboptimal...so I don’t use converters that cost potentially thousands of pounds per channel, as I find the money better invested in mics and preamps when focussed on gear.

However, if I were to be working in an acoustic space and with artists that warranted it, I’d up the ante and match the whole chain.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 20, 2019 9:31 pm

It seems obvious to me that high-end equipment isn't appropriate to all situations, for myriad practical reasons, some of which have been noted above. And I don't think anyone is suggesting otherwise.

The really good news, though, is that current budget and mid-range equipment achieves a level of performance that is so much closer to that high-end now, compared to what could be achieved just a few decades ago. For a lot of amateurs working in personal project studios, that's a truly wonderful thing because they can easily afford equipment that more than meets their requirements.

But in the top professional circles, the expectations are still higher -- and that's true in all industries, not just pro-audio!

It's also self-evident -- and routinely repeated on these forums -- that 'The Things That Matter Most' are the music, the arrangement, the performance, the location, the mic placement, the mic choice, the mixing balance, the signal processing, and maybe then the mic preamps and the converters, the sample rate and the other technical trivia... ;-)

But in professional circles, these are all pretty much a given... They are working with brilliant music performed by extremely skilled musicians in great-sounding spaces, with lovely mics expertly places... Etc...

For these top-end studios and engineers/producers, equipment budgets are very unlikely to be a limiting factor, and neither are deadlines. Nor are studio or venue acoustics likely to be a problem. These facilities are not that rare, either! We see studios like this all over the world in the StudioFile articles in the magazine every month

Professionals strive to achieve the best possible results, not something that's only just 'good enough' to not sound completely crap on a low bit-rate MP3 player for the casual music-consuming masses! Moreover, professionals want and use tools that allow them to work to the highest possible standards, and deliver the best possible results efficiently, consistently, and predictably. These people appreciate and value the incremental benefits of high-end gear.

And yes, of course the consumer appreciates the decisions the professionals make... Even if they arent consciously aware of why those decisions matter in their enjoyment.

It's as simple as that.

Working in these kinds of facilities, with this kind of equipment really is a revelation which probably has to be experienced in person to truly appreciate the difference.

Perhaps a more relatable comparison would be the experience of preparing food using cheap mass-market kitchen knives, or professional high-end chef's knives... It's the same kind of difference -- they both dote same basic thing, but a professional chef can achieve so much more, better, quicker, with his pro knives than he could with the cheap ones, and way more than an amateur could do with the cheap knives! :-)
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Tue Aug 20, 2019 9:47 pm

James Perrett wrote:The people who pay me care about the sound I get - and they can be amazingly fussy at times. So I have to use the tools that help me to deliver the best sound that I can. Artists and labels still generally care about the sound, even if the general public is currently happy with mp3s.

Now that is totally different. If you have a client who wants something then you need to give them what they want.

But if you are doing this for the public or some other group then do you really need to be so picky for them or are you being picky to boost your own ego.

This is a problem so many engineers have. They want perfection but management wants it done on time on budget while being good enough.

If they wish to keep working they adapt to management and what they say to do. If they ever quit and start their own company then they can strive for perfection until they realise that they are the only ones who prefer perfection in their product to its being available now at an affordable price.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 20, 2019 10:11 pm

hobbyist wrote:But if you are doing this for the public or some other group then do you really need to be so picky for them or are you being picky to boost your own ego.

This is a problem so many engineers have. They want perfection but management wants it done on time on budget while being good enough.

The second point answers the first.

Jack, using him as the constant example, knows his gear and that facilitates him delivering a high quality product within the parameters of the project commissioner. The people that pay him - and keep coming back for the next gig and pay him again - want the best possible product for their market / purposes.

I fall into a fairly grey area within the forum population...there are many more qualified than me but I’m quite successful in my chosen arena, I’ve won awards, had a CD in the Sunday Times Top 100 CDs of the year and similar...and as I said previously I didn’t use very high end converters for any of those projects...but I did point £25k of microphones at them...because I know where to put them...and the result was a CD that the public and the critics liked. We use the tools that work exactly as Hugh said.

Given that you understand the market so well, who’s the target for your output?
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 20, 2019 10:21 pm

hobbyist wrote:... do you really need to be so picky for them or are you being picky to boost your own ego.

...or perhaps some of us just have and maintain a high standard -- which isn't the same thing as 'perfection' (which we all know is impossible).

And maybe it's not 'being picky' but just doing a 'professional' job, working to the highest possible standards for both client and personal satisfaction -- and it's usually possible to achieve that on time and on budget in my experience.

It sounds like you've had bad experiences with poor management and incompetence -- that would certainly explain your very pessimistic and jaded outlook. Thankfully, some of us work in happier, more rewarding, and more skilfully-managed workplaces that genuinely value and support high professional standards.

H
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Bob Bickerton » Tue Aug 20, 2019 11:16 pm

hobbyist wrote:But if you are doing this for the public or some other group then do you really need to be so picky for them or are you being picky to boost your own ego.

Actually some members of the public do appreciate good sound, others don't care - so why cater for the lowest common denominator?

hobbyist wrote:This is a problem so many engineers have. They want perfection but management wants it done on time on budget while being good enough.

I haven't worked for a client yet that simply wants a 'good enough' job - they have always wanted the best I could deliver.

And here's the rub - which you do not understand - when a professional has good tools at their disposal, they get the job done more efficiently and can more easily deliver on time, on budget and with excellent product. End of story.

Bob
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Studio Support Gnome » Tue Aug 20, 2019 11:27 pm

Aural Reject wrote: I’ve won awards, had a CD in the Sunday Times Top 100 CDs of the year and similar...

Show off, I only managed Number 7 In the Telegraph's top ten list the other year

;)

I was sure there was a grammy in that album.....

No effective label support

bastards


Neve 5088 Console, assorted portico EQ and dynamics processors, a few other toys, (hired in Fairchild, Pultec , etc etc ) some very nice secret weapon Mics... PT HD192 interfaces , SP Acoustics SP1 monitors.... Protools HD

And critically, a stunning space to work in, and a fabulous performer

Most of the time a Focusrite Saffire pro rig is entirely adequate as far as I'm concerned... I also quite like the UAD interfaces , and my portable 2 channel rig is a Focusrite Forte. Big guns only get used on higher end projects with budget and actual need....

I can waffle on all day about resolving harmonics, intermodulation distortion, and all sorts ...

But ultimately, for the vast majority of people , this level of kit is frippery , waste of money , and time....

Nothing wrong with the vast majority of budget to mid range interfaces these days.
20 years ago was a different matter..... the hunt for great sounding converters and pre-amps was very real....

you can thank me later for making mass market manufacturers up their game

;)

honest it was all my doing.... :D
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