You are here

Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Dolmetscher007 » Thu May 14, 2020 11:53 pm

My 1st gen USB Focusrite 18i8 has been great! It seems to be dying a slow death, however. Tons of hardware issues that have just gotten worse and worse. It's time for a new interface.

It makes me feel bougie and posh to say it, but I have a much more robust budget these days, and I want the highest quality audio capturing I can find/afford. My I/O needs are super simple. I don't record drum kits or anything requiring more than two simultaneous mono signals. I do record guitar with a dual mono, DI + mic'ed amp, scenario. Therefore, all I am really interested in is audio fidelity. I have seen companies like RME that sell outboard gear that is labeled as just "Analog to Digital Converters", as well as the reverse "DAC's". They cost upwards of $3.5k, which tells me, it had better be one kick-ass uni-tasker! But then again, they handle something like 32-channels of ADC input.

To get to the point, has there been anything written in the past few years about what to look for in a super high-quality interface as far as ADCs audio capturing is concerned?
Dolmetscher007
Poster
Posts: 37
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2009 1:00 am
DAW: Logic Pro X
Interface: Scarlett 18i8

MacBook Pro
2.3 GHz 8-Core i9
32 GB RAM

 

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri May 15, 2020 12:01 am

How good is your room? If it's as good as, say, Abbey Road then how good are your monitors? And, so on.....

This is often discussed on here and the usual conclusion is that the AD/DA converters are way down the list of things that will compromise your recordings.
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 13387
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby shufflebeat » Fri May 15, 2020 12:13 am

My next purchase will probably be the SSL2+ of we make it past summer. It'll be a while before I outgrow that.
shufflebeat
Jedi Poster
Posts: 5041
Joined: Sun Dec 09, 2007 1:00 am
Location: Manchester, UK
"Dance, dance. wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the damp settee..."

Do yourself a favour, wear earplugs at gigs.

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Eddy Deegan » Fri May 15, 2020 12:32 am

Sam Spoons wrote:How good is your room? If it's as good as, say, Abbey Road then how good are your monitors? And, so on.....

This is often discussed on here and the usual conclusion is that the AD/DA converters are way down the list of things that will compromise your recordings.

Indeed. My impression is that you need to spend £30k on treatment and monitors in order to be able to tell the difference between an interface costing £600 and one costing £3000, assuming your ears are capable of it in any case.

I generalise, and pulled those figures out of a metaphorical hat but you get the idea. Buy a quality bit of kit that has the I/O and features that you need, and that's had a good SOS review and/or a personal recommendation from a few folks here and you'll not go wrong.
User avatar
Eddy Deegan
Moderator
Posts: 4732
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:00 am
Location: Brighton & Hove, UK
Some of my works
The 2nd SOS Forum Album project
 

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 15, 2020 12:48 am

A 30k room treatment budget would be nice, Eddy, but unless you live next to a railway line /airport /motorway/ rave site / hammer forge... you can probably convert a typical domestic spare room into a pretty decent listening space for 5k with commercial acoustic products, and a lot less for DIY panels.

But certainly the principle is sound (excuse the pun) because the differences, even between the extremes of converter standards, is very small indeed.

But if the OP's stack of cash is burning holes in his trousers, the very best interface I have measured and audtioned to date is the RME ADI-2 Pro.

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/rme-adi-2-pro

However, it is a straight 2-channel AD/DA with USB connectivity, so only provides line levels in and out. You would need a separate mic preamp with DI inputs for recording you guitars and amps etc. ... But then if the budget is good that won be an issue and allows a choice of preamp based on personal preferences.

For an all-in one solution, you could look at the Prism Audio Lyra 2. The tech specs don't appear as good as the RME, but it sounds very nice indeed.

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/prism-sound-lyra-2

...but bear in mind that if you gather a dozen soundies in a pub and ask for interface recommendations, you'll get a dozen answers...
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 28344
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby resistorman » Fri May 15, 2020 4:09 am

OK then. I’m curious too. If you take take the room acoustics completely out of it by using a direct input from a top quality source and listen on top quality headphones, is there an audible difference between converters these days? Adjacent to that query, is there much of a penalty going through a series of conversions like D/A-A/D-D/A with modern equipment and sensible settings?
User avatar
resistorman
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1031
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2015 1:00 am
Location: Asheville NC

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Tim Gillett » Fri May 15, 2020 5:48 am

resistorman wrote:OK then. I’m curious too. If you take take the room acoustics completely out of it by using a direct input from a top quality source and listen on top quality headphones, is there an audible difference between converters these days? Adjacent to that query, is there much of a penalty going through a series of conversions like D/A-A/D-D/A with modern equipment and sensible settings?

This may be relevant:

https://ethanwiner.com/loop-back.htm

Tim.
Tim Gillett
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 2213
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:00 am
Location: Perth, Western Australia

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby ef37a » Fri May 15, 2020 6:22 am

resistorman wrote:OK then. I’m curious too. If you take take the room acoustics completely out of it by using a direct input from a top quality source and listen on top quality headphones, is there an audible difference between converters these days? Adjacent to that query, is there much of a penalty going through a series of conversions like D/A-A/D-D/A with modern equipment and sensible settings?

Ah but then, which are the 'best' most accurate headphones around? You would also need a 'perfect' headphone amplifier and switching system to do the deed! The general opinion as well is that open backed cans are the most accurate but in that case are they TOTALLY immune from room effects and ambient noise? We are after all dealing with tiny, tiny super subtle differences here.

That RME looks the top bet since it has ADAT expansion so OP could hire in a pre amp rig should the need arise.

Dave.
ef37a
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12028
Joined: Mon May 29, 2006 12:00 am
Location: northampton uk

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Ramirez » Fri May 15, 2020 6:46 am

I’m very happy with my RME Babyface Pro.
The newer FS model should offer slight improvements as well.
Ramirez
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1124
Joined: Tue Oct 24, 2006 12:00 am
Location: Pwllheli, Cymru
www.stiwdiosain.cymru

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby Arpangel » Fri May 15, 2020 7:38 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
For an all-in one solution, you could look at the Prism Audio Lyra 2. The tech specs don't appear as good as the RME, but it sounds very nice indeed.

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/prism-sound-lyra-2

...but bear in mind that if you gather a dozen soundies in a pub and ask for interface recommendations, you'll get a dozen answers...

Interfaces can sound different, but the differences are subtle, unless you’ve got very good monitoring in an excellent room.
Prism would be my choice, but as has been said, opinions differ.
Focusrite for me have always been a good choice at a reasonable price.
User avatar
Arpangel
Jedi Poster
Posts: 5034
Joined: Sat Jul 12, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby CS70 » Fri May 15, 2020 8:55 am

Dolmetscher007 wrote:To get to the point, has there been anything written in the past few years about what to look for in a super high-quality interface as far as ADCs audio capturing is concerned?

In an ideal world, all D/A and A/D converters do the same job the same way with the same (perfect) results. In the real world, as usual, is not so: concrete realizations of the ideal device differ from the ideal and allow them to go "wrong" and produce "errors", which ultimately affect the sound.

Possible "errors" can be timing errors in clocking (often due to mundane things as changes in temperature of the surrounding environment), recognition of the exact threshold between adjacent ranges of voltage, difficulty in creating circuitry that behaves in a perfect linear way over a large range of values, and so on.

Different conversion methods and corresponding techs also have different pro and cons, even if - without having used first hand too many boxes - it seems that sigma-delta conversion is the method of choice nowadays.

Since there are quite a few parameters that can be tweaked and design decisions to taken and components to be chosen (against a price point), that means there's a lot of combinations of design and manufacturing choices leading to slightly different results.

However the keyword here is "slightly". In all practical design all these "errors" tend to very, very small: given to the very nature of conversion, anything major would have such catastrophic effects on the sound that it would be unusable. So even the worst converters don't really go wrong much, so long they work.

That's why you can do tests like looping a signal thru thousands conversion cycles and not hearing any degradation. The errors are there, and they are accumulating and therefore degrading the signal... but the degradation stays pretty insignificant unless you reach hundred of thousands or millions of cycles or even more. Which obviously never happens at least in music-making applications. For the same reason, when exactly you'll be hearing things depend on your specific, biological sensitivity.

What usually matters most in A/D is the circuitry that prepares the (still analogue) signal for conversion, cleaning it up, changing the amplitude, splitting it etc etc in the various way a specific conversion method may need. That's probably the difference you can hear most - it's another analogue stage before your actual converter chip.

Since that stage is there to "massage" the signal within well known, design-fixed and not user-controllable parameters, it tends to be quite alright in all converters.

But in the analogue world differences in component quality, design choices etc may make, as usual, a quite audible (and price!) difference, and there you are!

So yes, there surely are differences between different converters, but they tend to be mostly due to the pre or post analogue stages rather than the converter itself and they are usually small.
User avatar
CS70
Jedi Poster
Posts: 6073
Joined: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:00 am
Location: Oslo, Norway
Silver Spoon - Check out our latest video and the FB page

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby ef37a » Fri May 15, 2020 9:31 am

CS70 can you give some more in depth detail of these (naughty!) pre and post converter analogue stages?

My admittedly limited, reading of the subject tells me that these stages are often the ubiquitous NE5532 op amps and at the near unity gain usage employed their distortion levels are close to be best test gear available. Better devices are now available but better than 0.001% at 10kHz is gilding the daffodil?

Maybe what is detected (if at all) is component tolerances? A capacitor in a filter might give a response 0.1dB up or down compared to one in another device but neither device is 'wrong'.

Dave.
ef37a
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12028
Joined: Mon May 29, 2006 12:00 am
Location: northampton uk

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby John Willett » Fri May 15, 2020 9:45 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:...but bear in mind that if you gather a dozen soundies in a pub and ask for interface recommendations, you'll get a dozen answers...

Only a dozen?????

:bouncy:
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 7223
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 1:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
Sound-Link are UK Distributors for: Microtech Gefell, ME-Geithain, AETA, HUM, Håkan, Meyer Turtle

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby ef37a » Fri May 15, 2020 10:16 am

John Willett wrote:
Hugh Robjohns wrote:...but bear in mind that if you gather a dozen soundies in a pub and ask for interface recommendations, you'll get a dozen answers...

Only a dozen?????

:bouncy:

Yeah, at least a Baker's!

Dave.
ef37a
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12028
Joined: Mon May 29, 2006 12:00 am
Location: northampton uk

Re: Are there audible differences between different DAC and ADCs?

Postby CS70 » Fri May 15, 2020 10:18 am

ef37a wrote:CS70 can you give some more in depth detail of these (naughty!) pre and post converter analogue stages?

Dont think it makes sense here for the same reason for which I didn't really write anything on how converters work: even a long and boring text wouldn't begin to cover what needs to be covered, and there's lots of papers easy to find online. Just google "analogue front end ad converter" and you'll find plenty info at any level.
User avatar
CS70
Jedi Poster
Posts: 6073
Joined: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:00 am
Location: Oslo, Norway
Silver Spoon - Check out our latest video and the FB page

Next