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Aardvark TimeSyncII and Sync DA - ProSoundNetwork.com

Aardvark TimeSyncII and Sync DA

As digital equipment proliferates in pro audio studios, the issue of synchronization becomes increasingly important. Many facilities are integrating DAWs, MDMs, digital signal processors, digital mixing boards, video decks and tape machines. The key to studio harmony is establishing a master sync generator and distributing that signal throughout the facility.
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Product PointsApplications: Sample accurate synchronization of digital and analog signals

Key Features: Locks to LTC, VITC, MTC, video, word clock 256x and AES/EBU

Price: TimeSyncII: $1,295; Sync DA: $895

Contact: Aardvark at 734-665-8899

B>Plus: Easy to use, Sample accurate synchronization, Convenient half-rack size

Minus: Wall wart power supply, No ADAT 9-pin connector

The Score: The Aardvark TimeSyncII provides rock-solid synchronization. In addition, for studios that need expanded connectors from a master source, the Sync DA is the answer.Second OpinionAardvark TimeSyncII

As described in the well-written manual, the design objective of the Aardvark TimeSyncII Universal Timecode Synchronizer is to "provide a very stable synchronization hub for your DAW." To that end, it is likely the most stable word clock/super clock timebase I have used.

Lab test analysis verified that all clock rates are rock-stable operating as a standalone master clock source. This is to be expected from modern circuit design; but what I found when the LTC input was fed with very unstable timecode was a clock output just as stable as my standalone test!

I tried to induce jitter into the clock by flanging the reel and adjusting the vari-speed of the analog tape recorder but the clock remained stable, almost as if not locking to incoming timecode. The front panel display of the correct time, along with two LEDs indicating LTC and lock, reassured me that the unit was working properly.

After my bench test it was time for the "reel" world test in the studio, transferring one of my current projects from analog 2" to Pro Tools for editing. The setup is simple: timecode from the 24 track to the LTC input (I would have liked to see a balanced connector here, not an RCA jack), Super Clock 256 out to the clock input of the first DigiDesign 888/24 and MIDI timecode out to the MIDI interface of the DAW. Plug and play all the way!

This worked flawlessly with very fast lockup times. Nice having a hardware timecode display to check against the software computer display. I used three 888 units to transfer all tracks at once to avoid the limitation of 1/4-frame accuracy with MTC, but I was curious about using the TimeSyncII to do multiple passes from analog to Pro Tools. Synchronization was once again very fast and reliable.

After transferring the same analog track three times to separate files, I measured the offsets. They varied from six to 31 samples from my reference track, well under the 400-sample resolution of 1/4-frame 30 FPS timecode. While there are many sync boxes that perform these tasks, the Aardvark TimeSyncII did so very well with an easy-to-use front panel that provides for all combinations of frame rates including pull-up and pull-down. Works for me!

- Jeffrey Harris owns Artefact Studio Services, a studio design and consulting firm in Ariz. He is also an independent producer/engineer and instructor at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences.As digital equipment proliferates in pro audio studios, the issue of synchronization becomes increasingly important. Many facilities are integrating DAWs, MDMs, digital signal processors, digital mixing boards, video decks and tape machines. The key to studio harmony is establishing a master sync generator and distributing that signal throughout the facility. This is the goal of the Aardvark TimeSyncII ($1,295) and the Sync DA ($895)

Without a dedicated master source, digital audio may be subject to a problem known as jitter. This anomaly usually occurs in the A/D and D/A conversion process. Telltale signs may include a smeared audio signal, high frequencies that appear brittle, poor stereo imaging and loss of detail. This is often the case when a DAW tries to lock to unstable sources (LTC, VITC and video). Unfortunately, while jitter cannot be totally eliminated, a low-jitter box such as the TimeSyncII keeps the audio squeaky clean and accurate.

Other synchronization problems occur when there are different clock sources. Each digital device generates its own timing clock. Even if all digital signals are running at the same rate, they may not be running from the same clock. When this occurs, pops and clicks may be the result. By distributing master clock information, the Sync DA keeps the studio in synchronized harmony.

Features/In use

The TimeSyncII is designed to provide sample accurate synchronization of all digital signals - kind of like a master hub, where every digital device locks to the master clock. Also available from Aardvark is the optional Sync DA interface, which is simply a distribution box. It does not a generate digital audio clock on its own.

The Sync DA connects to a master device (like the TimeSyncII), and distributes clock information to other digital equipment in the studio. So all digital audio devices are all referencing one stable clock. Both units are designed to work with Longitudinal Time Code (LTC), Vertical Interval Time Code (VITC), MIDI Time Code (MTC), Video, Word Clock 256x and AES/EBU. On the TimeSyncII's front panel is a power button, an LED indicator, several switches and indicators. The LED shows both time code and a status mode. For time code, the display shows decoded SMPTE applied to LTC or VITC input. Status mode shows the frame rate format and the pull-up/pull-down factor. The frame rate format displays the incoming time code or video signal. The pull-up/pull-down factor shows the pull-up/pull-down as selected by the up/x1/down switch.

This brings us to the three toggle switches. The three-position up/x1/ down switch selects between the up or down factor for the 44.1 or 48 kHz sample rate. When positioned to x1, the clock is set to exactly one of the two sample rates. Setting the sample rate to either 44.1 or 48 kHz is handled by another two-position switch. And a third switch toggles between standard word clock or Digidesign's 256 Superclock.

Also on the TimeSyncII's front panel are three green indicators. These light up when a valid LTC or VITC signal is present or when clock outputs are locked to an incoming reference. The incoming reference can be an LTC, VITC or Video signal.

The back of the TimeSyncII houses the power connector along with two input and three output connectors. An RCA connector is used for inputting LTC. When this signal is present, the TimeSyncII translates it to MTC and a low-jitter clock output. This is critical because LTC can be problematic at times. The VITC input is a BNC connector. Additionally, input sources may be black burst or any composite video signal including consumer VCR decks. Likewise, with a VITC signal, the TimeSyncII will translate it to MTC and produce a low-jitter clock.

For output connectors, the TimeSyncII has a standard five-pin DIN MIDI connector for MTC. MTC is the standard used to translate SMPTE time code into MIDI messages. For AES/EBU sync reference, there is an XLR output. AES/EBU reference will lock to any digital device via its AES/EBU input. A BNC connector is available for word clock or Digidesign's Superclock (based on the position of the front panel's WC/256 switch). Word clock is the most common clock format used in digital audio applications while 256 is used by Digidesign in applications like Pro Tools.

By connecting the Sync DA to the TimeSyncII (or another master source), six additional outputs are available (five WC and one 256) in addition to an AES/EBU thru port. For the larger digital studio, the Sync DA would be a lifesaver. While it may be possible to daisy-chain word clock signals and bypass the Sync DA, this approach may not always be reliable. Direct connections are usually the best approach.

Summary

Granted, setting up synchronization boxes is not as sexy as a brand new microphone or a killer reverb unit. But without proper synchronization, a digital studio won't even get off the ground. The TimeSyncII and the Sync DA do the job and do it very well. As for my wish list, I would have liked the inclusion of a nine-pin connector for direct ADAT sync. At this point, the TimeSyncII only interfaces with ADATs via the BRC.

Having a master clock source will ensure that digital and analog devices run at identical speeds and sample rates. This will eliminate those pops and clicks, dropouts and synchronization problems when locking a DAW to the rest of the studio. Additionally, the sound should be cleaner with better imaging and more detail. If all this talk gives you the jitters, have no fear. Simply give the Aardvark TimeSyncII and the Sync DA a listen.