I’m convinced that if James Bond had been an audio engineer instead of a spy, Q would have found himself working at Black Lion developing new, unique and top-secret ways to make sound better than ever.
Chicago-based Black Lion Audio — originally known for its audiophile recording equipment upgrades — has recently delved into the manufacturing business. Included in its impressive product lineup is the Black Lion Audio Micro Clock mk2.
The Micro Clock mk2 is powered by a 9-volt DC wall wart supply that accepts either 120- or 240- volts AC, the clock operates at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 or 192 kHz and provides three galvanic-isolated (so, no ground loops) BNC outputs with fixed 75 ohm terminations @ 6 volts peak to peak. This 3 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch stompbox-sized clock features ultra-low jitter, third-order crystal oscillators with a patent-pending, high-current, parallel-drive circuit that Black Lion says increases the amount of desirable harmonics within the clock’s spectral band. The clock’s proprietary noise-reduction circuitry is said to decrease the undesirable switching harmonics typically found in digital signals (Black Lion says this is important because these harmonics are musically unrelated signals that create distortion and phase cancellation within the converted audio signal).
I became a believer in the use of external clocking devices a decade ago after spending a serious amount of time comparing the sound of a now-ancient Pro Tools Mix+ rig clocked internally to that of the same rig clocked to various external clocking devices. The difference was astounding, and I’ve never looked back.
While the quality of internal clocks has drastically improved over the last 10 years, the benefits resulting from using an external clock often include improved imaging, a wider and deeper sound stage, more bass definition and improved topend clarity. If a studio has multiple digital devices, having them all synced to an independent clock source can also eliminate potential interfacing issues. External clocks have typically cost $750 to $1,500, and most of those who buy them feel they were worth every penny. Now, the Micro Clock mk2 provides equivalent, if not improved, performance at a significantly lower price.
I’ve used the Black Lion clock exclusively over the past two months and with the exception of the Lynx Aurora converters –- which, to my ears, sound identical whether clocked internally or clocked to the Micro Clock mk2 — the result was an improved sound quality over clocking internally. In sound reinforcement situations, I was able to use the box to clock Yamaha PM-5D, M7, LS-9 and Avid Icon consoles and, in every case, there was significant sound improvement including increased articulation in the bottom end and a smoother top end with less edginess.
Black Lion claims that the device’s simple design doesn’t just save money but improves performance as the clock’s chassis provides optimum RF shielding, and its lack of lights and frequency display eliminate unwanted noise that might adversely affect performance. Still, I’d love to be able to look at the box and know if it is actually on or not. This is not a big issue in the studio but, in a live situation while troubleshooting a clocking problem, I frequently wished this was possible. I’d also love an AES/EBU and/or S/PDIF output so digital devices that don’t have a BNC connector could be easily clocked via their digital input. These are minor complaints though and don’t at all affect the amazing sound benefits that result from using the Micro Clock mk2.
Contact: Black Lion Audio | 773-549-1885 | blacklionaudio.com
Russ Long is a producer, engineer and mixer. He owns the Carport studio in Nashville and is a senior contributor to PAR.