In the early days of digital recording, most of us didn't even entertain the idea that the converters that came with our recorders were less than they should be. But gradually, folks started to notice that some digital recorders sounded, well, “better” than others. And some sounded worse. Much worse. And so a market developed for standalone converters - at first stereo, but followed soon afterwards by multichannel converters that allowed the engineer to move beyond those offered by the manufacturers of recording equipment. It may seem a bit paradoxical to say that the wide variety of high quality A/D and D/A converters available to today's engineers is due (at least in part) to the sound of Panasonic DAT machines, Digidesign's 888/24 and the original ADAT. Nevertheless, there is a certain element of truth to the concept. One member of the current generation of converters is Mytek's 8X192 converter ($3,495 basic).
Studio, field, live sound, post production
Eight-channel; 24-bit; up to 192kHz; AES/EBU digital output; word clock; I/O option cards; DSD option
DSD upgrade - $1,995; FireWire card - $795; TDIF card - $595; ADAT card - $595; Pro Tools|HD card - $795; Sonic HDSP/USP card - $1,595
- Sweet, smooth sound from both D/A and A/D
- Interfaces well with a number of formats
- Multiple clock outputs
- Added balanced stereo output
- Low latency
- Can be upgraded to DSD
- Runs fairly hot
For those willing to pay a premium for high quality sonics, the Mytek 8X192 is a serious contender.
Mytek's 8X192 AD/DA is a single rack-space converter that offers eight channels analog and digital conversion at all rates from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz. Optional firmware is available to provide both standard and high speed DSD. Both analog and digital I/O is on DB25 connectors, with the analog I/O conforming to the standard promulgated by TASCAM and used by most manufacturers. The AES/EBU digital I/O is on a single DB25 connector that follows the standard used by Digidesign (note that Apogee uses a different pinout than Digidesign). Mytek offers a number of digital I/O cards besides the optional DSD card, which allows the 8X192 to interface directly with Pro Tools|HD, ADAT, TDIF and Sonic HD. There is also a FireWire interface card.
The Mytek 8X192 includes a separate analog stereo output (on XLR connectors). This stereo output can be derived from any pair of channels, from all
channels (with odd channels summed left and even channels summed right), or all channels summed to mono. The output of the buss/selector can be run through a precision 24-position 1dB stepped attenuator on the front panel of the unit or the attenuator can be bypassed. A headphone jack on the front of the 8X192 presents the same signal as the stereo outputs and is routed through the attenuator whether or not the stereo output is passed through the attenuator. The 8X192 also has an internal clock generator with multiple word clock outputs to allow synching with other digital equipment in the studio.
The controls and the metering on the 8X192 are logical and, considering the limited amount of real estate available on the front panel, well laid out.
Integrating a pair of Mytek 8X192s into Java Jive's Pro Tools|HD systems was a relatively pain-free operation, though the 8X192 offers enough options that some experimentation was in order; the A room has an HD3 with two Digidesign 192s (with optional D/A cards) and one Digital 192. Once I located a dealer for the eight pair of AES DB25/DB25 cables (these, by the way, are NOT something you can pick up at your local Guitar Center), I simply connected the 8X192s to the Digidesign Digital 192's AES ports, trashed all of the PT preferences and rebooted the G5. The added interfaces worked like a charm.
Since a stable word clock is an important issue when interfacing digital equipment, we explored a couple of avenues with regard to clocking the system. The A room's Pro Tools setup includes a Digidesign Sync I/O, which is normally used as the loop master clock source. We tried clocking the 8X192 from the Sync I/O, clocking the Sync I/O from the 8X192 (thereby letting the 8X192's clock be the master for the whole system), and even using the multiple clock outs from the 8X192 to provide a clock for all of the other interfaces. In the end, we finally went with a relatively simple solution – allowing the 8X192 to derive its clock from the AES/EBU signal, leaving the rest of the system alone (with the Sync I/O as the clock master). If there were sonic differences between the various clocking schemes, they didn't make themselves obvious.
The B room has a simpler Pro Tools system; typically, a single interface is hooked up to the HD3. Since one of the two 8X192s used for this review included the optional Pro Tools interface card, the setup was simply a matter of plugging the DigiLink cable and the analog I/O cables to the interface, again trashing preferences, and rebooting that system. In the B room, the clock on the 8X192 was set to internal.
Because the two rooms at Java Jive are set up for different tasks, 8X192s were used differently in each environment. In the A Room, both 8X192s were used in addition to the converters already present, making a 32-input/48-output system that interfaces to the 48-input D&R Cinemix console. In the B room - designed for editing, overdubs and ITB mixing - one 8X192 was used for monitoring, auxes and outputs to the mastering deck.
Once installed in the systems, the Mytek 8X192s performed very well – just as you would expect any high quality converter to behave. There were no issues moving from 96 kHz sessions to 44.1 kHz sessions to 48 kHz sessions, nor were there any glitches (of any sort) that could be blamed on the Myteks. Of course, the most important question concerns the sound of the 8X192, and there, it also behaved admirably.
On a couple of tracking dates, I routed incoming signals (specifically, piano tracks, organ tracks and lead vocals) through both the Mytek 8X192 and a Digidesign 192 for comparison purposes. The Digi 192 and the Mytek are calibrated slightly differently, with the Digi 192 set for +4 dB = -18 dBFS and the Mytek set for +4 dB = -15 dBFS. This difference means that incoming signals recorded by the Mytek converters are slightly hotter than the signals brought through the Digi 192. After compensating for the volume, comparing the two otherwise identical signals did reveal differences between the two tracks. In a direct comparison with the Mytek, tracks recorded with Digidesign's 192 seemed to have a certain hardness - not “harsh,” but edgier than those recorded through the Mytek converters. The tracks recorded with the 8X192's A/D side also seemed to have a little more width than the Digi A/Ds.
This holds true on the D/A side as well - the Mytek converter sounded a bit fuller and (as much as I hate to say it) had more of a “natural” sound. In an A/B situation, it was pretty easy to tell the difference between the two converters when listening to solo piano tracks. Naturally, when a signal was recorded and played back through one brand of converter (either the Mytek or the Digi converter), these relatively small differences were magnified.
To be fair, Digidesign's 192 converter is much better than its predecessor, the 888/24 (which was itself a heck of a lot better than the generation before it). And while there were noticeable sonic differences between the Digi and Mytek boxes, those differences aren't nearly as stark as they might have been with earlier generations of converters. Nevertheless, they are there. And though it's truly a subjective opinion, I preferred the Myteks to that of the Digidesign converters that I already own.
When using the 8X192 as the sole interface to a workstation, some other advantages of this box came into play; the stereo XLR output can be a real problem solver, and the multiple clock outputs made synching the rest of that particular system a lot easier. Besides that, the sonics of the 8X192 made long days of editing drum tracks at least a little more pleasant.
I should mention a couple of other things about the 8X192 converters. First, they get quite warm, despite the built in (and pretty quiet) fan. It's recommended that a space be left above each unit for ventilation. Second, the 8X192's conversion latency is quite low; the manual doesn't specify a number but when comparing tracks routed simultaneously through the Mytek converter and Digidesign's 192, I found the Digi converter to be approximately 18 samples slower than the Mytek. This wouldn't be an issue (and it could be argued that it's an advantage) unless the DAW uses converters from different manufacturers (as my system does). But if, for example, you used one company's converter for some drum tracks and another brand for the rest of the drum tracks, this bears watching. Naturally, the same holds true for a stereo signal - it's not a good thing to split left and right into different brands of converters with differing latencies.
Admittedly, the Mytek 8X192 ADDA is not the most cost efficient converter available. But those who care about how everything in the signal path affects the sound should give serious consideration to the 8X192.
Dave Martin would like to thank Dave at Vintage King and David Seymour, the “go to” guy for Mytek Digital, for the use of the converters used in this review.
Pro Tools HD3 with two Digidesign 192s and one Digidesign Digital 192, Sync I/O; D&R Cinemix console; Dynaudio Acoustics BM15A monitors