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On Choosing Converters

A/D and D/A converters are significant pieces of the signal chain in this audio production era of the DAW platform.

Like the mics, preamps, headphones, and speakers we all use, the choice of converters is just that — a choice. Whether chosen via personal research, a printed or online review, word-of-mouth persuasion, simple economics, just purely using your ears, or an amalgamation of these influential factors, A/D and D/A converters are significant pieces of the signal chain in this audio production era of the DAW platform.

Recently, I spoke with a handful of respected engineer/producers about choosing converters. Here are their opinions on the subject.

“I like to use Lynx [Studio Technology] Aurora converters for my tracking A-D and analog summing D-A because they sound better than anything I heard in their price range,” said Fab (Fabrice Dupont), owner of Flux Studios in New York’s East Village. “They have full Pro Tools connectivity, and I can also hook them up to native DAWs with an AES connection. They don’t need an external clock to perform great, are 1U of space for 32 channels of I/O, have no [cooling] fans, and are easily align-able to whatever reference level I like. They also never have any problems of any kind — hard to beat.”

Like some other engineers, Fab uses a varied setup when outputting and monitoring finals. “For printing mixes, I use a Crane Song HEDD [Harmonically Enhanced Digital Device] as it sounds very transparent, has tons of headroom, responds well to being hit hard, and has lots of great options and processing capabilities. For my main monitoring D-A, I use the Dangerous Music’s DAC-ST [D-A conversion for Dangerous’ Monitor-ST, a remote-controllable input source, speaker switcher, cue/talkback system and headphone amp] because it’s the most neutral, natural, and opensounding D-A I’ve heard. What I hear is what I get: no color or distraction.”

Frank Filipetti, currently in the process of setting up a high-end personal home studio, has his own thoughts on the matter. “I’m still using the LavryBlue [Conversion System] I bought nine years ago while working on Korn in L.A.,” he said. “They still sound amazing to me. I recently had them upgraded, and I must say that they’re one of those rare pieces of digital gear that are still relevant 10 years down the road. The only down side is they only go to 96 kHz, which is not an issue for me, as I haven’t found a significant benefit in going 192 kHz. What I have upgraded to is the Antelope Audio Isochrone Trinity master clock, which have helped the LavryBlues to sound even better.”

“I use the Apogee Electronics 16X converters,” noted Nashville-based Chuck Ainlay. “I have three each of the A-D and D-As. They sound right to me, do up to 192 kHz, take up a relatively small space in my rack, and didn’t break the bank. I’ve compared them to converters costing much more and was pleasantly surprised that they surpassed the more expensive ones, in my opinion.”

“I mainly use Digidesign 192 I/O, but I use an Apogee Electronics Big Ben master clock for all my converters,” noted Paul Antonell of Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, NY. “I think it’s real important to have a great clock; it can make or break your converters.

Using Lynx Auroras, I do a hybrid thing where I use the 192 I/O for tracking, then the Lynx for overdubbing and printing mixes. I am looking into trying some of the new two-channel units coming out, like those from API, Universal Audio, and Benchmark.”

D. James Goodwin, also from Clubhouse Studios, chimed in with his take on the matter. “I found that the Lynx Auroras offer the best performance considering their price,” he noted. “Of course, I’ve heard some converters that did outperform the Lynx…very slightly. But I decided that the minute differences — especially at 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz — were not enough to sway me. Especially because of their plugand- play Pro Tools compatibility, they’re hard to top in any manner at that price range.”

As for mixing, Goodwin had a different approach. “I did, however, decide to get the Universal Audio 2192 for my mixing duties at my home studio. Not only does it sound fantastic, it’s also a bit of a ‘color’ piece; it has a flavor that very few converters have, and I was looking for something that gave me character much like a tape machine would. Since I rarely work on analog tape anymore, the UA suited my style a bit more than the Lynx for two-track duties; it replaced the Studer machine that I used for years when I was on tape only.”

Rich Tozzoli is an engineer/mixer and the software editor for Pro Audio Review.