Studio Review: Lynx Aurora, Hilo & LT-TB LSlot Interface Card - ProSoundNetwork.com

Studio Review: Lynx Aurora, Hilo & LT-TB LSlot Interface Card

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The Lynx Aurora has been a mainstay in recording since 2005 and is still considered the best I/O option by many top engineers. Last year’s news that it was the primary interface used in the making of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (arguably the 21st century’s best sounding album release to date) has brought more attention to the device. In 2012 Lynx released the Hilo (pronounced HE-low) 2-channel converter system, which provides world-class D/A and A/D conversion as well as an audiophile quality headphone amp. Both interfaces are equipped with Lynx’s LSlot expansion slot, allowing use of the Lynx LT-TB Thunderbolt Interface released earlier this year. The LT-TB provides Thunderbolt connectivity making the Aurora and Hilo perfect options for engineers and musicians seeking outstanding sound quality in a Thunderbolt-equipped device.

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I purchased Lynx Aurora after reviewing it for the March 2006 issue of PAR (www.lynxstudio.com/nav/getFile.asp?i=9&t=contentfile), and it’s been my primary converter ever since.

Lynx Aurora 16

The 1U Aurora 16 A/D-D/A supports sample rates up to 192 kHz and provides outstanding conversion. The sound is open and transparent and almost impossible to discern from the source material at high sample rates. The internal clock is spectacular and since the unit operates without an internal fan, there’s no issue in having the converters in the control room.

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Lynx has followed the Aurora’s release with numerous LSlot interfaces that allow the Aurora to be used in various interfacing configurations. The LT-HD (which I currently use in my studio) allows the Aurora to be recognized and controlled from Pro Tools. Initially the LT-HD’s firmware tricked Pro Tools into thinking the Aurora was a 192 but with the latest firmware update, Pro Tools now sees the Aurora as an Avid HD I/O (Avid’s current premium I/O). The LT-HD card has a DigiLink connector and can be connected to an HD System with a standard DigiLink cable or an HD Native or HDX system with a DigiLink to MiniDigiLink cable. I’ve experienced flawless operation in all three scenarios. The LT-ADAT, LT-MADI and LT-USB provide ADAT Lightpipe, MADI and USB 2.0 connectivity, respectively. And the latest card introduction, the LT-TB (discussed in this article), adds Thunderbolt connectivity to the Lynx Aurora. Interface to the Aurora can also be accomplished by installing a Lynx AES16 or AES16e card directly in your CPU or expansion chassis.

With all of the available connectivity options, I wish the Aurora and Hilo had been designed with multiple LSlots so multiple cards could be installed at the same time. Obviously only one could be used at a time but I’d love to be able to pull the Aurora out of my studio that is connected to Pro Tools with the LT-HD card and take it home to record with my laptop and the LT-TB card without having to physically swap cards.

Lynx Hilo Reference A/D-D/A Converter System

The Hilo Reference A/D-D/A Converter System is a mastering-quality, self-contained (8.50” x 3.25” x 10”) interface that provides two channels of superb analog-to-digital conversion, six channels of digital-to-analog conversion, Main out and then monitor and headphone amplifiers, each with its own volume control. The 6.75 lb., compact, half-rack box is available in silver or black. While the rear-panel is packed full of connectivity options, the box’s front panel is elegant and simple with only a power switch, headphone jack, control knob and 480 x 272-pixel touch-screen. The screen provides easy access to the unit’s intuitive feature set as well as great metering options including analog VU, horizontal bar meters, or all I/O. The feature-set includes routing and mixing options, sample rate selection, clock source selection, levels, metering and diagnostic features.

The Hilo was designed with pristine audio as the top priority, which led to the ground up design of the box’s analog stage and converter topology assuring minimum distortion and maximum conversion transparency. Any or all of the digital and analog inputs can be routed to any or all of the three separate outputs: Line Output (with 8 trim settings), Monitor Output and Headphone Output. All three output pairs have a dedicated DAC, allowing each output to have a unique mix. Output levels can be controlled (in 0.5 dB increments) via faders on the touch-screen or the knob on the front panel.

The Hilo offers a wide range of digital connectivity options including AES/EBU I/O and S/PDIF I/O (via coax or TOSLINK optical connections). The optical connection can alternatively be used for up to eight ADAT channels and the ADAT I/O is completely independent from the AES/EBU and S/PDIF coax channels. The Hilo has a total of 12 inputs and 16 outputs with 32 possible channels via the LSlot port. DSD audio file playback is supported, as is the DoP V1.1 standard which provides the means for transferring DSD audio over PCM frames. [For more information on the DoP Standard, visit this link: http://dsd-guide.com/dop-open-standard]—Ed.]

The Hilo is quite complex and certain functionality may require multiple routing and or setting changes. The Scene feature allows the user to save all of the Hilo’s current settings and then recall them with the push of a button. There are six storable Scene options that can be used to store these unique setups. In addition to the IEC connector that accepts standard 110-230 VAC, the 9-18 VDC input allows the Hilo to be powered remotely from a standard video battery pack or automobile cigarette lighter.

In addition to being feature-packed, the Hilo’s sonic performance is amazing. I compared a 96 kHz high-resolution recording through the Hilo to the same recording through a Benchmark DAC-1 and was amazed that the top-end was smoother through the Hilo. The imaging was also better with the Hilo. I utilized the Hilo’s internal sample-rate converter to down-convert a 96 kHz digital signal and found the result to be quite impressive without any noticeable artifacts or image change.

I tested the Hilo’s headphone amp with an assortment of headphones including Focal’s Spirit Professional Pro, Audio Technica’s ATH-M50 and my Ultimate Ears Custom In-Ear Reference monitors and, in each instance, the amp had enough gain to push the headphones to the point of pain without even a hint of distortion. Not only does it have an abundance of horsepower, it sounds amazing. My Focal headphones have never sounded better than when listening to Dark Side of the Moon through the Hilo.

Lynx LT-TB Thunderbolt LSlot Interface for Lynx Hilo and Aurora Converters

When I stopped by the Lynx booth at Winter NAMM 2014 and saw half a dozen Aurora 16-TB converters simultaneously playing 192 channels of audio from a single Thunderbolt port on the new Mac Pro running Logic, I knew the new Lynx LT-TB Thunderbolt LSlot Interface was worth a closer look.

At 10Gbs bidirectionally and simultaneously, Thunderbolt is currently the fastest PC connection possible (twice the theoretical speed of USB 3.0). The LT-TB utilizes the latest Cactus Ridge Thunderbolt controller, which ensures maximum bandwidth, minimal latency and full compatibility with the latest computer hardware and applications. While latency varies depending upon buffer size and sample rate, a typical 96 kHz session with a buffer size of 128 samples yields an incredibly low latency of 1.33 MS. The LT-TB was the first Thunderbolt audio product certified for use with both PC and Mac computer systems and it includes an easy-to-use software interface for setting parameters, managing volume levels, monitoring input, metering, etc. Up to 6 Lynx interfaces (any mix or match of Auroras and Hilos) can be daisy-chained from a single Thunderbolt port, potentially providing 192 channels of audio, or a computer with two Thunderbolt ports can deliver up to 384 channels while still only using 12 percent of Thunderbolt’s available bandwidth. In theory, the new Mac Pro, which includes 6 Thunderbolt II ports, can deliver 1,152 channels with adequate processor speed and system throughput (I admittedly have my doubts, though). Thunderbolt supports hot-plugging, so devices can be added or removed from the daisy chain without requiring a reboot or power cycle of the hardware. This is typically problematic with the software though so I don’t recommend doing it while an audio application is running.

The LT-TB supports cable runs up to three meters with standard copper cables and up to 100 meters with the Corning optical Thunderbolt cables. I utilized a 10-meter optical cable for all of my testing and it performed flawlessly (but optical TB will not pass bus power to downstream devices). To facilitate configurations that require a bus-powered device to be daisy chained to the LT-TB, Lynx has added a 12V DC power input on the LT-TB card enabled by attaching the optional Lynx LYN-ACPS1000 AC Adapter to the card.

Both the Aurora and Hilo are available with the LT-TB LSlot card pre-installed (Aurora 16TB: $3,395 or Hilo-TB: $2,795) or the LT-TB card can be purchased separately ($650) and installed into any existing Aurora or Hilo with a simple (and free) firmware update. The Lynx Mixer application (for the Aurora) and HiloRemote application (for the Hilo), both free and downloadable from the Lynx site, provide routing configuration, zero-latency monitoring and metering. The LT-TB supports WDM and ASIO on Windows computers and Core Audio on OS X computers, so nearly every professional audio application is compatible with the card.

I was recently hired to capture a pair of concerts in a local prison. The gear had to draw minimal power and be easily carried by three individuals (in this instance, myself along with engineers Seiji Inouye and Amanda Blehm). After contemplating several different scenarios, we decided that the best option was recording to Pro Tools via a MacBook Air and utilizing the Aurora 16 for A/D conversion and the Hilo for monitoring while recording to the G-Technology G-DOCK. The Hilo, Aurora and G-DOCK were daisy chained off a single Thunderbolt port. The concert was recorded at 24-bit, 44.1kHz and the system performed beautifully and sounded fantastic. While 8-tracks of 44.1kHz, 24-bit audio recording for 75 minutes is a nice test, it in no way pushed the envelope so, after getting back to my studio, I recorded 24-tracks of 192 kHz, 24-bit audio for over 90 minutes without a single snag.

Lynx makes great products with no sonic compromise whatsoever. Their manuals are well written and concise and their tech-support is among the best I’ve ever encountered. I’m constantly integrating new gear and experimenting with new technology in my studio and I’ve called or emailed tech support several times over the years and I’ve always received excellent support. If the technician didn’t know the answer to my question, he was more than willing to research it and get back to me in an amazingly brief amount of time. In short, I can’t say enough good things about Lynx.

Prices:
Aurora 16: $2,995.00
Aurora 16TB: $3,395.00
Aurora 16 VTTB: $3,695.00
Hilo (USB): $2,495.00
Hilo-TB (Thunderbolt): $2,795.00
LT-TB LSlot card: $650.00

Contact: Lynx Studio | www.lynxstudio.com