Originally Posted by Ethan Winer
I agree with John's advice. This is not as complicated as some might believe. The goal of all audio devices - other than those that add intentional color - is to pass the signal as cleanly as possible. This is what audio test equipment is for! So the single best way to evaluate any gear is to measure it, or at least read the manufacturer's specs. In lieu of measuring or reading, John's idea to record multiple passes is excellent.
One of the few times I'm gonna have the temerity to disagree with Ethan, at least a little.
I've been reading manufacturer's specs since the early 60's and -- yes -- a lot of information CAN be had from published specs if you know how to read them [and, let's face it, a lot of us are far more artist than scientist], how to read between the lines and, crucially, if you can trust the manufacturer's testing methodology, thoroughness, and completeness of information. (Knowing a given unit has a frequency bandwidth effectively flat from 20-20kHz is nice... but if you DON'T know that the unit also has hideous distortion or a high noise floor... you get the drift.)
If we could trust the thorughness, rigor, and -- let's face it -- honesty
of all manufacturers, comparing by spec could be a very informative and important facet of the decision process -- but it would still
be considerably less than all the information we need.
Now, with regard to transparency vs color/flavor... for me, I want transparency, lack of color/flavor in ALL of my chain -- except where I don't
-- IOW... I want my converters, mixers, power amps, my monitors and monitoring environment (HA! on that last) to be as neutral, transparent, flat as possible. But when it comes to mics and preamps and compressors.
While I like having some
that are as neutral and accurate as possible, I also see the value of some that are characterful in a way that hopefully complements their subjects... but I like to keep these roles fairly clearly defined.
I'd love to have a channel or two of Neve or other vintage or boutique pre or strip... but I put some time in working on a nice old Neve board in the early 80s and I have to tell you that I'm not really a fan of the overall sound of the projects that came off that board. The "Neve sound" on a few elements of a mix, I like. But when you start stacking up all that character and color it starts turning into a real monolithic "signature"... not for me.
Anyhow, a really interesting topic and a LOT of food for thought from everyone.