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How important are DACs, really?
Old 1 week ago
  #1
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markodarko's Avatar
 

How important are DACs, really?

I was thinking the other day whilst gazing over at my Clarett Thuderbolt, that... for a wholly ITB setup - or for those that mix entirely ITB, does it really matter what quality DAC we have in our audio interface when all the mixing is done internally and digitally in the DAW?

Obviously, if people are using a load of outboard or sending stuff out to mix on analogue shenanigans then that’s a different use-case, but for everyone else, why does it even matter outside of monitoring? Once it’s bounced down, people will be listening through their own DACs and monitors - which are unlikely to be the same yours. So... why care?

Am I missing something here?
Old 1 week ago
  #2
Gear Addict
 

ADCs and DACs matter insomuch as they’re used, sure.

Like, if you’re just using softsynths and other plugins, then no.
Old 1 week ago
  #3
Gear Maniac
 
13chroma20's Avatar
 

When you're designing sounds or mixing, you're making judgements based on what you hear. So if you're listening to something inaccurate, you'll be making poor judgements, just like if you were mixing on low-quality monitors. For example, if your DAC has a muddy, unfocused low end, you might end up cutting too much low end from your mix, and coming up with a mix that sounds thin or weak to others. But, even lower-end DACs sound pretty decent today, so there's probably no real need to get a top-end converter if you're just ITB.
Old 1 week ago
  #4
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More important probably if you are going for an effect like using an old sampler..etc to process a sound.

For an interface, I don’t know. I got an RME and on this site some people were complaining about the converters. Those are the people I don’t really take that seriously because if you are at the point where you are that anal, you are either an engineer who’s hyper focused on that aspect (not what I do), or you are a concern troll who suffers from analysis paralysis.

There are guys who are releasing tracks that are all over blogs, Spotify playlists, and getting millions of streams and all they used was a Scarlett 2i2.

So if you are a producer, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

Like said above, even lower end converters today around great.
Old 1 week ago
  #5
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MarcB's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post
I was thinking the other day whilst gazing over at my Clarett Thuderbolt, that... for a wholly ITB setup - or for those that mix entirely ITB, does it really matter what quality DAC we have in our audio interface when all the mixing is done internally and digitally in the DAW?

Obviously, if people are using a load of outboard or sending stuff out to mix on analogue shenanigans then that’s a different use-case, but for everyone else, why does it even matter outside of monitoring? Once it’s bounced down, people will be listening through their own DACs and monitors - which are unlikely to be the same yours. So... why care?

Am I missing something here?
why don't you send a song through your ADDA and compare the recording with the original?

I did that the other week when I was unsure on the converters of my digital mixer.. they're fine. I can't tell the difference between the original track, the mixer converters or the MADI stagebox converters.
Old 1 week ago
  #6
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adydub's Avatar
 

Even if you do literally everything ITB and never record any source audio at all, I'd still recommend getting the best DAC, monitors and headphones as you can justify because the more accurately you can hear what's going on, the better decisions you'll make when doing sound design, mixing and mastering. Also, to my ears, higher end DACs sound better. Which means less fatigue and more enjoyment when I'm making music. You can still get very usable results with pretty much any modern DAC, but as literally every single thing that you hear passes through a DAC, then in my view it's worth investing in.
Old 1 week ago
  #7
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kijix84's Avatar
 

you realize to listen to your 'ITB mix' from your monitors that signal has to be converted D->A right? So the answer to the question is, pretty damn important. Get a nice high quality cheap but older DAC like a lavry DA10 or DA11 for $500-600 and if you can't honestly hear a huge difference from the typical prosumer grade stuff, I dont know what to say.
Old 1 week ago
  #8
TJT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kijix84 View Post
you realize to listen to your 'ITB mix' from your monitors that signal has to be converted D->A right? So the answer to the question is, pretty damn important. Get a nice high quality cheap but older DAC like a lavry DA10 or DA11 for $500-600 and if you can't honestly hear a huge difference from the typical prosumer grade stuff, I dont know what to say.
It will have gone through one DA-->AD stage. If there is no discernible difference between the DAC playing the DA vs the same song going DA-->AD-->DA on the same DAC, then it tells you his DAC is not discernably changing the frequency response or adding signal distortion to the recording and the listener is less prone to placebo interference..
Old 1 week ago
  #9
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zerocrossing's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by pimket View Post
ADCs and DACs matter insomuch as they’re used, sure.

Like, if you’re just using softsynths and other plugins, then no.
Try listening to some off-the-shelf laptop’s audio output vs. a decent audio interface’s output from a good quality VST. I don’t know if it’s the DAC, or a general combination of things in the output circuitry, but the sound of the laptop will suck in comparison. I’ll also admit that I’ve not really checked such things in a very long time, so maybe even that has improved a bit.

Now, the difference between a basic pro-sumer level audio interface and a super high end interface? Most likely still some discernible difference, but not nearly as much. My educated guess is that DACs have gotten so good that what really makes more difference is the analog stages that come after.

Anyway, I think these days it’s more important to find an interface that has good driver support and a feature set that works for you than to be hyper worried about DACs. Spend the money on great monitors and room treatment. I’ve already decided that when I move back to my studio room in June that I’ll finally do some actual room treatment. It wasn’t bad before, but man now that I’m in a different spaced it’s pretty terrible.

If all of that is sorted and you have some money to burn, I’m sure there is someone who will take your money for that extra 1% of sound quality you’ll get. I’m more inclined to spend that money on instruments and other stuff.
Old 1 week ago
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

Most DAC chips since the 90's are very linear from an audio standpoint. There's really not much difference at all (aside from simple linear analog filters placed on the DAC output, that can be emulated or counteracted with any EQ plugin). The biggest difference between cheap and expensive stuff is going to be in background noise.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
everything has been said already about making decisions.


from technical standpoint, if you want to be dead sure what your ADDA is doing, do the loop recording a few times, like 5 or 10 each time with the new generation, to amplify the differences.

and then re-align this file (that has been thru your ADDA ten times) in your DAW with the original, to a single sample accuracy, and then try to match the volume as close as possible. turn the phase of one track and listen - this is what your converter adds or loses, but amplified.

as with many things in high end audio, you always have the diminished returns happen. as you go up the $$$$ ladder, the change in quality you get is progressively smaller for the money invested.



my experience is jump in quality also may be deceiving. one shouldnt underestimate the cumulative effect of bettering any crucial point in their chain:

many times i was exposed to something i first thought were a subtle change, and wondered whether the investment was worth it (for example moving from onboard FF800 mic preamps to Great River, getting schoeps sdc). however, after some time passed, and i got used to working with it, i looked back and listened to stuff ive done bfr - there is no doubt i wouldnt go back to the old system. entire mix is built with more quality and integrity. its because ear gets used to better fidelity very quickly.


i think its similar with high quality ADC or DAC. sometimes you cant appreciate em immediately.


i will also add, that top end stuff usually has beefy linear psus, with hefty linearisation and cleaning, which a measly switching psu in my RME does not have. second, there is an opamp on every input. the slew rate of ones in UFX (ive looked) isn't even near the top end you can get. better chips need more power, dissipate more heat. etc etc etc... its all connected to one another. so IME up to a certain point you do get what you pay for.


currently i am considering adding an 8x192 Mytek to my UFX+ for more i/o and use them for "main" channels. and if my OTB mix/sum plan comes to frutition, then a hi endish stereo for the master ADC (on another computer).
Old 1 week ago
  #12
TJT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by clusterchord View Post


from technical standpoint, if you want to be dead sure what your ADDA is doing, do the loop recording a few times, like 5 or 10 each time with the new generation, to amplify the differences.
5-10 times? I mean, how many times would a musician expect to go in and out of a DAC with the same piece of audio in a session? You wouldn't want to "exaggerate" the compounding generation loss of a DAC just to see that, yes, you're going to get a bit more noise with each conversion. That goes for a $100 dac or a $1000 dac.

You wouldn't want to see how much of an effect an analog tape deck will have on your recording by going in and out 5-10 times. It's not really a useful reference. Certainly not a dead sure reference, IMO.

One time is enough, maybe in headphones. Because that tells you the difference between the original signal, and what your DAC does to the signal.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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MarcB's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by TJT View Post
5-10 times? I mean, how many times would a musician expect to go in and out of a DAC with the same piece of audio in a session?
Each of my effects outboard are on different mix buses.

To simply record say my x0xb0x with distortion, delay and reverb and then send it to my monitors it will pass through each of the AD and DA converters 4 times. Then some more to send a Cubase group to some external EQ/comp etc.
Old 1 week ago
  #14
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Yoozer's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post
Am I missing something here?
Is your monitoring already the best it can be?
Is your room already the best it can be?

I've got an RME FF 802. My room isn't perfect, my monitoring isn't perfect, but the long-term support and driver solidity is taken care of, and the software to configure everything does its job very well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TJT View Post
5-10 times? I mean, how many times would a musician expect to go in and out of a DAC with the same piece of audio in a session? You wouldn't want to "exaggerate" the compounding generation loss of a DAC just to see that, yes, you're going to get a bit more noise with each conversion. That goes for a $100 dac or a $1000 dac.
I'm thinking this is because the audio interface is being used as a patchbay by itself, so for 5 FX you have to ADDA 5 times. You can hook up all devices and just leave them in the audio interface directly, then do the patching in software only.
Old 1 week ago
  #15
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gentleclockdivid's Avatar
 

Again a DAC thread ?
This forum is stuck in a loophole
Old 1 week ago
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer View Post
Is your monitoring already the best it can be?
Is your room already the best it can be?

I've got an RME FF 802. My room isn't perfect, my monitoring isn't perfect, but the long-term support and driver solidity is taken care of, and the software to configure everything does its job very well.
Same interface here. The support and solidity of the drivers is so awesome that I have been very happy with mine. Made plenty of mixes of my stuff on it that no ME has shunned (thankfully).
Old 1 week ago
  #17
Lives for gear
Practically all modern DACs are excellent at any price - easily good enough to make hit records with. There isn't a single piece of (active) audio hardware with faster diminishing returns against cost than DACs (although mic pre's aren't that far behind). That isn't to say top-end ones aren't better but the differences are tiny. The people that mention "night and day" differences are the ones who have trained themselves to hear them - the average Joe wouldn't tell the difference and even if they did - 99% wouldn't care. Like I always say about gear - if you can afford it go for it - if you can't don't worry about it - DACs don't make or break records - modern budget gear is amazing compared to the budget s*** we had to put up with in the 70s, 80s and 90s - now that really was night and day compared to the top-end stuff.
Old 1 week ago
  #18
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Monitors and room are much, much more significant than DAC when it comes to monitoring, especially when we’re talking about contemporary equipment. Buy a decent interface and never worry about it again IMO, there are more important things to be concerned about.
Old 1 week ago
  #19
TJT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarcB View Post
Each of my effects outboard are on different mix buses.

To simply record say my x0xb0x with distortion, delay and reverb and then send it to my monitors it will pass through each of the AD and DA converters 4 times. Then some more to send a Cubase group to some external EQ/comp etc.
So, you have to convert it to digital to send to distortion, then back to analog, then back to digital to delay, then back to analog, then back to digital for reverb? Not sure I get that. Or is your mixer a digital mixer with a built in Dac and your converting to analog then back to digital for every outboard effect? Not sure your setup is really the norm for your typical electronic musician...

I guess the OP kind of lays his scenario in much more simple terms than what you are proposing.
Old 1 week ago
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gentleclockdivid View Post
Again a DAC thread ?
This forum is stuck in a loophole
We're passing the information through 5 times to see if it changes.
Old 1 week ago
  #21
TJT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer View Post

I'm thinking this is because the audio interface is being used as a patchbay by itself, so for 5 FX you have to ADDA 5 times. You can hook up all devices and just leave them in the audio interface directly, then do the patching in software only.
Yeah, it's just not the best answer for OP, who stated:

"Obviously, if people are using a load of outboard or sending stuff out to mix on analogue shenanigans then that’s a different use-case, but for everyone else, why does it even matter outside of monitoring?"
Old 1 week ago
  #22
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MarcB's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by TJT View Post
So, you have to convert it to digital to send to distortion, then back to analog, then back to digital to delay, then back to analog, then back to digital for reverb? Not sure I get that. Or is your mixer a digital mixer with a built in Dac and your converting to analog then back to digital for every outboard effect? Not sure your setup is really the norm for your typical electronic musician...

I guess the OP kind of lays his scenario in much more simple terms than what you are proposing.
Yeah it's digital. Internal routing can be patched wherever so saves me from having patchbays. Every device has its own dedicated input\output and fader.
Old 1 week ago
  #23
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I'm sort of going through this now. I had a Apollo 16 and 16 channels of Lynx Aurora with a SSL Matrix and I summed and mixed through hard gear out of the box.
It sounded really great. I loved the image and the low end sounded so much better than in the box. I was forced to downsize into a smaller room and I swapped the Matrix for a SSL sigma and a s3. Everything sounded pretty **** in the newer room. I fought with tuning issues. I wasn't sure where my problem was but no amount of trapping and tuning helped. I recently built out a room for audio post for my day job I went with a s6 and a MTRX and Genelec Sams and the rooms sounds ****ing phenomenal. So I did a bunch of test with mixes in the box with the apollo, and then summed through the Sigma. Then same mix in the box through the MTRX but with my hard gear as hardware inserts through the MTRX. The MTRX blows away the Apollo. Its a silver face so obviously the DAD convertors are superior but even summed through the Sigma, The MTRX is way ahead in low end translation and stereo image. So looking at selling my sigma Apollo 16, Pure 2 mastering convertor and my Dangerous Monitor and going with a MTRX and a avid Dock for monitor control. Go full on in the box. My only reservation is I work a lot in Live now as well so IM looking to at least test out the apollo X before going back to HDX fulltime. I love the front end on apollo. Ill miss that.
Old 1 week ago
  #24
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kijix84's Avatar
 

I missed where OP said 'outside of monitoring'. It matters a lot for monitoring, which it appears he already knows. So I would amend my answer to, it doesn't matter in your case..
Old 1 week ago
  #25
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It never ceases to amaze me the whole gamut of (often, bizarre) replies you can get on Gearslutz from a seemingly innocuous “shooting the breeze” conversation starter.

Old 1 week ago
  #26
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monomer's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by adydub View Post
Even if you do literally everything ITB and never record any source audio at all, I'd still recommend getting the best DAC, monitors and headphones as you can justify
The thing is, tho, that typical DAC's are going to have a lot less influence on what you hear compared to monitors and headphones.
I would almost say that if you have a reasonably good DAC you will only gain a few percent more at best by buying a better one and you're going to pay for it big time.

With speakers and headphones (and acoustical treatment) you will gain much much more if you've got typical stuff. So usually those are better upgrades.
Old 1 week ago
  #27
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Yoozer's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post
It never ceases to amaze me the whole gamut of (often, bizarre) replies you can get on Gearslutz from a seemingly innocuous “shooting the breeze” conversation starter.

https://imgur.com/gallery/lnOAS

Innocuous may be the "We Do Not Talk About The Orangutan"
Old 1 week ago
  #28
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chrischoir's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post
I was thinking the other day whilst gazing over at my Clarett Thuderbolt, that... for a wholly ITB setup - or for those that mix entirely ITB, does it really matter what quality DAC we have in our audio interface when all the mixing is done internally and digitally in the DAW?

Obviously, if people are using a load of outboard or sending stuff out to mix on analogue shenanigans then that’s a different use-case, but for everyone else, why does it even matter outside of monitoring? Once it’s bounced down, people will be listening through their own DACs and monitors - which are unlikely to be the same yours. So... why care?

Am I missing something here?
They are as important as your monitors and your mixing room. As a general rule every part of the chain (in or out) are of equal importance. Specifically with regards to DA it is fairly inexpensive to get a good DA. I think you can get a good 2ch DA for around $1000 now.
Old 1 week ago
  #29
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chrischoir's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Praxisaxis View Post
Monitors and room are much, much more significant than DAC when it comes to monitoring, especially when we’re talking about contemporary equipment. Buy a decent interface and never worry about it again IMO, there are more important things to be concerned about.
So if you have a DA that is not accurately going to represent what is coming out of your DAW then what difference is a room or monitor going to make? Fact of the matter is they are not going to matter. Professional record is the sum of all parts
Old 1 week ago
  #30
Quote:
Originally Posted by TJT View Post
5-10 times? I mean, how many times would a musician expect to go in and out of a DAC with the same piece of audio in a session? You wouldn't want to "exaggerate" the compounding generation loss of a DAC just to see that, yes, you're going to get a bit more noise with each conversion. That goes for a $100 dac or a $1000 dac.

You wouldn't want to see how much of an effect an analog tape deck will have on your recording by going in and out 5-10 times. It's not really a useful reference. Certainly not a dead sure reference, IMO.

One time is enough, maybe in headphones. Because that tells you the difference between the original signal, and what your DAC does to the signal.
sure, but you are missing the point. its not to simulate real world situation of a single pass, but to magnify what your ADDA is doing. easier to see where its going with bandwidth, freq characteristic, what freq areas are noise buildup etc. like looking at cracks on your teeth with a magnifying camera, at the dentist.

and consequently, to get some idea what the cumulative effect of many tracks recorded thru it at mixdown might be (if working with lot of recorded stuff, analog inserts per channel etc. not as relevant if all is ITB generated like with OP case).

there are some threads on gearslutz, outside the electronics subforum, where converters are measured and compared in this fashion. if not singularly conclusive its still a very interesting insight.

cheers





@ monomer : i agree, monitoring and acoustics first.

tho what is "reasonably good DAC" is very subjective, past experience based, and in the end, the fact all our ears are very different plays a part too.
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