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Black Lion mod for M-Audio FW1814
Old 22nd May 2007
  #1
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fhinspectit's Avatar
 

Black Lion mod for M-Audio FW1814

Check this out,

When approaching the FW1814, we wanted first of all to clean up the quality of the audio signal as it heads into and comes out of the conversion process. We achieved this by using an amplifier with roughly half the noise, twenty times the bandwidth, and forty times the speed of the existing circuit. By doing this, we not only reduce noise, we improve the ability of the circuit to provide a clean, detailed signal.
The second area we wanted to address is, of course, the internal clock. We knew from our experiments with clock circuitry and propagation that we would need some way to limit oscillator jitter and noise down to the theoretical minimum. Instead of using a typical logic IC to handle clock signal shaping, we began to experiment with using discrete class-A circuitry, and were pleasantly surprised at the end results. Why on earth would we want to use something like this for a digital circuit? Because although the clock controls aspects of the digital circuitry, it is actually an analog signal, which means it’s subject to the much of the same rules as an analog audio signal. And since logic IC’s are fairly noisy in comparison to our discrete circuit, they have the capability to add to the problem. Quite simply put, we feel that this clock will far outperform any high-end external wordclock currently available—period, and at a fraction of the cost!

cost 275.00 is it worth it?
Old 22nd May 2007
  #2
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jeremy.c.'s Avatar
I just sent an email asking if they do analog stage only mods as I clock to an apogee already.
The firewire 1814 analog inputs and outputs are so abysmal I can only assume it's a step up.
I would be curious as well to hear from someone who has this mod.
Old 24th May 2007
  #3
Gear Head
 

wait... you mean the 1804 right

the 1814? i know the 1804, which is the 1814... is that the console version?

in any case, how would this compare to the modification to the 002 that is offered?
Old 24th May 2007
  #4
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jeremy.c.'s Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by cannibalbritney View Post
the 1814? i know the 1804, which is the 1814... is that the console version?

in any case, how would this compare to the modification to the 002 that is offered?
Nope it's the 1814. M-Audio FW1814 Mod
Old 16th July 2007
  #5
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jeremy.c.'s Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by fhinspectit View Post
cost 275.00 is it worth it?
Yes!
I haven't had a lot of time to A/B back and forth between my Rosetta 800 and my modded 1814, but my first impressions are that the analog DA on the 1814, even unclocked from the Rosetta, is a huge improvement!

I am not going to say yet that it sounds better or worse, but I am hearing the mix break apart or rip up more on the 1814, meaning I think I am hearing more detail on the 1814 than I did on the Rosetta!!! (meaning a janked up mix was distorting when I first ran it thru the 1814, exposing a bad gain structure the Rosetta was letting me get away with) I just need to see now if it has the depth / clarity that I have become accustomed to with the Apogee.

My first impressions of the AD stage are good too. I just plugged directly into the mic pres on the front of the box and it sounds so much better than it did before.

Basically I thought the 1814 was kind of a POS before. I was using it for scratch ideas with a laptop, but for serious recording and playback it had no place in my setup, it just sounded awful and it was dull. Now it's totally useful and I think it will hold it's own against my Rosetta! I was running the Rosetta thru the ADAT on my RME Multiface because the Multiface buried the 1814, now I'm going to move the RME out in favor of the 1814. I'm sure it can replace the Multiface, though I doubt I would ever ditch the Apogee.

More later when I get around to it.
Old 17th July 2007
  #6
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I just got my 1814 back from BLA today - I'll post more when I have a chance to run it through its paces.
Cheers!
-mike
Old 17th July 2007
  #7
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fhinspectit's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
I just got my 1814 back from BLA today - I'll post more when I have a chance to run it through its paces.
Cheers!
-mike
cool, debating on getting the mod for birthday
Old 18th July 2007
  #8
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
I just got my 1814 back from BLA today - I'll post more when I have a chance to run it through its paces.
Cheers!
-mike
Excited to hear the results, I've also been thinking about getting this mod done in lieu of a new interface. Keep us up to date how it's working for you once you've gotten a chance to try it out.
Old 18th July 2007
  #9
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If only m-audio would improve their drivers and make them actually work. It is good that this mod makes it sound better though.
Old 22nd July 2007
  #10
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andremattos's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
I just got my 1814 back from BLA today - I'll post more when I have a chance to run it through its paces.
Cheers!
-mike
any news ? good ?



Old 28th July 2007
  #11
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
I just got my 1814 back from BLA today - I'll post more when I have a chance to run it through its paces.
Cheers!
-mike
Any impressions yet?
Old 29th July 2007
  #12
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celticrogues's Avatar
 

Woa sorry guys - I'm actually out of state right now visiting family - Haven't had computer access before now. I didn't have a chance to fully check it out as much as I wanted to before I left but was planning to post a bunch of stuff, with audio samples, when I got back.
For now, initial impressions are pretty good - the DA's seem to be much better than before for one thing; I seem to definitely be hearing some distortion on some (heavily mastered) tracks that I didn't notice before the mod. I haven't had a chance to record anything through the AD's or mic pres yet but I have done some level tests and found that the level of audio that goes through the DA and then the AD converters is about 4 dB lower than it was before the mod. BLA assures me that this is normal and does not actually matter because of the greatly reduced noise floor on the modified unit.
Like I said I have more to do, and will post more when I get back. I'll be back in about 5 days so you'll hear from me shortly after.
Cheers!
-Mike
Old 29th July 2007
  #13
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andremattos's Avatar
 

Sounds pretty good!
My 002R mod (super tweak head mod new) will arrive here(Brazil - Amazonia) in 2 days ..
i am excited heh
Old 29th July 2007
  #14
Gear Nut
 

Thanks for keeping us up to date, have a good time visiting family, looking forward to hearing more when you get back.
Old 30th July 2007
  #15
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fhinspectit's Avatar
 

When approaching the FW1814, we wanted first of all to clean up the quality of the audio signal as it heads into and comes out of the conversion process. We achieved this by using an amplifier with roughly half the noise, twenty times the bandwidth, and forty times the speed of the existing circuit. By doing this, we not only reduce noise, we improve the ability of the circuit to provide a clean, detailed signal.
The second area we wanted to address is, of course, the internal clock. We knew from our experiments with clock circuitry and propagation that we would need some way to limit oscillator jitter and noise down to the theoretical minimum, so we've developed an internal clock for the 1814 that utilizes a proprietary method that limits jitter at the clock source to 3-4 picoseconds.
What's really cool is that we have developed methods to take the 1814 even further. By implementing the same approaches to converter decoupling that we offer in our 002 modification, we can reduce distortion within the conversion process itself. And by utilizing a higher power supply voltage for the analog stage, we can increase headroom by almost 30dB!
Pricing
Price is $275 for the basic package, which covers analog stages and internal clock.
Price is $395 for the Tweak Head modification, which includes all analog stages, our proprietary converter decoupling, internal clock, and internal analog stage power supply.


what is the benefit of the Tweak Head mod over the basic mod in laymens terms?
Old 30th July 2007
  #16
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by fhinspectit View Post
What's really cool is that we have developed methods to take the 1814 even further. By implementing the same approaches to converter decoupling that we offer in our 002 modification, we can reduce distortion within the conversion process itself. And by utilizing a higher power supply voltage for the analog stage, we can increase headroom by almost 30dB!
Pricing
Price is $275 for the basic package, which covers analog stages and internal clock.
Price is $395 for the Tweak Head modification, which includes all analog stages, our proprietary converter decoupling, internal clock, and internal analog stage power supply.


what is the benefit of the Tweak Head mod over the basic mod in laymens terms?
this is really starting to get interesting! Does anybody think this humble little box is worthy of such an upgrade? What does the tweakhead make this comparable to spec wise? a fireface? a digi 192? a rosetta!? I've had a degree of skeptisism about this upgrade in the first place but it sounds like they are really starting to get serious. I'm not one to put false hope in a mod like this and make myself think I'd be able to get a $700 rosetta but some sound examples would be really helpful along with some trusted unbiased opinion. As a side note about the drivers, I have to agree I think they suck. I'm running a Macbook Pro with Logic and Pro Tools and have problems ranging from starting up not recognized to kernel panics, but for the others complaining about them what are you using for your driver? native windows? core audio or pro tools? If I remember right, I don't remember having any problems when I was just running core audio with Logic. If we could get something figured out with what's causing the instability with the drivers this box has the potential to be significantly more usable.
Old 30th July 2007
  #17
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jeremy.c.'s Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
For now, initial impressions are pretty good - the DA's seem to be much better than before for one thing; I seem to definitely be hearing some distortion on some (heavily mastered) tracks that I didn't notice before the mod.
-Mike
I have had the exact same experience in my mixes, it has been really helpful to hear how far I was pushing the mix before, it seems to be more sensitive to the audio peaking. I haven't really recorded a lot yet with it, mostly DA, but still happy, so happy in fact I haven't really turned my Rosetta on much in the past few weeks.
I am also curious about the Tweakhead package as they weren't offering that at the time I sent mine in... but still happy enough and I still have the Rosetta, so it all works well for me now.
Old 30th July 2007
  #18
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fhinspectit's Avatar
 

I just received an email from BLA regarding the tweakhead option. I guess the 30db increase in headroom make the tweakhead option worth it alone. can't wait till september as that is my anniversary and the wife said the BLA mod can be her gift to me........
Old 10th August 2007
  #19
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Hey all,
Sorry this took so long to put together, but I've finally had a chance to do a lot of listening to my modded FW1814 and tell you what I think. First a couple of disclaimers: my tests are not scientific, though I did my best to control all the variables. Also, all of my listening was done through Grado SR125 headphones, cause thats all I have at the moment. I am familiar with them and they sound nice, but they are not as accurate as studio monitors, so you guys may notice stuff I didn't. I am posting some sound samples, which are short but are in 44.1/16 bit wav format so you can listen for yourselves. Finally, I used commercial CDs that I was familiar with and liked for my tests so that is what I have samples of. The samples are quite short and so I don;t think I am violating any copyright laws by poting them here for educational value, but if I am, mods, please remove them, or let me know and I will remove them.

Finally, I didn't do any level matching on the stuff I am posting because the level differences are part of the mod and I thought you should get the unaltered file. No processing was added to any of the files I am posting.

I got the basic mod done by the way as the tweak head mod wasn't available when I sent my unit out. I kind of wish it had been, but oh well...


1. The preamps:
The website doesn't mention the mic pres specifically so I had to call and ask if BLA modded those too, and they do. The new mic pres are a huge improvement over the old ones. Where the old pres sounded kind of unfocused and blurry, the new ones are much more focused and clear. For one of my tests (posted here) I recorded some music with an SM57, and with the unmodded pres the result was so blurry it could have been any mic, but after the mod, I could definitely tell it was a 57. It seems like the mod just stripped away a layer of mud. The recording with the modded pres sounds much closer to what I was hearing in the room than the unmodded pres.

I am posting 2 small samples of these tests, both recorded with the 57 straight up against the speaker of my stereo system (remember, not scientific, but you get the idea). I am also posting some acoustic guitar I recorded with the modded pres. I didn't play with mic position too much; I just used one that was familiar to me, kind of a crotch mic looking up toward the 12th fret. The mic is an AT3035. While I'm sure these mic pres can't compete with really high end ones, they are nice compared to the other low-end-but-usable pres I have in my arsenal (DMP3, Symetrix SX202), and I would no longer have any qualms about using them on a track.
-Mike
Attached Files

unmodded pre.wav (2.10 MB, 1947 views)

modded pre.wav (2.07 MB, 1873 views)

acoustic.wav (4.62 MB, 2975 views)

Old 10th August 2007
  #20
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2. The converters:
The difference between the modded and unmodded converters was, at least to me, less apparent than the mic pres, but still significant. (This may be partially due to me listening on cans). I haven't had a chance to do a ton of recording through the AD's yet, but I have done some tests and have been doing lots of listening through the D/A's.
For these tests I imported a few commercial tracks from CDs I liked into Pro Tools. I then connected the analog outputs of the 1814 to the analog (line) inputs with patch cables, and ran the tracks through the D/A and A/D converters that way, and recorded the result onto a new track. I saved the result of one trip through the D/A/A/D stage before and after the mod, and of 10 trips through the converters, in an attempt to really multiply the effect of the converters.

As I mentioned before, the D/A's sound (subjectively) much better.After the mod, I was noticing digital clipping on some of the imported tracks that I simply wasn't aware of before. Also, listening to and mixing some of the stuff I had previously recorded, it seemed like I could hear more detail and depth than I could before.

The A/Ds sound better as well, although this seems to be a bit more subtle. It may have been my headphones, but I had to really listen for a difference between modded and unmodded; it didn't just jump out at me like the difference between the mic pres did. The newly modded converters do definitely sound richer and more 3-dimentional than they did before, though. The unmodded converters sound tinny and a bit harsh in comparison.

A few other observations:
As you may notice, the signal level dropped by about 3 dB after the converters were modded, meaning that what I recorded before the mod was louder than what I recorded after the mod. I emailed BLA about this and they said that this was completely normal and shouldn't be a problem because of the greatly reduced noise floor of the converters. Interestingly, after one pass through the converters as described above, the level of the recorded track was lower than before the mod, but after 10 passes, it was actually higher than it was after 10 passes through the unmodded converters, meaning that perhaps it lost less information each pass after the mod.

Also, after the converters were modded, there was a sense of lost dynamic range. I am not sure if this is actually what happened, but this is what it seemed like to me. It was almost like the tracks had been run through a compressor, as the louder sections seemed softer than before, and the soft sections seemed louder. One of the tracks I recorded has a moment that jumps from -4.3 dB to 0dB. This leap was
from -5.5db to -0.6db before the mod, but after the mod it was from -4.8db to -3.4 db. I emailed BLA about this as well and they said this:
"Regarding the perceived compression effect, the converters themselves
are original, and rather the clock and analog stages have been
modified. It may be possible that you are detecting the lowered
signal level."
Maybe someone smarter than me can tell me what is going on here. The converters do sound better, but I don't think a loss of dynamic range is supposed to happen.

I've attached 3 clips here as well. The first is the original track, as it was imported into PT. The second is the track after being run through the unmodded A/D and D/A converters 10 times, and the third is the track after being run through the modded converters 10 times.


Let me know if you have any other questions or if I left anything out or am wrong about anything. Also, let me know what you think about those samples.

Cheers!
-Mike
Attached Files

original creek.wav (2.42 MB, 1621 views)

unmodded creek 10.wav (2.41 MB, 2450 views)

modded creek 10.wav (2.41 MB, 1302 views)

Old 12th August 2007
  #21
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TurboJets's Avatar
Mike, thanks for the details and for posting the sound samples. I was just about to pull the trigger on the Toft AFC-2 until I read your post and listened to your samples. Even as mp3's I can hear a big difference in clarity and the AC guitar track doesn't sound as harsh in the upper mids with the 3035 as it does unmodded. I love my 3035 through all my pre's - accept the 1814 pre's. It makes sense to upgrade the converters and signal path in my 1814 first. The Toft would have been an improvement but only to a degree if my inputs and converters were just going to smear the signal printing to my HD - and subsequently anything I re-amp through outboard gear. I'm scheduling the Tweak Head version today. Thanks again for taking the time.

Ken
Old 26th August 2007
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt Fudge View Post
ome sound examples would be really helpful along with some trusted unbiased opinion. As a side note about the drivers, I have to agree I think they suck. I'm running a Macbook Pro with Logic and Pro Tools and have problems ranging from starting up not recognized to kernel panics, but for the others complaining about them what are you using for your driver? native windows? core audio or pro tools? If I remember right, I don't remember having any problems when I was just running core audio with Logic. If we could get something figured out with what's causing the instability with the drivers this box has the potential to be significantly more usable.

try using Driver ver. 1.7.4. much more stable with PT 7.1.1 than later versions (1.8.x). less kernel panic's, and plays nicer with other interfaces (still gets occasional kernel, but only if doing something drastic, e.g. playing Logic with RME and iTunes with FW1814).
Old 26th August 2007
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
2. The converters:
Also, let me know what you think about those samples.

Cheers!
-Mike
thanks for the sound samples.

1) your mic pre samples are all 8 bits, not 16bits... and it's harder to tell the difference here, imo.

2) the 10x thru ADDA process is interesting. the level has surely dropped, but once all the levels are same, it's interesting. first off, the modded version sounds like the phase has flipped. notice how the main vox is not in the center anymore, unfocused. when i flipped the phase, it sounds more like the original and modded.

there's most definitely compression going on, or some odd transient shaping happening. i feel like the modded version retains a more of the tonality, but the transients are choked and smushed. you can argue it's smoother, but i actually preferred the transients of unmodded, albeit a bit noisier with the noisefloor; thereby e.g., making the verb tails less defined.

what kind of cabling are you using for DA-AD run thru? good quality or hosa?

i'm using my FW1814 as a big dongle for PTMP occasionally have sync problems with FW1814 and RME FF800, but i wonder if the clock/power supply mod will improve this or not. with the sound samples, i'm not so sure if the clock is improved.

thanks for taking the time to do the testing tho, very informative.
Old 28th August 2007
  #24
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celticrogues's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by theblotted View Post

what kind of cabling are you using for DA-AD run thru? good quality or hosa?
Yup, it was Hosa...
I did use the exact same cable for both sets of tests tho so it shouldn't be a variable.

Cheers,
Mike
Old 28th August 2007
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by celticrogues View Post
Yup, it was Hosa...
I did use the exact same cable for both sets of tests tho so it shouldn't be a variable.

Cheers,
Mike
it'll be a variable when compared to the original source.

i know we're not comparing Lavry Gold's, but the validity still stands.
Old 3rd November 2007
  #26
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jeremy.c.'s Avatar
Here's a comparison I did to show the D/A converters against an Apogee and an internal bounce, I think you'll be surprised at how well the tweakheaded 1814 holds up against the Apogee.
Peace
-Jeremy
Black Lion Tweak Head Mod anybody heard it?
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