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Mytek Stereo ADC 96 vs Fireface 400: Converter Shootout Audio Interfaces
Old 31st August 2011
  #1
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evancooney's Avatar
 

Mytek Stereo ADC 96 vs Fireface 400: Converter Shootout with audio samples

As an artist first, and engineer second, it's important to know that whenever I'm tracking, my performance is being captured at the highest fidelity (that I can afford!). It adds to the confidence of my performance, and it lets the engineer inside me know that when it comes time to mix, my job will be easier. So while I am definitely no "gear snob", I do need a certain level of confidence in my signal path.

I started recording music digitally in the mid 90s on prosumer gear like the Digi 001 and Echo Audio cards. All seemed good enough at time, as I was using decent mics, but it wasn't until much later that I had my first "wow moment" after buying my first "real" pre (Great River). Compared to the stock interface pres, or my cheap external low end pres, the quality was night and day. Depth, transparency, detail, etc...all the buzz terms that makes gear fiends drool. But as I graduated to better audio interfaces, the conversion aspect always remained a source of insecurity. So to finally put my concerns to rest, I decided to augment my Fireface 400 with a Mytek Stereo 96 ADC to see if the converter element was as relevant as what I'd read. To properly test this mysterious world of converters, I did some A/B analysis today. And since I know I'm not alone in this confusing world of converter quality, I decided to share my results with the Internets to help others.

The gear and process I used for my tests is as follows:

Vocals -> Bock 195 Mic -> API 512 Mic Pre
American Jazz Bass -> API 512 DI Input

All signals were routed out of the API to a Whirlwind IMP 1x2 mic splitter, then one side was sent to input 6 of my Fireface and one side sent to the left channel of the Mytek Stereo ADC. Levels were matched as closely as possible, but I normalized all audio to be fair. I hooked the Mytek ADC to my RME via SPDIF, and also clocked off that device. Screen grab of my RME Settings can be seen here. The rest of the gear used can be seen here

Monitoring was done out of the DAC on the Fireface into Focal CMS 50 Monitors, and a pair of AKG K240s headphones

You can download and hear the comparisons in three session formats (all 24 bit / 44.1kHz):
Logic Session
OMF / Pro Tools Compatible
Raw Audio (Doesn't include all samples)

In my opinion, the Mytek unit provided more detail in the mids and top, and added slightly more deep bottom. The FireFace still held up, but did sound a little "cloudy" next to the Mytek. Depending on your budget, only you can decide if this sound difference is worth the $895. So far, I'm happy with my purchase, and will most likely track all my mono performances through this unit.

Hopefully this helps anyone else out there suffering from converter envy.
Old 31st August 2011
  #2
Gear Addict
 

$625 - That's a good deal you got on the Mytek. What version is it (v5, v6, v7)? I also use a Mytek Stereo96ADC (v6) but it's going SPDIF to a Delta 1010. I wonder if there's any difference between going SPDIF to a Fireface 400 vs going SPDIF to a Delta 1010. I guess there shouldn't be any difference since it's a digital connection, but I'm not sure. Is there any difference between soundcards in the quality of their SPDIF implementation? Do some soundcards have a crappy SPDIF implementation or is it something that is usually standard and well done and nothing to worry about in most soundcards? Anyone?
Old 31st August 2011
  #3
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evancooney's Avatar
 

Hey mtl777, not sure which version it is. Serial is 00909-0910-047, so maybe that can tell us? As far your question about poor S/PDIF implementation, I think once it gets converted, digital is digital. You're sending 1s and 0s over a wire, so it's either 100% there, or it isn't. I'm sure some fugazi manufacturer could put something in the signal chain after the digital comes into their interface to degrade it, but I think the information sent via a digital connection like S/PDIF is always the same, regardless of manufacturer
Old 1st September 2011
  #4
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by evancooney View Post
Hey mtl777, not sure which version it is. Serial is 00909-0910-047, so maybe that can tell us?

My serial is 00909-1005-001, but it's hard to tell the version based on the SN alone. The best way is to shoot Michal of Mytek an email.

Oh wait, does yours have a three-prong plug and an optical connection? If yes, then it must be a v6. Also, the ADC chip of the v6 is a PCM 4202. The v5 had a CS 5396.


Quote:
As far your question about poor S/PDIF implementation, I think once it gets converted, digital is digital. You're sending 1s and 0s over a wire, so it's either 100% there, or it isn't. I'm sure some fugazi manufacturer could put something in the signal chain after the digital comes into their interface to degrade it, but I think the information sent via a digital connection like S/PDIF is always the same, regardless of manufacturer
The bits may be exactly the same but there's till the question of jitter that makes me wonder.
Old 2nd September 2011
  #5
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Earcatcher's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by evancooney View Post
All signals were routed out of the API to a Whirlwind IMP 1x2 mic splitter, then one side was sent to input 6 of my Fireface and one side sent to the left channel of the Mytek Stereo ADC. Levels were matched as closely as possible, but I normalized all audio to be fair. I hooked the Mytek ADC to my RME via SPDIF, and also clocked off that device. Screen grab of my RME Settings can be seen here. The rest of the gear used can be seen here

Monitoring was done out of the DAC on the Fireface into Focal CMS 50 Monitors, and a pair of AKG K240s headphones

In my opinion, the Mytek unit provided more detail in the mids and top, and added slightly more deep bottom. The FireFace still held up, but did sound a little "cloudy" next to the Mytek. Depending on your budget, only you can decide if this sound difference is worth $895. I got my ADC used directly from Mytek for $625 (they are very cool guys, based locally out of Brooklyn), so I'm happy with my purchase, and will most likely track all my mono performances through this unit.
I think your testing method is flawed, since you clocked your FireFace to the Mytek, thus limiting the differences that could be caused by clock variances. I recently shot out my Mytek Stereo 192 against the converters of my Sound Devices 788T the following way:

I set up a stereo pair of AKG C414 B-XLS (I chose these because they have such very low noise) and put them into the very clean and detailed Lake People F355 with Class A option. This preamp has the advantage of two identical outputs per channel, so a splitter was not needed. One stereo output was wired to the Mytek and the other identical pair was connected to the 788T. Both converters were set to 96kHz using their own clocks. The digital outs of both were connected directly to the outstanding Violectric DAC V800, for immediate monitoring, which was wired to SPL Phonitor for listening. On the V800 I could switch live between both converters. The differences were very apparent, with the Mytek having a more carved out sound image. (More depth, placement of different sources, "pureness" of sound.) Please note that an earlier shootout between FireFace 800 and 788T already showed a big difference in favour of the 788T. Now the Mytek set an entirely new level above that.

However: when I clocked the 788T to the Mytek I was able to get about half of the improvement towards the Mytek sound. So it would be expected to find a similar improvement with a FireFace 400, like in your setup. You probably made the FireFace sound better than it would have done without the Mytek clock.
Old 3rd September 2011
  #6
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evancooney's Avatar
 

That's definitely a good point about clocking both units off the Mytek... Intriguing enough to do another test. Without buying any new hardware, do have any suggestions of how I could capture the same recording using each unit's individual clock and converters?
Old 4th September 2011
  #7
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earcatcher View Post
You probably made the FireFace sound better than it would have done without the Mytek clock.

Actually, using an external clock does not improve but may even slightly degrade the conversion. There was an article in SOS about that and a long ass thread here in GS. That may well have been the reason for the big difference that the OP saw between FireFace and Mytek.
Old 5th September 2011
  #8
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Earcatcher's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtl777 View Post
Actually, using an external clock does not improve but may even slightly degrade the conversion. There was an article in SOS about that and a long ass thread here in GS. That may well have been the reason for the big difference that the OP saw between FireFace and Mytek.
My own test as decribed above showed different: I compared the Mytek Stereo192 ADC and the Sound Devices 788t's converters, both running on their own clocks (after careful leveling the 788T, which was almost 6dB softer in its conversion). The Mytek conversion sounded better. Then I clocked the 788T to the Mytek and the 788T sounded better than before, although still not as good as the Mytek. Ergo: external clocking can improve conversion quality, even when the internal clock is already very good (as in the 788T).

Anyway, when you're going to send the digital stream from your converter to a separate recording medium, you'll need to clock the recording medium to your source or the stream will be resampled. So the OP didn't have another choice than to clock his FireFace 400 to his Mytek, in order to be able to record from both converters simultaneously through his FireFace.
Old 5th September 2011
  #9
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Earcatcher's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by evancooney View Post
That's definitely a good point about clocking both units off the Mytek... Intriguing enough to do another test. Without buying any new hardware, do have any suggestions of how I could capture the same recording using each unit's individual clock and converters?
I don't know what equipment you already have, but in order to test this you wil have two different recording systems with a digital input that can be clocked on each. In your case this would be the FireFace 400 running on its own clock, being recorded by your computer and the Mytek running on its own clock recorded by another recording medium, like a Sound Devices model with Wordclock In. The recorder is just a bit-bucket, but it is important that it will not resample your Mytek results. Using a friend's clockable sound card and his laptop will work well too if you don't have an SD recorder or similar. In the end you can put the external recording on your computer and play both samples from there. Hopefully through a very high-end DAC, or the differences may be lost after all. Your original test used the DAC from the FireFace 400, which is definitely not on par with the V800 that I used. (I also have the FireFace 400, so I was able to compare both DACs.) That's the problem with this converter stuff: you'll need good converters on the way in and on the way out.

For a direct comparison the way I did you wouldn't need the two recorders as I listened back directly through the DAC with a headphone amp.
Old 5th September 2011
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

Both sound good to me. And if there is a difference, than it is by 0,02%.
Old 7th September 2011
  #11
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earcatcher View Post
My own test as decribed above showed different: I compared the Mytek Stereo192 ADC and the Sound Devices 788t's converters, both running on their own clocks (after careful leveling the 788T, which was almost 6dB softer in its conversion). The Mytek conversion sounded better. Then I clocked the 788T to the Mytek and the 788T sounded better than before, although still not as good as the Mytek. Ergo: external clocking can improve conversion quality, even when the internal clock is already very good (as in the 788T).

Did you do a blind test to eliminate the possibility of expectation bias? Here's the thread I was referring to (read the posts by Jon Hodgson):

New Clock
Old 7th September 2011
  #12
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Earcatcher's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtl777 View Post
Did you do a blind test to eliminate the possibility of expectation bias? Here's the thread I was referring to (read the posts by Jon Hodgson):

New Clock
Yes, and I also tested it fully blind on an engineer I work with. He did not know what he was hearing and I randomly switched converters and clocks. I had him describe the differences he heard and then asked if he preferred any of them. Same results as my own findings.

I would, by the way, never buy a standalone clock, but the Mytek seems to work fine as a masterclock.
Old 7th September 2011
  #13
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didier.brest's Avatar
 

At the first listening, I found a significant difference between the Fireface and the Mytek (focuse your listening to the 'come' of the first welcome which is rounder with the Mytek). I did an ABX test and was fully successful up to the 4th trial, catching the difference becoming more and more difficult. I failed to the 5th one...
Anyway, it was very interesting. I've got a Fireface 400 and I'm now wondering wether I should get a Mytek...
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