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A/D Converter Shootout (with samples)
View Poll Results: Which converter or converters did you like best?
I like converter 1
41 Votes - 9.83%
I like converter 2
52 Votes - 12.47%
I like converter 3
95 Votes - 22.78%
I like converter 4
81 Votes - 19.42%
I like converter 5
74 Votes - 17.75%
I like converter 6
47 Votes - 11.27%
I don't have a preference
81 Votes - 19.42%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 417. You may not vote on this poll

Old 26th October 2009
  #1
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24-96 Mastering's Avatar
A/D Converter Shootout (with samples)


If you want to make sure your result is not biased by other people's observations, do the test before reading posts below or viewing poll results. They will (in all likelihood) influence your perception!




I had a bunch of A/D converters in for a listening session today and recorded their output to better compare as well as share them with whoever is interested.

You can download the recordings here: http://www.24-96.net/xchange/converter_shootout.rar

Included are the recordings of one snippet of music, recorded through 6 different high end A/D converters, as well as the digital playback source.

I'll wait with stating which recording features which converter so that there is no expectation bias. I'm thinking this could be interesting, so if you have some spare time and are interested, I'd like to invite you to line up the converter recordings as well as the digital original in your DAW and determine which converter you think is closest to the original / which converter's coloration you prefer. You can state your preference(s) anonymously via the poll above. Multiple votes are possible.

If you have some observations, comments or questions about the samples, please post.

Have fun!




On the recording setup:

- All A/D converters were fed the digital source via the same D/A converter
- All A/D converters were clocked internally at 44.1 kHz
- All converters were at their neutral or default settings
- There was a bit of copper between the D/A and the A/D
- The files have been aligned and level matched to make objective comparison easier
- I took reasonable care in making those samples, but this is by no means a scientific test setup, so don't rely on this alone to make any important decisions.
- Since the differences are reasonably small, it may be useful to make a loop and listen to a short repeating segment to factor out changes in the music over time. Others advocate long term listening to get to conclusions. Whatever works! If you want to completely rule out placebo, use ABX or another blind testing method to confirm your findings.


The converters sampled are (listed in random order):

Prism Orpheus
Crane Song HEDD192
Mytek 8x192
Universal Audio 2192
Lavry Gold
Forssell Technologies MADA-2 (prototype)

A big thanks to MrVelvet for bringing 4 of the 6 converters along!



If you want to make sure your result is not biased by other people's observations, do the test before reading posts below or viewing poll results. They will (in all likelihood) influence your perception!
Old 26th October 2009
  #2
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gransonik's Avatar
 

I'll do more listening tests later, just woke up. On first listen converter 3 stood out. The drum is a bit more punchy but not only that, also the guitars and other transient oriented material stands out.. They have more air arround them compared to the original. On the whole it sounds more alive/transparent/3d. No other converter in this test does this. Maybe there's tubes or transformers involved? Burl? Converter2 seems to have the least bass, very shocking as it ruins the lowend of the bassguitar in this example.

However do you want an AD, as converter 3, with that kind of coloration for your mastering chain? I'll vote after i give it a deeper listen but i already know i probably wont choose #3. #3 would be very interesting to have as an DA in a hifi playback chain, whatever it is. I also wont choose #2 because it fails big on the bottom

EDIT:

After more listening and ABX Tests:

Converter6 seems to be a tiny bit muddy in the (lower) mids, it lacks clarity there but overall treble extension is fine. Converter5 also seems to have something similar going on.

Converter4 is the only one i cant detect via ABX. Also Converter1 seems to be very close to the original.

Overall the differences are extremly small (with the exception of #2 and #3) and you need serious monitoring and concentration to make out the differences.

My choice would be Converter4, please tell me this is some cheap old interface
Old 26th October 2009
  #3
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24-96 Mastering's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by chris_m View Post
I'll do more listening tests later, just woke up. On first listen converter 3 stood out. The drum is a bit more punchy but not only that, also the guitars and other transient oriented material stands out.. They have more air arround them compared to the original. On the whole it sounds more alive/transparent/3d. No other converter in this test does this. Maybe there's tubes or transformers involved? Burl? Converter2 seems to have the least bass, very shocking as it ruins the lowend of the bassguitar in this example.

However do you want an AD, as converter 3, with that kind of coloration for your mastering chain? I'll vote after i give it a deeper listen but i already know i probably wont choose #3. #3 would be very interesting to have as an DA in a hifi playback chain, whatever it is. I also wont choose #2 because it fails big on the bottom

EDIT:

After more listening and ABX Tests:

Converter6 seems to be a tiny bit muddy in the (lower) mids, it lacks clarity there but overall treble extension is fine. Converter5 also seems to have something similar going on.

Converter4 is the only one i cant detect via ABX. Also Converter1 seems to be very close to the original.

Overall the differences are extremly small (with the exception of #2 and #3) and you need serious monitoring and concentration to make out the differences.

My choice would be Converter4, please tell me this is some cheap old interface
Hi Chris,

thanks for the post! It's very interesting for me; my observations and conclusions are quite different from yours. I guess this shows how subjective this kind of thing is. With a given trade off, we can still focus on different aspects and thus weigh performance differently.

Unfortunately, converter #4 is not cheap, none of them are :(

Oh, and I completely agree, the differences between these converters are small, definitely smaller than I had anticipated. Isn't that good news I have clear preferences but certainly would be fine working with any of them.
Old 26th October 2009
  #4
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I liked 1 and 5 the most.

2 and 6 seem to make the individual instruments less individual.

and 3 and 4 where a hair sharp sounding.

5 is my favorite because it seems to have more balls in the low end (as in closer to the original).

of course all imho

gr

Boy Griffioen
Old 26th October 2009
  #5
Mastering
 

Robin, did you also include the digital source so we can reproduce it on our DAC and hear what it sounds like? For example, we may prefer ADC X because it sounds "brighter" but when comparing to the source we see that it's adding arfificial brightness. To my mind, the ADC that sounds most faithful to the source is the winner. In the absence of that, the one which sounds most "euphonic" I guess.

Did you match levels to less than 0.1 dB?

BK
Old 26th October 2009
  #6
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I have not read the posts so this is my unbiased thoughts.

1, sounds good, transparent.
2, not as transparent, a RME?
3, sounds good, transparent.
4, lack of mid
5, slightly larger than life
6, ouch, this one is not good compared.

Nice test! thank you!
Old 26th October 2009
  #7
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just.sounds's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
Robin, did you also include the digital source so we can reproduce it on our DAC and hear what it sounds like? For example, we may prefer ADC X because it sounds "brighter" but when comparing to the source we see that it's adding arfificial brightness. To my mind, the ADC that sounds most faithful to the source is the winner. In the absence of that, the one which sounds most "euphonic" I guess.

Did you match levels to less than 0.1 dB?

BK
The package i got had the source file in it and although i did not check it to the 0.1 dB the files seem well matched.
Old 26th October 2009
  #8
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gransonik's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 24-96 Mastering View Post
Oh, and I completely agree, the differences between these converters are small, definitely smaller than I had anticipated. Isn't that good news I have clear preferences but certainly would be fine working with any of them.
I'd also be fine with any of them.

Other end of the day, here's some new impressions:

Converter6, i dont know.. the bassguitar lacks clarity here. Interestingly the intro of the song (mostly the sides) sounds more airy with less bass as the original. Very strange

Converter5, compared to Converter5 the original file sounds more open and overall better balanced.

Converter4 seems to have a small bass boost, bass tonality lacks a little bit.

Converter3 colored but i really love it

Converter2 Now i seem to be unable to ABX it to the original

Converter1 Sounds flat and seems to lack depth
Old 26th October 2009
  #9
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24-96 Mastering's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
Robin, did you also include the digital source so we can reproduce it on our DAC and hear what it sounds like? For example, we may prefer ADC X because it sounds "brighter" but when comparing to the source we see that it's adding arfificial brightness. To my mind, the ADC that sounds most faithful to the source is the winner. In the absence of that, the one which sounds most "euphonic" I guess.

Did you match levels to less than 0.1 dB?

BK
Hi Bob,

yes, the digital source is included and the samples were level matched (within less than 0.1 dB).

Have a listen to the samples, it's quite interesting I think. It isn't at all easy to determine which "coloration" is the smallest price to pay / which converter comes closest to the original. I myself (so far) favour 2 converters over the rest, to me they sound similarly close to the source, yet they sound quite different from eachother. In the absence of an ideal converter, the different trade-offs each unit brings seem to be noticed / tolerated / weighed differently by different folks. My 'most accurate' might by your 'too colouring'
Old 26th October 2009
  #10
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TmuKoo's Avatar
 

1: Not as open that orig, also too heavy at bottom.
2: Not as open that orig, maybe little shy at bottom.
3: Quite nice!
4: Missing mid freqs
5: Not as open that orig.
6: Not as open and punchy as orig.

Edit:I like number 3 & 4 converters...I guess...
Old 26th October 2009
  #11
i vote number 2
i dislike number 1

thanks for sharing
be waitin for the results
Old 27th October 2009
  #12
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First, thanks for the shootout, I love listening to the different takes, and it makes me feel like I have some experience w/the differences between things even though all I did was listen to someone elses clips! There was something about 5 that I really liked, but when I'd really pay attention I couldn't put my finger on it, but that one was my favorite from the very first listen through. The differences were so small on all of them that it was difficult for me to distinguish between most of them. 5 just did it best for me, and I really liked 4 as well, the rest all seemed different, but definitely not any better than any others. I thought the most interesting thing of all is how different all six sound compared to the original! That was the biggest change IMO of the whole test. Can't wait to see the results!
Old 27th October 2009
  #13
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24-96 Mastering's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by dysentarygary View Post
I thought the most interesting thing of all is how different all six sound compared to the original! That was the biggest change IMO of the whole test. Can't wait to see the results!
Don't forget that there is also a D/A conversion in the process. You're not listening to an A/D conversion only, but to a D/A followed by a bit of copper, followed by the A/D conversion to be evaluated.
Old 27th October 2009
  #14
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Ben F's Avatar
 

Verified Member
Just had a quick listen, first impressions:

Converter 2 - appears to be the most accurate compared to the original
Converter 5 - has a slight top end openness compared to the original happening that I really like, and nice definition. Maybe it's a less expensive one but I like what it is doing. Prism?
Converter 3 - bit of colour but really natural sounding. Lavry Gold?

1 and 6 were a bit dark to me.

Thanks for the test!
Old 27th October 2009
  #15
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Verified Member
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
To my mind, the ADC that sounds most faithful to the source is the winner.
I agree (assuming the aim is conversion with minimal anything else).
No time or chance to listen to them, but a word of note to some that differences may or may not be tonal in nature. Still, it can be ok for exercising listening and I think it's good these are done at 44.1k which may help show up differences in their filters.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 24-96 Mastering
My 'most accurate' might by your 'too colouring'
Respectfully, I don't see how that can be possible, assuming the objective aspect of the above. What might be interesting is multiple D-A-D-A-D-A conversions of each to show any cumulative shortcomings (against the source).
Old 27th October 2009
  #16
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Ben F's Avatar
 

Verified Member
I'm confident that Robin can draw his own conclusions from the results...
Old 27th October 2009
  #17
Gear Maniac
 

Verified Member
I like Converter 5 the best: in my opinion is the closest to the source file.
Second prize for Converter 2.
Btw great test and great music.
Thank you for sharing
Old 27th October 2009
  #18
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Jesse Graffam's Avatar
 

I think the above assessment of converter1 not having the same depth as the others is correct, but that's part of what made me decide to pick it as the most transparent. It's not adding "depth" to the originals like the other converters are in varying degrees. Could it be that it's not using Adaptive SRC where the other converters are? Anyways, not surprised that it has the least votes. It's for sure the most "boring" to my ears because it doesn't do much to the sound of the original.

The other one I had to vote for is converter6. I voted not for transparency, but for musicality. It has a way of making even the more "untonal" chords have a more pleasant and aligned feel to them. I would bet this is generally a very good converter for listening to music through, and for many projects I could see "dealing" with the slight loss of transparency in favor of that "magic" on everything.

WHAT IS #6? :D I can't wait to find out.

Btw, I'm plugged into an Apogee Mini-DAC right now.
Old 27th October 2009
  #19
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Yesterday in my first listening session I felt that number 3 & 4 are the best for me, the number 3 stood out more in midrange so I voted it.

But I think I like as much or even more number four now when I listened again these two and compared to the original.
Old 27th October 2009
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Dempsey View Post
Respectfully, I don't see how that can be possible, assuming the objective aspect of the above.
I may have worded that one too snappy to be meaningful, sorry.

What I mean is that in the absence of a perfect converter, and assuming that several different converters are roughly similarly accurate (however you choose to measure/quantify that) or differences are very small, perception of accuracy/deviation will likely depend on what kind of change/difference/distortion you can best tolerate.
Give the samples a listen if you have the time and then read what people are writing about them in this thread, I think you'll find it quite interesting. Everyone has their very own angle on the different shortcomings.

Quote:
What might be interesting is multiple D-A-D-A-D-A conversions of each to show any cumulative shortcomings (against the source).
Can do if someone pays me for the time

Seriously though, I think it would indeed be interesting for education/entertainment. However, for practical considerations, if I can hear the difference and 'grasp' and identify the nature of the change from a 1x conversion, then that's the basis I want to make my choice of converter on. If I can't reliably identify the difference, then I'm OK with making a random choice. Or rather, then I'd choose the one with the best features, the cheapest or prettiest Which is the prettiest comverter by the way?



PS: In case you missed it, DC linked a 60x generation conversion run (one converter only) in Wouldn't converting twice harm the signal?
Old 27th October 2009
  #21
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Hi Robin, any chance for a AD/DA loop back listening with these converters? Highly interesting as well. thumbsup
Old 27th October 2009
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 24-96 Mastering View Post
It isn't at all easy to determine which "coloration" is the smallest price to pay / which converter comes closest to the original. I myself (so far) favour 2 converters over the rest, to me they sound similarly close to the source, yet they sound quite different from eachother. In the absence of an ideal converter, the different trade-offs each unit brings seem to be noticed / tolerated / weighed differently by different folks. My 'most accurate' might by your 'too colouring'
Yepp, the "price to pay" idea was what I had in mind as well. I hear myself telling me "if you can't get 100 % of the source, get the one of which you like its 1 % colouring best". But that's the point which is really hard to determine. I could listen to one where I thought "wow, it sounds just a tad more expensive in the highs/fuller", but there was always a downside as well, e.g. it tames the transients ever so slightly or what not.

So this particular 1 % coloration might be rather flattering for that piece of the track, but is it the same way for the majority of material we process?

I'm glad in the end I preferred the one which I already have as well as another one, and it was great to see how close they are together and none of them being a paintbrush IMHO (or talk about labelling some of these "mastering grade" and some not). The differences were so subtle to me, I think for either converter of the shoot-out, one would make up for it's every-so-slight coloration either consciously or subconsciously during processing to get the desired result.
Old 27th October 2009
  #23
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Thanks for posting, Robin!
You mentioned in another thread that the HEDD 192 and the Lavry gold were participants in this shootouts - which other candidates did you include?
Old 27th October 2009
  #24
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With a quick listen, 4 is my favorite. 1 is my least favorite. Interested to hear what they are...Thanks for posting.
Old 27th October 2009
  #25
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strange that most seem to lose a bit off low-end response, it gets muffeled ....
making up my mind in between sessions ...
converter 1 looks like a ssl style compressor sound ..
Old 27th October 2009
  #26
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I like #4 the most ... thx robin for posting this
Old 27th October 2009
  #27
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24-96 Mastering's Avatar
The converters sampled are (listed in random order):

Prism Orpheus
Crane Song HEDD192
Mytek 8x192
Universal Audio 2192
Lavry Gold
Forssell Technologies MADA-2 (prototype)


A big thanks to MrVelvet for bringing 4 of the 6 converters along!
Old 27th October 2009
  #28
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beanface's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 24-96 Mastering View Post
The converters sampled are (listed in random order):

Prism Orpheus
Crane Song HEDD192
Mytek 8x192
Universal Audio 2192
Lavry Gold
Forssell Technologies MADA-2 (prototype)


A big thanks to MrVelvet for bringing 4 of the 6 converters along!
I could have sworn that one of them was the aurora!
Old 27th October 2009
  #29
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#4 seems to be taking the lead by quite a few votes, I'm interested to see if thats the mytek thats got so many rave reviews, or if the mytek is one of the ones that no one seems to like. Great lineup though! wow.
Old 27th October 2009
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dysentarygary View Post
#4 seems to be taking the lead by quite a few votes
I find that very interesting. To me, #4, while being very detailed and "3D", sounds slightly aggressive in the higher mids on the test sample.

Some other random observations:

#1 has an impact on the transients that I personally don't like. It seems to break up the snare / crossclick a little bit.
#2 'pleasing' sound, has a bit of a smiley curve feeling to it
#3 very lively on transients, detailed, accentuates the mids a bit (very broadly)
#5 changes character in the highs a bit to my ear
#6 feels a bit distant, looking at the song more "from the outside"
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