EUPHONIX AM713 by charlienyc
There's a piece of gear in my collection I will probably never part with: my Euphonix AM713 A/D converter.
I realize MADI is not a world in which everyone is familiar. It began as a relatively high cost way to connect many channels, well beyond the scope of what was needed in project or personal studios. It is still used in those situations, but the cost of entry has come way down in the past few years. You can now find a used RME or SSL card for $500 or less.
Why use MADI, though? I have done quite a bit of remote recording in the past years. It used to mean you'd set your input snake or stage box near the stage, running analog lines hundreds of feet to whatever space you were using for your control room. If you used a stage box with mic preamps, you could at least run line-level signals, reducing the amount of noise picked up along the way. However, you either had to use two different power sources at the two locations, use isolation transformers, or run a power cable parallel to your audio cables. We know running power and audio together is always to be avoided whenever possible.
What if you had some way to get your audio over a non-conducting means? Well that is exactly what MADI offers -- at least optical MADI. You are no longer electrically connected, and can use power from two different electrical sources without worry of ground loops! There are high-end tactical glass fiber cables that allow runs of several kilometers or inexpensive plastic fiber cables. Besides being inexpensive, the latter is also lightweight. The only tradeoff here is that it is fragile. You don't want it running across hallway floors. A little gaf tape over it every few feet on the wall usually does it.
For situations outside remote recording, MADI is a great way to connect computers with digital consoles, both in the studio and for live sound. It often carries 64 channels at 44.1kHz bi-directionally (64 in and 64 out!) and has built-in clocking that is said to be superior to ADAT. It can be converted to coaxial, split, duplicated, sample rate converted, manipulated and monitored directly, thanks in much part to RME and DirectOut. While MADI has been around for many years, many manufacturers are still using it. Yamaha makes a MADI interface card for nearly all of their boards, including the 01V96, 02R96, DM1000, DM2000, LS9, M7CL, CL series and PM5D. In the live sound world, Souncraft, DiGiCo, Lawo, Harrison, Allen & Heath, Avid, Roland, and Studer all have MADI native to their mixers or as an option. In the studio world, you have SSL, RME, Avid, Euphonix, Mytek, Lynx, Sadie, Merging, JoeCo, and many more playing in the MADI game. It's not going away.
The AM713 is a member of converters built specifically for the System 5 console system and R1 recorder, back in the late 90s or early 2000s. That system is still alive and well, with Euphonix (now Avid-owned) upgrading it to the Sytem 5MC for music production. Other System 5 iterations exist. They all still feature this converter. Also available are the MA703 MADI to analog converter (basically a mirror image of the AM713), the DM714 AES to MADI, MD704 MADI to AES, MI715 with 16 analog plus 8 AES to MADI, MO705 mirroring the MI715, and ML530 remote mic preamp for the AM713.
Where to buy
While you can occasionally find the analog to MADI and MADI to analog units and AES variants, I have not seen the mixed models nor the remote mic preamp offered anywhere on the used market. I have also seen them new in European stores for around $7000. I'm starting to think, though, that Avid has pulled the line from the market. Maybe they're selling them exclusively with System 5 systems? It's hard to say just what is going on with Avid these days.
The converter itself
First of all, the build quality of the Euphonix is impressive by any standard. It has a thick aluminum front panel and sturdy aluminum shell. The front panel has everything you'd want to see, and nothing you don't. The majority of the real estate is taken by the input meters, grouped in banks of eight channels. Each has 4 LEDs in green, green, amber and red set at -42, -18, -6 and -.05dB FS respectively. I keep reading about certain standalone recorders and problems reading the level meters. The Euphonix has them all beat! There's a recessed level tweak for each bank of eight.
At the right end of the front panel, you'll find three buttons. The large power button is recessed, thank you! The others deal with sample rate and clocking. Although the sampling rate options jump from 44.1k or 48k up to 96k, you can run it at 88.2k using an external clock.
Now if you think the front panel is well-laid out, wait 'til you see the rear panel! I shouldn't be so excited about seeing 24 XLR connectors in one place, yet here I am in 2014, sick of seeing DSUB connectors (or worse, 1/4") on rear panels. Professional gear deserves professional connectors! That means no RCA or 1/4"! DSUB connectors are okay, but who ever needed to find an emergency cable or adapter to connect to an XLR input?
Here's another point: Why cram in all these DSUBs and 1/4" connectors, then require the user to leave a blank rack space below and above a unit for cooling? Just make it two spaces and do it right! That's what Euphonix has done. It also has passive vents on the sides, meaning there's no fan to make noise.
So yes, 24 female XLRs adorn the rear panel. You also get BNC connectors for word clock in and out, and for MADI out. Here, the output is coaxial, I think because optical MADI was not yet standardized when this unit was designed.
Now I had skipped over a bonus feature of this converter when covering the front panel: bonus channels. In addition to 24 channels of straight-ahead A/D conversion, you get another two channels of "aux" inputs and a stereo digital input, either SPDIF or AES. That brings the count to 28 channels! I typically record my classical projects at 96k, so it means 28 channels at 96k if need be. The Euphonix does not halve inputs at high sample rates, like so many devices do.
How does it sound?
I love this converter. I am extremely skeptical about conversion. To my ears, I only really like this and my Mytek 8x192. I do not like Prism conversion in comparison. I realize the weight of that statement and stick by it. Speaking of dislikes, I dislike using this term that I'm going to use anyway: It is musical.
I am not going to go on and on about specifications or my interpretation of recordings or mixes through this unit. Please do this: Listen for yourself. Find one, set up a proper blind A/B test and use your ears.
Speaking of mixes through the converter, I also have the mirror image DA converter (MA704). With a RME MADI card, I have 28 ins and outs without a worry in the world. Clocking is dead easy - I cycle through the sample rate on the ADC and watch the RME setting and front panel of the DAC change in seconds. Oh and to get the signal from coaxial to optical, I picked up an SSL Opti-Coax converter. When doing remote recording, I can loop through my RME card into the MADI card in my Mytek or the reverse (loop through the Mytek MADI card to the RME) for redundancy. The Mytek has a Firewire card to connect to an older laptop.
What's wrong with it?
I have one qualm with it: It's very deep. At about 18" deep, I had to disconnect everything at the rear panel back when I had it in a standard SKB rack case. I now have it in my shockmount case which is much deeper. Problem solved!
You might also consider it a con that it's getting hard to find one to buy. Occasionally someone on eBay will sell off a System 5 in parts. Then the converters go for about $1500 to 3000. They're coming up less frequently as time moves forward. If you see the AM713 for less than $2000, jump on it!
MADI for me, MADI for you?
I think this demonstrates some of the possibilities MADI can open up. I have a colleague who leaves his stage box in his detached garage. He has an optical MADI cable run to the third floor studio so he can do any testing quickly. He could record a band in his garage if he wanted to! There is also what used to be Bennett Studios in NJ which had an optical MADI cable run from a nearby performing arts center, enabling the studio to record events directly.
It's great technology and simpler than some of the varying audio over Ethernet technologies. There you have Dante, AES50, Ravenna, A-Net, EtherSound, REAC and few of these protocols are compatible. MADI has coax and optical, which are easily converted, and that's pretty much it. As we head into an era in which a networking degree would be helpful to do your job as an audio engineer, I personally opt for a "plug it in and have it work" scenario for my audio. What about you?
I hope you've enjoyed reading this review as much as I have writing it. Please feel free to comment or PM me with any questions.