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Black Lion Audio Modifications - No Measurable Specifications?
Old 11th July 2015
  #1
Black Lion Audio Modifications - No Measurable Specifications?

Opinions please. Have I missed something?

In my search for a new AD and DA interface, I came across many references to modifications predominantly referring to Black Lion Audio.

The comments below apply to almost all the interface/converter modifications on BLA's site. :

1. There are no specifications for the measured improvements(or typical range thereof) in performance attributable to their modifications. None!

2. Then I read this : "proprietary decoupling on all A/D and D/A converters". which was part of the premium modification for a higher fee.

Typically every original interface manufacturer publishes some measures of their devices performance, and while the jury is out on how much meaning to give to these stats, the broad correlation does seems to exist between perceived audio quality(as assessed by humans) and the measured audio stats.

Considering that Black Lion Audio publishes specs for devices which they make, like other Audio I/O makers, should it not be possible for BLA to measure and publish the improvements, introduced by the Mods, based on a measured repeatable approach?

XXY.
Old 11th July 2015
  #2
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Mike O's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kodebode View Post
Opinions please. Have I missed something?

In my search for a new AD and DA interface, I came across many references to modifications predominantly referring to Black Lion Audio.

The comments below apply to almost all the interface/converter modifications on BLA's site. :

1. There are no specifications for the measured improvements(or typical range thereof) in performance attributable to their modifications. None!

2. Then I read this : "proprietary decoupling on all A/D and D/A converters". which was part of the premium modification for a higher fee.

Typically every original interface manufacturer publishes some measures of their devices performance, and while the jury is out on how much meaning to give to these stats, the broad correlation does seems to exist between perceived audio quality(as assessed by humans) and the measured audio stats.

Considering that Black Lion Audio publishes specs for devices which they make, like other Audio I/O makers, should it not be possible for BLA to measure and publish the improvements, introduced by the Mods, based on a measured repeatable approach?

XXY.
I neither use or have ever heard in my room a Black Lion product of any kind. But if BLA publishes specs for their devices but not devices they "improve", my guess is that they do not want to get into a court battle with other mfg's re: the spec of the product being subjectively or objectively "improved".
Old 12th July 2015
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kodebode View Post
Opinions please. Have I missed something?

In my search for a new AD and DA interface, I came across many references to modifications predominantly referring to Black Lion Audio.

The comments below apply to almost all the interface/converter modifications on BLA's site. :

1. There are no specifications for the measured improvements(or typical range thereof) in performance attributable to their modifications. None!

2. Then I read this : "proprietary decoupling on all A/D and D/A converters". which was part of the premium modification for a higher fee.

Typically every original interface manufacturer publishes some measures of their devices performance, and while the jury is out on how much meaning to give to these stats, the broad correlation does seems to exist between perceived audio quality(as assessed by humans) and the measured audio stats.

Considering that Black Lion Audio publishes specs for devices which they make, like other Audio I/O makers, should it not be possible for BLA to measure and publish the improvements, introduced by the Mods, based on a measured repeatable approach?

XXY.
Specs don't really matter in actual audio application. Everything is 20-20, everything has low jitter, everything has a great THD spec and a great low noise this or that blah blah blah..... A $100 converter has the same specs a $10,000 unit There are $100 AT mics that have better specs than a vintage U47 and a U47 fet has the same specs as a U47 tube.... There are cheap solid state amps that have better specs than tube amps... A $100 behringer ADA 8200 has better specs than a Studer a827... on and on...

What matters is if YOU like the sound. A spec sheet will not tell you what is good. Specs do not consider the quality of musical timbre.

Instead of modding old outdated gear, just buy a new unit that has the sound you want. In many cases it's going to be cheaper than what you payed for your outdated unit and the mod. Not to mention there are various units on the used market that outperform any BLA mod... And Example would be apogee... Why would someone pay $600 for a mod when you can buy a complete good sounding unit for less than that?? mods makes no sense with digital gear. Another thing about BLA is, if people think their mods are so great, why don't people just buy BLA converters?
Old 12th July 2015
  #4
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Are they still around?

10 years ago (or roughly) I remember them saying they'd take your motu and "pimp" it.

I remember listening to the supposed "difference" and thinking

?

If ima send something in and bust my warranty ima be sure that it's gonna kick ass (and not be placebo)

Seriously, people moan about sample rates, digital vs analog, but unless you can back up your claims in a "oh wow, that is really an improvement" situation, you're just wasting cash.
Old 12th July 2015
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by chainrule View Post
Another thing about BLA is, if people think their mods are so great, why don't people just buy BLA converters?
Whilst I don't disagree with a lot of what you write here (what is the world coming to?!) this argument....

Sparrow mkII ADC :: Black Lion Audio

Some people DO buy BLA converters - though they only make a stereo AD/DA.

It's good - not as good as some others, but good at it's price point.
Old 12th July 2015
  #6
Lives for gear
 

I dunno'...
There has been an entire cottage industry based around people who take products designed and built by manufacturers who sell tens of thousands of units and then make small tweaks that supposedly make a huge difference.
I can't help but think that this type of thinking isn't more than a bit arrogant.
I have heard so many mod'ed pieces and while there is a difference the difference is pretty insignificant in the big picture.
It has always been hard for me to accept the required image of some mysterious guy in his "secret labmatory" located in some exotic place (generally LA or the west coast) who can "correct" the manufacturer's bad design decisions.

Yeah... there are some smart folks out there, but I have seen some well-known techs over-look some obvious problems in equipment.
When the so-called "expert" can't see something as simple as a wrong value component in a relatively simple and common circuit it tends to reinforce my belief that there are very few actual "geniuses."
I am not saying that I have seen BLA do this, but if I was to name names and tell stories you would be surprised.

I guess I am saying that that there is no magic that you can buy.
You have to create it.
Old 12th July 2015
  #7
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antichef's Avatar
I had a MOTU Traveler Mk1 modded a long long time ago - if you go to Didier's awesome ad-da loop evaluation thread:

Evaluating AD/DA loops by means of Audio Diffmaker

you will see that it measures about the same as an unmodded unit (a little worse, actually - maybe I used dirty cables) on fidelity in the converter loop - neither was all that great. Also, it didn't seem to make a difference whether I used their external clock or not (Surprisingly to me, some other MOTU converters did really well in that test, btw, also, it's worth noting that I found their clock very useful for making several converters work together - something I could not otherwise do at all with what I had)

But I can say this - BLA improved the preamp sound from really bad -- phasey, high frequency distortion -- to clean and completely usable, and so for me it was totally worth it, because the Traveler itself is really convenient to haul around and has a lot of connectivity options.

The key is that I already had the Traveler, though, so that part was sunk cost. It would not have been cost effective to buy the Traveler in order to get it modded, unless I really wanted the features of the Traveler itself.
Old 12th July 2015
  #8
Lives for gear
 

The drummer of my band once asked me to check his BLA modded SSL converters. He told me that it sounded better than in original state, but it was noisier. He had a second one in original state to compare with. BLA added some rail bypass caps and a linear supply for the audio part of the circuit (maybe some other stuff, too, but I don´t remember that anymore). The problem was that they returned it after modding noisier than it was before. My buddy measured the unit and sent his measurement charts to BLA. These charts came back from them with the problematic frequency marked on the FFT chart with the comment "no problem found". The measurement clearly showed 10dB more noise than in original state.
So there I had that thing on my bench and after some testing I found the source of trouble. BLA added a linear supply for all the analog circuit. The original switchmode PSU could not be turned off. It still had to work because it supplied some other circuits as well. Without the analog circuit the original supply had not enough load to work properly. BLA knew that problem and added a termination resistor to load the PSU down. But it was the wrong value. It didn´t terminate the switchmode PSU into it´s proper load hence inducing noise into ground. Changing one resistor lowered the noisefloor to the same level as in original state.
The modded AND properly terminated converter indeed sounded better than the original state. Modding without measuring the real performance - like BLA did - is bad practice. They should get their act together and measure and publish specs. Most parts of their mods make sense and are based on scientifically proved knowledge. Measuring specs is a self-insurance for a manufacturer. Releasing specs will make their work more transparent to their customers.

Last edited by jensenmann; 12th July 2015 at 05:23 PM..
Old 12th July 2015
  #9
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Slikjmuzik's Avatar
 

I've posted on this numerous times on here. I use a Profire2626 as my interface. I had an Aurora16 running through the adats on the Profire. Upon completion of the mod, obviously I put it through its paces and did numerous comparisons side by side. Eventually, I just couldn't justify keeping the Aurora, so I sold it and put the money towards more mics/preamps, etc...definitely wasn't just placebo. Certain things I was accustomed to doing I found myself not working as hard to get the sounds I was going for. Not only that, the mod also meant I was getting 8 good quality preamps, lower noise and better headroom. For some reason, guys always come on here trying to run the logic on it all. it's simple, it's like a computer. You buy it stock with 2 or 4 gigs of ramm, if you need more, you buy more ramm and make your computer better. Well, stock units come with Chinese parts for the most part. I'm really not sure what's so hard to understand that if you swap those caps and opamps with better quality Burr Brown or Texas Instruments chips, why it wouldn't just be better all-around. The bottom line is guys like Mike Shipley and Mutt Lange had Blacklion modify their Pro-tools HD rig, now known as the Red series. It became such a hit that it became a standard mod to the ProTools HD line. My Profire is not just a little better, it's completely usable on any source material. But hey, YMMV.
Old 12th July 2015
  #10
Lives for gear
 
TurboJets's Avatar
It's interesting to read these stories about other people's experiences. Not every company is perfect.

Several years ago I had an 1814FW modded by BLA and noticed a significant improvement in both AD and DA conversion, the proverbial "blanket lifted" especially when monitoring was my experience.

However, I noticed no improvement in the preamp section when there was supposed to be an improvement. Not a deal breaker, I was happy with the improved performance with regard to ADAC.
Old 13th July 2015
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by jensenmann View Post
The drummer of my band once asked me to check his BLA modded SSL converters. He told me that it sounded better than in original state, but it was noisier. He had a second one in original state to compare with. BLA added some rail bypass caps and a linear supply for the audio part of the circuit (maybe some other stuff, too, but I don´t remember that anymore). The problem was that they returned it after modding noisier than it was before. My buddy measured the unit and sent his measurement charts to BLA. These charts came back from them with the problematic frequency marked on the FFT chart with the comment "no problem found". The measurement clearly showed 10dB more noise than in original state.
So there I had that thing on my bench and after some testing I found the source of trouble. BLA added a linear supply for all the analog circuit. The original switchmode PSU could not be turned off. It still had to work because it supplied some other circuits as well. Without the analog circuit the original supply had not enough load to work properly. BLA knew that problem and added a termination resistor to load the PSU down. But it was the wrong value. It didn´t terminate the switchmode PSU into it´s proper load hence inducing noise into ground. Changing one resistor lowered the noisefloor to the same level as in original state.
The modded AND properly terminated converter indeed sounded better than the original state. Modding without measuring the real performance - like BLA did - is bad practice. They should get their act together and measure and publish specs. Most parts of their mods make sense and are based on scientifically proved knowledge. Measuring specs is a self-insurance for a manufacturer. Releasing specs will make their work more transparent to their customers.
Just wanted to say thanks for sharing this real world experience and explanation. It's real info like this that helps make GS a great resource!
Old 13th July 2015
  #12
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It can make sense to spend a little money to improve budget gear. But I don't get spending a lot of money to improve budget gear. At that point it usually makes more sense to just buy another unit at the next level up in quality.
Old 13th July 2015
  #13
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Lenzo's Avatar
In my case I wanted the functionality of Apollo and the free plugs. BLA's year end sale made the mod almost half price. I was impressed when they modded my 002r so I gave it a shot. I could measure the difference with my ears. I was satisfied that I got my money's worth on both occasions.
L.
Old 13th July 2015
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by chainrule View Post
Specs don't really matter in actual audio application. Everything is 20-20, everything has low jitter, everything has a great THD spec and a great low noise this or that blah blah blah..... A $100 converter has the same specs a $10,000 unit There are $100 AT mics that have better specs than a vintage U47 and a U47 fet has the same specs as a U47 tube.... There are cheap solid state amps that have better specs than tube amps... A $100 behringer ADA 8200 has better specs than a Studer a827... on and on...

What matters is if YOU like the sound. A spec sheet will not tell you what is good. Specs do not consider the quality of musical timbre.

Instead of modding old outdated gear, just buy a new unit that has the sound you want. In many cases it's going to be cheaper than what you payed for your outdated unit and the mod. Not to mention there are various units on the used market that outperform any BLA mod... And Example would be apogee... Why would someone pay $600 for a mod when you can buy a complete good sounding unit for less than that?? mods makes no sense with digital gear. Another thing about BLA is, if people think their mods are so great, why don't people just buy BLA converters?
Interesting points you made here, especially the last one : Why are their converters not one of the favourites that people buy???.

I absolutely buy your opinion that ( of course based on confirming through listening tests) as much as possible buying more recent gear for equipment that is intended to do the same thing and can be compared directly, in a competitive market it makes sense that market forces and research will most likely have influenced improvements in the newer gear. If one considers that every mobile phone, smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, audio player (with the esteemed exception of vinyl and cassette players) and pretty much every home and professional and broadcast studio now uses AD/DA converters, oh lest I forget TV's, car stereos too, and more-so every digital wireless audio device, that's a lot of opportunity and demand over the last 25+ years, for research, increasing cost advantages through larger volumes, etc, to establish excellent quality in newer products, based on converters and their related analog circuitry. i.e. converters should be a relatively mature business.

I was also considering that the real issue with investing, where the budget is limited, should be how to strike the balance in adequate quality across all the components that determine the final product, from capture to playback, rather than consider that improving a single component alone in isolation does the trick.
Old 13th July 2015
  #15
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Well the things with the modifying something means you are trying to achieve a more desired result with a certain piece of equipment. When someone publishes design specifications. It is a generalization of what is expected based on an average of many units and not one. Some are based on worst case scenarios too. Also the effect of what some say is a more musical quality can not be really measured because the change is several different factors that some are really not used to define a unit's design specifications. This applies to anything modified.

Now on the subject of converters. Back in the beginning, The yield of converter chips that were good was quite low and there was a lot of rejects. There was also the quality control issues that comes along with difficult to make parts because no one tests 100% of the chips they make. Some manufacturers didn't use the top performing chip because either it made no difference in the outcome of specifications, or specifications was more consistent with their quality control. Now over the years, the yield of better quality parts and backwards compatibility made it easy to fit a different part on the pc board. But the converter chip is the last thing that is considered in modifying because the analogue line stages before or after really dictate how it will really sound. I tried to start a thread a long time ago and was ridiculed because no one really wants to everyone to know, or want it to be revealed that the analogue line stages really dictate how the conversion sounds.

But does the cost of modifying something outweigh the cost of buying the better unit? sometimes yes, sometimes no. Take for instance a Behringer ADA8000. I have a mod that I can do to both new and old versions that makes it indistinguishable compared to Burl Mothership cards. Is it worth really doing? No, because after spending 2 days refitting circuits and spending $200 per input channel and $40 per output channel and it still doesn't have all the features of the higher end unit So it doesn't really make it cost effective? I don't think so. Its still a low end unit and some tracking clients will have a predisposition with that piece gear no matter how good it sounds now. Because they are already biased about Behringer gear.
Old 13th July 2015
  #16
I used to supply Audio Precision tests with mods, but no one knew how to interpret them.
Old 13th July 2015
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drtechno View Post
I have a mod that I can do to both new and old versions that makes it indistinguishable compared to Burl Mothership cards. Is it worth really doing? No, because after spending 2 days refitting circuits and spending $200 per input channel and $40 per output channel and it still doesn't have all the features of the higher end unit So it doesn't really make it cost effective? I don't think so. Its still a low end unit and some tracking clients will have a predisposition with that piece gear no matter how good it sounds now. Because they are already biased about Behringer gear.
I'm doing a shootout in a couple weeks can you loan me the modded ada unit?
serious
Old 16th July 2015
  #18
Gear Head
 

#1 -
Quote:
Originally Posted by chainrule View Post
Specs don't really matter in actual audio application. Everything is 20-20, everything has low jitter, everything has a great THD spec and a great low noise this or that blah blah blah..... A $100 converter has the same specs a $10,000 unit There are $100 AT mics that have better specs than a vintage U47 and a U47 fet has the same specs as a U47 tube.... There are cheap solid state amps that have better specs than tube amps... A $100 behringer ADA 8200 has better specs than a Studer a827... on and on...

What matters is if YOU like the sound. A spec sheet will not tell you what is good. Specs do not consider the quality of musical timbre.

#2 - Instead of modding old outdated gear, just buy a new unit that has the sound you want. In many cases it's going to be cheaper than what you payed for your outdated unit and the mod. Not to mention there are various units on the used market that outperform any BLA mod... And Example would be apogee... Why would someone pay $600 for a mod when you can buy a complete good sounding unit for less than that?? mods makes no sense with digital gear. Another thing about BLA is, if people think their mods are so great, why don't people just buy BLA converters?
There may be some things that are not being considered. In many of the cases of those mods, they bring the audio quality to being ABOVE what newer interfaces provide, but not at the cost of a complete new interface, so it's a "budget" way of getting better performance without shelling out as much dough.
Also modifying digital gear makes a LOT of sense, since the decoupling and other tweaks they do with the converter circuitry makes a HUGE difference in the conversion, not to mention that most digital gear still have analog paths to and from the converters that color and impede the audio quality being converted and monitored.
I don't understand your last statement about BLA's converters vs their mods; Is that assuming that people don't buy them, because I'm pretty sure they do. Also, the converters must be used in conjunction with an interface because they are stand-alone converters, not interfaces.

But the comment on the measurement of subjectivity and a summing of many, many factors I agree with you. It is quite unrealistic, and silly to put so much emphasis on that kind of thing when specs cannot accurately reflect what you HEAR and what you prefer. It's in the ear of the beholder!
Old 16th July 2015
  #19
I know its boring but anyone really needs to do blind tests on any comparisons for this sort of thing...small amounts of bias can play havoc on what we hear and converter changes are very subtle...
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