Another Which one is better? question Audient vs Metric Halo

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francoprussian
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Post by francoprussian » Tue Aug 13, 2019 4:36 pm

Aha, the plot thickens!

I have just repaired an old MOTU 828 mk2 (usb version) that was sitting on my sideboard for about a year with its innards exposed to the world and which refused to turn on when i put it back together.

Pleased with my handiwork i thought i'd try it out, so plugged her in to my 'studio computer' and played back some Ableton sessions. Wow! thinks i, this sounds great, so full of life, very detailed and spacious. Gosh, could it be that i had such a great sounding bit of kit lying here in dishevelment and disarray, like a little east-end street urchin who is in fact of royal blood, a Danny Dyer?

Thought i'd do the same test as with the Echo, but MOTU vs Audient. Same type of deal as above, switching interfaces in and out, changing which was clock master. Will there be a noticeable difference between the 2004 vs 2015 technology? I set the levels as close as possible, and while doing so realised that my initial impression of the MOTU was to do with listening volume! I had it playing pretty damn loud. Once the levels were backed off and matched as closely by ear as i could make it, the two became yet again next to impossible to distinguish from one another.

More or less exactly the same result then. The only point at which i noticed any real change was if the MOTU was acting as clock source, it sounded slightly better, whether it was the MOTU or Audient playing at the time... INTERESTING.

I also noticed the MOTU didn't shit the bed if Ableton clipped over digital zero, unlike the Audient which basically sounds extremely awful when that happens.

What the point of all this is i really don't know. Maybe one day i will get one of these fabled high-end pieces to give my unscientific attentions to, and see what happens then.

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Post by RedLab » Wed Aug 14, 2019 5:12 pm

I don't have any personal experience with Audient but I've tested my Metric Halo ULN-2 against RME (pretty sure it was the Fireface UCx) and ULN-2 was noticeably better in conversion quality. And that was just the D/A's.
The A/D's, and the preamps in particular, revealed further difference in ULN-2's favour.

francoprussian
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Post by francoprussian » Thu Aug 22, 2019 6:16 am

Righto, well i got my hands on an RME Fireface 400, touted all over the place as a 'very good' interface below the level of top pro nutter price stuff.

I set up a slightly different test, this time using an old Vestax DJ mixer (PMC-06 Pro A). I plugged the outputs of the two interfaces on test into the line inputs of each channel of the mixer respectively using identical cables, then sent the master output to the monitors (Yamaha MSP3 which have unbalanced RCA jack line ins for one channel). Then i set up a device in Ableton to send the master track output to both interfaces simultaneously via aggregate device. So doing, i could flip the crossfader on the Vestax to quickly switch channels and devices. I also plugged some Beyer DT770 headphones into the mixer's cue section, which has its own crossfader, so that i could switch between the two different type of monitoring, turning off either one if not in use.

I tried out all the possible combinations with Audient iD14, MOTU 828 mk 2 USB, Echo Audiofire2, RME Fireface 400.

There was no significant difference to speak of between any of them, but i did notice that the lower mid-range was clearer on the RME vs Audient, at around 500hz and 1000hz if i recall. This was easily identified using an EQ8 with prelisten mode on and sweeping up and down the spectrum with a peak filter to spot the frequencies. I also noticed that there is a fairly significant overall output level difference between interfaces, with the Audient being the quietest of all, which i had long suspected as i have always had difficulty getting it to sound loud enough even when at full volume. I had to dip the RME output by 2db to get them audibly close, even when the input levels on the console displays were equal. I also made sure it wasn't a difference between the two mixer channels by sending the same signal from one interface into both sides and switching, perfect loudness doubling at centre of the fader with no phasing. So that was ruled out as a factor.

Overall conclusion is that the RME is good, but the others are fine too, with the Audient in last place as it's quieter than the rest. I'm keeping the RME for now, and using it. A few days later I opened a messy track that i thought was cool sounding through the Audient and on the RME it just sounded like utter garbage, which i think is a positive improvement, as i then made it sound better through the RME, so i think it is probably better now if played elsewhere. Also the RME takes much hotter signals before clipping, and has so many more options that the Audient lacks, like MIDI and SPDIF. It's better, but not because of the conversion, the whole package makes the difference.

I'm utterly convinced that most of the differences people perceive between devices being 'better' or 'worse' than one another are to do with levels. If one device sounds a little louder it seems clearer, it's just a fact. And you read a lot of people saying 'i just got this new device A and it blows my old one B out of the water, night and day, space, clarity, depth of soundstage, tighter bass, cleaner mids' etc etc, who feel very happy at having spent $2000 dollars, but were they ever to sit down and compare the two properly, they might feel a bit light in the pocket, and if being honest would likely see that what they had before was probably good enough. So much psychology involved here.

I'm just testing D/A conversion for anyone from the future reading this. Nothing to say about the pre-amps or A/D side.

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Post by francoprussian » Thu Aug 22, 2019 6:28 am

I was also sat in exactly the same position to do the listening test, when flipping between interfaces with the mixer i had my head rested on top of the mixer while changing channels, so that i was not moving my ears in relation to the sound sources. I think this matters, as so many times testing is done by getting up and changing stuff then sitting back down, and you're not in the same place exactly as before! Even the same damn device you just heard previously will sound different if you get up and fuss about and then sit down again, thinking you're listening to the same thing, but not at all!! Speakers are extremely directional, which is why headphones may be a better option at times.

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Post by francoprussian » Thu Aug 22, 2019 8:30 am

The more i think about this the more i tend to believe that the quest for 'best' in audio equipment is much to do with the fact that however high-level you are in the music game, you're still a consumer at some point. Producers and engineers are not soldering together their own audio interfaces, or making discrete D/A converters. Everybody is beholden to the people producing the devices they use, and not capable of doing anything to modify the behaviour significantly, or to even measure what might be going on inside the gear beyond using their own hearing and subjective assessment. It's a form of attempting to wield power over your process in a field where you are powerless beyond the limit of your bank account.

I saw this funny thing on the Elektronauts place, when the SSL Six was announced, they were all there with bated breath waiting to spend £1200 on a four channel mixer made in China, just to plug their digital synthesizers into. And all the reviews that started poppin up from the ones with better credit scores with words like 'warmer', 'bigger'. Good luck rich fools.

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Post by brickman » Thu Aug 22, 2019 11:21 am

I had a ULN-2 for years. Apogee Duet before that. The ULN-2 was a massive step up from the Apogee.When MH stopped supporting the unexpanded ULN-2 on OSX 10.13 I decided to try a Focusrite Clarett and made the mistake of getting rid of the MH.

The difference is pretty mind-blowing. Never realized how good the imaging & definition of the ULN-2 D/A was until I tried something else. Gonna grab a ULN-2 3d asap.

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Post by rod_zero » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:33 pm

francoprussian wrote:The more i think about this the more i tend to believe that the quest for 'best' in audio equipment is much to do with the fact that however high-level you are in the music game, you're still a consumer at some point. Producers and engineers are not soldering together their own audio interfaces, or making discrete D/A converters. Everybody is beholden to the people producing the devices they use, and not capable of doing anything to modify the behaviour significantly, or to even measure what might be going on inside the gear beyond using their own hearing and subjective assessment. It's a form of attempting to wield power over your process in a field where you are powerless beyond the limit of your bank account.

I saw this funny thing on the Elektronauts place, when the SSL Six was announced, they were all there with bated breath waiting to spend £1200 on a four channel mixer made in China, just to plug their digital synthesizers into. And all the reviews that started poppin up from the ones with better credit scores with words like 'warmer', 'bigger'. Good luck rich fools.
Agree 100%

The converters being used today are way better than those in the 90's used on Pro recordings.

Buy an interface based on features, support and stability.

Anything more expensive than RME (which almost always has the most important features you could care about) is pure luxury.

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Post by lasesentaysiete » Thu Aug 22, 2019 1:51 pm

francoprussian wrote: It's better, but not because of the conversion, the whole package makes the difference.
I agree. All modern converter technology should be capable of offering a starting point for excellent sound quality. How the surrounding analogue and digital circuitry is implemented--front end, I/V stage, usb input, clock, power supply--makes the most difference in sound quality.

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Re: Another Which one is better? question Audient vs Metric Halo

Post by francoprussian » Wed Feb 12, 2020 6:41 pm

Well well welly well well well well then... Guess who finally got a ULN-2?

I spent around an hour this evening performing my numerous 'A-B' tests on the thing's analog output vs my FF 400 main outs. Conclusion: they sound identical. The only difference was a small level imbalance on the output, not sure what this was caused by. Ableton was giving an equal signal to both interfaces, and they were set at zero in all stages, so should have been the same volume-wise. At first i thought the ULN was better, more bassy, something like that, then i realised it was just LOUDER by a touch. Both units were going into a mixer with the trim set to -12, as it has no centre indent, so that's how i chose to get them 'level' to start from. I stepped up the FF400 trim until both were sounding 100% indistinguishable, and the apparent bass advantage in the ULN disappeared. They were so close that with both units playing at the same time there weren't even any phase issues, only an increase in loudness. In a blind test there would be no way anybody could do better than chance at guessing which unit was playing.

Conclusion? Who knows, i shall use the ULN for production for a while and see how it services my needs. Maybe i'll keep it just to feel like a flash git. But my search is over and i figure that I WAS RIGHT. It's psycho-acoustical mysteries which make people waffle about the great imaging and depth and tight bass and clear mids and blah blah blah, i reckon they just listened in totally uncontrolled ways and figured they like the expensive, well-marketed device better, the one everybody raves about, especially if they just dropped a grand on the effin thing. Listen people, to ears LOUDER is BETTER. And then we make post-rationalisations about why we think it sounds better, it's garbage.

At least i can impress the girls with my expensive audio interface now that i'm a boring middle-aged audio buff. Better grow a ponytail too. Fnarf.

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Re: Another Which one is better? question Audient vs Metric Halo

Post by francoprussian » Wed Feb 12, 2020 6:48 pm

Oh, and in the meantime since my last posting, i picked up a few Apogee Duets (FireWire version), just out of curiosity, as they used to be totally out of my price-range but are now cheap and plentiful. And... i love them! Great device. The software is horsepucky, but the sound is top notch, and they are well simple to use. Great stuff.

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