Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

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Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by skkatter » Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:26 pm

My first ever audio interface was a MOTU 828 MKII which I bought back in October 2004. In those days I was just messing around and not really finishing anything I'd class as a proper track.

I never had a problem with its A/D converters but as the years went by I got a proper job and had some money so after building up a nice synth collection I decided to upgrade the A/D and I got a Burl B2 Bomber ADC in 201 as I love really simple equipment designed to do just one thing well and it was universally praised everywhere I read about it.

*However*, and feel free to roll your eyes as hard as you want, I don't really hear much of a difference between them. I'm sure my ears aren't the best, and my room isn't the best etc. Maybe also I'm not listening as critically as I should be. I think I hear a difference in the top end but whenever I'm on Gearslutz I often read people saying "different converters are like night and day, the cotton wool was pulled from my ears etc" when they get a new A/D and I'm thinking "what am I missing here?"

I'm able to record off my mixing desk into both of them at the same time and I tried the trick of lining the two audio files up pretty much sample perfect via zooming in on Logic) and flipping to phase to see what happens and all the low and mid end cancels out but some high end is there still (as if you put a high pass filter on everything).

So, did you ever upgrade your A/D and did you notice much of a difference? Can you hear the difference between different convertors if you have access to a few of them? I'm not experiencing buyers remorse at all, am just interested if others hear much difference.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by CamAdair » Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:33 pm

As I understood empirically over years, it has more to do with the cumulative A/D on a multitrack. Unless you're a bat, you wont get far trying to judge from a single A/D conversion on a single track.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by The Junglechrist » Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:40 pm

I remember I crearly felt the difference when I changed from my old Native Instrument Audio Kontrol to a RME UCX, not night and day but still pretty noticeable.
But I am to be classified in the « hardcore audio nerd », I really listen super carefully to everything.


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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Navs » Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:54 pm

Have you recorded voices/acoustic instruments in real rooms, rather than synths/synthetic spaces, through them? That might reveal a difference :hmm:

edit: 'difference', not implying better/worse.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by oldgearguy » Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:02 pm

My opinion is that if the converters are the weakest link in your audio chain, then upgrading will make a noticeable difference. For most of us (myself included), there are probably a lot more factors contributing to the final sound that overwhelm the differences between any modern decent quality converters.

As a hobbyist, my attitude is to buy the best you can reasonably afford and move on. No one else on line is listening to your exact setup with your ears, so take all the opinions with many grains of salt.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by skkatter » Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:19 pm

oldgearguy wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:02 pm
My opinion is that if the converters are the weakest link in your audio chain, then upgrading will make a noticeable difference.
As a hobbyist, my attitude is to buy the best you can reasonably afford and move on.
I agree with you on the good chain advice. I upgraded to the Burl as I had just changed over to an SSL X-Desk from a Mackie 1402. I also totally agree with and mostly follow the "don't overthink things just make music" ethos, but the audio nerd inside me is also always interested to know what other people's experience is in these situations.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by lionel » Fri Jun 26, 2020 5:02 pm

Navs wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:54 pm
Have you recorded voices/acoustic instruments in real rooms, rather than synths/synthetic spaces, through them? That might reveal a difference :hmm:

edit: 'difference', not implying better/worse.
I heard à différence when recording Trumpet into my RME UCX rather than into my old presonus !
But I changed my mic at the same Time too...
Both are great now ;)

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by naturligfunktion » Fri Jun 26, 2020 5:31 pm

I have noticed a difference when I have upgraded my interface. Not huge, but there is a difference in precision for sure.

But I am also one of those audio nerds

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by CDavis » Fri Jun 26, 2020 5:40 pm

Have you ever recorded a sequence from your modular and when you played it back it doesn’t sound nearly as good? That’s because your converter isn’t good. It is subtle for sure but it does make a difference. To me bad converters tend to sound ‘flat’. The sound doesn’t have the same shape and excitement to it once you record it. Now multiply this by however many tracks you have in a multitrack recording and you can see how much it adds up.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Michael O. » Fri Jun 26, 2020 5:42 pm

As a preface, this is all anecdotal and subjective, but I use a few different addac’s side by side in the studio and when I work from home, and I can confirm that both the adc and dac sides of Apogee, Metric Halo, and Burl addac’s can all sound different in my experience, even when calibrated accurately and consistently across various units of varying makes and models. The difference can be more or less subtle depending on the program material (mic’d stuff with a lot of room ambience or artificial verb all tends to seem to have the most variation in terms of sound via different converters), and the apparent difference is increased when there are multiple passes through conversion.

Having said all that, the differences seem to be minimal (especially on the adc side, I find), and so I try not to think about it when working, and I more or less use them all interchangeably.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by goldplate » Fri Jun 26, 2020 7:18 pm

IMHO the sound precision one can perceive was surpassed a few decades ago and today any AD (excluding amp sections) seems just top notch. And anyway no one cares about this when listening to music. Maybe 2500 bucks is a bit too much for two channels, so the motivation brought to you by the marketing crumbles.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by wuff_miggler » Fri Jun 26, 2020 8:09 pm

just remember end clients are listening on iphone earbuds, JBL clips and sonos....all craptacular audio quality!! R.I.P. sound quality ...

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by hsosdrum » Fri Jun 26, 2020 8:40 pm

lionel wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 5:02 pm
Navs wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:54 pm
Have you recorded voices/acoustic instruments in real rooms, rather than synths/synthetic spaces, through them? That might reveal a difference :hmm:

edit: 'difference', not implying better/worse.
I heard à différence when recording Trumpet into my RME UCX rather than into my old presonus !
But I changed my mic at the same Time too...
Both are great now ;)
If you changed the mic and the ADC at the same time, 100% of the audible difference was caused by the mic change, not the ADC.

Here's are the various elements that could be in an audio reproduction circuit, listed in order from the ones that have the MOST impact on sound quality to the ones that have the LEAST impact:

1. Transducers (devices that convert energy from one form to another: microphones, loudspeakers, etc.)
2. Low-level analog audio circuits (mic preamps, phono preamps, etc., that deal with very low-amplitude analog signals)
3. High-level analog audio circuits (line-level preamps, power amplifiers, etc., that deal with higher-amplitude analog signals)

< A VAST GULF IN SONIC IMPACT >

4. Analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters
5. Purely digital circuitry

< AN EVEN MORE VAST GULF IN SONIC IMPACT >

6. Cabling for low-level audio signals (mic cables, guitar cords, etc.)
7. Cabling for high-level audio circuits
8. Speaker wire

I argue that properly-designed and properly-manufactured audio cabling and speaker wire has no impact whatsoever on sound quality, although the interface between a power amplifier and a speaker forms an entirely new audio circuit in which the speaker wire can have a small sonic impact in certain situations.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by transistorresistor » Fri Jun 26, 2020 8:49 pm

wuff_miggler wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 8:09 pm
just remember end clients are listening on iphone earbuds, JBL clips and sonos....all craptacular audio quality!! R.I.P. sound quality ...
while a less expensive pair of earbuds might not provide the frequency response or stereo imaging to get excited about, if you take the average pair of earbuds like that, line up ten mp3 players that use dissimilar chips, the average person should be able to denote some difference between the DAC's as you move down the line. you dont need ultra mega monitors to tell when youve switched DAC's the differences often tend to be easy to hear. Better in ear monitoring in my experience yields better imaging but in my testing average headphones can show you more than you might give them credit for.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by skkatter » Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:13 am

Navs wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:54 pm
Have you recorded voices/acoustic instruments in real rooms, rather than synths/synthetic spaces, through them? That might reveal a difference :hmm:

edit: 'difference', not implying better/worse.
I'll mic up my bagpipes and give it a whirl.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by sir stony » Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:52 am

In my experience, there is much more difference to be had from the overall circuit design and equipment layout than the actual converters. For example: in my earlier days of digital recording, I used a Creamware A16, that used 18 bit converters and simple ne5532 OpAmps, and it sounded much better than literally any (mostly plasticky) wall-wart- or even worse, bus-powered interfaces at 24bit for many years to come, that I got to work with or test otherwise. And it beat quite few of its direct competitors with better nominal specs, too.
That is a sort of technical difference that can still have a massive effect even today, though quite a few newer USB powered interfaces can sound pretty well, too. Many engineers and designers have learned a lot in those years. But some haven't.

I never tried to record the same signal through different converters side-by-side for comparison. If I had to use different converters, then because I would have run out of channels otherwise.
Any other part of a full audio chain is highly likely to have a much deeper footprint on the result than the converters alone. Except cables, probably.
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Navs » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:30 pm

skkatter wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:13 am
Navs wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 2:54 pm
Have you recorded voices/acoustic instruments in real rooms, rather than synths/synthetic spaces, through them? That might reveal a difference :hmm:

edit: 'difference', not implying better/worse.
I'll mic up my bagpipes and give it a whirl.
They don't work like that.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Michael O. » Sat Jun 27, 2020 3:32 pm

It’s worth noting that there is no practical way to separate the addac components from the supporting analog circuitry. Any arguments made regarding solely the “digital” aspects of any given converter are purely academic and have no real practical bearing outside of designing said supporting circuitry.

Also, do people really still argue that low level cabling differences cannot create an audible difference? Anyone that can’t hear differences between the different cable options for a u67 (the original euro issued cable, the American Belden cables, GAC-7, etc.) or any other tube-based condenser is either being disingenuous, is suffering from some sort of hearing impairment, or is listening on some really subpar monitors. A discerning ear can even hear the difference in cabling when using a solid state condenser with say a Gotham variety versus Mogami, and with something like a ribbon mic the difference is readily apparent.

It goes without saying that altering the source, or the mic and its position, will have a significant impact on the sound, but that’s not the question at hand and that fact does not preclude the fact that different converters do indeed impart (often subtle, yet entirely perceptible) coloration.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by th0mas » Sat Jun 27, 2020 7:14 pm

Years ago I had a cheap gateway laptop whose built in DAC did not play any content under 250hz, but that was an outlier. I record now with a behringer UFX1604 and this thread interests me as I've considered moving to an Allen and heath mixer/interface

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by emmaker » Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:04 pm

Yes there can be a noticeable difference in the sound quality in audio interfaces. There's a number of factors.

Quality of the parts is probably the biggest issue. A multimedia codec with TL072s is probably not going to sound as good as a high quality (audiophile) ADC/DAC combo with low noise op-amps. Also having a good low noise power supply helps too.

Audio converters when they first came out were single bit delta-sigma converters and these needed precise clocking (issue was referred to as clock jitter and was hard to deal with) to get good audio out of them. Now days most converters are multi-bit delta-sigma converters which still need good clocking but clocking isn't as critical.

Initially most converters were 16 bit and ran at 44.1 KHz or 48 KHz sampling rates. Now days we have HW that is 24 bits and can go up to 96 KHz or 192 KHz sampling rates. Using 24 bits and increasing the sampling rate can increase the sound quality considerable. If you record at 24 bits and a higher sample rate then convert it to something like 44.1 KHz and 16 bits pay attention to you end product. Converting 24 to 16 bits isn't that hard but down converting the sample rate can have issues. Some software doesn't do that well and you can end up with artifacts in the sound. It's been a long time since I new the details on that so I can't give any specific SW to be wary of.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by hsosdrum » Sat Jun 27, 2020 8:11 pm

Michael O. wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 3:32 pm
+
It goes without saying that altering the source, or the mic and its position, will have a significant impact on the sound, but that’s not the question at hand and that fact does not preclude the fact that different converters do indeed impart (often subtle, yet entirely perceptible) coloration.
I was responding to a post where lionel was commenting that "I heard à différence when recording Trumpet into my RME UCX rather than into my old presonus ! But I changed my mic at the same Time too..."

When you change a mic and a piece of electronics at the same time and hear a difference, it goes without saying that the cause of almost all the sonic difference is the mic.

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by slumberjack » Sun Jun 28, 2020 10:33 am

I used a RME ADI-8 MK1 and a Creamware A16 Ultra multitracked with both together at 24bit/48kHz as a 24ch setup. Those channels recorded with the RME were significant louder than those through the Creamware ad converter.
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Standup » Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:44 pm

I think there has been progress over 20 years. I’ve been recording music for a long time, mostly acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, mandolin etc.

For years I used a digidesign 002. When I moved “up” to a Focusrite pro 40 I could hear a difference, but that difference was probably just 10 years of better AD chips. I had a lot of trouble with the Focusrite. Sent it in for repair, they said it was perfect, so I sold it and got a MOTU 1248 — and that was the biggest difference of all in clarity. The MOTU is a good design, well-implemented.

Later on I got a Babyface Pro for when I need to record other places with something portable. Differences between MOTU and RME are subtle, but I think the MOTU sounds slightly better, which is probably not a popular opinion

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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by numan7 » Sun Jun 28, 2020 1:11 pm

i found this to be fairly useful reading on this subject:
Sampling Theory For Digital Audio
(from http://www.lavryengineering.com/lavry-white-papers/)

my basic understanding is that while increased bit-depth is great (because more bits means more headroom for mixing), anything beyond 48 KHz sampling frequency is kind of snake-oil (because of Nyquist's Theorem).
emmaker wrote:Quality of the parts is probably the biggest issue. A multimedia codec with TL072s is probably not going to sound as good as a high quality (audiophile) ADC/DAC combo with low noise op-amps. Also having a good low noise power supply helps too.
:tu: yes, the analog portions of a converter's circuitry can be clean or not so clean depending on what prefers (although i'll personally never understand why anyone would want distortion / warmth / dirt going into or coming out of a converter). there are very-expensive and considerably-less-expensive examples of both.


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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Carrousel » Sun Jun 28, 2020 1:35 pm

This is a fascinating thread. If nothing else, the huge range and difference of opinion should remind us of the inherently subjective nature of sound perception - more than other senses I would even argue because of the instant transient nature of sound (ie you can constantly stare at a painting, or stroke a textured object....but you can only replay a section of audio, momentarily sensing it, rather than continually sensing it).

This isn’t a helpful post, just me saying I love these kinds of threads.
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