Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Discussions on sound production outside the synthesizer such as mixing, processing, recording, editing and mastering.
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OriginalJambo
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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by OriginalJambo » Thu May 14, 2009 1:19 am

Stab Frenzy wrote:Both of those recordings sounded pretty bad, I wouldn't record acoustic instruments in that room again without treating it if I were you. :thumbright:
Pretty bad eh? I'd say they're bordering on horrific! My point is this, "s**t in = s**t out".

So if you ever find yourself needing to crank the ADA's pre-amps to the point where they are introducing noticeable noise (or God fobid the maximum value) you should really check your source (or gain staging) first, as it's likely you're doing something wrong! It's not fair to blame the ADA when poor recording practices are really to blame.

The aim of the experiment is to measure the maximum noise by putting both units in a severely compromised situation where as many flaws have been introduced to the system as humanly possible, i.e.:

- The source is very quiet.
- Source of sound is projecting against the wall.
- A dynamic microphone used.
- Microphone diaphragm isn't facing source.
- Microphone is far away.
- Recorded in a room with terrible acoustics.
- Track is then normalised.
- Using ADA 8000 pre-amps.

So what's the best solution to achieving a superior recording?

- Amplifying the source to an acceptable level?
- Making sure the source is facing the microphone to provide more direct sound?
- Using a more sensitive microphone?
- Checking that the microphone diaphragm is on axis to the source?
- Moving the microphone closer?
- Recording in a room that either flatters the source, or is as close to dead as possible?
- Avoiding the need for normalisation since the signal to noise ratio is more than acceptable?
- Buying better pre-amps?

What I'm essentially trying to say is that the ADA doesn't seem any less usable than most of its peers, given the price range. There are plenty of other variables that'll compromise your sound before it even hits the ADA (microphones and their positioning for example!).
Also if you had to normalise them to get the levels even then you didn't set your gain evenly, or did you just normalise it to get the levels up?
All variables were kept constant excluding the audio interface and the slight varitations in the takes. Both units had their microphone pre-amps set to maximum gain, but even this wasn't enough to give a useable level since the source is so quiet. Normalisation was used to bring the maximum peaks up so you could actually hear it.

In other words the recording was intentionally as flaw-laden as I could manage. Normalisation is just the icing on the cake. :)
Anyway, I said it's usable. It's just not my choice at that price. I also think my 002 is usable but not that great, but I get stuff done on it.
Oh yeah, I'm not trying to say the ADA 8000 is a equal to an RMA/Apogee interface but for the money it's really not that bad. The main reason I've opted for an Octopre LE is simply because it's bound to be more reliable and has some useful extra features (low-frequency roll off for each input, two instrument inputs forgoing the need for DI boxes etc.). So far I don't think there's a vast improvement otherwise.

If you are looking for a cheap way to expand your 002, or any interface that supports 8-track ADAT via lightpipe then the ADA 8000 isn't a terrible choice. Well, providing you can source one that isn't buggered.

Remember that former VSE member clubbedtodeath's tracks were mixed on a lowly Behringer desk and that hasn't stopped them from sounding great.
Last edited by OriginalJambo on Mon May 18, 2009 11:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu May 14, 2009 8:50 am

I hate to break it to you but making good stuff sound bad isn't difficult, the hard thing is making bad stuff sound good. If you got some fancy preamp and convertor and did that to it it would come out sounding bad as well, but that wouldn't mean the ADA was any better. I'm struggling to understand how you could think your test proves anything.

I believe CTDs tracks were mixed ITB in Sonar, although I could be wrong. I've got some old demos that we recorded live to two-track in a shed through a Behringer mixer and they sound good because the performance is good. However if I'd recorded it through a better mixer it would sound better, you see how it works?

Anyway, this is getting off topic. Back to opinions (ones based in reality please) on which IO expander to go with. It has been proven that it's possible to make anything sound bad, maybe we should be talking about which ones sound good eh?

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by madtheory » Thu May 14, 2009 8:59 am

Martin Walker has done a couple of articles in Sound On Sound comparing converters, he actually measured noise floor and jitter as well as testing subjectively. Might be worth a look.
Stab Frenzy wrote:
madtheory wrote: AU$18 each for the transformers, so $144. I have a big box of 500 of each resistor value from 1 ohm to 1MOhm, a multimeter and knowledge of Ohm's law so the second part wouldn't cost anything.
It won't cost anything except your time, which is what I was getting at- we all know resistors are pennies. Seeing as there's no service manual for the A to D, you'd have to look up the chip's data sheet, then figure out what SM Pro Audio decided to do with it, and you'd have to spend quite a bit of time tweaking to get the headroom right.

So the total outlay is AUS$144+ $80, €125, plus postage, plus whatever your time is worth (anything up to about €40 per hour). Probably a few days work to get it right. Compare that to a Behringer box which does line level A to D and is also a D to A and 8 channel mic pre, retail around €190. Of course, it can be fun to build your own, and you might end up with a cleaner sound. Then again, that's pointless if your room is not acoustically neutral...

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu May 14, 2009 9:21 am

I like building stuff. :D Wouldn't take that long to get the levels right, run a signal into the A/D while measuring the voltage and also metering the digital output to determine the clip point in AC volts, decide on your input impedance, run some signals through the trannies to see what level they saturated at, decide how much headroom you want, blah blah blah. Sounds like a fun weekend to me. :)

Also if I was getting paid 40 euro and hour I'd be buying something a lot more fancy than any of these. :P
madtheory wrote:Then again, that's pointless if your room is not acoustically neutral...
Please get back to the point of the original post. The OP wants a unit for converting line level signals from synths etc to ADAT, it really doesn't matter what the room sounds like.

BACK ON TOPIC EVERYONE PLEASE.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by madtheory » Thu May 14, 2009 2:18 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote:Sounds like a fun weekend to me. :) Also if I was getting paid 40 euro and hour I'd be buying something a lot more fancy than any of these. :P
Cool. If I was on that money, I'd be looking at a trip to Bali or Egypt, or New York... :)
Stab Frenzy wrote:Please get back to the point of the original post. The OP wants a unit for converting line level signals from synths etc to ADAT, it really doesn't matter what the room sounds like.
He's had a lot of recommendations... the Martin Walker review I mentioned is a great source. Here look, I'll even give him the links:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep08/a ... rfaces.htm

And a couple of reviews where he measured noise floor etc.:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan07/a ... mu0404.htm
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun01/a ... chomia.htm
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr01/a ... ndcard.asp

And no, it really does matter what the room sounds like.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by OriginalJambo » Thu May 14, 2009 11:32 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote:I'm struggling to understand how you could think your test proves anything.
The goal was simple - to prove that the ADA isn't necessarily much nosier than its competition. Yes both recordings sound s**t, but they sound equally s**t. Can you hear a massive difference in the noise floor, after normalisation?

It's fair to say that the ADA isn't totally transparent, or that you don't like the sound of it (or what it does to the sound) but what gives you the idea that it's any noisier than its peers? Ones that don't cost the earth? You didn't even elaborate on what you meant by "noise" as it's a bit of a blanket term.
I believe CTDs tracks were mixed ITB in Sonar, although I could be wrong.
Shame he's not around to ask but I'm sure at least one of his tracks was either mixed or tracked through a Behringer desk.
However if I'd recorded it through a better mixer it would sound better, you see how it works?
Of course, but this isn't relevant. We are not taking about mixers, we are talking about D/A converters and pre-amps. Who's to say the ADA sounds any worse than the Octopre/Octane/DigiMAX/8pre? It may of course be true, but given SOS's review the difference isn't so vast that the ADA is considered completely usable or totally worthless.
Anyway, this is getting off topic. Back to opinions (ones based in reality please) on which IO expander to go with. It has been proven that it's possible to make anything sound bad, maybe we should be talking about which ones sound good eh?
Okay then, how about some semi-decent recordings then?

Interface A - overdriven


Interface B - overdriven


Interface C - overdriven




Interface A - clean


Interface B - clean


Interface C - clean


One of these is the ADA. The other two are the Digi 001 (stock pre-amps) and Octopre LE. Channel one has been used on all interfaces, same guitar, same microphone, same amp, same position. For the sake of simplicity the interface labelling is consistent- i.e. if you think A on the overdrive example is the ADA then it'll also be A of the clean example.

See if anyone here can guess all correctly. Or at least identify the ADA.

Oh and I apologise for the hum (and c**p playing). It's an old tube amp in an old house so there are probably some grounding issues.



Another quick test, this time more based on theory. I think it's fair to say that by feeding the ADA and the Octopre an identical signal we should be able to determine what frequencies are reduced/emphasised across the audio spectrum between the units.

Here I've recorded the stereo output of a raw sawtooth wave from an analogue synth at different footages and matched the gain to provide a similar level from both units - left channel to the Octopre, right to the ADA. The two tracks were then alligned to be as close to sync as possible (zero-crossings in phase) and the Octopre's signal has then been inverted.



As the Octopre's audio track is faded in the resulting destructive interference leaves us with only the differences between the units. As you can hear there is obviously some deviation, but it may not be a deal breaker in the scheme of things. Of course when you consider how difficult it is to keep all the control variables constant it's apparent that this test is likely far from perfect.

Bit in depth I know but it's just me trying to show that there may be less of a difference between all these units than is often implied.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by bradkë » Fri May 15, 2009 5:23 am

Good stuff guys.

hey, what's a Modern p***s anyway?
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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by Stab Frenzy » Sat May 16, 2009 5:33 am

bradkë wrote:Good stuff guys.

hey, what's a Modern p***s anyway?
A joke I had forgotten about. :D
madtheory wrote:And no, it really does matter what the room sounds like.
Please enlighten me as to how a rooms acoustics effect a line level signal travelling down a lead from a synth to an AD convertor.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by Shreddie » Sat May 16, 2009 6:23 am

Regarding the ADA vs other converter boxes. In comparison to 10-15 years ago, AD/DA technology has moved on a great deal. The real world difference between budget and top end converters is only a fraction of what it was many years ago. Most users will notice very little (if any) difference, especially if their monitoring isn't up to scratch. Sure, an Apogee or whatever will get you a little more stereo separation and a slightly lower noise floor compared to a cheaper product. But... And this is a big but... Does it really matter when the end listener will most likely be listening to a compressed mp3, played through a system with sub standard converters, on earbuds made by the lowest bidder or on sh!tty speakers, poorly placed in an acoustically cr@p room?

Besides, plenty of people from bedroom musos to professionals use the ADA8000... And it may be hooked up to anything from an E-mu 1212 to a DM2000. It's practially an industry standard.

And in the case of the OP, it's for synths... And lets face it, most synths don't exactly have the most pristine of outputs! The ADA certainly wouldn't make things any worse! If he wanted something for recording orchestral or delicate acoustic stuff, then the ADA may not be the best of choices but for the OP, I can't see any reason why he shouldn't buy one.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by bradkë » Sun May 17, 2009 7:06 pm

Alright. I think I've narrowed it down to the MOTU 8pre.

First of all I love my existing MOTU products. (828mk3 and Midi Timepiece AV)

Second, I love the set up and layout of the 8pre having the trim adjustments for each channel right on the front.

Third, I will connect it via lightpipe (optical I/O).

I will not be recording anything acoustically, ever, it's just not my thing. This includes vocals. The A/D on MOTU is just fine. I don't need any more MIC inputs because I won't use them plus I already have 2 of them in my 828mk3. If I ever decide to do vocals they will be (1) done through a vocoder or (2) so layered in effects that the preamps in the 828mk3 will be more than adequate.
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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by madtheory » Sun May 17, 2009 7:37 pm

Stab Frenzy wrote: Please enlighten me as to how a rooms acoustics effect a line level signal travelling down a lead from a synth to an AD convertor.
It doesn't. But if your room response is not treated, you're not going to be able to hear differences between converters, which are far more subtle than the wildly skewed frequency responses one tends to get in untreated rooms. In such rooms, just moving your head by 3 cm will give a comlete change in frequency response. Which makes a mockery of all your "ruler flat" electronics :)

So on the scale of things, it makes more sense to spend money on room acoustics first, then your speakers, then your mics and analogue front end, and lastly the digital converters.

Don't take my word for it though. Download RoomEq Wizard and measure your room in a few spots. And here's a good intro to the topic of acoustics:
http://www.ethanwiner.com/acoustics.html

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by clubbedtodeath » Mon May 18, 2009 12:27 pm

OriginalJambo wrote:
Stab Frenzy wrote:I believe CTDs tracks were mixed ITB in Sonar, although I could be wrong.
Shame he's not around to ask but I'm sure at least one of his tracks was either mixed or tracked through a Behringer desk.
Stab Frenzy wrote:However if I'd recorded it through a better mixer it would sound better, you see how it works?
Of course, but this isn't relevant. We are not taking about mixers, we are talking about D/A converters and pre-amps. Who's to say the ADA sounds any worse than the Octopre/Octane/DigiMAX/8pre? It may of course be true, but given SOS's review the difference isn't so vast that the ADA is considered completely usable or totally worthless.
(Apologies for the OT drift - I'll just answer this one question)

Mr Frenzy is correct. The Behringer was there only to route individual synths to effects and back. Sonar 6 would record the output from the alt. bus into an individual audio track, and do the mix down to the final master track. Any clear sound is down to VST plugins, and colour-free, low-noise A/D from a Delta 44; nothing more than that.

Anyway, thanks for the compliments on the mixing. As you were, gents.

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Re: Which I/O expander to go with? Opinions wanted.

Post by Mush » Thu May 21, 2009 2:44 pm

The twat is back...

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