• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required. There are many reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

32ch DAC? Best bang for buck in the top tier?

Joined
May 20, 2024
Messages
8
Likes
3
Hi all, long time lurker but first time poster. Wanted to see among those who do any home audio engineering whether anyone could recommend a 32ch DAC for summing into a prism titan. I've looked through antelope, lynx, prism, apogee, universal, MOTU, ferrofish, crane song--the whole gamut--and it is odd to me how chip quality, jitter and SINAD don't quite translate. For example, an old prism unit sounds better than a new universal unit despite the better specs on the universal. Of course the "measurement vs subjective experience" thing is beating a dead horse but for those who've gone down this rabbit hole, I wanted to know which D/A converters to you sounded the best? And as a more technical question, what could be the most salient factors for DAC sound quality beyond what is measured? Also looking for more obscure options if y'all have any recommendations!
 

staticV3

Master Contributor
Joined
Aug 29, 2019
Messages
8,800
Likes
14,201
And as a more technical question, what could be the most salient factors for DAC sound quality beyond what is measured?
Bias. Testing DACs sighted, and without level matching.

Ironically, it's often the pros with decades of experience that fall for placebo the hardest, because they think they're immune.

Like the seasoned skiier who gets caught by an avalanche on his home mountain, because he was too proud to check the conditions first.
 
OP
frontleaningrest
Joined
May 20, 2024
Messages
8
Likes
3
Ha! I definitely get the sense that a lot of the older guys are bigger proponents of the "subjective experience" side of things which opens the door to a lot of bs. I do think however there are differences. I did a couple blind shootouts on youtube and can consistently pick out the really hi end ones vs the really crappy ones but the in-betweeners are definitely more situational. Lynx and crane song stand out as especially clean to me.

Are you of the camp that it doesn't really matter with today's tech?
 

mcdn

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 7, 2020
Messages
589
Likes
823
It really doesn’t matter
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
4,001
Likes
8,090
Location
San Francisco
Ha! I definitely get the sense that a lot of the older guys are bigger proponents of the "subjective experience" side of things which opens the door to a lot of bs. I do think however there are differences. I did a couple blind shootouts on youtube and can consistently pick out the really hi end ones vs the really crappy ones but the in-betweeners are definitely more situational. Lynx and crane song stand out as especially clean to me.

Are you of the camp that it doesn't really matter with today's tech?
If the difference is big enough to hear after Youtube transcoding then it's definitely big enough to see in a Deltawave comparison, no?

I don't have any current knowledge about studio D/A units but I do want to ask - what are you using 32 channels for in a home studio??

Also, welcome to ASR!
 
OP
frontleaningrest
Joined
May 20, 2024
Messages
8
Likes
3
If the difference is big enough to hear after Youtube transcoding then it's definitely big enough to see in a Deltawave comparison, no?

I don't have any current knowledge about studio D/A units but I do want to ask - what are you using 32 channels for in a home studio??

Also, welcome to ASR!
Thank you! I've been lurking for years but am learning to be more social lol. I have a home studio and sometimes do mix engineering for small time artists. Recently tried "analog summing" where one converts all their individual tracks into the analog domain, puts it through an analog box that sums them into a stereo signal and puts them through a transformer based output stage, which is converted back to A/D. Holy balls does it make a difference and I have no idea why. There's this weird thing in the digital domain where you can often turn up the gain of an individual track and it refuses to stick out further in the mix. Somehow when you do that in the analog domain that doesn't happen nearly as much. It's game changing. My current interface can only put out 16 channels, but most projects are larger, so I gotta get more channels!!!

From what I've gleaned from the real pros, working in analog always sounds better but digital gets the job done way faster. But I don't do this as a job so I get to be a persnickety audiophile. The plus to it all as a simple music enjoyer is I have a lot of control and "flavor enhancers" for my music that I wouldn't have if I didn't accumulate so much studio gear!

So basically, I'm trying to ascertain if there is anything out there that can deliver Topping/smsl DAC quality in a 32ch format. Haven't really found the answer... :confused:
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
4,001
Likes
8,090
Location
San Francisco
Recently tried "analog summing" where one converts all their individual tracks into the analog domain, puts it through an analog box that sums them into a stereo signal and puts them through a transformer based output stage, which is converted back to A/D. Holy balls does it make a difference and I have no idea why.
You could always just record the same few tracks summed digitally and through the analog mixer and compare the files to see what the difference is. I would be really interested to see that, actually.

My first guess on what would cause a different sound in the way you describe would be soft clipping in the analog summing stage, vs. no clipping and/or hard limiting in the digital mixer. Do you get the same perceived improvement if you mix with a ton of headroom?

NB: Lots of people will say there's no likely difference to be heard and/or digital is superior so don't bother. I don't necessarily disagree with that POV but I think conversations are more interesting if you go look at some signals instead of just declaring the point moot.

My current interface can only put out 16 channels, but most projects are larger, so I gotta get more channels!!!
Just do it like they did in the old days and bounce things down to fewer tracks. I think the Beatles only had 8 tracks for Sgt. Pepper, etc etc. :)
 
Last edited:

Robin L

Master Contributor
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Messages
5,492
Likes
7,969
Location
1 mile east of Sleater Kinney Rd
Ha! I definitely get the sense that a lot of the older guys are bigger proponents of the "subjective experience" side of things which opens the door to a lot of bs. I do think however there are differences. I did a couple blind shootouts on youtube and can consistently pick out the really hi end ones vs the really crappy ones but the in-betweeners are definitely more situational. Lynx and crane song stand out as especially clean to me.

Are you of the camp that it doesn't really matter with today's tech?
I'm of the camp that one cannot determine meaningful audio differences via youtube shootouts. Youtube reduces data rates such that any potential advantages to high-rez recording are eliminated. While I'm at it, while I can see some advantages to high-bit recording as regards production/postproduction, I sincerely doubt high rez recordings would be audibly superior to 16/44.1 recordings, at least as regards the end product being high-rez. Our ears and the environments in which we listen to music are less "High-Rez" than that.
 

DVDdoug

Major Contributor
Joined
May 27, 2021
Messages
3,200
Likes
4,237
Recently tried "analog summing"
Analog mixers are built around summing amplifiers. But, computers are pretty good at summing and I wouldn't want my bank balance calculated with an analog summer. :D All (active) analog electronics adds noise. Digital does not.

But... We rarely want to perfectly-sum... We adjust the track levels and the master level so mathematically it's a weighted average.

Digital is technically better in every way. It doesn't add noise, distortion, or alter frequency response.

through a transformer
A transformer can alter the sound, and that's OK as an "effect". But generally, audio transformers are designed not to alter the sound in an audible way. They aren't used that much in modern solid state equipment because they are rarely needed and they aren't 100% perfect. (They were often needed in tube circuits).

There's this weird thing in the digital domain where you can often turn up the gain of an individual track and it refuses to stick out further in the mix. Somehow when you do that in the analog domain that doesn't happen nearly as much. It's game changing.
Sorry, but that's not true. +6dB is the same in digital or analog.

From what I've gleaned from the real pros, working in analog always sounds better but digital gets the job done way faster.
Again, digital is technically superior to analog. Almost all studios are using digital these days. As far as I know, nobody makes a 24-track tape recorder anymore. There may be some analog mixing & processing. Analog compressors & limiters are often used in front of the ADC. And if your goal is to avoid clipping the ADC, the limiting has to be done before the analog to digital conversion.

There is a fair amount of mythology & nonsense in the pro world, and most audio engineers don't have actual engineering degrees. They often want to duplicate whatever Frank Sinatra used, or whatever was used on the latest Grammy winner. But the pro world isn't as crazy as the audiophile world. ;)
 

Keith_W

Major Contributor
Joined
Jun 26, 2016
Messages
2,885
Likes
6,662
Location
Melbourne, Australia
You are barking up the wrong tree. The difference between those pro audio DAC's isn't that one sounds better than another. Although there are some that have truly horrendous performance (e.g. SINAD as high as -70-80dB). That kind of SINAD is fine if you need to broadcast announcements in a train station or an airport, so they don't spend engineering resources on improving it. The difference is connectivity, expandability, versatility, and robustness. For example, do you prefer Dante, Ravenna, or AVB? If 32 channels isn't enough, can you add another 32 channels? What if you need to add microphones? How good is the mixer software? Can you connect to a DAC which is 100m away and do it reliably?

I presume you are like the rest of us, i.e. a home audio enthusiast. Many of these concerns don't apply to us. We value different things. e.g. we want low SINAD. We need standard XLR or RCA connectors. There are aesthetic considerations for some of us. We don't need, and may not want complex mixer software.
 
Last edited:

JSmith

Master Contributor
Joined
Feb 8, 2021
Messages
5,418
Likes
14,152
Location
Algol Perseus

1716261636427.png



JSmith
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
4,001
Likes
8,090
Location
San Francisco
Sorry, but that's not true. +6dB is the same in digital or analog.
Only true so long as the gear behaves linearly. If you're clipping somewhere in there it will add some harmonics and make the boosted track sound even more boosted. Since we're talking an analog box with transformer output, I will at least say distortion is plausible here.

IF that is what's happening, we'd also want to know that it's happening enough to be audible. I don't think we need to worry about "clearly audible" in this case because the use case is focused listening and probably looping short passages, with fast switching. But if it's not just the ol' reliable sighted bias, that's my guess as to what he's hearing.
 

earlevel

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Nov 18, 2020
Messages
572
Likes
801
Thank you! I've been lurking for years but am learning to be more social lol. I have a home studio and sometimes do mix engineering for small time artists. Recently tried "analog summing" where one converts all their individual tracks into the analog domain, puts it through an analog box that sums them into a stereo signal and puts them through a transformer based output stage, which is converted back to A/D. Holy balls does it make a difference and I have no idea why. There's this weird thing in the digital domain where you can often turn up the gain of an individual track and it refuses to stick out further in the mix. Somehow when you do that in the analog domain that doesn't happen nearly as much. It's game changing. My current interface can only put out 16 channels, but most projects are larger, so I gotta get more channels!!!

From what I've gleaned from the real pros, working in analog always sounds better but digital gets the job done way faster. But I don't do this as a job so I get to be a persnickety audiophile. The plus to it all as a simple music enjoyer is I have a lot of control and "flavor enhancers" for my music that I wouldn't have if I didn't accumulate so much studio gear!

So basically, I'm trying to ascertain if there is anything out there that can deliver Topping/smsl DAC quality in a 32ch format. Haven't really found the answer... :confused:
"What you're heard from pros"—not really, there are talented people on both sides. Some of them were diehard analog guys that now do it completely in the box. It takes a while for people to change their ways and learn new tools.

I started well before digital, so I've gone through it all. Back in the days of analog, some mixers sounded better than others, especially on the more affordable end. With digital, they're all clean. My old band mate and frequent musical collaborator was a studio engineer for years, with access to all the nice toys. He now does most of it in the DAW, but he stems it out to his Toft console for the final. Frankly, I think he's nuts, but whatever floats your boat. The Toft is not renowned for being transparent, so I guess he gets what he wants to hear.

"There's this weird thing in the digital domain where you can often turn up the gain of an individual track and it refuses to stick out further in the mix"—um, no, I have no idea what this means, it doesn't happen as far as I'm concerned. If you have part of the spectrum competing, maybe, but analog won't cure that so I don't understand what you're hearing. I'm not shaming you for saying it, I just don't accept it, I hope you understand. :)

High end analog mixing is very precise. Op-amps (whether monolithic or discrete) are high precision devices, original designed for analog computing ("operational amplifier", performing arithmetic operations). If you don't distort the analog or digital, either is extremely linear. If you want the summing process to add distortion, my view is that you didn't get the sound you wanted in the DAW and are perhaps looking for something to make it sound less sterile—I think you didn't do your job if you need to dirty it up, but what the heck it's just a tool so whatever works for you.

Here's a video nulling comparison of clean mixing.


PS—FWIW, I went to Ferrofish and MADI, very happy with it.
 

MaxwellsEq

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 18, 2020
Messages
1,942
Likes
2,946
From what I've gleaned from the real pros, working in analog always sounds better but digital gets the job done way faster.
Like @earlevel I was doing studio electronics before and during the change to digital recording. Digital recording was immediately and instantly measurably better than analogue. It was also audibly more accurate.

Analogue tape + heads have a natural compression behaviour. Analogue mixers behave better when overdriven than digital equivalents. For years, music engineers would "push" recording to get a certain sound, but digital equivalents didn't offer that (pushed digital is not nice).

Compared to the heyday of analogue recording, digital is a more accurate facsimile of the original, but it must never be overdriven.
 
OP
frontleaningrest
Joined
May 20, 2024
Messages
8
Likes
3
"What you're heard from pros"—not really, there are talented people on both sides. Some of them were diehard analog guys that now do it completely in the box. It takes a while for people to change their ways and learn new tools.

I started well before digital, so I've gone through it all. Back in the days of analog, some mixers sounded better than others, especially on the more affordable end. With digital, they're all clean. My old band mate and frequent musical collaborator was a studio engineer for years, with access to all the nice toys. He now does most of it in the DAW, but he stems it out to his Toft console for the final. Frankly, I think he's nuts, but whatever floats your boat. The Toft is not renowned for being transparent, so I guess he gets what he wants to hear.

"There's this weird thing in the digital domain where you can often turn up the gain of an individual track and it refuses to stick out further in the mix"—um, no, I have no idea what this means, it doesn't happen as far as I'm concerned. If you have part of the spectrum competing, maybe, but analog won't cure that so I don't understand what you're hearing. I'm not shaming you for saying it, I just don't accept it, I hope you understand. :)

High end analog mixing is very precise. Op-amps (whether monolithic or discrete) are high precision devices, original designed for analog computing ("operational amplifier", performing arithmetic operations). If you don't distort the analog or digital, either is extremely linear. If you want the summing process to add distortion, my view is that you didn't get the sound you wanted in the DAW and are perhaps looking for something to make it sound less sterile—I think you didn't do your job if you need to dirty it up, but what the heck it's just a tool so whatever works for you.

Here's a video nulling comparison of clean mixing.


PS—FWIW, I went to Ferrofish and MADI, very happy with it.
ferrofish seems like the perfect balance! I appreciate the feedback. it's grounding. I do believe there's some definite flavor and distortion that I'm chasing in the summing box. of course within the linear band +6db analog or digital will be the same but it's when I'm pushing the track into the orange where analog and digital begin to behave very differently. analog can sometimes sing, while digital screeches 10/10 times.
 
OP
frontleaningrest
Joined
May 20, 2024
Messages
8
Likes
3
Like @earlevel I was doing studio electronics before and during the change to digital recording. Digital recording was immediately and instantly measurably better than analogue. It was also audibly more accurate.

Analogue tape + heads have a natural compression behaviour. Analogue mixers behave better when overdriven than digital equivalents. For years, music engineers would "push" recording to get a certain sound, but digital equivalents didn't offer that (pushed digital is not nice).

Compared to the heyday of analogue recording, digital is a more accurate facsimile of the original, but it must never be overdriven.
yeah, I'm too worried about the linear range. i agree on all counts with everyone in this thread, but I am very much "pushing" this summing box and I want a good dac that can feed a robust signal and ideally take it back in with equal fidelity even if I'm abusing it. I seek an adc/dac that can take in an lightly overdriven mix out of a transformer with good fidelity and handle the ultrasonic nastiness and IMD appropriately.

though I'm an audiophile first, I also derive some perverse enjoyment in getting a clipped-to-all-hell -6lufs mix to pop and shine :)
 
OP
frontleaningrest
Joined
May 20, 2024
Messages
8
Likes
3

View attachment 370496


JSmith
that box seems a little long in the tooth--the output count is perfect but I want to take full advantage of today's tech. I'm looking into whether RME does a newer version of this box. thank you!
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
4,001
Likes
8,090
Location
San Francisco
that box seems a little long in the tooth--the output count is perfect but I want to take full advantage of today's tech. I'm looking into whether RME does a newer version of this box. thank you!
As others ITT have noted, DACs and ADCs have been pretty transparent for years now... the past 10 years have not really advanced the state of the art AFAIK.

Also, maybe you just don't have the right analog-style saturator plugin on your master channel. Much easier and cheaper than doing it this way. ;)

If that's the tool that gets you the result you want with a little extra saturation, go for it, but personally I would find it way too much hassle. I once bought an R2R tape machine to do this kind of thing but never ended up actually using it on a track. So at least I applaud your appetite for inconvenience in pursuit of a good mix.
 

MaxwellsEq

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 18, 2020
Messages
1,942
Likes
2,946
yeah, I'm too worried about the linear range. i agree on all counts with everyone in this thread, but I am very much "pushing" this summing box and I want a good dac that can feed a robust signal and ideally take it back in with equal fidelity even if I'm abusing it. I seek an adc/dac that can take in an lightly overdriven mix out of a transformer with good fidelity and handle the ultrasonic nastiness and IMD appropriately.

though I'm an audiophile first, I also derive some perverse enjoyment in getting a clipped-to-all-hell -6lufs mix to pop and shine :)
Simply never "push" a DAC or ADC. That's not what they are there for. If you record via both analogue and digital and leave a lot of headroom, they are broadly equivalent.

What you are doing is using a side-effect of abusing the analogue gear. Digital can't be abused in the same manner - but that's not a "fault" due to digital behaviour. Analogue doesn't sound better than digital when both are done right with good headroom. Abused analogue sounds a lot better than abused digital.
 
Top Bottom