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The ADC Conundrum: For studio and audiophiles looking for the right features

bbgma1234

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Hi all,

So, I'm writing this post with the dual-purpose (do I already sound like it is an advertisement for an audio interface? lol!) of helping others in case they are stuck on the same kind of thing as myself, or for the catharsis of seeing if anyone has better suggestions than what I am finding.

I love this site. I get immense benefits from Amir's tests and user comments.
There is a gap in the audio world, and I seem to have a special talent at falling into gaps lol.

I want to search for and select my ideal ADC in the precise, exact manner as I go shopping for my DAC.
We all know the shopping list for great listening, right? :
Headphone amp separate or all-in-one?
Digital source options? Spdif/coax/AES/Optical
Analog out options? Ooo that's neat it has balanced.

But, if you're looking for the same thing in the other direction, you either pull up 7000 results for DACs (which is a different search for me all together) and occasionally audio interfaces.
So, then we do the "AD/DA" path and you know as well as I, if you can take $13 DAC chips that compared to 10 years ago are ALL state-of-the-art if designed well around the chip, you can take the same brand's "ADC" chips and opamp/other components and build to the identical same quality. But somehow, combining these together immediately takes the price to $2-4K.
Hmmm... $200 DACs that rival a Lavry Gold in sound quality, others using literally the same chips as $2K DACs. But where do you find the same thing in ADC?
The answer: you don't.

Just today, I discovered the Cosmos E1Da which apparently is only on AliExpress or Linsoul and I admit I'm looking for an eBay or Amazon solution or from somewhere in the music/audio world that I have purchased from in the past. If that simply doesn't exist...I will consider going that route. Don't hate on me: I've just never purchased from either before.

So, then we travel the Audio Interface work, because that seems to be the only place where you're going to find the ADC part of the journey.
The audio interface world technically is where my needs exist, but it should not be exclusive to that.
I do not need a mic preamp: I have better mic pres than what comes stock on audio interfaces in the reasonable price range (remember, if I can get what I want in headphone amps and DACs in the $100-500 range, all I want is to bring analog into the digital domain for around the same price).
I don't need an instrument input: I have DI inject options that are better than most options...some reasonably-priced options like Clarett will give a quality JFet I do not mind using.
I have equipment that can lift a mic or instrument to balanced levels. I just want to go balanced in or extremely high quality unbalanced line in, and have it digitized at the best quality possible.
You can imagine, this all means I have 20 different ways to get +48 phantom for condensers.
Low Latency: yes it matters: it matters a great deal. But, again, there are 100 different options of extremely low latency monitoring from DACs and if ADC/DAC meant $400 ($200 x 2) for an all-in-one, from let's say, Sabaj, or Topping, or SMSL, you get the idea, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Doesn't anyone need to bring their high end audio from analog INTO their digital world? Into the computer?

So, I get to thinking, maybe instead of ADC or audio interface, I should just hunt down the chipsets I'd prefer: there is no reason not to use an ESS sabre, but most manufacturers prefer even 3-4-generation-old AKMs...that is until the fire happened. In which case, many went to older generation Cirrus chips which are fantastic...if someone knows how to build around them it is nearly as good as the Sabre and I am totally cool with that. In fact, most of those who know how to build around the AKMs are fantastic too. But... they DO impart a sound, and I prefer the ESS when the analog settles in, it is wide, dimensional, airy, and sensitive to levels which means if you are extremely picky and the analog is made extremely well...you can dial in YOUR sweet spot and it takes perfectly.

Hunting down the chipset ultimately brings up MOTU and sometimes the RME Babyface Pro...maybe Apogee Boom.
Now, you're going to hate me.
I want Windows 7 compatibility.
There have been 9000 different audio interfaces from dozens of brands, all made powered by USB for a decade. But, now that support is dropped from Microsoft, even legacy drivers are becoming impossible to find.
I will be building a Win10Pro online studio production computer. But, I have an offline setup and development tools, do analysis, and have some things that do not play nice with Win10.
I am not looking to hang out using my OS...the OS is there to serve my needs, and what I need is great sound in, great sound out. Win7 has been doing that for me for 13 years.
If I knew I needed to venture this quest 5 years ago, I sure would have done so.
But honestly, the price drop for the best chips at the best price is happening right now. It is a renaissance.

The last issue: ALL manufacturers are placing less emphasis on the quality of the electronics coming in vs going out on audio interfaces. Not just the analog, but the analog buffering the chips. The chips should perform conversion at their absolute peak, and analog in has so many inexpensive options it should not be this hard to find a viable world-class solution.

So, is it unreasonable to want:
Windows 7 compatibility
Best-in-class balanced in analog
ESS Sabre ADC
USB with super simple ASIO drivers or low-headache driver solution
Low Latency

Maybe my search should be for a digital preamp? Is that how I find the audiophile solutions? audiophile on a budget?
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. And hey, if you are suffering the same thing, maybe this helps to see someone else frustrated.
If I'm simply annoying you with too many words, the world is a wonderful place where you didn't have to read any of this! lol.
 

DVDdoug

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Most audio interfaces are plenty-good and the difference (other than "features") is the preamp, which apparently you already have covered. They are usually USB and they are meant for recording/production, not for "audiophiles".

With recording, almost everything else is more important - The performance, the instrument (or voice), the microphone, the microphone placement, and studio acoustics.

You might want a separate DAC and/or a separate headphone amp, if that's important. (Most pros recommend against using headphones as your main monitors.) Of course your DAC & monitoring setup doesn't affect the quality of your production, except it affects your ability to evaluate it.

Your monitors & room acoustics are by-far the most important things for mixing & mastering. (Plus whatever effects you want to use.)

Many "affordable" interfaces are "class compliant" so they work with the Microsoft- supplied drivers (or the drivers that come with OS-X and Linux). Higher-end multichannel interfaces often come with their own drivers and utilities and they may not be compatible with Win7. I don't think the ASIO standards have changed so if you have an ASIO interface (and an ASIO application) it will probably work with Win7.

Maybe my search should be for a digital preamp?
I'm not sure what you mean by that. A preamp with digital inputs? Digital outputs? The actual microphone preamp is analog. Once you have digital you can amplify digitally. Generally, you want to convert once to digital, then once to analog during playback (or monitoring).
 

Purité Audio

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I am still not hire sure what you actually want in terms of functionality, but I have used the RME ADI ‘pro’ extensively that measures well ,
There is a new version of the Lynx ‘Hilo’ on the horizon, ( original version measured here) and just recently I have been using the new Eversolo ‘preamp the A-8 no measurements for that unit yet. though.
Keith
 
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bbgma1234

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Hi DVD Doug. i appreciate everything you're saying. The last part: your questions, that is kind of the point that I'm making.
I'm in audio production. I am also an audiophile. I often find that "studio grade" or "professional audio" is usually code for "paying too much for slightly less quality".
I'm a veteran in the industry, so I get what the issues are. I'm also just not a wealthy veteran lol or I would be using Benchmark in both directions, or Lavry Gold, Prism Sound. They're all better than the current line of $2K+ UA.

A Digital preamp, in my thinking, would provide all of the typical audiophile input options someone was looking for, proper high quality buffer inputs, and let you pass them out to digital coax/AES/USB. Basically, you would have an ADC usb in, a DAC usb out using 2 usbs.
The prosumer audio interfaces DO have some good options, but very few with the emphasis on the best quality ADC coming in.
All of the audio interface solutions are trying to give "pro" users the mic preamp quality, and sometimes a decent instrument input.
I love the all-in-one xlr/bal/unbal connectors: that's always been a great option.
And, if something HAS good pres or jfet on the instrument, I'm not annoyed by that.
But, they always skimp on the headphone amp and line-in secondary to hype on the mic pre.
It seems like there should be at least one thing in the last 7 years that is a high end ADC. That's all I'm sayin'.
You can go back to Apogee Mini Me and see there was a need for usb front-end digital conversion.
Babyface Pro FS is a great solution if I wanted to spend $890 to get the input converter I want.
You can see what I mean, right?

If someone made 2 in/2 out ESS on both sides (which I am learning the MOTU's used AKM's on 2 out of 3 of their revisions, so now I'm not sure if even that is an option) and Win7 class compliant drivers, and did a GOOD job bringing the analog in to an opa or similar, I'd be thrilled to pay $400-ish.

Just to give reference, I've been in mastering using 6 foot ribbons for monitoring, and often prefer headphone mixing, sometimes mastering.
Legend had that you needed the space of a well-tuned room to do this...but it is a myth. It is helpful to listen to familiarity and test on multiple sources, but I love working in headphones and definitely wouldn't finish a mix on speakers without listening in cans as well, if that makes sense.
Thank you again for the thoughts and input! (haha, input...)
 
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bbgma1234

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I am still not hire sure what you actually want in terms of functionality, but I have used the RME ADI ‘pro’ extensively that measures well ,
There is a new version of the Lynx ‘Hilo’ on the horizon, ( original version measured here) and just recently I have been using the new Eversolo ‘preamp the A-8 no measurements for that unit yet. though.
Keith
The Lynx HiLo and RME ADI are both excellent options. I would just really like to pay less. I can get almost exactly what I'm looking for from something like the MOTU, but they threw out legacy drivers for Win7. I am considering an RME Fireface since I actually have the firewire chip they require to run, but I've also never tested it on my system to know if I'd run into any issues. There's a good chance whatever choice I try, may require returning if I can't get it to configure.
But yeah, that really is the point: I have a million amazing options for DAC down to being able to pick the chip I like the most, for $100-500. If I want it in the other direction, I should expect to pay $1900 and get features I don't really need.
 
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bbgma1234

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Think about it: if you are doing surround, you have the different versions for HDMI, sound bars, full systems with separates, Class D options galore.
If you want a headphone amp that blows away the best from 20 years ago, you can get a million of them for dirt cheap and even ones that will pass balanced out on to your mains and act as a perfect front-end to your stereo system/speakers.
If you want preamps, you can get something from Schiit for $300 that rivals all the $3K brands.
If you want to bring 2 balanced channels into your computer via usb...sorry no can do.
You need a prosumer audio interface with MIDI, phantom power, bad headphone amp, or $5K AD/DA even though you already have DA.
In fact, I have a Mytek I could send out AES Coax or even Toslink. But, what is going to take that into the computer via usb?
I could use a PCIe card to bring it in, but it ends up with exactly the same scenario: I want the best chip to bring it in digitally at the highest conversion quality. Preferably an ESS Sabre 32 $25 chip.
There's even on older Mytek USB DAC that is perfect for what I need except oh...oh...DAC lol. They make AD/DA USB and it is 3X what it should cost and it is not up to their standard from 10 years ago.
I can go on.
Antelope Audio makes amazing front-end systems and I wouldn't care that it was an interface. But, their entire customer base hates them for what they have done with the driver software, and they are trying to compete on the plugins and not the fact that they made some of the converters ever. It is insanity in my opinion.
 

b7676

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That E1DA Cosmos is still peerless for measurement grade, and has been an important product for the home objectivist.
Topping is getting into ADC (only selling on aliexpress) production at a very slow pace and seemingly won't have a measurement grade device anytime soon.

Cheap interfaces are marketed to be used in the field, so a separate power supply for the head amp is never done.

You're supposed to file taxes on your home studio to write off multi-kilobuck gear. That is what a pro is?

There isn't a NwAvGuy white paper on ADC like there is for the output side. This where the innovation for cheap performance came from.
 
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Blumlein 88

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You lost me at Windows 7 and mixing on phones. Good really cheap ADCs without mic inputs have always been scarce. So I imagine there is little market for them.
 
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bbgma1234

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That E1DA Cosmos is still peerless for measurement grade, and has been an important product for home objectivists.
Topping is getting into ADC (only selling on aliexpress) production at a very slow pace and seemingly won't have a measurement grade device anytime soon.

They always design cheap interfaces to be used in the field, so a separate power supply for the head amp is never done. You're supposed to file taxes on your home studio to write off multikilobuck gear.
Haha great reply. Yeah I'm watching those Toppings. I have a feeling that the interfaces are going to be Win10+ only. And, they know their market. The DAC is very average, but the ADC is slightly better than what they are competing against. Which makes sense, bc if you are picky (I am!), you'll still want a separate low latency DAC for headphones (I do!) and they make quite a good selection.
Their 2x2 looks nice and it was the first thing I was considering...but I have a feeling it will not be Win7. In a few years, they will probably have 5 options I love, and I may choose one or 3 for Win11. My conundrum continues to be the right thing for Win7.
Yeah that E1DA should have competition! I'd love to grab something like it on Amazon. Even Topping's distributor is on there, and things like SMSL can even be overnighted.
Is there anything else in a slightly broader market like the Cosmos? I find it shocking it is so hard to find something. I did not even find the Cosmos until today. I've been searching for a year.
 
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bbgma1234

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You lost me at Windows 7 and mixing on phones. Good really cheap ADCs without mic inputs have always been scarce. So I imagine there is little market for them.
Most professionals I know reference on headphones even if they are also mixing to the room. And...the industry standard is a 30 year old desktop NS10 using paper cones, so...go figure :)
 

MaxwellsEq

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industry standard is a 30 year old desktop NS10
It's never been an industry standard for quality monitoring but for consistency monitoring. I don't think anyone thinks they are state of the art for sound quality. Same for Auratones.

Julian Krause on YouTube may be a useful guide for you
 

Blumlein 88

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You know you are backing yourself into a corner again if you go with a Firewire interface. If you want one of those I'll let you have one for barely more than cost of shipping. TC Impact Twin. Works with Win 7.
 
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bbgma1234

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It's never been an industry standard for quality monitoring but for consistency monitoring. I don't think anyone thinks they are state of the art for sound quality. Same for Auratones.

Julian Krause on YouTube may be a useful guide for you
I was making a tongue-in-cheek comment. I know Julian.
 
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bbgma1234

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You know you are backing yourself into a corner again if you go with a Firewire interface. If you want one of those I'll let you have one for barely more than cost of shipping. TC Impact Twin. Works with Win 7.
You are right and I agree.
 
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bbgma1234

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It seems that something like this would let someone in my situation get in and out via spdif with USB, class compliant, using any external AD/DA:
Am I reading it right?
Does anyone make a stripped down version of this? And importantly, fewer ins/outs but highest quality chip?
 
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bbgma1234

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What do you consider highest quality ADC chip?
I like the ESS Sabres a lot, the Cirrus CS series, not as much the Burr Brown and AKM, but proper implementation of both can yield good results. And I do know circuit design and optimized use of bus power from USB play a major role in that result.
 

Blumlein 88

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I like the ESS Sabres a lot, the Cirrus CS series, not as much the Burr Brown and AKM, but proper implementation of both can yield good results. And I do know circuit design and optimized use of bus power from USB play a major role in that result.
The Cosmos uses the best spec'd ESS chip. The Audient ID14 is said to use the same chip, but they only switched to it I think last year. I don't know of measures of that version. Some have said the ID 4 made that switch as well, but I'm not sure. Previously Audient used Burr-Brown.
 

beeface

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tldr?

4c9.jpg
 
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