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

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

Post by Michael O. » Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:24 pm

hsosdrum wrote:
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.
Ah yeah you’re totally right, I thought there was more mention of mic influence earlier on. Having said that, I’d wager he’d still hear a difference between the two units with all other variables accounted for, granted a significantly more subtle one.
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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.
It has been a while since my school days, but the generally accepted and best theory (at least at the time) is that all perception is of discrete snippets as opposed to a continuous flow of consciousness. In other words, our minds have no unmediated perception of external phenomena, be they visual, aural, or otherwise. Just as our memories are most correctly viewed as memories of memories rather than of experienced lived moments themselves, so to our seemingly immediate perception of the world is in fact mediated by our senses and our processing of the sensory input they provide. Which is probably majorly tangential and practically insignificant, but hey it seemed relevant at the time lol.

This thread has me wanting to post some measurements to better identify the objective differences between different converters, but it’s not exactly the easiest time to get hold of an Audio Precision machine in the covid-ravaged southern US.

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

Post by Carrousel » Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:55 pm

Yeah senses are technically made up of discreet packets of information, like retinal nerve signals feeding the visual cortex, but those discreet packets come at you waaaaaay faster than spinning back a record, or even replaying a digital file :hihi:
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by GrantB » Sun Jun 28, 2020 4:09 pm

I've found it very interesting to measure my audio interface loopback frequency response, phase, and distortion characteristics using REW (Room Eq WIzard, free to use)
Here is a series of videos which shows how to set it up:

This approach can not divorce the AD from the DA but is still relevant, particularly considering that what we hear in DAW recording has been through both.
I suggest running sweeps at various Sweep Level settings. There's a lot more to converters than the spec sheet "frequency response" and (averaged, weighted) THD numbers.

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

Post by tom » Sun Jun 28, 2020 4:48 pm

Your Motu is a very good converter.
It is one of the bests in the loop-back test on Gearsluts.
Different class than Edirol for example!

Burl has a different philosophy as it has input-transformers coloring the sound.

If you don't hear a significant difference between those two, you could upgrade your monitors ;)
There are monitors that let you hear the slightest difference in the chain.

Some people hear a night and day difference, because they can focus better on specific aspects of the sound.
I think this is training. People who are not that trained, beginning in their childhood, just don't hear it and this leads to endless debates.
The same on microtiming and jittery/sloppy sequencers ect. Some people just can't stand it and many people just don't care.
Also the lack of a detailed common language base in this subtle sensority field leads to confusion and trouble within subjective experience vs. debating.

I know famous all over the world techno producers, who use Motu only in their project studio with little room-treatment. Mixing is done in big studios later on.

On the highest end converters (not Motu) it is more about the feel under your skin of a difference.
Electronic music is not the most demanding for monitors and converters.
You hear it best on recordings of an acoustic instrument you play (piano here), a human voice and full tracks with lots of depth.
The difference increases with more tracks and more out-in loops.


The whole chain is important:

Processing chain in the box is very important:
Bit depth, dithering, SRC, anti-aliasing, filtering.

In- and out- chain is very important:
Gain-staging, hum, noise, DC-offset, phase-authenticity or coloring.

Balanced connections are very important.
Clocking is important.


That said, of course there are things much more essential, as musical performance, arrangement, mixing ect.
We all know that a song tracked on a four-track can be really something while there are millions of $ spend on gear with an output of flat sounding, over-engineered, boring music.

But this is no argument that it still does not makes a difference! It does, it is just not on top of the list.
And of course it makes much sense to understand techical things and putting them in perspective!
Doing one thing, doesn't mean you should let off the other.

Think high-class piano in the Steinway, Blüthner range:
Every component makes a difference, but most important are the player and the ears and the room.
There are people owning such an expensive piano, who can't play.
And people who give you an extraordinary performance on a dusted piano in a bar.
A very good player won't be satisfied owning a consumer-class piano.

There are many top-acts with top-notch-world-class sounding songs made with a Minibrute + Motu, mixed in a dream studio.

Many very popular products in Eurorack don't meet any high-end requirements at all, but people are all over them...

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

Post by hsosdrum » Sun Jun 28, 2020 8:32 pm

Michael O. wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:24 pm
This thread has me wanting to post some measurements to better identify the objective differences between different converters, but it’s not exactly the easiest time to get hold of an Audio Precision machine in the covid-ravaged southern US.
An AP unit will only show you measured differences. Whether or not these measured differences translate into perceived difference is the crux of the biscuit here.

I argue that once we see a measured difference our mind tends to hear it simply because it knows the AP measured it, not necessarily because of any actual difference in aural stimulation. Our perception of hearing is influenced by much more than only what is being fed to the brain by the aural detection system. In fact, learning how to better recognize only what we are being fed by our ears, and then how to interpret that information is what listening (and listening training) is all about.

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

Post by Rex Coil 7 » Sun Jun 28, 2020 11:20 pm

hsosdrum wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 8:32 pm
Michael O. wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:24 pm
This thread has me wanting to post some measurements to better identify the objective differences between different converters, but it’s not exactly the easiest time to get hold of an Audio Precision machine in the covid-ravaged southern US.
An AP unit will only show you measured differences. Whether or not these measured differences translate into perceived difference is the crux of the biscuit here.

I argue that once we see a measured difference our mind tends to hear it simply because it knows the AP measured it, not necessarily because of any actual difference in aural stimulation. Our perception of hearing is influenced by much more than only what is being fed to the brain by the aural detection system. In fact, learning how to better recognize only what we are being fed by our ears, and then how to interpret that information is what listening (and listening training) is all about.
Totally agree. I think of it as "observing rather than just listening" ... but that's just how I make my peanut brain work. :)
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Breezewax » Mon Jun 29, 2020 12:21 pm

What were you listening on?

I went from a presonus interface to an rme which was a huge difference in quality in both listening and recording especially,
then from some alesis monitors to dynaudios monitor another huge difference.
I recently purchased some Audeze headphones which brought to life so many sounds and recordings and gave a depth of field I had not experienced before (possibly because of my room acoustics listening with my dynaudios), since using them I feel like my ears are "better" maybe more trained to pick up subtler details, all my mixes translate better across different mediums too.

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

Post by Yes Powder » Mon Jun 29, 2020 12:31 pm

Back in college I had two different interfaces. One was an MBox2 for ProTools, and the other was a Yamaha Go46.
I definitely felt like I could tell the difference between the two, even with a single track of audio— and the Go46 sounded much better.
Unfortunately the Go46 eventually died due to capacitor plague.

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

Post by c0rpse » Mon Jun 29, 2020 12:59 pm

I bought a Prism Lyra and a Lynx Hilo a few months ago to try and answer this question myself.

Once level matched, I can't tell the difference. Doing AB tests between the two converters and my case through an analog mixer reveals that I can not distinguish between the three. At least not on my current monitoring setup.

I'd like to shuffle some of that money into some new PA speakers, so I'm considering selling the Prism. The Lynx has a bunch of great creature comforts, but I can't help wonder if there is some aspect of sound I'm not tuned into yet.

I can tell you I do not use GS for research anymore.
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Kattefjaes » Mon Jun 29, 2020 1:11 pm

Yes, you really can, though most unskilled listeners will only notice gross differences, even in properly controlled conditions. Clock quality matters a lot too- phase noise in the time domain becomes smearing in the frequency domain. It is not "inherently subjective", but something which can be measured with the right equipment, as well as subjectively ferreted out.

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

Post by skkatter » Mon Jun 29, 2020 1:41 pm

Breezewax wrote:
Mon Jun 29, 2020 12:21 pm
What were you listening on?
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by mojopin » Mon Jun 29, 2020 3:11 pm

c0rpse wrote:
Mon Jun 29, 2020 12:59 pm
I bought a Prism Lyra and a Lynx Hilo a few months ago to try and answer this question myself.
I wouldn't expect to hear a difference. Those are both top-notch converters. I'd keep the Lynx..

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

Post by Michael O. » Mon Jun 29, 2020 4:47 pm

Rex Coil 7 wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 11:20 pm
hsosdrum wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 8:32 pm
Michael O. wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:24 pm
This thread has me wanting to post some measurements to better identify the objective differences between different converters, but it’s not exactly the easiest time to get hold of an Audio Precision machine in the covid-ravaged southern US.
An AP unit will only show you measured differences. Whether or not these measured differences translate into perceived difference is the crux of the biscuit here.

I argue that once we see a measured difference our mind tends to hear it simply because it knows the AP measured it, not necessarily because of any actual difference in aural stimulation. Our perception of hearing is influenced by much more than only what is being fed to the brain by the aural detection system. In fact, learning how to better recognize only what we are being fed by our ears, and then how to interpret that information is what listening (and listening training) is all about.
Totally agree. I think of it as "observing rather than just listening" ... but that's just how I make my peanut brain work. :)
Most definitely. I’m fully into the tweak to within reasonable technical specs and then fine tune by ear mindset in all I do (if it sounds right, it is right), but I mean to say that I’d like to see the objective, empirical differences that I’m hearing via measurement, ultimately for curiosity’s sake. If the perceived differences are even measurable, that is. And I completely agree that listening first and measuring second would be the only way to come to a conclusion; the power of suggestion would likely take a strong hold otherwise.

It’s impressive and a credit to modern addac design that we have threads like this. Not so long ago It was indisputable that converters could sound different from one another, and now the differences are so subtle as to be barely perceptible. I’d bet the supporting analog circuitry has significantly more influence over the overall sound than the adc/dac chipsets themselves in any given converter, as well.

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

Post by swarlied » Thu Jul 02, 2020 11:10 am

I was using an Audient id14 before I upgraded to a Lnyx Aurora 8 (legacy), which used to be high end 10 years ago. which is the reason I wanted to upgrade, to have the best conversion for my budget, so I went for a used Aurora.

I have done no measurements or AB comparison, because unplugging etc. takes why too long. So my impression im can share is anecdotal.

First listening tests of my spotify favourites gave me no impression. But after a while I noticed that I start no notice elements different. „This pad in the background, it sounds so delicous, I never noticed this? Was it even there before?“

I was expecting a placebo effekt so I disconnected all the cables and turned the audient up again, and yes its a process of 10 minutes in between, I did this several times to understand the difference. The id14 sounded more like a small „matchbox“ while auroa have served everything „larger“.

Today I used it with a lot of converter looping involved because I do a lot of re-sampling hybrid stuff. I never had the feeling that adding conversion loops reduce the quality.

In addition, when I plug in different synthesizers to record them. And also modules offcourse. I have the impression that even the finest nuances of the circuit get picked up (48hz allways).

For example I noticed that my old D20 has very nice transients and these old 80’ style sounds are far away from cheap. Also when I record the mother32 not from the onboard line-output but send it into the mi clouds (100% dry!) and then into the intellijel 4Uout: clear difference, the direct line-out of the m32 definitly shines through better. The other chain is not bad, but its easy to hear.

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

Post by johny_gtr » Tue Aug 25, 2020 1:22 am

The whole idea of buying top notch convertors/audio interfaces to record sounds from digital modules with cheapest (adc)/dac looks very optimistic :))
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Michael O. » Tue Aug 25, 2020 1:29 pm

johny_gtr wrote:
Tue Aug 25, 2020 1:22 am
The whole idea of buying top notch convertors/audio interfaces to record sounds from digital modules with cheapest (adc)/dac looks very optimistic :))
That seems like a bit of a straw man argument; is anyone recording the output of these digital modules exclusively? I get what you’re saying, but anecdotally I can say that even the output of the objectively and technically worst dac in my studio (a mid-‘70s eventide ddl) sounds better recorded via quality converters than it does via something mediocre.

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

Post by ersatzplanet » Tue Aug 25, 2020 4:08 pm

Here is a non-scientific test you can do to compare two converters. Play the same tracks off a vinyl record through them. That way you have an analogue source that is the same without changes in mic placement or room layouts. Choose different types of tracks with acoustic instruments or tracks you are very familiar with. With this method you can get as wide a bandwidth as the source allows, and the complexity of a finished piece with multiple instruments. this is not a technical approach though of course. It is just a easy way to compare.
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Gringo Starr » Mon Aug 31, 2020 2:20 am

All I know is that I went from RME UFX to a Burl ADC and there was without a doubt a difference in how things sounded after a few tracks were laid down.
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by slumberjack » Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:04 am

I'm now lusting after Focusrite ISA preamp with A/D conversion for the 8 BUS. Would it be an upgrade from the RME ADI-8 MK1 I'm using now?
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Re: Can you hear the difference between audio interface A/D converters?

Post by Standup » Wed Sep 02, 2020 1:50 pm

slumberjack wrote:
Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:04 am
I'm now lusting after Focusrite ISA preamp with A/D conversion for the 8 BUS. Would it be an upgrade from the RME ADI-8 MK1 I'm using now?
I personally doubt it. Not an upgrade. I have an ISA 428 with digital card, and the one I have is at least a 10-year-old design. But ISA sounds as good as my main converter, the main interface is a pretty recent MOTU 1248. And I’ve compared MOTU to an RME Babyface pro, the RME did not sound better. I feel like all these converters are on about the same level.

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

Post by francoprussian » Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:47 pm

Necrobump

I've done a lot of AB testing of the converters i have had on hand (DAC quality testing only, never done shootouts on the input side) and my finding is that, while there are potential differences, if the levels aren't properly matched one unit can easily sound 'night and day' compared to the other. Shows a lot about how sensitive hearing is to even tiny amounts of mismatch in dB. But once the levels were set correctly, subjective comparison became almost moot, and neither interface seemed clearly preferable. Decent speakers will make most mid-level interfaces sound as good as you could ever feasibly need, and are much more important for detail resolution in my experience, especially if your listening environment is sub-studio level (no treatment, bad monitor placement etc.)

There is something to be said for the high-end stuff in terms of the quality of the analogue design that your signal goes through on its way in and out, and the stability of connection to the computer, also modularity and maintainability. I've always regretted selling my Fireface 400, just because it was great to work with the RME system, even though i thought it sounded a little bit less glossy than the Metric Halo i replaced it with. The difference was not enormous and i could happily live with either. The ULN-2 has a much nicer panel layout, and is really quality hardware, but i preferred the digital control of the volume on the FF400 for some reason.

Now all my studio gear has been in storage for most of the year and i'm working on a little wooden desk, monitoring on Genelec 8010A's hooked up to my laptop with an Apogee Duet FW and it sounds bloody great. I have noticed more detail with this minimal set-up than with my old stuff (ULN-2, Yamaha MSP3/5s, good cabling and power distribution). Cost ~£450 seond-hand for the lot barring the expense of the computer which i already had. No room treatment, speakers sat on a load of cork Ikea pan coasters as makeshift decoupling. Great fun and it all fits in a (large) backpack. I think the Genelecs have made most of the difference, though the Duet is a very well-made interface and a steal at current prices.

Also i have to say that for the money they fetch nowadays, MOTU 828mk2s are incredible quality. I have worked on them quite a bit, and while there are design issues in the circuitry controlling the pre-amps and display backlight, the sound of the line conversion is about as good as you could ever get for ~£12.50 per channel. They can even be set up as an 8x8 ADAT converter without having to hook it up to the computer, all possible from the control panel. Plus there are tons of them about, and they are not too hard to fix (the crackling mic pre issue is unfortunately unfixable in any acceptable way but can be completely bypassed). The most enjoyable time i've had in a studio was using 828mk2 going into Genelec 80xx series monitors. The recordings are very clear (where the poor quality cabling didn't introduce ground hum!), and monitoring while recording was excellent.

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

Post by hsosdrum » Fri Dec 11, 2020 2:43 am

francoprussian wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:47 pm
Necrobump

I've done a lot of AB testing of the converters i have had on hand (DAC quality testing only, never done shootouts on the input side) and my finding is that, while there are potential differences, if the levels aren't properly matched one unit can easily sound 'night and day' compared to the other. Shows a lot about how sensitive hearing is to even tiny amounts of mismatch in dB. But once the levels were set correctly, subjective comparison became almost moot, and neither interface seemed clearly preferable. Decent speakers will make most mid-level interfaces sound as good as you could ever feasibly need, and are much more important for detail resolution in my experience, especially if your listening environment is sub-studio level (no treatment, bad monitor placement etc.)

There is something to be said for the high-end stuff in terms of the quality of the analogue design that your signal goes through on its way in and out, and the stability of connection to the computer, also modularity and maintainability. I've always regretted selling my Fireface 400, just because it was great to work with the RME system, even though i thought it sounded a little bit less glossy than the Metric Halo i replaced it with. The difference was not enormous and i could happily live with either. The ULN-2 has a much nicer panel layout, and is really quality hardware, but i preferred the digital control of the volume on the FF400 for some reason...
"DING-DING-DING-DING"! We have a winner! Audible differences between ADCs and DACs are always due to the implementation of their analog circuit paths. Audible differences between Unit A's digital circuitry and Unit B's digital circuitry are nil.

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

Post by hsosdrum » Fri Dec 11, 2020 2:46 am

hsosdrum wrote:
Fri Dec 11, 2020 2:43 am
francoprussian wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:47 pm
Necrobump

I've done a lot of AB testing of the converters i have had on hand (DAC quality testing only, never done shootouts on the input side) and my finding is that, while there are potential differences, if the levels aren't properly matched one unit can easily sound 'night and day' compared to the other. Shows a lot about how sensitive hearing is to even tiny amounts of mismatch in dB. But once the levels were set correctly, subjective comparison became almost moot, and neither interface seemed clearly preferable. Decent speakers will make most mid-level interfaces sound as good as you could ever feasibly need, and are much more important for detail resolution in my experience, especially if your listening environment is sub-studio level (no treatment, bad monitor placement etc.)

There is something to be said for the high-end stuff in terms of the quality of the analogue design that your signal goes through on its way in and out, and the stability of connection to the computer, also modularity and maintainability. I've always regretted selling my Fireface 400, just because it was great to work with the RME system, even though i thought it sounded a little bit less glossy than the Metric Halo i replaced it with. The difference was not enormous and i could happily live with either. The ULN-2 has a much nicer panel layout, and is really quality hardware, but i preferred the digital control of the volume on the FF400 for some reason...
"DING-DING-DING-DING"! We have a winner! Audible differences between ADCs and DACs are always due to the implementation of their analog circuit paths. Audible differences between Unit A's digital circuitry and Unit B's digital circuitry are nil.

And when performing A/B listening comparisons the levels must be matched to within 1/10th of a decibel for the comparison to be valid. Otherwise the human hearing mechanism always prefers the louder sound.

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

Post by hsosdrum » Fri Dec 11, 2020 2:50 am

francoprussian wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 7:47 pm
Necrobump

I've done a lot of AB testing of the converters i have had on hand (DAC quality testing only, never done shootouts on the input side) and my finding is that, while there are potential differences, if the levels aren't properly matched one unit can easily sound 'night and day' compared to the other. Shows a lot about how sensitive hearing is to even tiny amounts of mismatch in dB. But once the levels were set correctly, subjective comparison became almost moot, and neither interface seemed clearly preferable. Decent speakers will make most mid-level interfaces sound as good as you could ever feasibly need, and are much more important for detail resolution in my experience, especially if your listening environment is sub-studio level (no treatment, bad monitor placement etc.)

There is something to be said for the high-end stuff in terms of the quality of the analogue design that your signal goes through on its way in and out, and the stability of connection to the computer, also modularity and maintainability. I've always regretted selling my Fireface 400, just because it was great to work with the RME system, even though i thought it sounded a little bit less glossy than the Metric Halo i replaced it with. The difference was not enormous and i could happily live with either. The ULN-2 has a much nicer panel layout, and is really quality hardware, but i preferred the digital control of the volume on the FF400 for some reason...
"DING-DING-DING-DING"! We have a winner! Audible differences between ADCs and DACs are always due to the implementation of their analog circuit paths. Audible differences between Unit A's digital circuitry and Unit B's digital circuitry are nil (providing they both follow the same digital format — i.e. 24-bit/192kHz sampling, etc.).

And when performing A/B listening comparisons the levels must be matched to within 1/10th of a decibel for the comparison to be valid. Otherwise the human hearing mechanism always prefers the louder sound.

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

Post by naturligfunktion » Fri Dec 11, 2020 6:29 am

ersatzplanet wrote:
Tue Aug 25, 2020 4:08 pm
Here is a non-scientific test you can do to compare two converters. Play the same tracks off a vinyl record through them.
First thing I did when I upgraded my interface actually! Started off with On the Beach by Neil Young. A cliche, but I was blown away over how much better the new interface sounded.

It is also a good way to get comfortable with your studio sound: play records that you know sound good! If u are able to mimic that sound, your mix will sound nice
Uplifting music suitable for sunny days and relaxing afternoons:


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