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High End Converters – It really doesn’t matter

UK based Pro Audio reseller MediaPros recently conducted a shootout of 4 high end AD/DA units. The units tested were: AVID HD IO; Digidesign 192; Apogee Symphony IO; Prism ADA 8XR. An online video of the event will be available on the MediaPros web site soon. Check out the story at the Sound On Sound website

The Results? Insignificant, and less of a difference than expected by those in attendance. All sounded so similar it took a while to discern a difference at all. It doesn’t matter which converter you get once you’re at that level of quality. Why obsess about which über expensive converter is the best? Must be one of those peen length compensation things guys seem to do.

There is of course an audible difference between Low-end converters, such as those built into a laptop, and mid-level converters such as in most audio interfaces over $200. There is a difference between the mid-level converters and high-end converters but it’s not as obvious as the marketing and price jump might lead you to believe.

Any modern converter should be adequate for making records, which one you use is far less important than mics, monitors, and acoustics for example. There are SO MANY things that can make an immediate and obvious difference to your audio that should be taken care of before even thinking about a converter upgrade.

Disagree? Leave your opinion in the comments below. ↓


  1. Sean
    Sean November 10, 2010

    I agree, however I wouldn’t turn down one of those nice converters 🙂

  2. Mike HIllier
    Mike HIllier November 12, 2010

    I do and I don’t disagree.

    To start positively, because I don’t want to be considered a troll. I think you’re absolutely right in your conclusion. The difference between a mid and high end converter is far smaller than the difference between a low and mid level converter, and the differences between high-level converters are smaller still. And once a certain benchmark has been reached new mics, pre’s, monitors, acoustics, etc will all make a bigger difference than a new converter.

    BUT; I take issue with the suggestion that the results of the test were Insignificant . All persons present at the test picked the newer converters, and the 192 came last. That sounds like a significant result to me. But then I studied stats at school, and maybe I’m just being picky over the use of that word.

    What I’d really like to take issue with is the methodology in the test, which I know full well had nothing to do with you.

    1) For the A-D test they used the analogue output of an HHB CD player. So the best possible result would have been a sample accurate 16/44 recreation of the original CD. A CD already coloured by who knows what converters. Would not an acoustic source multed to all four converters have made far more sense? Then you’re actually testing each converter’s ability to reproduce a true signal, not a 16/44 one.

    2) The outputs were fed through Studio A’s SSL 9000 where it was level-matched. That means into the patchbay, into the console, out to the amps and then back into the room to the monitors. That’s a lot of extra wire and components between the converter and your ears. Yes, I know that is only going to make a tiny difference, but at this level is that not what we’re judging things on?

    3) The A-D test doesn’t mention whether once converting to digital they used a single D-A to test playback, or whether they used the same converter for playback.

    4) A single A-D > D-A signal path is great, but many times you are going to record a signal, digitise it, then run it back out of the box for mixing, and back in. Then bounce down, before running it out of the box again for mastering and back in (and that’s assuming a best possible digital recording scenario). These successive conversions will have a cumulative negative effect on the signal, which isn’t tested for in this.

    Full disclosure: I am a former employee of Metropolis Studios and a contributor to Music Tech Magazine, a competitor of Sound On Sound.

  3. Rupert Brown
    Rupert Brown November 16, 2010

    I find this very interesting, I work with Hi-Fi geeks and conversion is big topic that guys spend thousands on. I had been woundering about the ability of the DAC on my humble £400 interface.

    That said I think I still need to do some tests for myself…

  4. Riley
    Riley December 3, 2010

    A lot of guys say its the clock that makes the difference, for example they find they get a wider mix with their apogee big ben compared to digi… whether its worth the money however is a another story

  5. mastering
    mastering March 11, 2011

    Yes, but what was to be expected of testing sets of upper mid/high end converters, they are all going to be good, choose your flavour of good thats all. cheers

  6. Dread nought
    Dread nought December 2, 2016

    That’s brilliant news for me, I can’t really afford anything better than an Antelope zen. There are many other things I invest in because I don’t track pure signal. But If making music was my source of income I would definitely invest in Armandalegtechique’s Expensivotron AD/DA and a dark matter clock.

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