Choosing The Right Converter For Your Studio
Here at Vintage King, we often get asked, "What is the best converter?” The answer to that depends largely on your setup, budget and the type of work you primarily focus on. Ask yourself, what is your main concern? Pro Tools connectivity? Networkable workflow? Ultimate sound quality? Compatibility with your existing computer/DAW rig? Are you simply looking for a budget-friendly all-in-one native interface? Not one single solution really tackles all of these concerns, but the good news is that there are a plethora of options and we can help you hone in on the perfect solution to suit your specific needs.
Connectivity is a hot topic nowadays as the options on the market continue to expand. For professional users, Avid Digilink connectivity (via Avid HDX and HD Native systems) is the most common approach as it allows for full use of HD level software features within Pro Tools. While Avid makes fantastic sounding interfaces with their current HD I/O series (a massive improvement over the previous generation 192 I/O's), there are many Digilink compatible solutions made by third-party manufacturers as well. Burl Audio, Apogee Digital, Prism Sound, Lynx Studio Technology, Focusrite and Merging Technologies all have solutions for various budget levels and configuration requirements that will work flawlessly with an Avid HDX or HD Native system.
The Burl B80 Mothership has been particularly popular as a third party solution for use with HDX and HD native systems for those with a desire (and budget) for ultimate sound quality. The Burl's all discrete Class A analog electronics puts it in a class of its own from a topology standpoint and you'll see that many of today's top producers and engineers choose Burl as their go-to converter of choice. Apogee has seen renewed interest lately in their much-praised Symphony I/O series with the recent release of their MKII series of streamlined interfaces, which feature improved connectivity options and upgraded AD/DA electronics.
As the gold standard for many, Prism Sound is known for being very transparent and offering true to life sonic qualities. Even though the venerable ADA8-XR has been around a decade at this stage, it's truly reached "classic" status, a rarity in terms of digital technology. Their Atlas, Titan and Lyra series carry the torch in pared down more budget friendly offerings with the same commitment to sound quality. Last but not least, Lynx manufacturers some of the best HD and HDX compatible converters from a "bang for buck" standpoint; known for transparency, rock solid stability and reliability, the Aurora series continues to be a popular option.
What about the new generation of networkable interfaces? New technologies such as Dante, Digigrid and Ravenna are hot, especially in live, post, film, and video game production environments where multi-user/multi-room workflows and low latency transfer of many tracks on a single Cat 5 cable over long distances makes it an attractive solution. Initially championed by Focusrite (Dante), Merging Technologies (Ravenna) and Waves Audio (Digigrid), more recently Solid State Logic (Dante) and Burl (Dante and Digigrid) have thrown their hat in the ring.
Focusrite's series of RedNet converters has seen the most widespread adoption amongst the available options to date. With a full series of interface configurations including Avid HD integration to their Dante network, you can compile a system of astounding versatility for even the most complex workflows at a relatively accessible price point. The Waves Digigrid protocol, developed primarily for their series of low-latency DSP-based plug-In hosting processors, has impressive specs and their digital interfacing solutions can be used to interface AD/DA conversion of your choice. Burl recently announced that they would develop a Digigrid based version of their B80 Mothership, which would bring low latency networkable protocol to their exceptional sounding platform.
In mastering and classical recording circles, the Merging Technologies Horus and HAPI units are king. Using the Ravenna protocol, a lesser adopted but well-integrated technology similar to Dante, these units offer unparalleled levels of transparency with the added bonus of internal mic preamps. Popular for high-level performance venues, especially in Europe, you can place a number of units side stage at a performance hall, run your mics direct into the units and stream dozens of tracks across the venue over a simple Cat 5 cable with very low latency and incredibly precise sonics. It should be noted that Focusrite's RedNet series will allow for this same arrangement as will SSL's brand new series of Dante-based converters, which come in two configurations both a 16 channel mic/line input or a 8 mic/line input, 8 line output configuration. Aimed at the live sound market, this new series from SSL with its high quality 9000 series mic preamp on each channel could be the perfect high-tech solution for a modern studio environment as well.
Don't think that the streamlined workflows that networkable interfaces can bring or the ability to connect directly to Avid HDX or HD Native systems are of key importance to you? Then there are still dozens of amazing native based interface options centered primarily around Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connectivity. Universal Audio has revolutionized the project and home studio markets with their Apollo series of interfaces. With offerings from scaled down to full featured, at all types of price points, the Apollo series has one key difference that sets them apart and that's onboard DSP processing that will host dozens of proprietary plug-ins which are considered some of the industry's best. At a price point previously unheard of they offer conversion, DSP plug-in processing and simple control room monitoring functionality in one compact unit which features either Thunderbolt or USB connectivity; your choice depending on whether you run a Mac or PC platform.
Antelope Audio has been raising the heat lately, adding DSP accelerated proprietary plug-in functionality to their more recent interface offerings. The Orion series by Antelope has been a favorite of those looking for a lot of quality analog I/O for an affordable price per channel. The new Zen Studio and Goliath are certainly worth a look for native users, especially those looking for expanded mic preamp inputs within a single native interface. The sound quality these units bring to the table is truly stunning and to pack all of the features and functionality that they provide at the price point makes them a top value for the native project studio. Don't forget also to check out Apogee’s Duet, Quartet and Ensemble series, the Lynx Hilo, Mytek 8x192, Metric Halo interfaces and the external USB-based converters by Dangerous Music and Benchmark. For ultra high-end mastering grade stereo conversion look at Weiss Engineering DAC2 and DAC1-MKIII, Burl's B2 Bomber series and Lavry Engineering's AD122-96MX as well.
There are more excellent options that we've not had space to touch on here so if you want to discuss conversion one-on-one with a Vintage King digital conversion expert, please give us a call at 888.653.1184 or email anytime for a free one-on-one consultation!