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Point of high $$A/D/A in an all Virtual Instrument setup?


maestro2be

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Hi All,

 

I am hoping you all can help me understand how virtual instruments truly work in relation to soundcard. I am at the point of buying some new hardware (this discussion isn't about what hardware to buy) and just need help understanding what my need is. I can only do that when I understand this concept.

 

I do not do any live recording at the moment and live recording isn't my concern (at the moment). Literally 99.99% of all my work is done in a Logic or Sibelius. I then pipe out the midi information into samplers for the virtual instruments. Sometimes I use Gigastudio, sometimes I use my Garritan Libraries. So the questions are:

 

1. If I am running Logic and Garritan(Kontakt) on the same machine isn't everything I am doing literally just Digital signals bouncing all over the machine? I realize that my monitor jack on my soundcard is spitting out an analog image to my studio monitor speakers however, isn't everything before that (midi messages, garritan library, Logic virtual instrument trackes etc) all digital on my computer? There is absolutely no need for a bank breaking AD/DA in this setup is there?

 

2. If this is an all digital workspace I am using then what is the benefit of say using a Rosetta 200 fitted with an X-Symphony card attached to a Symphony Expresscard in my Macbookpro compared to just using a 250.00 M-Audio Firewire Audiophile?

 

3. How does using the cheaper 250.00 M-audio card differ from using the Rosetta 200 combo in the end result when I "bounce" the track (or mixdown depending what sequencer language you are used too) when there is no analog tracks and none of my Logic tracks were ever analog recorded sources? Since it is already ALL digital information (still waiting for someone to clarify this is the truth) does the Rosetta actually add any value to my final mixdown if all it is doing is combining 10-20 or 30 virtual instrument sounds into a stereo interleaved file?

 

I realize that if I had say an Ensemble or a Rosetta 200 setup I would get to HEAR a significant difference in my studio monitors (because the D/A is so superior to a 250.00 card as well as the internal clocking) however, the actual audio track itself should be pretty much the exact same either way or no? I mean if I bounce the track to a CD with a 250.00 card and then play the CD through my expensive audiophile system in my living room will it even notice that it wasn't a Rosetta that was in the mix?

 

Thanks so much in advance. You would think as long as I have been using virtual instruments I would have known this by now.

 

Maestro2be

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I realize that if I had say an Ensemble or a Rosetta 200 setup I would get to HEAR a significant difference in my studio monitors (because the D/A is so superior to a 250.00 card as well as the internal clocking) however, the actual audio track itself should be pretty much the exact same either way or no? I mean if I bounce the track to a CD with a 250.00 card and then play the CD through my expensive audiophile system in my living room will it even notice that it wasn't a Rosetta that was in the mix?

 

Thanks so much in advance. You would think as long as I have been using virtual instruments I would have known this by now.

 

Maestro2be

 

Using a lower grade audio interface will play a role when you do a mix-down. Just trying to make a mix translate well to other systems is enough reason to spend the extra cash on above average grade interface D/A. I dont see anything wrong with the m-audio . I have an audiophile 2496 PCI card on one of my older PC's and I have a MAC pro with a RME FW400 and can hear the difference between the two when I play music on each of them. I find that I need to raise my volume just a bit more when listening through the audiophile compared to my FW400.(this is listening to both MAC and PC through the same monitors.

 

 

I am not to savvy on technical details to explain any further because I am still learning myself . I will leave that up to the more experienced :)

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For bouncing AD/DA/clock jitter etc. don't play any role but

 

Using a lower grade audio interface will play a role when you do a mix-down. Just trying to make a mix translate well to other systems is enough reason to spend the extra cash on above average grade interface D/A.
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People imagine all sorts of differences between different pieces of equipment, different summing engines, sample rates, DA's, AD's yet, in blind tests,they cannot reliably distinguish between them - or say which is which.

 

If you're using a soundcard for monitoring, providing it is of decent quality, without any obvious faults - i,e, like 99% of budget soundcards on the market, it will be fine, and likely to be technically closer to theoretical perfection than all of the analogue links in your monitoring chain - amplifier and, in particular, speakers.

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have an audiophile 2496 PCI card on one of my older PC's and I have a MAC pro with a RME FW400 and can hear the difference between the two when I play music on each of them. I find that I need to raise my volume just a bit more when listening through the audiophile compared to my FW400.(this is listening to both MAC and PC through the same monitors.

 

Is there any chance your RME has a few dB higher output level than your Audiophile?

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have an audiophile 2496 PCI card on one of my older PC's and I have a MAC pro with a RME FW400 and can hear the difference between the two when I play music on each of them. I find that I need to raise my volume just a bit more when listening through the audiophile compared to my FW400.(this is listening to both MAC and PC through the same monitors.

 

Is there any chance your RME has a few dB higher output level than your Audiophile?

 

 

There may very well be. Like I said I am still learning and getting familiar with this as-well. The out-put of my audiophile is inputed to the RME . Both cards are set to 0db, I know that not saying much but overall the sound,clarity and richness between the two are different to my ears. Just like music sounds different from system to system.

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Hi!

As has been said, if you are all ITB, then it is the quality of the DAC (IMO) that *can* make a difference. So long as it is of good quality or better, the room and monitor (monitoring environment, to be more general) is SOOOO much more important IMO.

 

oh- and sorry, but I can hear the difference between certain I/O boxes. I have owned too many over the years. As an example, I A/B'd a Digi 192 and a Digi 96. To me, the difference was enough that I would throw the extra cash down for the 192..and my uses are *limited* to a max 96k, with 44.1k being the norm for me, with occassional 48k use. I even tried both with a Big Ben as the clock; different sound, but not necessarily "better;" maybe even...erm...smeared slightly? Which might have made it sound *better*, in context, with that material. While I do not find the more recent MOTU stuff as objectionable as some will proclaim (some with great disgust), and ditto for much (all?) of the M-Aduio line, I have found certain brands at certain price points to have provided me an easier and more enjoyable experience as a point of reference. IOW, I would love to sit here and use something like a Weiss setup, but while I would notice the difference if I went immediately to a top-end MOTU several minutes later, I wouldn't be that upset and not be able to mix well enough to translate decently... If I won the lottery though, I would have several Weiss or comparable units sitting in my rack in a heartbeat, chosen over MOTU or M-Audio or Digi. Next tier would be Lavry, Mytek, and prolly Apogee I guess...although I find Apogee to have a cool colouring for doing rock...so I wish I could afford to throw a nice Symphony rig in my Mac Pro and front it with ADx/DAx hehehe ;) :D

 

Bottom-line: if your mixes are translating well, then you already have something that is working for you. Improving it would solely be your opinion...but, I am a believer that sometimes something can broaden horizons, open new doors, etc. Not always good, or bad ;)

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...although I find Apogee to have a cool colouring for doing rock...

 

The purple, or the brushed aluminum?

 

Even when working with a totally 'virtual' setup, every decision you make (about sounds, FX, balance, etc, etc.) is based on what your ears hear. So the better (ie. more detailed, more accurate) your monitoring setup is, the better able you will be to make these decisions.

 

Get a good 2 channel DA, like a Benchmark or a Lavry. Get a good passive monitor controller, and some good monitors. You will hear things in your material that you have never heard before, right away. I swear.

 

And then say a prayer of thanks that this is the way you like to work, not recording live instruments and mixing them to an analogue console. Working like you do, you can spend top dollar on a few pieces of hardware and be done with it, rather than the 24-of-everything game that I'm involved in.

 

Not that I'd have it any other way.

 

Best, Marcel

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Thanks for all the responses. Apologies for not responding myself earlier but I am new here and forgot to turn on email notification so I didn't even realize people were responding.

 

This weekend I spent my time comparing mixes and the difference between some of the DAC's I have in my home. Here is what I found.

 

1. My Hammerfall DSP Multiface definitely has a better sounding DAC then my M-Audio Firewire Audiophile. Only problem is it isn't MacBookPro compliant since it is CardBus PCMCIA and not Expresscard so that is not an option. I used my super Gigastudio machine to playback the same track via my Multiface and then my Mac through the M-Audio Audiophile. There was definitely a difference in them when they were respectively doing the D/A locally and sending out analog signals to my pre-amp and onwards to my speakers.

 

2. I then did some testing of the actual DAC inside my pre-amp/processor. I sent BOTH machines out Digital SPDIF only, the same information. This time is was absolutely impossible to tell which one was which. What I did was setup 2 inputs on my processor with exactly the same settings. The only difference was one was digital input 1 and the other digital input 2. This allowed me to instantly flip back and forth between the two soundcards playing the same track. So it was quite apparent that there is little if no difference what so ever when you are simply using the soundcard as a SPDIF digital output path. This was good news to me.

 

3. So then I thought hmm. This DAC in this processor (Theta Casablanca standard DAC, not the superior or extreme option that I could get, it isn't even a balanced version) sounds very good and very smooth. So I decided I would take it up against my Hammerfall Toe to Toe. I set my Hammerfall out to analog outputs 1 and 2 and plugged them into Analog input 1 on my Processor. I then set the input to use pass-through mode which simply allows the signal to go right on by with no conversions or changes. Just a straight shot to my speaker outputs. I then also setup my Hammerfall to use its SPDIF output. So effectively it is sending the signal out analog outputs 1 and 2, as well as a digital signal through SPDIF. I then plugged in the SPDIF to digital input 1. I set it to just stereo mode with ZERO processing or alterations to the sound.

 

Then I had 4 friends come over and also my girlfriend sat there while we did the testing. I turned off the display on the Processor so that no one could see which one I was using so that they didn't give me a biased answer. (2 of these people are in pro-audio at Guitar Center and the 3rd is a concert pianist, the last person is my neighbor who plays electric guitar). I put in some classical music and piano recordings and not one person, not one including myself and my girlfriend every chose the hammerfall. The Theta D/A was so much smoother and less harsh and had better detail. When they found out it wasn't my Hammerfall DAC that they liked more they all left questioning their gear (since one of them is an owner of the Multiface, it is how I learned about it and bought mine from him at Guitar Center).

 

Instantly I thought myself that I could easily do this rig with the equipment I have. In my main listening room I have a complete 5.1 surround sound of Active ATC 20's and 2 600 Watt Subs and a Meridian 861 Processor with fully balanced outputs. ATC's are knows as some of the best studio monitors in the world. I plugged in my SPDIF into this system and we all say there going oh my god, this is amazing and was light years even better then my Theta was (not a fair comparison though since my Theta has the cheapest DAC's available for the unit and my Meridian has the most expensive ones).

 

Without spending one more dollar, I could get all of my preliminary work done, tracked and record all my instruments etc just as I do now and then take my MacBookPro out there, connect the SPDIF output of the M-Audio Audiophile to my processor and finalize my mix there. It didn't really ever dawn on me to do this until I heard how much better my Meridian processer was then my Hammerfall.

 

Thanks again for all the posts and help. I can clearly see how a better DAC can help your final mix.

 

Maestro2be

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