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Microphone Month 5


A/D – D/A Converter specs versus “sound.”

Here’s a question that is indicative of many we get, and the confusion over specs versus sound: “In the land of A/D and D/A conversion there is a range of specs such as 16, 18, 20, and 24 bits; x8, x64, x128 oversampling and 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz clock rates. Question is when you take these into account for say a mixer and try to relate them to audio quality it gets difficult. Some of the audio specs (THD, crosstalk, etc.) do not appear to always correlate to the conversion specs. I know bits = overhead, and clock should be twice the highest frequency to be sampled but that does not really help in assessing equipment quality. Of course the other problem is the way in which the audio specs are measured in the first place! In the final analysis it is what the ears hear that counts but it would be nice to have some sort of guide that could give you a relative idea of how these interplay and their affect on quality.” First we need to get clear on what bits and sampling rates do. Bits, or the bit depth of each digital word determines the theoretical dynamic range, and the resolution of each sample taken. Sampling rate is how often these samples are taken and has a direct affect on the highest frequencies able to be recorded and reproduced. Both of these things obviously affect sound quality. All other things being equal, more of both is better. The problem is, all other things are NEVER equal. There are a myriad of other factors that enter in to the way gear “sounds.” The overall quality of the analog parts of gear and the stability of the digital clocks (jitter) are examples of factors that are outside of the bit and sampling rate specs that will affect the performance of digital equipment. Subjective tests show that, in practice, the gear with the better specs doesn’t always sound better.Gear specs have never been a very good (or objective) way to assess the “sound quality” of equipment. They can provide a glimpse into some specific aspects of functionality, but beyond that they really have to be taken lightly. The good news is that just about all of the equipment being sold today as professional equipment is technically very good. At this point it’s really more a matter of subjective personal preferences than anything. Of course the only sure way to figure out if YOU like the way something sounds is to use it. This is actually one of the reasons why we pioneered the “no hassle” return policy a few years ago. We (and you) get as close as we can through our experience and your questions and concerns up front, but end the end you have to put equipment into your studio and work with it before you really know. The big advantage we have is that we are around this stuff all the time and over time we do begin to make our own subjective assessments of what is good and bad about each piece. These have nothing to do with specs. They come more from using them ourselves, and from talking to thousands of users who are using them every day. This is a perfect way to illustrate our claim that catalogs and Web pages are not enough to properly sell this type of technology. It is still subjective in the end and you need a salesperson you can trust. That is a big part of the Sweetwater difference.

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