Black Lion Audio are a company who provide upgrade modifications for a variety of audio interfaces with the intention of improving sonic quality.
After all a lot of audio hardware is built down to a price rather than up to a spec and Black Lion have realised that by performing mods such as swapping chips in units for better quality versions could make a difference to the sound. However these mod’s do of course void any manufacturer’s warranty.
What caught our attention was the description of the mods they are offering for the new Avid HD interface range, Black Lion’s comments on the choice of components and design for the new Avid interfaces compared to the older ‘blue fronted’ interfaces makes some interesting reading.
This is what they say on their site….
Clocking - no change
Avid haven’t chosen to improve the clocking circuitry in the new interfaces.
Like most converters released under the Digi/Avid name, clocking architecture is based on the standard HC49 crystals in Pierce-Gate configuration. This is the same clock found in the 002, 003, 96IO, and blue Digi HD box.
A to D - less good
In their opinion the new interfaces use an analog to digital convertor that isn’t as good as the blue interfaces.
We were disappointed to see that the A/D converter was built around the CS5381 A/D chip, since this chip does not offer as good of performance as the AK5394 chip used in the older blue devices.
D to A - better quality
Black Lion concede that the digital to analog converter in the new interfaces is better than the blue interfaces.
D/A conversion is built around the Texas Instruments PCM1794 converter chip, which offers improved dynamic range performance over the Cirrus Logic D/A chip found in the blue Digi boxes. What’s nice about the PCM1794 is its on-chip conversion design as well as the way the filters are etched into the semi conductive substrate; this makes it a favorite among design heavyweights whose opinion we respect.
No copper shielding
Avid have dropped the copper shielding in the new interfaces.
Sadly the new Avid boxes omit the wonderful copper shielding of their predecessor; something we imagine is a cost-saving move.
Analog paths - less good
Black Lion believe the analog paths are not as good as the older interfaces.
Analog path in the new black boxes is not nearly as impressive as the older design, with most of the path built around the NE5532, Burr Brown OPA2227 and OPA4134. These are decent enough amplifiers, but we think that better options exist.
I have to say as an early adopter of HDX and an owner of an 8x8x8 interface these revelations, if accurate, (remember that Black Lion Audio are selling upgrades and we have no independent supporting evidence of their claims) are disappointing to say the least.
The analog input circuitry and analog to digital convertors affect the sonic quality for all users who record into Pro Tools via their interface and to see a choice to reduce the quality for a product they are selling as ‘better’ is a real shame.
For anyone mixing in the box the quality of the D to A convertors only affects what we listen to. It won’t affect the final output, unless we end up playing it out of Pro Tools via the analog outputs to another device. This means the improvements in the D to A convertors will have less impact for ITB users. However for those who use Pro Tools as a ‘tape machine’ and still run audio through a desk, and most film work is still done like this, these improvements will have an positive impact on the sound of our work.
The opportunity to benefit from newer clocking circuitry is an opportunity missed. Clocking in digital systems is of huge importance and the stability of that clock can have real impact on the sonic quality of the sound.
There are my observations, what do you think?