Frankenstein Beast of a Digital/Analog Hybrid Studio

Bob Katz Leave a Comment

From: Leo Cottakis

Dear Bob,
I have been reading your articles at Digital Domain for some time now and I would like to tell you that I consider them an invaluable source of information for all things audio and an incredibly useful resource for the audio engineer. I particularly appreciate the way you discuss – or should I say, rightfully expose – the various manufacturer’s limitations and remove the “gold-dust-in-your-eyes” factor from the picture. All too often audio equipment manufacturers make us believe that their creations are the best thing under the sun only to discover that, under scrutiny their equipment should have probably not been released in the first place. I commend you on a very good effort and would love to see those articles coming.
I would value your detailed opinion on the following: I am in the process of putting together a project studio which will handle mostly classical work but also a combination of electronic/acoustic non pop&rock multitrack work. Quality and purity of tone is paramount and to that end I am proposing to put together a system based around a premium quality analogue desk, a 24 track HD recorder (RADAR II), some high quality outboard, good mics and mic pre’s and monitoring by Genelec and ATC.
The RADAR II is a 24/48 recorder.

The new Radar from IZ corporation claims to support higher sample rates. You should look into that.

I have evaluated other digital recorders and found the Radar to be somewhat closer to analogue 2”/30ips tape – at least in the bottom end – despite its 48khz limitation. During a typical multitrack session (analogue desk/digital recorder) a lot of ADA conversion is taking place between desk and recorder. Knowing that successive ADA conversions can degrade the signal could this eventually become a problem?

We’re currently in a hybrid world—Leo, and will be there for a long time. I feel that with the current state of the art in conversion (particularly at high sample rates/wordlengths) and with current “cheap and bad sounding DSP processing”, the losses due to degradation with a couple of extra conversions and an analog mix with a GREAT analog console are less than the losses with a bad digital console and DSP. This situation has changed with Moore’s law and now (2012), I would go with the digital mix over the analog mix. USING SOME GOOD ANALOG OUTBOARD gear for processing. Plenty of people still believe in the analog mix, for good reason, but I think it’s becoming less necessary if you have the best digital gear, recognize processor and plugin limitations, and supplement your outboard with good analog gear.

Is the previous statement true in this particular case? Radar converters are quite good especially if clocked properly. Could it be said that an analogue signal exiting a DAC (24/48) would somehow benefit from entering an all analogue chain prior to being converted back to digital for mixing down? In other words, would that signal be “enriched” by the addition of 2nd/3rd order harmonics potentially generated by an all-analogue mixing console which also has a better frequency  response (10Hz-50Khz)?

It’s now 2012 and my previous answer to your question leaned on the analog gear as being less harsh than the inferior digital processing. But as I said, this is no longer the rule. Now your chances of doing better with analog or digital depend far more on your skills. You still need a lot more skill to avoid digital problems, so if you feel less technically inclined, mix in analog. That’s my recommendation in 2012.
I have read your article on back to analogue and that resulted in me asking the question: Is properly aligned 2”/30ips with Dolby SR better sounding than good 24/48 digital processed through a very good analogue desk mixed onto Sadie and dithered to 16/44.1 using a good algorithm like Pow-R? Also, is that true of a second hand 2” MTR, however well maintained? I know these last two questions are very broad but can you nevertheless offer some feedback?

I am considering interfacing all my digital equipment via an AES patchbay using either an RJ45 unit or a Ghielmetti AES patchbay which is specially designed to handle high-rate AES digital audio. I am also considering using a Z-Sys router which will itself interface to the patchbay and into which signals from other points of the bay will be fed for routing splitting etc. Any potential problems here? Can you offer any feedback on Ghielmetti AES patchbays? Also, is there any real difference between good 110 Ohm AES cable and Belden Mediatwist?

For short runs, either 110 ohm AES or Mediatwist is fine. Mediatwist is cheap but good if you can terminate it properly and keep it from bending and twisting. I recommend a router over any patchbay for 110 ohm stuff. Skip the RJ-45…it’s not worth the trouble. Plug everything into the router and have the router feed an external XLR rack for interfacing ancillary digital gear. Avoid too many connectors in the signal path—since the XLR as you know is not true 110 ohm. Especially at high sample rates, it’s murder.

Are you working with high bit rate formats like DSD, SACD? Can you offer any comments, experiences, etc?

I’m working at high sample rate PCM but generally I’m not a DSD person, and it’s arguable whether that is higher resolution or just nice-sounding. I think that mid-rate DSD sounds a bit sweeter because it softens the transients. High-rate DSD seems to be about the same sonically as 192 kHz PCM to my ears. And the PCM is much easier to deal with.

I’m looking forward to your reply and thank you in advance for your time
Leo Cottakis

Hope this helps,


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