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Sorry, I Still Don’t Get It
Old 26th June 2022
  #1
Sorry, I Still Don’t Get It

Okay, I’ll try to understand this once and for all. There are two things that still mystify me about audio recording:

1) Why are the terms “interface” and “converter” so imprecise?
2) Why is the idea of a sub $500 A/D converter so often met with incredulity?

Let’s begin with my first point. In stereo components, there’s no such imprecision. There are tuners, preamplifiers, and power amplifiers. If you want a device that combines a preamp and a power amp, then you want an integrated amplifier. If you want an integrated amp that also includes a tuner, then you want a receiver. No knowledgeable audiophile intermixes these terms willy-nilly. No one calls a stereo preamp an integrated amplifier.

Yet when it comes to audio conversion, be it an ADC, DAC, or a device that combines preamps with A/D conversion, these are all often called “interface” or “converter.” (Don’t get me started on “sound card.”) Each of these devices has a distinct function. Yet they’re all lumped together under the same term.

So if someone has, for example, a Focusrite Clarett and asks for an A/D converter recommendation, he’s inevitably told: “you already have an A/D converter.” If he clarifies that he wants a stand-alone A/D converter, he’s often met with incredulous skepticism.

Which raises my second point. In stereo equipment, no one finds it odd that someone wants to move from a receiver to a separate preamp, power amp, and tuner. And no one finds it odd that someone wants to keep the price of each separate component below $1,000. But in audio recording, someone who asks for an A/D converter below $1,000 often is treated like a fool.

Why? We frequently hear of those who experiment with different mics and preamps to suit the music they’re recording. Isn’t this easier when not chained to a preamp/converter combo (like the Focusrite Clarett)? And frankly, this is taken for granted with pricey preamps. If you have an Avalon V55 or Millennia HV-3C, you’ll need an A/D converter to run it into a computer DAW. So why is it laughable for someone to want an A/D converter at a price commensurate with an ART Pro MPA II or SPL Goldmike 9844?

I’ve raised this question before on Gearspace. And it’s not uncommon for a newbie to be confused by something experts easily understand. I’m open to the possibility that this applies to me. But I honestly don’t get it. So I’ll appreciate your patience and understanding as we hash through it yet again.
Old 26th June 2022
  #2
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thedberg's Avatar
1. Why people use certain words for pieces gear is probably beyond the scope of Gearspace. It about etymology, sociology, marketing, habit etc etc. I think that question is best left alone 😊.

2. If someone berates you for wanting converters under 1000$ he/she is a snob. We all have different budgets. Great music can be made with cheap gear. (But with the proper monitoring and trained ears maybe expensive converters will make a tiny bit more great.)
Old 26th June 2022
  #3
Lives for gear
 
I'm going to go out on a stretch and say that if you sent the signal from a U87 through an Avalon and then used 1) a Focusrite interface as your A/D conversion and 2) a Prism Lyra 2 as your A/D conversion - in a blindfold test, I doubt many would reliably be able to tell the difference.

Be that as it may, think of dedicated converters as interfaces, and interfaces with mic preamps as converters.
Old 26th June 2022
  #4
Gear Guru
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
1) Why are the terms “interface” and “converter” so imprecise?
They're not really that imprecise in my opinion. The interface interfaces with the computer. The converter converts a signal.

Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
when it comes to audio conversion, be it an ADC, DAC, or a device that combines preamps with A/D conversion, these are all often called “interface” or “converter.” (Don’t get me started on “sound card.”) Each of these devices has a distinct function. Yet they’re all lumped together under the same term.
Surely it can't be news to you that people use words very thoughtlessly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
my second point. In stereo equipment, no one finds it odd that someone wants to move from a receiver to a separate preamp, power amp, and tuner. And no one finds it odd that someone wants to keep the price of each separate component below $1,000. But in audio recording, someone who asks for an A/D converter below $1,000 often is treated like a fool.
Actually, I find that a lot of people that ask for a cheap converter get the best advice that other posters can come up with, which is a make/model roughly in that price range. I feel like I see that repeatedly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
We frequently hear of those who experiment with different mics and preamps to suit the music they’re recording. Isn’t this easier when not chained to a preamp/converter combo (like the Focusrite Clarett)? And frankly, this is taken for granted with pricey preamps. If you have an Avalon V55 or Millennia HV-3C, you’ll need an A/D converter to run it into a computer DAW. So why is it laughable for someone to want an A/D converter at a price commensurate with an ART Pro MPA II or SPL Goldmike 9844?
It's not laughable, it's just questionable whether or not it's a reasonable use of money.

A Clarett is like 500, and an ART Pro MPA II is about the same (if my search is correct), but then the preamps you're talking about are quite a bit more expensive. I'm not saying the ART isn't a good converter, but I think to a lot of people it won't seem like a significant enough upgrade from the Clarett to justify it just so you can run a much higher-end mic pre into it. Know what I mean?

It'd make more sense to some people if the person asked "Hey, I've gotten my hands on a great mic pre and now I want to upgrade my conversion - do I keep my Clarett and buy a freestanding converter or do I sell the Clarett and buy a new interface?"

To me it'd make more sense (probably) to sell the cheap interface and then take that money and put it into a better interface with better conversion.

Again though, I'm not 100% sure about prices, just illustrating what I think people see as just not a worthwhile investment.

---------

EDIT: I re-read your post and I guess you're saying the person would get an ART instead of Clarett. I stand by what I said earlier though and that's that it might be worth it to spend more. Of course if a person doesn't have the money then that's really not an options so... 'whatever'.
Old 27th June 2022
  #5
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
Okay, I’ll try to understand this once and for all. There are two things that still mystify me about audio recording:

1) Why are the terms “interface” and “converter” so imprecise?
They aren't "imprecise." They're just more general terms. This is a very common thing in language. For example, "gear" is also an umbrella term which applies to various different things. Same with "food." And "sports."

Quote:
2) Why is the idea of a sub $500 A/D converter so often met with incredulity?
Where? Here? I haven't noticed that to be often at all, but that's just my experience/impression. The snobbish yahoos will always be with us, but I do think they're the exception, not the rule.
Old 27th June 2022
  #6
Lives for gear
 
You'll rarely see the more experienced golden-eared types chip in during a blind test - other than when the results is already known so they can pick on whatever is perceived to be the cheap nasty option. In truth, unless they are a/b'ing in a controlled environment and get to learn the sonic footprint of "a" over "b" - they wouldn't be able to tell the difference or reliably tell you which is which in a normal listening environment like the rest of us.

Cheap gear used to sound horrible - now it's remarkably good. I haven't heard what I'd regard as a bad converter for well over a decade.
Old 27th June 2022 | Show parent
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by bill 5
They aren’t “imprecise.” They’re just more general terms. This is a very common thing in language. For example, “gear” is also an umbrella term which applies to various different things. Same with “food.” And “sports.”
I understand your point. But why should be “converter” be imprecise? Indeed, in one sense, it’s not. No one would call an RME ADI-2 Pro FS a “preamp.” So why call a preamp/converter combo (like the RME Babyface Pro) a converter? That’s only half its function. It’s not just a converter—it’s a preamp and converter. The preamp and converter serve entirely different functions. I can see calling it an “audio interface.” Yet this term is also sometimes used for the ADI-2 Pro FS. And doing so routinely creates confusion. More than once, I’ve seen people respond to discussions of an unfamiliar audio interface by asking if it has a preamp. So obviously I’m not the only who finds it confusing that “audio interface” is used so loosely.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasync
I’m not saying the ART isn’t a good converter, but I think to a lot of people it won’t seem like a significant enough upgrade from the Clarett to justify it just so you can run a much higher-end mic pre into it. Know what I mean?
You’ve inadvertently illustrated my point. The ART Pro MPA II has no built-in conversion. So why call it a converter? Not trying to be snippy—just saying.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob 28
I’m going to go out on a stretch and say that if you sent the signal from a U87 through an Avalon and then used 1) a Focusrite interface as your A/D conversion and 2) a Prism Lyra 2 as your A/D conversion—in a Blindfold test, I doubt many would reliably be able to tell the difference.
As you well know, listening tests can be unreliable. Some years ago I did a blind test with three hand made guitars—one of the three was mine. An excellent guitarist played each guitar while I listened with my back turned, so I couldn’t see. We were in a living room. I correctly identified all three guitars. Some time later this same guitarist tried out several guitars in a large and reverberant hall. Again, my guitar was among the ones he was trying out. This time I failed to correctly identify my own guitar. My suspicion is that I can identify my guitar when it’s played in a familiar space. But when it’s played in a concert hall—something I don’t do every day—then I’m less likely to recognize it.

As it happens, I’ve done almost exactly the test you described above. I ran an outboard preamp through a Focusrite Scarlett. The sound was noticeably different from when I ran the preamp through an Apogee Mini-Me. (At least to me.) But I did this test playing a familiar guitar into familiar mics in a familiar environment. I’ve done hundreds of recordings with this guitar, these mics, and this location. So would I have heard a difference between the Scarlett and the Mini-Me if I did the test with some other instrument, mics, and location? I dunno.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc
Surely it can’t be news to you that people use words very thoughtlessly.
It’s not. But it’s surprising when knowledgeable people employ confusing terminology. One would think that, among experts, precision is a prized virtue.
Old 27th June 2022 | Show parent
  #8
Gear Guru
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
You’ve inadvertently illustrated my point. The ART Pro MPA II has no built-in conversion. So why call it a converter? Not trying to be snippy—just saying.
I called it a converter because I read your post and for some reason thought you used it as an example of a converter. Now that I'm re-reading your post I don't really see your point at all. I looked up the ART and only looked at price and thought it was a converter and that's why you'd combine it with the mic pres - as I mentioned in my edit.

Are you asking why someone would frown upon spending a lot on one thing and little on another, or spending little on both?

I think my basic point stands, I just don't see what you're getting at. I don't recall a lot of people looking down upon people that don't want to spend a lot of money.

And from a practical standpoint I also am not convinced that you'll find that many converters that aren't also interfaces at low prices that are better value than just getting an interface with conversion, and possibly also with mic pres built-in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
It’s not. But it’s surprising when knowledgeable people employ confusing terminology. One would think that, among experts, precision is a prized virtue.
K. Take it to the moan zone then. Or complain to people as you seem them misuse terminology.

I just don't see the point of this thread in this section I guess...
Old 27th June 2022 | Show parent
  #9
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
I understand your point. But why should be “converter” be imprecise? Indeed, in one sense, it’s not. No one would call an RME ADI-2 Pro FS a “preamp.” So why call a preamp/converter combo (like the RME Babyface Pro) a converter?
I have never seen that RME unit referred to in that way...I guess "ymmv."

Quote:
That’s only half its function. It’s not just a converter—it’s a preamp and converter. The preamp and converter serve entirely different functions. I can see calling it an “audio interface.” Yet this term is also sometimes used for the ADI-2 Pro FS.
I've never seen it referred to that way. Where did you see this? Here?

Quote:
More than once, I’ve seen people respond to discussions of an unfamiliar audio interface by asking if it has a preamp. So obviously I’m not the only who finds it confusing that “audio interface” is used so loosely.
Again I'm not seeing that. If people don't know what "audio interface" means, that's on them, not the terminology.
Old 27th June 2022
  #10
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Korcraft's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
It seems your entire issue stems from the fact that sometimes people call interfaces convertors.

Interface is not an imprecise term at all. It is used exactly the way you described stereo equipment.

And interface is a specific thing. I don't think I have ever heard anyone call a preamp and interface...or a DAC an interface.

So that word can be removed from your list entirely.

I would say that sometimes people call and interface a convertor. But it isn't wrong. Sure it isn't JUST a convertor...but it is a convertor. And I would argue the main function of an interface is to be a convertor. It isn't to be a preamp...it has preamps...but it would never be used as exclusively a preamp. However...the preamps would be not used on their own. They would almost always be used along with the conversion function of the interface.

So when someone says "connect your external preamp to the line input on your convertor" there is nothing inprecise there. In that case, the interface is functioning exclusively as a convertor.

But aside from all that...

Its as Bill5 said...the idea that terms are used generally is not uncommon...even in stereo equipment.

The idea that no one would ever call X a Y in the stereo realm is completely subjective to your biased perception of how stereo/audeophiles speak compared to your perception of how recording people speak.
Old 28th June 2022 | Show parent
  #11
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Korcraft ➡️
I would say that sometimes people call and interface a convertor.
I'd say that's extremely rare at most and I don't recall ever seeing it here.

Quote:
But it isn't wrong. Sure it isn't JUST a convertor...but it is a convertor.
I disagree; it is wrong. That's like saying "a car is an engine but isn't just an engine."

Maybe this is getting a bit pedantic, but a converter is part of an interface. The terms aren't interchangeable.
Old 28th June 2022
  #12
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Converters send an audio format to the computer. AES, SPDIF, ADAT, MADI. That goes into a PCIe card.

An Interface uses the build in format of USB, Firewire, Network, Thunderbolt, etc...

All else equal, converters are better than an interface.
Old 28th June 2022 | Show parent
  #13
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Korcraft's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bill5 ➡️
I'd say that's extremely rare at most and I don't recall ever seeing it here.

I disagree; it is wrong. That's like saying "a car is an engine but isn't just an engine."

Maybe this is getting a bit pedantic, but a converter is part of an interface. The terms aren't interchangeable.
It may be extremely rare. That was my point. It is the OP that is making this claim. I am simply conceding that that might happen sometimes.

I don't think it's like calling a car an engine.

Again. That is the claim the OP is making which you have already disagreed with earlier, and now you seem to be agreeing.

I was simply agreeing with your original sentiment that the OP is acting like they have never experienced language before and can't seem to fathom how a person can use two terms interchangeably even if one is not quite as accurate as the other or perhaps not even perfect. That happens all the time.

If you and I were talking about something to do with recording and I referred to your interface as a convertor...chances are you would still understand what I am saying and it wouldn't impede our conversation from moving forward. They are related enough that it would make sense still in context.

Even if I said "plug your mic into your preamp on channel 1" if the only preamps you have are a part of your interface...in that context you would still understand what I was telling you to plug your mic into.

Using language in this way is extremely common and I believe that was the exact point you yourself were trying to make earlier.
Old 28th June 2022 | Show parent
  #14
Gear Guru
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by elegentdrum ➡️
Converters send an audio format to the computer. AES, SPDIF, ADAT, MADI. That goes into a PCIe card.
I don't agree. RME for example had converters that had digital audio inputs and digital audio outputs. Same with ADDA converters that only output a digital audio signal and do not connect to a computer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Korcraft ➡️
I would say that sometimes people call and interface a convertor. But it isn't wrong. Sure it isn't JUST a convertor...but it is a convertor.
I also think people say "converter" or "conversion" and then just omit "in the interface" because it's cumbersome to include all terms when what you want to talk about is just the conversion part of the interface (assuming the interface also converts, which it may or may not do).
Old 28th June 2022
  #15
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thedberg's Avatar
Lol. The very first response (made by me) said a discussion about language is pointless. And sure enough - all follow ups are about language and are pointless (ie: hardly clarifies and don’t bring consensus)
Old 28th June 2022
  #16
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apartment dog's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
I think it's better not to try to make sense of the quirks of human behaviour and stick with what makes sense and can get you further. Forget about the unexplainable, filter it out. Makes life much easier and more focussed.
Old 2nd July 2022
  #17
Gear Guru
 
🎧 20 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal56 ➡️
1) Why are the terms “interface” and “converter” so imprecise?
They are not. A converter converts analog signals into digital signals or vice versa. And that's all it does. An interface gets that digital signal into or out of the computer. Just because you have "converted" an analog signal to a digital signal does not mean you can always just "plug" that digital signal directly into your computer. And how about hearing what the hell you are getting? That's what an interface is for.

Quote:
2) Why is the idea of a sub $500 A/D converter so often met with incredulity?
you already asked this in your other thread and you were already told why. There is very little demand for a stand alone converter at that price point. And you still need an interface!

The economy of scale makes it so that it is cheaper for the manufacturers to include the preamps, the converters and the interfacing inside one box. If you want a "sub $500" converter, buy one of these interfaces and don't use the preamps. Simple as that.

Quote:
Yet when it comes to audio conversion, be it an ADC, DAC, or a device that combines preamps with A/D conversion, these are all often called “interface” or “converter.”
Every interface includes a converter, but not every converter is an interface. In fact, many stand-alone converters have only an AES/EBU output. They are not "interfaces". Does your computer come with an AES input? I doubt it. So you will still need an interface if you expect to plug that converted signal into your computer.
Quote:
So if someone has, for example, a Focusrite Clarett and asks for an A/D converter recommendation, he’s inevitably told: “you already have an A/D converter.”
Because you do, it's included in your interface! You can plug your preamp into the line inputs of your interface, and the converter inside your interface converts it. Then it also sends it into your computer.

Quote:
If he clarifies that he wants a stand-alone A/D converter, he’s often met with incredulous skepticism.
You are met with skepticism because you demand an inexpensive stand-alone A/D converter. There are very few made. And you somehow have this idea that you can plug that stand-alone converter straight into your computer, and you probably can't. If you could, it would be an "interface", not a "stand-alone converter".

Quote:
Why? We frequently hear of those who experiment with different mics and preamps to suit the music they’re recording. Isn’t this easier when not chained to a preamp/converter combo (like the Focusrite Clarett)?
I will say it again. Read it slowly this time: You do not have to use the preamps in your interface.!!! You can bypass them. So you are NOT "chained" to them. I suppose you can "resent" having to pay for preamps that you are not using , but the Economy of Scale means that you are getting just as good a set of converters as you would have gotten had you found someone selling it as a 'separate'. In any case, preamps make a more obvious and audible difference than converters. If you want to "experiment" with different converters, be my guest. Don't forget the blindfold, because placebo is very likely.

Quote:
So why is it laughable for someone to want an A/D converter at a price commensurate with an ART Pro MPA II or SPL Goldmike 9844?
Because a converter at that quality and price point will be no better than the one already built into your Clarett. Economy of scale. They sell so many Claretts that they can put a pretty decent converter in it and charge you the same amount as what they would have to charge for a stand-alone converter that hardly anybody asks for.
Quote:
I’ve raised this question before on Gearspace.
and you have had it answered before as well. It's almost as if you are hoping to get different answers to justify your resentments, but I don't think you will.

Quote:
And it’s not uncommon for a newbie to be confused by something experts easily understand. I’m open to the possibility that this applies to me. But I honestly don’t get it. So I’ll appreciate your patience and understanding as we hash through it yet again.
I think the bottom line is that for the most part, the 'problem' of conversion has largely been "solved". You really do have to go high end to get something that is audibly superior. Cork-sniffing of low-end converters is not a thing.

Lack of demand is the reason for the absence of such products at a low price point. Diminishing returns is the reason for that lack of demand.
Old 2nd July 2022 | Show parent
  #18
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Korcraft's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq ➡️
Don't forget the blindfold, because placebo is very likely.


I remember the previous thread about this now.

I think the issue is that the OP is assuming that converters are on this linear scale or quality.

And that an interface that costs $500 will have sub-quality conversion to a stand-alone convertor that costs $500.

You just take the money spent on the preamps and all the other things that make an interface an interface, and spend it on better conversion in a stand-alone unit.

Completely missing the many other factors that go into the cost of items...like the ability to mass produce...
Old 2nd July 2022 | Show parent
  #19
Gear Guru
 
🎧 20 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Korcraft ➡️


I remember the previous thread about this now.

I think the issue is that the OP is assuming that converters are on this linear scale or quality.

And that an interface that costs $500 will have sub-quality conversion to a stand-alone convertor that costs $500.

You just take the money spent on the preamps and all the other things that make an interface an interface, and spend it on better conversion in a stand-alone unit.

Completely missing the many other factors that go into the cost of items...like the ability to mass produce...
exactly

there are only 3 reasons to get a stand-alone converter

A - better quality conversion - which costs money. Real money.
B - "flavor" options - which is a joke at the budget level
C - throwing money away - which fortunately is difficult to do since so few "budget" stand alones are out there
Old 3rd July 2022
  #20
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2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
When I started out nobody called anything an "interface" as far as I recall. For example, I had a Lynx card (today's equivalent would be the Lynx E44) as a PCI card in the computer, the card being an A/D and D/A converter with analog line level I/O and digital right there in the box on the PCI bus. I connected preamps, compressors etc to the card. When the first things called "interfaces" came along they were (preamp+converters). At some point in time the meaning of "interface" seems to have broadened - now it's any box that provides digital I/O into the DAW, and consequently can also encompass "converter". I now use a PCIe AES digital I/O card which I guess could be called an interface, even though it has always been described more precisely as a digital I/O card. Connected to it I have external converters and all they do (Mytek) is convert A to D. That's a converter, a box with XLR line in and AES/SBU digital output, and it's definitely not an interface. Same with my D to A boxes. Whether that helps I'm not sure, but from my somewhat historical perspective there, a converter has always been something that converts A to D or D to A. It can be in the box (like a PCIe card) or external standalone (Mytek, Lynx Aurora etc). "interface" is an imprecise term even though everyone uses it. The reason for the seemingly imprecise nomenclature is basically the history of it all, and often because people who were never very familiar with the component-level view started calling everything that connected a microphone to a DAW an interface. Anyway, I hope this helps.
Old 3rd July 2022
  #21
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BT64's Avatar
Interface: The point of interaction or communication between a computer and any other entity, such as a printer or human operator.
Converter: A device for converting one form of coded information to another, such as an analogue-to-digital converter.
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