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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Home Recording Review/BenchTest!
TASCAM DA-3000 PCM/DSD Recorder:
Perfect For Studio Pros And Audiophiles


Brevis...
Price: $1,399
Likes: DSD/PCM recording/play
Dislikes: No 352.8 or 384 sample rate
Wow Factor: numer uno rec/play deck
More info: TASCAM DA-3000

by John Gatski

  In January 2014, I published a first impression review of the TASCAM DA-3000 master recorder/player, the replacement for the magnificent DVRA-1000HD, the company’s previous high-end master deck with DSD and PCM recording capability. With my initial impressions’ review, I could tell that the DA-3000 offered as good, or even better, sound quality, than the DVRA-1000HD, but added more features and convenience — at a whole lot less money, ($2,099 retail vs $1,399).
  Since I have had three more months to use it, I dug in a bit deeper with this installment. Plus, my go-to bench tester, Bascom King, put the unit through a battery of tests to see if it measured up to the excellent objective parameters established by the DVRA-1000HD. (See EAN Spec-Check sidebar).

Features
  The DA-3000 is a one rack-space, Compact Flash (CF) recorder/player that supports 24-bit, up to 192 kHz PCM, and DSD at the standard 2.8 MHz (64X) and “double speed” 5.6 MHz (128X). It utilizes Burr-Brown A/D-D/A converters (same A/D as DVRA-1000HD) and sports a full array of connections — including unbalanced and balanced analog I/O, SPDIF and balanced AES/EBU PCM jacks and an optical TOSLink port. Like the DVRA-1000HD, it can also be connected to   external DSD A/D and D/A converters.
  With the trend toward SSD media, the unit eschews the DVD data recorder function of its DVRA-1000/DVRA-1000HD forbearers with CF and SD slots for recording and playback. You can even plug-in a USB drive for copying your recorded tracks for backup, or transfer to your computer for editing.
  With its smaller proportions compared to the DVRA-1000HD’s two RU size, I was worried that the DA-3000 would have tiny controls and a minuscule meter. In fact, the DA’s meter is as big, and the controls present no problem — with numerous easy-to-operate front-panel pots and buttons populating the recorder.


Recording media choices: SD and Compact Flash

  The front panel is logically laid out in its control architecture and is not over populated with knobs and buttons. From left to right are: on/off button, USB keyboard input and a USB drive port. Behind a lift down door are the CF and SD slots; you can record onto one media at a time. The 24-segment LED meter cascades its light in green, orange and red LEDS, starting at -60 dB. The main display consists of white LEDS with large characters, providing info — such as track time time remaining sample rate, word length, input gain, all easy to read. An “Info” button push, gives you track status and input output data.
  As with the DVRA-1000HD, the transport buttons make the DA-3000 as easy to use as a tape deck. Stop, Play, Pause, Record and Track Forward and Track Back set the deck in motion, so to speak. The Track Forward/Back keys also double as track search — forward or backward — when you hold either button.
  The DA-3000 also includes an excellent headphone amplifier, which I believe is smoother sounding than the DVRA-1000 HD — without losing any detail. If you are recording and or playing back hi-res audio, the headphone amp and the line outs are indeed audiophile quality.
  Around back are a plethora of connections including analog balanced and unbalanced I/0, digital AES/EBU balanced XLR I/O and SPDIF RCA I/O. The DA-3000 also sports SDIFF DSD digital input/output via BNC, as well as synch clock BNC I/O.


                                                DA-3000 I/O

  One major connection advantage of the DA-3000, vs. the DVRA-1000HD, is the new deck’s ability to make a D-D connection on a single wire with 176-kHz and 192-kHz sample rates. The DA-3000 can digitally connect via SPDIF or AES/EBU to another recorder or player, A/D or D/A — at those sample rate frequencies. The old DVRA-1000HD would transmit up to 24/96 via one wire on either AES/EBU or SPDIF, but required a two-wire AES/EBU balanced cable hook up for 176/192. It was a pro audio connection scheme that never really caught on, and was my biggest gripe about the DVRA-1000. It frustrated me to no end when I could not dub 24/192 audio from another source with the DVRA, or use an external A/D or D/A. Not so with the DA-3000. I can link it with any 24/192 device.
  Though it is significantly less money than the old DVRA-1000HD, which sold for about $1,600, the DA-3000‘s design and parts selection are still first rate — with Burr-Brown converters (PCM4202 A/D and PCM1795 D/A), and JRC NJM2114 and TI NE5532 op-amps in the audio path. The DA-3000 utilizes a EI core transformer with separate sections for analog and digital. TASCAM points out that the DA-3000 is fan-less to prevent potential noise in the audio band, and, of course, the annoying external fan whoosh that accompanies forced cooling.
  The DA-3000 also includes an IR remote to also operate the basic record and play functions.

Operation Feature
  Via the OS software and a push of the function button, the DA-3000 is chock full of setup parameters, including A/D-D/A direct (converter only), input gain adjustment, input selection, PCM word length/sample rate, mono/stereo, DSD recording (2.8 MHz/5.6MHz), cascade function for simultaneously recording more than two tracks via multiple DA-3000s, sync recording, media format, track delete, track rename, oscillator tone for ref level, ref level adjust, and internal/external clock. Other control functions include keyboard setup (Japan or USA), and media copy (CF to SD, SD to CF, CF/SD to USB drive).

Easy to read LED meter

  The track names, by default, are automatically generated based on a number and the date. You can also use the track rename mode and overwrite the default date/track name after you record the track by going through the rename function. The rename is enabled by turning the function button and then pushing it when the desired letter, or number, is selected. However, since one knob is used to select a letter, one at a time, with a push of the control button, it’s like texting from a flip phone; it take a bit of time, I quickly learned to create track names via an external keyboard connected through the designated USB port on the front panel.
  Once you have the desired input selected and connection routing, you are ready to record. Though there are a lot adjustments you can make, just setting the PCM/DSD format, input, and input gain, gets you going in a hurry.

The audition
  I am such a fan of TASCAM recorders that I never doubted that the DA-3000 would be something special. Luckily, I had my trusty DVRA-1000HD for comparison. I also own numerous A/D and D/A converters. Thus, I was able to quickly get a read on its audio caliber.
  My first test was a PCM A/D dub at 24/192 of the Tom Jung recorded Warren BernhardtSo Real jazz SACD from the early 1990s. This live-to-two-track recording projects a great sense of space — with a lot of transient energy in the piano and drum cymbals. Lesser recorder A/Ds often notch down the space and make the treble bits a little more hidden. The DVRA-1000HD always did a good job dubbing this recording, and I expected the same with the new deck.
  As with the DVRA-1000HD, the DA-3000 captured every little bit of nuance: reverb tails, room sound, and that Steinway piano upper-register complexity that I hear on the source SACD. The PCM conversion process did not add any appreciable artifacts or harshness. Via the headphone amp, the DA-3000 sounded smoother in the midrange and low-treble than the DVRA-1000HD’s HP output; I could monitor via the cans for more extended sessions than with the DVRA-1000HD.

DA-3000 uses Burr-Brown A/D-D/A converters

  Next up, I recorded my Martin J40 acoustic with a Shure KSM-141 stereo pair of microphones through a True System P2 mic preamp (one of the best ever made, in my opinion) to 24/192. I then recorded the same music sample in DSD — at both speeds.
  The PCM's sonic result was excellent. Lots of width and space in the imaging and the pick/string reverb tails and woody tones were very accurate. Not a bit of hard edge. The PCM A/D has a neutral accuracy that is demonstrated through the internal DAC, as well as playback through several external DACS, such as the Benchmark DAC2-D, Mytek Stereo 192-DSD and TASCAM’s, consumer sibling TEAC UD-501 D/A.
  Since I ran the first review in January, numerous audio pros and audiophiles have asked me about the DA-3000’s DAC quality, via the XLR analog outputs. After repeated listening sessions, I would say that a top-tier separate DAC might net you a subtle amount of increased stereo space, detail and smoothness on some recordings, but the difference is not night and day. And remember, some standalone DACs sell for 2x-3x the price of the all-in-one DA-3000. This is not a low-end, compromised recorder/player rig. It is the real deal.

All this and DSD, too
  The DSD-direct recordings I made of the same guitar sample were high caliber as well. The difference between 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz oversampling was difficult to hear on acoustic guitar. DSD’s smooth, analog-like texture were obvious in both modes. But with other kinds of instruments, the 5.6 MHz recorded sample seemed slightly tighter in the bass. On dubbed pop recordings, I thought the 5.6 MHz DSD kick drum and electric bass were tighter as well, and I ended up preferring the higher speed for that reason. But in other recordings— violin, cello and piano — I could not tell a difference.
  Either way, though if you want to use DSD for original direct-to-stereo recordings, archiving, making DSD downmixs of analog multitracks, the TASCAM DA-3000 is one of the few DSD recorders available. Korg no longer makes a standalone DSD recorder, and the new handheld Sony PCM-D100 it is more of a field recorder with fewer connection options.

A fine audiophile player
  Home audio recordists and audiophile will love this deck, too. You can use it to archive your cherished vinyl, copy your SACDs and DVD-As, or use it to play your high-res download tracks. It will play up to 192 kHz PCM and discrete DSD (no DoP).
  To reveal its LP-recording versatility, I made a nice DSD dub of Wes Montgomery — Full House audiophile LP, played via a Clear Audio turntable, by feeding a Rogue Model 99 Magnum tube preamp’s fixed analog output into the DA-3000, which was set to record at DSD double speed, 5.6MHz oversampling. The live feel of the jazz guitar and the drum cymbals were captured clearly by the DA-3000, as played through the internal DAC.

The standalone stereo deck’s ease of operation, excellent converters, good-sounding headphone amp and the ability to record and play high-resolution PCM and dual-speed DSD, just can’t be beat.

  The quality of the TASCAM’s DSD A/D was also confirmed by playback through the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC, which relays a smidgen more openness than the TASCAM. Still, the TASCAM DSD internal DAC is first rate — especially when you consider this baby sells at $999 street price and the Mytek DAC is $1,600.
  I also made a killer digital 24/192 dub of Isao Suzuki Trio / QuartetBlow Up LP, the original record from 1973. This one of my favorite vinyl LPs, sonically, and the jazz recording’s dynamic range was translated perfectly by the TASCAM. (I made the recording even better, once I got the tracks into my workstation. I deleted all the surface noise from the record’s track gaps. All the wonderful vinyl sound preserved, and no audible surface noise. Yay!)

Play those computer tracks
  I found the DA-3000 a fine, capable audiophile player for all my computer download music from HD Tracks, Acoustic Sounds, 2L, Blue Coast, etc. Just drag the tracks on to a SD, CF or USB. Pop the media into the DA-3000, and sit back and listen to native DSD and PCM.
  On the Jason MarazLove is A Four Letter Word album projects a much wider image in in 24/96 with a juicy bass signature on nearly every cut. Through the unbalanced or balanced XLRS outputs, the DA-3000‘s sonics were clean and noise free. Fleetwood Mac’s 24/96 HD Tracks transfer of Rumours was just as good played from the DA-3000 as the original DVD-A version played from my Oppo BDP-95 and an external DAC. The DA-3000 did a fine job of conveying the wide spread of instrument and vocal layers in this classic recording

Dislikes?
No major major criticisms with the DA-3000; it exceeded my expectation considering how much less it costs and mow much more you get in the feature set versus its predecessor, the DVRA-1000HD. The only niggle I have against the DA-3000 is that TASCAM should have gone the extra step of adding sample rate support for up to 384 kHz. Their consumer company TEAC, had a fantastic DAC the UD-501 that goes out to 384 kHz. I think that 352.8 kHz (DXD) and 384 kHz sample rate audio is PCM with the a smoothness a DSD, but with all the detail PCM is known for. It is not widely used, though 2L records natively at DXD and makes those albums available online. I would like to see TASCAM give the DA-3000 the option to record and playback with the ultra-high sample rates. We’ll just go through the CFs a bit faster; 10 minutes of DXD is over 1 GB of drive space.

  As with the DVRA-1000HD, the DA-3000 captured every little bit of nuance: reverb tails room sound, and that Steinway piano upper-register complexity that I hear on the source SACD.

  Speaking of CF, it might seem a bit old school, but TASCAM selected it as the primary media for the DA-3000 because of its robustness. Many broadcast- and cinema-sound audio recordists still use CF-based recorders, which TASCAM makes as well. The SD option is there, but TASCAM pro audio products spokesman Dan Montecalvo said CF is less likely to fail than other portable media. I have been using CF recorders — since 2005 when I obtained a TASCAM HDP2 portable 24/192 CF recorder. Only had one CF glitch in the nine years of constant use.
  I have used standalone stereo digital recorders since the early 2000‘s from the original DVRA-1000, two models from Korg, and now the DA-3000 and they have always performed without any operational glitches. Since 2006, my two DVRA-1000s have been 100 percent reliable. They always record when I hit the buttons, and the audio is always there when push play. I expect the same from the DA-3000.

The verdict
  I can’t say enough good things about the TASCAM DA-3000. Since I am always recording or dubbing in some fashion — whether dubbing other media, backing up or live recording — the DA-3000 has quickly become my primary recorder in the home studio. The standalone stereo deck’s ease of operation, excellent converters, good-sounding headphone amp and the ability to record and play high-resolution PCM and dual-speed DSD, just can’t be beat. Every audio enthusiast ought to own one of these.
  Pros will like it, no doubt, but the home audio recording enthusiast will likely want one a DA-3000 as well. For $1,000, you get an easy-to-operate, tape deck-like functionality — with all that quality recording flexibility. Imagine making your own DSD recording of your fancy Steinway. Plus the DA-3000 is a dam good hi-res music player. Play your favorite PCM and DSD downloads, or the music you have recorded or dubbed.
  After much use, it is our opinion, that no product deserves an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award more than the DA-3000. It is that good. I plan to buy two. One for the audiophile rack and one for the recording rig.

©Articles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited


EAN SpecCheck!
TASCAM DA-3000
BHK Labs

  The TASCAM DV-3000 is a versatile CF/SD card based recorder with additional A/D and D/A I/O capability. PCM sample rates and resolutions up to 24/192 and DSD files at 64X and 128X are supported.
  As my Audio Precision SYS 2722 measuring machine doesn’t generate or receive DSD files, most measurements were made in the A/A (Analog in/Analog out) mode as this allows the overall results of recording and playing back in the DSD mode to be most easily seen.
  Frequency response at 0 dBFS input signal level at sample rates of 44.1, 96.0, and 192.0 kHz and emphasizing the HF rolloff characteristic is shown plotted in Figure 1. The response in the 5.6 mHz (128X) DSD mode has less attenuation than the 24/192 PCM response above about 80 kHz. When the DSD mode is set for the 2.8 MHz mode, the HF response is different and this comparison is shown in Figure 1A. Low frequency response was the same between the DSD and PCM modes — down about 0.3 dB at 10 Hz. The exception was at the 44.1 kHz PCM sample rate where the LF response was down about 0.8 dB at 10 Hz.
  A representative measurement of 1 kHz THD+N vs. decreasing input level for the DSD mode is plotted in Figure 2. The results with the PCM mode were about the same. There is a significant difference between the channels but in the 22 kHz measurement bandwidth, the noise floor is quite good – being that this is the combined response of the A/D and D/A process.
  The THD+N vs. frequency and level were measured in a 22 kHz measurement bandwidth at a PCM sample rate and bit density of 24/192. If the measurement bandwidth was opened up, out of audio band noise raises the readings and obscures the distortion. This is shown in Figure 3. The same kind of measurement in the A/D mode is plotted in Figure 3A.
  Adjacent channel separation was quite good (but not quite as good as I have seen with some other digital devices) and was essentially the same in both directions. The results for the A/A mode and the A/D mode were similar with amount of separation reducing to about 94 dB at 20 kHz. This is plotted in Figure 4 for 24/192 PCM mode. Not surprising as the analog signal path was not involved, the separation in the D/A mode was somewhat better — about 110 dB at 20 kHz. Deviation from linearity was measured in all three modes. In the A/A mode, it was within 1 dB — down to -120 dBFS in both 24/192 PCM and the DSD 5.6 modes. In the both the A/D and D/A modes, it was within 1 dB down to – 130 dBFS.
  In the A/A mode, dynamic range and signal to noise in a 22 kHz bandwidth in both the DSD and PCM modes were about 110 dB. In the A/D mode, the dynamic range and signal to noise ratios were 114 dB. In the D/A mode, numbers were better, closer to 118 dB.
  Overall, the DA-3000 bench result indicate very good record and playback performance in PCM and both speeds of DSD. It become more impressive when you consider its price point and features — all contained in one machine.

                                                                                       —Bascom King


Figure 1
 A/A frequency response in PCM and DSD modes - DBFS:
Magenta = DSD 5.6 MHz; Red = PCM 24/192; Blue = PCM 24/96;
 Cyan = 24/44.1


Figure 1A

A/A frequency response in DSD mode: 2.8, 5.6 mHz at DBFS:
 Magenta = 2.8 mHz, Red = 5.6 mHz

 Figure 2
A/A frequency response:
 1 kHz THD+N vs. Decreasing input signal,
 DSD mode: 5.6 MHz. R/L Ch. measured, Red = L, Blue = R.

Figure 3
A/A THD+N vs. frequency and level in 24/192 PCM  mode:
  Red = 0 dBFS; Magenta = -5 dBFS; Blue =-10 dBFS

Figure 3A
A/D THD+N vs. frequency and level in 24/192 PCM mode:
  Red = 0 dBFS; Magenta = -5 dBFS; Blue =-10 dBFS; -20 dBFS

Figure 4
A/A Channel separation vs. frequency in both directions
 PCM 24/192 mode:
  Red – L > R and Magenta = R < L directions







  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Home Cinema Review!
Atlantic Technology H-PAS
Full-Range PowerBar 235



Brevis...
Price: $799
Likes: near audiophile sound
Dislikes: bigger than most SBs
Wow Factor: soundbar with bass


by Russ Long

  Soundbars have risen in popularity over the past few years. As their quality continues to improve and people come to the realization that they are a viable option for attaining high-quality audio, with fewer speakers, at a reasonable price, they will continue to gain market share. Many video buffs, myself included, have a full, surround-equipped home theater but still want to have the ability to have a satisfying viewing/listening experience in other rooms. Others, due to layout limitations and lack of space to dedicate to a home theater, don't have the option to implement a surround system. Thus, a soundbar is the only viable options.

Features
  Atlantic Technology touts the H-PAS PowerBar 235 (and based on my experience, rightfully so) as the world's only soundbar that doesn't require a subwoofer. The soundbar is powered by a built-in amplifier that supplies 80-watts RMS to a pair of 4-inch woofers and 1-inch soft dome tweeters. The soundbar has a frequency response of 47 Hz to 20 kHz (+/-3 dB) and can reproduce audio at near cinema volume levels for an amazingly satisfying listening experience.


Is the Atlantic Technology H-PAS PowerBar 235 a full surround system? No, but it provides, across the front, a full sonic picture from its well-integrated drivers, and it has remarkable bass response.

  The PowerBar 235 provides an abundance of connectivity options. The rear panel is equipped with three digital inputs, via two Toslink optical connectors and a coaxial connector, and one analog input via a pair of RCA connectors. The front panel has an eighth-inchmini-jack input for easy Pod, iPhone, etc. integration. Front and rear panel IR sensors allow for clear control from anywhere in a room. There is also a subwoofer output. The soundbar's 100-240VAC AC adapter provides the 24VDC required for operation.
  The PowerBar 235 can be oriented with the Control Pod that emits from the center of the box at the top or the bottom of the unit. The default configuration is with the Control Pod on top but if the soundbar is going to be mounted on the wall underneath a TV, you will likely want to electronically flip the orientation so the Control Pod will be on the bottom of the box. If the box is inverted, the grille should be flipped and the included inverse control panel label should be utilized. Not only does the display reverse when you switch the orientation, but the speakers actually reverse as well so the left speaker is always on the left and right is always on the right.


Atlantic provides Bluetooth wireless convenience

  While the box's innovative design delivers exceptionally high quality, full-range, multi-channel sound, this high performance comes at a cost. At 42.75 inches wide, 6.5 inches tall, and 6.5 inches deep, the 18-pound, beautiful black box is larger than the competition, ands take a bit more space to place, And at $799 it's also more expensive (although the price is more reasonable when you consider that you don't need to factor in the price of a sub with your system). The PowerBar 235 includes an ultra-simple remote control that includes power, input source selection, treble and bass adjustment, volume, surround mode selection, mute, and speech enhancement activation controls. The soundbar can also be utilized with most universal remotes.
  The PowerBar 235 includes multi-channel DSP that supports both basic Dolby Digital and DTS encoding, allowing the user to switch between a 2-channel, 3-channel, 5-channel or 5-channel expanded environment providing the user the ability to customize their listening experience. The Speech Enhancement Mode improves dialog intelligibility by boosting the frequency range where human voices are reproduced. This is a great feature when trying to listen in situations where there is a significant amount of background noise.
  The soundbar's 6.5-inch height can pose positioning challenges. In most instances, when it is placed in front of the TV, it will partially obscure the screen and possibly the TV's remote sensor. If your TV stand doesn't have a shelf that will accommodate the PowerBar 235, you will likely want to wall-mount the TV and/or sound bar. Utilizing Atlantic Technology's SHELF-2405 TV top speaker shelf is another option.

Quality drivers are key to full soundbar sound

  The patent-pending H-PAS (Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System) technology was jointly developed by Atlantic Technology and Phil Clements of Solus/Clements Loudspeakers. H-PAS is a passive system that doesn't require any special drivers, on-board electronics, or outboard equalization; it combines components of several different speaker technologies including bass reflex, acoustic suspension, inverse horn, and transmission line. A unique cabinet design allows the PowerBar 235 to implement all of these speaker technologies, resulting in an extended bass response with minimal distortion and a surprising amount of headroom.
  An engineering team at Atlantic Technology mathematically modeled H-PAS technology making it possible to apply H-PAS design parameters to a wide variety of speaker designs. In addition to implementing it into several of its own designs, Atlantic Technology is licensing H-PAS to other manufacturers so I'm sure we'll be encountering it more often in the future.

The setup
  I placed the Atlantic H-PAS PowerBar 235 on a shelf approximately 22-inches off the floor directly below a below a Sony KDL-46EX640 LCD TV. In most instance, the soundbar was used as a standalone playback device but I spent some time auditioning it along with an Episode ES-SUB-12-300 powered sub. Playback was primarily via an Onkyo√≠s BD-SP809 Blu-ray player, but I also utilized a Pioneer Elite BDP-53FD Universal Blu-ray Player on occasion (since the Onkyo doesn't support SACD and the majority of my high-resolution audio material is in the SACD format). I also utilized the front panel mini-jack input to playback music from my iPhone.

The audition
  While a soundbar can't provide the sonic spread of a true multi-speaker surround system, soundbars do have the ability to provide high-quality sound with a small footprint at a fraction of the cost of a surround system. Soundbars typically require a subwoofer to attain anything close to full range audio but that's not the case with the H-PAS PowerBar 235 as it's the first soundbar I've encountered that actually provides full-range audio (down to 40 Hz) without needing a subwoofer. As a standalone unit, it actually outperforms many soundbars that are coupled with a sub.
  While the remote is nothing fancy, it does provide access to all of the PowerBar 235's functionality and with the presumption that most users will be utilizing a universal remote, there's no reason to include anything beyond this.
  I spent time with my staple list of evaluation movies which includes The Dark Knight, Ratatouille, Hugo and Bolt. The soundbar does a surprisingly good job of emulating surround sound. In most instances I preferred the 5-channel Expanded mode when viewing movies but I always did a brief audition of each mode before watching the film as it sometimes varied based on the mix and encoding.


I was impressed with the soundbar's natural sound, imaging, low-frequency response, and overall smoothness. I would have never guessed that a soundbar could provide this enjoyable of a listening experience, but how wrong I was.

  I spent time listening to Pink FloydDark Side of the Moon, Elton John — Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and James Taylor — Hourglass SACDs, The Beach Boys — Pet Sounds, The Beatles — Love, and Fleetwood Mac — Rumours DVD Audio discs and Daft Punk — Random Access Memories and Phoenix Bankrupt! CDs. With each recording, I was impressed with the soundbar's natural sound, imaging, low-frequency response, and overall smoothness. I would have never guessed that a soundbar could provide this enjoyable of a listening experience, but how wrong I was.
  While I did spend some time listening to the soundbar in conjunction with an Episode ES-SUB-12-300 powered sub (which went lower as you would expect), the bulk of my time was spent listening, solely to the PowerBar 235. I found that I truly love the way it sounds, and it is surprisingly capable of providing an adequate amount of deep, distortion-free bass
  Besides the wired connection, I also set up the PowerBar 235 to stream via its wireless Bluetooth capability, through the included BTAA-50 Bluetooth adaptor. The ability to wirelessly stream CD-quality, stereo music from my laptop, or my IPhone from another room is very convenient. The Bluetooth adapter comes standard with the PowerBar 235.

The verdict
  Is the Atlantic Technology H-PAS PowerBar 235 a surround system? No, but it presents a good surround impression from its well-integrated drivers, and it has remarkable bass response. The high-quality sound does come at a $799 price tag, and it needs more space than your average soundbar. But it is worth the extra effort and expense — especially when you consider the extra connection options, Bluetooth and its superb sound. If you have a need for a serious soundbar, the Atlantic Technology H-PAS PowerBar 235 is a top choice. It also gets our Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award

 An avid home theater and audiophile listener, Russ Long makes his living as a Nashville-based professional audio engineer, who has recorded hundreds of albums for various artists, including Grammy Award winner Sixpence None The Richer. 


©Articles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.




Friday, March 21, 2014

Home Recording Review!
Prism Lyra One Recording/Playback
24/192 Computer USB Audio Interface




Brevis...
Price: $2,350
Likes: accurate A/D-D/A.
Dislikes: no RCA ins/outs
Wow Factor: UK-made for your computer
More info: Prism Lyra 


by John Gatski

  Since the late 1980s, UK-based Prism Sound has been making high-quality audio converters and professional recording products. A few years ago, they launched the flagship computer interface — the Orpheus. The FireWire connected, multi-channel based mic/line, A/D/D/A, complete with phono preamp, was an exemplary piece of premium gear (still in the line), but its $5,000 price tag kept it out of reach for those who were more budget inclined.
  To address the downmarket wallets, Prism came up with the Lyra series, a USB 2.0-based computer recording/playback interface that eschews a number of the Orpheus' bells and whistles, but still offers the essential converter performance at substantially less money.
  The Lyra comes in two versions, the Lyra One, priced at $2,350 and the Lyra Two, $3,225. Lyra One is the basic unit with two 1/4-inch TRS line inputs and outputs, a front-panel instrument DI input and a single XLR phantom powered mic input. The Lyra One also has TOSLINK I/O ports.


Listening to the playback through other D/As. confirmed my impression that Lyra A/D is about as accurate as I have ever heard.

  The Lyra Two gives you two high-quality, phantom powered, microphone inputs, two sets of line outs, one set of line inputs, the front panel DI, plus it can be used as a phono preamp on the two line ins (magnetic) or mic inputs (moving coil), eight-channel ADAT digital I/O connection via light-pipe, and SPDIF coaxial digital stereo input and output. Ethernet connection and clock sync ports via BNC also are included on the more upscale sibling.
**Prism sent me the Lyra One to review. Although I would have preferred the Two for the two mic channels, plus all the extra digital connections, the One still allowed me enough flexibility to record, as well as use the Lyra as an audiophile player for hi-res PCM.

Features
  Priced at $2,350, the Lyra One offers the already mentioned features, plus Prism’s SNS noise shaping on the digital output, highly accurate sample rate conversion and low-latency digital mixer and high quality clock.
  The attractive, gold-colored 1.5 RU Lyra One sports a neatly laid out front panel — with compact GUI, master volume control, headphone jack, headphone control and an instrument input. The back panel inputs include the balanced XLR microphone input (48V phantom powering), 1/4-inch TRS line-in and line-out jacks, and separate TOSLINK digital I/O ports. The USB 2.0 B female jack — for tethering the interface to the computer — rounds out the rear panel.


For the home studio operator who wants to step up in build quality and pedigree, the Prism Lyra should be at the top of the buy list. I have no hesitation in giving it an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award to the Lyra.

  The mic preamp section features premium op-amps, and the circuit delivers a claimed S/N ratio of -130 dB; the mic input also benefits from a software-engaged high-pass filter and -10 dB pad; the line inputs and outputs can be set at -10 dB, or the professional +4 dB level. Other goodies include Prism’s “overkiller” limiter circuit that allows you to push the mic level for that big sound, with no distortion.
  The key to operating the Lyra’s myriad of features is the digital interface software, which operates on Windows or Mac. Termed the Control App, the software integrates all the hardware routing, as well as engaging the various digital functions, such as Prism’s transparent sample rate converter.
**The virtual mixer can be used to route audio in and out from the computer work station, as well as provide panning, solo assignments and other normal mixing features. Even on the basic Lyra One, there is enough software layers that you need to take the manual for a read.


Lyra Two has more I/O but R/P engine is the same

  The icing on the cake is the excellent A/D-D/A converter section (Cirrus Logic CS5381 A/D-CS4398 D/A) with Prism selected analog components, which make the Lyra an incredible sounding computer interface. We’re talking about audiophile-grade specs with greater than 116 dB dynamic range and S/N, when doing 24-bit recording and playback.
  If you just want to use the Lyra as a standalone audiophile DAC with your outboard gear, you can set it up on the computer for solo DAC use with the TOSLINK or USB input. That mode allows it to be operated as a solo DAC without the computer. Link up to your favorite player that outputs high-res music, and sit back and listen to these smooth transparent converters.

The audition
  Although the Lyra One has limited analog inputs and outputs versus the Two, I used it in numerous configurations in the home studio. For example, I used it as a supplemental recording set up to bring in a vocal track and an acoustic guitar rhythm track to mix with an electric guitar rhythm stereo track that I recorded onto the computer during another session. Since the electric guitar tracks were 24 bit, I recorded and mixed the new tracks in the same mode.
  Using a Mojave Ma-300 FET mic in cardioid mode, I recorded the acoustic guitar track, a Martin J-30, into Apple’s Soundtrack software, then added a vocal track using the same Mojave mic, which by the way, is an outstanding performer that happens not to be that expensive.


The basic Lyra One offers a single mic input

  The mix of the two instruments, plus the vocal, sounded terrific through the Lyra — projected an audiophile transparency and ultra-smoothness usually heard with the more-expensive Prism converters. As I recall, it sounded the same as the high-brow Orpheus, as well it should, because the converters are identical. If you have not experienced a Prism DAC first hand, they are extraordinarily smooth, but still maintain the fine detail of the best digital conversion. To elaborate on my subjective sonic endorsement of the Lyra’s sound, my acoustic guitar recordings are the perfect illustration. My Martin J-40 acoustic is the perfect balance of a big-sized, six string — with its warm bass and ultra-detailed top end.
  The Mojave mic captured the guitar with just a hint of crispness that flatters the instrument and passes it on to the Lyra One A/D, which captures all that sonic info and reassembles it with precision through the D/A. The guitar’s wood overtones, string harmonics, and room reverb were played back as it was recorded. No hype or omissions.
  I also played the stereo mix through my pro/audiophile Mytek Stereo 192-DSD and Benchmark DAC2-D D/A converters; they also revealed the stunning recording quality made through the Lyra’s A/D.

Audiophiles will be proud 
  To see how Prism’s converters stacked up against some of the audiophile big boy converters, I moved the Lyra to my audiophile rack and played back a number of hi-res tracks from a USB thumb drive and DVD-As played through the Oppo BDP-95 universal player.
  On the Yes — Fragile 24/96 track, "Mood for A Day," the Lyra delivered the full width and depth of Steve Howe's classical guitar picking with all the bloom of the finger picked instrument’s dynamic transients and the subtle smoothness this recording is known for. Considering its vintage, this track has wide and deep stereo image. The Lyra One does it proud.
  On a 24/192 dub of Tom Jung’s infamous Flim and the BBs — Tricycle, the PCM-to-DSD SACD version, which I promptly dubbed via the Lyra and the Oppo at 24/192, again showed how good the A/D converter is in the Lyra. I could hear all the dynamic energy of the bass drums, piano and rich fullness of the saxophone that TJ captured in those early days of digital. Again, listening to the playback throughout other D/As. confirmed my impression that Lyra A/D is about as accurate as I have ever used, including the more expensive Orpheus mentioned at the top of this review. (Prism has three new USB computer audio interfaces that EAN plans to look at in the near future. Eventually, Orpheus will be no more since FireWire is no longer supported by Apple).
  Prism prides itself on its hardware and software sample rate converters, and the Lyra carries on that tradition. A menu click allowed me to convert several 24/192 recordings to 16/48 with dither, and the result was quite good. No harshness and plenty of detail and width could still be heard from the recordings. Those Prism boys know how their DSP.


Meter section shows Greek spelling of Lyra

  With the flexibility of the software routing and myriad of features, you can do a lot with just the basic Lyra One, but I also found myself using it as a quality-checking device for my stereo high-res mix-downs. Whether listening to the final tracks’ audio output through my Legacy Studio speakers, as driven by a Pass Labs X350.5 MOSFET amp, or headphone monitoring via the AKG K702SE or Shure SRH1840, the Lyra One became a quite useful tool for critical listening.
  And Its fatigue-free, neutral timbre character makes it an easy DAC to engage in long mix/monitor sessions. I have a similar interface from TC Electronic from 2007 (more channels and a very good A/D), but the D/A and audio output path is fatiguing over the long term listening. The Prism is easy on the ears.

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  Overall, I don't have any major complaints about the Lyra One. As with any computer interface, there is a learning curve in the set up, but once you figure your way around, it becomes intuitive to operate. The on-board screen is pretty small, but the software is easy to monitor the tracks and enable the functions. Since the Lyra is audiophile grade in its sonics, RCA jacks for high-end single-ended cables would be nice, but not  a deal breaker. Just get some RCA to quarter-inch adapters.
  As a recording interface, I would likely buy the Lyra Two because of the extra I/O, including the extra mic channel and the phono preamp (good for dubbing those LPs in 24-bit). Still, as a two in/four out basic tool, this high-standard, this made-in-Great Britain, Prism Lyra One is a serious tool that is not going to be relegated to Ebay in a few years.

The verdict
  There is stiff competition in this class of recording gear — Asian-manufactured USB recording interfaces priced in the hundreds of dollars are readily available, and some have good audio paths. These competitors are likely to attract the cash strapped or frugal recordists, but for the home studio operator who wants to step up in build quality and pedigree, the Prism Lyra should be at the top of the buy list. I have no hesitation in giving it an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award to the Lyra.


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