If you’re looking to take your audio setup beyond the bedroom and invest in gear that won’t become obsolete within 2 years, digital converters are a great place to start. We’ve selected some of the best digital converters in different price ranges and we’ll look at how they can be used in your studio.
We’ve discussed converters briefly and while we’ve also covered multichannel interfaces, there is a limit to the number of inputs and overall value offered. What’s more, in the upper end of the market you can often end up paying for features you don’t use.
A good quality multichannel AD/DA conversion system is an essential tool for incorporating hardware into your DAW workflow. There are various ways of doing this, using rack gear, 500-series modules, guitar pedals, or even your Eurorack modular synth rig.
Choosing the best digital converters
So, you might be wondering what the difference is between interfaces and converters. Although they do have overlapping features, there are some key differences worth noting.
Typically, digital converter modules connect to your PC via a PCIe digital interface card which can run both internally or externally. This dedicated module transfers digital audio via formats such as ADAT, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, MADI, and Dante.
Converters also have a different design philosophy and as digital audio standards don’t date nearly as fast as data transfer mediums, they don’t need to release a new model every year or two like we see with audio interfaces.
This means that a high-end converter launched in 2010 is still very much a top-of-the-line piece of gear today like you’d expect with a piece of analogue outboard gear.
The Pulse16 is a 16 in /16 out 24-bit 96 kHz converter that provides plenty of value for the price. It’s a fanless unit which means it’s suitable as a desktop unit in your home studio, and the active jitter reduction circuit maintains stable clocking during recording/playback.
The input and output gain levels on each individual channel can be precisely controlled in 1 dB increments from -8dBu to +20dBu. In addition to the ADAT I/O, the Pulse16 is equipped with MIDI, Wordclock, headphones out, and a pair of TFT displays that provide a metering overview.
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If you’re looking for Dante connectivity, the Tascam ML-16D provides 16 channels of AD/DA conversion with up to 24-bit 96 kHz recording. All routing configuration happens via the Dante controller software, and you have 5 different levels to set your I/O gain (+24 dBu, +22 dBu, +20 dBu, +18 dBu, +15 dBu).
As far as connectivity goes, there are two RJ45 Gigabit ethernet ports, and the ML-16D also supports AES67 format. In addition, all analogue I/O runs via D-Sub connectors as per professional standards. All in all, the ML-16D provides a decent bank of channels for the price and it’s relatively easy to set up.
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RME M-1610 Pro
You’re probably familiar with the amazing reputation RME has for consistently producing top-quality converters and interfaces, and the M-1610 Pro is certainly one of those. It provides 24-bit 192 kHz conversion via 16 analog ins with 8 analogue outs with up to +24 dBu gain sensitivity on each channel and SteadyClock FS technology.
You can also use it as a traditional interface via USB, but the M-1610 Pro supports a range of formats including wordclock, ADAT, MADI, and there are two Gigabit ethernet ports. In addition, the M-1610 can also be expanded with the optional MADI SFP module. This certainly is one of the best professional options when it comes to all-round value.
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Focusrite RedNet A16R MKII
Often used in live sound situations, the Focusrite Rednet series provides solutions for a wide range of setups including digital mixers and professional DAW systems. The RedNet A16R MKII provides high-end 24-bit 192 kHz conversion over a total of 16 channels of I/O with a dynamic range of 119dB.
Apart from the redundant power supplies, it’s also equipped with 2 ethernet ports for network redundancy and all signal indicators are clearly visible on the front panel. Overall, the A16R MKII is a pro-grade Dante interface with remote controllable audio-over-IP functionality.
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Lynx Studio Aurora(n) 24 TB3
Lynx converters are renowned for their transparent sonic character and are used in professional recording studios all over the world. They are completely modular in design which means you can spec and upgrade your system according to your needs.
The Aurora(n) series is available in 8, 16, 24, and 32 channel configurations with a choice of USB, Thunderbolt 3, Pro Tools HD, or Dante connectivity. Having 24-bit 192 kHz mastering-grade conversion in a multichannel interface is a considerable expense, but the reputation of Lynx and the results possible with these converters speak for themselves.
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More about digital converters:
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- Ferrofish Pulse16: Ferrofish
- Tascam ML-16D: Tascam
- RME M-1610 Pro: RME
- Focusrite RedNet A16R MKII: Focusrite
- Lynx Studio Aurora(n): Lynx Studio Technology