Digital gear used for recording and vinyl cutting from digital

I’d like to try to trigger @tedsmith (but all others also welcome) for his opinion on this topic:

It seems that many of the leading engineers use the Pacific Microsonics Model Two recorder/DAC.

They use it for recording (like Keith O. Johnson for current Reference Recordings albums which mark together with others the peak of today’s recording technology) and they use it for playing back the files for cutting digitally sourced vinyl.

It is ~15 years old, has the reputation of still being the best or one of the best DAC‘s on earth and it is indeed used by many recording/mastering/cutting legends (ok, Octave Records might use the DS DAC :wink: )

Everyone knows what we usually think of 15 year old digital technology. This DAC cost 20k at the time and can be bought for around 5k today.

I noticed more than once, that recording/mastering professionals nearly completely ignore digital products we consumers count as sota. The ones they mention as leading are mostly not known to consumers.

What the heck does this mean?

Are the professionals ignorant as many of them are about the importance of cabling etc.?

Are the consumers and audio press clueless and ignorant about the really leading technology?

How is it possible that a 15 year old recorder/DAC like the P M Model 2 is the basis for today’s best source media and for vinyl from digital which is not rarely better sounding than the original files played by today’s leading consumer DAC‘s?

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My two cents is that this stuff is viewed as tools in pro applications, and with the possible exception of rare tube mic pre’s and so on, there isn’t quite the same style of veneration for gear.

This comes up a lot with studio monitors - why doesn’t everybody just use those? And my response is the same - they are tools, and not necessarily the nicest thing to listen to for pleasure all day. For perceiving and picking apart the details, they’re great. If that’s what floats your boat, that’s what you should buy for all your listening. That tends not to hold up over time. Mastering engineers don’t necessarily use their work tools in their home stereos.


I do notice that those mastering classical recordings on many of the European labels I enjoy use ATC and B&W speakers that would also be useful in home situations.

To be honest, I think your example proofs exactly a difference between those two. Studio monitors are used for different purposes (analysis) in the studio, the consumer more or less doesn’t recognize them in his home setup, as he‘s listening with other speakers. The recording was just „voiced“ with those monitors.

The recorder/DAC used in the studio on the other hand leaves its footprint directly on the recording we listen to at home. We play it back with our DAC, but what’s on the disc or vinyl was not only “voiced” with this studio DAC, the media inherits the exact sound characteristic and revealingness (or not) of it. What got lost is lost.

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I think I follow that. However, if you keep going with it, it is mostly relevant if you listen to it in the mastering/mixing room it was used in with the attendant gear (speakers, amps, etc.).

Sounds like you really need to get yourself one of those P.M. DACs and let us know how it goes. Hope you like AES-EBU :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:. I’ve never seen or heard one. Heard OF them, but as they were $20k back in the day when Money was Worth Something, they were not common. I clicked on one of the mastering studios in the long list that uses (or used) them, and got a 404, which may tell you something.

I’m with badbeef on this one. Pros view hardware as a tool, not a toy. There a number of factors that go into choosing the gear they use. Including rugged reliability (pros aren’t interested on the baggage that comes with consumer gear, like over the top casework, it’s got to be rack mountable and in some cases able to take a beating), objective accuracy to be convinced they are hearing the truth good or bad in a mix, and even the physical environment may be different. How many audiophiles listen in the near field at home? Not many. But that tends to be reality when working at a console. Finally, my observation is the pros are very cost conscience and will run with gear that is proven in the studio and the field for years if it continues to be serviceable. Audiophiles have the freedom for various reasons to engage in audiophile nervosa to constantly play with the latest fad or toy. Professionals who have to operate a business profitably, meet contract constraints etc. can have a different, and in my view understandable, perspective.

But again…such a DAC, also for a recording/mastering engineer, other than a monitor…is in my understanding not made for or chosen as a tool for telling the truth in an analysis how to balance a recording…it’s chosen to provide directly the best sound for the recorded result itself…quite the same consumers use their DAC for. I still see a difference between a pro‘s monitor and monitoring gear (having different rules) and the gear used for producing (not just monitoring) the recording. From what I heard from the well known engineers we see often mentioned is, that they choose this latter type of gear for sound reasons as priority, not tool reasons as priority. Would they use a consumer DAC of the same price if it would sound better than their studio favorites? Not sure if they even try…but it would be interesting to know how limited or not the source media is by their vintage choice when we later throw a sota 6-100k DAC at it :wink:

I bet Ted and Gus know those DAC’s and could tell about the reasons or non reasons :wink:

I think things get chosen for getting the most consistent results. It is also possible to “hear around” a given piece once you know its sonic signature/strengths and weaknesses.

I didn’t choose the DSD for “accuracy” per se - I just like the sound of it. And it keeps changing, for free. And that isn’t a liability in pleasure listening, as it might be in the studio.

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You’ve been given the correct answers. In a mastering situation you have a very different set of choices. They don’t care about a DAC with I2S inputs, but they need a DAC with an external clock input (and perhaps one with a clock output.) They need equipment that support pro voltage levels not consumer voltage levels, e.g. take a look at

And in particular if they are using HDCD material they need a DAC that does HDCD decoding… (and a bunch of stuff was well recorded with Pacific Microsonics HDCD equipment, at the time they arguably had some of the best ADCs and DACs around.)

Ok…in the vinyl discussions I learned that every DAC is sounding accurate ;-))

So if we take convinced digi-heads seriously, a studio DAC (assumed its sounding more accurate than consumer DAC’s) should be their optimum :wink:

Thanks Ted, so technical compatibility is a good reason!

Strange anyway that the way our digital source material was recorded and produced, might be on a noticeably lower level than it’s played back in the homes of folks who invested in serious DAC’s.

We can only deal with the source quality we get…and guess how it would sound if it was at least equaling the playback chain quality. This certainly also affects amps, cabling etc.

I think digital devices all sound different, especially as a large part of their sound is the Analog stage in it. The “A” in DAC and ADC. This desire to take discreet pieces of the chain in isolation as though they were lynchpins, ignoring the rest of the system… :man_shrugging:t2:

And you typically have a minimum of eight channels of ADC/DAC, often multiples of that.

Most of the recording is done prior to a mastering DAC. ALL of those pieces contribute to the sound. Nowadays, most people (without big mastering house budgets) use the same interface to record, mix and master their work, no longer even owning a separate two-channel unit for mastering. I realize you’re not referring to this level of recording, however.

Does the DSD sound better than the SABRE chips in the Universal Audio interface I use? Yes. Does it sound better than the TASCAM DA-3000 DSD-capable mastering recorder I have? Maybe - never thought to compare them, frankly. Is it practical to use a PS DSD in this application? Not particularly. As Ted mentions, the DSD has no clock input, unlike both of the aforementioned devices.

In case a good DSD upsampling DAC can’t be made with external clock, this would explain why maybe no such DAC exists for studio purposes.

Not sure if it makes sense to invest in selling better studio gear…possibly the consumer market is more promising…but to put studio gear on an even higher level (assumed it would improve like a 15 year old DAC when replacing with a DS DAC) would help all of the recordings made …and would probably generate huge reissue series :wink:

An upsampling DAC doesn’t make sense for a studio/mastering purpose, as you master to a specific format. Often multiple specific formats.

I guess I’d say this is another fundamental difference - the analog output of a DAC used in a mastering situation is simply monitoring what you are working on, outputting signal to the monitors (assuming they are DAC-less).

The mastering process is making changes to the Mix Master in the analog and/or digital domain, but usually starting with a digital file and ending up as a digital file. The digital file is the end product.

At home, you’re decoding your various digital sources to analog for playback. Period.

If that makes sense.

Another difference in perspective would be if you’re working in video, for example, the broadcast standard is 24/48. No one would ask you, “Why didn’t you record in Quad DSD?!?” The client only cares that it conforms to standards - assuming they’re even conscious of that.

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Thanks beef, that all makes absolute sense. The DAC perspective only makes sense when we talk about cutting vinyl from digital. Then the DAC plays the same role as in a home set up and the question is which one is better, the one used for cutting the vinyl or the one at home playing the digital file.

But I guess the age of the digital technology used when making a recording also plays a role, when we see that this 15-year-old technology is also used for recording today’s best digital media (example Reference Recordings).

So either this equipment is still extremely good, or the digital technology at this recording stage plays a minor role (as no conversion is involved yet), or the recording skill is even more dominant towards the pro gear quality status than we thought anyway. What speaks against the latter is that we indeed do hear every improvement in a mastering chain between two batches of reissues when one is done before and one after such an upgrade.