Thursday, May 17, 2018

Home Recording Studio Review!
PreSonus Studio 192 Command Center
24-Bit Audio Recording Interface

Price: $995
Likes: quality audio path, easy to use
Dislikes: Not one major complaint
Wow Factor:  best Presonus interface yet
More info: PreSonus Studio 192

by Bruce Bartlett
  I was excited to try out the PreSonus Studio 192 recording interface for PC and Mac. It boasts 26 inputs and 32 outputs, a USB 3.0 connection to a computer, A/D-D/A that operates up to 24/192 kHz, and eight Class-A XMAX preamps. It’s compatible with most music recording programs. Price is $899 street ,including loads of free software.
  The unit’s 192 kHz sampling rate is a big deal. Compared to recording at 44.1 kHz sampling rate, recording at 192 kHz extends the ultimates upper frequency response. The 44.1K rate gives a frequency response up to 22 kHz, while the 192K rate gives a response up to 96 kHz. That’s way above the upper limit of microphones and loudspeakers. But using a higher sample rate lets the A/D converter use a gentler-slope anti-alias filter with less phase shift. The result is improved transient response and nets a more audible smoothness.
  Also, the higher the sample rate, the lower the latency (delay) of any DSP processing in your computer. A 192K rate greatly reduces latency, so when you tap a key on a MIDI keyboard, you get almost instant sound triggering.

  With its ultimate 24-bit/192k sample rate audio via upgraded converters, USB 3.0 connection, monitor controls and its powerful StudioOne recording software, the PreSonus Studio 192 audio interface is a class act for those home recordists and seasoned pros who want to record/edit in the “box.” 

  Another major feature is the implementation of USB 3.0 as the data transport path to the PC OR MAC. The Studio 192 connects to your computer with a USB 3.0 port. USB 2.0 signal rate is up to 480 megabits per second, while USB 3.0 signal rate is up to 5 gigabits per second. So USB 3.0 is about ten times faster than USB 2.0. It should be noted that USB 3 vs USB 2 bus speed does not affect latency, but USB 3.0 is a bigger pipe, so it does affect the number of audio streams.

   The real importance here is the number of tracks and the fact that with the DSP effects, we need to use more streams, and USB 3 enables  that process. USB 3.0 also lets you record and play back more tracks and plug-ins, and at higher sampling rates, than USB 2.0. USB 3.0 is backward-compatible with USB 2.0, so if your computer’s USB port is version 2, it will still work with the Studio 192 interface.

  The Studio 192 contains 8 XLR/TRS combo jacks, so you can simultaneously record up to eight instruments via the analog connections, such as a fully miked drum kit; you also can record via ADAT Optical using an A/D/A expander, such as the PreSonus DigiMax DP88 and digitally via S/PDIF. Two mic/instrument jacks are on the front and six mic/line connectors are on the back. I liked the convenience of having a couple of inputs on the front for quick input changes and experiments. It’s easy to plug in and capture a singing guitarist, for example.
UC surface control GUI makes for user-friendly audio projects

  Rather than having a gain knob for each channel, the Studio 192 has a single gain knob and a gain indicator from 0 dB to 60 dB. You tap the previous and next arrows to change the input channels, then set the recording level with the gain control. These level settings are recallable. The gain knob affects the mic and instrument inputs but not the line inputs.
  48V phantom power can be enabled for any or all channels. Each input channel has a multi-step LED level indicator, as do the main stereo output channels. The clip LEDs flash at -0.5 dBFS.
  A useful feature is the monitor control section. Three push buttons are labeled Talk, Dim/Mute, and Mono. The Talk (talk-back) button works like an intercom, letting the engineer talk to the musicians via a built-in mic over any of the 8 output channels. The Mono button converts the monitored signal to mono so you can check for phase cancellations and work out the best EQ for separation of instruments. Pressing Dim/Mute temporarily drops or mutes the main output signal. Press and release to drop the level by 20 dB; press and hold to mute. 

Studio 192 analog section

  A large knob labeled Main adjusts the monitor speaker listening level, while two smaller knobs control the level at two 1/4-inch headphone jacks. Conveniently mounted on the front panel, an on-off switch glows steady blue when USB sync is established. 
  The rear panel contains 6 XLR mic/line inputs., which keeps much of the mic cables hidden and uncluttered to the front panel. Also on the rear is a full complement of I/O connectors: USB 3.0, ADAT S/MUX, S/PDIF digital in/out (up to 96 kHz), word clock in and out on BNC connectors, L and R main outputs using 1/4-inch TRS jacks, and eight line outputs that are TRS balanced. Those eight outputs can be used for independent monitor mixes or for loudspeaker switching.

Superb onboard mixer
  The Studio 192 comes with a powerful on-screen, UC surface monitor mixer (Figure 3), which allows you to adjust the mix between live mic signals and track playback. But it goes way beyond that.
  “Fat Channel” DSP processing in the UC Surface adds all sorts of effects to the headphone mix without affecting the recording itself. Every input channel has gating, compression, expansion, limiting, reverb, delay, and 4-band semi-parametric EQ. Using these effects does not add noticeable latency delay, unlike the usual routing of input signals through effects in a DAW. This zero-latency monitoring avoids the confusion of hearing yourself delayed over headphones when using DAW effects.

...And the digital connection options

  The sonic character of the DSP effects sounded quite good, except for a bit of grain in some of the reverb presets. That’s not too critical, because these effects are heard only over headphones while overdubbing; they are not part of the recording. Other reverb presets sounded smooth. 
  The UC Control allows you to create and store a library of scenes. A scene is like a snapshot of your monitor mix. It stores each Fat Channel parameter, input gain structure, the aux and effects mixes, each fader’s position, channel mutes and solos. With recallable monitor mixes, it’s easy to record a band in several sessions and use the same monitor mix setup each time.

Free software
  The Studio 192 interface is bundled with lots of free downloadable software. Some examples are the PreSonus UC Surface Contrtol software, PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist DAW software; and the Studio One manual, demo and tutorials. 

  If you have not tried the latest generation of recording interfaces in a while, you will be impressed how good the PreSonus Studio 192 sounds in comparison to the old computer recording gear.

  Studio One includes the Studio Magic Plug-in Suite, including plug-ins from Maag Audio, Lexicon, and Arturia. And there’s Brainworx's bx-opto, and SPL's Attacker transient designer. For 2018, the Studio Magic Plug-in Suite was updated for 2018:, including Klanghelm SDDR2tube and Output Movement.  These plug-ins are compatible with any DAW. Also available are free samples of drums, piano, synth and other instruments, plus music loops. PreSonus has produced many excellent tutorial videos for Studio One software. 
  Using an iPad with Studio One Remote software, each studio musician can set their own headphone mix. And the engineer can control the Studio One DAW away from the computer. Remote control of the preamps can be done via UC Surface software for iPad and Windows 8 Touch computers, Mac and Windows laptops and Android tablets.

The audition
  The PreSonus Studio 192 is a high-quality, multichannel recording interface, Though it came late to the 24/192 standard of other competitors, but it is a well-designed, great sounding recording center for the computer. I liked the solid feel of all the controls and the beautiful futuristic styling. Even the packaging was slick and eco-friendly. I had high expectations for quality sound, considering that the interface includes Burr-Brown converters which are spec’d at 118 dB dynamic range. Sonically, and operationally, the the PreSonus delivered the good.
  If you have not tried the latest generation of recording interfaces in a while, you will be impressed how good the Studio 192 sounds in comparison to the old computer recording gear. To determine how the sound quality of PreSonus interfaces has evolved, I did an A-B comparison between the PreSonus Studio 192 (running at 24-bits/192K) and the PreSonus FireStudio (running at 24-bits/44.1K). I picked up a variety of sound sources with a Rode NT-1 microphone, and split its signal through a Y-cable to both interfaces.

Darn tootin' the Studio 192 gets a Stellar Sound Award! This is one of the best recording/editing interfaces available for serious home studio buffs.

  Speech, kick drum, floor tom and electric bass sounded the same on both interfaces. But with a strummed or plucked guitar, I heard a more clarity with the Studio 192. The individual string plucks within a strummed chord were better defined, and the overall sound was more airy or open. Cymbal hits sounded almost the same in both interfaces, but slightly more “delicate” in the Studio 192, as if the cymbal were more real. In any case, the playback audio from the Studio192 was always pristine and beautiful.

The verdict
  With its ultimate 24/192K sample rate via upgraded converters, USB 3.0 connection, monitor controls and its powerful StudioOne recording software, the Presonus Studio 192 audio interface is a class act for those home recordists and seasoned pros who want to record/edit in the “box.”  Highly recommended and a worth recipient of the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

  Bruce Bartlett is a long time audio professional, microphone designer/engineer, and a product review contributor to the Everything Audio Network.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Digital Converter Review!
Benchmark DAC3-DX
Dual-Buss Output DAC:
More Output Options,
Incredible S/N Performance!

@Everything Audio Network

Price: starts at $2,095
Likes: accuracy, dual-buss output
Dislikes: no 5.6 MHz DSD playback
Wow Factor: another DAC3 option
More info: Benchmark DAC3-DX

by John Gatski
  Last year, I reviewed the Benchmark DAC3 flagship, the DAC-3 HGC in all its splendid sound — via headphone and line output. This year, I got a chance to evaluate the DAC3 DX, which gives you the same high performance from an upgraded, dual-buss analog output scheme and inclusion of the pro-spec AES/EBU digital input.
  The trade off for the extra digital jack is the elimination of the analog input jacks. The dual stereo output buses is more of a feature that professionals and home recording studios would implement, but audiophiles can find uses for it as well. (Click here to see the DAC3's bench measurements, provoded BHK Labs in Santa Barbara, Ca.)

  Utilizing the superb ESS ES9028-PRO 32-bit D/A chip, the $2,195 DAC3-DX (with remote; $2,095 without remote) also keeps the good stuff I like from the HGC (the headphone amp, digital connections, line out stages and bit status). The biggest feature difference from the HGC is addition of an AES/EBU XLR digital input, deletion of the analog inputs, and DX’s implementation of the dual stereo output bus operation — enabling separate headphone volume and line out.
  On the audiophile side, this premium DAC is designed for those who don’t use their DAC as an analog preamp — like me. Like many audiophiles, I hook up my DAC to my preamp of choice and only used the DAC as a DAC. I only use the volume control for the headphone listening.

  As a D/A converter, the Benchmark DAC3-DX is outstanding in its conversion quality. I used it extensively for listening to hi-res music through the headphone amp and the line out: open, smooth detailed sound with that recording studio accuracy that I am used to from Benchmark.

  The dual-buss stereo output capability, with separate volume control for HP amp and line out, gives added flexibility for specific uses, such as music recording in home studios, or audiophiles who want to use a fixed out for feeding a preamp and utilize variable volume for their extended headphone listening or driving a power amp.
  The DAC3‘s front panel contains the power button, two low-impedance load headphone jacks, audio mute/dim switch, power switch, and motorized volume control. An assortment of input indicators; the sample rate indicator, and word-length indicator (which every DAC should have) complete the front section.
  The DAC3-DX rear panel and is snugly packed with digital connection options: two SPDIF coax, two TOSlink, USB digital input (USB 1/2), an AES/EBU XLR digital input, all capable of 24-bit/192k audio. To make room for the AES/EBU connector, the DAC2-DX loses the two pairs of RCA unbalanced inputs (of the DAC3-HGC and L models). Analog-wise, the DX contains two sets of RCA unbalanced outputs, as well as the balanced XLR analog output pair.
The DX mnodel features AES/EBU input and dual-buss output

  All Benchmark DAC’s support DSD playback (DoP), and the digital input is via the USB jack, which decodes USB 1 and USB 2 digital protocols. USB 1 is a driverless input that supports up to 24/96 and no DSD. USB 2 supports up to 24/192 and DSD. The DAC3 series will also decode DSD from the coax and AES/EBU digital jacks via the 24/176 PCM carrier.
  Benchmark also makes the DAC3-L, which is a headphone amp-less version of the HGC. It costs $1,995 with the remote. The L model is for those who don't give a hoot about HP listening, and they save a few bucks.
  The DAC3-DX digital conversion design is the same as the HGC, other than the way the DAC chip channels are paralleled, which nets the DX a slightly lower, measured S/N-Dynamic range (-127dB vs. -128dB), but nothing that is audible.

  In fact, when I listened to them with my Coda preamp and level-matched each DAC, I could not hear any difference. As with the HGC, the DX contains the THD compensation feature, which is designed to enhance clean bass and a more-open, revealing soundstage.
  Like the HGC, the DX is in the top DAC class when it comes to playing hi-res music. Listening through headphones or line out, you can hear the bass precision, stereo image detail and timbre accuracy. 
  According to Benchmark VP/Designer John Siau, the sonic excellence is the result of the following design upgrades in the DAC3 series.
  Active second harmonic compensation; active third harmonic compensation; lower THD+N; lower pass-band ripple; improved frequency response; faster PLL lock times; and faster switching between input signals.

24/192 and DSD, too
  As mentioned, the Benchmark DAC3-HGC and DAC3-L, the DX decodes up to 24/192 PCM and 2.8MHz sampling DSD via the DoP protocol. The DX can receive the PCM via USB 2.0 jack or SPDIF/TOSlink; 96k is supported from the USB 1.0 protocol. DSD via DoP is through the USB 2.0 jack, or the digital coaxial and AES/EBU jacks. However, the DX (and all other DAC3’s) do not support 5.6 MHz DSD playback. You have to convert the 5.6 MHz DSD to 2.8 MHz in a software player in order to play it,
  Like the dual-buss, analog output, the balanced XLR AES/EBU digital input of the DAC3-DX enhances compatibility with professional equipment and high-end audiophile gear that use the connector. However, fewer and fewer audiophile players have AES/EBU XLR connectors. Even pro gear sometimes does not have the balanced digital option. 
  Other DX features include a high-quality remote control, which switches inputs, controls the volume and enables bypass mode.

Accurate conversion
  I cannot say enough about the DAC3-DX’s sonic character of transparency and accuracy. The key to the Benchmark’s more-refined sound is the new ES9028-Pro chip and the 32-bit, advanced volume control.
  Benchmark’s John Siau stressed that the “high-headroom DSP” in the ESS chip assures a natural smooth sound, but maintains the dynamics and accuracy.
  The DAC3-DX can handle signals as high as +3.5 dBFS, offering smoother-sounding performance on maxed digital recordings. Most digital systems “clip” signals that exceed 0 dBFS. Ever since digital recording was developed, the 0 dBFS digital audio limitation seemed reasonable (0 dBFS is the highest sinusoidal signal level that can be represented in a digital system if the peaks fall exactly half way between samples. And 0 dBFS is the highest signal that can be represented if the peaks fall exactly in phase with the samples).

Inside  DAC3-DX; jumpers enable XLR attenuation.

  However, real-world measurements and math equations show that PCM digital systems can have inter-sample peaks that may reach levels slightly higher than +3 dBFS — though the individual samples never exceed 0 dBFS!
  Inter-sample overs, however, corrupt the PCM interpolation filter, a key component of 24-bit DAC performance. The inter-sample overs, Siau noted, cause distortion components that are non-musical and harsh sounding. 
  Another component of the DAC3’s superb sound is the linear volume control, passive low-impedance attenuators, a 32-bit digital gain control and a servo-driven volume control. The digital inputs are controlled in 32-bit DSP.
  The passive output attenuators on the XLR outputs optimize the gain staging between the DAC3 and the power amplifier or powered monitors. Most amplifiers and powered monitors will require the -10 dB setting. The Benchmark AHB2 accepts full studio levels and requires the use of the high amplitude setting (attenuators off). These pads are very important for optimizing the SNR of the entire playback system.
  Benchmark utilizes National Semiconductor LME49860 op-amps throughout the audio path of all DAC3's. An Alps, motorized-gain potentiometer is used to control the volume.

Jitter is in the past
  Benchmark was a pioneer in jitter reduction in D/A converters, and the effective UltraLock2(TM) jitter attenuation system, asynchronous upsampling remain unchanged in the DX. 
  As per the DAC3-HGC, the DX is very well built, using low-noise voltage regulators, and the circuit board has six layers of copper and includes 3-dimensional shielding for critical signals. Components are chosen for the most linear response and lowest distortion.

Instantaneous bit status
  Benchmark reliably carries over from the DAC3-HGC, L (and DAC2), its very useful digital word-length and sample rate status lights. These are key to showing that bit-transparency is maintained from the audio player or computer to the DAC.

Note the bit lights on the left.

  The DAC3‘s sample rate/word length indicator section contains 16-bit and 24-bit LEDs for word-length verification, and 44.1/48 kHz LEDs and 2X/4X LEDs for sample rate status. Thus, if your incoming signal is 24-bit/96 kHz sampling, the indicators show the 24-bit LED, the 48 kHz LED and the 2X LED (48 kHz x 2 equals 96 kHz). A 24-bit/192 kHz audio file lights the 24-bit LED, the 48 kHz LED and the 4X LED (48 kHz x 4 equals 192 kHz). DSD signals are indicated by simultaneous lighting of the 2X and 4X LEDs.

The set up
  Since the basic design is ditto to the DAC3-HGC, I  did not have to do much work in the listening department — other than to confirm  its audio excellence.
  The review system was a newly added pair of MartinLogan Impression speakers,  Pass Labs Int-60 amplifier and Benchmark’s AHB2 bipolar output amplifier (said to be the quietest amp on the market).. The DAC3 did duties as a DAC-only connected to the INT-60 with fixed outpt, and as a DAC/preamp,driving the AHB2, which is about the quietest amp on the market. (See EAN Benchmark DAC3-HGC review).
  Sources included an Oppo BDP-205,  an ASUS Android tablet with USB Audio Player Pro in the bit perfect mode, connected by USB 2.0; and a Macbook Pro laptop using Audirvana Plus.
  Other DACs on hand for comparison included the DAC-3-HGC, Mytek Digital Brooklyn, Oppo Sonica and TEAC UD-503
 Analog  interconnects, digital cables and speaker cables were from the Wireworld Eclipse series. Power cords and power strip included Essential Sound Products. AKG K702 Anniversary, AKG K812, Oppo PM-1 and Shure SRH-1840 shared headphone monitoring duties.

Easy to operate
  The remote control duplicates all front panel functions including input switching, volume, dim/mute, and polarity controls. The classy remote is made of aluminum and has a nice feel; the buttons are easy to operate. The motorized volume control makes minimal noise as its servo operates. When you push the mute/dim button from either the remote or front panel, it will lower the level. Hit it again  and it goes to the previous volume position.

The audition
  Using the ubiquitous Oppo UDP-205 and my Macbook Pro computer via USB, I  played an assortment of hi-res tracks through DAC3-DX, and it performed exactly like the HGC — top-tier audio accuracy, balance, width, depth and detail.
  My DSD DSF rip (of the often played) Warren Bernhardt - So Real SACD sounded incredible through the MartinLogans using this DAC. The audible cymbal splash sheen detail is like hearing the cymbal in the front of your listening room.
  Same with the Steinway piano tone. Upper register notes are so live sounding. The “air” and “space” around and between the instruments is simply stunning when played on the best gear. 
  On numerous hi-res tracks, the opinion was the same: sonic excellence! The Stradivarius tone on the RCA Living Stereo release of Jasca Heifetz - Sibelius, Prokofiev, and  Glazunov Violin Concertos was amazingly fleshed out from these 1950s/60s analog tape— with a complex depth of the string/wood tone, yet the Benchmark relayed all the detail that was on those tapes.
  And the headphone amp is just as revealing. Plug in your favorite cans and you will be impressed. It is transparent, uncolored quality audio straight to your ‘phones. No extra warmth or enhanced top end. My AKG K702s and Sennheiser HD-650s matched up well with the DAC3-DX.

Output options
  Since the DAC3-DX design is geared for pros, as well as audiophiles, with its dual-buss architecture. I used the DX’s dual-buss routing extensively in the home recording studio — feeding audio to the headphone amp and monitor speakers for detailed track playback of an acoustic guitar and Nord keyboard recording that I recorded in 24/192.

  Utilizing the superb ESS ES9028-PRO 32-bit D/A chip, the $2,195 DAC3-DX (with remote; $2,095 without remote) also keeps the good stuff I like from the HGC (the headphone amp, digital connections, line out stages and bit status). 

  With the dual-buss feature you can control the level of headphone amp and the analog balanced or unbalanced line outputs separately. Or you can set the line outs to the fixed level and still have variable headphone level control.
  In my studio, I connected the DAX3-DX’s balanced outputs to a Benchmark AHB2 amp, which powered a set of Amphion closefield speakers. With the dual-buss feature, I was able to monitor via headphones to check the detail, balance and low level noise; yet, I also could alternately listen and control volume to the Amphion speakers. You can even feed the fixed signal to a multiple headphone amp unit for other  musicians to listen. Dual-buss definitely gives you more audio routing flexibility. 
  The only niggle in what is an outstanding endorsement of the DAC3-DX is an exclusion; it does not decode DSD 128X or any PCM above 192 kHz. Not deal breakers, but many competitors do offer those features. Some would argue there is precious little commercial music above 192k (2L mainly), and if there is, the DAC3 can play the music from downsampling through the layer software.
  I can go for that argument, but the lack of DSD 128X play capability does hinder it for music, such as Blue Coast DSD and those who record at DSD 128X (as i do with my TASCAM DA-3000) and would like to play it from the Benchmark. 

The verdict
  The Benchmark DAC3-DX is a variation on the DAC-3 HGC with different features: AES/EBU digital input and the dual-buss analog output. The trade off is the deletion of the analog inputs of the HGC, but I prefer the DX over the HGC since I do not use a DAC as a preamp for analog input connection.
  I use a DAC for digital connections and listen via onboard headphone amp and fixed level output to my outboard line preamp. The dual-output buss is a bonus as is the AES/EBU digital connection. Both make the DX more compatible with professional- and home-recording studio setups.

DAC3-DX comes with or without the nice remote

  As a D/A converter, the Benchmark DAC3-DX is outstanding in its conversion quality. I used it extensively for listening to hi-res music through the headphone amp and the line out: open, smooth detailed sound with that recording studio accuracy that I am used to from Benchmark. Look at our bench test; the numbers are super, especially the signal to noise and dynamic range
  The different feature set gives Benchmark customers another option, and as its specs and subjective use reveal, the DX is worth considering if you want top-tier digital conversion, but minus the analog in.
  If you do not need analog inputs, it is darn near perfect. The DAC3-DX most certainly gets an EAN Stellar Sound Award, and should be closely looked at by pros and audiophiles alike.

  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: