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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Home Recording Review!
Prism Sound Titan 8-Channel
A/D-D/A Recording USB Interface
"Premium Home Recording Rig For Mac/PC"

Price: $3,995
Likes: Fantastic converters, mic pre’s
Dislikes; No DSD recording/playback
Wow Factor: pinnacle of USB recording
More info: Prism Sound Titan

by John Gatski
  Computer recording interfaces are quite the norm these days for recording pristine-quality music in a home or dedicated professional studio. The technology’s evolution has made recording/playback tasks so easy that even novice musicians and audiophile recordists can master the task. They come in an array of input configurations and budgets, but one of the best is the made-in-England, Prism Sound line of USB recording interfaces.
  In 2014, I reviewed the entry level, single mic/instrument input Prism Sound Lyra USB recording interface, and I was impressed by the audio quality and utility. This more upscale, eight-input Prism Sound Titan is even better. In fact, the Titan so impressed me with its DAC playback that I not only used it as a recording interface in my home studio, but I also pressed it into audiophile, monitor-DAC duty for much of its review tenure. It is that good.

The Prism Sound Titan offers eight analog recording channels, eight monitoring outputs, stereo digital input/output on a phono connector, plus concurrent optical digital I/O ports that can interface to S/PDIF or ADAT data formats, giving Titan a maximum capability of 18 concurrent input and output channels — plus a high quality stereo headphone amplifier.
  Depending on the computer software configuration, the Titan can record all channels at up to 24-bit/192. And the latency (lag) of the throughput versus live is ultra low. Unfortunately, the Prism Sound line of USB interfaces does not handle DSD recording or playback. Most of its competitors eschew DSD as well. Pity, considering the format is still popular in audiophile circles, but the continued lack of cost-effective recording/editing tools, diminishes its use in most studios and home recording rigs.

  The Titan so impressed me with its DAC playback that I not only used it as a recording interface in my home studio, but I also pressed it into audiophile, monitor-DAC duty for much of its review tenure. It is that good.

  The attractive, one-rack space Titan has a neatly laid out front panel that features a compact, onboard GUI (for monitoring channel input/output, digital status, sync and the “Overkiller” processor status) master volume control, headphone jacks, headphone control and the two instrument inputs.
  The back panel includes four balanced XLR/jack combi-inputs for microphone (48V phantom powering) or line level inputs respectively, four 1/4-inch TRS line-in and eight line-out jacks, plus separate TOSlink digital I/O ports. The USB 2.0 Type B female jack connects the Titan to the computer. There is, of course, the standard detachable IEC power cord receptacle on the back panel as well.

Ultra-low noise mic pres
  The Prism Sound mic preamp section features premium op-amps, and the analog circuit delivers a claimed S/N ratio of -130 dB; the mic inputs also benefit 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 audible distortion.
  The key to using Titan’s abundant feature set is the digital interface software, which operates on Windows and Mac. The Control App software integrates all the hardware routing, as well as engaging the various digital functions — such as level, word length/sample rate selection and Prism’s excellent sample rate converter. The software has to mesh nicely with the recording computer to enable smooth operation, and the Prism Sound interface does its job well.

Onscreen with Titan's virtual mixer

  The virtual mixer can be used to route audio in and out from the computer work station, as well as provide channel gain, panning, solo assignments and other normal mixing features. With eight channels I/O, processing and routing, it’s a good idea to take a few hours and brush up on the manual to get comfortable with the GUI. Print is a bit small in the included paper manual. I found it easier to read online from Prism’s web site.
  The Titan is a UAC2 (USB Audio Class 2) interface supported natively in Mac and in Windows, via a driver, which greatly increases its future versatility with more portable digital products, such as the portable digital tablet. Currently, Titan requires Windows Vista or later PC system and Mac Leopard or later OS to operate. (I am glad that Prism Sound has not abandoned Snow Leopard OS in Mac like other USB audio products have.)

  Prism Sound includes its fantastic software sample rate converter (SRC) in the Titan. Via the Control App SRC menu item, you can convert, for example, 24/192 recordings to 16/44.1 with the SRC and Prism’s custom dither, allowing the cleanest downsampling and word-length reduction possible.

  The digital output is equipped with the four Prism Sound SNS noise-shaping curves and includes Prism Sound's renowned synchronous sample-rate conversion, allowing outputs to various external devices at other sampling rates. The sample-rate converter can be used at the RCA AES/SPDIF output or input. According to Prism, Titan can also create a live 44.1kHz output from a 96 kHz session. Since Titan also includes the full suite of the famous Prism Sound 'SNS' noise shapers and SRC, the audio project can be dithered to 16-bits at mastering-house quality.
  The key to Titan’s overall audio quality is its A/D-D/A converter section (utilizing Cirrus Logic CS5381 A/D-CS4398 D/A in Prism’s custom-configured signal path). It features audiophile-grade specs with greater than 117 dB dynamic range and S/N, when doing 24-bit recording and playback. In fact, you can use the Titan as a standalone audiophile DAC with your outboard gear; you set it up on the computer for solo DAC use (TOSlink, SPDIF 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 set up
  I connected the Prism Sound Titan to a new Apple iMac and re-familiarized myself with the Control App that I learned with the Lyra. Since I had that experience with the Lyra, the re-familiarization curve was short, and I was soon up and running with my I/O configurations and recording settings.
  The virtual mixer is set up like a real mixer, with faders, buttons, knobs and status windows, a nomenclature familiar to recording professionals and musicians. The interface is not so daunting that new users, such as audiophiles and those new to computer recording, can’t get up to speed after a few hours of learning the system. If you can operate Garage Band, you can get around on the Titan.

Plenty of analog and digital connections for the home studio

  For my sample tracks, I primarily recorded/and played back with the software, Twisted Wave, which is a powerful, relatively inexpensive multi-channel/stereo recording and playback program for Mac. In fact, you can even use it for a month before you have to buy. I also made some recordings.
  I connected the L-R stereo line outputs to a Pass Labs XA-30.5 amplifier using Wireworld cables, and then linked the amp to a a pair of Westlake LC 8.1 professional nearfield speakers, set on Raxcess speaker stands. This setup was used for playback. I also monitored via headphones during the recording process. I used either a Shure SRH940, Oppo PM-1 or AKG’s new K812 headphones, depending on the project. By the way, the headphone amp is no afterthought. as good as high-end audiophile standalone that i have heard.

The audition
  My first recording project with the Prism Sound was a three-instrument demo with acoustic and electric guitars. Using one Audix SCX-25A lollipop cardioid condenser for a Martin J-40, another SCX-25A on a small body Kindred, OM-style small acoustic. I created this airy, folky stereo mix of clean acoustic guitar. Then I went back in and added the warm, lush tones of my Gibson L5 jazz guitar, played through a 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb original, that was mic’d with an ADK Custom Shop L51 tube microphone to give the track some warm balance. After recording the tracks, I mixed the two acoustic guitars into left and right channels and the L5 in the middle. The sonic result, as played back through the Prism Sound Titan, was fantastic!
  During playback, I could not be more impressed with the Prism Sound Titan. The dual, crisp-sounding acoustic guitar chorus signature emerged from the mix with a fine string detail — and with just a tinge of room reverb and tons of air, thanks to the mic preamps and top-notch Prism Sound converters. The Titan’s D/As were audiophile accurate with extensive dynamic range and low noise.

Front Panel DI perfect for guitar input

  Since I played and recorded the tracks simultaneously, I can vouch for the ultra-low latency of the Titan, as was the case with the Lyra. Even a top-notch pro will be impressed with the Prism’s throughput speed.
  In another recording scenario, I recorded my Yamaha U1 professional upright piano, circa 1975. This 48-inch upright has a clear top end, but the older wood also exhibits a warm upper-bass and midrange piano character that sounds more Steinway-esque with its placement in a room with partially carpeted hardwood floor.
  I plugged in two Audix SCX-25A mics and put them on a stereo T-bar, extended up with a telescoping mic stand, about 18-inches from the open lid. I plugged the mics into the Titan, set the levels and recorded several sample pieces at 24/192.
  The playback results were wonderful; the Audix mics add a sheen to the upper register keys, plus masterly captures the midrange warmth and reverb tails of the room acoustics. I am a big fan of this mic. As recorded through the Prism Sound Titan, the dynamic range was immense. And the audio was dead quiet in all the right spaces without any noise or edge. I did the same recording with an older computer recording interface (Firewire), and its playback had way more of an audible edge in the low treble.

Hither and dither
  Although hi-res recording is becoming the norm, Prism Sound includes its fantastic software sample rate converter (SRC) in the Titan. Via the Control App SRC menu item, you can convert, for example, 24/192 recordings to 16/44.1 with the SRC and Prism Sound's custom dither, allowing the cleanest downsampling and word-length reduction possible. I did this with several of my Prism Sound Titan-recorded tracks just to see what the 24/192 original sounded like as CD tracks. They were not quite as dynamic or as airy as the original, as you would expect with word length reduction and SRC, but the conversion tracks still had abundant sonic detail — without the sample rate conversion grunge that I have heard in lesser SRCs. If you need SRC and word reduction, the Prism Sound is as good as it gets.
  I found the Titan’s playback prowess, just as capable, if not more so, than the previously reviewed Lyra. It easily drove my Shure SRH-1840, AKG K702 and Oppo-PM1 headphones — with excellent width and depth in the stereo field. I compared it to Benchmark DAC2-DX, Mytek Stereo 192/DSD, Oppo HA-1, and Mytek Manhattan DAC HPs. It was right up there; in fact, its accurate, smooth character reminded me of the $5,000 Mytek Manhattan.

Front-panel channel level indicators

  BTW, the Titan has a nice extra feature not seen in most recording interfaces — a phono preamp, which performs quite well with MC cartridges. I dubbed several audiophile albums from a Clear Audio audiophile turntable with Benz Micro MC cartridge, connecting the TT outputs to the Prism Sound inputs via Wireworld premium interconnect cables. I then recorded the LP selections to 24-bit/96 kHz via the freeware Audacity record/edit program on a Macbook Pro.
  Playback of the dubbed LP recordings put a smile on my face. In fact, once I edited out the “intro” and “outro” groove noise of the Getz/Gilberto Mo-Fi LP ("The Girl from Ipanema") that I digitally copied, several people I played the tracks for could not tell it was a record. The guitar, sax and vocals were full, and the dub’s cymbal tone was a perfect capture of the LP and cartridge. My guests were convinced it was the SACD.
  Although the Prism Sound Titan is a computer recording/playback interface, its DAC is so good that audiophiles can use it strictly for playback (Prism Sound is expected to introduce a standalone hi-fi DAC in the near future). To use it as a standalone DAC, you just need to set up the digital routing (SPDIF, TOSlink or AES/EBU) with the computer connected to it. But once the settings are engaged, it can be untethered and put into your gear rack and used with your favorite player.
  And I did just that. Connecting the Titan to an Oppo BDP-105 universal player’s SPDIF output jack, and, alternately, an Astell and Kern portable hi-res player via its TOSlink output, the Titan became a high-end DAC/preamp — transmitting its line audio to a pair of $60,000 Pass XS-150 super Class-A MOSFET monoblocks and MartinLogan Montis electrostatic speakers.

The converters are just too good to ignore, and it has the capability to accomplish a variety of studio tasks from simple two-track to more complex multitrack projects — without breaking a sweat. If you got the money, this is the USB audio interface to get.

  The Prism’s sonic playback character was exquisite. Recordings that really popped from that playback scenario included “Ole Bull” from the 2L label. This 24/192 violin/orchestral PCM recording (distributed on Blu-ray) has the most accurate-sounding, violin string harmonics I have ever heard captured on a hi-fi recording, and the Prism Sound handled it about as well as my other high-end DACs, producing a rich organic, violin tone with a dynamic orchestral accompaniment.
  A great DAC should excel on any kind of music, as was the case with the Titan. Going from the precision and nuance of Classical music to power of Rock did not bother it one bit. The remastered Led Zeppelin III 24/96 recording is a brilliant reissue with increased acoustic instrument detail and country, folk and blues acoustic instrumentation. The tracks “Gallow’s Pole” and “Tangerine” are filled out nicely with steel guitar, banjo and acoustic guitar, and the Titan showcased that sonic openness quite well. Via speakers or headphone amp, it’s nice to hear classic rock music sound this good.

The verdict
  Overall, I was really impressed by the Prism Sound Titan. It ain’t cheap, at just under $4,000 (with numerous competitive interfaces on the market at a grand or less), and it does not record or play DSD. However, the Prism’s rich European pedigree, high build quality and excellent sounding converters make it tough to find a better all-in-one PCM recording package.
  As with most USB recording interfaces, the front-panel GUI screen is pretty small (you need the computer screen to use it well) and you have to take the time to learn its capability. This is not a one button record device. You have to delve into its software Control App to learn all the features to appreciate its versatility.
  But as a total, comprehensive record/playback USB interface, even with its high price tag, the Titan still earns an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award. The converters are just too good to ignore, and it has the capability to accomplish a variety of studio tasks from simple two-track to more complex multitrack projects — without breaking a sweat. If you got the money, this is the USB audio interface to get.

  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 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 

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