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  • LYNX AURORA 8 (A/D AND D/A CONVERTER) - NOW WITH CONCLUSIONS!

    Well it's time for another Pro Review, and as always, it seems each Pro Review has its own gestalt. This one was actually scheduled for late last summer, but an illness got in the way and I missed the "window." Luckily, the guys at Lynx were pretty cool about it, and were just as happy that a Pro Review would be happening now. The Lynx had been selling well, and they figured that a little post-NAMM attention might be a nice "second wind."

    But then I had to figure out how to approach the Lynx. Frankly, there isn't a lot of controversy around it to make for a juicy Pro Review. Ask just about anyone, and they'll tell you that the Aurora sounds great and costs a lot less than expected. As just one example, I was talking with Steve Thomas from Cakewalk at NAMM about the new Sonar 6.2 update. The subject turned to high-resolution audio, and sort of out of nowhere, he started talking about how great Lynx converters are. Martin Walker of Sound on Sound is a big Lynx fan, and he's another guy with technical chops and ears. And to paraphrase a post that Mike Rivers made somewhere in my SSS forum, "Then there are companies that really know what they're doing, like Lynx."

    This parallels my own experience with Lynx. I used to recommend that people never buy an analog audio interface card that sits inside a computer; I always said get one with a breakout box, or use a digital interface. But then I was sent a LynxTWO card to review for EQ magazine. I of course figured it couldn't really be any good, because it sat inside the computer. So I was pretty shocked that the audio quality was equal, or superior, to outboard converters of pretty much any price. From that point on, I had to make an exception about analog audio interface cards.

    So what was I going to do for the Aurora 8? Say "Wow, it sounds really good...well, that's just about wraps it up!"? Nah, that wouldn't work. So I decided to take a two-step approach:

    * Explain some of the more esoteric features...just what is "double wire AES/EBU," anyway? And what about those expansion cards?
    * Get interviews with the engineers at Lynx about what kind of mojo they put into the Aurora, so we could all learn something about what's involved in the design of A/D and D/A converters. As luck would have it, they were very forthcoming; I've captured about a half hour's worth of interesting stuff, ranging from whether master clocks really do improve sound quality (the answer might surprise you) to why PC board layout affects digital circuitry.

    Ready? Let's go. As usual, I'll start with some pix to give an idea of what's happening on the outside and "under the hood."
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  • #2
    I don't like to re-invent the wheel with Pro Reviews and reproduce information you can readily find elsewhere.

    The Lynx Aurora landing page will get you the basic specs and idea behind the product. You can also download the manual in PDF format.

    There's also a page with a description of all front panel controls, and another page with a description of all rear panel connectors. Finally, you can access an FAQ with the top questions asked about the Aurora.

    These are actually excellent resources that are pretty free of hype, intending instead to let you know what the various functions are...if you feel like doing some homework before continuing with the Pro Review, at least check out the landing page.
    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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    • #3
      The Aurora feels solid, and has a very open panel that doesn't have a lot of controls or switches. I of course wanted to gauge the internal construction, so I took it apart (not a difficult task at all), got out my trusty camera, and started shooting.

      As you can see, surface mounting components is the order of the day. I believe the red cubes are relays, which are an expensive way to switch signals but also introduce no degradation to the signal path as it's just a wire being switched - semiconductors need not apply. In the second picture, note the configuration dipswitch.
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      • #4
        The Aurora is available in two models, the Aurora 8 (eight channels of A/D and D/A conversion, 8 channels of AES/EBU digital I/O in single-wire mode, 4 channels of AES/EBU digital I/O in dual-wire mode), and the Aurora 16 (double the numbers in the previous parenthetical phrase).

        It seems the same board is used in both models, as when I took the Aurora 8 apart, there seemed to be a lot of blank spaces for extra chips, as you can see in the pictures below. I imagine all you'd really need to do is swap out the front and rear panels and put in the extra chips to end up with a 16, but after checking the web site, there doesn't seem to be any "hardware upgrade" path - not too suprising, as you can't exactly "re-bake" something with surface mount components.
        CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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        • #5
          When I spoke with one of the engineers at Lynx, he mentioned that the power supply design was one of the elements that keeps noise down. Sure enough, there's a big honkin' toroidal transformer, shown in the picture below. (The second photo shows what I think are dual regulators - note the 1000 microfarad capacitor, that's a lot of filtering).

          However, the power supply design comes with a tradeoff: It's set at the factory for a specific voltage, and cannot be altered in the field. This goes against the trend toward having "universal" supplies that work on everything from 100 to 250V, but I presume that by optimizing the power supply for a single voltage, they can keep the noise down further...hopefully someone from Lynx is reading this, and can chime in as to why they use the supply they do.
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          • #6
            Well, that's enough to get us started...it's 1:45AM, and I need to get up early tomorrow and do some more videos. But there will be more to come...
            CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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            • #7
              Craig - The main reason we use a linear power supply in Aurora is to reduce the possibility of introducing additional noise typical of a switching power supply. Switching power supplies can generate lots of high frequency noise that can creep into sensitve analog circuitry and get through anti-aliasing filters in A/D converters. There are techniques for minimizing this, but we decided to play it safe with the big honkin' toroidal transformer. The downside is that a linear supply cannot be made "universal" and generates more heat.

              Bob Bauman
              Lynx Co-founder, Chief Hardware Engineer

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              • #8
                Hello Bob..

                looking forward to the review i was one of the first L22 users emailing david h. about the mac drivers for virtual instruments w/logic! way back when... can't remember the number of years ago.. gettin' old. nice to see the anouncement of the PCIe cards

                -michael droste

                say hi to david for me
                - Michael Droste Itunes Link
                Stop By: TrumpetStudio.com or MusicRowSongs.com or SaveThePlanetSong.org
                Some Main Gear: AT4050, Dual 1.8 G4, Logic, Waves Plat + SSL +API, Tritone, URS, PSP, Zebra, BFD, RND, Sony Oxford, Altiverb...

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                • #9
                  Okay, you have all the A/D and D/A conversion. How do you hook it up to the rest of the world?

                  Actually, this kind of threw me for a bit, because it turns out there are a lot of options. I think I've got this figured out, but if not, I'm sure I'll be corrected

                  Dealing with the analog I/O is relatively easy. The Aurora 8 has two DB-25 connectors, one for 8 analog ins and one for 8 analog outs. The first picture below shows these (along with the MIDI I/O, which we'll be talking about later).

                  As to digital I/O, there is another DB-25 connector. The second picture below shows this, along with the LSLOT expansion port. The DB-25 connector provides 8 AES/EBU digital outs and 8 AES/EBU digital ins.

                  However, as well know, XLR plugs don't fit real well into DB-25 connectors, so...
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                  • #10
                    The existence of DB-25 connectors can mean only one thing: custom, expensive snakes. That's the bad news. The good news is that snakes are less expensive, less messy, and more reliable than having individual cables for every signal path.

                    Lynx sells suitable cables; the ones shown in the photo were supplied by Lynx for use in this review. For example, the CBL-AIN85 costs $80; it has a DB-25 connector at one end, and 8 standard audio XRL connectors at the other end. A typical use for this is if you have an old 8 track tape recorder with XLR outs, and you want to archive some tapes to digital. This cable will get your tape recorder's analog outs to the Auroras A/D converter. As to where those digital signals go...patience.

                    Another cable, the CBL-AOUT85 (also $80), does the reverse: It takes the eight analog DB-25 outputs from the Aurora 8 and breaks that out into eight XLR output connectors. A typical scenario here would be if you have a digital source going into the Aurora 8, and want to send it to the outside world. For example, you might have the digital outs of a 5.1 surround system feeding into the Aurora D/A. You can break each channel out into an XLR audio output, which could feed a mixer for blending the surround signals, or for that matter, monitor speakers with XLR inputs.

                    Now let's look at the Rest of the Story.
                    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                    • #11
                      What if you want to get the digital signal to be converted into analog from a computer? Or an ADAT? Or, suppose you want to be able to bypass the converters in a [fill in the name of a digital mixer with converters you don't like] and go directly into an ADAT light pipe in or wired multipin digital input present in the mixer. Well, there are several solutions.

                      The computer solution involves an accessory card, the AES16 ($695). This is a cross-platform (Windows 2K/XP and Mac OS9/OSX) PCI card with 16 channels of digital AES/EBU I/O on two 26-pin "HD" connectors (these are smaller than DB-25 connectors and have three rows of pins -- 9, 9, and 8).

                      So suppose you want to use the Aurora 8 as an audio interface with your computer, and in fact, that's what I'll be doing with a Mac to test it out. You slip the card in the computer, and for Windows, end up with drivers for WDM, WDM/KS, MME, ASIO, DirectSound, and GSIF. The Mac gives ASIO drivers for OS9 and Core Audio for OS X. Hook up the CBL-DIGY85 cable ($80) between the AES16 card and the Aurora 8, and the Aurora turns into a major-league breakout box. Now all you need is the XLR breakout cables for the analog I/O. If you need RCA connectors or TRS 1/4", adapter cables are available from Lynx for $6.50.

                      So yeah, this is a bit of a commitment. You won't find a dedicated instrument input, for example; the Aurora 8 is clearly designed as "brain" that needs to work with other gear.
                      CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                      • #12
                        If you digital world revolves around ADAT, you're covered there as well. You can get a second board, the LS-ADAT. which for $249 gives you a set of ADAT I/O to go along with the AES16. We're dealing with computer-land here.

                        If on the other hand you want the ADAT I/O built into the Aurora itself, you can insert an LT-ADAT board into the Aurora. A typical reason for wanting to do this is if you wanted to, for example, bypass the converters in an ADAT. You'd feed your audio into the Aurora's XLR inputs, then feed the Aurora's ADAT out to your ADAT's ADAT in. Of course the same principle applies when using a digital mixer with ADAT I/O.
                        CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                        • #13
                          In addition to hooking the Aurora into the AES16, it's also possible to patch it directly into Yamaha and Mackie digital mixers. And there's a cable available for hooking into Apogee gear as well. Although the AES16 box says that "Cables will be offered for connection to equipment from Tascam, Sony, and Digidesign," I didn't see anything fitting that description on the web site.

                          So, what's next? As mentioned previously, I initially plan to test the Aurora as an audio interface with the Mac (dual G5 model). Next, I asked Lynx if they could loan me an LT-ADAT card for use with the Aurora, and I'll use that to test the Aurora with one or more ADAT-compatible devices (e.g., Panasonic DA7). Keep reading...
                          CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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                          • #14
                            Is a PCI Express version of the AES16 going to be available?

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                            • #15
                              Is a PCI Express version of the AES16 going to be available?


                              Hi all,

                              Yes, we will be releasing a PCIe version of the AES16 mid year. It will be very comparable to the current AES16 in terms of features.

                              Craig, good catch on the cables. As you mentioned, we don't currently have an off-the-shelf D-SUB solution for Tascam/Digidesign/RADAR format with the AES16, however many users have reported excellent results ordering cables from third party custom shops like Redco. We make the pinouts for our products readily available, so users can pursue whatever cable lengths or connector types that suit their situation. AES16 pinouts are here. Aurora pinouts are here.

                              Paul Erlandson
                              Lynx Studio Technology
                              Director of Product Support

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