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MAY 2004

Lynx AES16 Pro Audio Review Magazine

Lynx Studio Technology AES16 AES/EBU Interface
By Alan Silverman


Lynx Studio Technology has built its reputation developing high-quality digital audio converters and interfaces for PC and Mac workstations. The company has rolled out a number of industry firsts and the performance of their products has consistently rivaled that of dedicated standalone devices. With their new AES16 card, hardware engineer Bob Bauman and software engineer David Hoatson have addressed the growing need of users of native audio applications for affordable high-definition multichannel digital I/O. The AES16 is the first computer sound card to support 16 simultaneous channels of single-wire, 192 kHz, 24-bit digital audio. A flexible mixer applet enables the card to act as a multipoint digital studio router, while a proprietary, highly effective reclocking technique, which the company calls SynchroLock, adds audiophile-grade jitter reduction.

Product Points

Applications:

v Studio, broadcast, post production
Key Features:
Up tp 16-channel; 24-bit; up to 192 kHz sample rate; word clock, SuperClock; SynchroLock jitter reduction
Price:
starts at $695

Contact:
Lynx Studio Technology at 949-515-8265,
Web Site.

Features

The AES16 interfaces to the outside world through two ports that can be configured to accommodate a wide variety of external equipment. Breakout cables are available in AES XLR formats as well as standard multichannel D-subs for interfacing with Yamaha, Apogee and Mackie equipment. Word clock/SuperClock connections are via BNC. There are internal header sockets that allow for linking multiple cards in a single computer, as well as an LStream expansion port which provides connections to the company's LS-ADAT expansion card for lightpipe I/O and ADAT sync. Driver development is extensive and now includes Windows MME, ASIO, WDM, GSIF (GigaStudio), Mac OS 9 ASIO, and OS X Core Audio. The card is full-duplex so all record and playback streams can be simultaneously active even at the highest sample rate. There is no halving of the stream count for each doubling of SR. A sync-start option, on by default, keeps all streams sample-aligned.

Control and configuration of the card is provided in the Lynx Mixer applet by means of three clearly laid out screens. Clock source and lock status are shown on the "adapter" page where specifics such as detected rates, validity, parity, and CRC data can aid in troubleshooting. All standard audio and video clock sources and a long list of non-PCM data such as MPEG, ATRAC, DTS or Dolby Digital streams are supported. Dual-wire I/O is also included.

The adapter page also indicates SynchroLock status. This technique, developed by Bob Bauman, utilizes an extremely low-jitter voltage-controlled oscillator and a real-time statistical analyzer for matching internal clock speed to the incoming data rate.

Accomplishing ultralow jitter performance inside the hostile environment of a Mac or a PC is impressive. (Bob has managed a similar feat in the past with his excellent onboard A/D-D/A converters for the LynxTWO series.)

The "record" page allows the selection of a physical source for each of the 16-input channels from 32 possible inputs - 16 on the card itself and 16 on the optional LStream expansion port. Each input strip includes a mute and dither select button and a high-resolution meter with a display range of 120 dB. The meters can also be zoomed to 96 dB and 70 dB ranges.

The "output" page is where most of the action occurs. Here you can route any of the digital input streams and host app play streams to any physical output. Up to four simultaneous sources can also be mixed to each output allowing for 4 x 32 x 16 routings, all in real-time at up to 192 kHz. Mute, dither select, and 120 dB meter functions are also available plus level control faders for each source and each output. Values are displayed for output master fader levels, but values for the source faders will be implemented in a future version of the mixer, possibly by the time this article reaches print. Needless to say, some very complex scenarios can be realized so Lynx has provided a library for storing and recalling complete configurations, as well as a mixer-lock switch that prevents any unintended changes.

In Use

Setting up an AES16 on an XP Pro machine was easy. Drop in the card, start the system, run the installation disc, done. My system already had a LynxTWO-B onboard and both cards appeared as expected in the Lynx Mixer and in Sequoia, my main audio application. I had also connected an LS-ADAT to the AES16.

My normal mastering mode for analog sources requires that I run two sample rates at once. After digitizing a mix tape at 88.2 kHz for editing and assembly, I play out of the AES16 at double-sampling for EQ and dynamics processing with Weiss Engineering gear, then run through a real-time Weiss SRC for 44.1 kHz/24-bit capture by the LynxTWO, all in a single pass. Even though the end result is 44.1 kHz, the "fidelity headroom" of the higher rate makes a difference. Sequoia allows me to run a two sample-rate session in a single instance of the program, playing out of one card at 88.2 kHz and recording into the other at 44.1 kHz.

Projects recorded at 176.4 kHz are just now starting to show up at Arf! Digital. The first was a multichannel classical mixing and mastering session. Sequoia had no difficulty combining 16 tracks of 4Fs 24-bit audio to 5.1, and the Lynx AES16 played the six high-definition output streams without difficulty.

These types of sessions barely tap the potential of the AES16, but my first opportunity to do so did arrive - mastering 80 minutes of live surround mixes for a new DVD by Cheap Trick that required audience sweetening and additional 5.1 reverb. Prior to getting the card, I would set up my Yamaha 02R96 surround mixer for a job like this, but the desk does not live in the mastering room and the changeover is very time consuming. Using only the routing capabilities of the AES16, I set up a multichannel insert loop for my TC6000, returned the surround reverb to Sequoia to be combined with the original 5.1 mix and the additional audience tracks, played the final 5.1 composite through six output channels on the card, and captured it back as the final version via six inputs all in a single real-time pass. Priceless.

I've used Lynx cards in my mastering DAW for the last two years and Lynx Studio Technology has provided exemplary support. The developers respond quickly and effectively to e-mails and also provide timely replies on the Lynx Yahoo mail list. They have not only a thorough knowledge of arcane driver vs. platform issues, but also have considerable experience with a variety of host applications.

Summary

Professional audio gear is changing at an ever-accelerating pace and Lynx Studio Technology is the kind of innovative company that makes it happen. The AES16 brings a new benchmark of affordable, high-definition, multichannel audio to the desktop.

Alan Silverman, formerly an engineer at the late, great A&R Recording, is founder of Arf! Digital, a 96/24 and 5.1 mastering facility in NYC; www.arfdigital.com.


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