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BLACK LION OR LUCID GENX6-96?

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Discussion related to installation, configuration and use of MOTU hardware such as MIDI interfaces, audio interfaces, etc. for Mac OSX

Postby zmix » Sat Oct 07, 2006 7:21 am

zmix wrote:
ghia wrote:zmix......thanx for the link. I'm 90% sure that this is the direction I should go. right or wrong


That is the operative word...

This is not any sort of black 'magic'. The parts that MOTU used are very good. The 'corner cutting" on the 24 I/O is the converters, not the support circuitry. Look at the difference in dynamic range between the 24 I/O and the 1296 for example... these devices perform as well as the converter chip spec sheets indicate. That is impressive.

However, you can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear.
If you want a better converter, buy a better converter.

Ask Black Lion to publish their before and after measurements for jitter and noise, and full scale performance driving a 600 ohm load.

I dare them to do so!
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I'm not into egging on a controversy.........

Postby ghia » Sat Oct 07, 2006 2:39 pm

but I am contemplating spending $725 on a modification! :? Thanks for your input zmix.
I emailed Blacklion and referenced your view on a thread available on-line regarding this mod. Your thread really questions the validitiy of this Mod
Here are your thoughts and the response I got from Matt at Black Lion:

This is all pretty much over my head!!.


Zmix writes:

I would like to play "devil's advocate" and ask:

What do you hope to improve with this upgrade?

Comparing the data sheets of the NJM4580 and the AD8066 is not particularly convincing to me.
When dealing with A/D and D/A conversion, there are really imortant 'bread and butter' concerns like input offset voltage, input bias current, unity gain stability, CMMR and output current capability.
GBP is another concern, but since there is a really finite frequency range, less so in digital audio.

Here are some important differences which can drastically affect the sound of the conversion process:

The output of the AD8066 can only swing 9V p-p.
The NJM4580 can swing 27V p-p

Many D/A converters use a differential output circuit, so common mode performance can affect the result.

The maximum common mode input signal of the AD8066 is stated as -5v to +2.4v (7.4v asymmetrically).
The NJM4580 can accept -13.5 to +13.5 (27v symmetrically)

The maximum output current of the AD8066 is only 35ma.
The NJM4580 is 100ma.

Another design consideration is that the AD8066 is intended as a video amplifier. It operates from a single supply with a maximum voltage of 24 volts. The NJM4580 is designed for high performance audio and can operate on =/- 18V rails.

Back to my original question, will these other factors negatively affect the performance improvements you are imagining?

For the additional money, you could upgrade to the MOTU HD192 or the discontinued but superior sounding 1296, both of which use state of the art converters in them. The 24 i/o uses a lesser converter, and well, you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

-CZ

RESPONSE:

Hello,

The converters on the 24I/O are the same converters that are found in the 828mk2. They have a dynamic range of 107dB, compared to the Traveler and the 896, which have 110dB, and the HD192, which has 117dB. Consider then, the Apogee minime only has 105dB.


I've read that post before, and was pretty surprised at the rather specious arguments presented in it. In a way it's disturbing, because the poster knows just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to draw the correct conclusions. Let me address a few of his arguments:

The output of the AD8066 can only swing 9V p-p. The NJM4580 can
swing 27V p-p


This is true, but of little consequence when you realize that the opamp in the circuit is only required to swing about 2.5 volts at the most.

Many D/A converters use a differential output circuit, so common mode performance can affect the result. The maximum common mode input signal of >>the AD8066 is stated as -5v to +2.4v >>(7.4v asymmetrically). The NJM4580 can >>accept -13.5 to +13.5 (27v symmetrically)

This is a mixture of truth and misconception on the part of the poster. First, the input of the converter in question can be set up for single-ended or differential mode. In this case, it's set up as a single-ended input, so common mode performance isn't an issue here.

Another design consideration is that the AD8066 is intended as a video amplifier. It operates from a single supply with a maximum voltage of 24 volts. The NJM4580 is designed for high performance audio and can operate on =/- 18V rails.

Again, a mixture of truth and misconception. The 8066 is not a single supply opamp, but rather a dual supply that operates on +/-12vdc. The operating voltage of the MOTU's analog stages are also +/-12vdc, so it's a non-issue. The 8066 is indeed a video opamp, but it happens to be very, very stable at low gains, has very low distortion, and
reproduces audio very well--far better than the 4580, the NE5532, or even the Burr Brown opamps do.


And in addition to the above, do you want 180mHz capable amplifiers in a hostile RF infested box Except that it's not an RF infested box.

I could raise several complaints about MOTU's design of this unit, but excessive RF noise isn't one of them. The 002 on the other hand...

and well, you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

This sort of statement always comes from people who have never heard what we've been able to do with these units.

Really, though, the proof is in the pudding. If you continue to read
through the thread, you'll read the original poster's (magnet) opinion
of our work on his 24I/O, as well as an opinion of the modified 896HD.

When I talked to Tod (magnet) about this, I told him that his satisfaction with our work was of great importance to us. In fact, I modified two channels on his MOTU at no charge, just to let him have a sample of the sonic differences. Once he heard it, he came back and had the entire unit modified.

Let me know if you have other questions.

Matt
Black Lion Audio

***********************************************
I plan on using the 24 i/o in conjunction with a Soundcraft Ghost 32. It seemed to me originally the best bang for the buck. Do you think I will get the professional results I'm shooting for with the 24i/o, or should I maybe re-think this?

THANKS!!!!!!
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Re: I'm not into egging on a controversy.........

Postby zmix » Sun Oct 08, 2006 7:06 am

but I am contemplating spending $725 on a modification! :? Thanks for your input zmix.
I emailed Blacklion and referenced your view on a thread available on-line regarding this mod. Your thread really questions the validitiy of this Mod
Here are your thoughts and the response I got from Matt at Black Lion:
RESPONSE:
Hello,
The converters on the 24I/O are the same converters that are found in the 828mk2. They have a dynamic range of 107dB, compared to the Traveler and the 896, which have 110dB, and the HD192, which has 117dB. Consider then, the Apogee minime only has 105dB.


I've read that post before, and was pretty surprised at the rather specious arguments presented in it. In a way it's disturbing, because the poster knows just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to draw the correct conclusions.

It's too bad that Matt has resorted to such condescention. I'm afraid (for Matt) that I do know what I am talking about, and while there may be merit to his mod, I do question the extent to which soneone can improve an inferior converter with a single opamp stage.
There are far superior converters in the higher MOTU range. The converters in the HD192 have a dynamic range of 120dB, not 117. THe 1296 have a 117dB, however, and you can find one secondhand for around $500.
Matt simply cannot approach those dynamic range figures with his opamp swap. Period.

I challenge Matt to publish his results.
[b]Let me address a few of his arguments:

The output of the AD8066 can only swing 9V p-p. The NJM4580 can
swing 27V p-p

This is true, but of little consequence when you realize that the opamp in the circuit is only required to swing about 2.5 volts at the most.
Wrong again, Matt.
The voltage swing required to output a 0dBFS signal in a properly calibrated (-18dB) system is in fact nearly 8 volts. The opamp he is using wil be pushed to it's limits by any signal peak.
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Postby zmix » Sun Oct 08, 2006 7:19 am

Have you read this user's experience?

http://cgi.ebay.com/MOTU-24i-w-Black-Lion-Audio-Modification-Ripoff-424_W0QQitemZ130032516591QQihZ003QQcategoryZ41784QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem


THIS IS WHAT ORININALLY WAS PROMISED BY BLACK LION AUDIO…


BLACK LION AUDIO - MOTU MODIFICATION

MOTU's family of audio interfaces are all built upon essentially the same platform. They utilize Texas Instruments TMS320 series of DSP processors to handle bussing and routing. The newer generation of MOTU units all use Asahi Kasei's converters, which are the same converters used by Apogee, RME, and others. Given their strong drivers and routing flexibilty, these units are pretty hard to beat for the price.

One big liability of the MOTU interfaces is the use of NJM4580 and NJM2115 opamps in the analog stages. These opamps are tonally flat and grossly unmusical. They seem to exhibit a haze due to their slow response and high order distortion. And, in spite of what their datasheets promise, the noise floor could use some serious reduction. A second weak spot is definitely that clock. It's based around Texas Instruments TLC2933, which is a VCO and PLL all in one. Although it's not as temperature dependent as some would claim, jitter is high in comparison to good converter clocks-the datasheet claims at least 120 picoseconds, although it's much higher than that because of less than ideal power supply noise.

Black Lion offers two approaches that can be taken here: the first is to lower the analog stage's THD and noisefloor, increase its headroom and bandwidth, and increase overall tonal and transient response. This involves replacing several surface-mount devices with high-speed FET components. The second approach is to replace that clock with a low-noise, low-jitter clock stage that will hold its own against most any high end clock on the market. Under this aspect of the modification, jitter drops from 120 picoseconds to less than 10.

Black Lion Audio
4028 1/2 N Paulina
Lower Level
Chicago IL 60613

Matt Newport

(773)857-3761



MY PERSONAL NIGHTMARE WITH BLACK LION AUDIO…

Excerpts from my letter dated 09-19-2006



Dear Matt,



My experience with your company thus far has been extremely frustrating.



This is the history of our transaction thus far:

1) I shipped out my 24i unit on 08/25 to arrive for its 8/31 appointment

2) I received an email on Sept. 6th explaining the unit was done

3) I immediately sent $550 (including $25 for shipping) on Sept. 6th and I included the following note: Please handwrite or type all the info. about my unit such as type of converters, old clock and now the new clock chip, old analog stage info. and now new analog stage info., I would like to this info. keep it on file

4) After waiting a week my 24i did not arrive...I called only to find out the unit had on even shipped yet !

5) After finally receiving my 24i late Friday on the 15th (I noticed a toggle switch and no documentation at all with the unit….no info. I originally requested and no info on the toggle switch); I tried to call Black Lion, but I am in CA and they were closed at that time on Friday. I now had to go another weekend without being able to use my mod 24i.

6) I called you on Monday Sept. 18th and you explained the toggle switch; I hooked up the unit and the clock did not lock (prompt shipping back to me would have been nice since now I will suffer even more downtime). Black Lion was now closed and with no documentation I tried for 5 hours to troubleshoot on my own…..I hooked it up to 2 different G4 Macs, OS 9.22 and OS X10.3.9; I tried every combination of the toggle switch and the Motu control panel clock selection under both OS 9 and OS X….I just couldn’t believe the unit would come back non-functional. You stated it was tested before it left and it must be shipping damage….there is no damage to the box whatsoever. If the mod is that delicate that vibration from dropping the box during shipping would damage the new clock, then I strongly suggest you guys double box units when shipping or use stronger solder….or something ! If I take the Mod unit on the road is it going to be that fragile…??!



I am at a loss for words…I was looking forward to this modification for several projects and I am second guessing my decision to have picked your company for its services.



I shipped my Motu 24i back to Black Lion on Wednesday 20th (2 day shipping). I have called Black Lion 3 times during the week of Sept. 25th and I have NEVER even gotten the courtesy of a return call. After calling today (09-29-2006) Matt explained that their Motu PCI card is damaged and they need to buy another one for testing modified units…wow what a professional company, they Mod units all day long and have 1 test card…lol. I wonder how it was originally tested if they don’t have a functioning motu PCI card ?



If you win this auction I will ship the item the item after I get it back from Black Lion Audio…..and I don’t know exactly when that will be.

I have been without the unit for 1 month and 4 days and have paid for their services 3 weeks 2 days ago, maybe if I beg they will get it back to me so I can ship it out ASAP after the auction.



NOTE about the Black Lion Mod: The Modification of the clock and the analogue stage cost me $525 so I hope I get at least a few bucks back, unfortunately after doing my homework (a little late) I realized that this may be a little pricey since the analogue stage part of the mod where the Motu NJM4580 Operational Amp chips are unsoldered and SA5532AP Op. amp chips replace them (think there are 6 or 8 of them) only costs about $4.72 in parts (SA5532AP chips are $.59 each on the web). I do not know what a clock chip costs…..but you do the math….how much is soldering per hour these days ?



One Last NOTE: If you are not interested in my Motu 24i, but you read this since you were about to ship your DIGI or Motu Unit to Black Lion Audio for modification, you better think again…using the services of BLACK LION AUDIO may keep your studio down for quite a while.
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Black Lion Mod..... 24 i/o

Postby ghia » Tue Oct 10, 2006 10:38 am

WoW.. :shock:
A truck-load of info to digest.....
I was aware of the ebay listing..... I did call the individual who posted it and he is in the process of working with Black Lion to rectify his problems. This has definitely caused me to step back and analyze this again.....

Because I do not know much about what all the specs mean, I'd like to ask a few basic questions, and get some opinions••¦••¦••¦••¦.

My original plan when purchasing the 24 i/o was to utilize it with a Soundcraft Ghost. I want to be able to have the option to mix out of the box in the Analog world. I have some nice outboard pres, and also do not mind tracking with the Ghost as well. I felt that I needed at least 24 ins & outs to accomplish this. I also felt that because I was using MOTU Digital Performer, staying with the MOTU Brand might reduce the risk of problems I might have.

SO••¦ now that I already own a MOTU 24 i/o core system with a PCIe -424 card,

I have 3 options:

Sell it and start over••¦. ( paid $1,400) probably could get $1,000 for it..
Replace it with ••¦••¦? At a cost of ?

Use it as is••¦..

Go for this Mod to try and Maximize its performance ( additional $725)

Questions:

Will Converters that offer 105 dB of Dynamic Range be sufficient to get ••œPro-Results••
gHia
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Postby zmix » Tue Oct 10, 2006 12:55 pm

If you were to purchase a second-hand pair of HD192 or 1296 (less than $1000) you will have 24 channels of conversion of much higher quality than the 24 i/o is capable of even with the mods. In addition, these devices have real metering with 1dB steps, AES I/O with SRC and are fitted with XLRs. These things are really much more important once you stop worrying and start working.
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Postby mnewport » Wed Oct 11, 2006 9:28 am

It's too bad that Matt has resorted to such condescention.

You mean like posting misleading information about my work in public forums? Is that the sort of condescending behavior you're talking about? Save the magnanimous act for someone else.

Obviously I never meant for that email to be made public--it was private conversation and should have been treated as such.

I'm afraid (for Matt) that I do know what I am talking about, and while there may be merit to his mod, I do question the extent to which soneone can improve an inferior converter with a single opamp stage.

I won't deny that you have an understanding of the subject. You've started from false premises, though, so you're presenting specious arguments.

Matt simply cannot approach those dynamic range figures with his opamp swap. Period.

And we never claim to. What we claim to do is maintain signal quality going into and out of the conversion process, and tighten imaging with a better internal clock. It's easy to be an armchair engineer, but it seems you've never experimented with this sort of thing, so all you can do is theorize.

The voltage swing required to output a 0dBFS signal in a properly calibrated (-18dB) system is in fact nearly 8 volts. The opamp he is using wil be pushed to it's limits by any signal peak.

You're wrong on both counts. First, the 8066 swings rail to rail. On a +/-12v supply, output swing is just over 23 volts. You're quoting the +/-5vdc specs.

Second, AKM specifies that the MAXIMUM input swing for the AK4528 (the codec that the 24I/O uses) is 3v p-p. Average should be 2.5-2.8.

This is not any sort of black 'magic'. The parts that MOTU used are very good. The 'corner cutting" on the 24 I/O is the converters, not the support circuitry.

Really? Good parts? Like unregulated power supplies with high digital to analog crosstalk? Or maybe you're referring to the back DC on the transformer secondary that causes all that hum?

I find it absolutely ridiculous that I have to defend my work on a forum like this. I don't believe a public argument contributes anything positive, and I typically wouldn't bother, except I feel this has gone too far.

Matt
Black Lion Audio
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Postby msmith92 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 11:05 am

actually this forum seems like the key place to promote or demote anything motu related. i'm glad you posted here matt as a lot of these querys are things i'm interested in. everybody knows you have to research the user forums for the real skinny on any product, not just the manufacturers page. you answered some things for us and it was helpful. please come back whenever.

i think i'm still leaning toward getting a lucid genx6-96 for what i need cause i think it'll be best for my situation.
MOTU 2408MK3 (PCI-424) / MOTU 1296 / BLACKLION MICRO CLOCK / PRESONUS M80 / FOCUSRITE OCTOPRE / FOCUSRITE VOICEMASTER PRO/ PRESONUS CENTRAL STATION / UAD-1 (2)/ WAVES Platinum / PSP All PLUGS / IK Multimedia (All of them)/ DIGITAL PERFORMER 7.22 / PEAK Pro 6 / MACHFIVE 1.2.3 / DUAL G5 2.0 w/ 5 gigs Ram - OS 10.5.8 / RODE NT1 / RODE NTK / SHURE 57'S / SHURE 58'S / AKG C1000'S / SENNHEISER 421'S / SEINNHEISER E602 / BLUE BLUEBIRD/ BLUE SNOWBALL / AUDIX D2 (2) / EVENT TR8'S / WHARFDALE DIAMOND 6'S
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Postby mhschmieder » Wed Oct 11, 2006 11:43 am

Amidst all of the unwarranted accusations towards Black Lion, I found it difficult to follow the main thread.

I have no doubt that Matt's work is top-quality and that his statements are accurate, as I have enough real-world engineering experience in the audio industry to sort out the talent from the wannabes.

What I am still confused about, is how one determines whether this clock upgrade (whether via a Black Lion mod or an outboard clock unit) is critical within the context of one's typical work.

Are there some criteria we could apply, knowing what sorts of projects we normally do? Is there something we can measure (given the right devices and/or meters, in hardware or software) that will alert us to whether we are suffering from the clock problems? Or is it so general that all projects are degraded by it, to one degree or another?

I do not use the mic pre's on the 828 mk II and consider them to be adequate at best. I use a combination of MIDI and audio in my recordings (on a project by project basis), via firewire from the 828 mk II. When recording audio, I often am handling more than eight channels at a time (via an ADAT outboard unit) for close-miking of drums, etc.

I am selling my Behringer 8-channel expansion unit next week and saving up to replace it, with potential for upgrading the 828 mk II in some fashion as well. I am trying to better understand how the clock issue affects the entire system (including expansions and effects, whether connected via firewire, ADAT, S/PDIF, or whatever). My background is primarily analog and I am slowly getting up to speed on DSP issues and MIDI issues.
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Postby mnewport » Wed Oct 11, 2006 1:03 pm

What I am still confused about, is how one determines whether this clock upgrade (whether via a Black Lion mod or an outboard clock unit) is critical within the context of one's typical work.

This is such a complex issue that it's hard to know where to even begin explaining things. First of all, there isn't even a true general consensus on what jitter is exactly. It's loosely defined as periodic deviation within the clock's waveform, but it's actually more complicated than that.

I like to think of it as a collection of phenomena that occur within the process of clock generation and distribution. This phenomena includes things like phase noise, duty cycle errors, power supply loading, frequency instability, and capacitive loading.

That's an incredibly broad range of things to try to understand, especially when starting from the beginning. The key issue here, in my opinion, is the clock source itself. The clock needs to generate a stable, low noise signal--the same thing you want for your audible signal in the studio. To assist in this process, we need a stable, low noise power supply that's properly isolated from everything else.

All things aside, though, these are my personal descriptions of a process, and they don't tell you much about the sound quality at all. This is where it gets REALLY difficult. How can I possibly convey what effect this has on the sound? I can tell you that it's punchy. I can tell you that it has much more separation. I can tell you that it becomes much easier to detect what's going on in the mix. But I can't think of any other way to convey it to you, or to have you measure it. You just have to hear it in order to understand--if you've ever worked on a high end system, you'll have a frame of reference. You know that mixes don't sound like wide, mono mud.

It's difficult to answer all of your questions well--it's somewhat beyond the scope of a simple post. It might be best to contact us directly by telephone. We can try to give you the best information we can, and you can make a more educated decision for yourself.

Matt
Black Lion Audio
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Postby mesaken » Wed Oct 11, 2006 1:18 pm

After talking with a couple of people who had Black Lion do the analog mod on their HD192s, I bit the bullet and sent two of mine in for the same mod.
When I got them back, the first thing I did was play back the drums from a
recent jazz project through a Black Lion HD192 and then changed the outputs to my third original HD192. I was listening to dynaudio BM 15a's and to my Grado RS-1 phones through the Benchmark DAC-1.
I was so impressed by the improvement in the soundstage, focus, and punch of the drums that I had to immediately call Matt and tell him how happy I was. I sent the third one in as soon as I could. This was just listening to the DAC side of the mod as the project had been recorded on original HD192s. I use a Big Ben clock for the HD192s.
I'm very happy right now and converters are not on my shopping list.
If you have a HD192 or 1296, it's a no brainer.
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Postby Frodo » Wed Oct 11, 2006 5:25 pm

hey matt and mesaken--

Ya know, we can talk tech specs all day long, but it's the rave reports about the retrofit that blow me away. Those simply can't be ignored. I mean, it's not like people are saying that there was a little difference but not much-- they are singing the praises of HUGE improvements virtually across the board!

I was on the phone with an engineer friend of mine just this morning-- and he pretty much talked me into getting the full mods done on both my 2408mk2 and 2408mk3. I may not be able to send both units in at the same time, but perhaps sending one of them in will give me a chance to actually hear them side by side. I find this an exciting prospect.

Price? Well, when I consider the cost of replacing these two MOTU units with other I/O boxes, it becomes increasingly a no-brainer at least for me.

The saddest part of it remains the fact these mods need to be done at all. I'd thought better of the MOTU gear, but such enormous improvements coming from the mouths of so many different people? I just can't ignore it any longer. I'm headed to FedEx this week.
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Postby mhschmieder » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:23 pm

Matt, everything you said makes perfect sense to me -- thanks so much for a concise and to-the-point explanation. I recognise that not everything is quantifiable; I mostly was just concerned whether ANYTHING is!

I unfortunately had to miss the workshops on jitter at AES last weekend as there was always something more important going on that was more directly related to my day job. I already knew it wasn't well-defined because that's what one of the workshops was about: trying to reach consensus.

It doesn't take much arm-twisting to convince me that a power source can be at the heart of a cascading set of problems. My problem with the MOTU gear has always been that I have to use just my ears alone, as they don't publish the types of specs or schematics that I'm used to looking at (and I don't want to void the warranty by opening it up myself).

As there are enough other unknowns for me as I get up-to-speed in the digital world, I have been hesitant to point blame at any one component (it's hard for me to isolate a situation for one unknown vs. in the analog realm).
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Use your ears or save some money. your choice. MAN UP! lol

Postby Taisoul » Mon Oct 30, 2006 2:30 am

Hey everyone. Just wanted to simplify things a bit if possible.

If a few hundred bucks will make or break you then avoid the mod. If you have some spare cash and a spare interface that your not entirely impressed with then do the mod.

It takes a leap of faith in the mod but I did it and I was very VERY happy with the results.

BLA is obviously a small company and I'm convinced they have no more than 3 or 4 employees which may be the reason for some communication issues. They are probably tech geeks but not customer service geeks (sorry Matt).

I too had a problem with the toggle switch drilled into the front of my unit without prior notice. But all was forgiven after I hooked it up and listened.

If you can't hear the difference the mod makes then you should go to an outside engineer to do your mixing IMHO.

It's that good. Untill I can afford to spend 5- 10 grand on converters and clocks this will do just fine. I'm selling my apogee rosetta on ebay as soon as I stop being lazy. I just don't need it now.

I defend Matt often because I think people will enjoy his work. By the way MOTU should just do these mods and then raise the price a bit. I think they would corner the market but then Matt would be out of business. That would suck!

Now shut up and record something! :lol:
"I use to love her"

G5 dual 2.0, Motu 2408 mk3 with Black Lion upgrade, 3.6 Gig RAM
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