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DAC Recommendations

Connecting Hauptwerk to MIDI organs, sequencers, ...
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gregeeh

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DAC Recommendations

PostSat May 02, 2020 10:22 pm

Hi all,

I have a Win10 NUC (NUCi5BEK) for HW and I would like to improve the sound quality and was thinking about getting an external DAC. Presently thinking about the DragonFly Black:

https://www.audioquest.com/dacs/dragonfly/dragonfly-black

Has anyone had any experience with external DAC's and do they offer a sound improvement? Any brand/models recommended and any to avoid?

TIA

Greg
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larason2

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSat May 02, 2020 11:49 pm

I would say that most of us have external audio interfaces that have their own on board DAC, which obviates the need for something like the dragonfly. You may notice a sound improvement (mostly decreased noise) with a good DAC on headphones, but it also depends on what headphones you use, and the quality of the audio you are listening to. Macs have a pretty good built in DAC in my opinion, whereas PC generally less so. If you are thinking of having speakers some day, you may want to get an external audio interface with a good DAC. If you are only ever going to listen on headphones, then you may want something like the dragonfly, but I would try it out on your system before buying if possible to make sure you can hear the improvement.
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gregeeh

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSat May 02, 2020 11:55 pm

If you are thinking of having speakers some day, you may want to get an external audio interface with a good DAC


I will not be using headphones very much at all. When you say external audio interface, do you mean amplifier? If not can you please elaborate.

TIA

Greg
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mdyde

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSun May 03, 2020 4:27 am

[Topic moved here.]
Best regards, Martin.
Hauptwerk software designer/developer, Milan Digital Audio.
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IainStinson

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSun May 03, 2020 4:34 am

To improve the quality of the sound output from Hauptwerk on Windows, it is recommended that you use a semi-professional / professional quality “sound card” which has ASIO driver software provided by the manufacturer of the “sound card”. [Most of these semi-professional “sound cards” are actually external units connected to the computer using USB or other highspeed interfaces.]

[The Digital to Analogue Converters (often a single chip) are included in the "sound card"; their function is to take the digital signal (from Hauptwerk or from a CD in HiFi systems ) and decode/transform this into analogue signals to feed into amps and hence to speakers....]

If you only want stereo output (two channels, i.e. left and right) there are a number of relatively inexpensive semi pro sound card devices available which connect to the computer over USB. For example have a look at https://focusrite.com/en/usb-audio-interface/scarlett/scarlett-solo. There are similar devices from other manufacturers. Almost all of them have microphone and or line-in level inputs which are not used by Hauptwerk.

If you are likely to make use of more than stereo output with Hauptwerk, then there are other “sound cards” with many more outputs (example MOTU A24o which as 24) but cost more than the simpler entry level units.

Be certain that native ASIO drivers are available and that the manufacturer is still supporting the drivers with current releases of Windows. I would not recommend having a device which only uses ASIOALL which provides ASIO interfaces to the software such as Hauptwerk by mapping the ASIO api to the device’s native Windows support.

The Dragonfly devices don’t seem to come with native ASIO interfaces.
Iain
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micdev

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSun May 03, 2020 5:58 am

Good morning Greg,

The DragonFly is definitively *not* what you want; it is meant mostly to offer a better headphones jack and get you improved music quality thru your headphones.

It is driverless, meaning you don't need to install drivers for it, so it is not an ASIO device.As explained by Ian, what you need is a "new" audio interface (you are probably using the computer' internal "sound card/audio interface", who are quite low level and not optimized for live playing).

I recommend to first analyze your needs, mostly to determine the number of audio channels you want to use; the idea is to buy once... you will see that quite rapidly you will want to have your organ to sound not just better, but to sound and deliver the power of a real pipe organ.

I usually recommend a 4-channel audio interface (the price difference between 2 and 4 is marginal) and you can eventually add a subwoofer or 2 additional speakers (for surround for example). Focusrite, Motu, Presonus, RME, to name a few offer complete lines of audio interfaces. For example the Focusrite Scarlett line offers from 2 to 10 analog outputs. They are all based on the same electronic, audio performance is the same; only difference is the number of outputs and inputs (that we don't need with Hauptwerk).

Make sure that the audio interface that you will select uses/offers balanced output connectors: TRS (1/4 inch) or XLR, try to avoid audio interfaces offering only RCA and/or 1/8 connectors.

Once you have a nice, good sounding audio interface, don't forget to pair it with good speakers. You may want to look at monitor type speakers (search our forum, lots of threads about that, they are quite popular among Hauptwerk users); you can also use your own stereo system.

Hope this helps
Best regards
François

Virtually sharing my enthusiasm and experience with you
Worldwide technical assistance, consultation and ready to play system.

http://www.HauptwerkConsultant.com

AND Hauptwerk Support Manager
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dhm

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSun May 03, 2020 3:58 pm

To add to François’ and others’ replies regarding external audio interfaces:
Check out how many INputs an interface has. The more inputs it has, the more money wasted.
Hauptwerk never needs inputs. Only outputs.
Douglas Henn-Macrae
Authorized Hauptwerk Reseller
http://www.midi-organs.eu
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gregeeh

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSun May 03, 2020 5:05 pm

Hi all,

Thanks everyone for all your input, it is greatly appreciated. However it is leaving me a little confused and I'm new to all this so please excuse my noob questions.

Let's take the Scarlett Solo (SS) that was one of the recommendations that would be connected between my W10 NUC and my amplifier in stereo mode only.

The SS has recording capabilities that I will not use. Mic preamp which I will not use. Headphone output that I will never use. The input will be via USB from the NUC and the output via the RCA connectors, so aren't I just using the device as a DAC that has a lot of other features that I will never use?

Won't the Schiit Modi 3, https://www.schiit.com/products/modi-1 do all this and why is it the wrong product to use, as is the DragonFly I mentioned in my first post, which by the way has an auto switching headphone and line out output. Sorry but I don't understand.

Also I don't understand why it's so important to have ASIO Drivers. Both the Schiit and DragonFly do not require 3rd party drivers so is that not a good thing? Again sorry for the noob question.

Thanks once again,

Greg
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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostSun May 03, 2020 7:59 pm

gregeeh wrote:Also I don't understand why it's so important to have ASIO Drivers. Both the Schiit and DragonFly do not require 3rd party drivers so is that not a good thing?


Putting it simply... it is the ASIO Sound that makes Hauptwerk sound good. Anything else (when speaking of WIndows Computers) is simply throwing away the chance of getting good (professional) quality sound.
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IainStinson

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostMon May 04, 2020 3:42 am

At the small end of the semi pro audio interfaces, you find they come with inputs which are not needed for HW. Their market is for “small home studio” use where the inputs are needed, usage where outputs are needed rather than inputs is not main focus for their sales.

For smaller HW audio systems they are still a cost effective solution if you only need a smaller number of audio outputs. It’s a balance: cost per output (ignoring inputs) may be a little higher than larger units with mostly outputs but the minimum cost for the complete device is likely to be lower.

[BTW The A24o has has 3 ADAT input/output connections which can support addition outputs and inputs via ADAT connections. (So does the input rich A24i...) Most HW usage will not use the ADAT connections.)

Iain
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mdyde

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostMon May 04, 2020 3:56 am

Hello Greg,

To add to others' replies:

ASIO drivers allow you to get reliable, glitch-free audio on Windows at low latency (the delay between pressing a key and hearing the sound), needed for playing instruments in real-time with realistic key response. (For just listening to music recorded pieces of music, a high-ish latency is usually perfectly acceptable, so you don't necessarily need ASIO drivers for that purpose.) The hardware also needs to be designed to perform well (and reliably, without audio glitches) specifically at low latencies (as well as having high audio quality, of course). That's the use that professional/semi-professional audio interfaces are primarily designed for. They're mainly made for the recoding studio market, simply because that's a larger market (hence the inclusion of mic. inputs, headphone outputs, etc.), but you can just ignore those extra features.

I'd recommend having a read through these documents:

https://www.hauptwerk.com/wp-content/up ... isites.pdf
https://hauptwerk.com/wp-content/upload ... rdware.pdf

... and also the 'performance tuning' section in the main Hauptwerk user guide:

https://www.hauptwerk.com/documentation/

... (pages 239-255 in the current v5.0.1 version).
Best regards, Martin.
Hauptwerk software designer/developer, Milan Digital Audio.
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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostMon May 04, 2020 4:18 am

dhm wrote:To add to François’ and others’ replies regarding external audio interfaces:
Check out how many INputs an interface has. The more inputs it has, the more money wasted.
Hauptwerk never needs inputs. Only outputs.


1) I use a microphone input for room correction measurements

2) Because of market size, it seems that manufacturers can produce devices with both in- and outputs at a lower price than devices with output only. Suppose the costs of designing and manufacturing a new type of interface are $1 million, and the costs of adding a couple of extra inputs to the design are $10K; and suppose that having those extra inputs will double the market share, then those extra inputs are no money wasted for the manufacturer or the customers.
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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostMon May 04, 2020 10:17 am

To add to other’s replies.

The dragonfly and the MODI are billed as "driverless," but that's not totally true. They use the computer's "class compliant" drivers, so a driver doesn't need to be installed, but the device can still run into problems when you use them with other software or hardware. Also, as Martin mentioned, the class compliant driver may have a higher latency if they are designed primarily for listening to audio.

DAC stands for digital audio converter, which is the process a computer uses to convert digitally stored music information into an analog current for playback on speakers, headphones, etc. The reason why it improves audio quality to have a good quality DAC is that the better clocks used in a good DAC convert the signal in a way that you get less "timing errors," which are interpreted by the ear as noise. Timing errors can be created both during recording (depending on the ADC, or analog to digital converter used), and during playback (which uses the DAC). Some DAC's are better than others, but most people won't hear the marginal difference between many of the higher end DACs. The dragonfly and the MODI are considered pretty good DAC's, but I would say that the difference between those and the good quality DAC on a digital audio interface would be very difficult to hear the difference, especially using Hauptwerk, whose samples generally have all been very well recorded and have a very low level of timing errors to begin with. As Martin pointed out, however, they may have significantly higher latency than an audio interface designed primarily for production. As for DAC’s, there is a big subjective component to whether or not an improved DAC is worth it (i.e. the decrease in timing errors isn’t audible to everybody, and it depends on the quality of music you are playing), so that is why if you go with a pure DAC, I would recommend you using the solution you choose with your system if possible to see if the decrease is worth it to you.

The extra features on a digital audio interface seem to be a waste in money, but I have found them to be useful over time. Because I am more tech and audio savvy than most people, I have been called upon to record audio on more than one occasion for various reasons. Also, it’s good to have headphone backup in case you would like to practice at night, have trouble with one of your monitors, etc.

It is a forum consensus that the more output channels you have the better. This is because if you ever want to improve your audio from stereo, the way to do it would be to add a subwoofer, extra channels, etc. A subwoofer adds a significant amount of realism to pedal stops, and extra channels add more realism and spatial depth to the main organ output. For this reason, it is usually recommended when a forum poster asks for audio interface recommendations, that they buy as many output channels as they can afford, for future expansion possibilities. As François suggested, since the increase of price from 2 to 4 channels is pretty small, if you are in the market for a 2 channel, it would make sense to also consider a 4 channel. I bought a 2 channel Steinberg UR22 many years ago, which works well with Hauptwerk, but when it comes time to replace it, I will probably buy one with many more channels.

Whatever you end up buying, the main thing is that you are happy with the result! There are a lot of ways to go with a Hauptwerk system, which is why experimenting to see what sounds the best to you is the way to go. You could still go with a Firefly or similar DAC, with the caveats listed above, but you may need a third party ASIO driver to make it work well with Hauptwerk, provided the latency with this combination is acceptable to you.
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gregeeh

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Re: DAC Recommendations

PostMon May 04, 2020 8:06 pm

Hi everyone,

Many thanks once again for all your input and I now have a much better understanding of audio interfaces and why the drivers used make such a big difference.

I have been looking at getting something for my needs and have narrowed it down to the following three Motu M2, Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3, Steinberg UR22C with the M2 being the most expensive (at least here in Australia).

@larason2 - Not to be ungrateful but DAC = Digital-to-Analog Converter.

Thank you all again for your input.

Greg

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