DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference?

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DreamzCatcher
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2007/10/12 16:37:36 (permalink)

DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference?

Hey guys!

Is there any difference in the "sound engine" between DAW to another ?
For example, many people says that Reason and FL studio have bad sound engines.

It doesn't make sense to me...because as I see it, it is all about the sound card. but there are so much rumors so I wonder... I want to know.

does anyone know what are those rumors are all about, what kind of difference is it?

anything related welcome.
post edited by DreamzCatcher - 2007/10/12 16:53:21

"Don't forget to imagine."
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    rumleymusic
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/12 17:07:17 (permalink)
    There isn't much of a difference in the actual recording of the audio, as most of that has to do with the hardware as you said. The main difference is how the software handles the audio after it passes the converters. Many DAWs are not capable of sample accurate editing, sub-par sample rate conversion algorithms, they may have crummy effects or a whole slew of other internal problems.

    I'm pretty sure that is the real difference, though i'm sure someone with more programming knowledge than I might be able to come up with something better.
    post edited by rumleymusic - 2007/10/12 17:17:42
    #2
    yep
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/12 19:04:49 (permalink)
    They all sound the same.

    In sane, sensible, real-world practice there is no measurable difference between them. If you rig a test specifically to wring out the differences between how tiny decimals are rounded or truncated then you might be able to get a miniscule detectible (but not audible) difference between say 32-bit fixed-point results and 64-bit floating point. You can check out Lynn Fuston's Awesome DAWsum CD to compare a bunch of different analog and digital summing, but I can save you the trouble and tell you that among the digital summing busses, there is no difference.

    So... what's with all the people who swear that DAW X sounds better than Y? Some of this is plain old "placebo effect," and some of it is user error, and some of it is a third thing I'll get to in a sec. There are several "hidden" ways in which users can very easily and unknowingly make invalid comparisons of what they *think* should be a simple A/B test. One is having dither, or a different type of dither enabled or disabled on one DAW but not the other-- this can give one DAW smoother-sounding tails and greater low-level detail, or another a slightly "veiled" sound with less sense of audio "black space" between notes-- exactly the kind of slight, ephemeral "lower quality" that people often refer to with one vs another. Another far more dramatic, but also easy-to-misunderstand difference is pan law. If you move the exact same project files from one DAW to another, and one of them has a different default pan law, then the difference in size, loudness, apparent detail, stereo spread, and instrument clarity could be pretty dramatic, although still within the realm of stuff that could be mis-heard as "better quality." These kinds of mistakes are easy to make if you don't really know what you're doing.

    The one area where there *might* be a real difference is plugin handling. Theoretically all this stuff has specs that the plugin developers and the DAW developers should be following, but most of us are aware that not all plugins get on equally with all hosts. This is technically a *bug* and not a difference in the audio engine, but it's there.

    For the record, it is pretty easy to perform a null test (as long as you know exactly what you're doing) to compare DAWs, and they all null completely when used sensibly. If you really push the limits and try to force a project to reveal differences, then you might get microscopic variations down at like -132dB from a 32-bit fixed engine vs a 64-bit float engine, but nothing that is going to be audible in a real double-blind listening test. It's also worth mentioning that fixed-point engines are susceptible to intersample distortion if you were to run all your levels right up to 0dB, but again, in sensible real-world practice it's not going to make any difference, and cakewalk users have nothing to fear since they have 64-bit float, which is the best you can get anyway.

    Digital audio engines are just performing mathematical operations, like a calculator. If you plug in 4+4 on your calculator and I plug in 4+4 on mine they should both always spit out 8, unless one is outright broken. The microscopic differences between fixed point and floating-point and 64-bit vs 32-bit are basically like calculators that have 80 decimal places instead of 60, or that chop off the decimals that won't fit vs rounding them. So for instance if you divide 2/3 in one, it might spit out 0.66666666666666666666666666667, and the other might spit out 0.666666666666666666666666666. Those are generally not meaningful audible differences, and they are certainly not the kind of across-the-board "better quality" that is implied in many debates.

    These kinds of things come up often on internet message boards, and lots and lots of theories from the brilliant to the preposterous get tossed around, and lots of flames and accusations and ill-will often gets expended before anyone actually goes to the small trouble of posting a reproducable null test, and then it invariably turns out that they are the same.

    Cheers.
    #3
    DreamzCatcher
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/12 19:57:48 (permalink)
    I couldn't imagine a better answer! outstanding!
    No more doubts!
    Thanks yep!

    *end of discussion imo. :)
    post edited by DreamzCatcher - 2007/10/12 20:10:28

    "Don't forget to imagine."
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    #4
    Erik_Thomas
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/12 21:57:45 (permalink)
    This is a crazy question, because there is not supposed to be the answer that Im about to give...which is: sure there is.
    The reason I use Sonar 6 is mainly due to the sound, which to my ears is clear, clean, focused, detailed and perfect for pop - rock type music.
    Ive used Steinberg, Pro Tools, and other programs such as Audition for editing and Acid etc. Definately differences by playing the same wav file in
    the various programs. Currently for example, I have been shuttling some wavs back and forth between Sonar and Audition, drum files that Im editing...
    and I swear that Audition makes them sound 'beefier, bassier and more present' but lacking the detail and stereo imaging that I get when the same wav
    files are played back in Sonar with the same timing, phase, no EQs or plugins etc.

    A long time ago I mentioned this to Andy S. from Cakewalk, who agreed and said that there were differences in how they encode waves... maybe it was marketing spin but I do think that there is something to this....crazy as it may sound.
    post edited by Erik_Thomas - 2007/10/12 22:08:29
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    DreamzCatcher
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 00:05:56 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: Erik_Thomas

    Ive used Steinberg, Pro Tools, and other programs such as Audition for editing and Acid etc. Definately differences by playing the same wav file in
    the various programs. Currently for example, I have been shuttling some wavs back and forth between Sonar and Audition, drum files that Im editing...
    and I swear that Audition makes them sound 'beefier, bassier and more present' but lacking the detail and stereo imaging that I get when the same wav
    files are played back in Sonar with the same timing, phase, no EQs or plugins etc.

    A long time ago I mentioned this to Andy S. from Cakewalk, who agreed and said that there were differences in how they encode waves... maybe it was marketing spin but I do think that there is something to this....crazy as it may sound.


    I'm pretty sure that you were fooled by the vol/gain level
    this is very tricky!

    even though you listen to the same sound, Louder sounds better by nature. :)

    "Don't forget to imagine."
    Intel 965P-DS4 F5, Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU 6300@1.86GHz (x2), 2,096,620 KB RAM. Cubase SX 4, SoundForge 9.. Dynaudio Acoustics & Adam A7..
    #6
    zungle
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 00:16:30 (permalink)



    Looks like you got the answer you wanted...............................

    Regardless ................

    To my ears Samplitude has the best sounding audio engine around............





    #7
    DaveClark
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 00:45:18 (permalink)
    Greetings all,

    I think that this is another one of those debates that go nowhere because people are talking past each other.

    People observe real differences when using different DAW's (say the results from B are preferred over those from A); they wonder why.

    Someone says that the "audio engine" of B is better than that of A.

    In opposition, someone else comes along and says that a so-called "null test" (basically subtracting two waveforms of different DAW's to see if they are zero --- under identical conditions and usually very simple ones at that) shows that there is no difference in the "audio engines" of the two DAW's.

    -------------------------------

    The answer that "The 'audio engine' of B is better than A" is not really helpful to explain the DAW as a whole, but it may give some folks a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to believe that their $999 DAW is better than FL Studio 7 and Reason.

    The usual "null test" is an extraordinarily weak test of a DAW as a whole, so this anwer is also not really helpful, except that it may give some folks a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to believe that their $99 DAW is just as good as ProTools.


    After all the talk, the real question remains unanswered and often, as a practical matter, unanswerable.


    Regards,
    Dave Clark
    #8
    yep
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 01:33:25 (permalink)
    FWIW, a "null test" does not have to be a digital one, as there are some who believe that one DAW may somehow be sending different output signal through the sound card even if the files null completely. It is a pretty easy matter to convert to analog and null two analog files, either by recapturing and converting back to digital, or simply by playing back two synchronized files and flipping the phase of one.

    Obviously the conversion to analog is likely to introduce some error, but if you are using high-quality converters and accurate synchronization, the difference is likely to be miniscule, like some modulated hiss and odd space monkeys that you have to crank up the playback gain to ridiculous levels to hear. This kind of stuff is less significant than for instance the humidity level in the air on the day you record in terms of the final sound output.

    One other criticism frequently levelled at null tests is that they tend to be based on static summing, i.e. all faders are left at unity with no processing. But it is a fairly straightforward matter to apply identical automation curves and so forth in multiple DAWs, and even dynamic plugins and delay processors , presuming the DAWs in question support the same plugin types.

    So you can get a very representative real-world mix and try it in Cubendo and Sonar and Samplitude and ProTools, and they all null, if not to zero then to something so close to zero that it requires forensic examination to detect the miniscule differences.

    The knowledge required to perform a fair null test is basically the entire science of audio, and you have to control for a lot of factors, such as plugins that may have randomization so that no two passes are quite the same (common in a lot of reverbs and sampler/synth instruments), and also for stuff like pan law, metering discrepancies, default dither shapes, various schemes to achieve more efficient low-latency plugin usage, syncronization, and so forth.

    But it's not rocket science, and it certainly isn't magic. Digitial audio is numbers, and if the before and after numbers are the same, then the audio is the same. Analog is signal voltage, and a bit more susceptible to noise and interference, but if the output signal voltage is substantively the same, then the audio is the same. We may not be able to measure or quantify "quality" as a listener experience, but it is a pretty straightforward matter to measure accuracy down to whatever level of precision we wish to control for.

    The answer that "The 'audio engine' of B is better than A" is not really helpful to explain the DAW as a whole, but it may give some folks a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to believe that their $999 DAW is better than FL Studio 7 and Reason.

    The usual "null test" is an extraordinarily weak test of a DAW as a whole, so this anwer is also not really helpful, except that it may give some folks a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to believe that their $99 DAW is just as good as ProTools.
    This is exactly correct. The best measure of a DAW or any piece of audio equipment is the degree to which it allows you, the engineer, to achieve the most satisfying recordings quickly and easily. We can make objective measurements of a device until we're blue in the face, but if X allows you, the particular user, to achieve the sonic results you're looking for easily and on-the-fly, then it is better than Y if Y does not, no matter who comes along with any kind of mathematical proof or whatever that they are equivalent.

    At the end of the day, the objective should be to provide the listener with a satisfying, convincing, and immersive listening experience, and in that sense, some device that has been scientifically proven to achieve some benchmark or another is more or less irrelevant. It is helpful to understand the science, theory, and art of audio, because it makes it easier to achieve a better subjective litening experience. But most of the debates about which DAW is empirically "best" are basically just people trying to justify what they like, and mostly a waste of time.

    Cheers.
    #9
    krizrox
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 17:04:22 (permalink)
    Euwww gahz shore tawg purdy

    I've always been too happy go lucky to worry about stuff like this. I'm usually more happy when my clients' nephew's metal band shows up and they sort of know how to tune their guitars. I've actually had to stop sessions and intonate the guitarists Fender Strat because the intonation was killing my ear drums.

    Earlier this year I got Samplitude. A program that costs almost twice as much as Sonar. I expected to hear an improvement in sound quality or at least some difference in Sam's favor. I'll get killed for saying this but I actually believe Sonar sounds better and the only way to describe it is that Sonar seems to have more air in the upper freq's. Sam seems tighter or more focused sounding to my ears. Both are excellent but both seem to sound slightly different to me.

    Would I be able to tell the difference in a blind test? Probably not. Which makes anything I have to say on the subject virtually useless. I'd be interested to hear other viewpoints though that have more to do with what your ears are telling you than a math test.

    Larry Kriz
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    Erik_Thomas
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 18:17:28 (permalink)
    I'm pretty sure that you were fooled by the vol/gain level
    this is very tricky!



    I have been in the industry and doing this for a long time...working with digital audio forever.
    Vol/Gain has nothing to do with what I hear in these situations due to a couple of factors.
    Firstly, the gain settings changed all the time in various types of listening... but the other factors such as listening
    environment, monitoring etc. stay the same. But even with changes, or no changes/static the differences are audible.
    look.....It is subtle, but there are some differences between programs imo.
    Just my opinion im sure others disagree....but this has nothing to do with user-error.

    Like I said, I am currently doing this daily flying tracks in and out of Audition for wave form editing and then
    back into Sonar. Even at nominal gain settings, with no other alterations to the sound...I perceive differences in
    how the two programs handle the sound. Neither is bad sounding, just different characteristics stand out in Audition
    that are not standing out in Sonar.

    The answer that "The 'audio engine' of B is better than A" is not really helpful to explain the DAW as a whole, but it may give some folks a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to believe that their $999 DAW is better than FL Studio 7 and Reason.



    Yeah. Well these debates occur all the time, with digital. I am also one that swears by the differences between systems
    clocked with different external clocks. These can be heard and felt too, and if you put them on the AP II scope you can SEE differences as well in how the clocks handle the digital audio.

    Now these differences can be quantified under a scope, that differences ARE there...however why and how they affect the sound specifically has never been able to be explained perfectly.

    On the opposite end of the argument....some people swear they can hear the differences in thing such as what battery they have in a particular guitar distortion pedal (ala Eric Johnson)...that is going a bit overboard imo...but to each his own.
    post edited by Erik_Thomas - 2007/10/13 18:38:17
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    DaveClark
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 19:42:09 (permalink)
    Hi Erik,

    Just to clarify:

    My premise was that there are real differences in practice (c.f. "People observe real differences...").


    Regards,
    Dave Clark

    #12
    droddey
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 19:51:33 (permalink)
    The thing is, you'd be hard pressed to create any realistic scenario in which you completely matched the processing between two DAWs probably, since any realistic scenario would depend on the plugs and you can't really be sure that they are implemented exactly the same on every platform. But that has nothing to do with the 'audio engine', which really is just a fairly simple thing (in conceptural terms, not in terms of writing one that's robust and performant of course.) But that means that a simple scenario playing a canned wave without plugs would test what is really the audio engine of a DAW. The rest is really comparing the plugs, which is a different thing, though it may cause differences because the host allows for more capabilities in a given DAW (i.e. it passes through at 24 bits instead of 32, or a plug might automatically engage higher quality processing during bounce on one platform but not another, or something like that.)

    Anyway, I'm just saying that you should distinguish what is really the 'audio eingine' and what's not, and compare apples and apples.
    post edited by droddey - 2007/10/13 20:01:25

    Dean Roddey
    Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems
    www.charmedquark.com
    #13
    yep
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 21:52:16 (permalink)
    ORIGINAL: Erik_Thomas
    ...some people swear they can hear the differences in thing such as what battery they have in a particular guitar distortion pedal (ala Eric Johnson)...that is going a bit overboard imo...but to each his own.

    I agree.

    Something that I think must always be kept in mind in these kinds of discussions...

    If Eric Johnson believes that battery X affects the sound of his playing then it does, I think, even if it can be proven that there is no signal difference. If I change his batteries and he thinks it sounds worse, then it's going to affect his mood, and his experience of the sound he's producing, and sure as sure, that's going to affect his playing, and his sound is going to be worse, even if I can prove that both batteries are the same.

    After a few drinks on saturday night, some throbbing subwoofer club music can sound very good to some people. After not enough sleep early Sunday morning the exact same music played back through the exact same system in the exact same conditions might be the last sound in the world they want to hear. Did the "sound quality" change?

    Can any chart or measurement prove to person that something sounds "better" or "worse" or the same, in terms of perceived "quality"? Is the person "imagining" things on Sunday morning? Was their Saturday night experience of the same sound a "placebo effect"? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.

    All that we can do is to measure things like signal accuracy, and use our technical understanding to facilitate but not to dictate the experience of sound creation and manipulation to try and maximize the subjective listening experience.

    I once heard a bandleader defend his insistence that the band members wear suits by saying "you play better when you're well-dressed." People will have different feelings about the specific philosophy, but I don't think anyone would argue the underlying premise that a lot of different factors can affect the experience of a piece of a music or sound. For some people, music sounds best when heard in a quiet, soft-lit listening room. For some people, the best listening room is a rumbling, clattery old Jeep. For some people it's a packed, sweaty nightclub with strobing laser lights. Certainly for any of us these things are going to have a very significant effect on our perception of the sound, probably far greater than say which preamps were used to record the drum overheads.

    If your experience is that putting a jar of peanut butter atop the console bridge gives you better summing, then my advice would be to put that jar of peanut butter there, and to bring it with you when you do freelance work in other studios, and it probably wouldn't hurt to experiment with different brands and see if Jif doesn't produce better results than Skippy. I would furthermore encourage you to share your experiences and to encourage others to try it and see if it helps.

    But I would still probably dispute it if you made the assertion that peanut butter was necessary for the best signal accuracy, and that people who weren't doing it were just not perceptive enough to hear the difference or were small-minded luddites or whatever, which is unfortunately the way that a lot of DAW summing discussions start to turn.

    Cheers.
    #14
    krizrox
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/13 23:40:28 (permalink)
    I've always thought I could tell the difference between a stomp box that was powered by battery (better) vs. 9V adapter. Does that count?

    Larry Kriz
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    #15
    yep
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/14 00:23:07 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: krizrox

    I've always thought I could tell the difference between a stomp box that was powered by battery (better) vs. 9V adapter. Does that count?

    I'm pretty sure that falls under the categories of both subjective preference and measurable improvement.

    Cheers.
    #16
    bitflipper
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/14 13:45:00 (permalink)
    yep, thanks for once again injecting some logic and common sense into the discussion. The magic is in the music, not the math.

    Larry: yes, there can be a noticeable difference between stomp boxes powered by batteries versus power supplies. The voltages will be different despite their nominal 9V designation, but most important, a well-designed power supply will provide much better voltage regulation. Keeping the voltage steady is more important than what the specific voltage is, as any circuit designed for battery operation will be pretty tolerant of slightly low or slightly high voltages. But poor regulation will cause audible changes. On the other hand, a cheap wall wart can be detrimental due to inadequately filtered ripple, in which case a fresh alkaline battery would be superior.


    All else is in doubt, so this is the truth I cling to. 

    My Stuff
    #17
    Erik_Thomas
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 02:36:14 (permalink)
    .
    post edited by Erik_Thomas - 2007/10/15 03:10:01
    #18
    joshhunsaker
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 04:57:25 (permalink)
    the idea that one daw sounds different than another is silly.

    you input 0s and 1s into the engine with no processing.

    If you render that and don't get the exact same set of 0s and 1s out, your DAW has screwed up the data - that's the very definition of distortion. If your DAW is "sweetening" the data then you've successfully acquired a daw with it's own coloration. In the world of accurate music reproduction, coloration is something that the producer wants control of. If your monitors are colored, then they are controlling you, not the other way around.

    SUMMING ENGINE = BASIC ADDITION....NOTHING MORE. 64 BIT = ADDITION TO MORE DECIMAL PLACES - THE END.
    #19
    ru
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 15:00:40 (permalink)
    there are always differences in everything. whether one is actually better or worse than another is often subjective and circumstantial.
    #20
    ohhey
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 15:06:21 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: ru

    there are always differences in everything. whether one is actually better or worse than another is often subjective and circumstantial.


    Exactly. Now, at some point in time some didn't sound very good because of the summing or just because they were still 16bit only (like the old ProTools a zillon hits were made on) but the latest versions of software can deliver far better sound quality then is allowed to exist in the final product. Most recordings are so compressed and distroted now that it doesn't matter how good it sounded before it got "mastered".
    #21
    droddey
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 15:27:15 (permalink)
    there are always differences in everything. whether one is actually better or worse than another is often subjective and circumstantial.


    But that's kind of the point being made above. 2+2 always equals 4. A DAW isn't like a hardware device where lots of design tradeoffs and componentry make a difference. They are just doing math when they combine the tracks. There may be differences due to configurations (i.e. you use pan law X on one DAW and pan law Y on another) and that of thing. But in terms of the raw audio engine which is just picking up numbers from the tracks and adding them up as they go into busses, that's just a completely different ball of wax.

    Dean Roddey
    Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems
    www.charmedquark.com
    #22
    Erik_Thomas
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 18:39:40 (permalink)
    OK 2+2 always = 4, even in Iraq.

    Monitors, volume levels etc. Im throwing those factors out the window because an experienced engineer knows his listening environment,
    and also knows how to do comparisons on the same system at various levels etc.

    Let me throw out another factor (which droddey may be allouding to above): the Summing / Mixing Buss.

    In the 90s, it became evident to many mixers that the Pro Tools Summing buss left something to be desired in the mix.
    For that reason, many top pros, actually most of them would buss out their tracks to an independent console for the mix...
    this was due to the ability to hear the instruments more accurately in the mix....which allowed for a more accurate mix overall.
    So, to concede that 2+2 always = 4.... what happens when it is 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2 etc. and so on?
    How does the individual DAW handle the summing of these tracks in the L/R mix buss?

    Always the same between every DAW...? hmmm...not so sure about that.
    post edited by Erik_Thomas - 2007/10/15 18:52:51
    #23
    droddey
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/15 18:45:39 (permalink)
    If it can add 2+2, it can add 2+2+2. They should all handle them according the pan position of the track and the pan law currently set and the volume of the track.

    Dean Roddey
    Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems
    www.charmedquark.com
    #24
    yep
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/16 23:12:06 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: Erik_Thomas
    ...In the 90s, it became evident to many mixers that the Pro Tools Summing buss left something to be desired in the mix.... what happens when it is 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2 etc. and so on?
    How does the individual DAW handle the summing of these tracks in the L/R mix buss?...

    The thing is, in the digital realm, this stuff is easily and definitively testable to a certainty. Take 20 tracks, and set them to unity and bounce them to stereo in one DAW and in another, and you can compare the two resultant files down to the individual sample. Every time this is done meaningfully and reproducably, the tests null, or at least within the predictable margin of error of the system architectures (e.g. 32-bit fixed point may have minutely greater rounding errors than 64-bit floating point in extreme examples).

    If you don't trust the "static mix" test, you can pretty easily automate crazy gain changes and export the automation as MIDI files that can be reproduced in virtually any major DAW, and the same results emerge-- the files null. You do have to know what you're doing to do it correctly, but it's not hard.

    As to the point about early digital summing busses: 16-bit fixed point audio engines *are* inadequate to produce high-quality multitrack mixes, and there *is* audibly significant loss of detail and low-level resolution, and it's measurable and mathematical. But a lot of the stuff that got blamed on digital (and continues to) is unfair and the result of misunderstandings or misapplication of digital audio principles, which gear manufacturers have often been complicit in.

    For instance one of the biggest misconceptions perpetuated in countless instruction manuals is that digital signals should be recorded as close to zero on the digital peak meter as possible without clipping. This is all well and good in the digital realm, but if you're using digital peak meters calibrated to allow say 24dB of headroom above 0dBu unity, and you're recording with average singal level at -6 on the digital meter, then you're running signal through your analog front-end designed for 1V steady-state and running them at like 16V.

    Result? Gritty, harsh, distorted sound, but that's what the manual says to do and the meter says it's not clipping, so people would blame digital for sounding harsh and grainy. They switch back over to analog and their sensibly-calibrated VU meters that lead them to back off the levels to what they were designed for and, whoa! Listen to that "analog smoothness"! In fact they were recording a high-res digital signal of a grainy, distorted, overloaded analog signal, and they just returned to sane front-end levels when they went back to analog, but the blame goes to the digital medium because that's what the manual says to do.

    My point is not that one thing or the other is entirely to blame for the early and persistent bad rep of digital, nor is it to take the position that digital is the same or just as good as analog. It's just to point out that digital is a different medium and that a lot of very knowledgable and experienced people from the analog realm have misunderstood what and where the variables are.

    Cheers.
    #25
    Rev. Jem
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/17 01:48:54 (permalink)

    ORIGINAL: yep

    If your experience is that putting a jar of peanut butter atop the console bridge gives you better summing, then my advice would be to put that jar of peanut butter there...

    But I would still probably dispute it if you made the assertion that peanut butter was necessary for the best signal accuracy...

    And if more folk understood this concept (fab analogy, yep), there would never be another DAW summing thread.

    But hey - that's not what the internet's for is it ? It's all about proving your point, bludgeoning all other positions and being "right".

    I just thank my lucky stars that I'm obviously too cloth-eared to hear these "differences" & ewven if I could "hear" them I couldn't be arsed to do anything about it. Life's too bloody short, mate !

    When I think of all the recording media I've used during my life, I'm utterly over-joyed at the comparatively pristine results I get with the gear I use these days.
    #26
    DaveClark
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/17 13:34:29 (permalink)
    Greetings All,

    In my view, and I believe in the view of others who do audio programming, an "audio engine" in today's terms is not just a big adding machine for audio streams. For example, it is responsible for such tasks as "Follow Project Pitch." This type of task involves resampling, and in turn, data-window and filter designs. Because different programmers make different choices here, there are differences in accuracy and performance. Different programmers use different math.

    Even for those who do regard an "audio engine" as a big adding machine, other critically important differences between audio engines that help differentiate between DAW's, and having received little or no attention in this thread, include speed, reliability and robustness, and architectural design.

    There actually are many differences between audio engines.

    I would have to agree with those who say, however, that there are usually much more important things to worry about --- but not always.

    Also, addressing the "bad" audio engine quote or paraphrase in the original post: Ever since the advent of 24-bit and higher I/O, higher sampling rates, the adoption of floating point internal processing (esp. double-precision), and so on ... anyone who claims that a major-name DAW actually has a "BAD" audio engine has had the burden of proof. A very difficult if not impossible burden for any objective evaluation.

    Regards,
    Dave Clark

    #27
    jacktheexcynic
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/17 21:06:29 (permalink)
    this comes up once every two months or so...

    on the one hand, being somewhat of a coder and decent at math, i can see how each audio engine could be slightly different from the next if the algorithms used to sum the audio were different. naturally, fixed versus floating point can make a difference as fixed may introduce rounding errors that floating point would catch. given the bit depth of most modern engines though (32 fixed, 48 fixed, 64 float), the likelihood of a difference of one bit on a given sample is going to be pretty low.

    the only thing that would make a difference (plugins aside) is how those 32 or 64 bits are represented. for example, 24-bit has more headroom than 16-bit, which is technically more resolution but is really just more headroom (or a lower noise floor). in theory (if i understand things correctly), if you took the exact same setup and recorded a guitar in 16 bit and then recorded the same thing in 24 bit, the only difference would be that the 24-bit recording would be quieter, since digital zero is always zero.

    the benefits start to appear when summing multiple tracks, as two tracks of equal volume will raise the overall volume of the mix by some number i can't remember (6db?). with a 16-bit engine, you would have had to turn down your original takes (if they were close to clipping) to sum them together and lose some resolution in the process. with a 24-bit engine, those "quiet" takes summed together don't have to be turned down, because you've got the headroom to add them together. (Obviously, if you had enough loud tracks you'd have to turn them all down a little bit somewhere, but not nearly as much as if you had a 16-bit engine.)

    my point is this: if a fixed 32-bit engine is simply more headroom, then (excluding plugins doing crazy math) the only thing you are getting is the ability to sum hundreds of tracks inside the engine without clipping. if you weren't clipping when summing at 24-bit, 32-bit buys you nothing. however, if those 32 bits were extra resolution and not headroom (think of adding one decimal point instead of just having a bigger number) you would actually gain more resolution during the summing process (at the risk of clipping) and theoretically fewer rounding errors and less distortion (although i doubt anyone could tell the difference).

    so this brings me back to the real world - if sonar's 64-bit floating point engine is simply extra resolution for 32 bits of headroom, which i think it is, then it would be mathematically more precise than a 64-bit fixed point engine which simply increased headroom to an insane amount.

    so that makes me wonder about pro tools 48-bit fixed point engine. is it 48 bits of headroom? (essentially worthless, except for silly plugins) or extra resolution for 32-bit headroom? (3 pro tools bits = 2 regular bits, for 50% more accuracy at levels below human hearing!) if it's 48 bits of headroom, then i'd have to say that decision was more marketing than technical, but that's just me.

    - jack the ex-cynic
    #28
    dan le
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/18 13:12:15 (permalink)
    Hi Yep:
    Thanks for the eloquent explanation.
    I have 2 questions then:
    1. if they are all sound the same then, let's say, for a computer using XP and AMD, who or what produces the sound, XP or the AMD chip?
    2. then what is the role of the audio engine, when someone touts that they have an improved audio engine as in the case of Sonar 3, wherein the audio engine was definitely improved.
    sincerely
    dan le
    #29
    droddey
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    RE: DAWs sound engine! Is there any difference? 2007/10/18 13:38:23 (permalink)
    1. Neither the OS nor the CPU have anything to do with the sound quality, any more than, say, Excel does better math on an Intel or an AMD chip. They might provide more performance, i.e. the abiltiy to handle more load before dropouts, but nothing to do with the sound quality.

    2. You can improve the engine without changing the sound. I.e. more efficient, better bussing options, support for side chaining, more pan laws, etc...

    Dean Roddey
    Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems
    www.charmedquark.com
    #30
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