Recording and Production in the News
One ADA-8XR is not enough for Ed KellyRockaway, New Jersey, September 2007 Prism Media Products Inc, the US representatives of high-quality UK interface manufacturers Prism Sound, have supplied one of their premium ADA-8XR A-D/D-A converters to freelance classical recording engineer Ed Kelly. This is Kelly's second ADA-8XR - he bought his first last Autumn, but when he was offered a prestigious recording project at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, he found that he needed more than the eight analogue input channels his ADA-8XR could offer. Both units have been fitted with optional FireWire and AES-EBU digital output cards.
Ed Kelly at a recent classical recording session with his ADA-8XRs
Ed Kelly has been making classical recordings for several decades, starting out in the 1960s using tape recorders partly designed by his father. During the early 1970s, he began making high-quality recordings of young up-and-coming orchestral musicians for free and offering them to the then-new US National Public Radio stations. From here he graduated to the role of classical sound engineer for commercial radio stations, becoming particularly associated in the 1980s with the broadcasts of the Baltimore and Philadelphia Orchestras, and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, to the point where he was able to give up his day job and make a living as a freelance engineer. Now, with his company MobileMaster, based in Maryland, he is a first-call engineer for many independent US classical music labels, including Arsis Audio in Boston, Virginia's Raven Recordings, Summit Records of Arizona, and California's Brioso. He also makes regular classical recordings for and at colleges and universities throughout the USA.
Despite his long years of experience, Ed has been very open to modern methods of recording and has been using digital equipment for his freelance work for many years. In fact, he believes that companies like MobileMaster could not exist without such advances in technology. "When I started recording in the 60s," he explains, "the idea of a freelance recording engineer was impossible - not only because the big recording labels had the classical recording market sewn up, but also because the equipment was so expensive. There was no way a one-man outfit like mine could afford it, or even use it very easily. Even in the 1980s, I used to see EMI or Columbia setting up for a classical recording session for an LP or broadcast, and they had what they called 'portable' consoles for location recording - custom EMI or, in the case of Sony, Neve consoles that you assembled in three 300-pound sections. It took four people to carry them; they were only portable in the sense that they were less impossible to carry than a studio mixing board! Now, I can do virtually everything those systems used to with a few pieces of kit that fit in the back of my Jeep, and the Prism ADA-8XR is an essential part of that setup."
When he bought his first Prism ADA-8XR interface last year, Ed had just moved up from a multitrack hardware recorder with built-in converters to a Mac laptop running a variety of software including Apple Logic and Steinberg Nuendo - though in fact Steinberg's Cubase 4 is his main recording software of choice. A fan of the SADiE computer-based editing system, he had initially looked into using SADiE converters as the front end for his new computer-based workstation, but kept hearing of users praising Prism converters...
"I've always made a point of working with the very finest equipment that I can possibly afford," he explains. "My old recording system was good for its day, but I always felt there was a slight metallic edge to the sound of anything that went through the converters. I use DPA high-voltage microphones, and I began to notice that other DPA users were commonly pairing them with Prism converters. So the next time I was doing a job near Prism's US office, I asked them if I could test an ADA-8XR. They brought one down as I was in the middle of a tricky organ recording. I finished up and swapped the converters for the ADA-8XR, then recorded the same passage again, so I could make a direct A/B comparison. There were a few things we noticed immediately: the reproduction of the sense of space where the recording was made was much better, there was greater extension in the low end, and that slight metallic treble edge had gone. We had two organists there and I performed a blind test on them, one at a time, so that one couldn't influence the other. They both said that the chords were "more complete" with the Prism. In other words, you were hearing more of the frequencies making up the notes in the music. And it sounds great on some of the choral recordings I've made. Choirs, especially children's voices, can be very hard to record. They're very complex harmonically and some converters just can't cope - you get a little package of noise following the signal as it goes through the converter. But you are free of all of that with the Prism."
Ed's love of the ADA-8XR, however, doesn't stop at the converters. "The design of the analogue input stage is really remarkable - it's very quiet," he continues. "And the monitor section is really well thought-out - I find that really valuable when working with unaccompanied choirs. I always have a digital keyboard in my rig attached to a small analogue mixer that I carry around with me, and I feed the mixed-down stereo output from the Prism's monitor section into that so I can check that the pitching of consecutive choral takes is consistent against the keyboard. And the choice of I/O options is great. I've gone for FireWire, so I can feed the eight channels from the converters straight into Cubase. But I have the AES option too, and I feed digital audio simultaneously through that into my old hardware recorders, which act as my backup. The clocking on the ADA-8XR is very nicely designed, too. I did a test recently while recording and deliberately pulled out the FireWire cable mid-take. Even though my Mac was the clock source for the interface, the Prism must have seamlessly switched to internal clocking, because although the recording in Cubase was ruined, the output via the AES interface continued without so much as a tick. Beautiful."
Is there anything Ed doesn't like? "Well, there's one thing the Prism doesn't do like those old Sony and EMI location mixers - it doesn't handle the same number of inputs. And that's why I had to get a second one!" he laughs. "I was asked to do a job recording a series of four CDs to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Cathedral in Washington, consisting of American works all commissioned by former Music Directors at the cathedral. We had a large orchestra and choir, and I realised that eight simultaneous inputs weren't really going to be enough without making some compromises. I tried to get by with hiring another ADA-8XR at first, but I soon realised that at the day rate it costs to hire them, and with the length of the project, I might as well buy another one!"
Prism delivered the second ADA-8XR to Ed in the early Summer, and he's used the new unit on the remainder of the commemorative National Cathedral CDs, clocking them together and using the built-in aggregate software mixer to give him 16 simultaneous input channels to his recording system. The CDs are due for release later this year, and Ed now says he wouldn't be without his second ADA-8XR.
"A lot of people I know like the sound of Prism converters, and then say the price scares them off," he concludes. But if you consider everything else the ADA-8XR gives you alongside the converters, I think the price makes perfect sense. It's a unique product."
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