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Q: Do you have to use a good converter for a microphone to compete with the industry?

A Record-Producer.com visitor asks whether a good analog-to-digital converter is necessary. Or will any old converter do?

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Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

"Do you have to use a good converter for a microphone to compete with the industry?"

Firstly, a little Level 1 explanation for newcomers to recording... A microphone needs a preamplifier to bring the level up from a few tens of thousandths of volts to around one volt. Then the signal goes through an analog-to-digital converter so it can be input into a digital audio workstation.

So firstly you have to use a preamplifier that is comparable with those used in the pro industry. That's another matter entirely, so I'll assume that this is already taken care of.

So, do you need a good analog-to-digital converter, which I'll call a converter for short, or will any old converter do?

Well, without doubt it would be nice to have the best converter in the world, that was comparable with the very best that industry pros use. There is no doubt that it is always the right thing to do to aspire to the ultimate standard available.

But what if you can't afford the best? Will your recordings be ruined?

One way of looking at this is to go back into the history of digital audio, back to the early 1980s. The converters they had then were primitive compared to what we use now.

Sometimes they were not even 'monotonic', meaning that an increase in voltage didn't always result in an increase in the digital numbers that came out.

Even so, many great recordings were made with such converters. Recordings that stand the test of time now.

I would venture to bet that even the worst converter that is sold into the pro audio market these days is by far superior to the best that was available then.

So, according to this logic, you don't particularly need to worry about the converter. Yes, buy the best you can afford and couple it with a good preamp. Then forget about it and work on your music, your studio acoustics, your microphone technique and your mixing skills. They will make infinitely more difference than anything else.

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By David Mellor Monday March 29, 2010
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