The effect of the DAW on sound quality

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The "Merging Cellar" is the place where you can share your tasting experiences and discuss everything from technique, artistic matters or even business practices, but not necessarily about Pyramix. Feel free to pick the brains of the talented Merging forum users. Enjoy.

The effect of the DAW on sound quality

Postby rjuly » Sat Nov 12, 2016 10:23

Given the wealth of professional experience on this forum, I thought I would pose this question:
When recording into a DAW, does the DAW have any effect on the digital audio being saved into a given audio file? Is the the composition of the digital data purely a function of the A to D converters and thus the data file produced would be identical in reaper, Garage Band, Sequoia or Pyramix, or does the DAW have any effect on the resulting audio file, without any further processing?

- Richard
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Re: The effect of the DAW on sound quality

Postby fl » Sat Nov 12, 2016 15:13

While the A to D converter is responsible for mapping incoming voltage changes to a numerical scheme, the DAW can have an effect on those numbers whenever any DSP is applied, even if such DSP is restricted to applying level changes in a software mixer. For a long time Pro Tools, prior to version 9 or 10, used a scheme which mapped the values of the sample stream to a two tiered, twenty-four bit paradigm, whereas Pyramix has for years been using a 32 bit floating point scheme. Avid moved to a 32 bit f.p. scheme around the same time they changed PT's internal architecture to allow the use of any audio interface, not just their own TDM hardware.

Prior to this change, there was enough of an audible difference between the old PT internal math, and that of systems using 32 bit f.p. such as Pyramix, that some PT users opted to bypass mixing "in the box" and chose to run analog lines from individual channels out to an analog mixer. Several manufacturers responded to this market, producing a variety of line-level input mixing boxes. Going this route minimized what was perceived as PT's shortcomings in maintaining sound quality through their internal math, whereas 32 bit floating point systems were seemingly immune. As is often the case when dealing with subjective perceptions of sound quality, opinions vary with regard to the merits of one particular system over another.

Currently, Harrison's "Mix-Bus" DAW is designed from ground up to emulate analog tape recording, directly applying compression and saturation artifacts similar to analog electronics and magnetic tape to incoming digital audio streams. As far as I know, they are the only ones who have made the decision to be competitive by purposefully providing a unique sound quality, as opposed to maintaining "signal purity" throughout the whole chain.
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Re: The effect of the DAW on sound quality

Postby rjuly » Sun Nov 13, 2016 00:18

Hi Frank,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. It sounds from what you say that, assuming no additional destructive processing takes place on the recorded audio file, they may well be identical across various DAWs coming from the same interface. Interesting to hear that about Harrison.

-Richard
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Re: The effect of the DAW on sound quality

Postby DJS » Sun Nov 20, 2016 01:11

A DAW is a glorified calculator. As such, precision issues can and did arise. But these are mostly known to all in this mature age of the DAW and numerical processing. DAW's provide plenty of rope to hang oneself these days though. And I suspect this is where most of the uncertainty about sound quality comes from.
David Spearritt
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