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Review: Black Lion Audio Sparrow A/D Converter, part 1 September 14, 2011

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Digital home recording studios , trackback

The Black Lion Audio (BLA) Sparrow is a 2 channel A/D converter…

…that every home and project studio should consider during upgrades.

In its unassuming black box, the Sparrow doesn’t look like much (although, to be honest, I really like the look of the box).  The front panel has a power button, 2 TRS analog inputs, and a knob for selecting sample rate.  The back of the unit has SPDIF (BNC, although the BNC>RCA adapter is included) and AES out, and a jack for the wall-wart connector.  It also has a red button for engaging 176.4 and 192 kHz sample rates.

The specs posted on the BLA website are very impressive.

Dynamic range, Converter: 120dB
Dynamic range, Analog: 33dB
SNR: -110dB
Slew rate, Analog: approx 6000v/us, depending upon input signal strength
Max analog input before digital clipping: +10dBu
Min analog input necessary for digital output: -20dBu
Inputs: Balanced, TRS
Outputs: SPDIF, AES-EBU
Sampling rates: 44.1kHz-192kHz
Bit rate: 24 bit

However, everyone knows the specs only tell us so much.  Time to test it out.  For comparison, I used my stock Digidesign 003R line inputs.  The Sparrow was connected via the SPDIF input of the 003R with a high end cable.

I started with a fairly simple test – I hooked up the analog outputs of an inexpensive drum machine into the analog inputs of the Sparrow, and then the 003R, playing the same 4-bar loop into each (and recording into Pro Tools at 88.2).  The results were surprising.  For starters, the Sparrow was significantly louder (more than 2 dB).  Of course, our ears are often drawn to louder sources, so I gain matched the two files.  Upon gain matching, I listened to each a few times, alternating back and forth with the Solo button in the mixer.

The Sparrow is much better than the stock 003R converters in a number of ways.  Most notably, spectral differences were present in many areas.  The above-6k area of the Sparrow was more present, but was not harsh or fatiguing in any way.  I’m anxious to put a vocalist through the Sparrow – I expect an excellent top end (“air”) to the vocals without sibilance problems.  More to come on this in later posts. The low mid range (200-400 Hz area) was also much better in the Sparrow.  Subjective terms don’t really help describe things on the internet, but “tighter” is an appropriate word here.  The 003R sounded slightly hyped in this frequency area (leading to a slightly “muddy” sound in comparison).  Finally, the bass end of the spectrum (below 100 Hz) seemed extended and much more filled out.  The kick drum had a larger presence around 60 Hz.

The transient response of the Sparrow was also seemingly more accurate.  

Of course, we would love to hear from any of you who are using the Sparrow, or any thoughts about other A/D converters that make it happen for you.

–Connor

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