Lynx has added variable trim to their acclaimed Aurora 16 converter. Now with the help of a pot tweaker tool (or appropriately-small screwdriver), users can manually adjust the analog input and output levels within a range of +8.5 dBu to +24 dBu. Lynx assures us that there are no sonic differences between the Aurora 16-VT and its siblings, so you should consider the VT only if you require adjustable I/O or think you may need it down the line. If this topic is new to you, there are a few reasons why this flexibility can be a lifesaver.
First, if you integrate the Aurora 16-VT with a system that uses other manufacturers' converters, you are likely to find that each has a different I/O calibration. This means audio fed into different converters will have different levels inside your DAW. Likewise, channels played out of different DACs will differ. This adds an unnecessary and potentially problematic situation as you record with or use out-of-the-box processors. Having a consistent I/O level across your digital system is almost a fundamental necessity. Another instance where you would need variable trim would be if you replaced your old converters with the Lynx Auroras. Chances are good they operate at different levels, which would cause havoc on mix recalls and working on any session that's in progress. Finally, if you're doing transfers from a variety of analog gear, having variable trim will allow you to optimize your levels without resorting to adding additional electronics to make up the difference or attenuate the source signal.
Users of the Digidesign 192 devices are already familiar with the trim pot option, as they are included on these unit's back panels. On the Aurora 16-VT, however, users will need to open the chassis to access the trim pots, which are mounted inside the unit on the primary circuit board. Clearly, this option was the most economically savvy, as it required the least modification to the existing Aurora manufacturing process. I didn't ask Lynx directly, but it's common sense that pulling the pots to the back panel would have cost much more for a redesign, materials, and not to mention space limitations of the Aurora 16-VT's 1RU height. Frankly, I'm not sure there is enough space to include 32 pots. So this configuration cost a good bit less than a full-blown product roll out. In fact, the VT version's list price is only $300 more than the Aurora 16, keeping this option affordable for those who need it. But before you grow concerned about the location of the pots, let me share our usage stories. I don't know about everyone's set up, but trying to adjust I/O from the back of our equipment rack would be darned right difficult. Instead, we set the Aurora 16-VT on the producer's table in the control room. From there, we could see the DAW monitor, had easy access to input sources, and had space to set a signal generator, multimeter, and other tools. For most people, the I/O calibration is a one-time installation activity. For that reason, don't worry about having to remove the lid to do the job. It's probably just as easy this way. Of course, users who need to make frequent adjustments are going to want to keep the Aurora 16-VT where it can be easily opened.
Speaking of integrating the Aurora 16-VT with your DAW, this is easily accomplished by inserting an optional expansion card in the unit's LSlot bay. Lynx offers several options including FireWire 400, DB25 for users with a Lynx AES16 PCI card, and Pro Tools HD. Our review unit came with the Lynx LT-HD card preinstalled, which allowed us to use the Aurora 16-VT with our Pro Tools HD system. We simply connected the LT-HD port to an HD card using a standard DigiLink cable. Pro Tools immediately recognized the Aurora as a Digidesign 192 I/O. Using the familiar Hardware and I/O windows in Pro Tools allows you to control all I/O functions, clocking, routing, and other settings. There are two ways you can set up the Lynx in Pro Tools depending on how many channels you require. The Aurora 16-VT offers a bazillion channels (actually 16 analog in, 16 analog out, and 16 digital I/O). If you only need 16 simultaneous channels, Pro Tools can be set up to see the Aurora 16-VT as a single Digidesign 192 I/O interface. If you require more channels, you'll need to set it up in 32-channel mode, which appears as two 192 I/O units in Pro Tools. Each "instance" will present 8 channels of analog I/O and 8 channels of digital I/O, both of which can be used at the same time. This setup will provide full concurrent use of the Aurora 16-VT's 32 channels in the same session. This might be confusing to read in a review, but in use, it's very straightforward.
Of course, all of these features are irrelevant if the unit doesn't sound good. We conducted extensive tests of the Aurora 16-VT as part of our GRIMM Audio clock experiment for an upcoming article. Full details about clocking topics will be covered in that article, but I will say that we felt that the Aurora sounded better using its own clock. The external clock seemed to tighten the low end slightly but at the expense of very choppy, almost abrasive high end. Should you choose an Aurora 16-VT, I don't think an external clock is a necessity. In terms of sonics, we compared the Lynx against converters from other manufacturers and found it to be very accurate, open, and true. Other converters sounded different, which gives me pause to ask why we don't talk about that more. We obsess with microphones, preamps, and other outboard gear, but my experiences have shown that converter choice is almost as important as anything else in the signal chain - especially at this level of performance.
I also get a bunch of emails asking, "What's the best converter?" Maybe you can have that discussion when you're comparing one $500 prosumer interface against another, but at this level, it's all about taste and application. It's like listening to drummers debate which cymbal is better, Paiste or Zildjian, or guitarists arguing over Marshall versus Fender. At the top levels, they're all good but often very different. It depends on what you need. Getting back to converters, we had spirited discussions comparing the Aurora 16-VT versus our Digidesign 96 I/O. Some people thought the Digidesign units had a warm, woody sound that they liked on drums and guitar. But we didn't always agree. For example, I was amazed at the top-end detail of a Royer R-121 through the Lynx, but another engineer said he thought it was harsh. One guy liked drum overheads through the Digidesign, but I loved the space and depth retained by the Lynx. Ideally, you may have multiple converters for different sources (and if you do choose that route, you're going to definitely want variable I/O like that found in the Aurora 16-VT). One application where I love the Aurora 16-VT is for mixing out-of-the-box situations. To me, the Lynx is very clean, neutral, and pure. Don't confuse this with brittle, thin, or boring. When you're doing multiple A/D and D/A processes, the last thing you want is to be adding unintended coloration from the converters. In my mind, I want an accurate conversion of what is in or out of the box, and I'll choose the method of coloring the sound. I prefer the level of accuracy, depth, and image provided by the Aurora 16-VT.
The Lynx Aurora 16-VT offers a whole lot of connectivity, flexibility, and accurate conversion at a very nice price. By adding one of the company's LSlot expansion cards, the Aurora family can integrate with nearly any popular DAW on the market. We experienced seamless integration with Pro Tools HD. But best of all, this unit offers very true sound that retains depth without imposing unintended color or nuance to your audio. In my opinion, that's what the goal of a good converter should be. (16-VT $3595 MSRP, LT-HD $395; www.lynxstudio.com) -GH