Field Test: Lynx L22 PCI Audio Card

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY DANIEL KELLER

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For high-end applications, conventional wisdom has always dictated that an installed interface simply can't approach stand-alone converters' sonic performances. Lynx appears to have done away with that conventional wisdom.

The L22 PCI audio card is the latest in a line of high-end audio cards from Lynx. Based on LynxTWO technology, it supports sample rates of up to 215 kHz, with a 100kHz analog bandwidth and a dynamic range of 117 dB. The L22 shares much of the LynxTWO's feature set, with a distinction in the analog I/O (2-in, 2-out) and the absence of a SMPTE reader/generator.

OUT OF THE BOX

The first thing I noticed while unpacking the card is its solid construction, with high-quality surface-mount components: Analog Devices op amps and AKM AK5394 and Crystal CS4396 converters, plus ground planes, power supply filtering and precision resistors.

Breakout cables are similarly well made. The analog audio cable is a sturdy 25-pin D-sub with four XLR I/Os. The sync cable, a 15-pin D-sub, carries sync in and clock out on BNC connectors, as well as digital I/O (software-configurable as AES/EBU or S/PDIF) on XLRs. An AES-to-S/PDIF adapter is also included.

INTO THE BOX

Installation under XP was straightforward and pleasantly free of surprises. Curiously, the manual does not offer documentation on Mac installation, though Mac ASIO 2.0 is supported under OS 9.x.

In fact, if the L22 falls short anywhere, it's in its documentation. The 30-plus-page installation and users guide is well written but sketchy and short on fine detail. Lynx says that it is working on updating its support materials.

Minor quibbles aside, the sonic quality and dynamic range of this card are nothing short of striking. Background noise is almost nonexistent: Listening to masters I'm intimately familiar with, I was able to pick out inflections and nuances I'd long ago forgotten. Audio performance in Cubase SX and Nuendo was stellar, and even with buffer sizes as small as 128 samples, playback of 20-plus tracks was glitch-free, with minimal CPU load and latency reporting 2.6 ms. Performance in Cakewalk's Sonar and Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro was equally impressive — even with MME drivers. (WDM and GSIF drivers should be available soon; Mac OS X support is planned for early 2003.) With 16 dB of headroom, the L22's output is quite hot; make sure that your equipment can handle the output level without damage.

GROWING FROM WITHIN

The L22/LynxTWO family's architecture is based on Lynx's LStream protocol with expansion options. Each card is seen by the host application as 16 inputs and outputs, and multiple L22/LynxTWO cards can be synched via internal ports for larger multichannel systems. Another internal port can accommodate the LS-ADAT or LS-AES daughterboards: The LS-ADAT provides 16 channels of 48kHz ADAT I/O, eight channels of 96kHz or four of 192kHz. The LS-AES provides eight channels of AES/EBU at rates up to 96 kHz or four channels at 192 kHz. These daughterboards use an additional card bay, but not the associated PCI slot. Lynx is also working on external versions of these interfaces that will connect between card and sync cable.

THE MATRIX

Lynx's internal mixer is feature-rich, though I'm not fond of the layout. The arrangement of three different-sized windows within a larger window feels cramped and unyielding. Nonetheless, it's intuitive enough after only minimal mousing around.

The Adapter window controls most system settings, including digital I/O and sample clock, dither type, analog I/O level and sample rate conversion. There's also a panel showing clock rate readout for every available source. Another nice touch is a converter recalibrate button, which compensates for drift caused by temperature changes as the computer warms up.

The Record/Play window provides meters and input selection for each of the card's 16 channels, as well as mutes and dithering options; word length info and dropout tallies are also displayed.

The Outputs window offers very flexible source selection, with up to four inputs per channel possible. Metering and faders for analog and digital I/O pairs, eight channels of LStream (more if additional LStream sources are connected) and four channels of loopback are provided. Mute and dither types are also individually selected here. With such a deep degree of routing complexity, it's a bit disappointing that there's no way to save snapshots, but the mixer does at least open to the last setting, even after a reboot. (Lynx says a snapshot feature is in the works.)

IS IT WORTH IT?

At an MSRP of $749, the L22 is certainly not for everyone. But with performance that truly rivals stand-alone converters, which cost far more, the L22 is an excellent and affordable choice for mastering, DVD authoring and other applications that don't require synchronization. Now, if only the rest of my system could support 192 kHz.

Lynx Studio Technology Inc., 1048 Irvine Ave. #468, Newport Beach, CA 92660-4602; 949/515-8265 x205; fax 949/645-8470; www.lynxstudio.com.


Daniel Keller spends his waking hours caught between music and technology, mercilessly coaxing computers to be creative.






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