Test Reviews of Pro Audio Gear and Mixing Consoles

Analog Stereo Mastering Processing Gear
adt-audio ToolMod MS and BM

Translation of a test review from German Studio-Magazin by
Dieter Kahlen

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It is a distinction of the pro audio scene that the skills of a user to appraise the sound performance of different ways of signal treatment in an objective and not prepossessed way are reciprocally proportional to his sensivity for skilled marketing and fashion. Everyone of us has already heard exactly that what he wanted to hear in a particular situation, just for the reason he had been persuaded of the quality of a speaker system or an equalizer, just by a rumour going round. Digging a little deeper, things are very often different from the expectations of the listener.

Due to today’s digitally dominated production process, the importance of analog audio systems has gotten lower; however, in many cases, workflow and budgets are the reason and not the sound performance – quite the contrary. In order to justify the use of analog audio gear, manufacturers like using terms like ‚discrete’ or ‚class A’, which results in the impression that an analog audio device without these attributes might not have much going for it. In addition, if there is a softly glowing tube involved, the expected ‚warm’ sounding listening experience is easier to accomplish. It’s self evident that there are many outstanding devices based on classical circuit concepts; actually, we are able to confirm this with our tests very often. However, no one should assume that terms like ‚discrete’, ‚class A’ or similar, on the face plate of a devices are directly resulting in high performance without using the own ears to listen and verify carefully. It is more important how designers implement a particular circuit design than what design is used. Catchwords used by manufacturers are of no meaning as far as the performance is concerned.

As you may already assume after reading this introduction, adt-audio’s approach of analog gear is to count on solid engineering skills but on fashion and catchwords. This means in particular, that ToolMod uses integrated circuits extensively, among others for the reason that the functional variety of the gear is simply not feasible without. However, these IC’s are not the standard types that can be found almost everywhere but special versions that have been carefully selected by experience over many years and are best suited for a particular purpose. There is no doubt about the fact that most of the integrated operational amplifiers are not able to fulfill the needs of high quality audio systems. Such chips have usually been developed for a different purpose, very often for consumer gear, that offers the opportunity for the semiconductor manufacturer to sell high quantities, which is not possible in the small market of professional audio equipment. Countless audio devices based on low quality integrated circuits, as they were extensively used in the start-up period of this technology, have formed a bad reputation of these components, which is not entirely wrong. However, using carefully selected components that are best suited for a particular application is based on the skills and the experience of a designer and can result in a performance that tops the level of the conventional gear easily. The manufacturer cannot be wrong with this concept, as we could always confirm by former measurements and tests of adt-audio gear. With a headroom of + 30 dBu throughout the entire system and a dynamic range of 120 dB RMS for the ToolMod system, the manufacturer demonstrates his pretensions in quality of signal treatment clearly. The entire ToolMod system, like all other adt-audio gear does not use SMD components. There are several good reasons not to change over to surface mounted components that offer lower cost for components and assembly as well. Apart from the sound performance, thermal problems due to high packing density, the higher resistance of the smaller solder taps as well as the fact that high quality electrolytic capacitors, well suited for audio applications, are simply not available as SMD components, would lead to a manufacturing process where many conventional components would still be necessary to maintain the performance. This results in a production process that is more complex, has more steps, and is more sensitive and will do more harm than good.

Rear View of a ToolMod Frame

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