Review: Lynx Studio Technologies AES 16E (PCI Express ) DA converter

Category: Digital

For the love of music recreation in the home we all go to certain ends. Some explore the final frontiers and some like me muddle along as best we can having resigned ourselves to forgoe the bleeding edge and dwell in an area wherein we can achieve peace of mind, happiness, and superior audio quality without resorting to a life of crime.

To that end I enjoy a lot of musical genres. Recently I’ve detoured for a time into the realms of Americana, folk, and bluegrass, but haven’t forgotten or abandoned my blues, jazz vocalists and big band loves.

I’m just trying to keep up on the new stars whilst appreciating those that have burned a place into my soul for time to come, and those new releases I find interesting now.

I feel, for those of us now in the hard drive based music neighborhood, there’s little if any, discounting or ignoring the hype regarding how important the interface is from the server/pc to the DAC. All sorts are out there for any personal preffs to be readily satisfied.

Predominately though it amounts to two types…. USB to SPDIF converters & Sound cards, either USB or PCI/PCI E. one can also opt for their server/pc to be directly connected to a DAC without an interface with a dedicated USB or FIREWIRE/1394 IEEE.

I’ve tried each sort so far…. Though of course not every dedicated USB or IEEE DAC. No one can or does I don’t think. I’ve tried RME, M Audio, now the Lynx AES 16#, and a couple USB sound cards. I even went out and bought the German aSIO driver for use with USB DACs and will say here it bests the run of free ones which dot the web.

The latest interface used in my refference setup was the Hiface 192 by M2Tech. I used an Oyaide BNC cable to connect to my Bel Canto e One DAC 3.

That Hiface setup showed itself as a great value and overachiving performer with regard to sound quality and sampling rate versatility. In fact I was quite satisfied overall with it’s performance amongst all of my various sound systems. It was simple to implement and easy to use. With Fubar as the media player and in KS mode, I found it vastly better than anything I had previously tried on Windows XP platforms. With Vista, the WASAPI mode seemed to me to be supreme in both Fubar and JR MC 15.159.

Of the two types of Hiface 192, RCA and BNC, especially the BNC version worked best for me. Still more people pointed to some minor mods of the Hiface for yet better levels of audio quality, again, via aftermarket mods.

The bent stick Hiface 192 has been superseded by a USB interface which proports to have better performance and more versatility with a longer list of outputs on it’s shell casing. Albeit there is little info on this new EVO Hiface unit aside from it’s vastly higher price tag, and that it needs an outboard power supply to run it. The power sup as usual, plays a big part in the quality of the sound it is responsible for, or so it is being said about the web.

I chose to follow my conservative curiosity and investigate the Lynx AES 16E sound card instead of getting the new EVO. In fact I canceled my order for the EVO, opting rather, to lay in wait for a Lynx AES 16E to come up for sale here. It did. I bought it. It arrived as stated and got plugged into my server.

It came outfitted with a Gotham cable attached to a connector that affixes to the Lynx multi pin port at the rear of the card itself. The XLR/AES end attaches to the DAC du jour…. Processor…. Etc.

Not thrilled

I was not thrilled with the software layout, although the installation was seamless. The Lynx mixer is a mess IMHO. Nothing there seemed intuitive to me. I ultimately had to place a call and leave a message with Lynx Support asking for help. My call was returned a few hours later on and the Support Tech and I did a remote desktop event wherein the Lynx Tech sliced and diced his way thru the Lynx config issues I was having and set both my Fubar and JR MC 15 to work with it via ASIO output. Lovely!

God help me if I have to go back in there for anything! Well, I have their number now, so there’s that.

I did want to try out the Direct KS mode the Lynx says it will support yet that stream was never broached. Despite that curiosity of mine, the Support arm of Lynx Studio Tehc was a great experience. He was informative, and insightful, illuminating for me thru his own experiences the futility of adding an outboard clock to the lynx card itself. He did mention one could indeed improve performance yet the cost for such a product as he mentioned was several times that of the card itself… way over $1,000 and approaching $2,000! $2K just for another clock?

For some this proposition as with everthing audio in the stratospheric pricing and costs for marginal gains, may well be a solution that meets both their ego, ears and wallets, but not mine.

Following the double check by Lynx tech, all was well…. In that it was working in ASIO mode with both Fubar and Media Center 15.159 on an XP Pro SP 3 platform. The sound however was not worth calling home about just then. That changed a bit later on.

The card itself and the Gotham proprietary cable took a little time to open up and uh, ‘act naturally’? About 100 hours more or less. Somewhere along in the fourth day things changed a lot. Dramatically in fact. Honestly it was terribly subtle how it changed, but change it did and the result was more Wow! Than How? To me.

Meanwhile back in the world of practicality I find myself well more than pleased with this new interface. Despite my ruminations and doubts on the abilities of the accompanying Gotham cabling, the AES 16E is a decided gain in performance overall, to that of the M2Tech Hiface. Doubtless further fooling around with the cabling on the card will likely show up some mo’ betta’ results. For now however it is what it is… and it is very good.

A part of me wanted this card to not be superior to the Hiface. Partly because I was having a hard time conceiving the Hiface could be supplanted or out distanced by some other device custing under $1,000.00 and partly because there’s just so much hype and well, one upmanship going on within the world of high end audio from time to time.. consequently, realizing the Hiface has lost the audio race to the lynx card I was vexed. My predictions were off a tad, but there was improvement! Hmmm…. What’s an overinflated ego to do? Gee… I guess I’ll have to adapt and live with the better sound.

It only took a day more for my grief to be replaced by my newfound friends… the Lynx AES 16E, Gotham XLR cable, and Lynx Studio support department. Together they sound quite the thing!

How good is it really?

Where’d you go? I just said that it was very good.

You must mean how is it better, right? Well, that’s different.

The improvements came in greater clarity in the mids, more space came via a better delineated top end, and the bass seemed to have gained more nimbleness yet at the loss of impact and weight. The lower register appears to have been given more light within it so one can more readily see the subtle diffs therein…. Rather than to merely bluster and resound you with bigger plodding bangs and thumps. The diet the bass was put on by the Lynx card was not substantial… merely noticeable. Egven more space or air if you like, was evident within the confines of the sound stage itself. Ambient sonic cues hung about it noticeably. The most striking element of separated differences was the increased presence of minute or minusha in the details of the sound itself and it’s overall cohesion.

On the whole everything took on a turn for greater naturalness and to a smaller degree more immediacy…. More they are here-ness. I say it that way as there was a pretty healthy dose of that already in the mix so it was quite hard to gather up a lot more “they are hearness” into the mix, or out of the recordings, if you ask me. In that case, I believe it has more to do with the levels of resolution my main outfit is capable of reproducing, than the abilities of the Lynx AES 16E and associated cabling mixture than anything else.

Well then, just how resolute is your system?

Man you ask a lot of questions don’t you?

The short answer? It’s about the resolution one could expect if they dropped around $30K into a stereo.

But I’ll put it into another more illustrative context for you… but only because I’ve grown to like you a little. You remind me of me a while back.

During the second day or so of re-running in the card and wire I had just installed, far more than a couple times I had to completely MUTE the sound to see if someone had come into my house unexpectedly. … or without permission!

The voices were that realistic. That palpable and close. It was actually scary the first time it happened. And it did happen! A few times in fact.

Whenever a stereo system can fool me into thinking the performers are in the house, or that even certain sounds emanating from the recording are on site well, Ive got to say that is why we do what we do with what we have, isn’t it? To suspend belief? Materialize the immaterial? Give life to no real living thing.

It amounts to the grin factor if one has to put a face upon it and showing all of the teeth if one has to quantify it.

To bring this case a little closer to us all, I feel I found the notable changes between the Hiface and Lynx to have more substance and continuity to them in the latter, than blatantly dashing about the sonic scenery and applying small dollops of realities hither and yon and forcing the brain to weave them all together, as the former often did.

. I think reality is always best revealed by those subtleties and nuansce that live naturally inside the music as it was being recorded by the artists and their instruments, rather than those artifacts that can be placed on top of it by the engineers. It remains more so that myriad of organic and unforced cues and sounds which often are not so closely lit up and reproduced audibly with such deftness ordinarily though they still show themselves in a system which actually can readily draw them out from the recording. . This information is so intertwined within the confines of each note or sound. Each spoken phrase or stylized spoken word. Those inner details and well revealed intonations weave the sonic canvas that combined together in such a way during my listening sessions, as to refute the notion I was listening to artificial er… recorded sounds. You could think of it as the amalgamation of millions of molecules that comprise a drop of rain, and then the rain itself as the influence that bathes the listener into it’s sparkle and refreshing sensations as it falls onto and about the listener.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not kicking the M2Tech out of the house… but sending it downstream to reside in a lesser rig thereby elevating that one substantially more so.

Where the Hiface was utterly revealing and at times leaving the color out of the sound, the Lynx contains both the vibrancy and hue of each tone and vocal issuance in a more real world fashion.

How about the AES 16E’s Value?.

Sheeesh… will you ever stop!?

Have I ever said, “Ignorance is bliss?”. If not let’s act as though I just did… ‘cause it most assuredly is indeed.

Everything has limits and everything has it’s own inherent value or worth. How far into the cavern past the threshold of diminishing returns one wishes to delve is a path only lighted by the depth and breadth of ones own means… one’s ego… and surely one’s own ability to hear those changes the other two nemisis hunt and gather up can afford one.

Like sound, value is in the eye or ear of the beholder. Stricken as I am with the confines of dusty pockets rather than those full of golden duckets, value expresses to me a very attractive face indeed. Strike that against my overinflated ego which cries out for me to “Damn the mortgage torpedoe, and spend full speed ahead”, and it’s an easy task to see I’m in constant battle aginst myself…. As it were. Often, the cries for gain overcome the wails of expense…. Yet the game is beset by lengthier strolls down the avenues of audio improvements these last couple years, rather than the former express route I regularly strided along.

From my own perspective were I to have paid roughly the going price of $700 - $800 and then had to chunk in another $100 for the Gotham cable and add shipping to that total, I’d refute the enterprise as a superior value. Perhaps only a decent one at that point.

Having corralled both card and wire for something just over $500, I’ll say it is a very good value. In either case I find it a more pleasing interface than that of the Hiface 192. More articulate, Better refined and easily more the musically revealing tool (s). And the jury is still out on the Gotham cabling and how much more so the state of affairs can gbe escalated by pitching still more of my non existent duckets into that fold.

In the OH, BTW department… you can pick up the tele and talk with Lynx Studio tech as it’s out on the lefgt coast of the good old USA! For me, that is a real plus and sure came in handy this time.

The Hiface support? Well… it’s not so easily done. True too, the Hiface doesn’t come close to the abilities of the Lynx AES 16E, in any case as the Lynx can import audio as well as expoert it.
So I’d definitely recommend the Lynx card as a most suitable interface with which to feed ones DAC, IF your DAC has an aES 110 ohm input. The lynx support arm is refreshingly reachable and pleasant to deal with despite the sometimes non instantaneous contact method. The card installs very easy… I did it with my eyes closed!

It has vastly more versatility than mere converters if you ever consider importing music too.

The Lynx AES 16E brings more naturalness and greater resolve to the recordings while always remaining refined and not overbearing or in your face as some startlingly resolute source items can be at times. Poor still sounds poor when replayed via the Lynx, yet the sound comes out merely as a dryer sound than as a threadbare, sterile or bright sounding one. BTW… there’s not a bright nor dull bone in the body of work the Lynx card can help to can recreate. It is IMHO going to be a real plus to almost any system going which is not on the bleeding edge of technology, and/or by contrast now uses middle of the road or lesser didgital interfaces with which to feed a DAC.

Two thumbs up for the Lynx card as a no brainer move to lift the performance of one’s server/pc based outfit… without going to a dedicated USB or 1394 DAC. In fact if you look about the web at some dedicated personal confuser oriented websites, you’ll find the lynx AES 16 & 16Express as THE interface which feeds some DACs costing well over five thousand dollars or more. Those people likely can acquire a whatever at that level and yet they employ the Lynx cards…. What does that say?

Whatever it’s saying it sure sounds like it’s a good thing. My experience with it says likewise.the Lynx AES 16E is indeed a very good thing in practice too.

Music used in this review was all captured in lossless file tuypes of FLAC; AIF; WAV OR ALAC.

Allison Kraus – A Hundred miles…
Diana Krall – From This Moment On; The Look Of Love
Ray Charles – Ray sings, Basie Swings, Genius Loves Company
Kevin Spacey & Dean martin – Forever Cool
John Fogerty – Blue Moon Swamp
Joe Nichols – old things New, A Man and a Memory
Zac Brown Band – The Foundation, You get What you Give
Jamey Johnson – That Lonesome Song
Alligator Records (HD TRACKS) Xmas collection
Luther Allison – Respect
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, - The Rat Pack; XXL; swingin’ for the Fences
Illinois Jacquette – Jacquettes Got It!
Roomful Of Blues – Raising a Ruckus
Paul Simon – Graceland remastered
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will the Circle Be Unbroken I, II, & III

Santana – Sacred Fire
The Band – The last waltz
AC DC - Live
James Taylor – Live
Dianah Krall – Live from Paris
Rod stewart – Unplugged & sitting down

24/96 & 24/176.4
Various classical – Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, etc.; Chesky sampler tracks, and some HD .TRACKS ONLINE DOWNLOADS.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
R.M.E. 24/96; M Audio 192; SB Live Audigy; Xonar; M2Tech Hiface (RCA & BNC)