Lynx Studio Technology: the Lynx TWO PCI Audio Card

Lynx Studio Technology: the Lynx TWO PCI Audio Card


Jim Merod and Steve McCormack

15 October 2002


Evaluation Computer
ECS K7S5A mainboard
Athlon Thunderbird 1800+
Lynx Studio ONE PCI bus sound card (currently around $460)
Matrox Millennium G450 AGP video card
40 & 60GB Maxtor Diamondmax 7200 RPM ATA100 drives
Adaptec SCSI adaptor
Adaptec IEEE1394 (Firewire) adaptor
Plextor Plexwriter 12/10/32A CD-RW
Panasonic DVD-RAM (internal SCSI)
Pioneer DVR-A04 DVD-RW (external Firewire)
Marantz CDR-620 professional CD recorder (external SCSI)

Useful Links

Sound cards are ubiquitous facts of life for computer-savvy audiophiles who seldom think about them because "serious" music emerges from stand alone high-end audio systems. One must keep categories separate. Computers are tools for getting work done. Thus, music emerging from the virtual territory of Cyberland is likely to be MP3-based and delivered through inexpensive, self-powered speakers. Comparison to genuinely musical mega-systems is ludicrous - right?

Yes and no. Most audiophiles fail to consider the potential of computers as a sophisticated source of music that can be connected directly to high-performance audio gear. Until fairly recently, such interfaces have been the exclusive province of recording studios and (perhaps desperate or inspired) "audio hip" musicians. The increasing availability of excellent, and affordable, hardware and software now expands that reality.

The two of us have a long history of recording and mastering. Albums created and produced by BluePort Jazz at the BluePort Sound Studio are largely "on location" live performances. More and more, nonetheless, we are turning to a variety of innovative (in-put, mix down, and digital enhancement) frameworks, technologies, and mastering techniques to achieve audio outcomes that simultaneously challenge us (as well as the musicians who work with us) and accomplish unique and surprising results. Why else would anyone devote oneself to snagging, and massaging, that most evanescent of all things-good musical vibrations-if sonic surprise were not part of the hunt?

As affordable, PC-based studio set-up rigs for compact disc album production came to the fore, we gravitated (first) toward experimentation and (then) professional use. Since we work primarily with live "field" recordings, our main interest is to achieve high-resolution digital audio data in-and-out of a computer-based mastering environment. The task has grown more complex, and more intriguing, over time. 

Our first crack at a high-performance sound card was a digital-only ISA-bus card, from AdB Digital, which supported 24-bit 48 kHz data. This was connected to a Pentium 166 with 64 Mb RAM. The AdB Digital folks never released their promised 96 kHz upgrade. Therefore, enter the Lynx ONE.

Our comments are not a full review in the usual (exhaustive) sense. Excellent sound cards include many features. Although the Lynx ONE card has played a significant role in our mastering environment, it has never been given a full and absolutely detailed (no holds barred) workout. The Lynx TWO has provided a brief opportunity for comparison and admiration. With more hands-on time, more could be written. Our focus at every point has been sound quality, not techno-invincibility. Some features, such as MIDI accommodation, are unimportant for our work. They remain invisible here. 

A deeper understanding of all that the Lynx sound cards have to offer can be found on their website. It is well laid-out, easy to navigate, and includes a wealth of detailed information. Because all Lynx sound cards are PCI BUS systems, they operate in Windows PC and Macintosh environments with equal success.

Digging In

We found the Lynx ONE card to be a significant upgrade from the AdB Digital unit and a great match for the dual PIII 500 mHz system in our somewhat iconoclastic (we believe innovative) editing rig. 

The Lynx ONE supports 24/96 data and S/PDIF and AES/EBU formats. It also includes two-channel analog recording and playback at a maximum resolution of 24-bit 48 kHz. It is capable of recording digital and analog inputs simultaneously. The older Lynx card is fully balanced and includes two splendid sets of (six-foot) cable runs that terminate in "D" connectors on the card. One set of six XLR connectors is dedicated to analog and digital I/O; another set is for MIDI and external clock connections. A simple software "mixer" application controls setup and operating parameters.

Our audio standards are exacting. Even excellent studio recording gear can hang you up the most. No need to revive old stories about the glory and fragility of tube-based gear. Simply put, it's unrealistic to expect an audio card that retails for $450, like the Lynx ONE, to duplicate the highest level of audio performance. At the same time, Lynx cards have proven themselves again and again in our work. They are reliable and virtually fail safe. Best of all, they provide impressive sonic results at a remarkably low price. 

Editing and mastering work is painstaking. Our aim is to produce, without deviation, the best-sounding recordings possible. That is the task each time we dig in. Therefore, we have experimented with a variety of sound shaping software-including many quite interesting "plug-ins" that control noise reduction, equalization, dynamics, and reverberation. A good many of these programs have extraordinary sonic glories within their reach. Do not discount such apparently "back door" approaches to spectacular musical conclusions. Both of us have high regard for the software listed in our appendix. 

And yet… our carefully negotiated (cost no obstacle) external analog processing loop supplies our best results. That may seem like a paradox. Praise for cutting-edge software; admiration for a state-of-the-art audio card like the Lynx TWO. Have we retreated to Olde Worlde Techno-wisdom?

Follow the bouncing audio wobble with us (you have a nice single malt handy, huh, Rudy?). It works like this. When you start with an essentially "perfect" (digital) recording that needs only rudimentary editing, you're best served by doing all of your work in the digital domain. If, on the other hand, you are working with less-than-perfect "on location" live recordings created under a wide variety of conditions-a point that cannot be overstated-adjustments for EQ, dynamics, reverb and the like are inevitable. The best results inevitably rely upon high-performance outboard gear. Much of that gear is analog. Excellent D-to-A and A-to-D conversion is essential-but expensive! 

Our external sound loop has evolved carefully over time. It usually includes the splendid Odéon-lite DAC from Birdland Audio and the Crane Song "HEDD" professional ADC processor. Both of these units are defined by unswerving audio truthfulness. Is there any other standard when you are trying to achieve musical results that are a nano-inch beyond your grasp? Tantalus gazes in the sound pool where mastering engineers with-an-attitude live and work.

We, thus, rely upon a variety of analog processing tools. The most essential analog instrument, for our happiness (and yours, our maniacal audience), is the awe-inspiring Manley "Massive Passive" tube equalizer. This much-praised unit deserves another critique, one that recuperates its bizarre capacity to make caviar out of mince-meat.

It was, therefore, inevitable for us to explore the virtues of the Lynx TWO card. Promotional ads for that unit carried quotes from experienced studio pros that asserted its analog performance to be equal to high-priced (analog) external gear. We thought we'd investigate such rare enthusiasm.

Bottom Lines

The Lynx TWO card is quite a different box from the original Lynx ONE. There is, of course, superficial physical similarity: both are PCI bus cards approximately the same size, and both use two cable sets terminating in "D" connectors at the card. Installation into our editing rig was easy-an Athlon Thunderbird 1800+ system based on a ECS K7S5A mainboard with 512 MB DDR RAM (see full specs above). Three versions of the Lynx TWO card are available (A, B, and C), each with a different arrangement of the eight (8) available analog input/output channels. The "A" version is arranged 4-in / 4-out, the "B" version is arranged 2-in / 6-out, and the "C" version is arranged 6-in / 2-out. Any of these would have sufficed for our work, but we pursued the "B" version because it offers the opportunity to try a 6-channel surround-sound monitoring setup.

Lynx audio cards are clearly aimed at recording professionals and are priced accordingly: MSRP is $1095 for the "A" version, $995 for the "B," and $1195 for the "C." This may seem high, but the cost of high-performance A-to-D and D-to-A gear is considerably more expensive. If Lynx has succeeded in creating a card that challenges the best external gear, these prices are a bargain.

Loading time was instructive. When the Lynx control software was kicked in, a significant difference between the series ONE and TWO cards became apparent. Lynx TWO cards are actually 16-channel systems internally. Their control software includes a 16 × 16 input/output switching matrix which allows the user to configure signal routing, track monitoring, record arming and so on. This software also controls setup of recording properties, bit depth, sample rate and clock reference. In addition to eight available analog I/O channels, Lynx TWO cards are designed to operate in conjunction with a set of accessory ("daughter") expansion cards. These cards offer eight channels of digital I/O in ADAT, TDIF, and AES/EBU formats. The Lynx website carries full details. 

Lynx TWO cards also support digital sample rates up to 200 kHz, meaning that 24/192 digital information is fully accommodated. Analog recording (and, therefore, the external loop) is handled all the way up to a 24/96 standard. Multiple cards can be ganged together if you need greater multichannel capability. The full story on the remarkable Lynx TWO card is beyond the scope of our comments here, but the essential performance line came clearly into view.


How does the Lynx TWO sound? In one word, great! In our initial working session, remastering material from a formidable alto saxophonist whose quartet includes one of the premier jazz pianists on the scene today, a new degree of sonic ease and clarity emerged from our monitors. The Lynx TWO was crunching musical data without breathing hard. Its performance compared favorably to far more expensive external audio gear. That is saying a great deal. We heard more music than our previous editing/mastering rig allowed because we heard a broader range of highly-resolved sonic details. That immediate, engaging resolution made our work easy, quick… and enjoyable.

We found operational and sonic differences but they were small in comparison to the continuity of high-performance outcomes that these units share. The Lynx ONE is a flat out bargain, a low-keyed, beautiful (nuts and bolts) unit that has many operational virtues. The Lynx TWO is a full generation beyond that. The TWO delivers musical glory in spades. 

We have found, with little contradiction, that the best possible sonic performance derives from the best (often the most expensive) external gear. While the Lynx ONE card is a step below the performance level we demand, the Lynx TWO competes without embarrassment or reservation with high-end external gear. Lynx Studio has done a remarkable job of delivering a tremendously capable, flexible audio card at a truly low price. Anyone wishing to create a surprisingly vivid computer-based music system should put Lynx Studio on their short list of sound card choices.

Lynx Studio also offers the L22 card-a somewhat scaled-back version of the model TWO. It has only two channels of built-in analog I/O, and the external synch facilities are limited, but it is otherwise exactly the same unit as the bodacious TWO. At $749 for a professional audio card with brilliant sound quality… what are you waiting for?

Editor's Note: Audio designer Steve McCormack is mastering engineersine qua non at BluePort Sound. His numerous equipment designs have earned awards, plaudits, and fans around the globe-at a customer-friendly price point. Jim Merod's BluePort jazz and blues label has recorded a large spectrum of significant musicians. BluePort DVD discs are en route.

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