Prism Sound Titan

USB I/O With Digital Mixer, MDIO Slot
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USB I/O With Digital Mixer, MDIO Slot

Many engineers associate Prism Sound with quality products that are unobtainable due to price. But in recent years, the price tags have begun to come down and compete in the middle of the booming multichannel interface game. With the revamped Lyra 2, Atlas and Titan all currently shipping, the company now has a considerable selection of products in the USB interface market, each varying in I/O and features. The Titan pushes beyond USB connectivity by also offering an “MDIO connection,” which allows other higher-speed interface options. Of all the products in its new fleet, the Titan seems to be the perfect balance of quality, features and price.

Nuts and Bolts

The Titan features a healthy complement of digital and analog I/O with a high-quality internal digital mixer to route any combination of inputs and software returns to any given output. The Titan can recognize a total of eight analog inputs, simultaneously, as well as up to eight digital channels of 44.1/ 48kHz audio using the ADAT optical protocol, or half as many with each doubling of the sample rate up to 192 kHz using SMUX. There is an additional pair of digital inputs using RCA-type connectors. Mirroring the inputs, eight analog outputs, eight ADAT optical outputs, and a pair of coaxial digital outputs are provided.

The A/D converters can be fed by a choice of physical connectors and analog circuits. Each A/D converter defaults to accept a balanced line-level signal, and four of these circuits can be fed by dedicated ¼-inch TRS connectors. The default for the other four is to be fed by the ¼-inch components of a set of four XLR/TRS combo jacks. If signal is detected on the ¼-inch connector, Titan automatically accepts the line-level input circuit; if no ¼-inch connecter is attached to the combo jacks, two other possibilities exist. The front panel has a pair of high-impedance tip-sleeve ¼-inch connectors to accept electric instruments. When connected, these automatically take over as the input to the first two A/D converters in the absence of line inputs in the back. There are also four extremely low-noise mic preamps, which take over the first four A/D converters as long as no instrument is connected in the front and no line input is connected in the back.

Despite the healthy amount of I/O, all of this automatic detection and selection results in a unit that would be a little cumbersome when hard-wired into a rack and patchbay. For example, if a musician wanted to plug into the front panel instrument jack, it would be necessary to climb behind the rack and disconnect the ¼-inch line-input connector from the back of the Titan. I attempted to feed line-level signals to the XLR inputs on the back and found that it was impossible to use anything but the ¼-inch portion of the connector for this purpose, so likewise, switching between mic and line inputs would also require climbing behind the rack to switch cables. The Lyra 2 added an option to bypass automatic selection in favor of manual input selection. The fact that this was not offered with the Titan begs the question whether this could be corrected with software.

Each of the analog inputs features selectable highpass filters, polarity reversal and Prism Sound’s signature “Overkiller” safety limiter. Line-level signals can be toggled between accepting -10dBV and +4dBu signals through the proprietary software control panel. Aside from that, no other level control exists for the line-level inputs. When using the mic or instrument inputs, there are no physical controls, so level adjustments are always made through the software. It would be nice if there were a way to link input gain controls for stereo, Decca Tree or surround miking, but no grouping controls are available on the inputs. That said, you can still achieve precision level matching as the gain controls are stepped in 1dB increments.

Digital input can be accepted from a choice of either a Toslink or RCA-type connector. Either can be fed with S/PDIF signals, including raw bitstreams of encoded surround signals. This feature is somewhat rare and could be very useful for recording or monitoring these types of signals through a software decoder. The Toslink connector can also be used for ADAT and SMUX. The provided XLR-to-RCA adapter allows the RCA connector to be repurposed for AES3 connections. Digital output is offered in all of the same varieties, with all digital I/O having the option of real-time sample rate conversion and the ability to pass encoded bitstreams. The Titan can slave to embedded clocking signals or serve as the clock master using any of these digital connections; dedicated BNC word clock inputs and outputs are also provided for cleaner clocking.

The Titan has a software mixer for users to determine which signals will feed each of the 18 available monitoring outputs, as well as decide what will feed the two headphone jacks on the front panel. The Lyra 2 uses the same software, so I had seen it before. Upon first use, it felt like the labeling and the layout were less user-friendly than similar software for other interfaces. But after coming back to it, it seemed more intuitive. I liked that signals could be grouped into stereo pairs and leveled with a single fader in the software mixer. I also liked the way that any output signals can be grouped and controlled with the front panel level control. Using this as a 5.1 or even 7.1 monitor controller became a viable option.

In Use

Before recording anything, I spent some time listening to the converters. The stereo image that they presented was incredibly wide. I can’t say that I’ve heard a bigger picture from any other D/A converters. All of those little details of your favorite tracks that you use to benchmark good converters—the sneaky clavinet that doubles the bass, or the bassoon hidden in the track, or whatever you check for—you will find it here, and hear it better than ever.

Next, I made some vinyl transfers using the Titan. The highpass filters on the instrument inputs can perform the standard de-emphasis equalization for vinyl records. I thought this was a hip feature, as I’d not had it in the past. But looking at the connectors available, it wound up being cleaner and simpler to connect a phono pre to the line inputs and just count on the Titan’s A/D converters for the transfer. The sound was amazing. Whatever makes vinyl so inexplicably vibrant carried through into the digital file.

The music was generally dynamic in these transfers, whether jazz or rock. I found myself setting what seemed like a reasonable level, and then during the bridge of a song, things would pick up and I’d have to start over because clipping had occurred. While listening to a section with some slight overs, I engaged the unit’s Overkiller limiters and was pleased with how well they prevented clipping without imparting a noticeable sound. While some safety limiters strive for tape-like compression effects, these were clearly designed with honesty and transparency in mind, and executed very well.

I stereo miked an acoustic guitar in a room with wood floors and a pleasant natural reverb, putting a little distance between the guitar and mics just to exploit the room’s character. The pre’s and converters again displayed a great transient response on some of the more percussive aspects of the performance—the sound in the room was faithfully captured. The guitar’s bottom end was warm and full without sounding tight and sculpted like some transformer-based inputs will do. It’s not that that’s a bad sound, by any means, but these pre’s inputs did less of the talking and let the guitar speak for itself. The midrange frequencies were clear and detailed, and the top end breathed nicely. The image of the guitar and its placement in the room really came through in the recording.

A Household Name?

While the Titan is a tenth of the price of the Dream ADA, it is still a bit higher priced than interfaces with similar I/O counts from Lynx, RME or Mytek. The argument that the converters from any of these four manufacturers are better than the rest would purely be a matter of taste, but I would not argue with anyone who said that paying extra for the Prism Sound variety would be worth it. On top of that, most other devices with similar specs have no mic pre’s, and the Titan gives you four very good ones.

The Titan has great sound, flexible routing, and the ability to work without the need for a PCIe card, so this should be a draw for laptop users, or even owners of the new Mac Pro. On the other hand, realizing the full potential of the MDIO expansion and using the ability to link multiple Titans to one system could draw many users looking for big I/O to normal to their large-format console. Should you have a Titan? If you can afford it, you will not be disappointed.

Brandon Hickey is an audio pro and rabid Blackhawks fan.