November 12, 2007

BLA clock? Seems that way...

by Chris Randall

This definitely goes in the "things that make you go 'hmmmmm'" category. I tend to look askance at anything if the promotional literature says it will "provide a wide, separated soundstage and add smooth, neutral clarity." These these are the same code-phrases used by makers of $3000 wooden volume knobs and RCA cables woven by 12-year old virgins from the small intestines of baby harp seals. These code phrases mean, in essence, "I've made an incredibly over-priced and over-engineered replacement for something you already own, and no, sorry, it won't make any difference whatsoever, but you have to justify this purchase to your spouse somehow..."

Now, that said, BLA is in the business, largely, of making shitty gear not-so-shitty by the judicious replacement of op-amps and clocks. It would stand to reason that they know a thing or two about the concept. It's also worth noting that this isn't carved from a solid chunk of fossil ivory; neither does it cost mid-four-figures. It is, in fact, quite inexpensive. It is roughly a third the cost of a Big Ben, yet purports to do as good or better a job. It's far less than 1/3 as pretty, it must be said.

They even offer an Audio Damage-esque guarantee. Now, that's something I can get behind. Not, of course, to the point of actually purchasing it, as I like my soundstage to be narrow, thank you very much. And to significantly improve on Apogee, I'd need to talk to Mr. Prism or Mr. Weiss. But at least they put their money where their mouth is, which is rare enough in this industry. Go forth.



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Nov.12.2007 @ 6:28 AM
"And to significantly improve on Apogee, I'd need to talk to Mr. Prism or Mr. Weiss."

Don't forget about mr. DCS.

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Nov.12.2007 @ 12:03 PM
I can believe it. It's not like they need a $300 transformer or a $200 tube to produce a solid clock output. It's just a bit more circuitry than most manufacturers want to add. Believe me, engineers look at every component in a new box and try to shave pennies off a design.

Also, if the difference between a built-in clock and external clock is in the 1% range, then the difference between brands of clock generators has to be in the 0.01% range. Perhaps someone will one day do a "clock-off," or find a way to quantify how huge their clock is.


Nov.12.2007 @ 12:03 PM
Wade Alin
Black Lion = not fucking around. I had the 828 mod done a while back, made an observable difference.


Nov.12.2007 @ 1:37 PM
To be fair it is rarely the engineers who look at every component to shave pennies. Engineers by nature typically want to make things as geeky as possible and only think of price as a secondary thought if at all.

Nov.12.2007 @ 4:14 PM
Aww come on, JRC4558 have that 'je ne sais quoi' sound that makes saving $.02 so profi-licious!

Nov.12.2007 @ 4:43 PM
The difference between a built-in clock and an external clock can certainly exceed the 1% range, depending on the specific pieces of gear in question. As anyone who's listened while putting a piece of older or cheaper digital gear on a newer, better clock will attest, the improvement is not subtle.

Further, the difference between brands (or, more to the point, designs) of clock generators should not be underestimated. I had the opportunity to do a mini "shoot-out" when shopping for a master clock a few years back, and I was astonished by the differences. (And mine was not a unique experience.)

This is far from the snake-oil claims by makers of esoteric audiophile accessories. Even if their effects on the audio signal are subjective or controversial, the properties of digtal clocks are measurable and well understood by their designers. I have little doubt that the Black Lion clock is a good step up from what's built in to most of the gear you'd find in a Musician's Friend catalog.



Nov.12.2007 @ 4:52 PM
Chris Randall
I would agree with blinkman wholeheartedly. If your gear has the ability to be clocked by BNC, and you're using _anything_ below an Apogee Rosetta 200, you're gonna be well served by getting a clock. I perhaps didn't make that clear, as I assumed that anyone truly interested in the quality of their A/D/A would know this.

Long story short, if you own anything made by MOTU or the low-end Digi stuff, and it has a BNC header for clock input, this would probably be a wise purchase. I was just taking the piss out of the phrasing, which, like "breaking down the barriers" collegiate shit, never fails to make me chuckle.



Nov.12.2007 @ 5:20 PM
I meant "engineers who work at major manufacturers." These guys are given a project, a set of features and a Bill of Materials to meet. The manufacturing engineers will then take their design and trim costs further ??if we combine these two functions and use this part, we save $0.0415. If I'm going to add parts to improve the clock that will raise the retail price by $30-50 (or reduce profit by 5%) , I need to prove that sales will increase due to that feature. Nothing nefarious, it's just business.

As for a master clock, perhaps I should rent one someday to try it with my setup.

And for Chris' writing reviews, you try writing a dozen press releases and see what depths you sink to. :)


Nov.12.2007 @ 5:37 PM
this is one part of the audio chain i just do not understand, so can someone clarify: what benefit does a better clock source give? i'm assuming it has something to do with keeping chunks of audio evenly spaced as they are turned into digital data (and vice versa), so that the result is a more accurate portrayal of the original sound?
i have a tascam 1884 with the alesis ai3 (one of the things that black lion mods), and am perfectly happy with the sound, but if this thing can make an honest improvement...i just have to agree that their marketing-speak makes it sound like typical audiophile bullsh. the customer reviews aren't much better either.

Nov.12.2007 @ 6:18 PM
A better source clock reduces jitter, which is essentially harmonic and subharmonic distortion affecting mid to high frequencies affecting audio more as the signal is closer to the clock frequency(or was it Nyquist? either way, worse with higher frequencies). I'd say jitter makes highs sound gritty and "digital" compared with a better-clocked converter.

Studies have been done (don't remember where I read this, AES papers or something?) showing jitter is audible in some cases down to 10ns rms.

With a 30-day return policy, it can't hurt to give it a try for some a/bing, though personally I'd be interested in seeing BLA publish some specs on jitter first...


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