The latest generation Aurora(n) offers unparalleled flexibility and versatility with the legendary crystal clear Lynx sound.
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
Lynx Studio Technology has been at the forefront of the digital conversion conversation for over 20 years. Twelve years ago, in our February 2007 issue, we covered the (classic) Aurora, a multichannel, mastering-quality digital audio converter. It was a single-space rackmount unit available in 8- and 16-channel configurations. The (classic) Aurora quickly gained a reputation for having some of the most clear and transparent conversion on the market.
In the past twelve years, converter technology has continued to improve by leaps and bounds, and today the line between high-end multichannel converter and DAW interface is largely blurred. Early converters were simple digital in-out boxes, with few features or frills, often requiring the use of PCI-based computer cards for DAW connectivity. Most converters on the market now connect through Thunderbolt, USB, or through networked audio options.
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With that in mind we introduce you to the latest generation multichannel converter from Lynx, The Aurora(n). How many channels is it? What connectivity protocol does it use? Is it Mac or Windows? What other features does it have?
I can answer all of the above questions with a snarky “YES!”, or with a sly “What do you need?”
The Aurora(n) is still a a single-space rackmount unit in a robust all-metal enclosure with brushed metallic blue faceplate. In the center is a large full-color 480×128 TFT LCD display. It is designed to access and show information, and to offer adjustments for every function contained within the Aurora(n), all without ever needing a computer app, or it can be set to show bright, detailed level metering.
Functions and settings are handled by a stepped jog-style control dial and 8 large, soft, brightly-backlit buttons that change color based on their function. Also on the front panel are a pair of high-grade headphone outputs, each with its own volume control, a microSD slot, and a power switch.
A note about the headphone outputs: they are clean, clear, and powerful. At 9 o’clock they are full and detailed, at 12 noon they are loud. Beyond that, I would suggest caution for the sake of your ears and your headphones—they will crank!
Options, options and more options
Unlike the previous-generation Aurora, where you had to decide between the 8-channel or 16-channel models, the new Aurora(n) can be configured to handle from 8 up to 32 channels of analog-to-digital line-level I/O in groups of 8 on DB25-equipped expansion boards. There is a 4-channel Mic Pre Card which we will look at below, and also a 16×16 digital card option. To make it easy, stop by lynxstudio.com/custom-shop where you can design your own Aurora(n).
All Aurora(n) units come stock with SynchroLock-2 clocking and distribution. It can accept a single channel of word clock in, and/or distribute 3 channels out on standard BNC connectors. The new SynchroLock-2 clock offers improved jitter reduction: 300,000:1 reduction in jitter, 1-2 second lock time, and absolute accuracy.
Hilo Converter Technology (HCT)
The converters in the Aurora(n) are based on those from Lynx’s successful Hilo mastering converter. These make use of a Discrete Converter Array, which means that each input and output has its own self-contained, shielded circuit, unlike many multichannel converters that share a single converter chip design. According to Lynx, the advantage here is that it “significantly reduces crosstalk and distortion while increasing dynamic range and performance.” Note that the unit supports sample rates from 44.1 up to 192kHz at 24-bit.
The Aurora(n) now also offers a microphone preamp option. Here you can choose between 4 or 8 channels of mic pre on 4-channel LM-PRE4 cards. They use Neutrik Combo XLR/TRS jacks to accommodate, mic, line, and even Hi-Z instrument inputs.
As with of the all I/O cards on the Aurora(n), when adding a preamp card, you are adding extra I/O with its own conversion. Unlike some interfaces, they do not share, swap, or eat into your existing channel count.
The preamps are controlled digitally from the front panel buttons and display of the unit. They offer +48V phantom power, a 13.6dB pad, an 80Hz 12dB/octave highpass filter, phase, and stereo linking.
Sonically these microphone preamps are of the neutral variety. They offer a maximum input of 68.6dB of gain and can easily handle low-output ribbons and dynamic mics with clarity and ease. You can check the Lynx website for full specs. Note that unlike many interface preamps, these are not an add-on or afterthought; they hold their own with most of the high-end “straight-wire with gain” competition. When you consider that you get 4-channels of high end mic pre for $699 SRP, that’s only $175 per channel.
USB, Thunderbolt, Pro Tools HD, and Dante
For computer and DAW connection, you can choose USB, Thunderbolt, Pro Tools | HD, or Dante. Each one lives on an LSlot card, designed so you can swap them out easily for different gigs.
The Aurora(n) works with Windows 7 through 10 and macOS 10.8.5 or higher. If USB equipped, you can also use the Aurora(n) with iOS 7 or higher on an Apple iPad 2 or newer with the iPad Camera Connection Kit.
The software for the Aurora(n) is
simple, and in most cases (such as
Dante and Pro Tools | HD) no additional
drivers are needed. For Thunderbolt use, there is a downloadable driver and an included software mixer, and hot off the presses, Lynx let me know that new
control software called NControl is on its way, which will work with Dante, USB, and TB.
However, this unit is also designed to be operated efficiently from the front panel, no software necessary.
Onboard recording through microSD
Lastly the Aurora(n) is a true digital recorder. When a card is inserted into the microSD slot, you can record up to 32 channels of Broadcast WAV in any of the unit’s sample rates, no DAW necessary. A single 1TB card can record over 66 hours of 32 channels at 96k or 132hrs for 16 channels, etc. and the Aurora will support up to a 2TB card when available. It can record from any of the analog or digital inputs, including USB, Dante, TB, or Pro Tools. The files can also be played back directly from the unit complete with full transport controls and jog-wheel track searching.
This is useful for tracking remote sessions and live gigs without dragging a computer along, and/or you can use it as a safety measure alongside your computer both live and in the studio—even for capturing jams and ideas between takes.
Importing these files into your DAW is as simple as dragging and dropping the BWFs from the microSD card.
Installation and setup was quick, simple, and rock solid. For review I was sent a Thunderbolt-equipped model with 16×16 line inputs, 8×8 digital, and 4 channels of microphone preamp.
Every inch of the unit exudes quality. All of the buttons are solid with a nice balance of firm and spongy. The jog-dial and headphone pots are also ultra-high quality.
I was surprised at how quickly I got the hang of the front panel controls, and never touched the software mixer. From routing to setting up tracking on the microSD card, it’s almost easier than setting the clock in your car!
You might remember that back in our April 2019 issue, in my review of the Universal Audio Apollo X, I took a bunch of converters—including the new Aurora(n)—to Justin Perkins’ Mystery Room Mastering, which is in the Wire & Vice studio complex in Milwaukee. Both Justin and Wire & Vice/License Lab owner Daniel Holter lent their time and ears comparing these converters alongside an Apogee Symphony I/O MKII, the Apollo x8p and x16, and the D/A of Justin’s Crane Song Avocet IIA monitor controller. I should note that Daniel popped in specifically to hear the Aurora(n), as he was looking for 16 channels of ultra-clean and uncolored conversion to route his outboard gear collection in and out of his hybrid mixing setup. We all agreed that the Aurora(n) was possibly the most uncolored and transparent converter in the bunch.
Justin has used a Lynx Hilo for the past few years for mastering, and while not entirely the same, they are sonically cut from the same cloth. I spent half a decade tracking and mixing through the original Aurora 16, and here the Aurora(n) is a noticeable step up. I can describe it as just as clear and transparent as I remember, but a touch more solid and even in tonal capture.
There is little not to like about the Aurora(n). If you are seeking pure, uncolored converters (and microphone preamps) that stay out of the way of your sound, this unit is hard to beat. When you add in the customizable configuration options, this can be the centerpiece of any high-end recording set up for a long time, one that can grow and morph as your needs change.
Price: Configurations vary from $2799 for a basic 8-channel unit up to $6599 for 32 channels and Dante.