Marian have released the official Windows 10 drivers for their Seraph and Trace ranges. Check out marian.de
Strange the things that promote a review. I’ve been meaning to write something about the Marian Seraph AD2 for sometime now but this afternoon I finally put fingers to keyboard. The impetus? The Stranglers epic Hanging Around from Rattus Norvegicus released in their blizzard of output in 77. The intro to Hanging Around is a simple affair, the album was recorded in a week, but I was suddenly struck by the contrast between the artless insistence of the hammond and the ursine growl of Jean-Jacques Burnel’s bass. Now the astonishing uniqueness of JJB’s bass sound is not news and I have grown up with it as part of my audio history. But having added the Seraph to my system I was struck anew by the way bass and keys carry the song. And yet simultaneously both guitar and vocals also have a ‘Stranglers’ edge that you wouldn’t easily mistake for anyone else.
And it suddenly dawned on me that great audio gear in the monitor chain acts like a time machine. As new synergies suddenly manifest themselves you get a chance to go back and listen to a raft of music that you thought you knew completely but now sound refreshed because you might be hearing something that passed you by forty years ago. That of course is not to say that new gear is all about nostalgia – just that there is huge scope for buried treasure in the desert islands of your audio.
But enough philosophy, what about the technology. The Seraph is a PCIe card from German audio engineers Marian. And Marian claim that the Seraph’s 32bit D/A converters are a key component of it’s sonic excellence. The Seraph will do 24/192, but at the highest sample rates the dsp based facilities in the mixer are reduced. The Seraph AD2 offers a balanced stereo input and output and a balanced stereo digital (AES3) input and output, there’s also Word Clock in on BNC. An option add in MWX2 card offers Word Clock in and out and midi functionality. The onboard DSP powers a 32 channel mixer in which each channel has four band EQ (high and low shelf plus two parametrics), four mono aux sends, two stereo sends and these sends can be pre or post EQ. The sixteen stereo outputs can be routed to any physical outputs or to any of the sixteen stereo DAW inputs available to applications inside your computer.
Such flexibility may seem overkill for what is essentially a dual stereo card but remember the AD2 is part of a larger range of Seraph cards and of course you can stack up AD2s inside your system for synced input and output over the Marian TDM bus. Having said that I wouldn’t have minded a ‘simples’ button to hide the full monty and show me a reduced feature set mixer – four in four out – maybe to match the physical I/O.
I’ve had Marian cards for as long as I can remember, the mighty Marian Marc 2 was my stereo card of choice for many years, followed by the Trace Alpha when Windows 7 arrived. Marian do a wide range of Seraphs, from the stereo AD2 (with AES and balanced analogue I/O) all the way up to the MADI based Seraph M series. Marian’s card offer bomb proof reliability (I’ve fitted loads and never had a hardware problem) and top drawer sonics. The two channel Trace Alpha has withstood many challenges in my system and even survived the arrival of Marenius’s killer DAC-S2 but with the arrival of Windows 10 and a new motherboard (the Alpha is a PCI based card) it was time to move on. To be honest I didn’t expect the Seraph to provide an advance in audio quality, I assumed it would provide the same performance transferred to the PCIe bus.
But I was wrong, the Seraph definitely provides more angels per ear than any other card I have plugged into my PC and I’ve plugged in a few over the years. I think this is most obvious in the bass, hence maybe the Stranglers providing the review tipping point. But I’ve also been struck by instrumentation that previously just passed me by. Just yesterday I was listening to Lemar’s If There’s any Justice. Full of lush strings, punctuated by the brass and driven by a great vocal. But what sneaked out via the Seraph was the tone of the guitar, Cropper meets Hendrix. And I’ve just never heard that before. Reverb tails are another area that seem to offer more, low level percussion exhibiting more character in the decay. And then there’s the ensemble thing, I hear the mix entire but I feel I can reach in and focus on just the brass or the percussion and as it were hold them up to the light, ask questions of them, but at the same time never lose the cohesiveness of the whole.
So slap Set Fire To The Rain on to your turntable (metaphorically of course) and you can wrestle with the question, ‘Is this just too much production, does it overwhelm even Adele’s magic vocals, are all those strings helping or are they in danger of hiding the light under a synth bushel? ‘ Sorry that might be two questions. Here’s another, ‘do you really want the piano so key (forgive the pun) to the Adele melodic synergy so low in the mix? And these are exactly the sort of mix related questions you want your gear to encourage. Monitoring is not there to sound nice, or even hifi, but to throw back the doors of the mix for detailed analysis.
I used the Seraph record features in the Sennheiser AVX review I’ve been working on and the quality of recordings matches the quality of the play back and is top notch.
Given the price and the feature set of the Seraph AD2 it is not a card for casual purchase. If you need a justification maybe the technical spec on Marian’s website (marian.de) will help you. For me the lucid audio quality is enough to recommend this card for audition in any serious application. Let me give one final example from today – I was casually listening to Green Day’s Good Riddance, a tune I have enjoyed a million times before. I was across the other side of the room concentrating on refilling my battery charger when something about the music spoke to me powerfully enough to draw me back to the hot seat to listen. I spun the tune again, listening carefully to the mix. Pulling out possible contenders for something ‘new’ something I hadn’t heard before. But eventually I gave up, I couldn’t put my finger on what had so forcefully cut into my consciousness. At first I just couldn’t figure out what had happened. Till I realised it wasn’t ‘something’ it was just the music. A simple pop song I have listened to countless times, but suddenly it grabbed me by the wrist and directed me where to go. That’s what music is supposed to do – help us have the time of our life. The Marian Seraph AD2 helps.