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Creative Cow meets a Flying Cow

Creative Cow meets a Flying Cow

A CreativeCow.net "Real World" Product Review



Midiman/M-Audio Flying Cow Review by Marco Solorio


Marco Solorio
Marco Solorio
OneRiver Media
Concord, California, USA
www.onerivermedia.com
Article and Photos © 2002 Marco Solorio

Article Focus:
CreativeCOW leader, Marco Solorio reviews the Flying Cow. Whether you need digital audio conversion for your NLE video system, or your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), the Flying Cow will please even the most bovine shoppers.


When it comes to D/A (Digital to Analog) and A/D (Analog to Digital) converters, there really isn't too much brainpower that's required. You hook the stuff up, maybe set a few settings and forget about it from there on out. The Midiman Flying Cow is no exception. It's easy to install and use. Once that 5-minute process is over, the quality this unit puts out is top notch.


The Flying Cow unit
This is a solid unit. In fact, the unit is a little larger than I first anticipated. For some reason, photos make this unit appear smaller than it is. Don't get me wrong, at about 8.5" wide, 8" long (not including attached cables) and a couple inches tall, it will fit just about anywhere without hogging up too much space. More importantly, it will fit in a half-size 1U rack space should you opt for racking it with your other gear.

The Flying Cow will accept either stereo AES/EBU, or stereo S/PDIF for it's digital input and output. Midiman chose to use high quality Neutrik connectors. These are the cool hybrid kind that will accept XLR or 1/4" TRS connections. I personally have always chosen Neutrik connectors when building my own snakes or patch points.

The Flying Cow runs at 24-bit with a sample rate up to 48kHz with 128-times over-sampling. For those that need to go higher than 48kHz (like 96kHz), will need to look for a different converter.

The audio flow is simple and direct. The Flying Cow's digital input goes directly to its analog output. The Flying Cow's analog input goes directly to its digital output. This is the beauty of the Flying Cow though, as some manufacturers build separate units for D/A conversion and A/D conversion. With the Flying Cow, you get one simple unit with both the D/A and A/D conversion at a very reasonable price.

Personally, I really dig the large silk-screened flying cow logo on the top of the unit... nice touch.


Installation
For my first real world testing, I hooked up the Flying Cow to an AJA Kona SD non-linear editing system for Final Cut Pro (you can read my full review of the AJA Kona SD here at CreativeCow.net). Hooking up the Flying Cow to the gear was very easy. Since the AJA Kona SD system uses XLR connections for its 24-bit, 48kHz AES/EBU digital audio, I simply hooked it right into the Flying Cow. Simple.


I then hooked up my Mackie 1642-VLZ Pro mixer to the Flying Cow. In my opinion, this is where there's a slight design flaw on the Flying Cow, but nothing major. Connecting the XLR analog input to the Flying Cow is fine. Connecting the XLR analog output to the Flying Cow is another story. Industry standard suggests that a unit's XLR inputs be female, and XLR outputs be male (a very strict rule when working with digital XLR connections). Since the Flying Cow's XLR analog outputs are female (like its XLR inputs), I had to use two 1/4" TRS to XLR cables to hook it up to my Mackie mixer instead of a standard XLR cables. I stay away from adapters at all costs, so I didn't want to use a "gender-changer" on my XLR cables. And good luck finding a high quality female-to-female XLR cable at your local audio shop. I understand why Midiman did this; so non-XLR users can easily connect their 1/4" cable to it. Unfortunately, that sticks it for us higher-end XLR users. In all reality though, I don't mind all that much about this "flaw". On an annoyance scale of 1 to 10, I rate it a point-five. No biggie.


Functionality

The front face of the Flying Cow is extremely simple to use. You can hook up AES/EBU or S/PDIF digital audio at the same time, but you must choose one or the other to actually work with. All your digital settings are controlled from one button:

  • Digital Format - AES/EBU or S/PDIF
  • A/D Sample Rate - 48kHz, 44.1kHz, 32kHz or External.

If you use the External sample rate, the digital input uses its incoming digital data to lock the analog input's sample rate. This is known as "Word Clock". I didn't have to use this in any of my testing.

Any incoming digital audio's sample rate uses auto-sensing technology to automatically determine the appropriate sample rate. This adds to the unit's simplicity with no guesswork by the end user.


There's also a red LED indicator when your D/A conversion is valid and working.

The nice thing is that the analog input has input level control on the front panel. And even more enjoyable is the fact that you can adjust your input trim with the help of the stereo six-step LED input level display. This takes out a lot of the guesswork when making sure you're input isn't too hot or down in the dirt.

Lastly, there's a power button to turn the unit off when not in use. Oh, and no worries, your settings will be saved when you turn the unit off.


Real world test: AJA Kona SD with Final Cut Pro
Unfortunately the first Flying Cow that got shipped to me had a bad D/A converter on the right channel's output, aka, "Bad Cow's Disease". Midiman was prompt in exchanging the faulty unit with another unit. The next unit has worked without a single problem. Despite the initial faulty unit I received, I wouldn't hold this against the company or use my coincidental occurrence as a basis for making a buying decision on this product. This sort of thing happens to every company that deals with digital components.

Using the Flying Cow while editing was totally transparent. Using the Flying Cow to capture audio into Final Cut Pro (via the Kona SD) was flawless and simple. Likewise, mastering audio out of Final Cut Pro and to my Sony BVW-70 Betacam SP deck was just as easy and accurate. There has never been a glitch, pop, error, time delay or digital drop out. It literally feels like I have one cable from my computer to my Betacam SP deck. Perfect.


Real world test: Working in the audio suite
For giggles' sake, I wanted to try out the Flying Cow on just about every digital piece of audio gear I could think of in my audio suite. This included gear with both AES/EBU and S/PDIF audio I/O. I wanted to make certain that the digital connection was locking to each piece of gear without a hitch. Every piece of gear I connected the Flying Cow to works with flying colors. Not a single error or glitch. Here's the list of digital gear I tested it on:


Other uses for a Flying Cow in your farm
I've heard of some people using the Flying Cow for monitoring purposes when extra analog outputs aren't available. But a more common occurrence is when an analog to digital audio converter is inside a computer, most notably as a PCI card. Computer enclosures house a mess of noisy signals that can attack an innocent (and otherwise high quality) PCI audio card. By using a Flying Cow (or any other external audio converter), the A/D conversion process is being done away from the computer in a more isolated environment. By bringing digital audio to the computer, it is insusceptible to signal degradation typically caused by 60Hz hum or other noises in general. Food for thought.

Conclusion
If you're a serious high-end user working at sample rates of 96kHz or higher, then you may need to look elsewhere for your conversion requirements. Otherwise, the Flying Cow will suit just about everyone's digital audio conversion needs.

Although the analog outputs have female XLR outputs, I would have given the Flying Cow a perfect rating because its price/performance/simplicity ratio is just about perfect. One little connection design "flaw" I feel is an imperfection shouldn't undermine this unit's more important qualities. But the one thing that I lost sleep over (on deciding a final score) was the fact that it simply only goes up to 48kHz. For many, if not most users, this is not an issue. For others, they may have to look for another product and the cost difference that goes with it.

There are many audio A/D and D/A converters out there. But the Flying Cow is the best unit I can find that houses both the A/D and D/A converters all in one nice package. In a silk-screened cow package no less. The price is unbeatable and to top it off, the quality is excellent. And to think this unit is covered with a lifetime warranty! I simply can't recommend the Flying Cow enough! Mmmooooooo!

Pros: Competitively priced. Simple to hook up. Totally transparent once in use. Auto sensing sample rate on digital input. 24-bit resolution. User selectable sample rate on digital output. Excellent quality. Neutrik connections. Variable input trim with 6-step stereo LED indicators. Lifetime warrantee. Makes you laugh the first time you look at it. Cons: Wish it went up to 96kHz. Female analog outputs are kind of annoying but should NOT detour potential buyers.

I give it 4.5 COWs


Bottom line
Do you own an SDI based capture card? Do you need digital audio conversion in your edit suite? If you don't need to go higher than 48kHz, then this unit is definitely for you.


Price as tested: $399.95 (manufacturer's list price)

Links: Midiman / M-Audio - www.midiman.com


Marco Solorio is a multi-award winning digital media producer in the San Francisco bay area. He owns and operates OneRiver Media, which focuses on producing animated content for broadcast, as well as serving production needs for content developers. And of course, Dexter's Laboratory is his most favorite cartoon in the world.

Many thanks go to Midiman for their generosity in loaning this systems for evaluation.

Article and photos © 2002, Marco Solorio


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