How the RBC helped develop Prism Sound’s Dream ADA-128 converter

A conversation between Prism Sound managing director Jody Thorne and the technical team at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire recently led to the idea for the company’s new Dream ADA-128 modular conversion system, offering flexibility, functionality, and cost effectiveness without compromising sound quality. Headliner finds out more…

Those initial conversations took place in 2015 when the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a faculty of Birmingham City University, was making plans to move to a new location in the city. With a history that dates back to 1859, The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is a world-class institution that provides degree-level training to the musicians, music technologists, actors, stage managers and performers of the future. It has a longstanding reputation for producing high calibre graduates and counts many household names among its alumni, including soul singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, baritone Rhydian Roberts, conductor Michael Seal and actors Helen George, Catherine Tyldesley and Nicol Williamson.

Built at a cost of £57 million, the Conservatoire’s new teaching and performance facility features 9,000 sqm of purpose-designed teaching, rehearsal and performance space, along with an audio and video digital infrastructure that is designed to enhance and support live performance and allow students to experiment with new technologies. The new building was officially opened in 2017 – the same year that the Conservatoire was granted a Royal title by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. With five performance venues, seven recording studios and over 100 practice rooms, it offers students world-class facilities in which to learn.

“We didn’t want to compromise our recording studios, which needed to be of a certain size to fulfil their function, so we decided to do away with machine rooms,” explains Matthew O’Malley, studios manager for the Conservatoire. “We needed a large channel count – over 100 for some events in the main concert hall – and we also needed very high-quality audio. We already had Prism Sound ADA-8XR multi-channel converters – racks of them – so we asked if they could make something with a smaller footprint, but capable of doing the same high-quality job. We were also looking for partners to engage with us and build a relationship that would benefit our students, rather than just being box shifters. Prism Sound fitted that brief perfectly.”

“It was one of those conversations that turned out to be game-changing,” Thorne says. “The Conservatoire was in the process of building a new facility and was looking for high quality converters with a very small footprint so that they didn’t have to be housed in a separate machine room. Knowing Prism Sound’s reputation in this area, they approached us to see if we could help. Our discussions identified the need for a high channel count system that could be networked across the entire facility. As this didn’t exist, we set about designing it and that project formed the basis of our new modular audio conversion system, the Dream ADA-128. Our conversations with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire gave us the push we needed. We were very interested in getting involved and finding a solution that would allow Matt and his team to send audio round the building over IP.”

The solution – the Dream ADA-128 modular conversion system – finally came to fruition in 2022 and the first units to roll off the production line were delivered to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in June 2023. Offering up to 128 channels of 32-bit A/D and D/A conversion at sample rates of up to 768kHz, the Dream ADA-128 is aimed at audio professionals across many different disciplines, including music recording, post production, broadcast and installation. It is designed as both a conversion system and a high-performance, networkable audio distribution and processing system. Its flexible 2RU mainframe can be fitted with up to 16 analogue and digital IO modules (each of which nominally provides eight input or output ports, or both).

Up to four host modules offering various connection options such as Dante, DigiLink and AES provide bidirectional multi-channel connections to host computers, workstations, networks etc. Users can mix and match these, and even route audio between them for maximum flexibility, and because the ADA-128 houses four internal, independent clocks, these systems can all run at different sample rates at the same time.

“It was one of those conversations that turned out to be game-changing.” Jody Thorne, Prism Sound managing director

Since acquiring the new units, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has been putting them through their paces and the response from staff and students is overwhelmingly positive.

“They are incredibly intuitive and user friendly,” O’Malley says. “The touch screen display is great, and the quality of the audio is exceptional – which is, of course, what one would expect from Prism Sound. We also don’t have the heat issues we had with all those ADA-8s, plus they are more energy efficient as well as taking up a lot less space in our studios.”

O’Malley adds that students are not always easy on equipment and often break things, which is all part of the learning curve. “So far our ADA-128s have been able to withstand that hard use – they are used all day, every day at a variety of different sampling rates, which is quite a rigorous stress test,” he says.

Studios manager Matthew O’Malley in the Conservatoire's mastering suite

Studios manager Matthew O’Malley in the Conservatoire's mastering suite

The biggest test to date, however, took place in November when BBC Radio Three visited the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s main auditorium to record a programme for its New Music series. Entitled Painted Time, the recording featured Polish chamber ensemble Flow Unit 3, which consists of Anna Kwiatkowska on violin, Mikołaj Pałosz on cello and Adam Kośmieja on piano. They gave two concerts of new works by students from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music, alongside commissions by Joe Cutler, Philip Cashian, and from three leading Polish composers.

O’Malley adds that bringing students on board to help with set up and observe producer interactions with performers during high profile events is a key part of the learning process, but until now they could rarely lay claim to the final output for their course work.

“Now, with an active Dante network, they can get involved with the rigging of an event and genuinely work independently in a different studio from where the ‘real recording’ takes place,” he says. “This will certainly make them feel like they’ve been engaged right through to the final output and be fairly assessed if it forms part of their course work.”

Developing the Dream ADA-128 and getting it to market has been a long road for Prism Sound, but the company – and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – never lost faith in the concept. The unit is now being used around the world with other adopters including the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, NHK in Japan and Dean Street Studios in London.

“It has been a long time in the making, but we couldn’t be more delighted with the product we have produced,” Thorne concludes. “Our flagship ADA-8XR multi-channel converter has been a best seller for more than 20 years and that longevity is due to the care and attention to detail Prism Sound put into its original design. The same level of care has gone into the design of the new ADA-128 and we are confident that this revolutionary product will be just as well received for many years to come.

“We have certainly gone beyond the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s original specifications and have ended up with a product that is absolutely perfect for many more customers in the installation market.”