Igor Levin is the CEO and the Chief Technology Officer of Antelope Audio.
Igor has a dual engineering degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has specialized in analog circuit design and spent many years consulting other companies in various critical projects such as laser welding systems, biomedical instrumentation and even heart and lung machines. By the time Igor established Aardvark he already had a decade of serious experience as a circuit designer.
Igor entered the industry in 1990 with his first company called Aardvark.
Aardvark became a hit clocking company, being among the first to apply DDS (digital synthesis) method – producing the frequencies in a digital way. AardSync was the first clock, which is still in use by some studios in New York and L.A.
In 2005 Igor founded Antelope Audio with the clear idea of designing better master clocks. With the progress of technologies he was aware that he had to improve what he had done with AardSync and had to go to a more stable time base. This is how Igor came up with the idea of introducing the Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator. Antelope Audio was the first to put the crystal oscillator in an enclosure which keeps the temperature constant. The crystal is an analog component that vibrates and responds to the environment. Keeping the temperature constant is extremely important to improve stability and jitter performance. This is how Antelope Audio introduced the Isochrone line (Iso – same; chronos – time from the Greek).
Igor was kind enough to give his views on the critical aspects of high end converter and clock design:
Irrespective of the sampling rate, what are the really important elements within successful A/D and D/A designs?
“About 20 years ago when I built my first D/A converter I had also to build a clock for it. At that time, clocks were not something that you just go out and buy. So I built my first clock for my first D/A converter. People liked the converter, but what they really appreciated was the clock. This was when I realized the importance of the stable clocking reference for digital audio.
“I still believe the accurate clock is the basis for successful conversion. In fact as the chips get better and the circuit artifacts we struggled to overcome fall away, the significance of good clocking has come to the fore as never before. Today I would say it amounts to at least 75% of the overall sound. Of course there is a list of other important factors such as proper layout, stable power supply, the analog-based volume control etc.”
Why do some converters sound so much better than others, when the science behind audio conversion must surely be well understood by now?
“Converter design is as much art as science. Much like cooking. The secret is not just to have good ingredients but to be skilled in the art of combining them, taking into account how they interact and to have a sense of balance. Too much of a good thing is not always good. And in regards to the science of it, there is plenty of research and plenty of statistics but ‘good sound’ is largely a subjective thing, subject to trends and social consensus. As a result many of the parameters we use to measure the devices such as THD do not map very well to the subjective perception of quality. This ambiguity is something a good designer learns to live with as his skills grow. And, at the end of the day that is what makes audio design Art.”