RME ADI-2 DAC digital converter/headphone amplifier

Digital-to-analog converters,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs

Additionally, there’s a choice of three ‘top screens’, or the active display when the DAC is in use. The default is a basic ‘dark volume’ setting which shows a basic textual display of input, output, tone/EQ settings, sampling frequency, output type, and output volume. Volume overloads on this basic screen are clearly visible as the main volume control turns red. Other options are a State Overview, which isn’t a Presidential overview of the Union, but a display of active inputs and their bitstream content, hardware sample rate, and clock source. This is not that useful in fully stable systems, but for those of us who constantly fuss around with different devices (not always with complete success), this is something of a godsend. Finally, there is an Analyser display that shows a basic frequency plot and left-right level display of whichever output is selected. This is a band-pass filter calculation rather than a Fast Fourier Transform, akin to the metering used in a commercial recording studio. As this also gives an indication of output if either analogue outputs or the Type B USB connection are being used to record. Couple that with warning splash screens for a range of errors (including short-circuit detection), and you can see just how alluring this kind of feedback is to most users. While for domestic use, much of the reasons behind this full-on display are fit-and-forget, and of academic use, once the system is set-up, one can’t help but be deeply swayed by that degree of interaction with the RME’s control architecture, and this is echoed in that remote handset. I will admit that I questioned the need for a handset at all at first but overcame my prejudice fast and quickly found it surprisingly useful. 

The utility of the RME interface does not buy the ADI-2 DAC a free pass, and it has to live up to its performance sonically as well as ergonomically. And here, notionally, there are three DACs in one to assess: ADI-2 DAC as headphone device, IEM device, and in the context of a traditional audio system. In fact, a quick drop of 3-in-1 works here, because the three different outputs are remarkably similar in tone and intent. This is somewhatdifficult to discuss in absolute terms because you are going through three separate audio pathways that can sway the performance, but the consistency of that performance shone through regardless. This is easier to check on the two headphone sockets because it’s possible to use an IEM at a low gain on the high-output connection, and a pair of headphones through the IEM output. Experimenting with all three types of output results in a headphone socket with more gain, an IEM socket with less noise, and line outputs that sound remarkably similar to the two personal audio options.

That performance, irrespective of output, is one of great detail and insight into the recording as if the RME ADI-2 DAC wants to show off its pro-audio roots once more. You can really ‘hear into a mix’, easily differentiating electronic reverb tails from natural acoustic reverberant spaces. The RME is also great at delineating instruments and voices in a complex mix; I wanted to use the Deadpool 2 OST[Sony CD] if only because it allows me to talk about the track ‘Holy Shit Balls’ legitimately. It’s a parody of typical portentous orchestral music used in movies, with a choir intoning those three words of the title over and over again, Carmina Buranastyle. Like a lot of soundtrack work, though, it’s also well recorded, and the ADI-2 DAC lets you deep dive into the music and the recording itself. The consistency of sound meant this quality of analytical insight applied to high-res PCM and native DSD, too.

The array of options does benefit the listener greatly too. They are designed to be implemented in set-up (if required) rather than applied like seasoning on a disc-by-disc basis, but they do work with the system rather than hamper it. I found the filter options more useful than the EQ (although I found EQ helped balance out the forward and bright sound of some IEMs), preferring the default Short Delay Sharp in most cases. Crossfeed, however, is genuinely fascinating, reducing the stereo width in the treble and emulating the sound of speakers in a live space. To some, it’s pointless... to others a revelation. This gives headphones a more out-of-head presentation and makes digital seem a little more like a turntable, in all the right ways. The sound takes on a depth to the image and an organic sense of physical presence that those of us firmly dunked in analogue replay will love.

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