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Benchmark DAC3 vs RME ADI-2 DAC - Sound

doug

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#1
Hi - first post here after lurking for a while and learning more than I could have imagined. I have a question about these two DACs, and I hope I haven’t missed previously-posted info for it.

I have. DAC3 HGC on eval. I really like it. I have now learned about the RME ADI-2 DAC, and it has some features that I’d love to have, and it’s a lot less $, and it’s test measurements compare well with the DAC3.

But I’d like to find out the following:

1. How does sound quality compare?
2. How do the headphone amps compare in terms of sound quality (I’m using HD800S if that matters)?
3. The DAC has a preamp, and not being much of an electronics or super-experienced audio person, I can’t get a read on if the RME DAC has a preamp too, or if does things differently, or what.

Thanks for any thoughts you may have on this, and I’ll keep reading to find out on my own in the meantime. My DAC3 eval period is coming to a close so I need to act with some pace.
 
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dc655321

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#3
Given that both products measure superbly, I would expect that both would sound like exactly whatever signal you put through them (i.e. transparent).

Personally, I would go with the RME for two reasons:
1) cost/performance ratio
2) the volume-sensitive loudness function (and PEQ) is brilliant
 

Krunok

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#4
Given that both products measure superbly, I would expect that both would sound like exactly whatever signal you put through them (i.e. transparent).

Personally, I would go with the RME for two reasons:
1) cost/performance ratio
2) the volume-sensitive loudness function (and PEQ) is brilliant
But wasn't there an issue with RME DAC as it wasn't automatically switching bitrate when playing songs with different bitrates?
 

Timbo2

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#5
But wasn't there an issue with RME DAC as it wasn't automatically switching bitrate when playing songs with different bitrates?
If I recall it had a fixed bitrate under WASPI, but ASIO worked ok if you installed the provided drivers.

However, there was a firmware update that may have adresssed this. Perhaps somebody who owns one will post. This RME is high on my wish list. As a primarily headphone only listener the RME is a better fit for me. The fact that it is cheaper than the Benchmark is a huge plus.
 

Krunok

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#6
If I recall it had a fixed bitrate under WASPI, but ASIO worked ok if you installed the provided drivers.

However, there was a firmware update that may have adresssed this. Perhaps somebody who owns one will post. This RME is high on my wish list. As a primarily headphone only listener the RME is a better fit for me. The fact that it is cheaper than the Benchmark is a huge plus.
Ok, excellent. In that case IMHO RME gives more bang for the bucks.
 

amirm

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#7
But wasn't there an issue with RME DAC as it wasn't automatically switching bitrate when playing songs with different bitrates?
There was but they issued a firmware upgrade a month or two ago that fixes that. See http://www.synthax.co.uk/latest/2018/07/12/rme-firmware-update-adi-2-pro-dac-june-2018/

RME’s Head of Design Matthias Carstens explains, “[DSD256 playback] has been tested with various software, among them Roon. While Roon supports ASIO it can also use Wasapi to change the sample rate automatically based on the sample rate of the currently played file. This also works when changing to DSD (set to ‘DSD via DoP’), everything automatically within a mixed PCM/DSD playlist. And although Windows audio is limited to 384 kHz, DSD256 playback worked perfectly – which switches the ADI to 705.6/768 kHz sample rate.”

On which one to get, my rule is simple: if you can't decide, get the cheaper one. :)
 

doug

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#8
Well, I value the idea of measuring DACs the way I see it being done here. The numbers obviously tell us a lot. But I'm not sure they tell us the entire story - how a piece of gear sounds to our human ears and brains. I can see that the numbers between the RME and Benchmark DACs are quite good and very similar, but listening is a key aspect to it for me. It's not that I can't decide - I'm just looking for information. If I have to order an RME to determine it on my own, I have the time with the DAC3 eval - just not by much.
 

Frank Dernie

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#9
Well, I value the idea of measuring DACs the way I see it being done here. The numbers obviously tell us a lot. But I'm not sure they tell us the entire story - how a piece of gear sounds to our human ears and brains. I can see that the numbers between the RME and Benchmark DACs are quite good and very similar, but listening is a key aspect to it for me. It's not that I can't decide - I'm just looking for information. If I have to order an RME to determine it on my own, I have the time with the DAC3 eval - just not by much.
I thought that I would be able to hear the difference between DACs based on all the comments I read on forums and in magazines.
When I decided to look into updating my 20 odd year old Goldmund DAC to one which would play higher sampling rate files I found that if I carefully matched the volume the four I had for home demo all sounded the same, or if there was a difference I was not sure about it, ie it was vanishingly small.
The DACs varied from the Linn Klimax to a pro ADC/DAC recorder and the price varied by a factor of 14:1.
I have a good hifi system so it may be my ears but I hear the clear differences between loudspeakers, I am sensitive to the change in sound I get by moving the speakers in the room. I hear the differences between the microphones I use to make recordings and all 4 of my record players sound quite different to each other.
So, based on my experience, I am personally satisfied that all properly engineered DACs will sound either exactly the same or so close the difference is barely detectable.
Lets face it, even modest DACs have performance that exceeds the vast majority of amplifiers, speakers or headphones with which they are used.
 

maverickronin

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#10
Has anyone here tested that new firmware update with W10?

I upgraded my ADI-2 to that firmware but it's still not properly plug and play on my W10 1803 test machine. It installs as UAC2 sound device and will play, but the bit depth/sample rate is locked to 32/44k in the control panel and WASAPI can't change it. Did a fresh install and still had the same problem.

Does the new RME firmware work for anyone else in W10? If so, what version are you on?

Sample rate switching still works with RME's ASIO driver and an ASIO output software but will leave the windows mixer sample rate set to that of the last file you played
 

SIY

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#11
The numbers obviously tell us a lot. But I'm not sure they tell us the entire story - how a piece of gear sounds to our human ears and brains. I can see that the numbers between the RME and Benchmark DACs are quite good and very similar, but listening is a key aspect to it for me.
There's nothing magic. DACs are no different than any other piece of electronics. Note the complete absence of any real listening data (double blind, level-matched, time synced) demonstrating differences between two DACs that aren't broken or being misused. (By "not broken," the usual low noise, flat frequency response, yadda yadda)

The only variable is if someone likes the sound of a broken one, and neither of these units is broken.
 

maverickronin

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#12
OK, update.

I was going to post about this on RME's forums, but I just noticed that there was a newer firmware update past the 2018-06-26 which my ADI-2 DAC was on and which was originally supposed to fix UAC2 compatibility with W10. I just updated to the 2018-07-16 firmware and was able to get WASAPI working properly on my 1803 test machine. The Windows mixer rate is no longer locked, and WASAPI will switch sample rates on the fly.

As usual for Windows it wasn't completely painless. I had plugged it into the machine earlier with the June 26th firmware so I had to uninstall two copies of the ADI-2 DAC from the device manager and reboot the PC with with the ADI-2 DAC plugged into a different root USB port before it started working properly.

Also keep in mind that in order to upgrade the firmware at all you need a Windows machine with the RME's ASIO driver package installed. The updater is only distributed as a Windows exe and can't communicate with the ADI-2 DAC without the driver package.
edit: NVM on this. I just noticed there was a Mac firmware updater as well...:facepalm:

This is a pain in the ass, but I think all the features of the ADI-2 DAC are easily worth it.
 
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Timbo2

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#13
Thanks. When I looked through their forums it was also confusing to try to figure out where to download the firmware. They all seem to have the same file name.

Also annoying that appears you need their driver installed. Reminds of the PITA of sideloading Android OS updates on a phone.
 

maverickronin

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#14
Thanks. When I looked through their forums it was also confusing to try to figure out where to download the firmware. They all seem to have the same file name.
They have to make it difficult for reasons known only to themselves.

The zip files and and the updater exe inside all have the same name - no version numbers or dates. Opening the update tool will tell you the versions of the individual firmware components it contains, but not the package's release date, and it won't even launch unless you have the driver installed and the ADI-2 DAC plugged in.

You need to check the latest changelog date in the readme file to tell what version the package is.
 

doug

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#15
Well, I’m gonna leave the thread to those who want to talk about this Win10 and the firmware update. Thanks for the opinions on my questions.
 

amirm

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#16
Has anyone here tested that new firmware update with W10?

I upgraded my ADI-2 to that firmware but it's still not properly plug and play on my W10 1803 test machine. It installs as UAC2 sound device and will play, but the bit depth/sample rate is locked to 32/44k in the control panel and WASAPI can't change it. Did a fresh install and still had the same problem.
I have not. It would be quite sad if it doesn't work. I will try it and report back.
 

amirm

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#17
Well, I’m gonna leave the thread to those who want to talk about this Win10 and the firmware update. Thanks for the opinions on my questions.
Sorry but it is related to whether you should or should not buy it.

Since I have another sample of DAC3, I will do sound comparison between it and the ADI Pro-2 if I get a chance.
 

maverickronin

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#18
I have not. It would be quite sad if it doesn't work. I will try it and report back.
OK, update.

I was going to post about this on RME's forums, but I just noticed that there was a newer firmware update past the 2018-06-26 which my ADI-2 DAC was on and which was originally supposed to fix UAC2 compatibility with W10. I just updated to the 2018-07-16 firmware and was able to get WASAPI working properly on my 1803 test machine. The Windows mixer rate is no longer locked, and WASAPI will switch sample rates on the fly.
Make sure to try the 2018-07-16 release. That one did work with my 1803 test machine.

I didn't know there was yet another update so I tried the 2018-06-26 release which was the first that was supposed to fix W10 UAC2 compatibility. I downloaded it after it first came out but hadn't got around to testing it until today when someone asked about it here. My primary machine is W7 so I'm stuck with the ASIO driver for now regardless of the firmware updates.
 

derp1n

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#19
Make sure to try the 2018-07-16 release. That one did work with my 1803 test machine.

I didn't know there was yet another update so I tried the 2018-06-26 release which was the first that was supposed to fix W10 UAC2 compatibility. I downloaded it after it first came out but hadn't got around to testing it until today when someone asked about it here. My primary machine is W7 so I'm stuck with the ASIO driver for now regardless of the firmware updates.
Where is this 2018-07-16 release?

As far as I can see, for the ADI-2 DAC, there have been only three releases since production: FPGA 10/DSP 19 on 2018-01-26, FPGA 11/DSP 20 on 2018-06-06 and FPGA 17/DSP 21 on 2018-06-21. Only the last update changed the UAC2 behavior.
 

maverickronin

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#20
Where is this 2018-07-16 release?

As far as I can see, for the ADI-2 DAC, there have been only three releases since production: FPGA 10/DSP 19 on 2018-01-26, FPGA 11/DSP 20 on 2018-06-06 and FPGA 17/DSP 21 on 2018-06-21. Only the last update changed the UAC2 behavior.
I don't see a sticky about it on the RME forum, but the main downloads page has a release with that date on it at the moment.

The release notes in the readme say:

07/16/2018 UFX II 17/11/7: FX Send right channel had no audio. USB 2.0 Class Compliant Firmware timing improved. ADI-2 DAC updated to FPGA 20.
Direct link is: http://www.rme-audio.de/download/fut_madiface_win.zip

This link seems to always be the latest firmware package. They never add dates or version numbers and old ones seem to just disappear forever.
 

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