• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Do I need an audio interface or a headphone amplifier?

Lizbeth T.J

New Member
Joined
Sep 4, 2021
Messages
1
Likes
0
Hey there!

About 8 months ago I started learning music production on my own and I decided to start buying some stuff to set up my home studio. At the moment I have a MIDI keyboard and a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-R70x headphones. The problem is that these headphones have an impedance of 470 ohms and unfortunately not every audio interface supports that level of power for them. I can't use studio monitors in my apartment as it's very small and there's always a lot of noise around so headphones are my only option right now.

However, the music that I'm interested in producing is electronic music and rap, which means that at the moment I use quite a lot of samples, synthesizers or sounds synthesized by myself. I don't need to record vocals or any acoustic instruments and if I need to I have access to a recording studio to record vocals. In this case, do I need an audio interface? Can I learn to mix using a headphone amplifier instead?

I was thinking of buying an RME Babyface Pro FS 24-channel audio interface but I don't think it's a good idea to have a 24-channel interface if I'm not going to record anything in my apartment. Also the guys at RME told me that the Babyface Pro FS is capable of handling the Audio-Technica ATH-R70x headphones but maybe not at full volume if I want to listen to them at full power. Instead they recommended their RME ADI-2 DAC FS 2-channel DA Converter headphone amplifier.

My options for a headphone amp are:

- RME ADI-2 DAC FS 2-channel DA Converter
- Little Labs Monotor 2-channel Headphone Amplifier
- Rupert Neve Designs RNHP 1-channel Precision Headphone Amplifier


My options for an audio interface were:

- Universal Audio Apollo Twin USB DUO
- RME Babyface Pro FS 24-channel USB Audio Interface
 

solderdude

Grand Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
10,110
Likes
22,154
Location
The Neverlands
You really only need the ADI-2 DAC if you do not have a DAC yet. It can drive the R70X, no extra amp needed.
I also assume you don't want to record analog otherwise you need the Pro version.

When you already have a decent DAC or device with analog outputs (XLR, TRS jack or RCA).
When you have balanced out only either of the amps will do but are a bit expensive. I assume you only want balanced connections or want the extra options the LL monotor offers.
otherwise ...
You can save a lot of money on commercial amps/DAC if it is only for monitoring sound via a headphone and drive the DAC with USB.
 

AnalogSteph

Major Contributor
Joined
Nov 6, 2018
Messages
1,763
Likes
1,645
Location
.de
The ATH-R70x is very easy to drive for what it is... not any quieter than the usual 300 ohm, ~103 dB / V crowd. The Babyface Pro can output up to +13 dBu via its 1/4" jack, that's 5 dB more than 2 Vrms level (so about 3.6 Vrms, or 114 dB SPL peak). That's almost certainly more than sufficient. I do agree it's substantially overdressed for what you need though.

Do you have USB Type C available on your computer? If so, I might look at the Audient iD4 MkII, which can deliver even more output voltage than the Babyface Pro like that. (Without Type-C, results are a bit more modest, see @Julian Krause's review.)
Another with an unusually strong headphone output is the Rode AI-1 (a bit noisy perhaps but not enough to be concerning with the R70x... some people have been complaining about audio hiccups though). And the Tascam US-2x2HR is not far behind at still over 3 Vrms (its 66.6 ohm measured output impedance is slightly high but would not bother the R70x much at all, with a max frequency response deviation of about 0.5 dB).
All of these are way cheaper than a Babyface Pro or UAA Twin (more specifically, between 115 and 169€ around these parts, and sub-$200 in the US) yet would still provide you with one or two inputs for recording should the need ever arise (e.g. for video conferencing if nothing else, there's plenty of options sub-$100 even if it's just a trusty Behringer XM8500, and around the $149 for an AT2035 I'd start worrying more about placement and acoustic treatment than the mic itself). They should all come with ASIO drivers, too.

The ADI-2 DAC is worth a look if you have the money and can make use of its neat array of hardware DSP features (PEQ, loudness etc.), display, remote etc.. It's also a top-notch DAC and headphone / IEM amplifier though, of course. Before going crazy with the electronics, having a second set of closed headphones or even IEMs would be higher on my list of priorities though (so you can keep the noise out). Should you run into issues with noise or output impedance on your interface there are several headphone amplifiers around $100 that would fix this just fine.
 

Monstieur

Member
Joined
Feb 3, 2020
Messages
69
Likes
14
You just need a basic $100 headphone amp.
 
Top Bottom