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DX3 Pro - How is this possible?!

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#1
I just spent an hour with my new DX3 Pro. Holy crap!! Low Gain mode... WOW! I've been using my Apogee Ensemble (the newer Thunderbolt version) for a couple years and assumed it was EXACTLY how my OPPO PM-3's + upgraded cable are supposed to sound. It's a $2,500 interface with presumably amazing headphone outs (the other I/O's are clearly a factor in pricing, but still). How in the world is it getting crushed by a $200 DAC/Amp?! Is it Apogee's headphone amp, or DAC, or both?!

After an hour of A/B testing in Low Gain mode with my usual reference material (a good mix of electronic and acoustic tracks), the thing that stands out about the DX3 Pro is that it has less low-mid frequency sustain and/or buildup than the Ensemble. Translation: the DX3 Pro unmasks transient details, which makes mix elements pop out in a natural way and takes a pretty flat sounding Apogee Ensemble mix and adds depth and separation to the mix elements. A little more subjective... tracks sound more open; more width and height or air compared to the Ensemble. None of these improvements sound harsh or fatiguing in Low Gain mode with my headphones; High Gain mode did sound a little hyped in the high frequencies and got fatiguing, though. Take all that with a grain of salt, though.

On the one hand -- I'm angry that I spent $2,500 on an interface, since it was mainly just for how good it's supposed to sound for monitoring (powered Genelec monitors & PM-3) plus I had room to grow into the 8 mic pres plus all the other potentially useful I/O's. Between rackmount gear lust and the Apogee name, I assumed it was a worthy expense.

On the other hand --- I'm ecstatic that I can hear mix details I always struggled to hear with the Apogee Ensemble (TB) and it only cost $200. Since I bought it just to use outside the studio, it looks like I need sell the Ensemble, get a much cheaper interface with fewer but still transparent mic pres, and use the extra cash to get a MUCH better setup for dual monitoring on my powered Genelec's and PM-3's.

Question - I've heard/read that the Line Out is a weakness on the DX3 Pro and I'm thinking that's the area it shouldn't be able to compete with the Apogee (I just don't have RCA->unbalanced XLR cables I can use to test the theory). So, is there a better DAC/Amp combo or DAC + Headphone Amp solution than the DX3 Pro that should work perfectly with my powered Genelec monitors and OPPO PM-3's? I need a neutral sounding setup since it will be solely for production/mixing. So, no DSP baked in. I'd love any suggestions!!!

FYI - both the Genelec's & the PM-3 can do balanced or unbalanced with the right cables.
 

daftcombo

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#2
Hi,

If I were you I would get such a cable and test.
The DX3pro should be great on line out too.

Me too I can't hear a difference between Topping D10 and Apogee Duet 2.
 

andymok

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#3
Most of the time, the "monitor" output found on broadcasting / production equipment and interfaces, are literally just there for you to check signal routing and very basic stuff, that signal are there and presence, not clipping. Pretty much like how you plug into patch panels and check signals.

If you want serious quality monitoring, you should always treat it as, and use the outputs found on machines. Just like you'd do for your speakers.

Merging's Anubis sounds like what you'd be looking for, might fit into your budget as well, extremely versatile and powerful. It does have a very decent headphone section, better than those on Hapi and Horus I suppose.
 
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JohnYang1997

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#4
No, line out is not the weakness of dx3pro. In fact is relatively less faulty than the headphone out. The distortion is very low at -6db and comparable to any high-end dac at 0db.
The downside of headphone out is that due to the digital volume control it can't utilize all the snr. The noise doesn't reduce along with volume. Apart from that it's actually a really really good amplifier circuit.
 

JohnYang1997

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#5
Apogee element24 is pretty affordable. And it's actually the top tier adc. The price of dx3pro is very understandable according to element24.
 

JohnYang1997

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#6
In fact es9016 is much more faulty than the ak4493 in the dx3pro.
If you were to find things truly better, Apollo x6 x16, okto research dac8, benchmark dac3.
 
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#7
Hi, If I were you I would get such a cable and test.
I'm going to get cables now actually and either test tonight or in the morning!

Merging's Anubis sounds like what you'd be looking for, might fit into your budget as well, extremely versatile and powerful. It does have a very decent headphone section, better than those on Hapi and Horus I suppose.
Those look like great interfaces and would be the all-in-one solution. After my experience with my Apogee Ensemble, I'm REALLY hesitant to put that much $ into an all-in-one interface especially if it turns out that the Headphone/Line Outs are no better than the DX3 Pro (it would suck even more if they were worse). Swapping the Ensemble for a second DX3 Pro or the future DX7 Pro would leave lots of cash for a respectable preamp/interface combo and let me start saving toward some open-backs like the LCD-X's.

No, line out is not the weakness of dx3pro. In fact is relatively less faulty than the headphone out. The distortion is very low at -6db and comparable to any high-end dac at 0db.
The downside of headphone out is that due to the digital volume control it can't utilize all the snr. The noise doesn't reduce along with volume. Apart from that it's actually a really really good amplifier circuit.
The reason I brought it up was that I checked out a Youtube review (
) saying that you're better off using a dedicated DAC than the DX3 Pro (they referenced the NX4 and D10 instead) with powered monitors because the performance of just the DAC wasn't as good in that scenario. I forgot all of the subjective terms they used but some were: flat, thin, lacked bass extension, etc. So instead of believing blindly, I thought it better to ask everyone here.

In fact es9016 is much more faulty than the ak4493 in the dx3pro.
If you were to find things truly better, Apollo x6 x16, okto research dac8, benchmark dac3.
Two things here: 1) I get the feeling it takes about 4 or 5 times the $ to noticeably improve on the sound quality of the DX3 Pro, at least using headphones. Is that safe to say? 2) That Okto Research DAC8 Pro looks amazing! If they did a stripped down and cheaper version of the Pro with 2 or 4 XLR Outs instead of 8, I'd preorder today. The Pro and especially the Stereo have way too much functionality for my use, which means I'd be throwing cash away for those unused features.
 

andymok

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#9
They can be expensive indeed, but I wouldn't worry much when it comes to names like Merging, Grace Design, RME, DAD and such. They are always about absolute performance and these names are top in the game of production (not creation), period.

It sounds like you are actually looking for a monitor controller.
The simplest solution could be JDS Atom, all analog 1-in/2-out, output selection with volume controller, albeit being unbalanced.
Should you need more precise volume control and more functionalities, Grace's M900 could be a excellent candidate as it provides monitoring options such Mono, L-minus-R, which could be very useful in checking mixing. An analog version of this would be Little Lab's Monotor.

Anything above just go RME / Merging. They are so compact and versatile compare to Grace's M905. Though I personally much prefer Merging as it runs on Ravenna/AES67. USB/TB is of no match to these ecosystem when it comes to expansion. They rely on ADAT/AES/SPDIF, limited performance and troublesome to manage cables. IP Audio needs only a single cheap Cat.6 cable to work, if you wish you can turn it into fibre and run 100+ meters down the road.

Those look like great interfaces and would be the all-in-one solution. After my experience with my Apogee Ensemble, I'm REALLY hesitant to put that much $ into an all-in-one interface especially if it turns out that the Headphone/Line Outs are no better than the DX3 Pro (it would suck even more if they were worse). Swapping the Ensemble for a second DX3 Pro or the future DX7 Pro would leave lots of cash for a respectable preamp/interface combo and let me start saving toward some open-backs like the LCD-X's.
 
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#10
That's what we want, isn't it ?
Flat from 20 to 20.000 Hz, magnitude and phase.
I definitely want a flat frequency response. He mentioned lack of bass extension and lack of dynamics, which I took as lack of depth/separation. Talking subjectively about music leaves everything to interpretation.

It sounds like you are actually looking for a monitor controller.
The simplest solution could be JDS Atom, all analog 1-in/2-out, output selection with volume controller, albeit being unbalanced.
Should you need more precise volume control and more functionalities, Grace's M900 could be a excellent candidate as it provides monitoring options such Mono, L-minus-R, which could be very useful in checking mixing. An analog version of this would be Little Lab's Monotor.
I definitely don't need monitoring options (M/S, L/R, L/R swap, and such) since my DAW projects are set up to cover that base. Really, I'm just looking for a great DAC and great Amp to plug my headphones and powered Genelecs into, so long as it's at least as good as the DX3 Pro (I'll take better if it's in my price range). I'm fine with a combo unit or separate DAC and Amp, since it's pretty much a permanent install.

My ideal setup for DAC and Amp gets me to the point of severely diminished returns (if $500 gets me 99% of the way to being "audibly" as good as it gets but that last 1% requires $2,000+... I'm stopping at the $500 spend and my 99% setup). Anyone know the price point for such a 99% setup, and what it would be?
 

amirm

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#11
saying that you're better off using a dedicated DAC than the DX3 Pro (they referenced the NX4 and D10 instead) with powered monitors because the performance of just the DAC wasn't as good in that scenario.
I would ignore all such comments in these reviews. Use the videos for feature review but ignore their sound impressions. They are just flat wrong.
 
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#12
I would ignore all such comments in these reviews. Use the videos for feature review but ignore their sound impressions. They are just flat wrong.
Great advice. How close to audio audio perfection does the DX3 Pro get? Maybe 98% of the way? I'm curious to see what it takes to get to the 99% range where getting that last 1% of perfection is hard to justify the price. I just need L/R Out for the powered Genelec monitors and a great Headphone Amp. All the extra features aren't necessary.

FYI -- I just A/B tested the RCA Outs on the DX3 Pro vs. the Apogee Ensemble's primary Monitor Outs. These were played back in my well-treated home studio on powered Genelecs and it was NO contest. The DX3 Pro EASILY out performed the Ensemble! It was basically the same story as with the Headphone Outs. Every element in the mix had its own space and with more discernible details than I've ever heard on the Ensemble. The Ensemble audibly blurs the transient details with its extra sustain on the low mids. As a result, it's much tougher to define sounds than with the DX3 Pro. The Ensemble just isn't on the same level as the DX3 Pro on the DAC or Headphone Amp side of things.

So, I need to work on replacing it. I'd love to know the next step up from the DX3 Pro and if anyone thinks the upgrade is worth the price increase. Or maybe the point when price increases are hard to justify.
 

amirm

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#13
Great advice. How close to audio audio perfection does the DX3 Pro get? Maybe 98% of the way? I'm curious to see what it takes to get to the 99% range where getting that last 1% of perfection is hard to justify the price. I just need L/R Out for the powered Genelec monitors and a great Headphone Amp. All the extra features aren't necessary.
It is good enough that I use it in the same application even though I have better measuring gear. No need to chase anything above it.
 

daftcombo

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How close to audio audio perfection does the DX3 Pro get? Maybe 98% of the way? I'm curious to see what it takes to get to the 99% range where getting that last 1% of perfection is hard to justify the price.
You can't meet a supposed "audio perfection" by a mile:
- you don't have chilldren ears going up to earing 20kHz anymore
- your speakers & headphones have dips & peaks and a lot more distortion (though mostly inaudible) than your DAC & amp
- for speaker listening, your room enduces terrible damage to the audio signal
- the recordings are not perfect by any mean
- how often will you be listening carefully to the music without doing something else or thiking about something else?

Why would you want "99%" instead of "98%" in an area whereas your percents will be damn bad in all others?

It is like coming to a reastaurant with a 10% voucher for the wine whereas you'll pay 70$ for the rest of the meal: there will be no big change in your budget.
 
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#16
It is good enough that I use it in the same application even though I have better measuring gear. No need to chase anything above it.
I had a feeling the DX3 Pro was that good but I didn't want to spend tons of $ just to confirm. Thank you!

You can't meet a supposed "audio perfection" by a mile: -- Why would you want "99%" instead of "98%" in an area whereas your percents will be damn bad in all others? -- It is like coming to a reastaurant with a 10% voucher for the wine whereas you'll pay 70$ for the rest of the meal: there will be no big change in your budget.
Completely valid points and I wasn't trying to imply perfection by the time it reaches my ears. I'm painfully aware that no speaker reproduces sound perfectly, and worse still, that the room is the biggest obstacle one will face when chasing audio perfection. I was attempting to say I'm looking for a DAC/Amp (combo or separate) that gets me to the point where audible gains are so incredibly small that you're spending insane money for that last 1%, which is more in the measurements (#'s) than in the audible range.

I've been wondering, can you run multiple ASIO device via USB/TB at the same time?
I've not tried to find apps that allow two interfaces to Output audio at the same time and so I won't be much help there. I am currently using my Apogee Ensemble TB as my Input device and the DX3 Pro USB as my Output device. That's easy in the OS and a DAW but two Out at the same time will take some software help.
 

amirm

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#17
I've been wondering, can you run multiple ASIO device via USB/TB at the same time?
To multiple devices yes. Not to the same device.
 

amirm

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#19
If I remember well, FlexASIO allows multiple ASIO to the same device. @edechamps might confirm this.
Must be a very restrictive mode as the sample rate and bit depth would need to be identical.
 

edechamps

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#20
If I remember well, FlexASIO allows multiple ASIO to the same device. @edechamps might confirm this.
Depends on what you mean. As long as you're using a shared backend such as MME, DirectSound or WASAPI Shared, then yes, you can have multiple FlexASIO instances running to the same device. But there's nothing particularly interesting about that: in that mode FlexASIO emulates a typical (e.g. DirectSound) Windows application, and goes through the entire Windows audio stack (including the Windows mixer). Therefore it's completely unsurprising that it supports multiple clients per device. It would be misleading to say that this is a way to do "multiple ASIO to the same device" since FlexASIO (just like ASIO4ALL) is a universal ASIO driver, i.e. it's an emulation layer, not a "true" ASIO driver (such as one that would be provided by the audio device manufacturer).

When using WDM-KS (either in FlexASIO or in ASIO4ALL), things get a bit more interesting because, AFAIK, there are devices out there that make it possible to run multiple KS streams at the same time to the same endpoint - it's hardware mixing, basically. It was all the rage in the days before Windows Vista (hardware audio acceleration), but I don't know if you can still do that in modern Windows versions. The reason why that's interesting is because it makes it possible to run a bit-perfect, but not necessarily exclusive, pipeline to the hardware. I've never tried it, though.

Following a similar principle, it is theoretically possible for an audio manufacturer to provide a "native" ASIO driver that allows multiple ASIO applications to use the same endpoint. That would require them to implement some kind of mixing capability either in the driver or in the hardware. I doubt any manufacturer would bother, though.

I've been wondering, can you run multiple ASIO device via USB/TB at the same time?
To put a different spin on that question, keep in mind that in general you can't use multiple ASIO drivers (or multiple instances of the same driver) at the same time from the same ASIO Host Application process. That's a silly limitation of the ASIO Host API, which uses global state all over the place. I suspect there are ways for application developers to circumvent that limitation through clever workarounds, but I don't know if anyone bothered.
 
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