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Help and advice sought: combination DAC/HPhone amp for studio mixing

Pipes

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Hi, i use headphones and monitor speakers for making critical mix decisions in my small studio.
my current setup is using the headphone amp built into my RME HDSPE AIO (not pro) soundcard on a 5 meter cable to be able to reach my listening position and the breakout cable XLRs go into a Behringer monitor2usb monitor controller which feeds two sets of active monitor speakers.
i have sonarworks setup for HP/Speaker EQ and room correction. i usually record at 48KHz and 24-bit on windows 11.
this works well together, but my thought is that i can improve the signal fidelity for all output devices with a dedicated combined DAC and headphone amp.
my budget is about £350 (400 Euro/$435), this has been saved in difficult circumstances so is likely the most i can afford
ideally, i'd like a unit that is the least coloured both for headphones and speakers in order to listen critically and make mix decisions
my plan is to run optically from the soundcard into the DAC unit which would feed my 2 sets of active monitors.
an additional enquiry ...i was looking at a used ADI-2 (the one from 2010 with only buttons and no screen )...how would this compare in terms of signal fidelity/integrity against the later ADI-2 DAC FS etc...models. would the headphone amp be better than the one in the AIO soundcard?
and against the smsl DO400, Loxjie D40 Pro, and SMSL M500 MKIII)...how well would the ADI-2 sit amongst them in studio use?
finally, would you have any other recommendations? thankyou.
 

HarmonicTHD

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Unless you have a specific problem with your soundcard`s sound e.g. hum etc. - I would keep my money, if I were you, especially, since you saved it under difficult circumstances. On the digital side any improvements are marginal if existing (audible) at all, so not a good bang of the buck.

If you don`t have it already and you insist spending some money, I would get a UMIK1 Measurement microphone for ca. 100 EUR, REW Software (free) and e.g. APO EQ (Software, free), do some measurements and "correct the room" and apply you personal preference curve. Much better improvement for the money spent. (For details see the forum here or the REW website).
 
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Pipes

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thanks Harmonic..i've already applied room correction with the Sonarwrorks mic and their room correction software...i apply it to my monitoring fx in the DAW, is this what yuou mean when referring to the UMIK, REW and APO EQ setup?
with difficult circs, i mean its been a bit of a struggle to get to this point, i've researched feverishly to the point of exhaustion..i reecently found out i likely have aspergers so i can get quite obsessed going down the rabiit hole... i'm ready to spend the money now, almost to get some relief.....i had my heart set on a DAC/headphone amp to make my life better. :)
in my mind, the behringer is the weak link and an optical in to a DAC would provide a more clinical and uncoloured sound.
but i'm kind of heartened when i read "i would keep the money..."
 

HarmonicTHD

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thanks Harmonic..i've already applied room correction with the Sonarwrorks mic and their room correction software...i apply it to my monitoring fx in the DAW, is this what yuou mean when referring to the UMIK, REW and APO EQ setup?
with difficult circs, i mean its been a bit of a struggle to get to this point, i'm ready to spend the money now.....i had my heart set on a DAC/headphone amp to make my life better. :)
in my mind, the behringer is the weak link and an optical in to a DAC would provide a more clinical and uncoloured sound.
but i'm kind of heartened when i read "i would keep the money..."
Yes that's what I meant with UMIK, REW, APOEQ.... so good you have room correction already. Then keep your money.

Next bang for the buck are nice speakers, but that is out of budget (for now) e.g. Genelec, or Neumann, .... Again, electronics generally do not improve sound per se and unless your soundcard is broken or has a groundloop, keep it.

Of course if your heart bleeds for a new gadget, go for it, just dont expect any objective improvement in sound.

I consider myself fortunate: I use Focusrite 4i4 (includes Headphone Amp) and Neumann KH80/KH750 corrected with MA1, which works well with AbletonLive Suite.
 
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