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Inexpensive balanced DAC or ADC/DAC?

Alisue

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Hi! I'm a video editor working from home. I'm really tired of wearing headphones & I can't hear details from the built-in speakers of my iMac or using computer speakers plugged into it's headphone jack, so I've decided to spend a little money to get my home set up closer to what I'm used to in post houses. I'll try to sound treat my space & a pair of the new Kali LP-6v2 studio monitors seem good at $400. Kali recommends a balanced (TRS or XLR) connection to an audio interface. This is where I could really use some advice from you all. I'd like this converter to have volume control and cost under $200. All the dedicated DACs with balanced outputs on the Review Index are more than $200. There's a new batch of USB-C ADC/DAC interfaces that haven't been measured yet like the Universal Volt 1, Arturia Minifuse & Tascam US 2x2HR - it seems like the Audient ID4 MkII & MOTU M2 are similar and they get green ratings for DACs. Is that good enough for my needs? These are all being marketed for music recording & hype all the input specs. How can I find out the DAC specs? Is there a $100 headphone DAC I can pair with a volume controller, or is that a terrible idea? All advice much appreciated!
 

staticV3

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It would be best to first figure out what you really need. Audio interfaces are DAC + headphone amp + ADC + microphone pre amp + phantom power supply + in some cases DSP all in one package.

If all you need is a DAC to plug into your monitors, then there'd be no point in buying an interface.

If you really do need a DAC and nothing else, then I would buy a Topping D10 Balanced ($165). Set your Kali to the lowest volume with the knob on the back. Plug the Topping in via 1/4" TRS Bal cables. Set volume to 100% in macOS. Start playing music. You should not be able to hear anything, as the Kali is still turned down all the way. Now slowly turn the volume knob until you've reached the max volume you'll ever need. Then you can leave it there and just use the volume keys on your keyboard, which will automatically control the DAC's hardware volume through UAC2 commands.
 

staticV3

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I just downloaded the LP6v2's user manual and Kali recommends to leave the volume knob at 0dB and instead attenuate the signal beforehand. Both ways should be fine honestly, though I'd ask Kali for clarification on why they recommend that.
 
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Alisue

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I just downloaded the LP6v2's user manual and Kali recommends to leave the volume knob at 0dB and instead attenuate the signal beforehand. Both ways should be fine honestly, though I'd ask Kali for clarification on why they recommend that.
Thanks - great to know how to do this. I know enough to know that there's so much I don't know about optimizing audio electronics.
 

stemfencer

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Motu M2 (or M4) if you want an interface and using the headphone amp onboard.

If you don't care about microphone input (ADC), and ok with using digital (i.e. laptop) to adjust volume, Topping D10 balanced.

If don't care about microphone input (ADC), and want to blow your budget, SMSL SU-9n
 

stemfencer

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I would advise a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 .
Or even a Focusrite Solo if you don't need an ADC.
The solo has a ADC also?

Scarlett do not measure as well in DAC performance compared to Motu offering. Only reason for going Scarlett series to power some monitors if is aspiring producer and wants to take advantage of the superior software bundling, or other practical reason such as form factor or local availaibility.

OP has mentioned nothing about use case wanting audio interface (besides that Kali recommend it), sounds like they just want DAC which would simplify things.
 
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