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Picked up an RME ADI-2 DAC FS; why am I doubting this purchase?

TechEnthusiast

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I recently picked up a pair of Hifiman Edition XS and was thinking about upgrading my old system which consists of a Liquid Spark connected to my Asus H170 pro gaming sound card off of my PC. Problem is that when comparing the 2 set-ups with no EQ or other DSP I cannot hear a difference. Of course using the EQ and Loudness etc. features does create a significant gap, however, I can close that gap by utilizing Peter's EQ APO software on my PC. Could that old ass soundcard (2015 or 2016) compete with the ADI-2? I wouldn't think so. Keep in mind that I cannot hear over 13k but I wouldn't think that would make that much of a difference....or does it?
The thing is that I really love the ADI-2 and the power that it produces is probably more than I will ever need. I don't ever really need to take out of low power mode with my Grado SR 325,Sivga Phoenis, or Sony MDR 1A plus I really like the IEM output for my Shure SE 535's. And of course I love the EQ and all the other tweaks that I can use. And the added bonus is that it provides a balanced output just in case I needed to add more amplification in the future....plus it is all in one attractive box keeping my desktop neat.
I still have the internal struggle of justifying the $1390 that I just spent on it vs my current set-up which was only $85 and just as clean of a desktop but not nearly as pretty as the ADI-2.
Am I missing something on the ADI-2? It is plugged into the USB. I tried Toslink but no difference.
 

Turambar

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I own the RME, and a couple of Hifiman headphones (Arya and Sundara). My guess is that it will manage your Edition XS perfectly well.

If the doubt is about the total cost, well that's your call. But in terms of value for money, I think it's a very good purchase.
 

gvl

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There is a steady supply of RME DAC units on the second hand market, so the only thing you’re missing out is the savings from buying used, however, if buying used is outside of your comfort zone then it’s all good.
 

Jimbob54

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I recently picked up a pair of Hifiman Edition XS and was thinking about upgrading my old system which consists of a Liquid Spark connected to my Asus H170 pro gaming sound card off of my PC. Problem is that when comparing the 2 set-ups with no EQ or other DSP I cannot hear a difference. Of course using the EQ and Loudness etc. features does create a significant gap, however, I can close that gap by utilizing Peter's EQ APO software on my PC. Could that old ass soundcard (2015 or 2016) compete with the ADI-2? I wouldn't think so. Keep in mind that I cannot hear over 13k but I wouldn't think that would make that much of a difference....or does it?
The thing is that I really love the ADI-2 and the power that it produces is probably more than I will ever need. I don't ever really need to take out of low power mode with my Grado SR 325,Sivga Phoenis, or Sony MDR 1A plus I really like the IEM output for my Shure SE 535's. And of course I love the EQ and all the other tweaks that I can use. And the added bonus is that it provides a balanced output just in case I needed to add more amplification in the future....plus it is all in one attractive box keeping my desktop neat.
I still have the internal struggle of justifying the $1390 that I just spent on it vs my current set-up which was only $85 and just as clean of a desktop but not nearly as pretty as the ADI-2.
Am I missing something on the ADI-2? It is plugged into the USB. I tried Toslink but no difference.
I don't think you're missing anything. Bottom line is you don't hear a difference and don't have a need for the (plentiful and great) extra features of the rme so it's not right for you.
 

dominikz

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Problem is that when comparing the 2 set-ups with no EQ or other DSP I cannot hear a difference.
Consumer audio electronics are often audibly transparent (unless driven into overload/clipping) so IMHO this is not surprising.
The benefit of the RME unit would IMO be in its feature set, reliability, large HP amp power reserve and rock-solid SW support - I personally would not expect any audible differences to other reasonably designed units (unless perhaps comparing to a device with an under-powered or high-output-impedance HP amp).

You may also find this thread interesting:
 
OP
T

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Thanks for the feedback. It is not about the cost of the unit that deters me. It is more of a disappointment in that I cannot hear a major difference. It just seems that there is surplus of dacs/amps/cables and whatever else improves SQ and I am unable to hear a difference. Reading and watching all of the reviews of all of the latest gear and how they all have this sound signature or that sound signature that makes each of them better or worse drives me nuts when I cannot tell the difference. Funny thing is that I have been told by several musicians that I have a good ear for music as I grew up around it with my family. It makes me wonder if it is all a show that manufacturers have come up with to get people to buy more esoteric gear and then these people go on to forums like this and pump up the products that they have to justify their purchase.
Sorry for rambling on about this but I really enjoy hearing differences and upgrading my gear. But with this particular hobby it seems that I only hear the differences amongst the headphones themselves and not so much the chain that delivers the sound outside of a decent dac with proper amplification.
That is just my take. By the way I am curious for those of you that are experts with the ADI-2 what are some hints to make this thing do some magic. I have played with the EQ a little and Loudness plus the Bass Treble options. Have tried those filters but they had little effect on the sound. Any suggestions would be welcomed as I really like this unit.
 

gvl

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For headphones, there are several resources this site including that have measurements and recommended EQ settings for many models, try to follow them, EQing headphones can bring subtle to drastic improvements to the experience. For example I have Beyerdynamics DT770s, they are pretty much unlistenable out of the box but with proper EQ they are almost wow. Sure you can EQ upstream of the DAC but I like the convenience of automatic EQ switching when I switch outputs in the RME. And FWIW I find the RME a tad more vivid sounding than other DACs that scored hete, not claiming I can tell it apart in a blind test but it seems it has more of the effect sound jumping out at you and you’re like wow I didn’t expect that.
 
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spartaman64

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Thanks for the feedback. It is not about the cost of the unit that deters me. It is more of a disappointment in that I cannot hear a major difference. It just seems that there is surplus of dacs/amps/cables and whatever else improves SQ and I am unable to hear a difference. Reading and watching all of the reviews of all of the latest gear and how they all have this sound signature or that sound signature that makes each of them better or worse drives me nuts when I cannot tell the difference. Funny thing is that I have been told by several musicians that I have a good ear for music as I grew up around it with my family. It makes me wonder if it is all a show that manufacturers have come up with to get people to buy more esoteric gear and then these people go on to forums like this and pump up the products that they have to justify their purchase.
Sorry for rambling on about this but I really enjoy hearing differences and upgrading my gear. But with this particular hobby it seems that I only hear the differences amongst the headphones themselves and not so much the chain that delivers the sound outside of a decent dac with proper amplification.
That is just my take. By the way I am curious for those of you that are experts with the ADI-2 what are some hints to make this thing do some magic. I have played with the EQ a little and Loudness plus the Bass Treble options. Have tried those filters but they had little effect on the sound. Any suggestions would be welcomed as I really like this unit.
im definitely going to get flak for this but i think it might be because your headphone isnt "resolving" enough for you to hear a difference.
i heard a significant improvement going from my liquid spark to a topping a90 on the focal clears

this is based on very short impressions so very unreliable but a few days ago at canjam i listened to an rme adi-2 pro fs and i heard a small improvement over the a90 though very slight. and it was the best source to me that ive heard at the show. but a lot of the other amps and dacs were a complete disappointment lol. they were really hyping up the DCS lina a 30,000 dollar stack and the owner of the company that makes my current headphones says they are the best stack for them ever so i expected my ears to go to heaven when i listen on it. but when i plugged in my headphones they sounded like how they normally sound LUL. i also listened to the benchmark stack and the same story. the chord hugo tt2 with mscaler and gsx mini were somewhere in between the last 2 and the rme.

so my shaky conclusion currently is there is an improvement going from an 80 dollar amp to a 500 dollar amp with a high end headphone but going from a 500 dollar amp to the 2000 dollar rme is a miniscule improvement and many of the really expensive stacks yields basically no improvement at all

i would like to do blind testing but ill probably never get that chance since they are out of my budget lol but im happy with my a90 anyways and not planning to upgrade
 
OP
T

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im definitely going to get flak for this but i think it might be because your headphone isnt "resolving" enough for you to hear a difference.
i heard a significant improvement going from my liquid spark to a topping a90 on the focal clears

this is based on very short impressions so very unreliable but a few days ago at canjam i listened to an rme adi-2 pro fs and i heard a small improvement over the a90 though very slight. and it was the best source to me that ive heard at the show. but a lot of the other amps and dacs were a complete disappointment lol. they were really hyping up the DCS lina a 30,000 dollar stack and the owner of the company that makes my current headphones says they are the best stack for them ever so i expected my ears to go to heaven when i listen on it. but when i plugged in my headphones they sounded like how they normally sound LUL. i also listened to the benchmark stack and the same story. the chord hugo tt2 with mscaler and gsx mini were somewhere in between the last 2 and the rme.

so my shaky conclusion currently is there is an improvement going from an 80 dollar amp to a 500 dollar amp with a high end headphone but going from a 500 dollar amp to the 2000 dollar rme is a miniscule improvement and many of the really expensive stacks yields basically no improvement at all

i would like to do blind testing but ill probably never get that chance since they are out of my budget lol but im happy with my a90 anyways and not planning to upgrade
Had the A90 back when I was trying out the Sundara's and it was no better than the Zen Can, L30, or the Liquid Spark through those headphones. You may think that it may be because I do not have a headphone currently that is resolving which may be true, however, I did just send back a set of Hifiman Arya stealth that underwhelmed me in comparison to the Edition XS. I just think that Dacs and amps may have reached a point where there is very little room left for drastic improvements, or it is because I just cannot hear the difference.
 

Blumlein 88

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i usually wouldnt recommend spending more on the source than the transducer but if you really like the features of the rme then it might be worth it
I respectfully disagree with this approach. The biggest, most audible differences by far are with transducers. Microphones, speakers, and headphones. Most electronics even some very cheap ones are audibly blameless. My suggested approach is to choose your phones or speakers and work backwards from there. The rest of the chain is more or less cheap and easy.
 

Blumlein 88

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im definitely going to get flak for this but i think it might be because your headphone isnt "resolving" enough for you to hear a difference.
i heard a significant improvement going from my liquid spark to a topping a90 on the focal clears

this is based on very short impressions so very unreliable but a few days ago at canjam i listened to an rme adi-2 pro fs and i heard a small improvement over the a90 though very slight. and it was the best source to me that ive heard at the show. but a lot of the other amps and dacs were a complete disappointment lol. they were really hyping up the DCS lina a 30,000 dollar stack and the owner of the company that makes my current headphones says they are the best stack for them ever so i expected my ears to go to heaven when i listen on it. but when i plugged in my headphones they sounded like how they normally sound LUL. i also listened to the benchmark stack and the same story. the chord hugo tt2 with mscaler and gsx mini were somewhere in between the last 2 and the rme.

so my shaky conclusion currently is there is an improvement going from an 80 dollar amp to a 500 dollar amp with a high end headphone but going from a 500 dollar amp to the 2000 dollar rme is a miniscule improvement and many of the really expensive stacks yields basically no improvement at all

i would like to do blind testing but ill probably never get that chance since they are out of my budget lol but im happy with my a90 anyways and not planning to upgrade
Flak incoming!

Again respectfully, if you didn't do these comparisons right together and precisely level matched they mean literally nothing. To hear differences you describe separated by minutes or more and changing gear the difference would have to be HUGE for an electronic component. You'll perceive differences, they will seem real, they'll seem to make sense, but it is all part of your mind helping you fool yourself. If they aren't EQ'd I don't see any reason the ADI-2 would sound different than an A90 much less that you could perceive an actual slight difference comparing one you own at home with what you hear later at a CANJAM. Hearing is believing, but belief isn't always reality.

Now you may be right the headphone isn't resolving enough, because the differences in phones swamps by a couple orders of magnitude the differences in the various sources and amps you said you listened to. Then of course no headphones are that resolving. Yes a DCS stack may not outperform an A90 as long as the phones are within the power capability of both stacks. Your eyes on the gear, the stories told by the makers and knowledge of the price all conspire to bias your opinion. Plus you can't listen in the DCS display and walk over to the Benchmark display and tell anything even with the same phone in your hands. That just isn't a useful methodology at all.

EDIT to add: My post may seem harsh in tone. I didn't intend for it to be. All in good intent, just discussing issues of uncontrolled listening comparisons.
 
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dominikz

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Thanks for the feedback. It is not about the cost of the unit that deters me. It is more of a disappointment in that I cannot hear a major difference. It just seems that there is surplus of dacs/amps/cables and whatever else improves SQ and I am unable to hear a difference.
Don't beat yourself up - apparently no one can. :)
I've yet to see at least one properly executed (controlled) blind listening test with compelling evidence that people are able to consistently differentiate well-measuring audio electronics.
On the other hand (unsubstantiated) claims of various veils lifted and music coming alive (in uncontrolled listening) are easy enough to find :)
Personally I find it refreshing to read sober accounts such as yours!
 

danadam

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Reading and watching all of the reviews of all of the latest gear and how they all have this sound signature or that sound signature that makes each of them better or worse drives me nuts when I cannot tell the difference.
It is not very healthy if it drives you nuts that there are so many nuts out there :)
 
OP
T

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Thanks for the replies and reassurance that I may not be nuts. I think that I started down this rabbit hole way back 20 years ago when I bought a set of Grado SR325's and also purchased a headphone amp called airhead and the difference using an amp, even with fairly efficient headphones, was eye opening. A few years ago I purchased a Fiio K3 which included a dac and that rejuvenated my interest in this little hobby. Technology came a long way from that simple and noisy airhead amp. Then I made the mistake of trying an inefficient headphone that was all the talk on forums like these. I attempted to play the Hifiman Sundara with that little fiio but it did not have enough to run them. So I purchased a balanced cable that helped but still needed some more juice to push those Sundara's thus began my quest for finding the right amp which also led to dacs.
After many amps, dacs, and combos that crossed my desktop I began to see a common theme; "more and better" did not provide "more and better" results. I tried everything from L30/E30, Zen Can, Zen Dac, Monilith LS, SMSL 200 stack, Monolith 788, and Topping A90 to name the ones that I could recall. Of those the only one that stood out was the Zen Can with that Bass button, it really made a difference, I kind of wish I would have kept it but I never liked its look. Finally, I just returned the Sundara's and kept the Sivga Phoenix as they were similar in sound sig. and could run off of the Fiio K3.
Then Hifiman came out with the Edition XS and with all of its rave reviews I figured that I would give it a try. So in order to power these I needed to get some juice which brought me back to the Liquid Spark, which I picked up coincidentally while they were on sale for $79. I have to say that running Spark and XS off of the Motherboard was fantastic! And I should have let that be, but I started reading the forums again and was convinced that with headphones such as these I was not doing it justice. So I figured why not go straight for something that I had always read about over the years as possibly end game amp/dac the RME ADI-2 DAC FS . And it is just that! The problem is that it sounds exactly the same as the Spark/MB set up that I already have. Of course you can EQ the ADI-2 and it has all other sorts of bells and whistles, however, I found that I can get the Spark/MB to get pretty close with APO software.
It did not end there. Now I am being told on another forum that the Delta Sigma dacs all will sound the same and that I should look to get an R2R type of dac. I had never heard of that previously. I was informed that it has a more natural sound as opposed to the sterile, bright, and lifeless dacs that measure so well. I even found a site that compares them side by side:
. The only thing that I really noticed was that the Multibit presentation was louder than the Delta Sigma one. I feel that I do not want to go down that road as I have found out that R2R is just old technology redone. Now they might be on to something but I think that the Zen DAC is a part of that view and I already sampled the Zen Dac and it did nothing special for me... though that Zen Can did with that boost button.
Finally, to sum things up, I feel once you fulfill the power needs through amplification, you can be good to go with your motherboard's dac, so long as it does not introduce any noise. And I personally think that things like burn-in, esoteric cables, sound signature of amps/dacs are for the most part Snake Oil and the shills out there pushing all of this is doing many hobbyist's in the headphone game harm. Harm in the pocketbook that is. But what am I? I'm no expert, however I have purchased and sampled enough gear over the years in Audio to know what sounds best to me.
Still I really love the look/the bells and whistles on that ADI-2 sitting right next to my plain and cheap little old Liquid Spark.............
 

Trell

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Now I am being told on another forum that the Delta Sigma dacs all will sound the same and that I should look to get an R2R type of dac. I had never heard of that previously. I was informed that it has a more natural sound as opposed to the sterile, bright, and lifeless dacs that measure so well.

The purpose of a DAC is to not have a sound on it’s own, and any colorization you can add with EQ either with software running on a PC or on-board like the RME ADI-2 DAC.

If you want to test differences between DACs you’ll have to make sure that they are level matched, which you apparently did not do.

What you where “informed” is essentially BS, but that is typical of audiophile sites.
 
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The purpose of a DAC is to not have a sound on it’s own, and any colorization you can add with EQ either with software running on a PC or on-board like the RME ADI-2 DAC.

If you want to test differences between DACs you’ll have to make sure that they are level matched, which you apparently did not do.

What you where “informed” is essentially BS, but that is typical of audiophile sites.
You are right about level matching. I think that it is very hard (impossible) to level match at home with a conventional set-up. A properly matched set-up with A/B switching would be the best way to audition any audio gear. I also agree that a DAC is supposed to take the digital data and transmit it to analog without any color and I believe that it is the Amplifier's job to take that analog signal and add power to that in an uncolored way as possible.
If you want color EQ it or get a Tube amp.
 

Joe Smith

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Sounds like you have been through a fair amount of equipment...I would say, perhaps worth it to keep the RME if you will be able to consider it "endgame", at least for a good while. It is a good looking and well-designed thing, that's for sure.
 
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Sounds like you have been through a fair amount of equipment...I would say, perhaps worth it to keep the RME if you will be able to consider it "endgame", at least for a good while. It is a good looking and well-designed thing, that's for sure.
You may be right. They do have both RME's on sale now on Amazon. The one I have is now $300 off and the Black Edition is $300 off as well. Wonder if I should go for the BE one since it has Analog inputs (the one that I have doesn't) and it includes a Balanced output through dual quarter inch outputs that delivers 2.9 watts. Gives me flexibility for the future with regards to possibly bypassing the dac and all that power that I do not believe that I will ever need. It is tempting though
 

Jimbob54

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You may be right. They do have both RME's on sale now on Amazon. The one I have is now $300 off and the Black Edition is $300 off as well. Wonder if I should go for the BE one since it has Analog inputs (the one that I have doesn't) and it includes a Balanced output through dual quarter inch outputs that delivers 2.9 watts. Gives me flexibility for the future with regards to possibly bypassing the dac and all that power that I do not believe that I will ever need. It is tempting though
The one you are calling the BE must be the Pro. If the ADI2 Dac is more than you need the Pro certainly is!

And what do you mean by this? " Gives me flexibility for the future with regards to possibly bypassing the dac and all that power that I do not believe that I will ever need. It is tempting though" ?
 
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