1 (edited by PikaChokeMe 2020-07-29 02:13:42)

Topic: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

I currently own a Focusrite Scarlette 18i8. A large majority of the time I use it as an interface for a single microphone. Occasionally, I use it as an interface for that same microphone and a guitar.

Since I've bought my focusrite, I've started to get more and more into high quality headphones, headphone amps, and so on. A major limitation of the focusrite currently is that it only supports up to 96Khz at 24 bits, and I also use a program called Voicemeeter to run most of my Windows audio which has some crackling disagreements with the Focusrite's internal clock from time to time. I've also been told that, in general, the Focusrite's internal DAC is not that great compared to quite a few other options out there, so now recently I've been looking to upgrade.


Trying to figure out my options:

Initially my idea was to buy the RME ADI-2 DAC FS 2-channel DA Converter. I can keep the Focusrite purely as an interface and use the ADI-2 DAC FS to plug in my headphones into and use it as the output for all of my music/system audio. I've heard great things about it, and it has an added bonus that it has a phones output and basically a built in headphone amplifier of at least some sort, which saves me having to drop another 500 USD on a Topping A90 right now before I can actually us it.
https://www.rme-usa.com/adi-2-dac.html


Now I'm thinking... if there as an interface that is basically the RME ADI-2 DAC FS then I can ditch the Focusrite entirely and just use that, which is probably even more ideal. In enter the RME ADI-2 Pro FS AD/DA Converter. It looks like the same thing as the DAC but interface, but is it? It has 2 XLR inputs, looks like it still has the built in headphone amp, and it's looking kind of like what I want, but my question is, is it really? Is the DAC circuit in this the same or better quality as that of the ADI-2 DAC FS? Also, I noticed the headphone jacks on the front are labeled BAL L and R, but they are described as two separate headphone outputs. Are these actually two separate left right channel quarter inch jacks for one pair of headphones, or a complete left right channel output for up to two headphones in total?
(There's also a black edition of this. What does it offer over the standard? It's a bit more expensive sure, but it might be worth it depending on if it's a little more future proof or if it has a little more to offer)
https://www.rme-usa.com/adi-2-pro-fs.html


I've also noticed there are products like the Fireface UCX, which has quite a few more inputs than I need, and also doesn't seem to have the XLR L and R outputs for a headphone amplifier leading me to believe that this probably isn't the correct product for me, but I'm curious how the audio quality stacks up to the previous 2 or how it compares to the RME ADI-2 Pro FS AD/DA Converter, (or the RME ADI-2 DAC FS, if the AD/DA converter audio quality is crap and not what I actually want/need in the first place).
https://www.rme-usa.com/fireface-ucx.html


So basically, I'm a guy who's brand new to RME devices. Looking to potentially buy one really soon. I really want something with high audio quality, and there's an extra bonus if it's also an interface with 1-2 analog XLR inputs. I feel like there's an overwhelming amount of options given how little I know about RME products, can anyone who has experience with any or all of these products kind of point me in the right direction or give me a run down of how they compare or how they like the products?


Thank you so much in advance, and sorry for all the questions!


---------------------

Furthermore looking into this, I realise I don't actually know the difference between a converter and an interface. The mic I'm using is a SHURE SM7B which does not require phantom power, and the only other input I really use is actually a 1/4 inch cable run directly from an electric guitar with passive pickups (usually for an unplugged type of sound). Currently, I use ASIO in voicemeeter to grab these input channels and route them to appropriate output channels. I'm imaging this would work the same with the RME interface, but I don't know if either of the ADI-2 AD/DA converter options would require me to buy separate pre-amps or anything like that. Can someone maybe fill me in on that information too if they know or recommend either of those devices?

2 (edited by ramses 2020-07-29 10:14:11)

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

Hi, I am also guitarist, here briefly my personal use cases with an UFX+ / ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, which I put together in a blog article:

https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/blog/ind … -DURec-DE/

- Using UFX+ DURec feature as tape deck for stand-alone or backup recording
- Recording mainly via 2 Mics
- using UFX+ its ports and routing capabilities to build a parallel effect loop, also nice that different reference levels are supported and can be configured individually per analog port
- using UFX+ instrument inputs (1 MOhm hurray!) to also record the dry guitar signal to be able to reamp
- using the ADI-2 Pro FS R BE for monitors and phones, its an excellent unit with a very nice feature set
- ... rest see article ...

To your questions / demands...
1st of all: whats your maximum budget for a RME solution ?

> A major limitation of the focusrite currently is that it only supports up to 96Khz at 24 bits

Tbh ... in my opineon 192 kHz is overrated. In contrast to that I always record at 44.1 kHz. Some people tell about advantages to use 88.2/96 kHz when working with some plugins in the DAW, that the processing of the VSTs would be better sounding / more accurate .. but well .. for my personal demand 44.1 was always well enough.

I would concentrate more on other topics
- driver quality and long driver support
- transparent converters of good quality not adding any "mojo" to the signal (not modifying it)
- operational aspects that the mixing software does not limit you in terms of comfort and functionality (-> TotalMix FX)

Especially if you play guitar with virtual amps (VSTi) then it will be beneficial to you, that RME drivers have very low latency and are on par with the RTL (round trip latancies) of the PCIe based products. In one of my blog articles about RME I put together the RTL of different RME solutions. See Excel Screenshot in: https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/blog/ind … 8-RME-UFX/

https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/index.php/Attachment/2343-UFX-UFX-RayDAT-Latencies-v2-jpg/

I also put together an Excel comparing different RME solutions:
https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/blog/ind … B-MADIfac/

This Excel here: https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/index.ph … 0-04-xlsx/

Your Port Requirements

So in terms of ports you seem to need
- 1 Mic Input
- 1 Instrument Input for Guitar
- 2 analog outputs (balanced / unbalanced) to connect monitors
- 2 analog outputs to connect phones

EDIT1: potentially also:
- MIDI i/o
- digital port for connecting smth like the ADI-2 Pro FS R BE

What you need is basically a RME recording interface, either PCIe, USB or Thunderbolt based.
A RME recording interface has also TotalMix FX as Software Mixer.
EDIT1: You get DIGICHECK for free (useful audio analysis tools) and global record, lightweight recording tool for Windows.
EDIT1: Possibility to connect the ARC USB remote control for TotalMix FX control room for all recording interfaces (supporting TotalMix FX).

To your question, what are converters etc

Other devices which you are not so experienced in are e.g.:
- pure converters for AD/DA conversion which can be added to a recording interface via ADAT, MADI, Ethernet
- pure Mic preamps for adding the amount of Mic Pres for your solution, which also can be added via ADAT, MADI, Ethernet
But this you do not require, because you need a recording interfaces with TM FX as software mixer for routing etc ...

ADI-2 Pro FS R BE

Getting / adding an ADI-2 Pro FS R BE to the solution is really a nice thing to have / do ... but this puts a certain price tag to the whole solution. The ADI-2 Pro FS R BE is a so flexible device that I simply would like to enumerate 1st what it can not do for you, why IMHO you would still require something like a RME recording interface:
- it has no Mic inputs
- it has no Instr inputs to connect your guitar
- it has no Mixing/Routing Software (TotalMix FX)

So if you want to use this device as the perfect preamp for monitors and phones then you need to add it to a digital port of an RME recording interface like I described here in this blog article: https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/blog/ind … our-Setup/

You could add it also to the Focusrite, assuming it has an ADAT or SPDIF output, but then you still do not have the benefits of a RME solution.

Some possible combination, if you like and if the budget is there

Really nice for you could be a combination of
- UC or even better UCX
- ADI-2 Pro FS R BE
- ARC USB
But there is a price tag involved along with that.

Unbeatable in functionality with Autoset / DURec etc ... a combination of
- UFX II or even UFX+
- ADI-2 Pro FS R BE
- ARC USB

Nice features like autoset you get only with UCX, UFX II, UFX+
Nice features like DURec you get only with UFX II / UFX+
If you want USB and Thunderbolt support to always have a 2nd choice to connect to a PC -> UFX+

Extremely nice with all recording interfaces is, that you can save the settings digitally.
One Exception for the 802, he uses analog potis for adjusting Mic gain, this can't be saved digitally, also autoset not possible here, therefore I tend to exclude this interface when making recommendations. I am personally a fan of being able to save all settings digitally.

If you want to get a 1st glimpse of TotalMix FX and its capabilities you may want to watch the RME tutorial videos.
You will be amazed about the logic structure and functionality.

I also had Focusrite (Liquid Saffire 56), but I had always to fight with MixControl. Too limited, too unlogic for me.
When I switched to RME 6+ years ago, I felt in heaven after getting UFX and TotalMix FX as Mixing/Routing software.
Alone from operational aspects RME is a big win. Documentation and support is outstanding with RME.
RME offers IMHO simply the best "round" package with extremely long driver support and which is still payable and worth every penny.

BR
Ramses
X10SRi-F, E5-1650v4, Win10 Pro 2004, Cubase 10.5.20, UFX+, XTC, ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, ARC USB

3 (edited by KaiS 2020-07-29 11:19:41)

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

@Ramses:
Wouldn't the UFX interfaces make the ADI-2 obsolete?

They all have very decent headphones outs.

4 (edited by ramses 2020-07-29 23:17:40)

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

I mentioned this device only, because PikaChokeMe referred to it already.

Ok, he mentioned it in a slightly different context to use it as recording interface or to enhance his Focusrite recording interface, to that the short answer was:
1. can it be used as recording interface for his demand -> No (no mic inputs, no instr inputs, no TM FX)
2. can it be used in combination with the Focusrite -> yes but then he doesn't have the benefits of a RME solution in contrast to Focusrite with its e.g. weak Mixcontrol software to put only one example.

But I wanted to pick up the opportunity to tell him, that its really fun to add this product even to a RME solution, because of the very unique features of the ADI-2 Pro.
- excellent phones preamp driving even high impedance phones well
- slow ramp-up of volume when plugging in phones
- slow ramp-up of volume when using map key feature and switching between monitors and phones
- dynamic loudness feature
- PEQ to adjust weaknesses of phones or deficits of ears, even with the possibility to perform this individually for left and right channel
- useful control possibilities via map key function in addition to an ARC USB
- etc

My intention is to show the full picuture, because other solutions usually do not have such features.

In my opinion, you can only make a good budget decision if you are well informed about the total package of possibilities.

But in general terms I agree to you, that also an UC, UCX, UFX II, UFX+ alone would be an excellent enhancement for him compared to Focusrite based solution that he has now.

BR
Ramses
X10SRi-F, E5-1650v4, Win10 Pro 2004, Cubase 10.5.20, UFX+, XTC, ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, ARC USB

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

ramses wrote:

Really nice for you could be a combination of
- UC or even better UCX
- ADI-2 Pro FS R BE
- ARC USB
But there is a price tag involved along with that.

Unbeatable in functionality with Autoset / DURec etc ... a combination of
- UFX II or even UFX+
- ADI-2 Pro FS R BE
- ARC USB


First of all, I want to thank you for the absolutely amazing write up! I read through the blog post too and everything there was super informative and amazing. I think understand more now that what I thought was a mic/line input on the ADI-2-Pro is actually just for amplifying mic/line input. And I love the detailed break down of all the options there and what they offer over each other.

UC or UCX are probably in my budget. UFX II or UFX+ is probably a little out of my immediate price range, but it's not to say it's not doable. One thing I'm actually curious about now though is, are there any PCIe solutions you might recommend in this situation? Do any of these have high quality headphone outputs with breakout adapters for the analogue inputs I'd need, and also have the ability to let me add an ADI-2 Pro FS R BE at some point down the line?

I do have thunderbolt, USB available, and PCIe available. I noticed some of the PCIe latencies seemed to be the lowest of the options presented, which makes me curious about some of these cards, but I don't know if these are older interfaces or how they compare to the UFX or UCX products.

Something like the HDSPe AIO, looks like it could maybe do what I want?
The RayDat also looks like it could do what I want?
And then something like the Madi FX also looks like it could work, though it seems a bit overkill since it has support for like "3 AES/EBU I/O pathways" and I don't even know if I really need one.

How current gen are these products? Also how are the headphone amps in these (that's probably a dumb question since I assume they're meant to be run through another DAC as a monitor, but it'll probably be a bit before I can afford both a new monitor and an interface, so I'd like a decent-ish headphone out in the time being)? Is it better to stick with the USB and Thunderbolt options?

6 (edited by ramses 2020-07-30 15:53:13)

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

> I think understand more now that what I thought was a mic/line input on the ADI-2-Pro is actually
> just for amplifying mic/line input.

There are basically three types of analog inputs

- analog input simply for line signals from consumer level up to higher studio reference levels
  most but not all RME devices offer so called "servo balanced" analog ports, that automatically switch
  to either balanced or unbalanced operation. The manual gives detailed information, whether ports are servo balanced.

- Mic Inputs have an additional preamp and phantom power to give power to condenser mics
  On these ports you have to dial-in a suitable gain depending on the sensitivity of the microphone
   and the loudness of the input signal

- Instrument Inputs are for connecting instruments with a Pickup like Electric Guitars

Devices like the RME UFX+ have e.g. 8 analog inputs and outputs on the back, which are servo balanced.
Each port can be configured individually for the required reference level.
On the front you find 4 Mic Inputs which can also be used as Instrument inputs which is really nice and flexible.

One very good feature of the flagship interfaces like the UFX II and UFX+ are, that the power-on crackling is not only dampened for phones outputs but also for each other of the right analog outputs.

To make a long story short .. if you want to make a nail on the topic recording interface I would choose the RME UFX+.
Why not the UFX II ?

The UFX+ only costs a few bucks more .. BUT ..
Offers to you the possibility to connect to your current and furture computer systems via
- USB2 (without MADI)
- USB3
- Thunderbolt

By this you have an excellent investment protection in any way.

- Thunderbolt is external PCIe .. better is not possible
  By this you do not require to take internal PCIe cards like AIO or RayDAT which have a not so rich feature set
  In particular to the
  - AIO: if you need to buy additional analog ports for the AIO, then this card becomes quite expensive
  - RayDAT: excellent card, but it has no analog ports, you would need to expand via ADAT with
    a) Mic Preamps and
    b) Converters
    which are two additional devices that you require

- And you have the possibility to use USB whenever there is a need

You can choose between Thunderbolt and USB2/3 which gives the best flexibility.

Its always possible on a computer system that one or the other technology sucks, then you still have a plan B without the need having to buy another USB add-on card with better/compatible chipset. In the worst case you need an Thunderbolt based expansion cabinet to add an USB card with better/supported chipset.

Then the other advantage of the UFX+. If you need the pitch function .. then you have the possibility to get the Thunderbolt driver, which still allows for pitch. The USB transfer modes being used by the MADIface driver do not allow for pitch anymore (technically). This is another point in regards to additional flexibility.

Finally .. via MADI you can much better expand the solution, especially if you really want higher sample rates.
Via ADAT you have only 8 channels, with double / quad speed you have by "port bundling / multiplexing" only 50/25% of channels left.

MADI supports 64ch, so even with double speed (88.2/96 kHz) you still have 32 channels and with Quad Speed (up to 192 kHz) you still have 16 ports left.

As you can see, the addition of devices (no matter whether you use ADAT or MADI) also means, reduction of channels depending on the sample rate.

This reduction of I/O port you do not have on the device itself !!

The UFX II / UFX+ will still have 8 analog ports on the back no matter how the sample rate is !!

So my final advice is, not to buy a device which is too small.

And .. at the end the feature set is also very important to be able to work very comfortably in any situation.

The UFX+ (and UFX II) also have the advantage
- only 1 Rack Unit high (very compact)
- in stand-alone mode (without PC) it can be operated fully at the front display
- in stand-alone mode the ARC USB can be plugged directly to the device, so no PC is needed for ARC USB

Read again, what flexibility in recording I have .. maybe later you also want to record your amp with a Mic ....
A 2nd phones port is also nice when you play with a friend.
Or .. one for you (mixing) and one for the performer (vocalist) ... another plus for UFX *.

Get the UFX+
Maybe later the ARC USB (Thomann also offered bundles, could save some bucks)

And then you have a real nice device for many many years which supports you in every situation.

BR
Ramses
X10SRi-F, E5-1650v4, Win10 Pro 2004, Cubase 10.5.20, UFX+, XTC, ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, ARC USB

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

@Ramses:
Excellent conclusion.

I just want to add, with the UFX model interfaces you have high quality headphones outputs too, so don't necessarily need to add an ADI-2 xxx.
EQ and other DSP functions are covered by RME's Totalmix FX.

The UFX models are full blown studio interfaces which can serve as a no hustle central unit in the studio, opposed to the ADI-2's.

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

yup + thanks wink

BR
Ramses
X10SRi-F, E5-1650v4, Win10 Pro 2004, Cubase 10.5.20, UFX+, XTC, ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, ARC USB

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

Thank you again for the awesome amounts of information!

I think at this point I'm just going to plan to save and buy the UFX+ it just seems like the better option and investment moving forward.

10 (edited by ramses 2020-08-01 12:10:49)

Re: I'm look for a new DAC/Interface

Good decision.

You should watch the TM FX video tutorials meanwhile to become familiar with it.

I put together whats available:
https://www.tonstudio-forum.de/blog/ind … al-Videos/

Watch also the little older ones, each version has a beauty of its own wink

Clear to the point without wasting time with unnecessary bla bla .. simply awesome informative tutorials.

After that you have a good overview about the capabilities of TM FX.

BR
Ramses
X10SRi-F, E5-1650v4, Win10 Pro 2004, Cubase 10.5.20, UFX+, XTC, ADI-2 Pro FS R BE, ARC USB