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Article: RME ADI-2 DAC FS Review

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Nice quick review, thank you. Since DACs aren’t just their chip choice, I wonder why you chose not to throw in another well-known DAC in the $1000 price range as another point of common comparison?

 

Also, I’m curious about how you find tweaking the sound via EQ to help—I know the answer seems to be “yes!” and I wonder if this is practical for song to song adjustments, or if it’s really more for “album listening?”

 

Thanks again.


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3 hours ago, feelingears said:

Nice quick review, thank you. Since DACs aren’t just their chip choice, I wonder why you chose not to throw in another well-known DAC in the $1000 price range as another point of common comparison?

 

Also, I’m curious about how you find tweaking the sound via EQ to help—I know the answer seems to be “yes!” and I wonder if this is practical for song to song adjustments, or if it’s really more for “album listening?”

 

Thanks again.

 

I agree that DACs aren't all about chip choice, though I do tend to think chips influence, if not wholly determine, a DAC's general sound. I didn't pick another well-known $1k DAC simply because I didn't have one on hand. (I love DACs, but there are limits to my collection! Haha.) But I tend to think that comparing a DAC (or amp, pair headphones, etc.) to ones that are positioned similarly but at price points above and below can be instructive. Often, it's the case that price doesn't map onto sound. It happened to roughly be the case in this review, but I hope readers can compare each DAC's combination of price/sound/features in evaluating whether the RME (or one of the others) is right for them. As I hope is clear, I don't think any is a "bad" choice (and I hope to have a full review of the Solaris up at some point).

 

In terms of the EQ, I don't know that I'd want to adjust it song-to-song by manipulating the parametric EQ. (It's easy to get the hang of, but the navigation and adjustment would take a little time between songs.) However, the RME allows for 20 EQ presets, so you could easily cycle through your pre-created EQ options -- one for songs with too little sub-bass, ones for too little mid-bass, etc. -- to find one right for that particular song's flaws.

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Thanks for the review, I have a chance at winning this DAC through Sweetwater's Win Your Wish List Giveaway.  Just create an account and make a wish list up to $5000.  Odds of winning are of course impossible but you never know.  I added Focal's SoloBe 40th Anniversary studio monitors, some cables and SurgeX 1810 power conditioner/protector.  Another list I have is all guitar related stuff.  

 

If I win, I was going to use it as a computer desk all around DAC, for casual music listening, YouTube Videos, guitar software editing, ect...


PC/NAS/JRiver/Roon - PS Audio P5 Regenerator - KEF LS50 Nocturne - Rel 328 subwoofer - PS Audio AC5 Power cables 

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"If someone claims that he or she can hear differences between “properly designed” DACs, two questions inevitably, and quickly, follow: Was the listening level matched? Was the listening blind? If the answers to both questions are “yes,”..."

Of course they would have heard a difference in the devices. The reason? 
Massdrop Airist R2R DAC is spraying harmonic distortion all over the place. As a matter of fact, you could have hardly picked a poorer example to make your point! 

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8 hours ago, Bill_G said:

"If someone claims that he or she can hear differences between “properly designed” DACs, two questions inevitably, and quickly, follow: Was the listening level matched? Was the listening blind? If the answers to both questions are “yes,”..."

Of course they would have heard a difference in the devices. The reason? 
Massdrop Airist R2R DAC is spraying harmonic distortion all over the place. As a matter of fact, you could have hardly picked a poorer example to make your point! 

 

There actually are multiple blind DAC tests in that thread that don’t include the Airist (which I’ll be reviewing here soon). Plus, as many “objectivist” over at ASR have noted, even the “poor” measuring Airist’s flaws are below the threshold of audibility for nearly all reasonable use cases. 

 

As I said in the beginning of my review, if one doesn’t think it’s possible for DACs above a certain theshold to sound different, I’d suggest buying the Modi 3 and not reading my reviews. 

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On 11/6/2019 at 4:36 PM, bobflood said:

The Solaris is much more expensive, money that no doubt went toward better analog stage components, so it should sound better.

 

I think that’s the case for the Solaris, but it’s definitely not the case that price always translates into better sound. 

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41 minutes ago, JoshM said:

 

I think that’s the case for the Solaris, but it’s definitely not the case that price always translates into better sound. 

Sad but true!

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10 hours ago, Bill_G said:

"If someone claims that he or she can hear differences between “properly designed” DACs, two questions inevitably, and quickly, follow: Was the listening level matched? Was the listening blind? If the answers to both questions are “yes,”..."
 

 

 

were those 2 things done for this RME review?

 

BTW, Rajiv laid out a nice list of why different DACs might sound different - if you search under his username, or for "sticky" and mine you'll find it

 

My vote goes for analog stages in the DAC...


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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2 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

 

 

were those 2 things done for this RME review?

 

BTW, Rajiv laid out a nice list of why different DACs might sound different - if you search under his username, or for "sticky" and mine you'll find it

 

My vote goes for analog stages in the DAC...

 

I'll look for that list (or, if you're able, please post a link here!).

 

As I mention in a footnote, I matched the DACs' levels to within .2 dB, but I didn't do any blind testing. In that past, I've done blind testing of DACs before and heard differences beyond chance. (I've also done things like get my hearing professional tested, completed hearing training courses, etc. that most people who claim to care about "audio science" don't bother with.) But, as the reaction over at ASR to SBAF's extensive blind testing shows, it doesn't matter if the testing is blind, people who don't believe "properly designed" DACs can sound different will still reject the results. It's ultimately not worth the trouble, IMO. That's why I suggested (very seriously and non-snarkily) at the top of the review that people who don't think "properly designed" DACs can sound different stop reading and instead by a Modi 3 or similarly cheap "perfect" measuring DAC.

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it is post #53 in this thread:

 

 

Yes, I did think the 1st para. here set up a strawman...


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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3 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

it is post #53 in this thread:

 

 

Yes, I did think the 1st para. here set up a strawman...

 

Thank you for the link. Great stuff!

 

My first paragraph set up a strawman? I wish that were the case. That’s why I provided the link to ASR, where I lurk. But I have plenty more examples. Indeed, just today the “all properly designed DACs sound the same; no one has ever heard a difference” mantra popped up again. IMO, that crowd ignores that expectancy bias runs both ways. If you believe all DACs sound the same, of course your own blind tests will prove you correct. Indeed, there’s no way to be proven wrong in that circumstance due to the structure of the test. It’s only meaningful when people who think they can hear differences take blind tests. But in my experience (as my links show) even correct results in those tests are dismissed. So it’s become a no-win scenario if you hear differences. Given that, I honestly think it’s fine for “objectivists” to simply go their own way and buy a cheap “perfect” DAC. 

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21 hours ago, JoshM said:

 

There actually are multiple blind DAC tests in that thread that don’t include the Airist (which I’ll be reviewing here soon). Plus, as many “objectivist” over at ASR have noted, even the “poor” measuring Airist’s flaws are below the threshold of audibility for nearly all reasonable use cases. 

 

As I said in the beginning of my review, if one doesn’t think it’s possible for DACs above a certain theshold to sound different, I’d suggest buying the Modi 3 and not reading my reviews. 


Ahh, no! The flaws present in the DAC are well within the audible range of human hearing. Now they may not sound particularly harsh due to masking, but they'll definitely influence what one hears. Everyone over at ASR isn't an experienced audio scientist or engineer. 

What's up with the quotes around certain words? If you're trying to make some sort of point with them, I fail to see what it is, and it comes across as a bit juvenile quite frankly. If you're trying to inform us that you're a "subjectivist", I already figured that one out for myself. The lack of understanding in regards engineering of a DAC was readily apparent from the very beginning of the review. However, you're not alone in that, as the vast majority of"audiophile" reviewers are technologically illiterate as well.  

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2 hours ago, Bill_G said:


Ahh, no! The flaws present in the DAC are well within the audible range of human hearing. Now they may not sound particularly harsh due to masking, but they'll definitely influence what one hears. Everyone over at ASR isn't an experienced audio scientist or engineer. 

What's up with the quotes around certain words? If you're trying to make some sort of point with them, I fail to see what it is, and it comes across as a bit juvenile quite frankly. If you're trying to inform us that you're a "subjectivist", I already figured that one out for myself. The lack of understanding in regards engineering of a DAC was readily apparent from the very beginning of the review. However, you're not alone in that, as the vast majority of"audiophile" reviewers are technologically illiterate as well.  

 

Note I said “all reasonable use case” (meaning: listening to music in a normal setting). While everyone at ASR isn’t an engineer, many claim to be, and even more claim that they understand engineering in a way that mere foolish “audiophiles” do not. Moreover, even Amir has said that the flaws in DACs that measure as “poorly” (or worse) than the Airist produce “audible effects [that] are subtle to non-existent.”

 

I put terms that aren’t my own (and that I’d prefer we didn’t use) in quotes. I don’t believe in the oppositional dichotomy of “subjectivist” and “objectivist.” I’d prefer a synthesis between the two. I value measurements immensely. But I also don’t think six or seven graphs can tell us all we need to know about how a piece of equipment will sound. 

 

I’d also be fascinated to know what in my first paragraphs demonstrated to you that I’m “technologically illiterate.” I’m guessing it’s that I indicated that I don’t agree that all “properly designed” DACs sound alike. In that case, I’ve already given you my polite suggestion of what to do: stop reading, go buy a Modi 3, and stop worrying about DACs forever. 

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46 minutes ago, dmac6419 said:

You know this DAC  measure really high,I've been an Audiophile since the 5th grade,but lets be honest this dac is better than anything your sponsors have to offer.

 

I know it measures well (said so in my review). Unfortunately, however, I don’t have any sponsors. I’m accepting offers, though!

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Unfortunately, "no one has ever heard a difference” is just as valid a comment as "DACs do sound different" since there has been no valid testing done.

 

I know you are certain of your listening results (just as I know that you re an excellent listener, and excellent at verbalizing the differences you perceive).   But at least single blind testing is critical to establish the proposition.

 

Until BAS or someone does this, consumers are left to do their own testing (which they'd have to do anyway for a specific make/model).

 

OTOH, you might also give listening impressions on whether the differences you perceive among DACs are generally greater or less than among various different masterings...

 

I am using terms like heard & perceived; listening comparison vs. listening tests carefully in the above...


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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44 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

Unfortunately, "no one has ever heard a difference” is just as valid a comment as "DACs do sound different" since there has been no valid testing done.

 

I know you are certain of your listening results (just as I know that you re an excellent listener, and excellent at verbalizing the differences you perceive).   But at least single blind testing is critical to establish the proposition.

 

Until BAS or someone does this, consumers are left to do their own testing (which they'd have to do anyway for a specific make/model).

 

OTOH, you might also give listening impressions on whether the differences you perceive among DACs are generally greater or less than among various different masterings...

 

I am using terms like heard & perceived; listening comparison vs. listening tests carefully in the above...

 

Well, as I said, my experience certainly has been that even when people (such as Marv, in the SBAF links) go to great lengths to conduct proper blind tests, they’re dismissed as “invalid.” 

 

IMO, it would be wonderful to not hear differences. I’d love to believe that a sub-$100 DAC or headphone amp is the absolute best there is. If anything, my inherent cheapness and class warrior politics biases me to always give inexpensive products every benefit of the doubt in listening. (Indeed, way back when I got into the hobby, I was convinced that many differences I now hear didn’t exist. Then I experienced better gear, improved my listening skills...)

 

As I said in the review, I think people who don’t believe there are (and/or can’t hear) differences between DACs should simply buy one of the good cheap DACs out there and be happy, without also calling everyone who disagrees morons and harassing them. Whatever time they’re saving by not having to look further for DACs, they’re wasting by yelling at people online who disagree.  

 

In terms of masterings versus DACs, by and large masterings make much bigger differences. The difference between a poorly transfered, poorly EQ’d, or squashed mastering and one that does all three well is drastic. That said, there are certain masterings that are so close in quality where a change in DAC might be more audible (two really good flat transfers of a great master tape, etc.). But in the average mix of masterings I look at for my column, the difference between the best and worse mastering is much bigger than the difference between the Modi 3 and Solaris, in terms of immediate, unsubtle audibility. (OTOH, picking a better mastering improves one album, where picking a better DAC improves your whole collection.)

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It would be interesting to try and technically resolve whatever differences, if any , that Marv is able to identify.  On the surface, the claims being made are quite ludicrous, and certainly require more investigation.

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24 minutes ago, Sonicularity said:

It would be interesting to try and technically resolve whatever differences, if any , that Marv is able to identify.  On the surface, the claims being made are quite ludicrous, and certainly require more investigation.

 

Don’t seem at all “ludicrous” to me!

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This would have been a much better review if paragraphs 2 and 3 and the first sentence of paragraph 4 were omitted.  As it stands, they detract and distract from the review.


--

Do facts matter?

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9 hours ago, wgscott said:

This would have been a much better review if paragraphs 2 and 3 and the first sentence of paragraph 4 were omitted.  As it stands, they detract and distract from the review.

 

That's a fair point. I considered not even addressing the so-called "subjectivist" versus "objectivist" divide at all, but considering that this is my first DAC review, I thought it was worth saying something about it, rather than just ignoring it. The fact that this is the DAC for the ASR crowd seemed to increase the necessity of addressing it, too, at least in my mind. But now that that's out of the way, my future DAC reviews won't bother with that preamble.

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