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Studio Audio Interfaces vs 'consumer' DACs

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  1. pazuwu

    When it comes to studio audio interfaces, most reviews evaluate the features, latency, number of inputs, what DAWs they work with, etc. , but rarely I find mentions about how "good" they sound, as opposed to consumer grade DACs, where everyone reviews the sound, the spatiality, the detail, etc.

    I wonder, how does a Steinberg UR22 MkII sound compared to the popular FiiO E10K , from an "audiophile" point of view? Or, don't know, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 vs Audioquest Dragonfly.. ?

    My purpose is to find out if an audio interface designed for studios could be successfully used as an audiophile dac with a PC, the reason being the price. Obviously, I don't expect miracles from cheaper studio interfaces, but I don't expect them to suck either, since people actually use them to record songs... ? Any opinions?
  2. Malfunkt
    I have a UR22. I don’t use its headphone out but recording quality and output are excellent.

    For musicians, they are more easily marketed to by features and price. Different market and manufacturers can move a high volume of dacs. For the audiophile niche, they charge more IMO for comparable quality.
    pazuwu likes this.
  3. Music Alchemist
    I downgraded from high-end DACs (like the four figure Chord 2Qute) to a $30 Behringer UCA202 audio interface and am not missing much. Since I upgraded my speakers, I'm actually getting far better sound. It's always best to focus your budget on headphones/speakers first.

    Edit: Forgot to mention that the UCA202's headphone amp sucks. Your thread seemed to be about DACs, but perhaps you're looking for a DAC/amp? If that's the case, I'd recommend something like a Schiit Fulla 2 to start with.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
    pazuwu likes this.
  4. headpfizer
    I have a scarlet 2i2 which is an excellent audio interface for the price. However, it doesn't do well with headphones that require a bit of power. It's fine for monitoring cans like Shure 840s. I've found even the SMSL M3 (decent & cheap) is better at driving most headphones - k712, X2, NO, HD650 etc. Personally, I'd choose a decent (not necessarily expensive) DAC/AMP over the Scarlet for music listening. I can't speak for other interfaces though.
    pazuwu and Malfunkt like this.
  5. cossix
    The general idea is that the interface dac is decent, but the amp probably doesn't sound too great. I run my 598 out of the Scarlett Solo for gaming and it sounds decent but I get better dynamics with an amp. I'd suggest a Fulla 2 if you want a combo unit
    pazuwu likes this.
  6. PurpleAngel Contributor
    So you currently do not own an Audio Interface or DAC/Headphone amplifier?
    What headphones do you own or are planning on buying in the near future?
    What is your budget for a DAC?
    What is an "Audiophile DAC" might not mean the same from one person to another, more like how much your willing to spend for a DAC.
  7. pazuwu
    I've got a Schiit Fulla 2 on my desktop computer, but I'm looking for a replacement, so I can take it back to work for my laptop.

    I don't plan to use headphones on the PC (I've got 2x Yamaha HS7), but that's an option in the future (maybe some Meze 99 Classics?). In the mean while, I'm looking for a DAC that'll sound good with my monitors, around 500€ (has to have a separated power supply, headphone jack and preferably some circuits for filtering "noise" - my computer produces a lot of noise on the USB ports when I play games..). Of course, I'd rather buy an audio interface for 200-300€ instead if I could get a similar sound quality, hence my question.
    Audiophile DAC: a DAC that's designed for high quality sound output, as opposed to studio interfaces which focus more on the ADC part (recording instruments, voices, etc.)
  8. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Ok, so you have no real need of the features (like ADC) that come with an Audio Interface, Audio Interface would still do a decent job, but your spending money on features you have no need for.

    Check out the Audio-GD NFB-11.28 DAC/headphone amplifier, shipped to your door for around 320 Euros to $360 Euros
    Good long term investment.

    I've bought two Audio-GD NFB-15 DAC/amp (discontinued model) and I really like them and currently thinking of replacing my NFB-15, with the NFB-11.
    pazuwu likes this.
  9. pazuwu
  10. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    I wouldn't worry about the DAC stage being any different barring output voltage level. It's just a matter of getting one that performs well enough vs the few really crap designs out there. I'd worry more about compatibility of inputs and outputs with whatever else you'll use with either.

    What I'd worry about is the built in headphone amps on interfaces. Nearly all of them have high output impedance, and there's a few that go down to 10ohms with high voltage output but they're big and heavy - really rack- or console-mount designs. Most of them out there measure somewhere along the lines of, "0.1% THD, 25mW at 32ohms" with something like "30ohms output impedance" (if the latter is even stated). The key features really are the ADC and mic inputs, and if I'm recording and mixing I'd use speakers with these anyway even if somebody crams the O2 amp circuit in there.
    PaganDL and pazuwu like this.
  11. theveterans
    IMO, any audiophile DAC or studio interfaces on your 500 euro budget will sound good with your HS7s. If you don't like the sound of the HS7's might as well exchange it to another speaker or use digital equalizer or analog eq like Schiit Loki Mini instead of swapping DACs/interfaces which barely if any changes the sound signature of your speakers.
    pazuwu likes this.
  12. pazuwu
    Ok, so basically I should be concerned with interfaces/"normal" dacs if I plan on using headphones, for my HS7 it shouldn't be a big difference.
  13. buke9
    If you don’t have the need for a audio interface no need to get one as others have said the headphone out on a lot aren’t very good. Haven’t used speakers from a computer in quite some time so I’m not sure. I would just think the best sound you can get from the computer is going to be better all the way around.
  14. theveterans
    Agree with buke9 too. For active speakers like the HS7, you don't need to be specific with interfaces since the amps inside the HS7 are already excellent. For headphones, an headphone amp after your interface (line out) will make your headphone sound better than just straight from the headphone out from the interface. That's why I have my Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amp after my DAC and the HS7's are connected straight to my Schiit Saga preamp
    pazuwu likes this.
  15. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Interfaces have a built in preamp output, and balanced too, for studio monitors. Even the 2i4 has that. No audiophile product has that anywhere near the 2i4's price point.
    PaganDL likes this.
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