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If you’re looking for a reference-grade AD/DA converter with a built-in headphone amp—one that takes up relatively little space and gives you I/O suitable for both pro audio and hi-fi environments—you’d be hard pressed to find a better bang for the buck than the RME ADI-2 Pro Reference AD/DA Converter with Extreme Power Headphone Amplifiers. Talking connection points, this unit provides XLR and 1/4" analog I/O and optical ports for S/PDIF or ADAT, as well as AES/EBU and coaxial S/PDIF terminations by a breakout cable. You’ll find the USB 2.0 port useful in connecting with your host computer, and on the front of the unit, you’ll notice two headphone jacks; these can be set up to work with high- or low-impedance headphones, and can even double as balanced, stereo 1/4" outputs.
A large volume knob gives you satisfactory rotary control over the level, and onboard DSP allows you to tweak the signal within the hardware in a variety of pleasing ways. For instance, if headphone monitoring is the order of the day—and it’s to be quite a long day at that—you can take measures within the unit to offset the fatigue of the ear often caused by prolonged headphone experience. Also provided is a rather pleasing 5-band parametric EQ, one that can boost lows and trebles to high levels without sounding respectively muddy or brittle. The midrange bands are also quite useful too, as are adjustments you can make independently to left and right channels to offset/compensate any hearing damage you might have accumulated by being alive (hey, it can happen to all of us). You can also set a loudness EQ curve that will add a “smile” to your signal and to your ears: This curve is set to adjust the signal automatically to simulate the apparent amount of low- and high-frequency boosts of loud levels, recreating them at lower volumes and automatically bypassing the filter altogether above a certain threshold of level.
Other useful features abound, such as incredibly low roundtrip latency, as well as support for resolutions and sample rates up to 32-bit/768 kHz, making this unit suitable for DSD, as well as PCM playback. SteadyClock III technology helps to achieve perfect jitter reduction and excellent clocking. With the conversion provided herein, you’ll find this unit equally suited to PCM recording, DSD monitoring, or taking precise audio measurements of rooms. It even works as a high-fidelity front-end/headphone amp for smartphones. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the brand of conversion favored by various and disparate household names—from Universal (their studio soundstages, specifically) to BMW (for audio measurements). Now, it’s available for you, the people.