RME Audio is a pro audio brand committed to providing the highest levels of performance and fidelity for studios and the stage. While most audiophiles don’t have need for a 32-channel digital mixer, RME’s ADI-2 DAC FS – originally designed for mastering engineers – has the sort of detailed, revealing sound that might make it attractive for a home personal audio setup. So with loads of features and a strong focus on digital fidelity, does the RME ADI-2 have the goods that audiophiles need?
Build, Design, and Packaging
The ADI-2 comes in the sort of package you’d expect in the pro audio section of a Guitar Center: a simple box with clean graphics along with detailed descriptions of the specs and its capabilities. Inside the box, you get the unit itself, the power supply, a USB cable, and the remote. The USB cable and power supply are both very long – 7 ft. for the USB and 11 ft. for the power cable – a much-appreciated bonus given that some units we’ve used have a stock cable that can barely reach across the desk. The manual is also of note as it is very detailed with specs, measurements and explanation of different features. The package also includes a remote which can control most features of the device.
While the cables are very much “OEM” quality, the DAC has the sort of build and finish that you would expect from a product made in Germany with this sort of brand pedigree. ADI-2 DAC is a surprisingly compact metal box, with vented sides and an array of controls and inputs on the front and back. All the components feel top quality, from the power button to the various connections and knobs. The screen also really elevates the function of the DAC and bumps the visual appeal from a solid combo in the $1000 range to something really special.
For its most basic use, ADI-2 provides you with a volume knob, a bass knob and a treble knob to adjust your sound. Honestly, for some users, just that simple functionality already gives you more flexibility than your average DAC, but it goes much deeper than that. While there is a lot of power, it’s not easy to figure it all out, so you’re going to need to crack open the manual to really get the most out of ADI-2.
To configure the device, you first select which of the four menus you want to view from next to the volume knob: VOL, I/O, EQ, or SETUP. From there you use a combination of the three knobs – which each also have a button function – to navigate various menus to adjust your settings. This is somewhat of a double-edged sword for the ADI-2. On a simpler DAC, adjusting the gain levels, switching you input or output, and other basic functions would be a breeze with this sort of setup. However, using it to, for example, manage multiple parametric EQ presets can be cumbersome. The screen does its best to indicate what each knob or button is doing in each case, and I was able to work with it quite well after a while, but there is a bit of a learning curve to unlocking the full power of the ADI-2.
Once you get a handle on the interface, you have a large number of options available from the basics of gain modes and L/R balance, to more complicated items like Crossfeed, DAC filters and EQ configuration. The EQ is really the star of the show here, giving you full control of the filter type, gain, Q, and frequency in a 5 band parametric EQ. For those of us who like a blend of the audio and visual, the screen provides a visualization of the frequencies being output, allowing you to see what frequencies are emphasized or cut.
The EQ settings are partially automatic. Without changing anything else, headphones, IEMs, and Line Out will have separate EQ settings. There are a total of 20 EQ presets available for each output. This means you can easily switch between EQ experiences tailored to your different headphones and IEMs, and then fine tune aspects of those with the bass and treble knobs. Basically, if you want a universal solution for tinkering with your sound, the RME ADI-2 DAC gives you a plethora of options.
As a pro audio DAC, ADI-2’s gives you a neutral delivery with a detailed, transparent sound. There’s a very strong separation between instruments, and it’s clearly tuned as an all-in-one unit for helping you peer deeply into the construction of a song and the evaluation of each aspect. What helps ADI-2 stand out as a pro audio DAC is that it never feels clinical as it’s doing this. It’s a tool more than it is a device designed for listening enjoyment, but there’s quite a bit of joy to be derived from listening to music with it.
Starting with no EQ, crossfeed, or other features that impact the sound, the bass is tight and linear. There’s strong subbass extension, and a general feeling of a clean accurate delivery. The mids are likewise full and well layered. There’s a good balance between instruments and natural timbre. The treble is clean and well extended, but does feel slightly smooth at times. It’s crisp with good definition, but lacks some degree of air and sparkle.
The stereo image is moderately wide and deep with a generally three dimensional feel. The overall feel of the soundstage is more “large hall” than “stadium” or “amphitheater.” The position feels precise and clear. While it’s certainly accurate, the presentation of the full stereo image is definitely one area of the sound that feels tuned more for ADI-2 DAC’s use as a tool for creating music.
As a first step to tinkering with the sound, the Bass and Treble knobs provide a simple, classic way to add a little bass, fill in some of the sparkle, or give your headphones that classic v-shaped sound. Even at maximum power, the adjustments largely feel natural and don’t impact the overall detailed sound of ADI-2. The crossfeed setting also works as you would expect, offering some blending of channels, a desirable feature for listening to many recordings with headphones.
If you want to get a little nuts, the parametric EQ gives you full control over the tuning. If you want brain shaking bass, you can dial it in. If you want treble so sharp it makes your ears bleed, you can dial that in as well. And therein lies the true power of the ADI-2: while at its heart it has a great reference tuning with a natural transparent sound, but it’s also a chameleon that can adapt to your tastes and your headphone collection.
In terms of power, ADI-2 DAC is moderately powered. It seems almost tailor-made for the Audeze LCD-X, but provides great performance – even exceeding expectations given the specs – with everything we sampled. There’s a high power mode that gives you a little extra oomph along with a dedicated IEM setting which gives you a low noise floor/low power output. As a side note, if you’re using a full size headphone with a 3.5mm termination, I would recommend using an adapter to use the 6.3mm output rather than the IEM dedicated 3.5mm.
The Bottom Line
RME ADI-2 DAC FS is the perfect example of how a pro audio product can have strong audiophile appeal. From the top notch build quality to the genuine reference quality sound, it’s a wonderful little DAC. Add in the full suite of features for tweaking your sound and tuning it to your headphones, for those of us who love trying to dial in that perfect sound (or just want some extra bass) ADI-2 DAC is in a class all by itself.