Hi what were the two DACs you were comparing?
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Have you tried running the RME directly to your amp yet? I recently set mine up direct and I’m not sure I’ll throw my preamp back in the chain except when I want to listen to vinyl. I haven’t put my preamp back in since going direct as I was to get more used to the difference in sound but from memory it’s significantly different and I am afraid maybe better. My ModWright LS 36.5 is a great preamp but the RME ADI 2fs is dead quiet, spooky soundstage with images floating far beyond the walls of my room. If you haven’t tried it yet I’d strongly suggest giving it a run. I’m going balance out to my amp and the cable I’m using cost more than the RME but I think that only shows how great this little DAC is.
Oh, I played around with all of that also.
Dac Direct (either) - Depending on the track it could be a toss-up vs the XP-12. On clean, smoother tracks I prefered DAC direct. On bad recordings (of which there are so many...) the XP12 I preferred, particularly at louder volumes.
However vs the XP22, I found that I liked the XP22 better 85% of the time. It was as clean of a background as the DAC direct, but took just enough of the rough edges off on the bad recordings that I preferred it there also.
For instance on Kind of Blue, where there is the well known distortion out of the right channel - it was all there in it’s glory (and annoying me) DAC direct. I prefered either pre-amp in this case. But the XP22 was better.
So DAC direct vs xp-12... recording and volume dependent.
Dac direct vs the XP22 - XP22 about 85% of the time was preferred.
Just my findings as I have pretty revealing speakers also.
The XP22 arrived a few days ago. I moved the XP12 aside and hooked up the 22.. After a day of warmup time, I put on some music for some background listening as I was busy in another room.
I could hear differences from the other room.. a few days later I sat down for critical listening. Some very nice differences, quieter background, more focused , an ease of presentation.. nothing forced. Everything sounds more “live”. Still breaking in, but the xp12 is boxed up ready to be returned. The 22 is more neutral sounding. The PS chassis stays cool to the touch.. and the audio chassis also runs cooler than the 12. I also thought the power umbilical cord was well designed and executed.