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.