At first sight
Sounds great out of the box Converts PCM and DSD files up to 768kHz Incredibly customizable D/A conversion Attractive throwback design
Steep learning curve if you want to learn everything it can do
The RME ADI-2 DAC FS delivers beautifully detailed and natural sounding audio when converting a digital source to analogue.
Price at time of review
Today’s Best Prices: RME Audio RME ADI-2 DAC FS Desktop DAC and Headphone Amplifier
Adorama retail price $1299.00
RME Audio $1299.00
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RME Audio’s RME ADI-2 DAC FS is a desktop device with fantastic sound and an eye-catching throwback design that gives off an old-school electronics lab vibe. This DAC has A lot of capabilities and quite a steep learning curve if you want to explore all of its features. The good news is that anyone can treat it as a plug-and-play device and get their money’s worth with no upfront modifications available.
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The build quality of the RME ADI-2 DAC FS
The RME ADI-2 DAC FS measures 2 x 8.5 x 5.9 inches (HxWxD) and weighs just 2.2 pounds. It’s a substantial piece of property on a cramped desktop, but it’s a very small footprint if you decide to use it in a component sound system.
There are 1/4-inch and 3.5mm inputs, so you can use the unit with just about any headphone or in-ear monitor you want. The unit accepts input from coaxial S/PDIF, optical S/PDIF (ADAT compatible), and USB. In addition to the headphone connections, the DAC sends output via unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR connectors.
REM ADI-2 DAC FS features a customized version of the ESS ES9028Q2M digital-to-analog converter. That customization allows for some impressive specs, like noise levels of 123dBA, distortion below -120dB, or THD+N of -116dB. The IEM (in-ear monitor) output has a low noise level of -121dBu.
The unit also features RME’s custom SteadyClock FS, software designed to improve digital signal synchronization and reduce jitter. The external power supply resides in a brick that plugs into the unit.
The RME ADI-2 DAC FS comes with a thick manual that continues the throwback vibe with a spiral binding. There’s an infinity of tweaks you can make via the array of buttons and knobs on the front panel, with the results displayed on a high-resolution screen displaying its functions in fonts and a UX reminiscent of 20th century interfaces. century from below was the era of high-resolution video. The best part is that the display shows levels across 30 frequency bands during playback, offering a visual cue that harkens back to the days of graphic equalizers in home audio systems.
It’s not really a knock on the device, because the throwback oscilloscope workbench vibe is part of its appeal. If you want to get the most out of this DAC and explore all of its capabilities, you’ll need to settle down and RTFM to unlock the device’s full potential. That said, the market for a $1,300 DAC is likely to be populated by audio enthusiasts looking for more than just a plug-and-play experience.
If you’re a Windows user, you should be able to download and install RME’s DigiCheck software to inspect and evaluate your audio streams. There is a Mac OS version available for download on the website, but it doesn’t work with the Ventura OS and/or M1 chip, so I wasn’t able to include it in my testing.
An excellent feature is a Loudness function which also resembles the Loudness button on vintage receivers. Turn on Loudness and the ADI-2 kicks in the bass and treble, so you get a better listening experience at low volumes. The setting brings back detail that tends to disappear at low volume. If you’re not entirely satisfied with the default version of Loudness, RME will let you customize the setting after delving into the manual.
The remote has large, well-spaced buttons. Everything is labeled, and while it might not be elegant or minimalistic, it’s incredibly easy to use.
REM AD-2 DAC FS listening test
I rated the REM ADI-2 DAC FS with a Focal sky blue closed headset, the Audeze MM-500 open cap and the Sennheiser IE900 in-ear monitors. The DAC showed the strengths of all three headphones, but the Sennheiser IEMs particularly shined with the ADI-2.
The RME ADI-2 DAC FS performed great across the board, particularly excelling at playing acoustic instruments in genres such as classical, jazz and rock. A highlight was a 24-bit/192kHz Qobuz stream of REM’s “Nightswimming”, from the band’s 1992 album Automatic for the people. The track is mostly just vocals by Michael Stipe, backed by Mike Mills on piano, but there’s an exciting string arrangement by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. The entire track peaks with an oboe joining the mix near the end of the song.
In this track, each instrument sounds natural and there is considerable space in the mix when played through the ADI-2. This stream is better than the CD and vinyl versions and illustrates the case for Hi-Res Audio as well as any recording I know of.
The ADI-2 can also handle the low end of tracks like Drake’s “Privileged Rappers” and 21 Savage’s 2022 album His loss. The bone-shaking bass sounds intentionally designed to distort when played on low-end speakers, but this DAC manages to deliver the desired experience without cracking at the bottom end.
I also tested the RME ADI-2 DAC FS with a component system including a NAD C545BEE CD player, NAD S100 stereo preamplifier and NAD 2400 Monitor Series amplifier, and vintage B&W P5 floorstanding speakers.
I first heard an early CD pressing of Boston’s self-titled debut album on the NAD C545BEE CD player built in Burr-Brown 14-bit DACs. I like the sound of this unit so much that I taught myself how to replace the laser when it died a few months ago.
I connected the CD player to the RME ADI-2 DAC FS with an S/PDIF coaxial cable and the ADI-1 to my NAD S100 with RCA cables. The results blew me away. I chose this Boston album because of the prominence of acoustic guitars in the mix of a rock album, and the reproduction of those guitars is breathtaking, with far more detail than I would have expected from late 80’s CD mastering.
The decay of Brad Delp’s lead vocal effects and Tom Scholz’s elaborate electric guitars is also consistently impressive. This is an album that can appear as an undifferentiated wall of sound when broadcast via FM radio compression, and I can hear individual guitar parts when Scholz’s stack doesn’t line up perfectly. The whole experience is making me reconsider my attachment to the NAD CD player. Perhaps it’s time for an upgrade, or at least an investment in an external DAC.
Basic opinion of the REM ADI-2 DAC FS
The REM ADI-2 DAC FS sounds great out of the box, so there’s no need to stress how complex the controls for the unit can be. If, over time, you develop an interest in tweaking the sound and playing with parametric EQ settings, the well-written, comprehensive manual can help you as you seek to expand your sonic interests.
It’s also versatile. While I used it primarily as a desktop DAC and headphone amp, it offered a great upgrade when I bypassed the DAC in my NAD CD player. When the ADI-2 DAC is connected to a good pair of active speakers, the combination can make for an excellent listening setup for digital music. The REM ADI-2 DAC FS offers amazing sound for the price and many features that are not otherwise available in this price range. If you aren’t intimidated by its capabilities, this is a DAC that works great out of the box but gives the user room to grow as they learn more about the intricacies of high-end audio.
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