Dac+Amp+Mic All-In-One Unicorn?

Hey all! I’m building a new bedroom studio space (for video editing) and I’ve got all the components except one. Computer is a Mac Pro trash can. Speakers are Adam T7V’s. Mic is Shure SM7B. Headphones are HiFiMan Sundara’s. Now I just need the heart of the operation — a single all-in-one, plug n play audio interface that can power my cans, blast my speakers (balanced is preferred) and record my mic. Budget is under $1k. Any suggestions??

That is the easiest to satisfy. Preamped balance out is present on most interfaces.

That in particular benefits from a good mic-preamp.

How power hungry are those?

Steinberg UR-RT2 has 100mW per channel into 40 Ohm on the headphone out. To my knowledge, that makes it one of the more powerful headphone sections in audio interfaces.
Pray the preamps on the mic-in are clean enough for the SM7B, they have the required gain on paper.

Maybe, very maybe, the RME Fireface UC could work for you.

Out of budget, but the RME AVB Tool would be your unicorn.

You would normaly break this out into seperate devices:

Setup would be:
Mic is handled by the channel strip. That then forwards its line-level to the Audio-Interface.
The Interface outputs line-level to the headphone amp and pre-amp to the monitors.

@mazeframe outlines everything perfectly there! There are a ton of options.

I think in terms of an all-in-one the Motu M2 is actually pretty hard to beat. Specs & in-use it beats almost everything on the market sub $1000 for something like this, even the RME Fireface UC, and i think the FFUC is probably overkill. Balanced outs are TRS 1/4" just fyi.

Preamp wise depending on what you get if you needed extra gain an in-line gain would do the trick like the Cloud Microphones CL-1 would work perfectly, it’s paired with the SM-7B in alot of studios. There are cheaper alternatives out there aswell.

I’d be asking the same as Mazeframe did about Sundara’s, how hungry are they. Generally planars (Sundara’s) need quite a bit of power to get the most out of them or even.
Usually interface headphone outs are ok and useable but can be alot better.

Not so sure about that. There are some pretty good interfaces in the 450 to 600€ range.

Even though the M2 is newer than tthe Fireface UC, the UC comes with a lot more studio focused features (like ADAT I/O and World Clock).

Thanks @MazeFrame and @darylc - to answer your question regarding the Sundara’s - this is from Head-Fi “an impedance of 37Ω with 94dB sensitivity making them surprisingly easy to drive using medium/portable output devices.”

I think the RME’s look a bit too advanced for me - as I’m really just want a simple (but great sounding) plug n play option and have little-to-no interest in customizing EQs etc.

So I think I’ve narrowed it down to the Motu M2 and the Monoprice Monolith THX AAA balanced desktop Dac/amp combo.

The Motu M2 has everything I’m asking for and it looks simple (plus it has balanced outputs for monitors) and the THX has…well…THX! This review really swayed me…but it only has unbalanced RCA pre-amp outputs.

I’m new to the world of balanced and unbalanced - but I’ve surmised it doesn’t increase sound quality at all - it just ensures you don’t get electrical interference / ground loop / humming from your equipment for long cable runs. Do I have this right?

So Motu M2 or THX AAA?

That is fair in a way. Then again, their studio/pro gear is just as simple as most other pieces.

Vastly different products.

Motu M2 might struggle with the SM7B.

The Monolith DAC/Amp won’t even accept a mic-in.

I was confused about this too because I couldn’t find a single thing online about plugging in an XLR mic, so I reached out to Monoprice and got this response today “ Yes, an XLR Microphone can be plugged into the rear of the unit via the balanced XLR inputs (either right or left channel).”

So it should work right?

I call bullshit.
Those are XLR-inputs, yes. Nowhere in the manual or product page does it mention anything ADC related.

Y’know what? The more I’ve dug into all this - the more I’ve realized how little I know about all this stuff! So let me take a HUGE step back and try to get educated: What is the difference between a DAC, an AMP and an Audio Interface (with mic capabilities)?

And armed with that info, I’ll go back and look at your previous recommendations more closely (RME etc). Some other options that were suggested to me today was “Mackie’s Big Knob” and Audient’s iD14.

  • DAC - abbreviation of “Digital (to) Analog Converter” turns digital signals into analog ones. In the context of hifi, a DAC is usually a box with some inputs like USB, SPDIF, TOSLINK, AES, etc. and outputs in the shape of RCA, TS/TRS or XLR.

  • Amp - Amplifier. Turns “line level” analog signal into “speaker level” signal. There are various Amplifier Classes.

  • Audio Interface - Combines a DAC and an ADC (= Analog (to) Digital Converter) into one unit. This way you can record sound to the digital domain and turn digital signals into analog ones.
    A lot of Audio Interfaces include pre-amps and phantom-power options.

I could see that, yes. The Big-Knob series is really meant for this “on desk, direct control”-use case you have.

Same target use as the BigKnob, just less functions to keep the user interface simple.
Main concern over the BigKnob would be accidentally switching on Phantom Power.

Between the two, I would take the BigKnob Studio because it gives you the dials to set up headphone and monitor levels independantly (I think, would have to check the manual).
The Audient iD22 “fixes” that shortcomming, at a price.

Edit: Just to note this again. The Shure SM7B needs a good pre-amp.

Other options on that route would be the Yamaha AG-03, Solid Stage Logic SSL2+ or Fluid SRI-2, not sure how well they would do driving your headphones.