DAC or Audio Interface for my setup?

I currently run a powered condenser mic XLR to my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 that goes USB to my PC, with 1/4" line outs in the back that I convert to RCA for my speakers. Right now I use bluetooth headphones, but am upgrading to the Sennheiser HD 660s and would like to find a DAC to support both them, and my mic input for maximum voice quality and headphone quality. I have watched some of the DAC reviews but nothing that has XLR inputs for a mic. Am I more looking for separate devices here, or something like a Mackie?

You would most likely want a separate dac/amp setup for your headphones in your case. If you need an adc for a mic, your best bet is to keep the Scarlett and buy a separate dac and amp or a dac/amp combo. This may be less convenient since you can’t easily monitor, but there really isn’t a solid solution for both a quality headphone amp with a built in high quality mic preamp and adc.

You could just buy a separate headphone amp with rca in and out (either passthrough or variable volume) and connect it to the speaker out of the Scarlett (so you use the dac of the Scarlett), and then connect the speakers to the passthrough of the headphone amp.

Something like the JDS Atom or Aune X7s would be a good headphone amp with a volume controlled rca out

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Turns out that’s exactly the suggestion of the man himself:

I guess I don’t necessarily need an all-in-one device; it would just be a nice and elegant solution if it existed.

If you wanted an all-in-one, then a Mackie Big Knob (powered) is a good choice, but if you say ‘get the most out of HD 660 S’, then we will need a budget to work within to best help you as things can get complicated and expensive.

The 2i2 can be used as a stand-alone XLR-to-USB microphone interface. An additional DAC can be used to feed signal to a headphone amplifier (Schiit stack, SMSL stack, or JDS Labs El stack) or you can get a DAC/Amp combination such as a Monolith THX AAA 788 Desktop.

If you needed to use the 2i2 output for low latency monitoring, then using the 1/4 output to RCA to a SMSL SH-8 could be a solution for a headphone only setup. If you need speakers to remain functional, then one of the fore mentioned stacks may be more of what you are needing.

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It does exist, but only in massive (in size and expense) mixing consoles lol

The big knob is a great piece, but since he already has a competent interface, it really wouldn’t be worthwhile, since the big knob’s headphone output is only slightly better then the one on the Scarlett. The mic preamp and adc quality is about the same imo. To get better mic preamps and an adc you might want to get an audient interface

To get better mic preamps and an adc you might want to get an audient interface

Sweet I’ll take a look. The Scarlett has done well, but it’s a 1st gen and has some quirky personality with some PCs. I’ve never looked at too many other interfaces like audient, so I’ll take a look.

It has about a similar headphone out though, so you might still need a headphone amp, but I think for mic quality it’s a step up from the Scarlett. It’s probably the point of diminishing returns for an interface, because to get better adc quality then that, you might need to step up to some universal audio, apogee, or RME stuff. You could also improve the mic quality by getting a separate mic preamp. You could get something like a dbx 286s and plug it into your existing Scarlett if it still works fine. This will give you a bump in quality and extra features for the mic as well

At that point we are going ASMR levels of quality I feel like!

Sorry about that, I really enjoy stuff like this as well lol

When we are talking about UA and RME equipment, we are talking about a substantial bump in price.

Just want to put that out there since I am not sure if there is a budget.

No I definitely appreciate it! You’ve got me diving into small preamps and new mics and all the fun stuff. I do a small amount of musical recording, so my 2 channel audio interface is nice for that. Slapping a small preamp for my mic and a separate DAC for my headphones would be such a nice combo.

Oh for sure, it’s completely unnecessary

I would say that getting a separate channel strip to connect to your current interface instead of a new interface (if yours still works fine) would yield better mic quality then getting a new interface

Edit: also what mic are you using?

I’m actually using an AKG C7

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Nice! I like akg mics, currently I’m using a C414 EB. Something like that dbx channel strip would be helpful then, because alongside the better preamp, it has a compressor, de-esser, gate/expander, and sort of an eq function that allows you to increase/decrease highs and lows. This can help you correct some issues with room noise, vocal clarity, and reduce harsh vocals without using plugins in a daw

Edit: you would connect it to the Scarlett using line mode to bypass the preamps of the interface


dbx 286s Microphone Preamp & Channel Strip Processor https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004LWH79A/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_fCjsDbRRYEG3P

As per M0N’s recommendation. Would be a solid upgrade to the signal chain with some tinkering.

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It’s both a blessing and a curse to have control like this. You find a great setting and then have the urge to improve it more and end up messing with the settings for hours. I have an Avalon vt-737sp channel strip and must have spent days dialing it in to get it perfect to my voice.

Hey got a question for you. I’m looking at the following setup:

  • Mic: AKG C4
  • Preamp: Not sure
  • Compressor: DBX 266xs
  • Interface: Scarlett 2i2

Do you have any preamp recommendations for a preamp? It would be cool if it was under $250 and fit on a rack. I was looking at a PreSonus TubePre V2 but I’m still reading reviews and whatnot. Plus everything else in my chain would have 2 channels and the PreSonus only has 1.

I really like the sound of art pre’s in the lower end. Perhaps look at the ART TPS II (2 channel), I know someone who has one and he likes it alot. If you wanted to push your budget a little more, the ART Pro MPA-II is an excellent 2 channel tube pre, that can be tube rolled and sounds excellent. TBH I really am not a fan of the presonus gear, just don’t like the way it sounds

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