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Digital-to-Analog converters (and their Analog-to-Digital counterparts) play a vital role in the modern studio. In particular, two-channel DACs allow us to properly monitor our audio output by converting a digital signal to an analog one. The signal remains pristine, and we hear our projects as intended on our monitors.
There is no shortage of high-quality two-channel DACs for your studio. In fact, both RME and Weiss recently released new models. This got us thinking... What are some of the best two-channel DACs out there? Let's break down some of our favorites.
RME's ADI-2 Series has been showered with awards, and for the brand's latest release, they are building on the platform with the ADI-2 / 4 Pro SE. This half-rack enclosure actually has several different uses, as it features two analog inputs to digital outputs and four digital inputs to analog outputs.
The ADI-2 / 4 Pro SE is a multi-format unit (AES, SPDIF, ADAT) that features 32-bit / 768 kHz converters with a new circuit board and faster DSP. There are two headphone inputs on the front of the converter system and independent balanced outputs for Line and Headphones. In the past, plugging in headphones would mute the line out, but that's not the case anymore.
As previously mentioned, Weiss has announced they will add a few new two-channel DACs to their lineup. The DAC204 and DAC205 were designed to bring the high-quality conversion of the DAC501 down to a more accessible price.
Both of these new products from Weiss feature stereo 24-bit/192 kHz D/A converters, but there are some subtle differences between the two. The DAC204 incorporates USB, AES, DSD, and SPDIF conversion while the DAC 205 drops the connectivity for USB and DSD. No matter what you need, Weiss has you covered.
Dangerous Music is no stranger to creating highly competent converters. They've been doing it since 2002! Designer Chris Muth's CONVERT series has been a long-time favorite at Vintage King, and with the release of the CONVERT-2 in 2016, he brought elite-class conversion to the standalone DAC realm.
The CONVERT-2 features six sample rates (44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz), which you can cycle through or opt to use the handy Auto Mode to select the correct rate for your source. There are five selectable input sources (USB, AES/SPDIF-1, AES/SPDIF-2, ADAT, AND OPTICAL SPDIF) with front-panel buttons for switching on the fly. Another handy tool is the bypassable volume control on the front of the CONVERT-2. We're truly just scratching the surface with this beauty.
When you think about BURL Audio, you may think about how much bigger and bolder your projects will sound when you run the audio through a B80 or B16 Mothership. The B2 Bomber DAC is the rare exception for BURL, as this tool will allow you to assess your sound honestly without loads of colorization.
BURL has outfitted the two-channel DAC with BOPA8 discrete op-amps, passive filters, and an all-Class-A signal path. This signal chain combo paired with state-of-the-art converters offering sample rates up to 192 kHz will deliver much more pristine audio than its ADC B2 brethren. There are no transformers in the makeup of the B2 DAC.
The front panel of the B2 Bomber features all of the controls you'll need to get to work. Easily switch Sample Rate, Input Source (Dante, AES, SPDIF, and TOSLINK), Output Level and Clock Source via dedicated knobs.
Lavry is certainly another legend in the converter game, and the Quintessence delivers absolute accuracy and transparency with ease. The 19" rackmount two-channel DAC employs a simple push-button system and rotary knob to make things as simple as possible. Want the music louder? Turn the knob! Want a different input? Just hit the button.
Ease of use isn't all the Lavry Quintessence has going for it. There are the converters themselves. Dan Lavry's designs are top-of-the-line and can be used with three inputs (two AES and one SPDIF) and 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz sources.
When creating the Avocet IIA monitor controller, Crane Song upped its DA conversion game with the fifth generation of the brand's Quantum technology. In addition to outfitting the Avocet IIA with these new converters, the brand also made a standalone two-channel DAC called the Solaris Quantum.
The Solaris Quantum is a tidy 19" rackmount option that features AES, SPDIF, Optical, and USB inputs for sample rates up to 192 kHz. One of the key features of the unit is its stunning internal clock. Crane Song states clock's jitter measured from 10Hz to 20 kHz is typically 0.045pS.
Apogee's Symphony I/O MK II offers a unique modular approach to your studio's converter system. Utilizing the same basic chassis (there are Thunderbolt, HD, SoundGrid, and Dante + HD variants), you can outfit your rig with your choice of two converter cards for a completely customizable experience.
For the purposes of this blog, we'll talk a bit about the 2x6 SE. This a special edition card specifically designed for mastering engineers but will be a perfect solution for anyone looking for a two-channel DAC. The 2x6 SE offers the highest quality conversion in the Symphony series, as it features inputs with 124 dB (A) of dynamic range, THD+N of -116 dB and outputs with 131 dB (A) dynamic range and THD+N of -118 dB.
The Amari is another fantastic example of a reference-grade tool that offers both DA and AD converters. Antelope Audio has gone the extra mile with its 8 x DAC architecture, as each channel features four CS43198 chips. What does that mean for you and your monitoring experience? You can expect an enhanced stereo image and loads of detail.
Antelope Audio has also paid special attention to listeners utilizing headphones with the Amari. There are two balanced XLR inputs on the unit's front panel, each with a dedicated volume control and adjustable output impedance. Finding the right impedance for your studio headphones and getting the best sound possible is super easy.
We've got another all-in-one banger here, as the Lynx Hilo delivers class-leading AD/DA conversion, perfect for mixing with multiple speakers, mastering and recording on location. In terms of I/O, the Hilo has a basic two-In/six-Out design, but this can be expanded digitally for up to 32x32.
One of the most notable things about the Hilo's design is its gigantic 480 x 272 LCD touchscreen. It literally takes up nearly the whole front of the converter system. Utilizing Hilo's intuitive menu, it's extremely simple to get things up and running, whether it be controlling parameters or routing your signal.
For its two-channel DAC dubbed the Callia, Prism Sound presents a highly refined product that guarantees a premium listening experience. There aren't too many frills with the Callia, but that's completely fine when you're kicking out impressive audio with ample sample rate options and loads of connectivity options.
With a name like "Director," it's easy to understand how SPL intended for this DAC to be used in the studio. The Director will give you total control of your monitoring with inputs for 10 stereo sources, all of which can be controlled via a knob on the front of the unit. You can also take remote control of these sources and your overall volume by using any compatible infrared remote controller.
But what about the converters, Vintage King? SPL is utilizing its AKM AK4490 Velvet Sound DAC chip with the Director, which converts PCM audio with a resolution of 32 bits and a sampling rate of up to 768 kHz. The analog output of the DAC passes through not one, but two low-pass filters, including one for PCM audio and one for DSD audio.
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