I’ve been forcing myself to pretend there isn’t an amp sitting next to my ADI-2 DAC and I’ve been using only the RME’s headphone out for a few days now.
I gotta say, it’s better than I ever gave it credit for.
HD650, Hi-Power mode, Slow filter with EQ compensation to recover the high end frequency drop (Slow B5 G +4.0 F 16.5k Q 2.1 Shelf), plus a generous bass boost (I’m a basshead).
As long as I don’t crank the volume up high enough for critical listening, there’s little lost in there. I tend to listen quieter than most audiophiles do (70-75 dB). A lot of the micro stuff disappears on even the best amps at my normal volume.
Does that stop me from “needing” a better amp to pair the DAC portion with? No, not really. Sometimes I actually enjoy increasing the volume a bit and being a nerdy critical listener.
Edit: Let myself use the Cavalli Liquid Platinum again. Okay, it’s noticeably better even at my listening volume, but the ADI-2 DAC is no slouch!