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Emotiva XDA-1 vs. Matrix Mini-i

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

XDA-1 review

My review will primarily contain information on how the XDA-1 sounds in comparison to the Matrix Mini-I that I’ve owned over the past year or so.

For those of you that love to read about DAC’s – here is a review of the Matrix Mini-I http://www.headphonista.com/matrix-mini-i/ in comparison to the Dac Magic and a few others.

Obviously all of my thoughts and impressions are purely subjective as I don’t have any way to measure objectively these 2 dacs.

 

My system

 

PC > M2Tech Hiface BNC > BNC - Coax adapter (NO cable) > DAC > Monoprice XLR > Emotiva XPA-1 > Canare 4S11 > Wharfedale OpusII-3

Installation

Installing was a synch – simply plugged in my balanced cables and 1 coaxial / 1 optical.  The coaxial is coming from my M2Tech Hiface USB > S/PDIF adapter with low jitter clocks.  As I prefer this over USB out from my music server for reasons I won’t get into for this review.  I do NOT use any Coax Cable at all, but a small 6” extension for USB and then a male to male adapter to go into the DAC, I’ve found that no cable improves resolution (no reflections etc)

Initial Impressions (non SQ related)

There are a few things outside of SQ I want to just praise about the XDA-1 in comparison to the matrix mini-i.  First and foremost – the main reason why I decided to purchase the XDA-1 – the remote control!  I don’t use a preamp so having a direct plug into the power amplifier requires any DAC I decide to purchase to have a built in preamp.  So the matrix was great, what wasn’t so great was the need to have to get up from my listening chair any time I wanted to adjust volume.  I know it’s so simple, but this small gesture really pushed me to get the XDA-1.

A few other small things worth noting is the XDA-1 will auto mute non PCM signals, unlike the matrix that would send a nice dolby sound of BRRRR into my speakers when my TV Set top box first powered on.  This caused me to always turn off the amps then turn on the STB then turn the amps back on – annoying!  So kudos to emotiva for some smart circuitry.  The other thing was it mutes when changing inputs, another thing the matrix failed to do – so I would get a nice pop sound, once again, I had to place amps in standby change inputs then repower on amps.  So clearly the XDA-1 wins in this regards.

 

Due to the power gain of the XPA-1 amplifiers the volume gain on the XDA-1 is horrendous.  At the lowest setting of .5 it’s loud enough to enjoy as decent background music and still have a conversation, but by my standards, I’d like the option of going slightly lower in volume without it muting completely.

 
However, I’m sure this is an issue that emotiva will be hearing about in just about every XDA-1 review.  If they ever decide to make an XDA-2, I would hope this issue would be resolved.  I’d also like to suggest going with a passive output stage, something similar to the Neko Dac – I think the high gain of the amps would go great with a non active output stage, but that’s just my opinion.

Initial Impressions (SQ)

Now for the fun part of the review, sound quality impressions.  To be completely frank, when I first started playing music out of the XDA-1, I was completely and utterly underwhelmed.  It really seemed like a down grade in SQ.  Bloated lows, smudged mid range, cold and muffled sounding.  It really just sucked to be completely honest (IMO).   However, being experienced with DACS I knew enough to know that every DAC I’ve ever had just needs time to go through a few power cycles and get some hours on them to settle down.  

So, I decided to just turn the amps off and left the PC / TV on for a few days and let the XDA-1 just do it’s thing.  I’m now at about 200 hours of burn-in and I decide to give it another go, mostly everything changed – for the better.

So I turn it up and play some favorite tracks I know inside and out.
The bass settled down a little but it was still much more prominent than the matrix.  I would say this is the most noticeable difference between the two.  If you like bass a lot, then this DAC is for you.  I think headphone users will benefit from a DAC like this to get that extra punch that may be missing in some open headphones.
 
The strength of the matrix mini-I really lies in it’s musicality and warmth.  It’s weakness is in the details, and the XDA-1 made that very clear.  The details presented out of the XDA-1 were clearly more resolute and made it easier to hear those subtle nuances.  The added resolution helped vocals to sound more life like and real – which is always a plus.

I would still say that the mid-range is slightly (and I mean slightly) congested compared to the matrix – but the extra burn-in time really cleared it up, so I am hoping another couple hundred hours will help.  Usually about 500 hours is when DAC’s will take their final SQ.

Another area where I wasn’t expecting the XDA-1 to excel at was soundstage.  But man did it deliver.  It simply crushed the matrix in soundstage.  Picking out locations of instruments on tracks that had the information was simply easier.  The imaging was also better on the XDA-1 in width.  I was very impressed with this area of the XDA-1.

In comparison to the matrix the XDA-1 is much more ‘cold’, however I really can’t say if it’s perfectly NEUTRAL either, but it’s def. not warm.  The XDA-1 is more on the analytical side of the spectrum, but not overly so, like my old EMU0404 was.  

The XDA-1 had so much more bass than the matrix, that I had to pull my speakers further away from the wall because it simply was too boomy.  Doing this did help to take down the boom.  I do suspect that my 10” woofer  and XPA-1’s didn’t help.  This made me wonder why they would match a DAC that’s this bass heavy with an amp that’s already considered to be a strong performer in the bass department.  

The musicality of the matrix mini-I was its strong suite and the XDA-1 in comparison holds its own and is still plenty musical for me.  It still involves a level of the emotion and makes it enjoyable to listen to over an extended period of time.   Plus the added fun of hearing more details while retaining a good measure of the musicality makes this DAC a keeper for me.

So – good job emotiva, overall it’s a great value.  There are some areas that need better attention to detail, such as the volume attenuation and maybe take the bass down a notch or two or three  :) However, the areas that the XDA-1 excelled in they really knocked it out of the park.  The soundstage / imaging / details, not to mention the non SQ related issues that plagued the matrix (Muting issues or lack therof) – it’s really a great balanced DAC overall.

Looking forward to the $500 XDA-2 :P  (yes please bring it)

I will add more impressions, especially regarding the midrange (since I have 75mm mid range domes – it’s quite easy to detect) over time.
 


Edited by soulrider4ever - 12/16/10 at 8:07am
post #2 of 21
Thread Starter 

UPDATE - I decided to use the foobar DSP equalizer to tune the bass down a few notches so I could actually hear the midrange.

 

My suspicions were confirmed - the added bass made all of the midrange sound smeared and veiled, this was especially prominent with piano notes. 

 

Once I turned the bass down - I could hear a much clearer presentation of the midrange.  It indeed wasn't smeared at all, it was simply the lower frequencies drowning out the midrange.

 

I can now hear the detail and liquidity of the midrange, it sounds so much better to my ears. 

 

Pros

Sound Stage

Imaging

Clarity

Details

BASS

Rock & Roll music lovers will love this DAC

 

 

Cons

BASS - I know it's in both, this will really be system dependent as to whether or not it's a pro or a con.

Not as musical / easy on the ears (in comparison to the matrix)

Jazz lovers may need to use EQ

 

In summary, in terms of pure SQ - I honestly prefer the Matrix Mini-i, however the features of the XDA-1 are what caused me to sell the Matrix for the XDA-1.

 

Is this DAC worth $300 - Absolutely.  Does it wreak havoc on price to performance ratio?  I would say No - it's priced accordingly.  It's a nice upgrade from lesser components, but it's not the best you can do with your money in terms of sound quality.  At least in my opinion.  What you gain is the 5 year warranty and awesome customer service with a feature packed DAC.


Edited by soulrider4ever - 12/24/10 at 4:34am
post #3 of 21

Great comparison, soulrider4ever I really appreciated it. As a happy Mini-i user (with a Firestone Bravo), it really helps. I am considering one of these for a stand-alone balanced rig but the attenuation/gain issues are turning me off; a passive output stage would be great. Do you know if they might make some adjustments in that regard to the production model?

 

And where did you get your XDA-1, are they available now?

 

I haven't heard a peep from Emotiva, I "registered my interest" on their website about a month ago.


Edited by grokit - 12/24/10 at 4:29pm
post #4 of 21

Thanks for the comparo soulriderforever. I'm still in the Matrix camp as some mods may address its weaknesses. Although that remote and multiple inputs is very sexy on that XDA-1, the better SQ of the Matrix and its technical superiority (2 AD1955s instead of one, distortion specs an order of magnitude lower than the XDA-1)  keeps me firmly  in the matrix fold.

 

PA

post #5 of 21

I already have a Mini-i that I am running with a Firestone Bravo/Supplier, but I am really looking forward to this with a different balanced rig that I am building for my HE-6. I noticed that the price has been raised to $349, hopefully this increase in price and the delay in shipping out new units means they are addressing the excess volume gain on the XDA-1's output stage, that is my only concern regarding the XDA-1.


Edited by grokit - 1/5/11 at 9:57am
post #6 of 21
Quote:

Originally Posted by soulrider4ever View Post

...

The other thing was it mutes when changing inputs, another thing the matrix failed to do – so I would get a nice pop sound, once again, I had to place amps in standby change inputs then repower on amps.  So clearly the XDA-1 wins in this regards.

...

 

According to the Matrix-Mini's manual: "On switching the channel, the volume will increase gradually until it reaches the pre-set value within about 1.5 seconds to prevent you from hearing damage". So this feature still does not mitigate the "pop sound" on channel switching?
 

post #7 of 21

My Mini-i doesn't pop when I switch with it, I wonder what the deal is. On another note, I should have the XDA-1 for comparison in a couple of weeks.

post #8 of 21

looking forward to it. definitely a bit bummed about the XDA-1's price increase

post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 

I'm thinking that feature maybe something that was added after my mini-i.  The mini-i was a great DAC for the money, the XDA-1 should be getting itself fixed soon with all of those volume issues.  I would highly recommend some kind of jitter reducing for PC playback (m2tech, halide bridge, etc.) - I think the XDA-1 would benefit a lot from any of those.

 

I purchased the Anedio D1 DAC and that just blew away both of them, but for $1270 what would you expect? :p

post #10 of 21

I got in under the increase thank goodness. And I agree about the Bridge/Hiface/Bravo being a good possible upgrade for the XDA-1, but I am also curious about how good its "high jitter immunity" might be on its own. It sounds better than "high jitter reduction" at least.

post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by soulrider4ever View Post

XDA-1 review
 

...

 

Due to the power gain of the XPA-1 amplifiers the volume gain on the XDA-1 is horrendous.  At the lowest setting of .5 it’s loud enough to enjoy as decent background music and still have a conversation, but by my standards, I’d like the option of going slightly lower in volume without it muting completely.

 
However, I’m sure this is an issue that emotiva will be hearing about in just about every XDA-1 review.  If they ever decide to make an XDA-2, I would hope this issue would be resolved.  I’d also like to suggest going with a passive output stage, something similar to the Neko Dac – I think the high gain of the amps would go great with a non active output stage, but that’s just my opinion.

...
 


Is this "volume gain" an issue when used with XPA-1, or a general issue to be expected with any amp?

post #12 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by soulrider4ever View Post

... the XDA-1 should be getting itself fixed soon with all of those volume issues.

 

 

Is the volume fix you're thinking of the one discussed in this thread: http://emotivalounge.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=gotopost&board=preampdac&thread=16163&post=252147 at Emotiva Lounge?
 

post #13 of 21

I'm really hoping mine will be here by the end of this upcoming week!

post #14 of 21

Sounds like the XDA-1's volume issue is fixed:

 

http://emotivalounge.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=preampdac&action=display&thread=16587

 

I am interested in seeing more reviews and comparison of its SQ against that of other competing Wolfson- or Sabre-based DACs.

post #15 of 21

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by lyramax View Post

Sounds like the XDA-1's volume issue is fixed:

 

http://emotivalounge.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=preampdac&action=display&thread=16587

 

I am interested in seeing more reviews and comparison of its SQ against that of other competing Wolfson- or Sabre-based DACs.


That's good news about the logarithmic volume update, as I just got my shipping notice and that was my only concern.

beerchug.gif

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