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DACs item created by jacksonchansf, May 27, 2012
Pros - Clean design and price.
Cons - Volume Control - Pre-Amp, no headphone.
I have owned the product for almost one year.
I was building my first system for my home to power my custom speakers and headphones. I wanted to keep my system simple, a pre-amp/DAC and that was it.
The Emotiva met that criteria, it was a DAC and also a Pre-Amp. I listen to mostly FLAC and RedBook CD, so the two inputs would be my CD player (TEAC) and SqueezeBox Touch both via COAX.
The system is well appointed with inputs (AES XLR, 2 COAX, 2 OPTICAL, and 1 USB). It also has RCA and XLR outputs, which I have latter found they are not balanced outputs (or so I have read on the Emotiva Forms).
The first problem I notice was using the volume, which was digitally implemented. The sound was a little muddy when played at low volume and wouldn't play very low. The step between 0 and 1 was significant. I later found out there was a fix, which certainly fixed the step problem, but didn't fix the problem of the sound quality played at low volume.
After some rather lengthy and helpful threads on the Emotiva forums (which I highly suggest - as the users and staff are very helpful and friendly), the suggestion was to keep the volume at high levels (70 or above) and use something else as a pre-amp.
It is important to remember the XDA-1 was designed as a DAC first and as a Pre-Amp second. I was certainly in the minority of the people using this as a pre-amp. This did solve the problem, but I needed a Pre-amp. I elected to pick-up a magnetic passive pre-amp (Stereo Knight) and that solved the problem.
The DAC is a single Sigma-Delta AD1955, which is popular among some of the DAC makers. However, the XDA-1 is the only DAC that I have seen using this chip in a single configuration mode.
I could only compare the sound of the XDA-1 vs. both my TEAC (CD-P650) and the SqueezeBox Dac. It certainly had a wider and more full sound than the TEAC's Burr Brown 1791AD. It was also warmer and not as bright as the SqueezeBox (don't know what DAC it uses).
The unit is a quality build, as is all the Emotiva equipment.
The customer service is some of the best in the industry.
The price is also some of the lowest for what you get (free shipping).
If you don't need a Pre-Amp (or can live with the drop in sound quality as the volume is turned down) and want the Sigma-Delta AD1955 chip in single configuration, for the money this is a very good unit.
As I write this I hear that Emotiva just discontinued the unit and there is a rumor of a XDA-2 with a headphone amp as well. Emotiva has a strong cult following and I do own their amps. However, I am not sure if I will step up to the new XDA-2 after my experience with the implementation of the digital volume control. I am also interested to see what DAC they use and how it is implemented.
If you can find an XDA-1 in the secondary market for $100-$150 it is a great buy and will certainly give many DACs in the $200-$300 range a run for the money.