Emotiva Big Ego and Little Ego

Discussion in 'Dedicated Source Components' started by luckbad, Oct 3, 2015.
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  1. Luckbad
    [Basshead.Club Review: http://www.basshead.club/emotiva-big-ego-review/]
     
    I have a Big Ego on the way, so I thought I'd get a thread rolling. I needed a reasonably-priced DAC for work and this looks to be pretty solid from the specs. Sound? I'll find out soon.
     
    Big Ego: https://emotiva.com/products/dacs/dacs/big-ego
    Little Ego: https://emotiva.com/products/dacs/dacs/little-ego
     
    big_ego.png
     
    Overview
     
    The quality of modern digital audio files is really amazing – as long as you have the right equipment to play them through. Unfortunately, the hardware in most computers isn’t really optimized for audio playback, so it sets limits on your listening experience. Luckily, there’s an easy solution….

    The Emotiva Big Ego USB DAC can turn the mediocre audio coming from your computer into something that actually sounds great. From ordinary streaming videos and MP3 files to high resolution audio downloads; everything sounds better when you have a Big Ego. High resolution downloads sound truly awesome, CD quality files sound great, and even lossy streaming audio will sound better than you ever imagined possible.

    You know those hi-res digital downloads that everyone is talking about? You were probably thinking the hi-res digital audio snobs were full of it because you couldn’t tell a difference, even when you were using your fancy reference quality headphones. You asked yourself: “What do they have that I don’t? Magical Ears?” Turns out it was actually pretty simple. It was just a Big Ego. Literally.

    No offense to your computer, but with just a simple headphone amp and a low-cost DAC jammed into the case with a bunch of digital circuitry, audio was an afterthought. The Big Ego’s precision USB interface, low jitter clocks, audiophile grade DAC, and direct-coupled audio path, paired with our high performance headphone amplifier, will make your hi-res audio files sound their best.

    The Big Ego is so easy to use that you don’t need to be an audiophile know-it-all to set it up. Since your computer sees your Big Ego as a sound card, it can play anything you can play on your computer, from MP3 files and video sound tracks, up to the latest 32/384k hi-res music files. The Big Ego even offers three different selectable digital over-sampling filters, to fine tune the sound just the way you want it. There’s even a sophisticated headphone blend mode to make your headphones sound more like speakers in a normal room.

    Feel like using your Big Ego to play your computer audio over your existing home audio or hi-fi system? No problem. The Big Ego will convert your computer audio into high quality digital or analog audio streams that are compatible with virtually any sound system.

    With a Big Ego, you’re in Control.

    Features

    1. Awesome sound quality – The Big Ego’s cutting edge design and tight manufacturing tolerances ensure that it will make all of your digital audio content sound its absolute best.
    2. Makes anything your computer can play sound better – Since your computer thinks of the Big Ego as a sound card, any file or streaming audio that you can play on your computer will work just fine on it.
    3. Supports all current sample rates – The Big Ego supports all of the sample rates used by today’s modern digital PCM audio files – from 16/44k CD rips to cutting edge 32/384k super quality downloads.
    4. User selectable digital filters – The digital filters a DAC uses have a subtle effect on how it sounds. The Big Ego offers you a choice of three different filters, so you can choose the sonic signature that’s just right for you.
    5. Headphone blend mode – The Big Ego’s sophisticated headphone blend mode helps make your headphones sound less like headphones – and more like regular speakers.
    6. Excellent specifications – Specifications aren’t everything, especially when it comes to DACs, but the Big Ego has performance specs and sound quality that are both equal to or better than most desktop systems and outboard DACs, even those costing many times its price.
    7. Precision lossless volume control – Even at low listening levels the Big Ego’s digitally controlled analog volume control tracks precisely and doesn’t degrade your sound quality.
    8. Separate headphone, line level, and digital outputs – Separate headphone and line level analog outputs let you keep your Big Ego connected to your stereo and your headphones at the same time. You can use the Toslink digital output to connect the Big Ego to a digital input on your stereo or another DAC, and you can switch between the analog and digital outputs at the push of a button.
    9. Supports both USB Audio Class 1 and USB Audio Class 2 – The Big Ego supports sample rates up to 32/384k on Apple computers without installing any drivers. On Windows computers, you’ll have to install our free UAC2 drivers to play files up to 32/384k; however, if installing drivers is inconvenient, the Big Ego can play files up to 24/96k using our special UAC1 driverless mode.
    10. USB powered – The Big Ego runs on the power provided by your computer’s USB port, so there’s no need for external power supplies and power supply cables.
    11. Solid metal case – The Big Ego’s solid metal case keeps the delicate circuitry inside safe, and provides excellent shielding against electrical noise.
    12. Easy to read LED indicator lights – Bright, easy to read, LED indicators tell you the sample rate of the music Big Ego is currently playing, which UAC mode you’re using, and whether the digital or analog outputs are selected. When you press the button to select a digital filter, the sample rate indicator LEDs temporarily change function to show you which filter is currently selected.

    Specs

    1. USB Interface (input): Asynchronous, USB Audio Class 1 and 2
    2. Outputs: Headphone (analog; variable); Line (analog; fixed); Toslink (digital)
    3. Format: PCM digital audio
    4. Direct coupled audio path
    5. Audio File Formats Supported: Big Ego supports any file or stream format your computer can play
    6. Digital Filter Options: Symmetrical ; Asymmetrical Low; Asymmetrical High
    7. Headphone Blend Mode: Switchable
    8. Maximum Output Level: 1.8 VRMS (headphone); 2.1 VRMS (line)
    9. Sample Rates Supported:
      Apple computers: 44.1k, 48k, 88k, 96k, 176k, 192k, 352k, 384k (no drivers required)
      Windows computers: 44.1k, 48k, 88k, 96k, 176k, 192k, 352k, 384k (with free drivers)
      Windows computers: 44.1k, 48k, 88k, 96k (driverless)
    10. Bit Depths Supported: 16 bits, 24 bits, 32 bits
    11. Frequency Response:
      8 Hz to 20 kHz (+0 / -0.3 dB); 44.1k and 48k sample rates
      8 Hz to 40 kHz (+0 / -1.5 dB); 88.2k and 96k sample rates
      8 Hz to 60 kHz (+0 / -3 dB); 176k and 192k sample rates
    12. Signal to Noise Ratio:
      > 106 dB (A-weighted; headphone output)
      > 113 dB (A-weighted; line output)
    13. Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise:
      < 0.006% (headphone output)
      < 0.004% (line output)
    14. Dimensions: 5.32" x 2" x .625"
    15. Weight: 4.6oz

    Additional Information

    The Big Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5142 DAC chip
    The Little Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5141 DAC chip

    Headphone amp on both: PA6130A2 DirectPath Stereo Headphone Amplifier integrated circuit

    All of the audio op-amps are LME49860MA
     

    Emotiva Big Ego Review

    If I talk about a USA audio company that does great bang-for-the-buck products, are you thinking about Emotiva? You should be. Emotiva has long been well-regarded in the home theater scene, even producing speakers to a quality level that big wigs at the other USA-based audio company that makes great bang-for-the-buck products use them.

     
    With their exemplary Emotiva Stealth DC-1 garnering buckets of praise for its value as a balanced DAC, Emotiva has sojourned farther down the road of headphone audio and released a series of smaller offerings. Namely, the Emotiva Big Ego and Little Ego.
     
    Both offer 32-bit/384kHz digital-to-analogue conversion at excellent accuracy (within 0.3dB up to 20kHz). Both give you digital filter options to decide how you want the conversion to be done as well as crossfeed. Both can work as headphone amps in addition to dacs. What's the difference? Primarily, the Big Ego gives you Line Out and the Little Ego does not. That makes it the more versatile offering, as it can be used as the dac for a fancier amplifier.
     
    Let's get into some detail...
     
    The Big Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5142 DAC chip
    The Little Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5141 DAC chip

     
    The headphone amp on both is the TPA6130A2 DirectPath Stereo Headphone Amplifier integrated circuit, and all of the audio op-amps are LME49860MA.
     
    I'll talk about my favorite (and largely unique) thing about this dac: the digital filters. The Big Ego has three digital interpolation filters as well as a headphone blend filter (aka crossfeed). There is a Symmetrical filter (F1), which has equal amounts of pre-and-post-ringing (this is what the vast majority of dacs use). In addition to that, you can use an Asymmetrical Low Filter (F2) that has almost no pre-ringing, but has multiple cycles of post-ringing. Finally, you can also use an Asymmetrical High Filter that has very little pre-ringing or post-ringing (F3). I find F1 to be the most neutral, F2 be the most pleasant, and F3 to be slightly soft. As such, I use F2 pretty much all the time. More detail about the filters (and almost everything else discussed in the review) can be found in the Emotiva Big Ego Manual.
     
    The headphone blend mode (F4) basically passes each channel through a high-pass filter, and some delay, and then mixes it into the other channel. This is all handled by a DSP, and shouldn't introduce significant distortion on its own, but whenever you use filtering and delay it's always possible. The one drawback of the crossfeed implementation is that it adds a few of gain to make it sound just as loud as the other filter options, which can indeed introduce distortion unless you lower the volume of the source. I found that reducing source volume by 5-10dB avoids any chance for distortion if I want to use the headphone blend filter.
     
    How does it sound? Very good. The PCM5142 follow suit along with all the other Burr Brown chips I've heard and keeps things nice and smooth without much brightness. Nice punch and an overall sense of warmth. At the price, I've heard nothing this good, and I've heard quite a few comparable products from the likes of Meridian, CEntrance, Fiio and AudioQuest.
     
    Negatives? As mentioned, the crossfeed introduces some distortion if you don't lower your source volume a touch. The 3.5mm headphone out can also be finicky with 1/8" -> 1/4" adapters because there's a bevel on either side (2/4 of my adapters don't fit because they are too wide around the base). Finally, while volume control is analog controlled via digital (this is a very good thing), there are no volume buttons nor a knob on the Big Ego--you have to do it at the source. I'd like to see a volume control in v2.
     
    It can also be very slightly grainy on some recordings. I went about trying to solve the (admittedly minor) grain issue. Is the grain the fault of the dac? Could I fix it? Let's see...
     
    First, I bought a cheap internal PCIe USB card. The asynchronous USB implementation of the Big Ego is good, but it is powered by the USB bus and is beholden to the quality of the signal you pass into it. I use the Big Ego at work, and my USB there sucks (bad enough that I couldn't reliably use a Schiit Wyrd to clean up the signal because I'd get dropouts and distortion). Okay, the internal card certainly improved things. I still would get occasional momentary glitches and dropouts, but the signal became largely grain-free.
     
    Now what? People keep talking about the UpTone Audio Regen. So, I went ahead and bought one and waited for a few weeks. It finally arrived, and I hooked it up. Immediately I gained a subjective feeling of less grain and much more overall smoothness. But maybe that's placebo. Could I objectively measure improvements? Absolutely. I get zero dropouts or random stutters during playback despite my work computer's weaksauce USB.
     
    Okay, problem solved. No audible issues, no objective problems, a beautifully smooth dac that can play basically anything I throw at it. But did I ruin the value? At $179 during Emotiva's holiday sale, the Big Ego is a ridiculous steal. Adding a $175 Regen basically doubles the price. At $350... well, yeah, this is still better than anything I've ever heard at that price. Even if your USB sucks and you need to fix it with a Regen or similar solution, the Emotiva Big Ego is a great value.
     
    Would I recommend the Big Ego even if you have mediocre USB? Absolutely. It's still better than anything of a similar price without the Regen. I'm just a spoiled audiophile who can't handle any sense of grain or dropouts, however occasional they may be. It's still better than anything under $300 I've ever heard, and it's MADE IN THE USA. Did I type that right? Damn right I did.
     
    That the Emotiva DC-1, Big Ego, and Little Ego don't have Head-Fi losing their collective minds for how good a value they are (okay, the DC-1 kinda does) is a tragedy. Get onboard, people!
     
  2. Luckbad
    First impressions:
     
    This is an incredible piece of kit for the price. It can be used just as a DAC, a headphone amp, or a digital out via TOSLINK.
     
    Supports up to 32-bit/384kHz (verified this in foobar2000 with some files and music).
     
    Black blackground even with the 16Ohm IEMs I'm using it with right now.
     
    It also allows you to choose between a bunch of oversampling filters. So far I like F2 the most. It also has crossfeed, which seems to be in lieu of the oversampling selection (maybe it defaults to F1 for crossfeed?).
     
    I'm really impressed with the Emotiva Big Ego.
     
  3. Luckbad
    Got more listening time. This DAC convinced me that a really great DAC is super important to a sound system. So I bought a Multibit Bifrost!
     
    That said, this is extremely capable and is an incredible deal. I'm trying to decide if I should keep it around or sell it now. I can't believe nobody else has one of these yet!
     
  4. Luckbad
    More technical data about them from Emotiva:
     
    The Big Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5142 DAC chip
    The Little Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5141 DAC chip

    Headphone amp on both: PA6130A2 DirectPath Stereo Headphone Amplifier integrated circuit

    All of the audio op-amps are LME49860MA
     
  5. painted klown

    Have you had a chance o directly compare the Big Ego to the Miltibit BiFrost as of yet? I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts.
     
    Thanks!
     
  6. Luckbad
     
    Yep!
     
    Emotiva Big Ego OR Schiit Bifrost Multibit -> Project Ember II OR iFi iCAN Micro -> JVC HP-DX1000 OR Aurisonics Kicker
    Indistinguishable on almost all recordings. I used an RCA switcher to swap back and forth instantly for listening tests. I can distinguish more of a difference between the filter modes on Emotiva Big Ego than between the Emotiva Big Ego (in position 1) and Bifrost Multibit.
     
    It's important to note that this gear is not as resolving as it could be, so I also tested...
     
    Emotiva Big Ego OR Schiit Bifrost Multibit OR Audio-GD Reference 5 -> Audio-GD Roc -> Sennheiser HD650
    This setup is great for testing because the Roc has a bunch of inputs and you can just turn the knob between them.
     
    It's also the only setup I have that I can distinguish between the various DACs. Of the 3, I prefer the Reference 5 slightly. It's the warmest and most liquid of the three.
     
    The Schiit Bifrost Multibit is slightly behind the Reference 5, and the Emotiva Big Ego is slightly behind that.
     
    That said, on some recordings I slightly prefer the Big Ego to the Bimby. The Bimby is slightly more organic and detailed than the Big Ego with this setup, but the Big Ego keeps up and occasionally exceeds the Bimby to my ears.
     
    Emotiva Big Ego vs. AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2 -> Anything or Nothing
    Emotiva hands down. Much more pleasant to listen to than the AudioQuest.
     
    Summary
    The fact that it even comes close to the Schiit Bifrost Multibit is astonishing for the price. Combined with its compact size, filter options, and the ability to play up to 384kHz, the Big Ego is absurd. Emotiva deserves a hit with the Big Ego.
     
    Unless you have extremely resolving gear after the Big Ego, it's virtually indistinguishable from the Schiit.
     
    They're also having a sitewide sale right now so you can get it for $179, so I'd jump on it if you have the chance.
     
    painted klown likes this.
  7. painted klown
    Thanks for the write up Luckbad. [​IMG]
     
    This is good info to know. I had the Emotiva DC-1 before and had to sell it. I have been seriously considering another one with the sale going on. It sounds the the Big Ego is a killer piece of equipment for the price. I'll have to take a closer look at them. [​IMG]
     
    Luckbad likes this.
  8. Luckbad
    Did I mention that the Big Ego and Little Ego are Made in the USA?!
     
    I've been griping to myself about a small amount of grain as well as occasional dropouts/glitches on my terrible USB at work. I finally solved it with an UpTone Regen. Subjectively no more grain, objectively no more dropouts.
     
    Still a crazy value at $350 for a Big Ego + UpTone Regen. Still better than anything <$300 Amp/DAC I've heard even by itself.
     
  9. painted klown
    I have not yet heard either the Little or Big Ego, but decided to go ahead and get another DC-1. I had one before and I LOVE it! Like the DC-1, I am surprised there aren't more users on here that have them. I figured the Ego DACs may be even more popular than the DC-1 on here, due to the # of users looking for portable setups.
     
    For me, portability is a non-issue as I really never use my phone as a music player, and when I do, it's more to pass time (like waiting somewhere) more than deliberate or extended listening sessions.
     
    I seriously think that Emotiva could benefit from getting their products out to media and "big names in the industry" for reviews.
     
    Luckbad likes this.
  10. Aplle
    Has anyone else tried this thing? I'm having a hard time finding many impressions/reviews.
     
  11. Luckbad
    Sneak preview of my review that I've been taking forever to finish...
     
    If I talk about a USA audio company that does great bang-for-the-buck products, are you thinking about Emotiva? You should be. Emotiva has long been well-regarded in the home theater scene, even producing speakers to a quality level that big wigs at the other USA-based audio company that makes great bang-for-the-buck products use them.
     
    With their exemplary Emotiva Stealth DC-1 garnering buckets of praise for its value as a balanced DAC, Emotiva has sojourned farther down the road of headphone audio and released a series of smaller offerings. Namely, the Emotiva Big Ego and Little Ego.
     
    Both offer 32-bit/384kHz digital-to-analogue conversion at excellent accuracy (within 0.3dB up to 20kHz). Both give you digital filter options to decide how you want the conversion to be done as well as crossfeed. Both can work as headphone amps in addition to dacs. What's the difference? Primarily, the Big Ego gives you Line Out and the Little Ego does not. That makes it the more versatile offering, as it can be used as the dac for a fancier amplifier.
     
    Let's get into some detail...
     
    The Big Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5142 DAC chip
    The Little Ego uses a TI / Burr Brown PCM5141 DAC chip

     
    The headphone amp on both is the TPA6130A2 DirectPath Stereo Headphone Amplifier integrated circuit, and all of the audio op-amps are LME49860MA.
     
    I'll talk about my favorite (and largely unique) thing about this dac: the digital filters. The Big Ego has three digital interpolation filters as well as a headphone blend filter (aka crossfeed). There is a Symmetrical filter (F1), which has equal amounts of pre-and-post-ringing (this is what the vast majority of dacs use). In addition to that, you can use an Asymmetrical Low Filter (F2) that has almost no pre-ringing, but has multiple cycles of post-ringing. Finally, you can also use an Asymmetrical High Filter that has very little pre-ringing or post-ringing (F3). I find F1 to be the most neutral, F2 be the most pleasant, and F3 to be slightly soft. As such, I use F2 pretty much all the time. More detail about the filters (and almost everything else discussed in the review) can be found in the Emotiva Big Ego Manual.
     
    The headphone blend mode (F4) basically passes each channel through a high-pass filter, and some delay, and then mixes it into the other channel. This is all handled by a DSP, and shouldn't introduce significant distortion on its own, but whenever you use filtering and delay it's always possible. The one drawback of the crossfeed implementation is that it adds a few of gain to make it sound just as loud as the other filter options, which can indeed introduce distortion unless you lower the volume of the source. I found that reducing source volume by 5-10dB avoids any chance for distortion if I want to use the headphone blend filter.
     
    How does it sound? Very good. The PCM5142 follow suit along with all the other Burr Brown chips I've heard and keeps things nice and smooth without much brightness. Nice punch and an overall sense of warmth. At the price, I've heard nothing this good, and I've heard quite a few comparable products from the likes of Meridian, CEntrance, Fiio and AudioQuest.
     
    Negatives? As mentioned, the crossfeed introduces some distortion if you don't lower your source volume a touch. The 3.5mm headphone out can also be finicky with 1/8" -> 1/4" adapters because there's a bevel on either side (2/4 of my adapters don't fit because they are too wide around the base). It can also be very slightly grainy on some recordings. I went about trying to solve the (admittedly minor) grain issue. Is the grain the fault of the dac? Could I fix it? Let's see...
     
    First, I bought a cheap internal PCIe USB card. The asynchronous USB implementation of the Big Ego is good, but it is powered by the USB bus and is beholden to the quality of the signal you pass into it. I use the Big Ego at work, and my USB there sucks (bad enough that I couldn't reliably use a Schiit Wyrd to clean up the signal because I'd get dropouts and distortion). Okay, the internal card certainly improved things. I still would get occasional momentary glitches and dropouts, but the signal became largely grain-free.
     
    Now what? People keep talking about the UpTone Audio Regen. So, I went ahead and bought one and waited for a few weeks. It finally arrived, and I hooked it up. Immediately I gained a subjective feeling of less grain and much more overall smoothness. But maybe that's placebo. Could I objectively measure improvements? Absolutely. I get zero dropouts or random stutters during playback despite my work computer's weaksauce USB.
     
    Okay, problem solved. No audible issues, no objective problems, a beautifully smooth dac that can play basically anything I throw at it. But did I ruin the value? At $179 during Emotiva's holiday sale, the Big Ego is a ridiculous steal. Adding a $175 Regen basically doubles the price. At $350... well, yeah, this is still better than anything I've ever heard at that price. Even if your USB sucks and you need to fix it with a Regen or similar solution, the Emotiva Big Ego is a great value.
     
    Would I recommend the Big Ego even if you have mediocre USB? Absolutely. It's still better than anything of a similar price without the Regen. I'm just a spoiled audiophile who can't handle any sense of grain or dropouts, however occasional they may be. It's still better than anything under $300 I've ever heard, and it's MADE IN THE USA. Did I type that right? Damn right I did.
    That the Emotiva DC-1, Big Ego, and Little Ego don't have Head-Fi losing their collective minds for how good a value they are (okay, the DC-1 kinda does) is a tragedy. Get onboard, people!
     
    painted klown and Aplle like this.
  12. Luckbad
    Finally finalized the review and got it posted up at Basshead.Club:
    http://www.basshead.club/emotiva-big-ego-review/
     
  13. WhiskeyJacks
    Hey Luck bad I just wanted to ask how the amp section of the Big Ego? I know you said the DAC section, without having very resolving gear, is not very noticeable in the differences from the Schiit Bifrost. I Currently use the HE-560 (with some mods) for my desktop and main headphone at home. I have a couple quality IEMs and a more easily driven and portable headphone( full size that is over the ear(Sound Magic HP-150)). So, if you could let me know how it is in comparison to the Micro and the Project ember 2( which I heard both project ember and project polaris pair very well with the HE-560).
     
  14. Luckbad

    The amp section is solid for the form factor but isn't as good as the Garage1217 stuff.

    It's better than most of the small USB amps and some portables, but not as good as a good discrete desktop amp. The iFi iCAN Micro is also better, but I think the Garage1217 stuff is better than iFi (not sure about the new SE amp).

    I mostly use the Big Ego as a DAC going into either the iFi iCAN Micro or--more commonly--the Garage1217 Project Sunrise III. I only use the the amp section if I'm using an IEM and don't have the iFi plugged in.

    Long-winded reply later. It's good, not great. I prefer its amp to the Objective2, Dragonfly v1.2, and Schiit Magni v1. Basically anything in the price category.

    I prefer its DAC to everything I've heard under $300-400. That said, I'm now trying to sell my Big Ego to recoup some of the cost of buying a fancy discrete Audio-GD DAC for work. Hopefully it'll be better than the Emotiva given the price.
     
  15. WhiskeyJacks
    What DAC did you go with from Audio-GD? I happen to use the NFB 28  fully balanced DAC and class A amplifier. And one thing about kingwa is he knows how to put quality into his work for prices that we would not get here perhaps with the exception of Garage 1217, Schiit, and a few others. Kingwa really knows his stuff and putting the possibilty of 5w into 50ohms for my HE-560 really does make them sound very impressive. It took a bit to grow on me when I first got it, it uses the sabre 9018 or the like I believe and is capable of some very clean, detailed audio without the bright highs that can get to me still very detailed and transparent with a hint of smoothness that works well with the HE-560.  Hell my SM64v2 from earsonic sounded sweet from SE jack but cannot find the adapter so I have been using them with my PB2/dx90
     
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