Emotiva Little Ego DAC Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 1 Old 05-02-16, 09:58 AM Thread Starter
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Wayne Myers
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Lincoln, NE
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Emotiva Little Ego DAC Review

by Wayne Myers

Price Each: $169 retail, $169 street.


Emotiva has entered the crowded entry-level DAC/Headphone Amp market with the Big Ego and Little Ego DAC models. The Big Ego provides multiple output possibilities and level controls. LIttle Ego is simpler, giving the user only a mini headphone jack output and a minimal - but critical - degree of special control over that output.

Delivery and Unboxing

The LIttle Ego comes in a very small package that your mail delivery person can fit into a standard mailbox. The contents include the LIttle Ego, a short USB cable, a cloth protective bag, and an instruction manual. I actually read and benefitted from the the reading of the manual. It contains a brief digital audio primer which helps the user understand the selectable digital filter and headphone blend choices available.


The LIttle Ego’s case is solid metal, so it has a nice weight in your hand. At only 3.6 oz, the 0.5 x 1.75 x 4.75 inch box feels like you could drop it and then step on it and it would remain unscathed, although I generally recommend more careful treatment than that. The USB and ⅛-inch headphone/line output connector are on opposite ends of the device. On the front is a set of LEDs that show the bit rate of the audio stream being converted, the filter choice, and the headphone blend mode status.

The Little Ego also sports a one-button-that-serves-many-functions control, next to the output jack. With it one selects the filter type and the headphone blend. There are four choices, three filter settings and the Headphone Blend which can only be on with the Asymmetrical-High (3) filter setting.

The Little Ego works in two USB modes, UAC1 and UAC2. UAC2 is the default, and requires the Emotiva USB driver to be installed. UAC1 is active when the Little Ego USB port is plugged in while the One-Button is being held down, and requires no Emotiva driver installation, but the bit rate is then limited on some platforms.

The Little Ego will work with a Windows or Apple system, with the Chrome operating system, and with some versions of Linux. The Volume Control is via the playback volume control for the computer.


The specifications for the Little Ego are all excellent, with THD+N listed less than 0.006% and a 1.8 V rms max output level, all while USB powered.

Emotiva Little Ego DAC Specifications:
  • USB Interface (input): Asynchronous, USB Audio Class 1 and 2
  • Output: Headphone (analog; variable)
  • Format: PCM digital audio
  • Direct coupled audio path
  • Audio File Formats Supported: Little Ego supports any file or stream format your computer can play
  • Digital Filter Options: Symmetrical ; Asymmetrical Low; Asymmetrical High
  • Headphone Blend Mode: Switchable
  • Maximum Output Level: 1.8 VRMS
  • 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)
  • Bit Depths Supported: 16 bits, 24 bits, 32 bits
  • 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
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: > 106 dB (A-weighted)
  • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise: < 0.006%
  • Dimensions: 4.75" x 1.75" x .5"
  • Weight: 3.6oz

Associated Review Equipment
Measurement Methods
  • Asus G74SX Laptop, Intel I7-2670QM @ 2.2 GHz, 16 GB DDR3 Memory, Windows 7 64-bit, Room EQ Wizard, foobar2000, Reaper DAW
  • Digital Audio Workstation, Phenom II x6 1100t @ 3.5 GHz, 16 GB DDR2 Memory, AMD Radeon HD 6670 Graphics & HDMI Media by Sapphire, Windows 7 64-bit, Room EQ Wizard, foobar2000, Reaper DAW
  • Digital Media Server, Phenom II x6 1055t @ 2.8 GHz, 8 GB DDR2 Memory, AMD Radeon HD 6450 Graphics & HDMI Media by Asus, Windows 7 64-bit, Room EQ Wizard, foobar2000, Reaper DAW
  • Audioengine D1 Premium 24-bit DAC, Courtesy Audioengine
  • OPPO HA-1 DAC/Headphone Amplifier, Courtesy OPPO, Home Theater Shack Sponsor
  • Roland Quad-Capture Audio Interface
  • M-Audio Fast Track C600 Audio Interface
  • M-Audio Firewire 410 Audio Interface
  • AKG K 601 Headphones
  • AKG K 701 Headphones
  • AKG K 550 Headphones
  • Audio Technica ATH-M50 Headphones
  • Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-Ohm Headphones
  • OPPO PM-1 Planar-Magnetic Headphones, Courtesy OPPO, Home Theater Shack Sponsor
  • OPPO PM-3 Planar-Magnetic Headphones, Courtesy OPPO, Home Theater Shack Sponsor
  • Sennheiser HD 600 Headphones
  • Sony MDR-V6 Headphones
  • Onkyo TX-SR705 Receiver
  • Emotiva Pro Airmotiv 4 Powered Studio Monitors
  • P3 P4400 Kill-A-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor
  • CyberPower PP1100SW Sinewave UPS

First Impressions

Setup took only a few minutes. Remember that UAC2 mode requires The Emotiva driver. The UAC1 mode, with bit rate limited to 96 kHz in a Windows system, is activated by holding down the One-Button while plugging in the Little Ego to a USB port. I heard no difference between the two modes and drivers.

The sound of the Little Ego was excellent, especially with my favorite filter setting: big, open, and very clean.

Filter Types

The filter can be set to 1. Symmetrical - the standard configuration. 2. Asymmetrical Low. 3. Asymmetrical High.

It was easy to hear that the Symmetrical filter type (1), which allows a small amount of pre-ringing, as seen on an impulse diagram, was not as pleasing to my ear. Besides adding a little hash to sibilants, it made the soundstage slightly messy and less open. The level of the high frequencies seemed slightly boosted.

With the Asymmetrical Low setting (2), which pushes all ringing to after the impulse diagram, the messiness was mostly cleaned up and the HF content level almost restored to normal. The Asymmetrical High setting (3), my favorite, reduces the post-ringing and still keeps pre-ringing to a minimum. This setting scrubbed the soundstage clean of all that messiness and sharpened the outline of instruments in space, an ultra-clean presentation.

I could see some listeners liking the Headphone Blend mode. The imaging clarity suffered a little, but the spatial representation was much more natural.

Listening Tests

I started with the Oppo PM-1 as a super-revealing reference listening device. These are the ‘phones I used for most of the Little Ego evaluation.

Radiohead - Airbag:
Radiohead - Paranoid Android:
These were among the first tracks I listened to on the Little Ego. BIG was my first impression, the sound was BIG and OPEN, with lots of space between sounds, BIG referred not only to soundstage, but also to the sense of vast open space in the soundstage as presented by the Little Ego.

Radiohead - Morning Mr Magpie:
Radiohead - Feral:
The rhythmic pops and clicks on these tracks give the listener plenty of detail to look for and keep separate in a track. All remain simpler and more succinct with the Little Ego. These sounds each have a clear spot in the soundstage and stay out of each other’s way.

Radiohead - Pyramid Song:
Cymbal strikes remained accurate and true. Completely distinct.

Radiohead - Karma Police:
The piano at the beginning of this piece had a big, natural sound I enjoyed.

The Peach Kings - Fisherman:
The Peach Kings - Do For Me:
Here are more tracks that let the Little Ego play BIG. The sense of open space and clarity is a treat with these tunes, and there is detail I have missed before.

B-52’s - Revolution Earth:
Again, the Little Ego does a great job at keeping the details on busier tracks separate and well-organized. The sound is SO clean. The distortion spec is far lower than anyone is likely to be able to hear, and it might be psychoacoustical marketing wizardry, but the Little Ego just sounds SO clean that it makes you look at that spec and go, Hmmmm.

Crash Test Dummies - Swimming In Your Ocean:
Crash Test Dummies - Two Knights And Maidens:
I enjoy CTD’s mixes for their density and the attention to detail in placing every sound just so. That makes those tracks good Soundstage and Imaging (SS&I) clarity testers, too. These tracks were really fun with the Little Ego’s clarity.

Joni Mitchell - California:
Clean, open, BIG. What a great-sounding little DAC.

Cassandra Wilson - New Moon Daughter (Entire Album)
I listened through all the tracks of this album, which I have in 16/44, 24/96, and 24/192 versions from HDtracks, switching between bit rates and filter types from time to time. What a clear, wide-open presentation, what a HUGE sound from the Little Ego DAC.

In the process of the review, the Little Ego was directly compared to a competing portable USB DAC which performs at a level way above its own price point, and against a DAC priced at over $1,000. In both cases, the differences were minute. Neither of those other DACs allowed selection of DAC filter type like the Little Ego.

The Little Ego handled 96 kHz and 192 kHz tracks by Cassandra Wilson flawlessly. The filter selection made very little audible difference at the higher bit rates. The Little Ego also drove my 250-Ohm Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium without complaint, and mated well with all of the members of my headphone collection.

EDIT: I originally stated that “the filter selection made very little audible difference at the higher bit rates.” Upon listening in more detail to these settings, I can say that the filter setting does indeed make an audible difference at all bit rates. It is not a huge difference at any bit rate, and can easily be missed. Emotiva’s Asymmetrical High setting is my favorite at all bit rates, for its clarity and for the openness of the soundstage and sharp, precise imaging. With the other filter settings, especially the Symmetrical, which is probably found most commonly in entry-level DACs (unless told otherwise) the ringing artifacts cause smearing of SS&I information in the signal, and some of the sharp clarity of a great SS&I gets lost in that slight messiness at the beginnings and endings of certain sounds.


The Emotiva LIttle Ego DAC joins a group of DAC/Headphone Amps that sets the bar high for inexpensive, shirt-pocket-sized devices, then gives the user control over the DAC filter type, a selection not normally found in a DAC in the price range. Smart! That one control is key in pushing the LIttle Ego forward to the front of the pack as maybe the best sounding in the class or anywhere close to it.

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