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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Here it goes. Be warned, my methods are as scientific as those used by the Brits to determine if there were WOMD in Irak! Namely: the wet finger.

We bought the big Jamo R909 speaker pair end 2009 (used 2006 models) because I was turned on by the open baffle principle. The thing wit boxes is that the boxes have the effect to sound "boxy". I think it's impossible to explain, but you will know what I'm talking about when you hear the Jamo's. The bass is infinitely tight! The good thing about boxes is they reinforce the bass. To compensate for this, each Jamo R909 has two enormous 15" woofers. To temper the mid and upper bass, the passive crossover is designed with a slope. The difference between the R909 and the Linkwitz Orion is that the latter uses active (external) crossovers, which should be superior (though I never heard one). Of course, to make them big woofers do their trick, you need ample power. Enter the XPA-1, which I got since Jan 2010. I bought a ERC-1 at the same time and a cheap old inKel preamp in expectancy of the XDA-1. The XPA-1 doesn't even sweat. I am also a firm believer of Mr Aczel's ideas. Check out his website "The Audio Critic" if you haven't heard of him before. Among other things, he claims all good designed amps sound alike, all cables sound the same, the sound you hear is determined by the recording, the speakers and the room, not the electronics, etc...

Jamo R909:
http://www.jamo.com/eu-en/products/r-909-tech-talk/

Some quotes from Mr Linkwitz:
http://www.linkwitzlab.com/conclusions.htm

http://www.theaudiocritic.com/plog/

Now, if Emotiva would have introduced the XDA-1 before July 2010, I would have ordered it then and this would have been the end of it. My last stereo served me for 18 years. I do my homework, and when the purchase is done, that's it and I don't look back.

Over at Computeraudiophile.com the Weiss Minerva got good reports by everyone using it. This Suiss DAC with volume control, but no remote was priced at $5,000 (or some €4,600 here). Way more than I was prepared to pay. Then the Weiss DAC2 was introduced, which is the industrial version of the Minerva. Price is $3,000 (some €2,700). The Minerva is now replaced by a newer model, the DAC202, which costs even more, but has a remote. By chance, a demo model DAC2 found it's way from a UK dealer to me, for a price I was willing to pay. Normally, I use it with a Mac mini, via Firewire. The advantage of Firewire is that the DAC controls the clock, it does not have to rely on the computer for clocking. Hence, Jitter is eliminated. These days, asynchronous USB can deal with Jitter also. Jitter is caused by clocking error and can result in a higher noise floor if to much.

The volume control of the DAC2 is done in the digital domain, though the output voltage can be preset on the back. I have it on the lowest voltage, since Emotiva amps have extremely high gain at 32 dB. Weiss claims, when properly dithered, digital volume control does not affect the SQ. Still, I felt I needed to do much attenuation, so I bought a pair of Rothwell XLR attenuators (-10 dB). But these didn't improve things, I felt they were taking away a tiny bit of detail, so these are no longer used. Maybe one day, I will try a passive transformer preamp from StereoKnight.

http://www.weiss.ch/dac2/dac2.htm

As reported before, my Mac mini's external HD crashed and it's replacement is still in the shop with some Time Machine issues. So back to playing CD's then! The ERC-1 is connected via coax to the DAC2. I tested before, but could not detect much difference between the ERC-1 and the same CD ripped to AIFF (with XLD) from the Mac.

Since my daughter (17) asked for a spare room to be turned into a hobby space, a stereo system was needed! She only uses her iPod, so I used an old speaker pair and a Chinese amp and completed this with the XDA-1 and a Pure i20 iPod dock. Works perfect! Since she steals my music, she developed a great taste: no Britney, nor Lady G or Justin TumbleInTheLakeAndStayThere. Alternative Rock and so is her thing. Nirvana, The White Stripes, The Kills and the XX to top it of. So I borrowed her XDA-1 to do this shootout.

I like Rock, Jazz, Funk and Electronic. So I picked 4 CD's I love, one genre each, and played them via the Weiss Dac2 first:

1/ The XX
2/ Jazz Thing (CD 1997) a compilation with Jazz Funk
3/ Charles Mingus: Blues and Roots
4/ AC/DC: Let There Be Rock

Then I simply swapped the DAC2 for the XDA-1, using the same coax input and the XLR outputs. Played the CD's again (most of it anyway). I remember when I got the DAC2 and the Mac about a year ago, so the inKel preamp was retired, that the music struck me as much more enjoyable, more rounded, better resolved. Before, I was depending on the ERC-1's internal DAC's and the old preamp. There was no way to be sure whether the sound improvements were because of the old preamp no longer sitting in the chain or the DAC thing itself (before ERC-1, now DAC2).

When I listened via the XDA-1, I couldn't help thinking back about how it sounded with the preamp. A small degree of sloppiness was audible. The deep electronic bass of the XX was very close to that of the Weiss DAC2, though. The Funk and the Jazz were slightly less musical with the XDA-1. When Mingus' band turned into a frenzy, it's a bit more of a mess than with the Weiss. Same with AC/DC: the XDA-1 is simply a little bit more messed up. The respective instruments are a tad more easily recognized with the Weiss.

After this, I swapped the XDA-1 for the Weiss DAC2 again and played parts of the CD's a third time. This confirmed my initial thoughts

So the conclusion: a $3,000 remote-less DAC2 sounds better than a €400 XDA-1 if you use Emotiva's best amps and Jamo's best speakers and the ERC-1 as transport. Who would have thought, huh? And psst, the XDA-1 is now only $299

http://emotiva.com/xda1.shtm

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Thank you for your DAC impressions, Erwin.

Nice system you have, there. I have been fascinated with the dipole Jamos for a while, now. I would love to be able to hear them.
 

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I was so excited to read your comments of the R909 that I just sat and daydreamed about them, and didn't read on about the Weiss Dac. Those Jamo's are my favorite loudspeaker that I like to have the opportunity to audition and own.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks for the kind words, folks. The XDA-1 is now back in the hobby space of our daughter. Those Jamo speakers are awesome and can also be used as superior party speakers, especially with all the power on tap from the Emotiva XPA-1. I was fascinated by the Jamo's, so it came as a nice surprise and an opportunity to discover that they seemed to loose a great deal of their MSRP after use... The seller's loss was my gain!

Since the review, I downloaded the newest update from the Amarra MINI software player (which came with my DAC2). To be honoust, I didn't use Amarra that much before. The advantage of it is first and above all that it auto-switches to the correct sample frequency of the file. iTunes can't do that: you need to go to Audio/MIDI setup and change it there (say from 44.1 Khz to 96 Khz), stop and restart iTunes. But I didn't have that much interesting High Res stuff and Amarra was (is) rather troublesome in some ways.

Last but not least, Amarra just sounds better than iTunes, even with 16/44 content. I hadn't realised that enough, before. To avoid troubles and to save time during the selection of the tracks, I don't bother with cache play and all (some swear by it, but pay the price in bugs and hickups). I just select the album (thumb pics display option) in iTunes and tell Amarra MINI to add the files and after 2-3 seconds, I can hit play. I would have the Amarra equalizer on beforehand.

I now always use Amarra, I have about 120 24-bit albums (3,600 in total), quite a few are 24/96, of which most are Vinyl rips that I downloaded. They sound brilliant. Others are 24/88 SACD rip/converts/downloads. Can't wait for those Blu-ray rips to surface!

I also have a B&W SoS subscription for the 2nd year now, that stuff is 24/48 and you get to download 24 selected (you don't have a choice) albums a year (12 classical, 12 "other") for $59. I hope they go to 24/96 some day soon.

All in all the DAC2 and Amarra are a great combo. I advise to simply get Amarra Junior first, which goes to 24/96 and doesn't cost that much (you can always upgrade later). MINI goes to 24/192 (don't have that, except for a free download of classical); full Amarra goes to 24/384 (completely irrelevant today). The higher versions do use finer equalizers.
 

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erwinbel, interesting comments on the XDA-1. I came to a similar conclusion with my previously owned XDA-1. While it was a good (cd player quality) performer and offered great flexibility, it ultimately did not provide the level performance I was looking for. Namely refinement, and the ability to completely disappear without taking some of the music with it. Put more plainly, the XDA-1's errors were of both omission and commission. Omission for things it did not reveal and commission for the things it did, in the sense of less body and tonality. It lost itself with music at times. The fact that were even talking about the XDA-1 however, in the same breadth as the Weiss and as you'll later learn the Benchmark DAC1 HDR is a testament to Emotiva engineers. With the XDA-1, they are doing something right, if not completely by me, by a great many!

While at the 2011 RMAF I took a picture that I thought was cool. It was a Benchmark DAC1 HDR sitting atop a Weist DAC202. A David and Goliath picture to be sure; The Swiss heavyweight vs the lean and mean American.

I use a DAC1 HDR as my reference preamp/dac to act as the quarterback of my system and it performs well in this capacity. It has alot going for it, versatility, it's nearly source accurate, and has been universally praised. I would love to see a comparison between the DAC1 HDR and Weiss dacs. I'd love to hear someone's comments about their differences. I imagine however, that the review shouldn't be terribly long because as many audiophiles understand, two nearly source accurate d/a converters will sound essentially sound the same.

With "nearly" being the operative word, that leaves a home for differences to live. In this home lives the sonic characteristic debate between the two pieces of gear. Your thoughts?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Re: Benchmark DAC1 HDR

The Benchmark was my first choice, because the good reviews it got. Like The Audio Critic:
http://theaudiocritic.com/plog/index.php?op=ViewArticle&articleId=40&blogId=1

That was round the year end of 2009, when I found and bought a pair of used Jamo R909 speakers I wasn't even looking for. The Emotiva XPA-1 were the obvious amp-choice (read some more on the blog of The Audio Critic to know why). The idea was to turn this into a computer sourced stereo. The Benchmark would be the ideal DAC-pre. But Emotiva anounced the XDA-1 and I decided to wait, ordered the ERC-1 CDP with the amps and got me a cheap old preamp for the time being. But Emotiva postponed the XDA-1 and when an affordable (-ish, same price as a new Benchmark) Weiss DAC2 came into view, I grabbed it. I got the XDA-1 the next year end, for my daughter.

So I never got the Benchmark, and can therefore not comment on the sound! From what I read on Computer Audiophile, it's very good. I know it uses very good parts, the company aimes for pro use. But more and more very good sounding DAC-pre's are introduced in that price range. The W4S DAC2 or the Burson Audio come to mind.
 

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Re: Benchmark DAC1 HDR

The Benchmark was my first choice, because the good reviews it got. Like The Audio Critic:
http://theaudiocritic.com/plog/index.php?op=ViewArticle&articleId=40&blogId=1

That was round the year end of 2009, when I found and bought a pair of used Jamo R909 speakers I wasn't even looking for. The Emotiva XPA-1 were the obvious amp-choice (read some more on the blog of The Audio Critic to know why). The idea was to turn this into a computer sourced stereo. The Benchmark would be the ideal DAC-pre. But Emotiva anounced the XDA-1 and I decided to wait, ordered the ERC-1 CDP with the amps and got me a cheap old preamp for the time being. But Emotiva postponed the XDA-1 and when an affordable (-ish, same price as a new Benchmark) Weiss DAC2 came into view, I grabbed it. I got the XDA-1 the next year end, for my daughter.

So I never got the Benchmark, and can therefore not comment on the sound! From what I read on Computer Audiophile, it's very good. I know it uses very good parts, the company aimes for pro use. But more and more very good sounding DAC-pre's are introduced in that price range. The W4S DAC2 or the Burson Audio come to mind.
I sold a pair of Jamo R909's to a guy in Canada several year back. Interesting. Anywho, the DAC1 HDR does sound good. I hesitate to say that because it doesn't have much of a sound of it's own. Which is what I expect the goal of audio is. However I know this is different from the preferences of humans as each of us prefers one type of aural characteristic over another, ie. warm sound, detailed sound, bass heavy sound or mid range highlighted sound. All of which I label as inaccurate to the source, but just as popular to people with aural preferences-audiophiles. From what I hear the Emotiva amps are very much true to the source as well. Especially the XPA-1's you have.
 

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Erwin, I really appreciate the discussion.

I am a grad student (read unemployed), so I am highly budget-constrained. My home stereo is comprised of an Emotiva XDA-1 DAC, Emotiva UPA-2 amp, dbx 223s active crossover, Ascend Acousitics CMT-340 se speakers, Outlaw LFM-1 EX sub, and Apple Airport Express (for Airplay, connected to the XDA-1 via TOSLINK). I think my stereo is about as good as good be assembled for for < $2000, but when I sample components at dealers, I can definitely tell that there is room to improve.

I've been thinking about the following upgrade "path" as I save up some money to spend on stereo equipment:

- LFM-1 EX sub -> Rythmik F12 subwith XLR amp
- UPA-2 amp to Emotiva XPA-2 (or pair of XPA-1's)
- 223s crossover -> Ashly XR-1001
Add Ashly GQX-3102 graphic equalizer
-CMT-340 speakers -> Sierra towers

My question to you (and others contributors to the thread) is this. You heard a noticable reduction in slop when you swapped in the Weiss DAC2 for the Emotiva XDA-1. The price difference between the components is quite a bit, however. If you were me, and assuming you have ~ $3000 available to put into your (ie my) stereo, would you spend that money on upgrading the DAC in order to reduce the slop, or would you go for one of the other upgrades first?

My feeling before reading your post was that it was unlikely I'd get much improvement in detail out of a more expensive DAC, so I was looking at a speaker upgrade first, crossover/eq upgrade second, amp upgrade third, and sub upgrade 4th. But after reading your post, I'm no longer as sure about the priorities.

If you (or anyone else) has any insight regarding the amount of jitter and/or each DAC's effectiveness of dejittering from an Airport Express (connected by TOSLINK), that would help. I have no immediate plans of connecting my computer directly to my DAC via USB or Firewire. Airplay is just so convenient.

Thanks again!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I doubt I am the correct person to advice someone with an already decent setup like you to spend more.:spend:
It was lord Audiocritic, Peter Aczel himself who pointed out to me that my system was already "over the top". He meant my Weiss DAC2 and the brutal XPA-1 pair ofcourse.

As far as DAC's go, the law of diminishing returns strikes fast. That's a fact. The XDA and the Weiss are far closer than the price difference would let you believe. If Emotiva had been faster in outputting the XDA, I wouldn't even have bothered looking for something else. The good sound my Mac produces is probably as much to do with Amarra MINI's equaliser than the DAC2 itself. Once I did a comparison between the equaliser on and off, I never forget to set it on, always to "default" setting as I play to many different genres to bother setting to Jazz , Electronic or Rock... Default is fine.

If there's one thing you might should spend money on, it's room treatments. There's 3 things very important in music reproduction and that's a) the recording b) the speaker and c) how the room interacts with the speakers. All the rest is far less important. Ofcourse, once you got superb speakers, it might be obvious that maybe your CD-player is not good enough (just saying). Me, I will be installing sound absorbers in the walls and especially in the ceiling of the listening room (ahum, living room actually:innocent:). In the ceiling, there's 20 cm (8") that I can use to put suspended elements (4" thick and 4" space above them) filled with fiberglass in such a manner that they are in the same height as the surrounding drywall sheets. The surface is about 5 x 5 meters (200sqft). In the right wall, I have 4" for installation purposes, hence I can use the listening height - between something like 2 and 4 ft - to fill with fiberglass (always covered with cloth, colour matching the walls) to tame the first reflection point. I will see if I can convince my better half to do something similar to the left, which is a glass wall overlooking a valley:devil:

IMO, sound absorption is a very exciting thing to learn about. Some science, some hocus pocus...
 

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Erwin, I've been thinking about sound treatments a bit, and there are two factors that are working against it: (1) I'm renting, and am not crazy about the idea of sinking money and effort into something that I can't take with me to my next place when I leave this apartment in a year or so; (2) my better half's reaction! But I have some good news to report, which is that today she agreed in principal to acoustic treatments in the living room as long as they don't look awful :) She doesn't mind the look of Auralex bamboo, so I'm thinking pyramids which I can then fill with absorbing material. And If I install them with anchors, I should be able to take them with me when I move eventually :) :)

Re sound hardware, I appreciate your desire not to advise on expensive upgrades. That said, the upgrades I mentioned (or ones similar) are going to happen at some point -- not all at once, and not necessarily soon, but one step at a time. So with that said, it sounds like you'd rank the DAC upgrade low down on the list on "bang for the buck". In terms of total cost, it's probably the most expensive of the upgrades that I'm considering.
 

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Great links, thank you! This might happen in the near term after all :)

My mental image of room treatment was gluing sound-absorbent foam to the walls (hence my statement about being problematic to move). As you can tell, this is brand new territory for me.
 
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