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Weiss DAC2 vs Emotiva XDA-1

11325 Views 11 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Thunder240
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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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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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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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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