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...
Some quotes from Mr Linkwitz:
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.
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