Review: Emotiva XDA-1 DA converter

Category: Digital

I haven't really owned or listened to many low priced DACs. I have to say that this Emotiva is pretty amazing.

I have owned other Emotiva gear, mainly the XPA amps and the ERC-1 Cd player. While I thought those products offered great build quality and warranty for the price, I wasn't impressed enough to keep them for long. Nothing in the sound offended, but the bass wasn't as good as I wanted or expected given the size/weight of the amps, the highs had no real sparkle and mids sounded a little sharp to me.....maybe because the highs were a bit recessed. The cd player had nice extension at the frequency extremes, but just didn't sound cohesive to me.

But the XDA-1 is a different animal altogether. This review concentrates on using the XDA-1 as a DAC/pre.

It is detailed yet natural..not etched. It has very nice imaging. Bass is deep, mids have no etch and the highs produce shimmer or nuance when called upon to do so.

Compared to the best I have owned (recently the Bel Canto DAC3vb with VBS-1 PS and the Benchmark DAC1pre) the XDA-1 performs very well. Compared to the Bel Canto, it loses only in soundstage size...mainly depth and definition at the rear corners of the soundstage. It is similar in the ease at which it produces nuance/detail.

Compared to the Benchmark, there is just zero emphasis in the upper mids. In my system, the Benchmark was just a little too hot.

I listen mostly to jazz both modern and classic.......Bill Bruford, Pat Metheny, Stan Kenton, Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride. I also listen to classic rock with an emphasis on progressive rock.....Floyd, Yes, Moody Blues. And I also listen to classical. Mephisto is one of my standard test discs.

Weaknesses.......some systems and listeners may find this unit too warm sounding. It wasn't at first. The sound I am describing only appeared after the unit had been turned on for 3 days. At first, it was bass shy, peaky in the mids/highs, and disorganized sounding.

Highly recommended!

Associated gear
Sunfire Cinema Grand 5-ch amp
Lexicon RT-10 Transport
Emerald Physics CS2 speakers
PS Audio Power Plant Premier
PS Audio AC-12 Power Cords
Audio Metallurgy GA-0 XLR interconnects
Simply Physics speaker cables

Similar products
Bel Canto DAC3vb +VBS1
Benchmark DAC1 pre
Thanks for the quick review! I am considering an XDA-1 but would like to know how you'd use it as a DAC and not just a DAC/PRE? How do you know if you have the proper level set compared to the output of most DACs which do not have a volume control? I don't want to color the sound unnaturally with the output turned up too high or too low. Thanks!
According to a technical consultant at Emotiva, who I'd chatted with prior to my own purchase of the XDA-1, this unit was designed to run at its full 2v output (or "80" on the volume display) for absolute best sound quality. Apparently a setting down to "50" is acceptable, but lower than that and you start to lose detail and dynamics (again this is according to Emotiva).

I as well use the XDA-1 as a preamp in front of an Emerald Physics CS2 speaker setup, and what I've done is to set the amplifiers' input levels to where "80" on the XDA-1 is at a maximum volume I'd choose to listen to, and then use its volume control for attenuation. I typically listen at around the 70 or 75 (and as low as 65) settings, and have noticed zero degradation of sound quality (which I agree is quite good especially at its price point, and particularly since it comes with a very useful remote).

If you already use a separate preamp, then the above is moot - Just set the XDA-1's volume to 80 and you're covered.
I have one of these on its way.
My little Tascam popped its drive and digital in my system has been awful...being forced to use the DVD player for our Chip Davis et al at Christmas. (*gag*(to the DVD, not the Steamroller.))

This is the first component I have EVER pulled the trigger on without a return policy or hearing it.
(The greatly discounted pricing closeout deal negates the return policy.)
After having read enough about it, I felt the risk was small. My digital has been done cheap for years with excellent results.
I was drawn to it as much due to its design as its input switching.
The thing about it for me, is the ability to change with the times. In all of the reviews, I did not see one person notice how truly easy it is to modify that unit to upgrade the core of the conversion process. It is, for all purposes, a few modules combined in one box. Between myself and a couple of friends, we intend to play with them a bit as time goes on.

Do you still feel the same way about your unit?
I am very interested in knowing.
Having just bought this unit, I too am interested in knowing whether Tkmetz feels the same way. I'd also like to know if any particular cables offer real synergy with the XDA-1. I own an older Krell integrated and wonder if cables known for their warmth might be the best way to go.
I have been using my XDA-1 for about a week. It replaced a PSD Audio Digital link 3. It is more detailed and open than the PS audio for 1/3 the price. Using a Squeezebox touch and an Emotiva UPA2 with Speltz Anti Cables and Epos M12.2 speakers. For 249.00 on closeout you cant go wrong.
I'm looking for a DAC to be my bridge from my IMac to my Integrated.

From what I will only output at 44KBS? Which I read in a review. But it says it will go up to 192.

Will it handle HDTracks at correct rates?
The XDA-1 will only accept 48KHz/24 bit over USB. If you want to feed it high res files, like 96KHz/24 bit, which is a pretty common format on HD Tracks, you need to have a USB to S/PDIF converter in front of the XDA-1, then feed with a digital coax cable.
Another affordable option for 96KHz/24bit files might be the musical fidelity V-DAC MkII, $350 new, USB input accepts a much wider range of bit rates and sampling rates. I'm trying to decide between these two units myself.
I've had the XDA-1 DAC for about a year. My impressions closely mirror those of Tkmetz. It is a warm sounding unit with good detail. I run it into a Musical Fidelity integrated amd Legacy speakers.
I have found that cable quality makes a big difference in the sound of digital; the XDA-1 is no exception! You will need a good power cable to eke out the best sound; the included IEC connector is virtually worthless. Also. I use an Audioquest solid silver digital IC from my CD player. The cables probably cost more than the XDA-1! Also, I found it sounds much better with the cover removed.
All in all, a good buy for the money!
I too just purchased this unit at the discounted pricing of $199 including shipping. For this price it is hard to find any faults. Previous to this unit I had a Bel Canto Dac 1.5 using that as a dac/pre as well. The Bel Canto is by far a superior sounding unit. Bass is not nearly as tight and defined and the sound stage shrunk quite a bit with the Emotiva. However, at $199 the Emotiva does offer an amazing value. You certainly won't find a better sounding unit with this build quality at this price...PERIOD. I will most likely move on from this unit once my little financial situation improves. Until then I am going to have some fun putting this little gem through it's paces!
While most people who change gear like underwear would not consider an old budget unit like this in their system, I felt that all these years later, I would give a tidbit of feedback on the DAC for those on a budget.
I run a set of slightly modded 565 Adcom monoblocks with custom interconnects direct from this Emotiva XDA-1 into the amps. They drive a set of SEQUERRA MET7/"STICKS" and the MET 10 subs.
I find zero difference in the pre-DAC connections. If you have a good connection, they all sound the same to me. Between the DAC and the amps is an entirely different animal. My ancient "LSD" cables from 1988 are so bright, they are unlistenable. My home made old Mogami mic cables turned interconnect with the gold plated Japanese ’something or other 75 dollar’ RCA interconnects with the twist clamps seem to work best.
I leave the XDA-1 on 24/7.
Upgrading the power cable, much to my surprise, DID make a difference.
After borrowing a $350-ish example of a super cable ’blessed by Tibetan dog-monks who only eat grapes on full moon nights and wash with coconut soap drained from Christs tomb,’ I found a very thick, high end hospital grade plug with just-as-thick wiring attached. It was in an auction lot from NASA, used on some very high end measurement gear. Not sure what, but someone spent a lot on the cord for sure. It gave me 98% of the super esoteric example...and I do not feel the need to be "shun-mook-sarcastic" about it.
If you are looking at this thread, do yourself a favor.
Block out the guys who buy 7 DACS a year, North of 1500 dollars.
Now, Block out the guys who say, "the thing was totally blown away by XXXX DAC and I would not use it as a wheel stop on my project Camaro in the garage after hearing xxxxxx DAC."
For the $100 price tag they are still selling for, it is still difficult to beat the sound and options on a XDA-1.
Listen to one.
The XDA-1 is easy to live with and built like a tank.

"The thing about it for me, is the ability to change with the times. In all of the reviews, I did not see one person notice how truly easy it is to modify that unit to upgrade the core of the conversion process. It is, for all purposes, a few modules combined in one box. Between myself and a couple of friends, we intend to play with them a bit as time goes on. "

Gumby, did you ever modify this unit?
@gareneau - You might be talking about the XDA-2, which does have separate boards/modules.  The XDA-1 is all on one board and the output stages are already fully discrete circuits (you can tweak them, but you can't replace them.
The XDA-2 is actually a very good design, has separate power supply boards that are shielded with metal walls.  Better power supply that uses heat-sinks transistors to aid the heat-sinked regulators for providing more current.  I pretty much have ripped out and rebuilt almost this entire thing, except for the DAC chip and receiver circuits.