Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The new Symphony - Emotiva XDA-2 Gen2, Audiophile Differential Reference DAC

“Music is the food of soul”. Though I really don’t know what soul is, I still feel the quote wonderful and true. I always have been an addict of good music that touches my heart in one way or other. Here is one joyful moment in my life where I found some new dimensions to it!

I am no audiophile. I may not be able to tell the difference between a 320KBPS mp3 and a FLAC but I can tell the difference between a crappy lossy file and a good rip. I have tried various DIY blind and online tests including Tidal and always got 80% correct :). Despite of my aging ears, I think my regular listening helped me to achieve this (please do not ask me to take a test again, I might fail). Being a Systems guy I live in the middle of computers and accessories. It has made me lazy so that most of my listening is now from computers and network attached storages as the main sources ( I have terabytes of them). Though I have a decent Denon CD/SACD/DVD player (also another Denon CD changer), I just have no time to order or buy CDs and play them. I just buy high quality cuts and play through my PC or laptop which is attached to my music system. Now a bit about my components: again I am no audiophile and I can never afford 10s of thousands of worth of individual components. But I managed to save some hard earned money and set up a basic decent system. I am not going into details but it contains a Denon CD/SACD/DVD player, a Marantz 160w Receiver and a pair of Wharfedale Valdus 3-way floorstanders where a Polk powered 10" sub doing the low frequencies, all connected with basic but decent cables. By the end of this year I am expecting I can upgrade them to a better amp and floorstanders.

My pc (as well as my laptop) only has the on-board sound card and line or headphone out. Ever since I moved to digital as my main source I was thinking of a good DAC so that I can settle with a good entry level audiophile quality source. A DAC is a digital to analog converter. Every device that plays digital music files (Computers, CD players, ipods, phones etc) has a DAC built into it which actually converts the 0s and 1s in the musical file to analog audio which we can listen. The quality of the DAC plays a very good role in how the music is played. While most of the on-board DACs are poor to moderate quality a better engineered DAC is what audio enthusiasts are after. Here comes the Emotiva XDA-2 Gen 2 Audiophile  Differential Reference DAC. Though I am familiar with DACs and the principles behind it as an experienced systems guy (I also have used some small ones before) I spent so many hours in internet, forums, reviews and videos to find out how this unit works as well as how it stands against its competitors. Finally I felt that this is one of the best I can get in the price range and pulled the trigger! At least Emotiva and Amazon both have good return policies if I feel it needs to go back.

Here comes my bad luck (don’t worry; it is nothing about the device). I ordered the unit middle of a week and opted it to get delivered on the following Friday evening so that I can spend my Friday night setting it up and enjoy the music all weekend. I was eager to get out of office, got some fried shrimp and a six pack on the way home. Alas! The shipment got blocked somewhere in TN due to bad weather. Anyway I thought I will collect as much quality music I can in the weekend and make my time productive. I also did hours of listening through my sound card to make my songs by-heart how they sounded through it. Finally, after much of anticipation the XDA-2 showed up on Monday. It was a breeze to install (at least for me) and set up everything. I run Win7/8.1 and use Foobar2000. The driver got in perfectly and Foobar was able to push through the WASAPI with all the bit rates. Here comes the moment of truth.

Magic, new dimensions, 3D, pure bliss or whatever, I have no words to describe it. My aging ears now can feel it. The very subtle or minuscule differences are now a bit more. Music is flowing never like before. Strings are vibrating, vocals have those breaths between which are very clear, cymbals and drums are punchier and vibrant while fiddles and flutes make me more moody and tearful. I really do not know the jargon words, but what I am experiencing is a total harmonic difference in a very amazing way. The unit is still breaking in and I expect it would get better and better. 

So what is my conclusion? It is actually not a conclusion but it is a request or a call. If you enjoy music and your main source is digital (a normal computer or an old CD player), please get this. You will not be disappointed. There could be equally good or better DACs in this price range, there are much better DACs if you have more money to spend. But if you are anything like me, with a budget of $250-300 and still running your computer and its sound card as your main source of music, Emotiva XDA-2 is a good choice and I am sure it can stand its own against anything in this section. After all I have that smile on my face (I checked with a mirror believe me) and that’s what matters, na? 

And I got a new self defense weapon, the remote  :D

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