Emotiva XDA-2 USB DAC/Digital Preamp/Headphone Amp

Jam-packed! Emotiva XDA-2 ($399)
The machined front panel and control layout is a near clone of the discontinued XDA-1, but internals are mostly all-new, the Analog Devices AD1955 multi-bit delta-sigma DAC is the only carry over from the XDA-1. The Analog Devices AD1896 asynchronous sample rate converter and current-to-voltage stages are new; likewise the analog resistor ladder volume control that maintains resolution even at low volumes; the internal power supply (no wall wart) is more elaborate and uses separate regulators for the analog and each digital stage; the OPA2134 precision op amps; and there's a new fully-discrete high current headphone amp that can deliver 2 watts! The amps' output impedance is rated at an unusually low 0.1 ohms (there's a 1 ohm series resistor that protects the amp from faults, but the feedback point is after the resistor which effectively nulls the impedance of the resistor).

You get 24/192 support for all inputs, including the two RCA coaxials, two Toslinks, one USB, and one XLR AES/EBU. The all-metal remote feels a lot more luxurious than the typical plastic units you get with DACs in the Emotiva's price range. The XDA 2 has RCA and XLR line-level outputs. Emotiva's five-year warranty provides more coverage than most of the competitors, and the XDA-2 is sold with a 30 day home trial.


Gripes: I'm not crazy about up/down volume control buttons, I much prefer volume control knobs. It's nice that the XDA-2's control works in 1/4 dB increments, but ramp up/down speeds are sluggish, and take about 5 seconds to make a 10 dB change. When switching between sources I frequently need to make even larger volume adjustments, so I found the XDA-2's slow-poke control mildly annoying. I can zero-in on the exact volume over a much larger range with a quick twist of a volume knob---up/down buttons can never be that fast, you'd overshoot the mark every time. On the upside the volume control "remembers" the last volume setting for the headphones and line outputs, and automatically reverts to the last setting when switching between headphone and main outputs. Also, the resistor ladder volume control doesn't pop or click as the volume ramps up or down.

My estimation of the XDA-2 went up again when I plugged in my Audio Technica ATH M-50 full-size headphones. There, the amp's power advantages were immediately obvious with Amon Tobin's bass heavy Bricolage album. The tunes' low-end antics are downright subterranean, the XDA-2 delivered the goods, and the bass remained focused and tight. Watching YouTube videos with a pair of Koss Porta Pros on my noggin was a blast, those cheap and cheerful on-ears never sounded better. My Ultimate Ears UE 900 IEMs dazzled with the XDA-2, and the amp is dead quiet. My old Sennheiser HD-580s were glorious, their smooth midrange was impossible to fault, but the Hifiman HE-400 was the one I kept coming back to for its transparency, wide open soundstage, potent bass, and delicate highs. Stepping up to high-resolution 192/24 files, the XDA-2's transparency and low-level detailing were absolutely superb!

Emotiva Audio Corporation
135 SE Parkway Court
Franklin, TN 37064
877.EMO.TECH (1.877.366.8324)

warpdrive's picture

....but the bottom half of the chassis is mostly air!

I really wish manufacturers would take a bit more effort to make these components shallower in depth. I was looking for a reasonably powerful desktop integrated amp but I had to rule out so many good choices because the component was too deep (12 inches or more).

KikassAssassin's picture

Yeah, Emotiva is especially bad about this. I was looking into the mini-X a-100 amp for a desktop speaker system, until I noticed that it's 15 freaking inches deep. The photos on that one are conveniently shot at angles that hide the depth, too, so if you go by the photos it looks like a nice compact desktop amplifier.

warpdrive's picture

I ended up with a Teac AH01 integrated amp, which is only 8.5 inches deep and wide. It fits fairly neatly under my 27" inch monitor, runs cool. It's everything I could want in a desktop amp. I don't really use the headphone amp as I already have a good headamp, but as a speaker amp/DAC, it's perfect.


USAudio's picture

Hi Steve,

Excellent article as usual.

FYI - I noticed on the Emotiva XDA-2 product page that, unless I'm reading it incorrectly, the headphone amp outputs ~2 VRMS, not Watts.  If so, it actually puts out a maximum of 360mW at 10 Ohms.   (1.9 * 1.9) / 10 = .361 Watts



xnor's picture

Yeah the specs say it outputs a measly 0.008 W into 600 ohms:

2.25 VRMS max into 600 Ohms @ < 0.01% THD (8 mW)

But maybe it can output more power with > 0.01% THD? It may be a good DAC but it doesn't seem to be a good headphone amp..

grsimmon's picture



Well this just turned awkward, considering the glowing review.....

noahtheviking's picture

I have been looking at this and thought well how about some better electrolytics and film caps alike.  that could be a fun adventure only if it actually helps and you dont totally screw it up!!!

MtnSloth's picture

Can you turn the display's brightness all the way off? This would be useful information for anyone thinking of integrating this unit into a home theater setup.

ultrabike's picture

I think you can dim the display. The button is to the right of the volume controls in the front pannel according to the manual:


blasjw's picture

As someone who owns one, I can confirm that (sadly) no you cannot dim the display's brightness all the way off.  For me personally, I despise the garrish blue "halo" lighting around the buttons and would like to see an additional dimmer setting to turn those off but keep the VFD on.  But for others like you (and I'm sure there are many more), they should go ahead and add another setting to go one step further to turn off the VFD as well.  Should be a very simple firmware update to add those two additional settings.  I sure wish Emotiva was listen to customers and add those.  It's funny how the picture of the XDA-2 on Emotiva's website (like the one at the top of this article) seems to show the unit with the VFD being on but the "halo" button lights off.  Yet, that's not a possible configuration.

elmura's picture

USAudio is correct. Max power is 360mW in to 10Ohms, not 2 Watts!

Also, how can you state that the Schiit Bitfrost is not that much of a price gap? Pay $50 more for a DAC only, pay at least $150 for a headphone amp with pre-out. That's $200 extra at least! If Emotivia has an all-in-one for $550 - $600, then you can compare that against the Schiit.

Because reviewers aren't paying for the items, doesn't mean cost doesn't come in to the equation. Compare with similar price-ranged items for fairness.

FlyhiG's picture

Glad to read this review. Wondered what the difference between the old and new model. Having the XDA-1 and finding it a great sound and buy. Telling your take on this and the Schiit and Parasound make, which both would be on my short list. Could not ask for a better review, almost tailor made for myself.

FloridaBear's picture

While I understand that the Bifrost is reported to be a good DAC, I have a question about how you arrived at your comment that "I noted the XDA-2's DAC sound was leaner than the Bifrost's and not as dynamically alive. The Bifrost is definitely better..." Was the comparison done using an instantaneous level-matched AB comparison, or better yet an ABX test to determine if the differences you heard were repeatable? If not, unfortunately I personally would have to disregard any subjective comparison of yours between the two.