Just when I thought everything that I had coming to me for the fall review season had arrived, something else did -- the EMM Labs DAC2X DAC. I received the DAC2X because I already had the Meitner Audio MA-1 DAC, which I wrote about previously, on hand. That originally arrived as a result of my discussion with Ed Meitner himself at CES 2013; after our talk, the folks at his firm wanted me to hear his gear. Ed founded both brands, but of the two, the EMM Labs brand features the pricier stuff, which is built to a higher standard.
But that doesn't mean that the MA-1 is some slouch, because it's well built and fantastic sounding -- one of the very best DACs I've heard. What's more, it and the DAC2X are said to share the same circuit topology. In other words, they have the same DNA. The main difference is that the DAC2X is built without compromise, so it has ultra-premium parts, such as ceramic circuit boards and more elaborate casework, as well as handpicked, higher-tolerance components inside. These higher-quality parts and the greater attention to detail are reflected in the DAC2X's price: $15,500 USD versus $7000 for the MA-1. Not insignificant.
But is it really worth that much more money? I'm not sure yet -- something I touch more on below. That's exactly why Ed and his people wanted me to hear the DAC2X, but in a "progressive" way, which is worth explaining.
As I mentioned, the first thing I received was the MA-1, which I initially used within the confines of my regular system. About a month-and-a-half later they shipped me the EMM Labs PRE2-SE preamp to get a feeling of the sound with that piece in the rig. And now that I'm fully familiar with the MA-1/PRE2-SE combo, they shipped me the DAC2X to determine what differences, if any, I can glean between it and the MA-1. Obviously, they're pretty methodical in their approach, which is the way it needs to be when you're evaluating this type of gear and looking for small differences.
To start the DAC-comparison process, I cracked open the box to find the DAC2X, a remote control, a custom-made Kimber Kable power cord, and a CD containing the Windows driver. I removed all of the pieces, photographed most of them at all angles so we had good shots for future articles, and then placed the DAC2X on a shelf in my equipment rack directly under the MA1 and the PRE2-SE, which I have stacked on a single shelf to save space.
To ensure that neither DAC would have an advantage as I compared them, I used identical-length runs of balanced Crystal Cable Standard Diamond interconnects to the preamp, which happens to be the Simaudio Moon Evolution 740P right now because that's scheduled for review next, although the PRE2-SE will go back in after that review is done. Ditto for the DAC2X to the computer -- identical USB cables each attached to a USB port. The MA-1 didn't come with a fancy Kimber Kable power cord, but the PRE2-SE did, so because I wasn't using that piece at the moment, I used its power cord for the MA-1 so even that would be the same.
So what are the differences between the two? Frankly, it's too early to tell, since I've been listening to them for only about an hour, and mostly to make sure everything is working right. When I have more time and have done some critical listening, I'll report back. Until then . . .
Publisher, The SoundStage! Network