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gadawg 01-27-2018 01:21 AM

EMM Labs DA2 Reference Review
I'll start by saying that a month ago I really wasn't all that familiar with EMM Labs and their dacs or even the company. Don't get me wrong, I had heard of them but only in the forums and had never had the chance to listen to any of their products. Well, that changed a few weeks ago when a group of us here in Dallas gathered together and listened to Joey_V's EMM DAC2X. I have to say that everyone listening that night was stunned. We had gathered to listen to the new Focal Kanta and the only thing we could talk about at dinner afterwards was the dac. Well fast forward a few weeks and I found myself in possession of an EMM DA2. I had no idea what a treat I was in for.

I have had an ARC DAC9 over the past year and enjoyed its overall high level of musicality and the ability to just turn it on and forget about everything and just get lost in the music. In its price range it competes very well with any of the other dacs out there and bests quite a few of them. That said going from a $7500 dac to one that retails for $25,000, one might expect some fair degree of improvement ... what I got I simply wasn't prepared for...

First ... I knew the unit needed to break in so I got it hooked up and started playing Beck's Morning Phase. I meant to just give it a quick listen to make sure all was well before I left to let it start settling in. Even right out of the box I noticed this was a very special unit. The first thing that just really jumped out at me was how much bigger the soundstage was in all directions. I also noticed that vocals were much more palpable than through the DAC9 ... something I had thought was good already but this was clearly in another league. I did notice it seemed a little cooler than my DAC9 but overall I was very impressed. Actually impressed is an understatement ... I was really blown away. So I left it until later that evening and after 10 hours of playing noticed some improvements in space between instruments but still noticed it being a bit cool.

The next day I came back and sat down for a listen and noticed that it now somehow seemed much more detailed than I had remembered from the day before. So I put on one of my all time favorite recordings ... Cantate Domino from Proprius which if you haven't heard it I suggest it wholeheartedly and will say the DSD version is worth the coin. This is a Choral recording with a very dynamic Pipe Organ that is breath taking but the female lead will bring tears to your eyes. With the DA2 the sense of space of the cathedral was unimaginably real and larger than I have ever heard it. You could feel the sense of presence in the church and when I closed my eyes I could imagine being there. Next up was Mark Knopfler and Shangri-La. I can say for sure that Mark's voice has never been so smooth and real at the same time. Vocals are definately one thing that the DA2 excels at. In fact, I've not heard any dac do voices better.

I next came back a few days later for serious listening with about 100 hours on the dac ... any sense of coolness that I thought I had detected was now gone. I wouldn't describe it as warm per se but I now didn't feel it being cool. So I guess I'm saying it seemed very neutral in the best of ways. Warmth was felt when for instance listening to a guitar being played through a tube amp. Otherwise I had the feeling that what I was hearing was much more based on the recording rather than the dac .. and I felt like that was a big win. At about this time my wife came into the room and pushed me out of the middle seat in the sofa, sat and listened for about 30 seconds and told me to forget the Vivaldi because this sounded better. Much more open and detailed with a holographic sound stage that she didn't believe my Wilson Sasha's capable of.

Back to some music ... Beck's Morning phase now filled the entire front half of the room from wall to wall and ceiling to floor with gobs of depth. Then with all that huge sound stage happening his voice jumped out of the sound and was as solid as if he were standing there in the room. I next que'd up Melody Gardot's The Absence which also can sound really big especially the second track Amalia. From the first note it was evident I was hearing things in the recording I didn't know were there and again a huge sound stage but a vocal presentation that was very precise, clearly separated from the rest of the instruments with a clear sense of space in between. She also sounded silkier than I have ever heard and I ended up listening to that album twice that night. After several more hours I arrived at Bare Wood by Ottmar Liebert which was maybe the best I've heard a guitar sound in my system ever. The last song Westcoast which is the acoustical version really does simply appear in the room with you with no sense of speakers or system getting in the way. Then I got to my obligatory movie soundtrack listening which many don't care for but I do so here goes ... one of my favorites is from I think a Brazilian movie The Liberator (I really need to watch it someday as I've listened to it too many times to count). There is a french horn in the second track that will jump out and grab you but is not edgy as it seems to be a very decent recording. When played through the DA2 I noticed more body to the french horn than I had been accustomed to with any previous dac I had in my system. Oh, and did I mention dynamics? I upgraded the firmware to V2 right before this and noticed more space and air with a significant improvement in dynamics and it wasn't bad before. You can be cruising along and then WHAM! Just be careful as it will surprise you.

I could go on all day but I'll summarize here with a few key thoughts. The DA2 presented vocals as good as any dac I've heard. The size of the soundstage and air between instruments is simply amazing and again bested any dac I've had in the room. I think that some of this is due to maybe more low level detail being available than with many other dacs. It is explosive when necessary and silky smooth and very delicate when appropriate as well. The noise floor is lower than anything i could detect and the bass was very well controlled and more extended than I'm used to as well. I told all my friends in the DFW Audio club that after adding this dac to my system it now sounds good enough that I'm almost scared to upgrade anything else as I can't believe the sound I have in my room. Of course no one believed that I am done and I'm not really pretending I am but I will say that if I stopped right now I could live with this system the rest of my days without any regret. That said ... The Pass Labs Xs300's sure would sound good with a pair of Alexx's now wouldn't they? :D

And a huge thanks to my good friend Joey_V for introducing me to the EMM Labs product. The TX2 is next for sure. I am so lucky to be able to hang out with such a great group of guys as we have here in DFW. Thanks to the entire group for making this hobby so much fun!


gadawg 01-27-2018 01:31 AM

2 Attachment(s)
And I remember how much we all like pictures so here you go ...

LarsT 01-27-2018 07:49 AM

Congrats George! I know some of what you speak, having recently purchased a DAC2X and TSDX.
Here's many many hours of beautiful music...:cheerstoast:

tweet 01-27-2018 09:47 AM

Congratulations! Thanks for the excellent review. Happy listening. :thumbsup:

joey_v 01-27-2018 10:19 AM


I have got to hear this DA2 of yours. As you know I am very familiar with the Emm brand because of my DAC2x.

It is very interesting how this local group of ours have become fans of the Emm digital sources.

I have to post my impressions in a bit of our meet.

The biggest thing I take from this is:
In a time where the perceived differences between top shelf DACs are minor (see the Esoteric K01x vs Schitt Yggy review), when you hear what we heard comparing top shelf DACs to the Emm and you hear the very obvious difference in sonic reproduction, you wonder... what have I been listening to before?

I am glad I brought my Emm to the meeting, it was as I suspected all along.... a top performer.

Now I know my ears arent broken.

joey_v 01-27-2018 10:33 AM

And btw, I think most people missed this from your post George...

That you had the DCS Vivaldi DAC (not stack) inhouse.

gadawg 01-27-2018 10:42 AM

Yeah ... just not at the same time just to be fair although I just didn't get smacked the same way from the Vivaldi as I did from the DA2. Both awesome machines to be sure!


bart 01-27-2018 03:58 PM

George, a nice and enthusiastic description of your experiences so far.
Thanks a lot for sharing.
Looking forward to your further notes on the Emm.

jdandy 01-27-2018 04:52 PM

George.......That was a very enjoyable review of your new EMM Labs DA2 Reference DAC. I can feel the excitement. Whenever I hear or read about people talking of high-end DAC's that present true lifelike analog sound the EMM Labs DA2 is usually mentioned, with only a few others mentioned with the same enthusiasm. Congratulations on a wonderful new DAC. You realize, of course, the EMM Labs DA2 will now serve as a catalyst and an excuse for the Pass Labs and Wilson purchases that are sure to follow. Here's to many years of audio bliss. . :cheers:

joey_v 01-27-2018 06:55 PM

it's nice to have an end-game DAC like this one, George.

Ever since I have owned the DAC2x, I havent been on the prowl for a new digital unit until the DA2 came along.

I've owned mine for over 2 years..... that's forever in audiophile lingo right??

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