by Kevin OBrien on March 20, 2016

EMM LABS DA2 DSD DAC REVIEW                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


We have taken delivery of our new EMM Labs DA2 DSD DAC. This is one very special piece of gear which has been slated to be an instant 'game-changer' by the lucky few who have been able to get one into their rack for audition. We feel truly blessed to have made it on the roster of the first production run.

According to Meitner, the DA2 needs 150 hours of continuous play for its output stage to reach a 'steady state' condition and that's when the DA2 really sings. We made sure to 'burn-in' our unit for 3 weeks straight before writing this review. The AES/ EBU input as well as the USB input were played for a week and a half each as part of our 'burn-in' process. There is no doubt at this point whether or not what we're hearing is what this piece can do. After reaching out to Shahin at the Meitner factory and confirming our run-in time, we are now certain we are dealing with the absolute best digital reproduction Meitner currently has to offer.

Our YFS HD.Ref-3 / Mutec MC-3+USB music server combo as well as our YFS Mac Mini music server performed source duties. The Mac Mini was equipped with Audirvana Plus (latest edition with current updates) and our Ref-3 was implementing Album Player (Windows-Only playback suite without DSD capability).

One thing that struck us immediately when first auditioning the DA2 is that its presentation was the most natural, analog, life-like sounding piece of digital gear we've ever heard. This piece will surely give any high quality vinyl playback system a serious run for its money, if not flat out beat it. The DA2 is using the U8 version of the XMOS USB input chip which allows for playback of all formats except DSD256. This includes DXD at 32/384! Also, we do not know of any current source location online or otherwise for DSD256 files. It's hard enough to find titles in DSD64 and DSD128, let alone DSD256 so we're going give Meitner a pass on this one. 

After serving up Dire Strait's 'Brothers in Arms' in DSD64 via our YFS Mac Mini, our jaws dropped. We have never heard this album sound so real, so lifelike, and with so much detail. It sounded like Mark Knopfler was in our listening room. I won't use all the cliche audiophile terms here to describe what we heard but all of them apply, especially PRaT, which was delivered in spades. We then cued up Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' in DSD128 and more of the same emanated from the DA2. The piano, which is one of the most difficult instruments to render correctly, sounded exactly like it should. The body of the piano and the strings could be heard as well as the overall tone of the Bill Evans' playing, which is a tough feat in and of itself.

Now that we've touched upon the sound of the DA2, let's talk about the overall look of this DSD DAC. The metalwork is second to none and really gives you a feeling of looking at top notch artisan crafted kit. Everything is meticulously machined and looks absolutely gorgeous in person which pictures cannot do justice. One has to see this piece of gear in person to truly appreciate what Meitner has accomplished here.

Now on to the technical features such as what exactly this unique piece is actually doing when you feed it a digital signal. The DA2 DSD DAC takes any signal, whether it be from the TOSLink, COAX, AES, USB, or EMMLink inputs, and upsamples it to 16X DSD resolution. That's something no other piece of digital gear on the market can do right now. Ed Meitner's genius as far as digital prowess and ingenuity is showing itself once again manifested in the DA2. Just as with the MA-1, the DAC2X, and now the DA2, this is the only DAC that we know of that can provide a Delta Sigma DAC design with absolutely NO pre or post ringing whatsoever. This is an amazing feat just on its own. One listen to this unit and you'll know what we're talking about.

The DA2 rear panel has the exact same layout as that of the MA-1 (minus the EMMLink input) and the DAC2X. When the DA2 was in its infant design stages, plans were made to make firmware updates available over the Internet. That is not possible as an Ethernet port was not integrated into the DA2 to keep costs down. A separate chassis for the power supply was also in the works in early design stages but was scrapped to keep costs down as well. As far as we're concerned, the price tag for the DA2 is high enough at $25,000 MSRP so none of these features will be missed by us.

As usual, there are always one or two things to nitpick about any product and there is at least one issue we came across when auditioning the DA2 DAC. When switching between different digital file sample rates on the fly (using the shuffle function within our playback suite), we noticed a small "blip" sound emitting from the outputs. This was made very apparent when switching between 44.1 files to DSD128 files. This is a small price to pay for the amazing sound quality and presentation the DA2 gives us so we're not going to complain too much. When playing back an entire album start to finish, this will not come into play at all obviously.

Our overall conclusion regarding the DA2 is that Meitner has a clear winner on their hands and has yet again raised the bar another notch above the competition. Sure, you could pay 6 figures for a dCS or MSB DAC but why would you? We've heard these pieces at shows across the country and the DA2 can hang with any digital product any manufacturer has on the shelves at this point. Of course, this is just our opinion but we feel we have plenty of experience with high end digital gear and we've never heard anything quite like this, especially in our personal system. Ed Meitner deserves the highest of praises for his work in the field of digital playback and he has another wonderful product on his hands yet again. If you're willing to pay the price of admission, you'll be kindly rewarded for it. You won't be disappointed, that's for sure.

Thanks for reading and we hope to get you more in-depth reviews of cutting edge digital gear in the future.

 - YFS Design Team