- Written by Francisco Licon
- Published on 10 February 2014
Introduction to the Emotiva Stealth DAC
Listening to my records one night, I received an email from Susan Johnson asking if I would be willing to review the Emotiva Stealth DC-1. Would I ever! Last year I tried the Emotiva USP-1 preamp and UPA-200 amp in my system and I have been very happy with the combination. Needless to say I was very curious to see and hear this reference piece from Emotiva.
EMOTIVA STEALTH DAC SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Outboard Stereo DAC
- Maximum Sampling Frequency: 24/192
- MFR: 20 Hz – 70 kHz @ 24/192
- THD+N: 0.00033% or Less @ All Sample Rates
- Inputs: One Pair RCA Analog Audio, One XLR Digital Balanced, Three S/PDIF Digital (One RCA, One BNC, One Toslink), One USB Type B (For connection to computer)
- Outputs: One Pair RCA Analog Audio, One Pair XLR Balanced Analog Audio, Two Headphone Jacks (1/8")
- Dimensions: 1.75" H x 8.5" W x 10" D
- Weight: 2.2 Pounds
- MSRP: $499 USD
- SECRETS Tags: Emotiva, DAC, Audio
The Design of the Emotiva Stealth DAC
The Stealth DC-1 features differential AD1955 dual independent D/A converters, each operating in high quality differential monaural mode, high-quality 4-layer FR4 PC boards, and an oversized torodial power supply with multiple stages of linear regulation.
What really piqued my interest though was the advanced switchable asynchronous sample rate converter (ASRC) that re-clocks the data at the same sample rate as the incoming signal. The objective for this feature is to reduce jitter for improved performance with any source. If the owner of the Stealth would like to remove the ASRC out of the signal path you can do this by using the front panel control and selecting the bypass. For the duration of my listening I used the ASRC feature.
The Stealth DC-1 is more than just a DAC, as it can also function as a preamp. It features a precision volume control and headphone amp. Included is a beautiful and solid metal remote that allows the listener to select inputs and control volume as well as turning the unit on and off. The unit is housed in a sturdy steel casing which looks really nice too.
Setup of the Emotiva Stealth DAC and In Use
As I unboxed the unit, I was surprised at how compact and jewel-like the Stealth was as I held it in my hands. I was expecting a larger component, but the size made it easy to fit into my audio cabinet! I decided to connect the Stealth as an outboard DAC to my Blu-ray player for initial listening.
The Stealth comes with a quality IEC AC power cable. Before you connect to the AC mains, check under the unit and find the line voltage selector switch. Make sure it is set to operate at the correct voltage (115V in USA). After you are connected, turn the power switch at the back of the unit on (located above the IEC cable receptacle).
I connected the Stealth to my Sony Blu-ray player through the Sony's Digital Coax output. It is important that if you connect a DVD player (or any digital player, cable boxes, etc.) to this unit, you should ascertain that the digital output is configured to deliver a stereo PCM signal.
The Stealth DC-1 is designed as a stereo PCM DAC. It is not designed for use with multi-channel PCM, DSD, or bitstream (digital surround) sources.
So, after selecting the correct mode on the Sony Blu-ray player menu and connecting the RCA cables to the Emotiva preamp, I was ready for some preliminary listening. I pressed the volume/selector switch on the front panel, and the familiar blue Emotiva display came up, and I rotated the input control till it arrived at the "Coax" input. Since the output voltage is controlled through the volume knob, I had to adjust the volume to my preset Emotiva preamp volume. Once set, I enjoyed the more precise volume adjustments I could make with the Stealth while listening.
I put on some light Jazz music (Bob James & Earl Klugh on Cool, Warner Bros. 926939-2) to warm the system up. I immediately noticed tighter and deeper bass (compared to the Sony Blu-ray's stereo analog outputs), so much so, that it was like I had added a quality sub in the system! (With their 15" woofers, my reference Klipsch Vintage Cornwalls are no slouches in the bass!) Next I noticed a tremendous increase in the transparency and extension in the high frequencies. I could hear greater texture from the instruments being played. Notes would ring from plucked guitar, the cymbals had a shimmering sparkle, and all the while, the overall sound had a relaxed focused quality. I wasn't intending to listen intently at first but I found myself engrossed in the sound. I began to notice the Stealth had an uncanny ability to present the fine shadings in the dynamics of the music. There was a fine attack to the transients on piano and percussion instruments. The music was presented with great rhythmic flow. It was like hearing the disc for the first time, and everything about the sound was easy and natural.
Next, I put on Jack Johnson's Bushfire Fairy Tales, and on this recording, I could hear the intimacy of his vocals like never before. Again there was great attack definition on the guitar and drum trap. On my notes I wrote that the Stealth provided a highly coherent, organic sound that is capable of taking you to another place and time. My initial listening session turned into a marathon as I went through disc after disc to see what I had been missing!
Now that I had listened to the Stealth as a DAC with volume control, I decided to try it as a preamp. It so happened that I had an opportunity to bring the Stealth with me to a vintage mini-meeting sponsored by the RCA'S (River City Audio Society) at one of the members' homes (John S.). I had pledged to bring a pair of vintage Klipsch Heresy's and a modified Magnavox 3 watt SET amp to the meet.
The Stealth was the control center of the system. The source was a vintage Sony 5-disc player connected to the Stealth via the coax output. Vinyl playback was a Kenwood direct drive turntable with Infinity Black Widow tonearm, Audio Technica cartridge, and for phono preamp, the battery powered Ray Samuel's F-117, all connected to the analog input of the Stealth DC-1. The speakers were the Heresy's, and the amp, the Maganvox SET. Now one of the members, Joe B. had brought with him some dbx encoded LP's and the dbx decoder box (necessary for playback of dbx encoded discs). We connected the decoder box between the phono-pre and the Stealth.
The listening session began with CD's, and on the first, Ella Fitzgerald literally jumped out of the speakers. An older recording played thru a 1990's 5-disc player sounded terrific through the Stealth.
Next was the vinyl. As we listened to Cat Steven's Tea for the Tillerman on dbx, dandy digital Don B. remarked how CD- like in dynamics and clean (lack of noise) the LP sounded. We all agreed the sound was great, but we could hear the 3.5 watt SET amp straining to play back the dynamic levels. So the rest of the listening was done through larger 8 watt SET monoblocks. Throughout the afternoon, the Stealth DC-1 was quiet and musical.
Returning home, I decided to connect the Stealth DC-1 directly to the Emotiva UPA-200 amp. Use care when doing this, and I recommend taking the level way down on the Stealth before turning on the amp. It is a fine tribute to the Emotiva USP-1 preamp that I could hear so little difference in the sound. Yes, I think that there was another level of lowered noise in the system. Transparency, smoothness, and dynamics were a little better, but great sound either way. During this time, I also downloaded the drivers necessary to connect my PC to the Stealth. The driver download can be found on the Emotiva Stealth information web page. It was an easy task, and soon I was enjoying the music from my computer using the USB input on the Stealth. In the past I have always felt that audio from a computer or streamed to a DAC was superior to audio coming from a CD or DVD transport to a DAC. More mechanics at work I assumed. However, with the Stealth DC-1, every source sounded great! I can only presume that the Stealth's ASRC circuit is the reason why I heard consistent great sound from all sources.
So, then I tried the headphone preamp section with my Sennheiser HD 515 headphones. The Stealth has two headphone jacks on the front panel. In addition the headphone level on the Stealth is "intelligent". This means that when a headphone is connected, the volume knob controls the sound to the headphones and shuts off the sound to the main amp. When the headphone is disconnected, the sound will return to the main amp at the previously set level. The Stealth DC-1 stores the output levels for the headphones and the main out separately and independent of each other. Sound thru the headphones was clear and transparent with all the same qualities I'd heard on the Stealth before.
I was able to return to John's home a couple of weeks later, and bring the Stealth DC-1 over for a listen on his big system. John upgraded to the Legacy Focus SE just recently (yes the same loudspeakers that our editor John Johnson raved about in his review). John is using a Cayen preamp, Prima Luna monoblocks (also just upgraded with KT120 tubes), and an Oppo 105 digital player. For the listen, we connected the Stealth DC-1 as a preamp/DAC with coax out from the Oppo. The woofers from the Legacy revealed the power and detail coming from the Stealth. We enjoyed the smoothness and easy detailing coming from the combination. Even though the Stealth DC-1 was the budget component in the system, it played as if it belonged in this high resolution system. John was impressed, and he and I went through our music libraries the rest of the afternoon!
Conclusions about the Emotiva Stealth DAC
The Stealth DC-1 outboard DAC is part of the Emotiva Pro line, and as such, I will offer this perspective on the unit's performance. In considering that a pro engineer or musician needs a playback unit that is both accurate and rugged, I think that the Stealth offers all the flexibility, ruggedness, and sound that a professional could count on. The qualities of transparency, dynamics, and rhythmic flow are there for the critical listener.
For the home user: if you would consider all the inputs and features of this unit along with the quality of sound, I think you would be hard pressed to find this kind of performance at this price anywhere else. I was very impressed with the Stealth DC-1's sound and flexibility. I do think that every component has a sound of its own, so if you would like to hear this great unit, you get a 30 day money back guarantee from Emotiva to try it out. If you are looking for an easy, relaxed presentation that gives you good transparency and dynamics from all your digital sources, you may find that $499 is all you have to spend to get it.