Emotiva Pro (the professional division of direct sales home theater and audiophile manufacturer, Emotiva) has made friends with its ribbon tweeter-loaded, powered studio nearfield monitor line. There are also pro applications for products in Emotiva’s core line, like the 7.2-channel XMC-1 preamp/processor, which includes balanced I/O on XLRs. Along with monitor loudspeakers, Emotiva Pro offers the Stealth DC-1 24-Bit/192 kHz capable DAC—a multifaceted two-channel converter/headphone amp/monitor volume controller with a friendly price ($499 direct or via Amazon).
I’ve lived with the DC-1 for several months now, it sitting alongside— and used interchangeable with—my standard reference (the widely familiar and now “vintage” original and pre-USB Benchmark DAC-1). In short, I never felt like I was compromising by using the DC-1, and several features offered extra convenience (many, if not most, of those performance features, are available on later Benchmark DAC models, to be fair, though at a significantly higher price).
With a Prism dScope III analyzer, I confirmed the published specs for the DC-1, measuring insignificantly higher THD+N relative to the spec, and compared to the DAC1. I also measured very similar frequency response performance compared to the DAC1, within the spec of +/- 0.1 dB across the audio band. The headphone circuits have a default 2 dB low-end boost that’s user-defeatable via internal jumpers, which is the way I used the DC-1—flat. Plugging in headphones mutes the line outs.
With a 0 dBFS, 1 kHz input, the THD+N was beneath .0006% until cranking up the output pushed the level a bit above 20 dBu (the .001% threshold was reached at 22 dBu). At full volume, the output was not clipping, with a 25.65 dBu measured max output level at a still respectable THD+N of .0025%, the N increasing, not the THD (Most of the harmonics visible with an FFT analysis were 3rd and 5th. For comparison, the Benchmark DAC1 had a max out of 29.25 dBu, maintaining .000x% THD+N till the onset of clipping, though all the harmonics through the 5th were visible through a lower wideband noise floor).
The DC-1 can operate in asynchronous mode (how I used it), with an onboard ASRC providing jitter immunity (it handled all the jitter the dScope could throw at it), or synchronously with the input clock. There is no ability to synchronously lock to an external clock other than that in the selected input data stream.
As a volume controller, the DC-1 offers .25 dB volume steps. The front panel controls are velocity sensitive for faster level adjustment. Sustained pressure on the remote level controls also speeds the gain change. A Fixed output level can be selected, with 0 dBFS producing a nominal 14 dBu output. That implies that the rest of the DC-1’s output level is produced by output amp gain, also evidenced by a rising noise floor with level increase on the upper range (though this increase was never audible in my experience). 0 dBFS = 14 dBu is not a common professional scaling level, so I’d find the DC-1 less attractive as a reference DAC feeding external monitoring or processing paths.
The output level ranges up to +12 on front panel display, further suggesting 12 dB of gain above nominal. In practical use, I ran about 0 to +4 on the display when driving a variety of powered monitors for critical listening (within the DC-1’s best operating range). With headphones/ in-ears, I used lower output settings.
Sonically, I want a DAC and monitor feed path to be like wire with level control so that any coloration is the sound signature of the monitors or headphones in use. That’s what the DC-1 offers: neutrality.
Elegant and solid, the remote has an impressive heft. On/off, source selection, volume, mute and front panel brightness can be controlled from the remote. The Mute level control has three fixed levels: Silent, -20 dB below maximum output and –40 dB below max. With low volume levels, it is possible to actually have louder output when hitting mute, particularly with the -20 preset (at first experience of the phenomenon, I confess that I went to the manual to figure out what was going on). I’d liked to have had options between -20 and -40.
Inputs are S/PDIF (IEC 60958) on independently selectable optical, RCA and BNC connections, AES3 on XLR, an analog input pair on unbalanced RCAs and USB. The USB input worked seamlessly with both Mac and Windows computers.
The Emotiva Pro Stealth DC-1 is full-featured and both sonically and aesthetically satisfying. It served me well as source selector, monitor reference converter and volume controller. Some aspects of the design are not fully in keeping with traditional pro philosophy, but the performance suits it for use as a pro quality monitor DAC, at an attractive price.