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Emotiva Audio XPA-1L Class A and AB Mono Amplifier Preview

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Emotiva Audio XPA-1L Class A Amplifier

Emotiva Audio XPA-1L Class A Amplifier

Summary

  • Product Name: XPA-1L Class A Amplifier
  • Manufacturer: Emotiva Audio
  • Review Date: March 13, 2013 05:20
  • MSRP: $699
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now
  • 250 watts @ 8 ohm (0.1% THD)
  • 500 watts @ 4 ohm (0.1% THD)
  • 35 watts @ 8 ohm; Class A operation - Note: In Class A mode, under normal conditions, the XPA-1L operates in pure Class A mode at all power levels up to 35 watts, above this level it will automatically transition into Class A/B mode.
  • Fully balanced, Differential Reference design with quad differential input stage and cross-coupled active current sources.
  • Switchable Class A and Class A/B operating modes.
  • Massive, high current toroidal power supply.
  • Advanced microprocessor operating system protects the amplifier from all fault conditions.
  • Discrete differential front end, no integrated circuits.
  • Balanced and unbalanced inputs.
  • Trigger input and output.
  • Front panel status LED with switchable stealth mode.
  • Fully protected from all fault conditions.
  • Machined, gold plated, unbalanced RCA input connector.
  • Heavy duty, gold plated, clear jacketed audiophile speaker binding posts.
  • Soft-touch power switch.
  • Solid milled aluminum faceplate.
  • Automatic 120/230 AC voltage detection and switching.
  • IEC power inlet.
  • Laser etched serial number badge.
  • Emotiva 5-year transferable warranty.
  • Dimensions: 17” wide x 3.875” high x 19” deep (includes feet and binding posts).
  • Weight: 35 lbs.

Executive Overview

Anyone who's been around the audio game for any length of time knows one "truth"—sound has only been getting worse. Just ask any audiophile. Vinyl is the best. Digital amplifiers sound "mechanical". Aluminum cones sound "metallic". The "theories" are never ending. While we don't subscribe to many (most) of these ideas, one thing is certainly true: Class A amplifiers weren't supplanted because people thought other amplifier typologies sounded "better". No, the reason was because Class A amplifiers were horribly inefficient (losing up to 80% of their power to heat—sometimes more). On top of that, while sitting and not doing anything, Class A amps continually power the transistors, meaning they are always drawing significant power from the wall. This makes them not only hot but also expensive to run.

But the upside is that Class A amplifiers are some of the most accurate amps out there. The inefficient design, however, has seen them fall out of favor. But for audiophiles, there is nothing that they won't do for sonic purity. This has seen Class A amplifiers becoming the things of legend and coveted by audiophiles the world over. The popular (and used in most receivers these days) compromise is the Class A/B amplifier. Class A/B combines a Class A amp and a Class B. A Class B amp has no power flowing through the transistors at standby while the Class A has full power. With a Class A/B amp, there is a small amount of power that is flowing at standby. This gives a much higher efficiency (around 50%) but, for the audiophile, saving power at the potential expense of sonic accuracy is an unacceptable compromise.

 XPA-1L_back

Emotiva Audio has heard these audiophiles and has released a new monoblock amplifier, the XPA-1L. The XPA-1L is a dual-mode amplifier that can be selected for Class A or Class A/B operation based on your preferences. To start with, in Class A/B mode, the XPA-1L will output 250 watts into 8 ohms and 500 watts into 4 ohms. Emotiva recommends pairing the XPA-1L with 4 ohm rated or higher impedance speakers but it can function just fine with speakers dipping lower in impedance too.

The back of the XPA-1L has exactly what you'd expect from a high quality amplifier from Emotiva. There is a gold-plated RCA unbalanced input and a XLR balanced input. The speaker terminals are, unfortunately, located quite far away from each other (a pet peeve which may be troublesome for some users with custom cables) but feature gold-plated 5-way binding posts. The amp will accept 115 VAC or 230 VAC which is automatically detected and switched. For ease of use, Emotiva has included 12 volt trigger input and output. 

Inside we see the very interesting layout of the XPA-1L. Emotiva has included 90,000 uF of capacitance and a 450 VA heavy duty toroidal transformer. The amplifier is fully balanced, fully discrete, and features a high current, short signal path, Quad Differential design. The large internal heat sinks are to protect from overheating during Class A operation.

XPA-1L_top

You can set the Emotiva XPA-1L to Class A/B or Class A operation via a switch on the front panel. When in Class A mode, the XPA-1L delivers 35 high bias watts into 8 ohms. Emotiva hasn't provided a 4 ohm rating, but we are quite confident it doesn't exactly double down in power driving a 4 ohm load when operating in this mode else it would consume way too much power. If you exceed the 35 watt threshold, the XPA-1L transitions into Class A/B, allowing it to deliver its full rated power. There is no indication from Emotiva that the XPA-1L lets you know when this happens but this will occur at much louder than background listening levels where purists will probably find acceptable. Green audiophiles wanting to save the planet and cut down on their electric bill will probably opt to run the XPA-1L in Class A/B mode all of the time.

The XPA-1L is protected against excessive operating temperatures (a necessity with a Class A design), shorted speaker connections, ground faults, and other common fault conditions. For the amount of power that it outputs, it is quite small at 17” wide by 3.875” high and 19” deep, but it still weighs in at a respectable 35 pounds. At $700, the XPA-1L isn't cheap, and a quick search of comparable Class A offerings shows it is, by far, one of the least expensive offerings. But, then again, this is Emotiva. They've made a business of undercutting the prices of everyone else. Why should the XPA-1L be any different?

Conclusion

If you've wanted to experiment with a Class A amplifier but didn't have the thousands it normally takes to step up to that level, the Emotiva XPA-1L is for you. With selectable Class A/Class A/B operation, it has something for everyone. Putting out 35 watts in Class A mode and 500 watts (4 ohms) in Class A/B mode, it should pair well with nearly any speaker you may own. We are also wondering if Emotiva is planning on implementing this Class A switch to their entire line of Class A/B amps. It would certainly help differentiate their offerings from all the other Class A/B amps out there. We are definitely looking forward to getting the Emotiva XPA-1L on our test bench.

For more information, please visit www.emotiva.com.

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About the author:

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Grador posts on March 14, 2013 17:55
internetmin, post: 956960
Bingo! OK, there we go. Exactly what I was looking for. Now the logical follow-up question to this. According to this video, Class I has the sound fidelity of Class A with the energy benefits of a Class AB or D amplifier technology. Is this accurate?

I get exactly why a Class A amp would sound better in theory. But I've never heard of Class I (BCA)

To be clear on this, from everything I've read if the A and B part of the waveform don't line up well it's very audible and easily recognizable. It was far more of an issue in earlier days of class AB amps, but supposedly isn't much of one today.
jinjuku posts on March 14, 2013 16:38
internetmin, post: 956968
I've been very familiar with the crown name as an end user in higher end, commercial installations; but they get a bad rap in home theater and 2 channel; yet everyone that I've ever read giving them a bad rap has never done an A/B and I wonder if it's bias (no pun intended on my part) against the pro audio sector.

Crown also has over the years had studio oriented models: D/PS/Studio Reference.

When I came back around to Crown (XLS 402D) on a whim (a $179 closeout whim) after the dead silent nature on my Statements vs Parasound, well the Parasound amps had to go. Plus the Crown has more balls.

For three years I had a standing offer that anyone could come over and stone cold, SBT, 10 coin flips. If they could pick out the Audiophile amp 9/10 times they could have the Parasounds. I even tossed $500 on top of that at one point. I eventually sold them and made a profit which is why I never steer anyone away from used Parasound/Rotel/Adcom etc. You can always get your money back.

From a recent thread a Parts Express Tech Talk (PETT):


So is the 1000 staying, going, or switch up to the 1500 now that you have had some time on it?


The Crown is definitely a keeper for me. I'll be selling the Rotel and Adcom amplifiers that I've accumulated over the years.

I think I'll stick with the 1000 as I don't listen to music at higher levels and the hiss at lower levels is inaudible unless you're very close to the tweeters.
internetmin posts on March 14, 2013 16:26
jinjuku, post: 956961
You get mathematically the same waveform so yes, pardon the pun, it is accurate.

Crown's been doing this ‘audio stuff’ for quite a while know.

I've been very familiar with the crown name as an end user in higher end, commercial installations; but they get a bad rap in home theater and 2 channel; yet everyone that I've ever read giving them a bad rap has never done an A/B and I wonder if it's bias (no pun intended on my part) against the pro audio sector.
jinjuku posts on March 14, 2013 16:17
You get mathematically the same waveform so yes, pardon the pun, it is accurate.

Crown's been doing this ‘audio stuff’ for quite a while know.
internetmin posts on March 14, 2013 16:15
jinjuku, post: 956953
Class A's main talking point is there is no transistor crossover point. In non-class A amps (with the noted exception of Crown Audio's patented Class I topology) an A and B transistor each handling only one half of the full waveform. When that wave form is re-assembled from it's component halves you could have audible distortion from the waveforms not matching up.

Check out this video for a bit more information:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=9vxZcLhNfXA

Bingo! OK, there we go. Exactly what I was looking for. Now the logical follow-up question to this. According to this video, Class I has the sound fidelity of Class A with the energy benefits of a Class AB or D amplifier technology. Is this accurate?

I get exactly why a Class A amp would sound better in theory. But I've never heard of Class I (BCA)
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