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Emotiva XPA-2 Listening Tests


All listening tests on the XPA-2 were conducted in 2-channel mode using the RCA level connections between it and my reference receiver, the Denon AVR-5805mkii. The transport was my Sony CDP-CA8ES CH changer and my reference speakers were the RBH T-30LSE towers. All of the cables were furnished by Impact Acoustics Sonicwave series digital interconnects and 10AWG speaker cables. Whenever relevant, I did my best to directly compare the fidelity of the XPA-2 to my Denon AVR-5805 receiver which to date is the best receiver I’ve ever tested and listened too. The comparison wasn’t instantaneous since I had to first adjust the volume level down almost 4dB due to the unusually high gain structure of the XPA-2 when switching between the AVR-5805 and XPA-2 amplifiers.

CD: Fourplay – The Best Of Fourplay

Fourplay.jpgWhat good is a listening test without throwing in a little Fourplay to warm things up? Track #5 “The Chant” is a song I often use to separate the men from the boys in loudspeakers. The bass energy of the kick drums will either reward you with an adrenaline surge or have you covering your ears from the horrible sound of woofer bottoming right before it plays for the very last time. Of course this isn’t a problem for my reference speakers but I wanted to see just how well the XPA-2 could deliver the juice to get the 4 10” subwoofer drivers in my T-30LSEs moving. Needless to say, the XPA-2 delivered the goods. I heard excellent sustain and decay of the kick drums at all power levels. When I pushed the power meters to the red, the XPA-2 didn’t falter. Instead my lights dimmed in and out with each bass transient since I initially didn’t have the XPA-2 plugged into one of my dedicated 20A lines. Make no mistake, the XPA-2 is ready to play hard if you are.

Ann-Hampton.jpgCD: Ann Hampton – Callaway

This is another CD I brushed the cobwebs off and was rewarded yet again with a great sounding recording. Track #1 “Time After Time” got me in touch with the seductive voice of Ann Hampton and how she could transform a Cindy Lauper classic by adding a distinct and classy jazzy feel to it. Track #4 “Old Devil Moon” revealed a tightly focused piano with lifelike dynamics and realism. I felt as if I was transported into a piano bar making me appreciate just how well a 2-channel recording could sound when played back on excellent loudspeakers and amplification. I typically don’t sit through this entire CD as it’s a bit too laid back and relaxed for my often fast paced schedule during the day, but I found myself lured into its sonic excellence which the XPA-2 did a bang up job of captivating.

Csoul-cages.jpgD: Sting - Soul Cages

Although this is a rather old CD, I recently rediscovered how superior the fidelity is on it. It’s a fully digital (DDD) recording. Unlike most CD’s today, it actually has great dynamic range with an immensely wide soundstage thanks to some special processing mixed into the recording. On Track #1 “Island of Souls”, the triangle sound panning from left to right was intoxicating. The bass was very crisp and tight on the XPA-2. In fact, I subjectively felt the XPA-2 delivered a bit more slam and presence in the bass department than the amps in my AVR-5805 receiver. The guitar of the far left seemed to extend beyond the plane of the speaker and the cymbals had a very airy feeling to them. Sting’s vocals were anchored dead center and everything just sounded terrific. I subjectively felt the AVR-5805 was a bit warmer in the presentation but the XPA-2 sounded a bit bolder and more in your face.

In track #3 “Mad about You”, the acoustical guitar was crystal clean and it was obvious to me that the XPA-2 was right at home playing this track at low and high listening levels. Track #6 “Saint Agnes And The Burning Train” proved that the Emotiva amp was right at home delivering the sonic nuances of every pluck of the acoustical guitars. This song was a real pleasure to listen to and I just lost myself in the moment forgetting I was trying to do a critical listening test for a review. It was hard for me to decide if I preferred the sound of my AVR-5805 amps or the XPA-2s. Both sounded similarly good with a slight edge to smoothness and finesse going to the AVR-5805 but boldness and dynamic punch going to the XPA-2. Considering the AVR-5805 is a nearly a 100lb, $6k receiver, I consider this a rather flattering testament to the design of the XPA-2.

XPA-2 or RPA-2? Which One is Right for You?

At the Audioholics Forum Get-Together last summer, Emotiva showed up with an array of new loudspeakers and electronics. I had a brief chance to directly compare the two in a not so ideal listening environment on their new tower speakers. The sonic differences were subtle (as is the case with all well designed amplifiers operating within their linear region) but interesting to note nonetheless. Overall I found both amplifiers excelled sonically, but felt the XPA-2 was simply more lively and bold while the RPA-2 favored a more delicate presentation with less graininess at low power levels. Either amplifier will serve a two channel system quite well and it’s really a matter of taste and application to determine which amplifier is right for you. If you favor home theater and sustained loud listening levels, than the XPA-2 is probably more your bag, while if you favor sipping a brandy listening to an old Michael Franks record, I’d lean towards an RPA-2.


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Recent Forum Posts:

flemingg posts on September 24, 2013 05:10
Contacted renting it right now.

Darkwing_duck posts on September 24, 2013 03:30
Irvrobinson, post: 857390
Just out of curiosity I read this review recently, since I'm in the amplifier market right now. The quote above fascinated me. Gene, do you believe that there are audible differences between well-designed amplifiers performing within their specifications?

Good question Im curious to know as well
Irvrobinson posts on January 13, 2012 15:29
No, the XPA-2 doesn’t treat my music with the kid gloves that my much more expensive $7k Denon POA-A1HDCI amplifier is able to do, but it shares many of its sonic virtues while also besting it in sheer output power.

Just out of curiosity I read this review recently, since I'm in the amplifier market right now. The quote above fascinated me. Gene, do you believe that there are audible differences between well-designed amplifiers performing within their specifications?
scott911 posts on March 20, 2010 17:00
I'd like to see an option of a plexi or lexon type replacement cover… a very nice interior design. It's nice to see that level of attention to detail and pride.
PaulF posts on May 16, 2009 16:48
Gene, I noticed you used the unbalanced inputs for your review. What would be the resultant noise floor if balanced inputs were used?

I agree that an input sensitivity switch would make sense, I see no value in reaching 100% amplifier output with the volume at 50% when using a decent pre/pro. In fact I would prefer the more precise control the volume would allow with a lower gain amp.
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