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Stealth DC-1 DAC Setup and Sound Quality


Ah, the screwdriver. Emotiva has included a small screwdriver with the Stealth DC-1. At first, I thought it was for the remote - and it is, at least in part. To access the battery compartment, you need to remove two small screws and remove the end plate. You then slide off the entire bottom to access the two AA batteries. To use the remote the first time, you'll need to remove the tab that is keeping the batteries from making contact.

But that's not all the screwdriver is used for.

stealth_dc_1_topon     stealth_dc_1_topoff

What? What is he doing?

The Stealth DC-1 is shipped with a 2dB bass boost at 20Hz. Emotiva states that many headphone amps have this bass boost to compensate for many headphones’ frequency response. As most headphones won't get anywhere near 20Hz with meaningful output, this is debatable. The bass boost is defeatable but you'll need to take the top off the Stealth DC-1 by removing six screws. There are two tiny jumpers that will have to removed with tweezers (they are really, really small) and replaced in a different configuration to turn off the bass boost. While it may be common in pro gear to have to disassemble it to change configurations, it's fairly unheard of in consumer level gear.


I labeled the jumpers with fancy arrows and everything

At this point, you are ready to plug your Stealth DC-1 into the wall and get going. If you have a Windows computer, you'll want to download the drivers from the Emotiva site but Macs will recognize the Stealth DC-1 out of the box. You may have to go into your audio settings to get it to switch to the DC-1 but you'll have to play with the settings of your computer to see.

The Emotiva Stealth DC-1 recognizes all the sample rates and bit depths on the market from 16/44.1 to 24/192, including 24/88 and 24/176.4. It does this automatically and will display the sample rate on the screen (but not the bit depth) along with the input type during playback. From the menu (which can only be accessed from the front of the unit and not from the remote), you can select SRC (Sample Rate Conversion - Synchronous or Asynchronous), Mute Level (-20dB, -40dB, and Silent), Output Mode (Variable - for headphones, Fixed - for pass-through), USB Mode (2.0 or 1.1), and Info (tells you the software version number).


Itty bitty is the right term

I set the Stealth into asynchronous mode, the mute to silent, USB to 2.0, and output to variable. It is important to note that the Mute Level is not in reference to your current level. If you select -20dB, it won't bump down your volume -20dB from your current level. Instead, it switches the volume from wherever you have it to -20dB (which, for me, was often louder than I was currently listening). The Stealth DC-1 remembers your volume levels for your headphones and will switch to the last volume when headphones are inserted. When you remove the headphone, it will switch to the last non-headphone volume level. The headphone outputs share a volume level.

Sound Quality

Lost bits are lost bits - that is something you want to remember. If you got excited about how many songs you could shove on your iPod and compressed everything down to 128kbps MP3s, well, no DAC can fix that. It will be jitter free, zero noise floor playback but it will still sound compressed, tinny, and emotionless. The same is true if the original recording or mixing was done with sub-standard equipment. You can't fix that after the fact. All the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 can do is playback your music as it was recorded or mixed. If it was recorded, mixed, or compressed poorly, it is still going to sound like garbage.

There were a couple of things I was worried about with the Emotiva Stealth DC-1. I wanted to make sure it worked with a wide range of headphones, I wanted to make sure that it was compatible with all the formats Emotiva claimed, I wanted to make sure it didn't introduce lag, and I wanted to ensure that it really did eliminate jitter.


Space is at a premium inside as well

As I've already said, I tested the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 with a wide variety of headphones. I used the OM Audio INEARPEACE in-ear monitors, Audio-Technica ATH-M50s over ear, V-MODA Crossfade M-100 over ear, Sennheiser Momentum over-ear (review pending), and more. I plugged in everything from $20 headphones to well over $300 headphones and never did the Stealth DC-1 hiccup.

The OM Audio INEARPEACE, in particular were a troublesome pair of headphones as they were very sensitive. In the normal headphone output of my Mac laptop, there was a more than audible and very annoying hiss that could be heard through them. When I switched to the Stealth DC-1, the noise floor was absolutely gone. Dead silent. This is what you want out of a headphone amp and the Emotiva provided it.

I'm not a big proponent of upsampling but it is easy enough to do it with a computer source. Starting at 44.1kHz and 16-bit depth, I moved through 48k, 88.2k, 96k, 176.4k, and 192kHz testing 16, 24, and 32-bit depth with each. The Emotiva Stealth DC-1 had no problems with any of them and switched cleanly displaying the correct sampling rate on the display for each.


There's the fuse. Not sure why I took a picture of this. I also have a picture of the manual.

Any psychologist or researcher will tell you that you can never prove the null hypothesis. That's just a fancy way of saying that you can never prove that something isn't there. That's why we are still seeing Ghost Hunter shows and other nonsense on TV. A lack of evidence just means (to them at least) that they haven't found the evidence yet (or come up with the right tool...blah, blah, blah). It's still possible and while that is technically true, at some point you just need to let it go.

It is possible that some jitter or coloration might get through the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 but I never heard it. I tested it with high-res files and garbage from iTunes, Pandora, and more. In each case, the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 got out of the way and just let the music play as was intended (or recorded). From their website: "Emotiva Pro’s all-new Stealth DC-1 provides an accurate, transparent window on your work" and "You’ll hear what your source really sounds like." Emotiva's intent was to provide a transparent link between your digital source and either your headphones or the rest of your gear. As I have no evidence that they've failed I must conclude they succeeded.


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Recent Forum Posts:

AllanMarcus posts on April 24, 2016 11:36
Nice review. Has anyone tried it with high end headphones?
RichB posts on March 26, 2014 20:51
The Oppo HA-1 Product Page has been updated:

A notable quote:

OPPO designs the HA-1 headphone amplifier with the same universal approach as our Blu-ray players. The HA-1 is a high performance headphone amplifier, and it doubles as an asynchronous USB DAC, a stereo pre-amplifier, a digital audio dock for mobile devices, and a Bluetooth audio transport.
Its fully balanced design and numerous inputs ensure the best in fidelity and versatility.

OPPO Digital - HA-1 Headphone Amplifier

- Rich
RichB posts on March 26, 2014 20:47
Philth, post: 1025515
If that is truly a real time spectrum analyzer on that HA1, I'm going to find it hard to swallow that it will be competitive with the Stealth DC-1 on a price point. Sale or no.

Yeah, looking over the write ups, that thing is going to cost a lot more than their bluray players.

I have seen some hinted pricing but nothing to indicate that it will cost more than the Oppo BDP-105.
Time will tell.

- Rich
Philth posts on March 26, 2014 20:21
If that is truly a real time spectrum analyzer on that HA1, I'm going to find it hard to swallow that it will be competitive with the Stealth DC-1 on a price point. Sale or no.

Yeah, looking over the write ups, that thing is going to cost a lot more than their bluray players.
PENG posts on December 19, 2013 18:38
sharkman, post: 1005169
On the other hand, I understood the Oppo will have analog input, and handling things right in the analog domain is not cheap.

I don't expect anything from Oppo to be cheap, just good value for the money. I do expect it to be priced below the BDP-105, okay maybe not well below but say a couple hundreds less would be nice. The 105 has full blown universal disc and USB player, 7.1 analog out, top notch video processing, network streaming, the same ESS DAC but it has two of them, one for 7.1 channel outputs.

Yes the HA1 has analog input but that shouldn't add much cost as it should simply bypass the DAC part, nothing more than that. I was actually thinking of biting the bullet and buy a second 105 for one of my two channel system until I found out about the HA1. Not because I think the HA1 would make my system sound any better but it will not make it look stupid to include a full blown 7.1 channel universal player just to be used as a USB player/DAC/preamp.

I know this thread is about the EMO so I am going to stop talking about the HA1 now.
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