Emotiva XSP-1 Gen 2 preamplifier: review

In buying the Emotiva XSP-1 Gen 2 preamplifier, I didn’t think it would necessarily sound better than my Decware ZSTAGE that I raved about in this site. I bought it because of its features ….it is fully balanced with a phono stage. Both of my CD players are balanced and my Coda Model 11 amp takes balanced inputs. I also have a lot of 60s to 80s vinyl (my wife’s).

My comparison is to my ZSTAGE which is a single-ended triode gain stage that uses a single tube operating with no negative feedback. It has one capacitor and one resistor in each signal path. It is a purist straight-wire with gain design.

To my ears, the XSP-1 excels on my most valued sonic parameters. Its sound is rich, detailed, full-bodied, dynamic and smooth. It reveals the texture in massed strings absent any additional edginess. There is good front to back depth to the sound stage with instruments at the rear and corners accurately placed. Individual instruments in the sound stage are palpable, with clear outlines and noticeable air or space between them.

One of my “test” recordings is Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. It is a real challenge to the entire audio system with several loud, densely orchestrated passages. If I wince when one of those passages comes through I know the new component isn’t up to the challenge. The XSP-1 passes this test and remains musical even in those passages when all hell breaks loose.

I hear no “solid state“ character but then I am using tube power amps.

Bottom line: It has that smooth, highly refined sound that I expect of a high-end component.

The XSP-1 is loaded with features. For example, full analog bass management, a phono preamp that supports both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, with configurable loading for moving coil. The fit and finish and attention to detail is very high. You can tell it was designed with a high-end pedigree.

In comparison to my ZSTAGE, it may be a bit cleaner, especially with very demanding music, more refined, and the noise floor seems to be a bit quieter. I like them both very much.

I have noted that Emotiva is criticized by some audiophiles. They dismiss their products as mid-fi. For my part, I would very happy with this pre amp if I paid $5000 or more for it instead of $1000.

I love this pre amp.
Sony SCD-XA5400ES or NAD M5, Kimber KCAG, Emotiva XSP-1 Gen 2, Nordost Red Dawn, PrimaLuna Prologue Seven Monoblocks, Nordost Red Dawn, Thiel 3.6s/ Paradigm Servo 15, PS Audio Power Plant Premier.
Nice review and it is consistant with what I hear from other Emotiva owners.
Are you still using this preamp? I am interested if you are still liking it, any issues, or anything more you can say about it? How long before it burned in fully? I am told after 100-200 hours, the sound opens up even more.
I don't see much difference over the 1st gen besides looks. Has anyone compared both?