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  1. #1
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Emotiva XDA-1 Digital Preamp/DAC

    The Emotiva XDA-1 is a digital preamp/DAC with remote control for $299. Here is an except from the manufacturer...
    _____________________
    “The XDA-1 Differential Reference™ balanced 24Bit/192kHz DAC/Digital Preamp represents a stunning achievement in sonic performance. Designed around the acclaimed Analog Devices AD1955 DAC operating in a fully differential mode, its differential output is then coupled to a digitally controlled volume control stage. The output of this stage then drives our fully discrete, cross coupled, Differential Reference™ balanced line amp stage. The result is breathtaking.

    In addition to being a state of the art 24Bit/192kHz DAC, the XDA-1 can operate as a digital preamplifier and source selector in a digitally based reference level audio system. Inputs for up to six digital sources including AES/EBU, USB, Coax, and Toslink are available. The XDA-1 incorporates a VFD display for volume, input select, and system status messages. In addition, it is supplied with a milled aluminum remote control for convenient operation.”
    _____________________

    I just received mine yesterday and thought I'd post a “first impression”.

    Let me start by saying that there a few reviews on the net addressing this unit and the opinions vary wildly. One person will compare it to a specific DAC and declare it better and another will declare it “not as good” with the same competing DAC. Some people will say it's bright, another just the opposite. It goes on pretty much this way. There are many reviews that say it's the best thing since buttered bread, for the price. Well, I'm in the last camp.

    I've owned a few DAC's in my days that were under $1,800. They were the same or marginally better than the DAC in my CD/DVD player and not worth the cost of admission. That was 15 years ago, but it really made me trigger shy to try another one. Today..., I needed a 2 channel remote controlled preamp for my stereo system with switching capabilities. I've owned a number of preamps too and getting one that was completely transparent was also a risk, especially at the lower prices. I found the Emotiva XDA-1 and thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did!. I wasn't in the market for a DAC and was more interested in the preamp. The preamp section of the unit was very good, but the DAC really impressed me. I'm not sure I can separate the two since they are one and the same.

    I was running my system from the analog outs of a Panasonic DVD Blueray player and then I put a Behringer Ultra Curve Pro (equalizer) between the DVD player and the amp. This was out of necessity because I modified my speakers and had to remove some excessive bass. The Behringer is gone once I remake the speaker boxes. Anyway, the Beringer was slightly better than the Panasonic as far as DAC's go. I am using a Trends TA 10.1 digital amp for power which has it's own passive volume control. All in all, this system sounded great, very transparent, a large soundstage, and any number or accolades that I can mention.

    I installed the Emotiva XDA-1 into the system and was very surprised at what I heard. The soundstage grew wider and deeper and transparency was top notch, much better than what I had before. This was not a subtle change! Images became tighter and more defined. As an example, voices were better defined and I could hear more vocal inflections. The space between the images also became more resolved. I was literally hearing things that I didn't know was in the music. Instruments and singers in the back of the soundstage were clearer and took on a body of their own. As an added bonus, it also took the edge off of some of the lesser recording. It also seemed to give the sound more high frequency extension. It might be that instead of extension, it just had more resolving power at the higher frequencies. The only thing that might be a negative is that it is not a warm sound, rather analytical in nature. If I had to choose between warm and analytical, it would be analytical. Both would be nice.

    After running through about an hour of music, I decided that this Emotiva was here to stay. Actually, after the first minute, but I had to be sure.

    Well, that's it. I can't think of much else in audio that can give this much improvement for $300.

    As for the device itself, it has blue lights and a digital readout for the volume which can be dimmed. The remote is aluminum and heavy. You can read about it if you're interested. Emotiva Audio XDA-1 Digital-to-Analog Converter
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  2. #2
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Very appealing I'd say. Didn't somebody around hear try one previously, having some minor, possibly now remedied, problems?

    The XDA-1 provides a hullava lot stuff for $299. I like the volume control but I also need at least one, preferably two, analog imputs if it was going to replace my preamp.

    I like the balanced, fully discrete, (non-opamp), output stage. The unit used the late-model Analog Devices AD1955 delta/sigma DAC, and a Burr Brown OPA2134 for current-to-voltage conversion. The USB to S/PDIF and S/PDIF receiver chips aren't mentioned in the specs.

    To be sure, DACs sound different; whether that's because the DAC itself or some other stage isn't necessarily clear in a given instance.

    My current DAC is simple consisting of a DIR9001 S/PDIF receiver, WM8740 voltage-output DAC , and an OPA627 opamp buffer/output stage. It cost me all of $50 [edit] plus the cost of the OPA267 ~$20 [/edit] and is amazingly good at that price, but it's ugly and has no volume or remote.
    Last edited by Feanor; 09-24-2011 at 06:49 AM.

  3. #3
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post
    Very appealing I'd say. Didn't somebody around hear try one previously, having some minor, possibly now remedied, problems?

    The XDA-1 provides a hullava lot stuff for $299. I like the volume control but I also need at least one, preferably two, analog imputs if it was going to replace my preamp.

    I like the balanced, fully discrete, (non-opamp), output stage. The unit used the late-model Analog Devices AD1955 delta/sigma DAC, and a Burr Brown OPA2134 for current-to-voltage conversion. The USB to S/PDIF and S/PDIF receiver chips aren't mentioned in the specs.

    To be sure, DACs sound different; whether that's because the DAC itself or some other stage isn't necessarily clear in a given instance.

    My current DAC is simple consisting of a DIR9001 S/PDIF receiver, WM8740 voltage-output DAC , and an OPA627 opamp buffer/output stage. It cost me all of $50 and is amazingly good at that price, but it's ugly and has no volume or remote.
    There was an issue with the volume control. It was configured in linear mode and to "fix" the problem, they changed it to logarithmic. I guess that people were having to play it at the very lowest volume or it would overdrive their amp and they didn't have much control over the volume.

    Apparently there is some synergy issues since the reviews are all over the place.

    Ugly doesn't matter, it's how good it sounds.

    It seems that you know quite a bit about these things. Hey, I'm willing to learn...
    Last edited by StevenSurprenant; 09-24-2011 at 11:45 AM.

  4. #4
    Ajani
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    I still own an XDA-1 (hasn't been used in months though)... So I fall in the other 'camp'... For the price I think it's a good product... and the features are insane for the price (especially newer customers who get a proper volume control)... But I don't think it competes with more expensive DACs... It impressed me in initial listening, but over time I found it rather disappointing...

  5. #5
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    I'm curious and cautious about the "analytical" sound. It will be interesting what SS has to say in a month.

    IIRC Ajani mentioned something about bright or analytical in reference to it's sound when he wrote about it. That caused me to have second thoughts about buying one.
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  6. #6
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeE SP9 View Post
    I'm curious and cautious about the "analytical" sound. It will be interesting what SS has to say in a month.
    There's always that... who knows?

    I still have to connect my DVD player that I am using directly to it. It's possible that it could be better (or worse). Right now the digital signal is passing through a HMDI, an optical, and a balanced cable before getting to the XDA-1. I'll try that soon. -(I just tried it)

    As Ajani said, it can't compete against more expensive DAC's. I assume that to be true, but then money is an issue for most of us.

    Here's a number of reviews that you might find interesting...
    _____________________
    Read Mike_TX re-posts of Joes original post.: The Emotiva Lounge - DAC Shootout

    NuForce uDAC (original) $99
    Jolida Glass FX $120
    Music Hall 25.2 DAC $600
    Emotiva XDA-1 $300
    Compared:Emotiva XDA-1 DAC - Page 6 - Chase Home Theater

    Scroll to the bottom for the results: DAC Final

    [Review] Emotiva XDA-1

    This is really interesting: Emotiva XDA-1 Differential Reference DAC for the Audiophile
    _____________________

    Audio is a strange beast. We all have different opinions.

    Anyway, I'm not done running it through its testing. I will tell you this, direct in from the Panasonic DVD player, I can't tell the difference between the coax and the optical connections. If anyone finds this thread interesting, I'll add more findings as I discover them, good or bad.

    Thanks guys.
    Last edited by StevenSurprenant; 09-25-2011 at 05:39 AM.

  7. #7
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenSurprenant View Post
    There's always that... who knows?

    I still have to connect my DVD player that I am using directly to it. It's possible that it could be better (or worse). Right now the digital signal is passing through a HMDI, an optical, and a balanced cable before getting to the XDA-1. I'll try that soon. -(I just tried it)

    As Ajani said, it can't compete against more expensive DAC's. I assume that to be true, but then money is an issue for most of us.
    ...
    _____________________

    Audio is a strange beast. We all have different opinions.
    ...

    Thanks guys.
    Well put, Steven.

    First, I agree ought to find a more direct signal path to the XDA-1 and avoid the HDMI and optical which can be significant contributors of jitter to a PCM signal.

    Otherwise there are wide divergences in sound preferences among audiophiles (and enthusiasts); these differences are larger than many audiophiles admit because they believe that their particular preference is the correct & accurate sound.

    When people say, as Joe did, that a sound is "analytic", I"m not sure what they mean (unless they clarify). Does "analytic" mean "etched", "harsh", or "bright"? Or does it mean detailed and neutral (vs. warm)? Personally I have a high tolerance for neutral sound and, IMO, there is no such thing as too much detail.

    Burn-in happens, I believe, and tends to make components smoother and less bright. But I suspect too that our ears adapt over a couple of weeks to more neutral, but likely also more accurate, sound.

  8. #8
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post
    Well put, Steven.

    First, I agree ought to find a more direct signal path to the XDA-1 and avoid the HDMI and optical which can be significant contributors of jitter to a PCM signal.

    Otherwise there are wide divergences in sound preferences among audiophiles (and enthusiasts); these differences are larger than many audiophiles admit because they believe that their particular preference is the correct & accurate sound.

    When people say, as Joe did, that a sound is "analytic", I"m not sure what they mean (unless they clarify). Does "analytic" mean "etched", "harsh", or "bright"? Or does it mean detailed and neutral (vs. warm)? Personally I have a high tolerance for neutral sound and, IMO, there is no such thing as too much detail.

    Burn-in happens, I believe, and tends to make components smoother and less bright. But I suspect too that our ears adapt over a couple of weeks to more neutral, but likely also more accurate, sound.
    I should never have used the term "analytical". It means different things to different people. Heck, I'm not sure I know what it means.

    The one thing I know for sure is that the more resolving power I have, the more into a recording I can hear and the more enjoyable it is to me. For instance, if there is a drum set in the back of the stage and it sounds like one congealed mass emanating from a point in space, that's not good enough. I want to hear each drum in the set and I want the image of that drum set to have width so I can "see" if one particular drum is to the right or left of another. Another example is when you have two acoustic guitars playing close to each other. Many times, the guitars are blended together, in the image, and you have to listen very closely to even know there are two of them. Isn't it better to hear each guitar separately? Anyway, you know what I mean and I'm preaching to the choir.

    Another thing I'm confused about is when people talk about where the sound is in relation to the speakers, meaning at the speaker plane, behind, or in front of it. In reference to, let's say the main singer, I've heard them at the speaker plane and behind, but never in front of the speakers. I don't know if that is possible. On the other hand, I've heard other sounds coming from in front of the speakers. For instance, I was watching a movie on my two channel system and I heard this plane come from behind me, over my head, and land on the runway. I don't know how this is possible, but it isn't the first time. It's almost like surround sound. Also, on most recordings, I am aware that the room in energized with sound, but I I don't distinctly hear it. Is this what they are talking about?

  9. #9
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenSurprenant View Post
    ...
    The one thing I know for sure is that the more resolving power I have, the more into a recording I can hear and the more enjoyable it is to me. For instance, if there is a drum set in the back of the stage and it sounds like one congealed mass emanating from a point in space, that's not good enough. I want to hear each drum in the set and I want the image of that drum set to have width so I can "see" if one particular drum is to the right or left of another. Another example is when you have two acoustic guitars playing close to each other. Many times, the guitars are blended together, in the image, and you have to listen very closely to even know there are two of them. Isn't it better to hear each guitar separately? Anyway, you know what I mean and I'm preaching to the choir.
    I do, and this quality is often called "air", I think. As a person who often listens to large-scale choral works (as a particular example), I consider "air" very important. You don't get "air" without high resolutions.

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenSurprenant View Post
    ...
    Another thing I'm confused about is when people talk about where the sound is in relation to the speakers, meaning at the speaker plane, behind, or in front of it. In reference to, let's say the main singer, I've heard them at the speaker plane and behind, but never in front of the speakers. I don't know if that is possible. On the other hand, I've heard other sounds coming from in front of the speakers. For instance, I was watching a movie on my two channel system and I heard this plane come from behind me, over my head, and land on the runway. I don't know how this is possible, but it isn't the first time. It's almost like surround sound. Also, on most recordings, I am aware that the room in energized with sound, but I I don't distinctly hear it. Is this what they are talking about?
    This positioning relative to the speaker plain, (an aspect of "soundstage"), is related to resolution, IMO. I do know that tubes tend to deliver a more reverberant sound that can make the soundstage appear deeper, but in any case it primarily depends on the recording and playback resolution.

    People sometimes say that the soundstage seems shorter or taller, i.e. instruments are located higher up or lower down. Since the sound is actually in a single horizontal plain, the explanation, (if there really is one), relates to the timbres and echos, as well as loudness, captured by the recording process. I.e. if an instrument's seems farther back on account of lower volume, less high frequency timbre, and/or greater echo, and the instrument might be perceived as higher.

    The case of the airplane might be explained by the Dopler effect, i.e. the pitch going from higher as it moves towards you (from behind as you imagine) to lower as it moves away from youf (in front). Well, my guess anyway.

    These things are psycho-accoustic, that is, depend on typical human experience to work, not on just the physical aspect of the sound.

  10. #10
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post
    These things are psycho-accoustic, that is, depend on typical human experience to work, not on just the physical aspect of the sound.
    Speaking about that, watch this video... Try The McGurk Effect! - Horizon: Is Seeing Believing? - BBC Two - YouTube

  11. #11
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    whats up y'all members on the other side of the river!! greetings, I'm posting from (Oshawa Canada) Saturday & Sunday I took in the "All Canadian Jazz festival.in the picturesque historic town of "town Hope".. nice


    Audio is a strange beast. We all have different opinions.
    man your so right about that"... my take on XDA-1 after a few months, is the same as most owners, (good value at $299) I will always be able to put one of the connections/applications to use when ever time the other becomes (anal)

    (EXCEPT) when used as a direct preamp with the (XPA-2) IMO that set up its way too "bright" for my taste, and it becomes fatiguing after a while. other wise I'm very happy with it, and all the other hook ups that the (XDA-1) offers, including the (U S B) connection.
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  12. #12
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenSurprenant View Post
    Pretty cool!!

  13. #13
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by winston View Post
    whats up y'all members on the other side of the river!! greetings, I'm posting from (Oshawa Canada) Saturday & Sunday I took in the "All Canadian Jazz festival.in the picturesque historic town of "town Hope".. nice
    I'm a lot further than the other side of the river... Some days I really miss Toronto...




    Quote Originally Posted by winston View Post
    man your so right about that"... my take on XDA-1 after a few months, is the same as most owners, (good value at $299) I will always be able to put one of the connections/applications to use when ever time the other becomes (anal)

    (EXCEPT) when used as a direct preamp with the (XPA-2) IMO that set up its way too "bright" for my taste, and it becomes fatiguing after a while. other wise I'm very happy with it, and all the other hook ups that the (XDA-1) offers, including the (U S B) connection.
    Perhaps the EXCEPT part above is my problem with the XDA-1, I've only used it with the XPA-2 and that combo is really disappointing (bright IMO as well)... I really expected 2 Emo products to have great synergy, but I was so wrong...

  14. #14
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    My Emo mono-blocks are good bass amps but are very average when used as 2 channel integrated amps.

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    Smile

    I'm a lot further than the other side of the river... Some days I really miss Toronto..
    Ajani, its really nice here for sure (I've been told that they saved me this weather, cause normally its very nippy this time of the year, so I'm becoming regular on the (401 hwy) "oh I thought those (future shop's) would be looking like the (Best Buy) thingy by now!! they seems to carry better choice of equipment's anyway.

    Perhaps the EXCEPT part above is my problem with the XDA-1, I've only used it with the XPA-2 and that combo is really disappointing (bright IMO as well)... I really expected 2 Emo products to have great synergy, but I was so wrong


    I hear you Man, as I was disappointed myself after "cooking" them for a few days in booth the RCA & XLR using 4,6 & 8 ohms speakers configurations, I realized that the synergy weren't there at all...

    however I have to tell you that I do gets "IMHO" very good result when the XDA-1 is driven through the processor or another preamp. with the XDA-1 & XPA-2 config. (usually I turn the XDA-1 volume to the max of "85", and used the pre/pro volume control for adjustment, I'm now loving that result, my infinity Beta-50,s towers are really starting to sound great in straight up stereo. (you win some you loose some -

    stay strong
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  16. #16
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    It's only been about 2 weeks now and I have to report that it sounds even better than my first report. I t has a little more air between instruments than before and it sounds warmer and fuller with more defined images.

    I suppose this is about as good as it's going to get, but or me, it's very impressive.

    The sound is similar to electrostatics with more dynamics.

    I can only imagine what a better DAC would sound like, but I can really live with this.

  17. #17
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenSurprenant View Post
    It's only been about 2 weeks now and I have to report that it sounds even better than my first report. I t has a little more air between instruments than before and it sounds warmer and fuller with more defined images.

    I suppose this is about as good as it's going to get, but or me, it's very impressive.

    The sound is similar to electrostatics with more dynamics.

    I can only imagine what a better DAC would sound like, but I can really live with this.
    Cool... Keep on enjoying it! perhaps one day I'll use mine in a 2nd system, with a different amp, to see if it sounds more to my liking....

  18. #18
    Audio File
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    Hi guys...I'm a newbie here but have been looking into the unit quite a bit, to go along with their mono channel amps. Any recent feedback on this unit out there?
    Seeking Audio Nirvana


  19. #19
    Forum Regular blackraven's Avatar
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    MadCat, whats your budget. There are better DAC/Pre at that price if you don't mind going chinese and Tube.

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    The Maverick unit makes a great tube DAC if you get the tube upgrade and upgrade the op amp for $10. It's also a pretty good preamp but works best as a DAC, well above its price point. I bought one for my son and tried it in my main system and it fits right in. Stellar mid range, good bass and treble with air and good resolution.
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  20. #20
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MADCSRT8 View Post
    Hi guys...I'm a newbie here but have been looking into the unit quite a bit, to go along with their mono channel amps. Any recent feedback on this unit out there?
    There's plenty of feedback, just Google "XDA-1 review". It's interesting to note that the opinions vary wildly on this unit. There was a problem with the earlier units with the volume control which has been fixed, so keep that in mind when reading other reviews.

    The reason I bought mine was because I needed/wanted a remote volume control and a switcher. I thought about going with an analog unit, but past experience with analog has made me a little skeptical. Transparency is a big issue with analog and varies greatly between preamps. I'm not saying that there aren't any truly transparent analog preamps, only that it is harder to find one in this price range. Thus, I decided to keep the signal in the digital domain and let the final stage before digital to analog occur just before input to the amp. When I bought this unit, I had high hopes that the analog output of this unit was better than my previous equipment. I believe it is.

    One of my targets was better soundstaging. By this, I mean I wanted more separation between instruments/singers and I also wanted more defined images. This unit provided both as compared to direct analog from a number of CD/DVD players and a modified Behringer DCX used as a DAC. There is more space between instruments and the images seem more solid. The soundstage width and depth doesn't seem to be any different, and if so, not enough to make any note of it. It was decent already.

    You will get different opinions on this unit compared to other units, but these opinions can go either way with the same equipment depending on the reviewers own equipment and preferences. There is no right or wrong in this. All I can say is this s a very good unit for the money and I have no regrets.

    One final note...

    There is some argument about the importance of soundstaging and it can be taken too far, but I have a theory about this... (“Only” a theory!)

    When I was in college, I had instructors that had heavy foreign accents and so I had to concentrate hard to understand what they were saying. Taking their classes was very mentally fatiguing and detracted from the course material.

    Another example is when I was in a room with many people speaking at once, it took a great deal of concentration to understand one of them out of the mix. When I would do this, the background would become noise and I was unaware of what else was going on in the room. That the brain can do this is amazing and I believe that different peoples ability to do this varies.

    When I listen to a system with good separation and imaging, I don't have to concentrate as much and so I can just let my mind relax and I hear many more things at the same time. My brain doesn't have to work as hard to focus on any one thing.

    As an example of how this works, let's say you are focusing on a background singer and they are less than clear. Your concentration goes up, you can hear them more distinctly, but at the same time, the rest of the music becomes less distinct like the other voices in a crowded room. If this singer is clearer, it takes less mental gymnastics to hear them and so the rest of the music stays more in focus.

    Clarity is another thing entirely and this is why separation in the soundstage is so important. For instance, if two guitars are coming from the same point, let's say in the middle, between the speakers, they merge into one entity are are less distinct from each other as compared to if they were placed at different locations in the soundstage.

    Anyway, this is only a thought, so take it with a grain of skepticism.

    Why would I even mention this? Well, it's because this Emotiva XDA-1 does a pretty fair job at creating space between images and at making images seem more solid in the landscape, both of which are important at creating a good soundstage.

    Don't take my word as the final opinion, there are many people here that have far more experience than I have and can add more knowledge and insight than I have provided. As I have said, I like this unit and for the money it's a good deal.

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