Electrocompaniet’s 24/192 EMC CD Player
3 July 2002
Single ended gain: 1.6X (4dB)
Balanced gain: 3.2X (10dB)
THD: (1V out, 1KHz) < 0,002%
Maximum output: (Balanced) > 14V RMS
Channel separation: (1V out, 1KHz) > 90 dB
Equivalent input noise: 4µV
Digital section: Latest version of Phillips CD PRO Top loading drive unit 24 bits 192KHz D/A converter
Digital out: RCA/XLR
Other: True balanced system Mechanical filter which cancels acoustic/mechanical vibrations preventing the laser pick-up from receiving unwanted signals FTT Power supply Fully remote (no volume control)
Power consumption: (no load or signal) 23 W
Dimensions: Width 483 mm / 19 inches Depth 440 mm / 17.3 inches Height 115mm / 4.5 inches Weight 20Kg / 44 lbs.
US Distributor: Jason Scott Distributing.
Phone number: 800.359.9154
And to Think I Hesitated
Electrocompaniet’s designer Per Abrahamsen has been making amplifiers for more than a quarter century. A history this broad in an industry filled with wannabes and copycats whose life span is usually shorter than the common housefly, Electrocompaniet should be all the rage here in the US. They are not. Norwegian roots coupled with a terrific reputation for sound quality, Electrocompaniet has mysteriously remained on the margins of the American hi-fi conscience. With their newest product boasting the latest analogue boards and digital 24/192 kHz upsampling capabilities, the all-new Electrocompaniet EMC1 CD player hopes to change all that.
I chose the Sony SCD-1 SACD player as my new front-end reference, replacing my long-standing reference, the legendary Meitner BIDAT DAC and transport. Obviously I really believed DSD was the way to go. I mean, let us consider its musical implications for a second: Direct Stream Digital is a simplified mechanism for recording and playback resulting in a frequency response of over 100 kHz and a dynamic range over 120 dB across the audible frequency range. DSD increases the resolution of music by closely following the original waveform of the music, resulting in music reproduction that is remarkably pure and faithful to the original. The SCD1, Sony’s pinnacle top-loader is state of the art in terms of build quality. Built on a curvaceous 60-lb. aluminum chassis, it still remains my champ for state of art musical reproduction. There I was, front and center in the fall of ’99 awaiting its New York premier with intense anticipation reminiscent of when I was a child tossing and turning the night before Christmas. The SCD1 lived beyond my expectations in its ability to unravel the most intricate musical details with a sense of ease never before heard from a CD based system. SACD became a rousing success and the SCD1 won product of the year in many audiophile publications.
Then what am I doing writing a review of just another CD player? Read on…
A little technical background on Electrocompaniet reveals Per Abrahamsen, Electrocompaniet’s chief designer, and three friends whose musical playback aspirations far exceeded what was then available from transistors, started Electrocompaniet back in 1972. Designing amplifiers using Dr. Matti Otala’s brilliant Transient Intermodulation Distortion (TIM) approach led to the first TIM-free, 25-watt amplifier that went on to become a huge success (lasting more than seven years before a more powerful model replaced it). Further R&D introduced a “Floating Transformer Technology” (FTT) into their designs. In 1999, after many years of steady success in the amplifier and preamplifier market, Abrahamsen introduced the company’s first CD player, aptly named the Electro Magnetic Cancellation 1 (or EMC1), based on the sole premise that there is no difference between a record player and a CD player. That is, if you pay strict attention to vibration induced noises to the transport mechanism.
Apparent throughout all my research was the specific emphasis Electrocompaniet placed on noise cancellation and mechanical vibration. This eventually brought their most auspicious design: the EMC1 and its patented electro-mechanical damping system. It is made purely from a blend of soft rubber and metal alloy that purportedly isolates the transport’s laser mechanism from bothersome vibrations completely. Similar to their amplifiers, the EMC1’s circuits are fully balanced and symmetrical (the latest employing updated 24/192 kHz DAC’s) for both the left and right channel respectively. Additionally, four separate power supplies using their exclusive Floating Transformer Technology (FTT) feed the digital, analog, drive mechanism and fluorescent display.
Hey, There’s a UPS Man Knocking on My Front Door….
I clearly remember screaming upon first lifting the carton “Damn, this can’t be a CD player. It’s too heavy. Heavier than my Bel Canto amp and as heavy as the SCD-1!” Yep, there it is, Electrocompaniet in bold type is stamped right here on the box. More than any info I managed to grasp, the most physically beguiling was the EMC1’s 50-lb. mass. Surprisingly, after dismantled the shipping carton from the EMC-1, it maintained its heft, revealing this wasn’t just heavy packaging.
The next thing that hit me upon the arrival of the latest 24/192 version of the EMC1 uncrated was this top-loader’s beauty and minimalist design approach. Four flush mounted brass pushbuttons decorate its right flank while a blue fluorescent-lit display window adorns its left. Centered in brass splendor is the company logo, inscribed on the transport mechanism’s sliding front drawer. All this, by the way, is smartly dressed within a 1” thick Plexiglas front fascia that spells style and class in any language. A single power-on button switch completes the front of this otherwise well thought-out device. The rear of the EMC1 supports both RCA and XLR interconnects. It is strongly recommended that the XLR connections be used, rather than the single ended connections, due to the EMC1’s design being a truly balanced one. Balanced (XLR) and coax (RCA) digital outputs come standard in the event one chooses to use an outboard D/A. Unfortunately, the EMC1 will not output 24/192 kHz. The transport mechanism (a Philips based CDM-Pro) comes equipped with a three-piece locking mechanism to further insure safe delivery against your everyday UPS gorilla. This takes the mystery out of the Allen wrench packaged with the rather cheap looking, and I might add, plastic remote control. A simple task of unbolting the locking device that’s cleverly hidden underneath the EMC1’s brass badge situated right behind the transport drawer is required before the EMC1 is ready for playback. A handy bubble level for fine-tuning the EMC1’s trio of adjustable brass feet is thrown in for extra good measure. The EMC1 will not read SACD, DVD, or DVD-A encoded discs, but will read your favorite selections placed on a CDR (of which my collection is gaining steady ground on my original store purchases). All in all, the EMC1 looks as if it were designed to take over where the original CD failed: force vinyl lovers to wonder aloud weather the fuss associated with an analogue is really worth it. Equipped with looks that are to die for and a serious attention to detail and build-quality, specifically its transport mechanism, there’s no question the folks at Electrocompaniet hit a home run in their first digital undertaking.
I was relieved to find our own Greg Petan reviewed the EMC1 24/96 kHz version for the now extinct Ultimate Audio magazine, where he compared it quite favorably to his reference Linn CD12. Knowing Greg’s tastes were in alignment with my own, I would have some serious competition for the Sony’s SACD. I should also state that I find it strange that the Linn CD12, devoid of fancy high-rez labels and/or capabilities, always sonically floated my boat over the Sony SCD1, or any other CD based device for that matter.
So What Does it Sound Like?
Simply put, I was left dumbfounded by the performance of the EMC1. There’s no way, I believed, anyone could get standard 16/44 discs of no particular origin, upsample them to 24/192 and outperform DSD encoded material from a Sony SCD1. Examples? I got plenty. Miles Davis’ melancholic Sketches of Spain [Columbia CS65142] reissue in DSD, is absolutely superb sounding, considering it wasn’t originally recorded in DSD. However, they all sounded night and day better than the original 16/44 pressings. The sonic outcome is certainly more analog-like, loaded with tons of room ambience exuding from what appears to be every pore of the recording’s venue. It casts as large a three-dimensional field, laterally as well as front to back, as I’ve heard, across my listening room’s wall — everything Sony advertised is still apparent via the DSD signal chain. Nevertheless, the EMC1 manages to take any standard 16/44 disc, upsample them to 24/192, and sonically outperform SACD’s in side-by-side comparisons.
The EMC1’s exquisite resolving power backed by the incredibly low noise floor it possesses makes clear evidence of Davis’ stellar individual talents even when surrounded by such a large accompaniment. With the EMC1 spinning this standard disc, the soundstage actually expanded beyond the already extended boundaries of the Talon Khorus X’s physical plane. Treble extension took a noticeable step skyward, especially with respect to percussion instruments, while contrarily remaining smoother in overall response. This gave an improved sense of height to each recording, something I couldn’t help but appreciate.
There exists a sonic footprint, rather a romanticism, in the EMC1 that’s unmistakable, without the slightest roll-off occurring anywhere in audio spectrum this listener could discern. Softer? Compared to what? Life? Compared to the SACD, yeah the sound is sweeter, albeit smoother and polished, but only when appropriate. The sound of Davis’ trumpet had more blat than I could recollect through the EMC1, a quality I most often associate with the real thing. One thing’s for sure, the EMC1 possesses the most quiet, see-through and natural presentation I’ve heard from anything this side of the Linn CD12.
These amazing sonic feats weren’t just apparent on Miles’ Sketches of Spain DSD disc, but on the Quiet Nights [Columbia 65293], ‘Round About Midnight [Columbia CS85201], Jazz At The Plaza [Columbia CS85245] and Live Evil [Columbia CS65135], all of which I own in both formats. To insure I wasn’t fooling myself, I pulled out SACD hybrids like the Mark Levinson Red Rose [Red Rose Vol. 1], Vanguard Classics Guitarra Flamenco by Manitas de Plata [VSD503] and DMP Records Far More Drums from Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble [DMP SACD10]. Played through both the Sony and EMC1, but this time with a group of discerning audiophiles whose ears I’ve grown to trust, all preferred the EMC1’s more analog-sounding performance over the SACD. The EMC1 sounded ever so slightly less mechanical. Hence, less digital (a phenomenon vinyl aficionados always claim to hear, thus their lack of enjoyment). I won’t admit I hear it in SACD playback as much, but compared to the EMC1, well, let’s just say I’d much rather listen to the EMC1. It just sounds that superb.
The bass and midrange of the EMC1 also requires special mention. When listening to Ahmad Jamal Trio’s The Awakening [Impulse 226], you get the idea that the white paper detailing Electrocompaniet’s transport functionality for the cancellation of noise ain’t just techno babble. On this poignant melody of Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments, Ahmad Jamal not only captures the feeling of Nelson’s original make, but in doing so, using minimal chord structure with maximum spacing, takes this giant jazz composition to another level. The crackling resonances of Jamil Nassar’s upright revealed itself with greater comprehension than previously realized. The string tension proved more than apparent. This sonic tonic was tied with Jamal’s near undetectable piano fingerings, exposing more of the acoustic spacing hidden in each note as well with this remarkable recording. The EMC1 moves the Ahmad Jamal Trio to the forefront of the natural rendering and further away from the artificial signature often heard with lesser designs. The EMC1 allows the extraordinary quality of getting out of the way while allowing the music to communicate unregulated. Rare indeed.
In summary, the EMC1 simply is the best sounding CD player to have graced my system. It humiliated the highly touted SACD’s in the all-important sonic parameters – richness, tonality, soundstaging, resolution, image specificity and quietness – right out of the dog-gone box. The EMC1 outperformed SACD discs through the almighty Sony SCD1. Its 16/44 to 24/192 kHz upsampling capabilities of standard everyday CD’s together with its formable build quality and to-die-for good looks make it both a spectacular performer as well as a bargain. For anyone who already owns or is familiar with the EMC1’s performance, you know the words are merely superfluous: You must listen for yourself. I have. The EMC1 is easily the best CD player to have graced my system.
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