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Positive Feedback ISSUE47
EMC-1UP CD Player
as reviewed by Jeff Parks
I was first introduced to the EMC-1UP at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). During the show, I noticed something unusual; many of the soundrooms were displaying the Electrocompaniet EMC-1 UP as their main source. When I queried the various manufacturer representatives why so many were using the EMC-1UP most were in agreement by simply stating that it was the most musical player they have ever heard. Knowing that manufacturers love to display their wares in the best light, it only made sense they wanted to use the best source—the EMC-1Up. Fast forward eight years later and we are looking at the EMC-1UP in the year 2009. This player has not been updated since 2003, does the EMC-1 UP still stand the test of time and is it still the coveted player it once was in 2001?
This review is a bit unique in that I would like to call it the backwards or dyslexic review. I feel a bit odd as I am writing a review about a product I already own. Usually a review is written first. At that point if the reviewer is interested in purchasing the product, as a courtesy the product is offered to the reviewer at a discount. Yes, it is one of the perks of being an audio reviewer.
After moving into our new home In 2006 I was looking to replace my then reference Mark Levinson Model 37 transport and Dodson 218 DAC to a one box solution. The cause for this change was that I wanted to downsize my rig into one rack. Like any other potential buyer I looked at several players ranging in price from $2500 to almost $10,000. The list included players from Rega, Wadia, E.A.R. Yoshino (which at one point I did own), MBL, Arcam, North Star, and Audio Research. In the end, I kept coming back to the EMC-1 UP as the player at the top of my want list. This speaks volumes regarding the EMC-1UP. It had been quite sometime since my last audition, which was at a friend's home during the winter of 2005. This audition left such an impression upon me, that my memory of the EMC-1 UP during that time is what convinced me to make my final decision to purchase it.
Why no review in 2006 when the EMC-1 UP was first set up in my system? From the time I first purchased my EMC-1 UP to our present date three changes have been made regarding North American distribution for Electrocompaniet. During this time North American representation for Electrocompaniet was spotty at best, along with very poor customer service. Knowing these issues I felt it was best to withhold the review until Electrocompaniet could be better represented in the United States. Fast forward to Spring of 2009 with the relocation of Electrocompaniet USA to Oakland, California headed by Peder Beckman. Things now have changed dramatically for the better. Today there is no middleman between the dealer and manufacturer. By eliminating a domestic distributor and establishing a direct presence for Electrocompaniet in Oakland, California they are now ready to place their company once again on the North American map! Couple that with Electrocompaniet's recent advertising campaign and the word is getting out that Electrocompaniet means business regarding its commitment to North American distribution.
As it is clearly obvious, I have always had a fondness for Electocompaniet products. Who wouldn't due to the great sound these products produce. Being a tube guy, Electrcompaniet products sound more like tubes compared to their solid state brethren—meaning they err on the side of musicality or getting the music right as opposed to reaching for that last bit of extension on both ends of the audio spectrum. This is a high compliment, since most solid state products do not excite me. In addition, since I am an aesthetics kind of person Electrocompaniet' s products have a look that I would like to call SES—Sexy European Simplicity. Take for example Electrocompaniet's Classic line that the EMC-1 UP is a part of: All of these products including amplifiers, preamplifiers, phono stages, and compact disc players incorporate similar faceplates which in turn create a unity among them that is easy on the eyes.
Other than the installation of the 24/192 Delta Sigma up sampling DAC in 2001, hence the "UP" designation, the Electrocompaniet EMC-1UP has not changed a lot over the years. That is not to say Electrocompaniet has rested on their laurels. There have been some improvements in the EMC-1 UP since its introduction in 2001, for example, a new printed circuit board, better internal components as the need arose, and five transport changes ending with the Philips CD Pro II that is used today. It is the transport system that is the real story here in my opinion! Let's think about it for a moment. How often does a product stay in a line up—a year, two years, maybe three years before being replaced by another model? If that is true then six years, going on almost seven for the EMC-1UP is rare indeed! With the EMC-1UP getting long in the tooth as some audiophiles may believe, is the EMC-1 UP a state-of-the-art CD player considering the competition in today's market?
Why hasn't Electrocompaniet changed the EMC-1UP since its introduction in 2001? Before I explain, I believe the old saying of; "if it ain't broke, why fix it" applies. Often manufacturers change models in their quest for better sound, or maybe it is to generate new sales as old models are replaced with newer models. Many times I do believe some manufacturers come up with a new gimmick just to entice sales for their products. Without embarrassing some manufactures I can think of several instances where this has clearly happened. Hence, to some degree I do believe many times it is the marketing decisions that overwhelm the audiophile decisions when replacing a current product. Ponder that for a moment if you will. I am sure all of us audiophiles can come up with a product or two that was less appealing than the product it replaced. Sometimes new and improved, isn't really new and improved. Maybe that is why the EMC-1 UP has remained for the most part unchanged since its introduction.
What is it that sets the EMC-1UP apart from the multitude of CD players offered in high end audio? I believe it is how Electrocompaniet addresses the way the EMC-1UP should be built. For starters, Electrocompaniet looks at the internal transport of the EMC-1 as a turntable. As such the transport of the EMC-1UP is affected by sound interference. It has been long known that turntables are susceptible to internal and external resonance, along with vibrations caused by someone walking near by, to something not so obvious like a truck or car driving by your home. All is these vibrations affect the tracking of the stylus within the grooves. The sound repercussions can be enormous, a lack of instrument focus, bass, and a closed in soundstage. Just like a stylus tracking the inner modulations within an LP's groove lasers are affected by vibration and resonance. For vinyl we call this mistracking. In CD reproduction this mistracking of the laser introduces jitter or timing errors that can limit dynamics, imaging, and create an overall sound reproduction that at its worst is harsh, closed in, and lacking the musical emotion we all long for while listening to digital. In short, digital sounds…, well digital—meaning it lacks the musical emotion that vinyl brings to the table. No so when discussing the EMC-1UP.
Electrocompaniet addresses this issue of external and internal noise vibration by first incorporating a 7KG steel-damping mechanism built on carefully selected damping feet. Get this, the design team was so obsessed with the effects of resonance and external vibrations that cause a laser to mistrack when developing the EMC-1 in 1999 that they listened to several rubber and silicone materials placed under the damping weight. Through several days of listening tests a choice was made to fine tune the player with just the right kind of sound they were looking for in a CD player. This is just one step of many when the Electrocompaniet design team voiced the EMC-1 to the player it is today.
It has been long known that a mistracking laser can induce jitter into the digital data stream. The Electrocompaniet design team believes that this is one of the causes of why digital sounds…, well…, like digital. Jitter induced by mechanical vibrations takes the life out of the music, or as Electrocompaniet states it removes the soul and emotion of music. This was something Electrocompaniet wanted to avoid. They accomplished this task by creating a transport that is not only heavy and sonically inert but also one that is completely isolated from acoustic and mechanical vibrations due to Electrocompaniet' s proprietary dampening and isolation system. Other areas addressed are: A fully balanced D/A converter all the way to the analog outputs, twin toroidal FTT transformers one for the digital section, and the other for the analog section, with each channel using their own transformer coil and power supply with Ultra fast rectifiers. Due to Electrocompaniet' s fully discrete balanced design I believe that is one of the reasons why this player has a blacker background that I have ever heard or should I say not heard in a CD player. Finally, there are three separate steel covers used to separate and isolate the digital, analog, and power supply sections of the EMC-UP, thus creating a three section case. All of which is to help prevent RFI and EMI interference. In the end, you have a player that weighs in at well over 45 pounds. In short, this player is built stronger than a brick shit house. Just try to do the knuckle test on its side…, be careful or you may hurt yourself.
So how does this all translate to music? While I have heard other players that are more revealing or others that have a bit of tube warmth due to tube output stages, the Electrocompaniet has to be the best sounding, most musical, gets the soul of music right CD player out in high end today! In short, the EMC-1 plays CDs like it is a turntable, it gets out of the way of the music while allowing the true spirit of the performance to be sent to your speakers through a soundstage that is layered, large, and a pure joy to experience.
Alright this has sounded like a love fest for the EMC-1UP. With that being said, do I have any issues with the player that needs to be addressed? Yes, I do have one. The remote. It is plastic, and looks very cheesy. However, in its defense, I do like the features that it offers. Other than the basics it offers, repeat track, an endless repeat loop for the CD, and my favorite feature—a stand by switch which keeps the player warmed up and ready to go. Other features are balanced and RCA digital outputs, RCA and XLR analog outputs with the XLR output having the slight edge in extension and bass as compared to its RCA brethren.
I have owned this player for almost four years now and I am still enjoying it as much today as I did when I first purchased it. In fact, this player sounds so analog like, that I hardly listen to analog anymore! Part of the reason for listening to CDs more often as compared to analog is the convenience of the medium. On the other hand, if my digital was not up to par with my analog rig I would dump digital all together. Though I do have a stellar analog front end, and I admit it still has the edge in getting the music right with the last bit of emotion and purity the digital still misses, the EMC-1 gets very, very close. Almost to the point where I have considered dumping vinyl all together. I have listened for hours on end with the EMC-1 and it never has disappointed me. It has a musical-emotional purity about it that I feel is embedded in its soul. At its heart the EMC-1 is a turntable that spins the discs, while it's fully balance digital analog conversion system does translation of the ones and zeros into damn near analog bliss!
The EMC-1 UP has to be one of the best
sounding CD players I have heard to date. That is the reason why in
November of 2009 I gave this player a PFO Writer's Choice Award! Think
about it, the EMC-1UP is a player that has been in the market almost a
decade now. Other than a few updates along the way it has remained true
to its original design, and yet still beats many of today's high tech CD
players using the latest this or that type technology or buzz word. I
believe this is true because of Electrcompaniet's plain and simple solid
engineering. While there may be other players that may sound more
articulate, nothing in my opinion has the bass response, dynamic
authority, and pure musicality of the EMC-1 presents to the listener.
Highly recommended. Jeff Parks