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The Good Doctor Plays Second Fiddle - Sidebar to Dave Clark's EMM Labs' CDSA-SE SACD Player Review
Editor and owner, David Robinson has long been a staunch fan of the EMM Labs gear for digital sourcing. Dave Clark has long touted the virtues of his Cary. I suspect these two form a very useful polarity between ultimate resolution on the side of the EMM, and sweet musicality, on the side of the Cary.
For myself …I would paint the middle ground, represented by the Lindemann 820, a machine I still respect enormously, in spite of the somewhat erratic behavior of the company itself. I can't speak to the latest iteration of the Lindemann, but I suspect it is probably very competitive with anything out there right now.
In terms of absolute performance though, I have to give the nod to the EMM Labs CDSA-SE SACD player. However, I have some additional observations and caveats I want to offer in sidebar to Dave Clark's excellent review.
As many of you are no doubt aware, Ed Meitner of EMM labs is a bona fide pioneer in DSD technology, with even Sony giving the nod to his initial chip set as superior to that in their own equipment. His converters were, and are, the heart of many DSD recording set ups. There may be someone who knows more about DSD technology out there, but I would be hard pressed to come up with a candidate.
This latest player incorporates all of the advances in working with DSD Ed has made since he first started to release commercial machines.
It is especially noteworthy, because with the move to a single box, the price has dropped from circa $20k for the two-box, to half that for the single box player. This brings EMM technology into the reach of significantly more people …quite an accomplishment.
The new box up-samples DSD and PCM (DSD goes to 5.6+ Mhz.). The PCM side is converted to DSD, the results of which are simply incredible.
Dave Clark did most of his review using CDs, so I thought I would pay more attention to the SACD side in this sidebar.
I am going to highlight three SACDs where the music is unforgettable but the early conversion to SACD, or the condition of the original, makes for a less than memorable experience on most SACD players.
Friday Night in San Francisco, Al Dimeola, John McLaughlin, and Paco DeLucia: 1980
This is one of Sony's early single-layer releases. While the performance of these notables is, predictably incendiary, the original SACD is pretty aggressive sounding on most players. Through most of the disc these guys are seriously trying to out-play each other …and most of takes place at breakneck speed. Frankly, it was pretty unlistenable on my SCD-1, even with mods. With the Meitner, most of that jangle gets sorted out into musical content …the rattle of strings, the pounding of wood, snapping and banging of some of the fastest fretwork you will ever hear. Hugely enjoyable on the Meitner.
Rites of Spring - Firebird Suite: Igor Stravinsky. Directed by Igor Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony: 1960 & 1967.
Other than the obvious historical importance of a man often put forth as the most important composer in the 20th century, directing his own work (itself a milestone in the history of music) …I just have two words that sum up what the Meitner does …tape hiss.
There are still a few of us who know precisely what tape hiss should sound like in a recording, and never does. On this historical recording, on the Meitner player …tape his sounds like tape hiss. What more can I say?
Lady in Satin, Billie Holiday: 1958:
There are few more well-known and appreciated singers from the golden age of jazz, than Billie Holiday. While Ella was all about perfection and achingly pure tone and phrasing, Billie was all about the blues. This final studio recording captures her at long past her prime …her voice ragged, vulnerable …exposed. It is a painful recording to hear. Initially, I actually preferred the CD version, because it obfuscates some of this pain, filters it if you will through sheets of translucent silk. I found the SACD unlistenable.
With the Meitner there is another reality within the damage. Beneath the dust and the dirt …her mastery and heart are once again revealed. Shattering.
To me this suggests that the Meitner is digging deeper into these fledgling SACD recordings than anything else out there. This means it is doing the same thing with every disc you throw at it. I am not sure what more you could ask.
This very sonic excellence adds to my frustration with this player. Over time, as I have interacted with the Meitner, it has been less than satisfying.
First of all, it is highly dependent upon suspension and AC treatment. Ed will say I am hallucinating about this, but the differences wrought by the Jena Labs Model One AC cord on this machine are drop-jaw amazing, and I verified this with other listeners; same reaction.
Same holds true for the Critical Mass filters. I tried the Meitner with and without them, and once again, huge difference.
This is not a complaint, merely an observation. Obviously, if this stuff did not work like gangbusters on EVERYTHING, I would not have it in my system …it is the fact that it works so well on the Meitner that gives me pause.
Here I must state some serious reservations. However, first, I do love the display …it is huge and bright and readable for us old folks, but, it does not always tell you what the machine is DOING which can be annoying.
From the less than impressive casing, to the undifferentiated remote …the Meitner simply does not operate like a $10K player. Tray action is no different from a sub-one hundred dollar DVD player, it rattles. The remote is frustrating and non-intuitive. On some discs it takes forever to cue up. I hate the auto start feature. It is noisy in operation and too often rejects or audibly misbehaves with discs that play fine in other machines. It is clunky and unappealing in looks. Not much more than the minimum folded metal box.
Frankly, compared to the Lindemann and Esoteric machines, it seems flimsy and cheap.
My fantasy is silky build quality of the Esoteric, with Ed's converters. THAT would be heaven. As it stands, this is an incredibly evolved sounding player, with a troublesome transport and mechanics.