The Entry Level #12 Page 2
Summvs (CD, Raster-Noton R-N132) is the fifth and final installment in the stirring and lovely Virus series of recordings from electronic composers Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. In "By This River," a great open space is punctuated by wonderfully physical low-frequency pulses and startling high-frequency buzzes and chirps, while a rising progression of reverberant piano chords creates a lulling melody. Not only is the piece beautiful and emotionally powerful, it's a fine test of any system, filled with quick, hypnotic stereo effects, sudden stops and starts, and profoundly deep silences. I find it fascinating (and somewhat sad) that much of what makes this music special is lost through lesser systems. For instance, through my office system of Dell laptop and plastic computer speakers, "By This River" sounds disjointed, one-dimensional, and uninvolving; at home, through the hi-fi, it's a rich, soul-stirring experience.
< The Emotiva ERC-2 CD player conveyed "By This River" with stunning impact and a very good sense of momentum and flow. Starts and stops were clean and precise, giving way to staggering silences and making the voluminous deep-bass blasts even more impressive. Hitting 82dB peaks, those blasts coursed through my listening room and sent fluttering the curtains 5' from my speakers' rear ports. Most satisfying, this bass was never bloated or loose, but always taut and well controlled. The ERC-2 quickly distinguished itself as a punchy, authoritative, muscular performer able to produce very quiet backgrounds while keeping a steady grip on the music. (I would have enjoyed hearing this track through the Boston Acoustics A25 loudspeakers I reviewed in the November issue, which have a similarly clean, forceful sound, but I no longer had them on hand.)
The ERC-2's ability to present deep silences also benefited "Following Sea," a tender and slow-moving piece for brooding piano, gentle percussion, and swaying cello, from Sophie Hutchings' successful debut, Becalmed (CD, Preservation PRE 030CD). I could feel the silences between the notes, and all the exquisite sorrow and hope they held. At the same time, the ERC-2 revealed this track to be more dynamically limited than I'd thought it wasthere was an overall lack of air and space and a hardness in the sound of the piano that I hadn't before noticed. While the emotional intensity of "Following Sea" remained intact, the music sounded less sumptuous and enticing than I'd become accustomed to hearing through my Exposure 2010S CD player ($1395).
Similarly, "Rivers of Water, Rivers of Mud," a propulsive hard-rock track from the mps, the debut album by my old band, the Multi-Purpose Solution (CD, Mint 400 M4R00 18), sounded threadbare and lacked coherence. We recorded this album in a small basement, almost entirely live and direct to tape, with very few splices or overdubs. It's littered with small blemishes. During the many late-night recording sessions, our drunken lead singer, Jim Teacher, fell into the charming habit of talking into the mike as the tape rolled. Partly in an effort to save time and money, and largely because we were lazy, we decided to leave these random bits of conversation in the recording and try to hide them in the final mix. While my Exposure 2010S manages to overlook these little flaws, the Emotiva had a funny way of throwing a spotlight on them and separating them from the music. Late in the chorus, when Jim Teacher is joined by ska artist King Django, the Emotiva presented Django's voice as clearly distinct from JT's, but also removed from the rest of the music, making it obvious that Django's backing vocal was recorded as an overdub.
But when fed well-recorded music, the Emotiva ERC-2's sound was always involving and thoroughly enjoyable. Mark Hollis's eponymous solo album (CD, Polydor 537 688-2) is an emotionally and sonically intimate affair filled with need and trembling with passion. The Emotiva presented "Watershed" in all its lovely, scintillating detail, the instruments fairly leaping from the speakers and into my listening room. Hollis's voice sounded appropriately rich and compelling as he slowly and carefully sang "Should have said so much / Makes it harder / The more you love." And when Hollis's voice gave way to Henry Lowther's brilliant trumpet solo, the Emotiva conveyed each note with startling force and agility, for a breathtaking and exquisite re-creation of this performance. It wasn't quite the same crazy physicality and realism I've heard through my Exposure player, but it was close, and it came with no deficiency in flow or momentum, and no appreciable sacrifice in the highs or lows.
But speaking of crazy physicality, Night Logic is a thrilling release from an especially fiery jazz trio: Marshall Allen on alto sax, Matthew Shipp on piano, and Joe Morris on double bass (CD, RogueArt ROG-0028). In "New Age for the Milk Sea Nightmare," the piano occupies the center of the stage, the bass is to the right, and the sax twists and turns from the left with beauty, grace, and force. Through the Emotiva, silences in this music were stark, detail was delicious, and the power with which Shipp pounds his keys, Allen blows his sax, and Morris runs up and down his bass was so staggering that, at about seven minutes in, when the trio reaches a chaotic climax, it was almost too much to endure. The entire track is a complex and furious 10 minutes of music in which the band unravels and recoils, whips and spirals into a devastating storm. The Emotiva painted it with great scale and drama while never breaking a sweata convincing and captivating performance.
Explore more music
I have a rule: A good hi-fi component should make me want to listen to more musicdrive me out of the office and into a record shop to explore more music. If it doesn't do that, something is very wrong. No matter how much it costs, what it looks like, or how sexy it might look to potential mates, if a component doesn't fuel my search for more new music, it's worthless.
During my time with the Emotiva ERC-2 CD player, I found myself buying more CDs than I had in years. And I'm so happy about it. If not for the Emotiva ERC-2, I might not have experienced the full and heavy pleasure of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto feeding my mind and expanding my listening-room walls with "By This River"music of painful beauty and enormous soul. That alone is worth the meager $449. The rest is lagniappe. I could live without the blue lights and the big, fancy remote. I would hate to go on without the music.