Electrocompaniet Classic ECD 2 D/A processor Page 2

The ECD 2's character is robust and full bodied, but with authoritative low-frequency control. In "Vicksburg Blues," from Hugh Laurie's Didn't It Rain (ALAC files ripped from CD, Warner Bros. 53893), the slightly sloppy kick drum needed the firm control of low frequencies provided by the ECD 2. Similarly, the ripe-balanced double bass and kick drum in "Joe Turner's Blues," from Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton's Play the Blues: Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center (ALAC files ripped from CD, Reprise 528530) were reproduced with optimal definition by the Electrocompaniet. And while Laurie treats the music he loves with respect, it is the other outsider, Clapton, who really gets into what it means, I feel.

The ECD 2 is definitely a contender. But with a real-world-priced component such as this, you need to perform . . .

. . . to put its performance into a marketplace context.

It seems that $3000 is a sweet spot for high-performance D/A processors. As well as the Arcam FMJ D33 ($3200, reviewed in February 2013) and the Marantz NA-11S1 ($3499, October 2013), I would have liked to compare the Electrocompaniet ECD 2 ($3099) with the Musical Fidelity M6DAC ($2999, June 2013). Unfortunately, the M6DAC had long since been returned to the distributor. But I did have to hand a new sample of the NAD M51 D/A processor ($2000), which Jon Iverson enthusiastically reviewed in July 2012, as well as the original samples of the Arcam and Marantz processors.

Against the Marantz—which, of course, is a complete streaming music server for the extra $301 in price, as well as a D/A processor—the soundstage moved forward with the ECD 2. (In these comparisons, I corrected for the inverted polarity of the NA-11S1's balanced outputs.) While, as you could read in the October issue, I very much appreciated the Marantz's mellow yet detailed balance, its low frequencies sounded softer than the Electrocompaniet's. Its soundstage was set back a little deeper and the sound was more laid-back—a good thing with something like Yes's cover of Paul Simon's "America," from the 2003 special edition of Fragile (24/94 ALAC files ripped from DVD-A, Elektra/Rhino R9 78249), in which Chris Squire's roundwound Rickenbacker bass could do with a little softening. But with more naturally balanced recordings, such as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival performance of Mozart's Piano Quartet in g, K.478 (CD, Stereophile STPH014-2), or "Vacant Chair," from Steve Winwood's eponymous first album (CD, Island 842 774-2), I preferred the Electrocompaniet's slightly more vibrant sound.

But remember, I'm talking about relatively small differences here. As I said in October's Marantz review—where I compared the NA-11S1 with my current reference for digital sound, the megabux MSB Diamond DAC IV ($43,325), which JI had reviewed in October 2012, with levels matched at 1kHz to within 0.1dB—such differences can be difficult to pin down. Yes, ultimately, the MSB edges ahead of the two other DACs in sound quality, but all three are Class A+ processors. And if I had to choose between the Marantz and the Electrocompaniet, it would be the NA-11S1, if only because it will decode a DSD datastream.

My next comparisons were with the NAD M51. Although it costs two-thirds the price of the Electrocompaniet ECD 2, its measured performance is comparable, particularly regarding resolution. I'd forgotten how much I'd enjoyed my brief time with the earlier sample of the M51. Its sound is quite different from the ECD 2's: lighter balanced, with less authoritative low frequencies. But the soundstage seemed deeper, with longer reverb tails and a filigree retrieval of fine detail. Playing my 2000 recording of Robert Silverman performing Beethoven's Piano Sonata 18 (24/88.2 master AIFF file from CD, OrpheumMasters KSP-830, footnote 1), the NAD was slightly better at decoding the ambient clues and the leading edges of the piano's percussive character. However, the Electrocompaniet's overall presentation of the Bösendorfer was more robust, more true to what I remembered of the instrument's sound in the small Santa Monica recital hall.

Finally, we come to the Arcam FMJ D33, which has been my midpriced reference throughout 2013. In my review of the Arcam in February, I had preferred its minimum-phase Filter 1. And with "Joe Turner's Blues," the D33's Filter 1 threw a slightly deeper soundstage than the ECD 2, with less of an in-your-face character to Marsalis's trumpet and Clapton's guitar. Tonally, the overall sounds of the Arcam and Electrocompaniet were very close with the Silverman Beethoven sonata. But again, the Arcam was slightly better at presenting the details of the room acoustic, being similar to the NAD M51 in that respect. But it was a close thing. Both processors had weighty low frequencies on the bass guitar in the Yes version of "America," though perhaps the Arcam had a very slight, er, edge when it came to presenting the leading edges of Bill Bruford's kick drum.

Summing Up
I enjoyed my time with Electrocompaniet's ECD 2. My quibbles were trivial: While the display can easily be seen from across the room, it was just too unsubtle; and as many of my sources of digital audio data are professional in origin, the ECD 2's lack of an AES/EBU input meant I had to use workarounds. But when it came to sound quality, I had nothing to complain about. The ECD 2's clean, clear, robust sound was not accompanied by grain or hardness and its low frequencies were authoritative. Recommended.

Footnote 1: Though this set is no longer available on disc, FLAC and 16/44.1 MP3 versions can be downloaded here.
Electrocompaniet AS
US distributor: Electrocompaniet Inc.
97 Linden Street
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 291-1222

SAAudio's picture

Several listeners have reported that different firmware versions have an influence on the sound of the M51. General consensus seems to be that v1.39 is the best sounding with v1.41 having less bass and is not quite as dynamic. It would be interesting to know what version firmware the latest sample runs. As a long term user of a NAD M51 I find your further thoughts on this remarkable device very interesting.

John Atkinson's picture

SAAudio wrote:
Several listeners have reported that different firmware versions have an influence on the sound of the M51. General consensus seems to be that v1.39 is the best sounding with v1.41 having less bass and is not quite as dynamic. It would be interesting to know what version firmware the latest sample runs.

Turning on the M51 with the Input button pressed reveals that our new sample is running the v.1.41 firmware. I have no idea how to roll it back to v.1.39 or if that is even possible.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

SAAudio's picture

Thanks John. It is easy to change firmware versions. V1.39 can be found here: http://www.fileswap.com/dl/BlRT7tfhYl/ . V1.41 can be found on NAD's web page. It would be very interesting to know your thoughts on any differences.