Emotiva ERC-2 CD player

Because I am an audiophile, I want to hear that music through the best possible source component. Lately, I've been enjoying CDs through the Emotiva ERC-2 CD player ($449).

The Emotiva ERC-2 measures 17" (435mm) wide by 4.25" (110mm) high by 14" (360mm) deep and, at 17.5 lbs (8kg), is the heaviest component to enter my listening room since the 25-lb Simaudio Moon i3.3 integrated amplifier ($3300, discontinued). The player's distinct appearance was developed by Emotiva's president and CEO, Dan Laufman, and VP of engineering, Lonnie Vaughn. In building the ERC-2, their goal was to "keep it simple, easy to use, and elegant . . . in a machine-oriented way."

Indeed, the ERC-2 is clearly a machine. Its satiny black faceplate of brushed aluminum is capped at each end by a strip of stainless steel. To the left are four silver function buttons (Play/Pause, Next, Stop, Previous), arranged in a diamond; at center, from top to bottom, are the large display, a thin slot for loading discs, and a large Standby button adorned with Emotiva's distinctive E logo; to the right of these, all by itself, is the Eject button. This arrangement makes ergonomic sense, but it creates a louder, busier look than would a simple straight row of buttons.

Each button on the ERC-2's faceplate is lit by a halo of bright, clear blue 5that perfectly matches the bright, clear blue of the player's vacuum-fluorescent display. Like a Christmas tree, these blue lights set my small apartment aglow. Fortunately, the Dim button on the ERC-2's remote control softens the display and deactivates the halos. About that remote: It's a massive brick of milled aluminum designed to match the player's overall look and feel—in a word, manly.

Indeed, the ERC-2 and its hefty remote together exude an extremely masculine look and feel that I don't fully appreciate; I would prefer a quieter, more subtle appearance. To my eyes, the ERC-2's look is gaudy, boastful; I kept thinking that the women I know would find it unattractive. But every woman who entered my listening room and whose opinion I asked gave an ambivalent shrug. "As long as it works, I don't care," one said. "They all look the same to me." (And, yes, she was talking about the CD player.)

It took me a little while to get used to the ERC-2's slot-loading transport, which is made by Toshiba. First, it requires a careful touch: Line up the CD so that its edge is perfectly centered in the slot, begin to gently insert the disc, then let the player take the disc. If the disc is too far to either side of the slot, the player won't accept it. Second, the ERC-2's loading mechanism is slow: The review sample took up to 12 seconds to load a disc and up to four seconds to eject it, so be patient. Finally, once the player has loaded the disc, it immediately begins playing the disc from the beginning—if you want to hear track 5, you'll have to then select it using the front-panel buttons or the remote.

On the rear panel are: a set of balanced outputs; two sets of analog outputs; S/PDIF, TosLink, and AES/EBU digital outputs; a trigger input; a rocker power switch; and a standard IEC three-prong power receptacle for the included AC cord. Despite my feelings about its appearance, the ERC-2's build quality is undeniably impressive, with a level of fit and finish appropriate to a component costing three to four times as much.

Correct from the ground up
How does Emotiva keep their prices so low? According to Laufman and Vaughn, all Emotiva products are designed, distributed, and supported in Franklin, Tennessee, while manufacture and assembly take place in China. Laufman and Vaughn insist that their manufacturing partners are "totally committed to quality." I buy this. In addition to spending several weeks with the ERC-2, I've met and spoken with Laufman and Vaughn, and I trust that their enthusiasm and care for their company and its customers would be clearly communicated to Emotiva's colleagues overseas, ensuring that the company's values are appropriately respected. They take special pride in having built a loyal customer base and providing exceptional customer service, as is evident in their lively online community and events such as the annual Emofest: a weekend of factory tours, live music, and entertainment open to customers and friends.

Informed by feedback from those customers, Laufman and Vaughn told me that they decided "to build a player that was correct from the ground up." Under the ERC-2's hood, four individually regulated and shielded power supplies drive the CD transport mechanism, VFD display, and digital and analog electronics. The result, according to Emotiva, is "dead-quiet ground-floor noise, extremely low distortion, and complete freedom from interaction between circuit elements." At the heart of the ERC-2 is a high-quality Analog Devices AD1955 24-bit oversampling DAC. The ERC-2 carries its balanced topology from the output of this chip straight through to the rear-panel XLR jacks.

Emotiva sells direct, with free shipping to anywhere in the continental US. All Emotiva products are backed by a 30-day "hassle-free" return policy and a five-year transferrable warranty.

Awesome music
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.

Emotiva Audio Corporation
135 Southeast Parkway Court
Franklin, TN 37064
(615) 790-6754

M.'s picture

Am I the only one to see this player bears more than a passing resemblance with the Electrocompaniet products?

jhamill1's picture

Where are Emotiva products manufactured? China? Could you give me one more way to funnel our US dollars overseas, please? When will these units be on sale at Costco alongside Vizio TVs?

Patrick Butler's picture

Are you really whining about a $449 cd player made in China? 

jhamill1's picture

Buy American. Buy Canadian. Just don't need any more startups handing large amounts of our cash to China while scraping of their percentage. It's a free market. If people want to send the rewards of their hard labor overseas to satisfy desire and short-sighted greed, so be it. It should be called what it is, though.

Patrick Butler's picture

I understand your desire to purchase North American goods.  Last year I bought my first American vehicle- a Ford Focus.  Love the car.  While that car is produced in North America, it is made of components that are manufactured in China.  Many manufacturers today rely on a global supply chain that blurs notions of national identities.

Emotiva is no different.  They have headquarters in Tennessee that employs Americans.  Check their website right now, and you'll find two positions available.  Their business model is commendable.  Offer great sounding components that real people can afford, made possible by American engineering, design and customer service coupled with efficient Chinese manufacturing and a direct to consumer sales model.  That's what made those two jobs being offered in Tennessee possible. 

jhamill1's picture

A handful of people are skimming a small percentage off of the money cheap consumers seem all to willing to send overseas. Wouldn't it be better to add a factoryworth of (hopefully union-free) jobs for skilled Americans? Short sighted and greedy.

wozwoz's picture

> Because I am an audiophile, I want to hear that music through the best possible source component


If the author wanted to hear music through the best possible source component, he wouldn't be listening to low-resolution CDs, still stuck at 44.1 kHz sampling. This machine can't even play hi-rez SACDs. History. Time to move on to hi-rez.