The Entry Level #12 Page 2

I did all of my listening with an NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier, PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers, and AudioQuest Rocket 33 loudspeakers cables and Sidewinder interconnects. The Emotiva and NAD sat on shelves in my PolyCrystal equipment rack, plugged into a Furutech e-TP60 power conditioner, itself plugged into a Furutech GTX wall receptacle via an AudioQuest NRG X-3 power cord. As always, I listened only to awesome music.

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.

< 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 was—there 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 sweat—a convincing and captivating performance.

Explore more music
I have a rule: A good hi-fi component should make me want to listen to more music—drive 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.

Share your stories.


superaudiolistener's picture

What a value!

Stephen Mejias's picture

$449, actually.

Barb Shissias's picture

I have been enjoying this player for several months now.  The build quality and sound are excellent.  This is my first purchase of a higher end cd player and can now truly appreciate the details of the music that was lacking with other players.  I also own several Emotiva amps that run my home theatre and workout room system and they perform flawlessly.  Not to mention they are an excellent value with a 5 year warranty! Thanks for the review.  I enjoyed reading it.  The Jersey Girl

Stephen Mejias's picture

Glad to hear you're enjoying the player, Barb.  And I'm always happy to hear from a Jersey Girl.

...'cause tonight I'm gonna take that ride / 'cross the river to the Jersey side...

c-ville billl's picture

    I LOVE your column! This is what the music lover and budding audiophile needs-

a place to start. There's a lot of gear under $500 that will make beautiful music.

Similarly, one needn't buy a Porsche or Ferrari to have fun driving.

   Your review of the Emotiva CD player highlights one way to stretch your buck -

buying direct from online manufacturers. You might also consider trying the

Axiom, Ascend and Aperion brands of speakers; I don't believe Stereophile has

ever reviewed any products from the first two. Used gear from Audiogon or

eBay might also be considered.

    My 3 systems:

Reference: Yamaha A1000 integrated; Pioneer universal player;Techincs

                  SL-1800 turntable; Polk SDA-2 speakers.

Computer: Yamaha CR640 receiver; Polk Monitor 30 speakers.

Bedroom: Yamaha RX396 receiver; Sony DVD player; Boston HD9 speakers.

   Keep up the good work!

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks very much, C-Ville. I've been curious about the latest products from the three brands you've mentioned.

That Yamaha A1000 also looks really cool.  I'd like to listen to Yamaha's stuff at some point, too.

Doctor Fine's picture

Your instincts about a piece of gear either driving you to want MORE music or not is proof you speak words of life white man.  Chief Humping Buffalo say in life there is answer to question how to compare CD to vinyl. 

OK enough with funny voices, Stephen all you gots to do is build a CD playback and a vinyl playback that do not leave ANY significant quality on the table so to speak...  These do not have to cost a fortune however they should both wring enough life from either format so that they can "represent" for each tribe.  (ooops there I go with the indian thing, sorry).

So in this corner I present a Technics SL-1210M5G with Denon DL-103 moving coil cart and K&K Audio transformers of the proper type, properly loaded with upgrade resistors to match your Jolida JD9 tube phono preamp.  Over here in the other corner is a basic Sony DVD player with coax spdif out plugged into a Benchmark DAC.  Let the battles begin!

The Technics has to be modified to handle the stiff compliance of the Denon, or course, as that cart needs something heavy to push against.  So put on the extra headshell weight Panasonic provides and add some coins to the real tailpiece to balance it out (these may be drilled and screwed on with a new screw from Home Depot---it will all look stock.  And that Technics can pull the stiff Denon needle around without needing a speed controller as it is a torque monster).

These two formats then have a pretty good clear shot at each other.  And each will show its various strengths and weaknesses.  CD will frequently sound like towells have been placed over the instruments, but will have deep black backgrounds with little noise--look Ma, no clicks and pops!  Vinyl will  have gorgeous singing treble ( ahhhhhh!) and as much or more "bloom" than CD.  But you will have to put up with occasional less than stellar record pressings and all the pitfalls of hundred year old technology.  But you will have to admit it is more "high fi" than CD.  Isn't it annoying we can't yet seem to have a mass consumption higher resolution format?  SACD is great for that occasional release that comes on a hybrid SACD/CD disc.  Oh well, be happy with what we've got. 

Personally I have tried to avoid any tendency towards "etched" playback in my choice of monitors (Harbeth) and electronics.  And find I can spend entire days simply listening to (gasp!) MP3 128K internet radio from Europe playing classical music over at my house. 

And so in conclusion I wish you well and if ANYBODY out there is not having a ball right now with all these riches spread before us---I say tie them to ant hill and dance around them shouting---woo woo woo wooo!

coruja's picture

I only read your column to find out about your friend Nicole.

The rest of the stuff is quite interesting too!

Thanks for the Summvs tip - have been wanting to buy some music like this for some time.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Nicole is awesome. Summvs is awesome, too, but not quite as awesome as Nicole.