Review: Emm Labs DCC2 DA converter

Category: Digital

Initial impressions:
I have had the Emm labs DCC2 in my system for a little over 75 hours- break in time- so far and am in awe of its performance(I have about 12 hours listening time so far). I will post a follow up this weekend at some point, but I know many inquiring minds want to know if this piece is the "real deal" or not. Let me say this IT IS!

Upon installing this component in my system I noticed an immediate improvement- more so then ANY other product I have tried. The first note I heard played was unlike any reproduced sound I have ever had in my system. It was closer to the original performance then I have ever been. I've used the term "palpable" in the past to describe the sound of various systems or upgrades, but only now do I truly understand the meaning of it. Strings have texture and body that jump out at you, voices have a presence I can not put into words, percussion has weight and speed unlike anything I have heard before. The soundstage is DEEP and WIDE, with so much resolution I find myself hearing things I have never heard before on recordings I have listened to literally hundreds of times in the past. Detail and resolution so overwhelming that I get confused about everything that I am hearing- the best way I can describe it is: imagine you were deaf and never heard music before and for the first time you hear a song. That is the overwhelming that I am talking about, its down right scary sometime, but a real good scary. Keep in mind this unit is still breaking in and will get- I am told- a lot better.

The one thing I can not stand about a system is a fatigueing sound, this is a big problem with most digital sources. The sure fire way to test this is to listen...... a lot, do you get bored? lose interest in the music? if so its fatigueing. Up until I had the Audio Aero Capitole mkII in my system that had been the case for me, I just could never get into long listening sessions. Upon installing the Cap. I found myself listening and listening and staying up WAY to late rediscovering all of my music- I felt I had finally "arrived"- well I was wrong. However good I thought the Cap. was/is it can't keep up with the DCC2- its not as resolving, detailed........ you know all of the audiophile goodies. Compared it sounds dull and lifeless, and that is an accomplishment because I LOVE(d) the Audio Aero Capitole MkII because it allowed me to enjoy digital for the first time. But like all things something better came along, and this plays SACD's too!

I have been listening to way to many discs the last few days to list them all, however it is clear that SACD is MUCH more resolute, dynamic, faster, more defined soundstage and palpablity(is that even a word!) is increased yet further. This is really clear on Ryan Adams "Gold", James Taylor "Hourglass", Roxy Music "Avalon", Muddy Waters "Folk Singer", Beck "Sea Change", The Soprano's "Pepper's & Eggs"(one of my favorites right now), Szell- The Cleveland Orchesta Grieg*Bizet*Mussorgsky. As the unit breaks in further and I have more time to listen I will compare more of the Redbooks Vs. SACD's- I have around 200 SACD's and have listened to maybe 50 of them on this unit so far- so I have a long joyful road ahead of me.

The bar is raised. Redbook disc's have been brought to the next level. Greg Brown's "The Poet Game"(one of my favorite discs of all time), is even BIGGER then before, the soundstage has become much wider and more defined. I can almost feel the growl of his voice as he is telling me about his "'64 dodge". The bass is more articulate and detailed and slightly faster, with NO sluggishness or coloration. Just accurate, tight bass with a natural harmonic feeling which I have never heard from digital before. Aimee Mann's vocal's on "Bacholer no. 2 or the last remains of dodo" her voice is so fragile and delicate, yet smooth and refined with not even a hiccup of sibilance. This disc is due out as a MoFi hybrid soon, so I wanted to pay attention to the differences from the original to the remaster/sacd.

So far I have not explored much of my classical collection, I am not sure where or when to start but I have to start soon. My collection is probably about ½ classical so it will take some time to go through it accurately. So far what I have heard LAGQ "Latin" is snappy fast, dynamics galore, very well defined stage for the four musicians and a very natural sense of decay as the guitars are playing independently together- if you have this disc you will understand that, if not you'll think I am even weirder. I have listened to some of the Szell discs that I have and they seem to be hit and miss, some are FANTASTIC recordings, some are just fair- but the performances are all really quite good.

At this point the only flaw I can find with this piece was the delay to get it, but after waiting for nearly a year in only three days it seems like a moot point. After the few days of living with this piece I can not think of a single piece I would rather have at ANY price to replace it- maybe the Emm Labs DAC6e if I wanted multichannel. The conclusion I have so far about Emm labs is that Ed Meitner(the man behind Emm labs) has an understanding of digital that NO one else has- his digital front ends are amazing, something is turning in his mind that makes sense to him but baffles everyone else.

With the 3+ days of use on it, the sound has smoothed out even more, more detail is coming out, it seems like resolution is a little better(didn't think that was possible!). Out of the box it sounded fantastic, now it is just settling in and perhaps the sound is a little more laid back, its hard to tell going from one recording to another it could just be the mastering of the various discs. In the next few days if anything is to change a lot I will be sure to post it other wise expect the second part of this review on Sunday when I have more listening time and the unit is a lot closer to being broke in. If your thinking about purchasing this unit, do NOT listen to it if you are not prepared to buy it, because you will do what EVER it takes to get it when you hear it.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Have used in my system:
Accuphase DC-300 + DP-90 combo
Accuphase DP-75v
Audio Aero Capitole MkII
Philips SACD1000
Sony 9000es

Have heard:
Pretty much EVERYTHING at various shows- dCS, Burmester, Audio Mecca, Electrocompaniet, Wadia, Resolution Audio and Ayre to name a few.
Tim: I've been anxious to read your review and here it is.

I thought you'd really love it, but wanted to see your thoughts, not only because I respect your opinions, but I know you've heard and have used a variety of digital pieces, including the AA Capitole MKII.

Time to start saving my hard-earning dollars, it appears. As I said in a previous thread...I now have only you and JTinn to blame :) for using, what should be, retirement dollars for more hi-fi upgrades. (thanks):)

Anyhow....and by the way, I bought Roxy Music's - "Avalon" SACD hybrid last night and was completely blown away by the dramatic improvement in sound quality over the previous copy I had, circa 1982. And, remember, it was only the remastered redbook I listened to. Now, I can only wonder and dream about how this would sound on the new EMM DCC 2 in DSD.

Question: If I go this direction and sell the Cap, should I buy a used Sony or Phillips SACD transport and get it Meitnerized or buy the EMM transport?

Can you only imagine how many 2 channel dacs Ed would sell if he produced just a 2 channel dac in its own chassis assuming that it's price would reflect its now reduced complexity...

BTW, great read Tireguy!
Gerryn "Phillips SACD transport Meitnerized" was told over 8 months ago by Jtinn that Meitner wasn't going to be modifying any more Philips SACD 1000 for use as the transport. So to send DSD signal to the DCC2 you would have to find a already Meitner modified Philips 1000 somewhere or wait for the Meitner transport to be released until then you wouldn't get 100% of the quality possible using the DSD interface you would be limited to the standard SPIDF type interface like AES/EBU balanced connection sent from all other transports as their is currently no standard regarding DSD interfaces yet every system is proprietary currently.
Gerry- Better start saving them pennies! This just keeps getting better and better. I hear you about the money thing though, my financial advisor really dislikes me having this audio habbit :o) as if he isn't getting enough of my money already!!

Roxy Music "Avalon" is spectacular on this remaster. I must admit I have never heard of Roxy music prior to getting into SACD- give me a break I was born in 1981- and am not only blown away by the sonics on this disc, but the music is very very good. I want to get the Brian Ferry "Frantic" disc as well, I suspect it will be very similar. "Avalon" even on two channel does some amazing imaging(including from behind and along side the listener) they must have took some lessons from Roger Waters("Amused to Death" has a similar effect).

You CAN NOT use a Sony as a transport so DO NOT buy one of them. The only player they modify is the SACD1000, talk to Jtinn and get the scoop, I ordered/paid for mine so long ago I don't know what the scoop is currently. If available the Philips is the easy way to save bit of money, comparing it to the Emm labs transport. FWIW I bought my Philips from Emm labs, I am not sure if they still offer this service or not, but it made my life easier. Mejames is correct in stating that the "magic" lies in the Emm opti-link that is employed by the both the DAC and Transport from Emm labs. I am not sure about not modifying SACD1000's though, the reason they were going to stop was because they were going to have there own out- as we can see there transport is still not available. Best bet is to contact Jtinn and get the current information.

Rgd- Thanks for the comments!

As for the follow up I told you I was going to post up yesterday, well it didn't happen! I had time allocated in my schedule to do it, however I spent that time listening instead. Things changed for the better over the last week, I want to listen to every disc I have over and over and hear all of the subtle details(in some cases not so subtle) I was missing. SACD is inspiring to say the least, it reproduces some of the finest sound I have ever heard period. And SACD disc's that are mastered very good will leave you speachless, there's just so much information coming at you its hard to believe its digital.

Now Redbook has become MUCH better, I didn't think Redbook CD was capable of this much resolution and detail. Images have become more focused, the stage is more detailed. As good as SACD is, Redbook is still VERY enjoyable. My 2000 cd collection has had a new light shed upon it!

Discs such as Counting Crows "Hard Candy", Patty Griffin "Flaming Red" and La Rondinella "Songs of the Sephardim" have all became HUGE, they sound so much bigger then ever before. They have a relaxed/in your face sound which I have never experience before- it seems almost offensive and edgy but then you realize that THIS IS WHAT REAL MUSIC SOUNDS LIKE! Real music is not sugar coated and tuned on an RTA, it can be in your face and rough- this dac captures that feeling, but at the same time is not fatigueing at all to listen to. On some smaller and lighter arrangements detail and refinement has become paramount. This was VERY aparent with Buddy Guy "Blues Singer" and Jennifer Warnes "The Hunter". "The Hunter" has long been one of my favorite female vocals to demo with, it has a warm euphonic sound with almost a glow surrounding her singing- of course there was no exception here. The most improved area on these discs would be the extreme detail on the vocals and the texture/body of the instruments that brought new life to these recordings.

So I had a friend visiting the other day and we were just listening to music at random and a disc I had just purchased ended up being played, this disc was Jason Mraz "Waiting for my Rocket to Come", the first track is called "you and i both", this song has seen a fair amount of radio air play. Well we were listening and he asked me when the live recording of this came out, he had never heard it before- I double checked and we were listening to the studio recording! He could not believe how different it sounded and how BIG the sound was. He is a mildly enthusiastic audiophile, but he had never heard detail like this before from a regular "pop" recording.

I have yet to find any real flaws from the sonics of this, there is nothing wrong! Trust me I would love to find something to complain about, but I can't. I find myself paying less and less attention to the audiophile goodies and paying more and more attention to the music- does this mean I am happy with my system now???????? Lets see if it can keep my interest for months to come.