- Written by Rich Schmidt
- Published on 15 October 2009
The first CD I played was Live at Kexp, Vol 2. If you haven't experienced the joy of a radio station the way it should be, tune your computer or squeezebox to kexp.org and expand your mind. This station is a combination of the legendary Seattle college radio station KCMU and the generous coffers of Paul Allen's Experience Music Project. If I ever become a multi billionaire, from selling shoes or software or expertly penned stereo equipment reviews I will start such a station here in Portland. Of course it will be pointless because everyone will be getting their music off the internet but still I'll do it, it's just the right thing to do.
Live at Kexp, Vol 2 is a series of live recordings of various bands (Lyric's Born, Gang of Four, Thievery Corporation, Drive By Truckers, many more) at the Kexp studio. The performances are all so good I'm sure I would not know they were live if I didn't read it on the CD cover. The recording is a little constrained on the top end and the Emotiva reproduced that faithfully. It also conveyed the rockin' nature of these songs very, very well. Technically I think this was accomplished by some excellent bass. Powerful bass with lots of texture and detail. No generalized thumps that might be bass guitar notes or the bass drum. Every drum is different, and bass guitarists fret (bad pun!) for hours over how to sound unique. Well the good ones do. This was not lost in the Emotiva. At this point I didn't know if the ERC-1 was going to benefit from some break-in, it didn't need any to please me. If there was any break in over time I didn't notice it.
Lulabies to Violaine collects all the Cocteau Twins EP's into 4 discs, except for those that are on Lullabies to Violaine Vol. 2 (2 discs) of course. The packaging on Vol 1 is exquisite, the paper has a rubbery feel, like it's been dipped in some mind enhancing chemical. Probably it has. I chose this disc because like a lot of Cocteau Twins the original recordings were made back when CD's were really bad and even these reissues lack the space and ease of newer CD's. The instruments all seem crammed into a small space. The ERC-1 did an admiral job, actually it was a great job with these discs, I listened longer than I recall ever listening to these. The player's ability to separate out the instruments was key to this I think. The ERC-1 I found does an excellent job at presenting the detail of each instrument in its own space, without sounding shrill or tilted to the high end.
I did a lot of back and forth comparison between the ERC-1 and my vintage Naim CDS2 using Lykke Li's Youth Novels. I highly recommend this record, lots of sweet vocals, poetic lyrics and novel arrangements. And, I could highly recommend that you play it through either of these players. The ERC-1 beat my Naim when it came to presenting each instrument in its own space. In fact, it would be hard to imagine doing much better than the ERC-1 in that department.
The ERC-1 was also the bass master, possibly owing to the balanced connection to the rest of my system. Not only was the bass deeper and more powerful, it was more defined, the texture of the bass notes was presented in stark relief, same as the other instruments. The Naim on the other hand presented more of the midrange sweetness. Ms. Li's voice is all about sweetness and I definitely found more if it here. Similar with piano or horns, they sounded a little more like their real-life counterparts through the Naim. Same with the bass, while maybe not as commanding as the Emotiva it was more life-like. And overall the Naim's presentation was more musical, analog-like. Keep in mind that the Naim when new, cost more than 27 (that's twen-ty-seven) times as much as the Emotiva.
Another comparison – I hooked up the optical digital out from the Emotiva to my (Modded) Bel Canto Dac1. At first I was hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. The ERC-1 had a little more extension on both ends, the Bel Canto seemed a little softer throughout, slightly smeared. After I while I could more reliably discern the difference. The Emotiva was better, no smearing.
Balanced v. Single Ended
I connected one set of the single ended outputs available on the ERC-1 to my preamp inputs where the Bel Canto had been and did some more A-B comparisons. The main difference was in the bass and midrange. Through the balanced connections the bass notes had more texture and through the mids each instrument was better defined. The treble single ended was probably a little looser – it had a little of that tendency that I notice when the Furman power conditioner is removed from my system – the treble seems to soar but is it just noisy? This was much more subtle than the Furman effect but that kind of thing.