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.
Hey Panorama! How you been? I thought you weren't reading my posts anymore? I knew you couldn't resist. Did you miss me?

I've reduced you to using junior high name calling. You have buttons all over you -- push, push.

I like to have a little fun.

Tireguy, I do in fact like the EMM Labs setup. I finally had a chance to hear it. I enjoy reading reviews. I just don't like when people get the impression that there isn't any other setup out there that can match it, when we all know that is impossible given all the combinations and options. You and others enjoy what you have and for good reason, but it is not the Holy Grail, end all. By implying that, you are saying I have the best and whatever the readers front end may be, Its not as good as mine.

As far as the review section goes. Just read through the archives. One review of something will be bad; another review of the same product will be good. All subjective -- that's why I don't use that in my purchase decisions. Like I said, it's fun to read however.

Rob- I agree completely, if anyone bought this piece solely on my recommendation I would be flattered though dissapointed. I have been saying this for years, but please listen for yourself, make your decision based on your experience/prefference.

I may be young, however, I have been around the block more then a time or two with this hobby and can tell what I like and what I don't. I have been surounded with music my entire life and can vividly remember being in an orchestra for the first time and the power the music had when I heard it in its entirety the first time- its an evanescent experience that's impossible to bring to words. But me being young and foolish I try :) and well this particular unit has brought me closer to that experience then anything else I have ever heard, there is something to be said about that.

Enjoy the music!
Good for you! It's difficult to get to the point of satisfaction in this hobby.

Joeycalda, i do have a comment on the Levinson #32. i was a Levinson guy for quite a few years (1995-2001) and loved every minute of it. i owned the #37, #36S, #38S, #335, #33H.....and my final Levinson system was the #32 and #33 monoblocks.....which i had for 2 years with the Wilson WP6's.

i had decieded to switch to a different approach for amplification so i purchased a Tenor OTL amp, the 75Wi, which included a passive volume attenuator. at that point i felt as you currently do; that the #32 was a clearly superior preamp. at that point i was using the Linn CD-12 and Marantz SA-1 as my digital sources. i tried these sources directly into the Tenors (bypassing the #32)....WOW!! i was not prepared for the improvement. this modest passive volume attenuator in the Tenors exposed the #32 as congested, lacking dynmamic snap, and lacking least that was what my ears told me. i was conflicted by my love of the Levinson gear and specifically the #32 but clearly i was onto something.

since the Tenors didn't have a remote volume control i looked around and settled on the Placette RVC as a passive solution....which i also compared to the #32.....same result.

my preamps less CAN be more. i remain a fan of the #32.....among active solid state preamps it is one of the best. it is certainly my favorite for functionality, build quality and beauty. but it is not the last word in performance. i have had maybe 15 preamps in my system since; one of which was the emmlabs Switchman. while i still prefer the Placette to the Switchman by a small margin (in my particular system), the Switchman (to my ears in my system) performs better than the #32.

i have not heard the DCC2.....but feedback i have received from listeners i respect is that the DCC2 is a little better than the combo of the DAC6 and Switchman.

my impressions only pertain to my system and personal sonic priorities. but based on my experience of owning the #32 and time with the emmlabs gear my conclusion would be that the DCC2 will outperform the #32 with any digital source you can name.....inluding the emmlabs DAC6.

the Levinson is an awesome piece of gear and you should feel great about owning it. but there are other excellent performing choices that may make sense too. i would also add that system synergy and context can be very well as personal taste. what may work for me in my system.....or appeal to me....could very well be different for you.

you really ought to keep your opinions to yourself. In all honesty, I can't imagine that you 'enjoy the music' with that setup anyway. Just stick to tires, would you?
Your pal,