Ah, it's good
to be alive. (Editor's Note: Mel Brooks says "It's good to be
All of these reference quality components are highly praised for their transparency, imaging and dynamics, and they combine together to produce effortless musicality, the kind that has you air conducting and stamping your feet in time to the music. But they've never sounded like this before. Today I found myself listening to the musicians – the HiFi just disappeared. The amazing thing is that this remarkable upgrade came free. Let me tell you about it.
Ed Meitner and his team at EMM Labs are never satisfied, always looking to improve, and keen to bring those improvements to their existing clients. Let's take the XDS1 CD/SACD Reference Player and Converter I reviewed as an example. It debuted in 2009 and I reviewed it in April 2010.My conclusion for this $25,000 item?
In every single area of performance, resolution, timing, transient response, decay, image size and depth, frequency response, dynamics and tone color, the XDS1 improves on all digital players I have heard before. I'm sure one day this machine will be surpassed, and maybe that will be by some future model from Ed Meitner, but for now, this is the state-of-the-art, and as musically satisfying a machine as I could wish.
Five years have brought two major upgrades, along with a number of running improvements to sub systems such as the power supply. The first major change was to the inputs. In 2012, the v2 designation indicated a new input system, adding a coax input, an asynchronous streaming USB input ready to support DSD over PCM (DOP) from computer files, and all four digital inputs now support up to 24-bit/192kHz. Improvements first introduced in the DAC2X processor to the DAC section and power supply module were also incorporated in this update.
Here is the press release for the V2 upgrade, which requires a
return to the factory and does involve a fee.
I noticed a significant increase in resolution with this
upgrade, and performance on USB DSD streaming was immaculate. I could play the
same track on an SACD and from my computer with DSD streaming, and I was unable
to detect any difference in sound using A/B switching or long periods of
listening. But the main improvement was simply the increased input flexibility
rather than to the actual sound quality. The second major change from MDAT to
MDAT2 is a firmware
upgrade some twelve months in the making and is an audio advance of major
proportions. This same upgrade is available to current EMM Labs and Meitner
The second major change from MDAT to MDAT2 is a firmware upgrade some twelve months in the making and is an audio advance of major proportions. This same upgrade is available to current EMM Labs and Meitner Audio products.
Here's the press release, issued August 2014:
Think of it as supercharging your DAC! Accuracy, transparency,
soundstage, low level detail all greatly improved and refined. All these
improvements providing the listener with a more immersive experience and
bringing further all music to life. The best thing is….you will receive this
new MDAT2 engine for free! For those with current EMM Labs (DAC2X, XDS1 V2) or Meitner
Audio (MA-1, MA-2) products contact your dealer or distributor to schedule the
update being released shortly after the HK Show (middle of August 2014).
For those with current EMM Labs (DAC2X, XDS1 V2) or Meitner Audio (MA-1, MA-2) products contact your dealer or distributor to schedule the update being released shortly after the HK Show (middle of August 2014).MDAT and MDAT2 are both patented. Associated algorithms are patent pending.
The buzz on the net is that MDAT2 DSP is a spectacular upgrade, and I agree wholeheartedly. So what was there left to improve? The original XDS1 had excellent resolution, strong imaging, wide bandwidth, major musicality and tremendous reflexes. Those characteristics are all still there in this upgrade, and they have been improved upon. But what's new is an increased density and presence throughout the spectrum, most notably in the lowest registers. No one can accuse the latest version of being too analytical. This one has balls, it has heart, it has muscle on top of its amazing purity and accuracy. These things don't normally go together. Purity and weight often come at the expense of each other. Without question the earlier XDS1 was the benchmark for purity. Some will have felt it too analytical, although thin would have been an unfair criticism.
I didn't find that every recording sounded better – some were exemplary before and remain so after the updates. But the majority of recordings are now easier to listen to, because there is a greater ease, a more musical flow, greater musical density, more meat on the bone. I would attribute this to improved phase accuracy with gives a more precise location to every instrument, and a top end which is quite without parallel in the digital sphere. Listen to the cymbals, a choir, or jazz piano – all more lifelike than ever.
I've played discs on the demonstration class end of the spectrum. Take Mozart's Fortieth Symphony, from a Linn SACD album of late Mozart Symphonies played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the octogenarian Sir Charles Mackerras [Linn CKD 308]. The energy in the room is simply startling, the tonality to die for, the dynamics unparalled and the imaging in a whole new class. But that's not what you notice. It's all about how this particular orchestra, on this particular day, played their hearts out in a performance that would surely have delighted the composer himself. Enjoy the music? That's putting it mildly. The music comes alive in a way I have only ever experienced before with much smaller scale music.
So next I went back to some Haydn
Quartets Opus 33, played on original instruments by the incomparable
Quatuor Mosaïques [Astree E8810]. Yes these sounded amazing before, and now the
life within the notes, the brilliance of the string tone and the dynamic range
are all enhanced. Sensational performances.
Now take something that wasn't recorded using the most perfectly tuned instruments, something really strident from the fifties. I'm talking Brilliant Corners, the Thelonious Monk masterpiece [Riverside RISA-226-6]. The solo piano track "I Surrender, Dear" has never sounded clearer, more present. The rollicking "Bemsha Swing", featuring Monk, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Paul Chambers and the astonishing Max Roach on drums is a challenge to any system. Roach attacks both drums and timpani like a wild man, and it comes together with unmatched cohesion here. The deep bass is powerful and remarkably coherent and tuneful. The engineers have done a great job on this SACD, and Ed Meitner has brought us closer to the original recording then I've ever heard.
Did I mention Shchedrin's Second Piano Concerto, played by Marc-André Hamelin [Hyperion SACDA67425]? You will never, I repeat never, hear a more realistic recording of a concert grand. Hamelin's performance is electrifying, in a way only Horowitz or perhaps Kissin could rival. The XDS1 reveals the full force of the attack from both pianist and orchestra, and we are in a world far from conventional and even most exotic HiFi. This doesn't sound like hi-fi at all. There is none of the rounding of sharp edges, obscuring of small detail, overhang or dulling of dynamics that reminds us we are listening in our living room and not a concert hall. This digital source, when accompanied by components of equal quality, brings music to the ears that most experts are convinced digital cannot reproduce. I should mention that the YG Carmels play a big part here. They do not compress until you exceed their limits, at which time you will know about it in no uncertain terms.
The pile of discs I wanted to tell you about sits high on my writing desk. But I find myself just telling you how great this disc is, how much I love that. I'm talking always about the actual performance, and I've got nothing new to tell you about the XDS1. It just reads the digits and converts them to analog and doesn't seem to have any sound of its own. So I'll stop here.
The bar has been raised, and raised so high we are in a new
era of digital. My hope is that all high end manufacturers get hold of an XDS1,
or another of Ed Meitner's current series of DACs, and compare their best to
his. If they can match it, that's great, and I want to hear it. If not, then
knowing what is possible may drive them to new heights. Meanwhile, anyone want
to buy my analog setup? In 2010 I felt the XDS1 represented the state of the art which
would one day be surpassed, maybe by Ed Meitner. I haven't heard anything better
all round in the meantime, although I believe it has been equaled by Meridian
for Redbook audio and by Chord Electronics for SACD. But these two EMM Labs
upgrades have moved the bar again, and I suspect EMM Labs now have a clear lead.
In 2010 I felt the XDS1 represented the state of the art which would one day be surpassed, maybe by Ed Meitner. I haven't heard anything better all round in the meantime, although I believe it has been equaled by Meridian for Redbook audio and by Chord Electronics for SACD. But these two EMM Labs upgrades have moved the bar again, and I suspect EMM Labs now have a clear lead.
I understand Ed Meitner is not about to rest on his laurels any time soon, although he has his hands full with updates to other components and the introduction of powerful new monoblocks. So if you are really serious about digital audio and have not found anything that really satisfies, then this might be just the right time to invest. You could look at the XDS1 v2 or the DAC2X (DAC $15,500 or $30,000 bundled with the TSDX drive). At a much lower price point the Meitner MA-1 DAC ($7000) and MA-2 CD/SACD Player / DAC ($11,000) both benefit from the MDAT2 update and incorporate much of the same advanced technology as the EMM Labs Reference series components so I suggest you check those out too.
And of course if you already own one of the current range of EMM Labs or Meitner DACs or CD Players, this free update is not to be missed.
Shahin Al Rashid