Ed Meitner and EMM Labs have been at the forefront of innovation in digital for the past twenty years. EMM Labs has gained a well-deserved reputation for extraordinary, natural, musically persuasive performance as well as versatility. In fact their reputation is based as much on aesthetic sensibility as technological know-how. This is a rare combination. Rarer still is the fact that Meitner has resisted all temptations at self-promotion. He has let his equipment speak for itself. In fact, he has let the various testimonials from reviewers, professional users, audiophiles and music lovers do the talking. I have never run across a person who has listened in a sustained way to any of Meitner's EMM Lab components who has found them wanting in the least. Well-conceived, well made, technologically advanced, versatile and easy to use: that's the EMM signature... and more! If there is a distinctive musical characteristic of Meitner's designs it is that they are able to bring all their technological advances to the service of music.
For many of us who have focused our listening on
analog, the terms digital' and music' do not represent a natural
partnership. There is no need to relive the false promise of perfect sound
forever. For all we know, even early CD did provide perfect sound; what it did
not provide was music, which only goes to show that the difference between sound
and music may be even greater than we had previously imagined.
But there is no denying that digital playback has improved in the last 30 years substantially so. Still, there is no denying that there are distracting features of digital playback that have kept it from being as musically convincing as it might otherwise be. For me, these have fallen into two categories: the unavoidable emphasis on the leading edge of instruments and the blackness of background. The black background gives one the sense that the musical event is taking place in a space of infinite darkness. I find that distracting and unrealistic. Musical events take place in rooms; and rooms are filled with air and air has weight, dirt, dust and more. They are real spaces, not empty spaces.
Beyond that the darkness naturally leads to an emphasis on the leading edge. They are not rounded off by competing with the dirt and weight of the air; and to my ear this is unrealistic and distracting. I have never doubted that digital files and recordings were capable of capturing all of the significant information in a live performance. My problem has always been the same one that has concerned me about audio systems from the outset. A successful audio system has to integrate the information in ways that give the listener access to underlying event: that create intellectual insights and emotional experiences in the right way.
My previous experience with digital is that for
the most part it presents the music as if it were a police report: flat, full,
undifferentiated without insight or access to important facts about the
composer, performer or their aesthetic judgments and interpretations.
That was a mistake on my part. There was nothing
wrong with the Reimyo. In fact, it is quite a good CD player; and an even better
transport. But the quality of a CD player does not depend on its sounding like a
turntable. The truth is that digital sources and analog sources don't sound the
same. They are different sources and have distinctive characters. But done
correctly both can contribute significantly to providing the listener with the
right kind of insight and emotional experience appropriate to the original
performance. This has been a major revelation for me; and I owe it entirely to
the last few months I have spent with the Meitner MA-2 integrated playback
system. It is a great digital source
You can read more about the Meitner's technical specifications and options on the website. The real question is how does it sound? I had read a review of the Meitner MA-2 and he focused on everything but CD playback. That made my choice easy. I would focus instead on CD playback. In this regard, the Meitner excelled and constitutes a genuine achievement quite apart from its other virtues. I listened for hundreds of hours to all manner of CDs: rock, jazz, pop, classical, world music (my least favorite), opera. I even listened to the audio version of my brother's recent audio book, Gun Church.
Let us start with the latter. Some of you may
remember that the original British LS35A design loudspeakers including the
Rogers were designed around the human voice. I wanted to hear what the human
voice sounded like in my system. The Meitner MA-2 served as my main source for
the past four months. The remainder of the system included (primarily) Pass Labs
top of the line preamplifier separates each with its own dedicated power supply,
the Merrill VERITAS monoblock amplifier and the fabulous Soundlab Majestic 845
In my system, the human voice entirely on its
own was terrifically convincing. I know the audio version of my brother's
book extremely well. I know the actors, their voices, and more importantly what
they were trying to convey in the reading. The Meitner presented the experience
so convincingly, the story came to life and I found myself feeling that I was
listening to a stage performance far more than a book reading.
This was merely the beginning, however. CD
playback of Histoire de Soldat was the best I had experienced. Through the
Meitner MA-2, Marianne Faithful was fragile, wounded and weary. Listening to
Charles Lloyd's post 2001 elegy moved me to tears. Leonard Cohen's, "Tower
of Song" captured the irony and the vision of the song. And when I listened
to Warren Zevon's, "Keep Me in Your Heart" from album The
Wind I realized it was the song I wanted my own memorial service to
close out with.
the Meitner MA-2 does not sound like analog. It is not an analog system. It is a
music playback system. It doesn't sound like digital either. It really doesn't
have a sound at least not one that calls attention to itself. It performs
the most important task any component in audio system should. It provides access
to anything you would want to know or feel or experience about the original
recording. It feeds the mind, the soul and the heart of the listener.
It doesn't do this by calling attention to its
transparency or resolution, to its speed or its neutrality. It does this by
presenting all of the significant musical values tone, timbre, dynamic
consistency, coherence in a fully resolved, integrated whole. It represents a
masterful achievement in digital sources, bringing the very best of what EMM
Labs has to offer to the music loving audiophile at a price point many are
willing to pay.
I am sure there are CD playback systems that are somewhat more fine-grained in their detail, slightly more resolute, fast or whatever. But one would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying musical source CD or otherwise at anything like its price. If you are in the market for a CD player or high resolution digital audio player, and like me, you listen to music to learn something. Perhaps about art, the artists, music, musicians, editors, mixers, remasters, and most of all yourself... the place where music fills in your life and your place in the world, I recommend you begin your search with the Meitner MA-2. You will probably find no reason to look or listen further.