I could be dead wrong, but I thought I heard something about both of them using the same Oppo transport. Again, not 100% sure.
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First, Stereo5 is mistaken the EMC-1UP does not use the Oppo transport, but a very high grade Phillips model.I have heard both players and own the EMC-1UP and believe that the EMC-1UP is quite a more musical player with tube like timbre,3D imaging and more liqidity then the Ayre player that I found rather dry sounding. For more details you can go to my review on the EMC-1UP at hometheaterreview.com.
After reading your original post again, I would offer a different approach if you are thinking of upgrading. All of your components are very good, but I think the biggest improvement in sound quality will come from better component matching, and not just looking at each component by itself. Your CD player and Preamp, not only sound very good, but are similar in design goals. Both are fully balanced, zero feedback components made by designers that aim for similar voicing sonically. Another way to look at it is if Ayre started making tube preamps, I believe that they would be very similar in design and sound to Aesthetix.
Given that, I feel that the best path for you would be to get a new amp and not a CD player. The amp I would pick is an Ayre V5, or something very similar. Doing that will achieve a much better synergy between your amp, pre and and CD player.
If that sounds like something you would be interested in, post back and I'll give you more details.
I concur with Teajay. The EMC 1UP is a much more musical and more fluid player than the Ayre. The problem with a lot of people on this site is they've never listened to Electrocompaniet because they don't advertise as much as Ayre and their dealer network is much smaller. If you really spent some time listening to Electro gear you wouldn't even want to listen to Ayre any more. You want to know what the biggest difference is between the two brands? Forget all the audiophile terms like imaging, soundstaging, transients, etc. The difference is I have NEVER heard ANY Ayre gear that sounded NATURAL AND ORGANIC. Conversely, EVERY piece of Electro gear I've ever heard falls within that camp. And in my book that's important!
"The Bel Canto's have a nice low end. I have read that the Ayre lacks in that department. Do you find this to be true?"
That's a really hard question to answer. There are so many different variables to consider, and most of the are subjective. I'd hate to point you in a wrong direction and have you get something you don't like. The best way to approach this, I think, would be for me to just tell you what I think of the V5 overall. Then, if you want me to go into detail in certain areas, let me know. Also, don't go by just what I think. If at all possible, do some listening.
I can start by saying that I've never heard any other amp like the V5. What makes it so unique, for me, is that it succeeds in doing things that a lot of other equipment makers try to do. No amp I have ever heard, tube or SS, passes as much detail and resolution through it to the speakers as the V5 does. A lot of people say that it's analytical. I don't agree. For all the detail, the amp retains a sense of purity and liquidity that I've only heard from the best tube amps. That's why its so hard to explain how it sounds. I really can't think of anything to compare it to. If you are looking for something forgiving, the V5 is not for you. But even though its not that forgiving, its still a very musical amp. Another quality to note is the imaging. Its incredible. Also, the combination of being fully balanced, 0 feedback and having bipolar output transistors gives the amp a huge sense of dynamic contrast; like when you go from a CD to a record.
As far as bass goes, I don't find it lacking. Its a very powerful amp. That said, its not a Krell or a Bryston. I have never listened to your amp so it wouldn't be fair for me comment on it. There are other amps out there, that I'm sure would take better control of the speakers with regards to low frequencies. I don't believe that most other amps will have the qualities that I mention above. Its a trade off.
I hope that helps. Any questions, just post and I'll try to get back to you with an answer as soon I can.
Thank you for the great insight. I sometimes wonder about generalzations regarding equpment made here on Audiogon. It seems people post a small problem or issue with a particular piece and everybody jumps in on it. By the time the thread has run its course that small issue becomes a monster. (Ayre equipment being very analytical for example)
Anyway, It seems my best bet is to pick up a V5 here and keep my Bel Cantos for a comparison.
Any year of manufacturing I should steer clear or look for in a V5?
Its very difficult to explain how an audio component sounds using words. I don't read reviews any more just for that reason. You can go crazy trying to sort it all out. I've come to realize that the only way to really succeed with audio is to just get as much hands on experience as you can and be honest with yourself. No sense in putting together a system that sounds amazing with classical music and terrible with rock, if thats what you listen to.
I think its a good idea to get a used V5 to try. Worst case, if you don't like it, it can easily be resold without loosing a lot of money. I'm glad you asked about the production dates. One of the best things about Ayre is the upgrades. The V5's that first came out have been improved many times over so that current production V5's are really current. If you have an older version, you can always send it in to Ayre and they will upgrade it to current status. With your preamp, you need to make sure that you have an M in your serial number. It needs to be at the end and not the beginning. There was a small compatibility issue with your Aesthetix preamp that was fixed with the M version. Its been out for a long time so most V5's you look at will probably be OK. Either way, I would still check with Ayre first just to make sure my info is correct.