Emm Labs SE combo versus Wadia 581-SE

Hi Guys,

Anyone here compared the Emm Labs SE combo against Wadia 581-SE. Both will be driving the amps directly. Any feedback will be appriciated. Rest of my system: Krell KAS, Revel Ultimate Salon.
Apples and oranges. Everyone is going to have their preference, but no one is going to tell you which one is best.

My preference is the Wadia. There may be some good deals on EMM over the next 6 months, though.
Thanks Rtnl,

Are you saying something is happening with Emm in the near future as I don't want to buy it and to be replaced by a newer model.

As someone who owns both an EMM CDSA and a GNSC Wadia 860, I can second Rtnl, at least from the standpoint of the "house sound" of those makes. And, in fact, in terms of (almost embarassingly) completely agreeing with Rtnl (has that ever happened on Audiogon with anybody??), I've kept both because of this: If I play a CD on the EMM and am not so crazy about the sound, there's a pretty good chance I can try it on the Wadia and like it. And vice versa. I tend to use the Wadia for music for which I want more punch (pop and jazz) and the EMM for classical (more laid back).

I have no clue what Rtnl is talking about when it comes to bargains on EMM's, however (and, like you, am curious).
Thanks Eweedhome,

I had thought that both are very alike in sound quality...detail, resolution, dynamic type of players especially the Emm SE combo. I believe the older models of Wadia's are more musical than the 581-SE. I could be wrong. Can you live with your 860 going direct without a pre amp?
I've never heard the 581. Also, as noted but not explained, my 860 is modified, fairly significantly, by Steve Huntley at Great Northern Sound, who used to work at Wadia and before that ARC. He's well-known for his Wadia mods, and I was amazed at the musicality of the modded version. The unmoded version (which I used for a couple of years) was overly concerned with treble, and detail, detail, detail, and was fatiguig. The GNSC version has much improved tonal balance and a very smooth top, though it is still quite detailed. But it still has some positive Wadia characteristics, including rock solid bottom end (even more so, really) and, like I say, great detail (but smoother). I mean to say here that there is a family resemblance between the unmodded 860 and the GNSC 860, but the GNSC 860 is (for me) much more pleasant to listen to.

I did not like the unmodded 860 straight into my amp generally, although on a very few of the exact right CDs, it was stunning. It's just that on quite a few CD's, I heard more than I wanted to know. I've never tried the GNSC 860 straight in.

The EMM is less dynamic than the GNSC 860. It actually has somewhat more detail. The soundstage seems further back from the speakers and is a bit wider, I'd say. Particularly with orchestral music, the extraction of detail from redbook CD's is remarkable.
In this price range you really need to consider the Playback Designs MPS-5. There are comparisons to the EMM elsewhere here and at The Asylum.

Since I cannot audition any EMM, I have the following choices. Please advice which is better.

1: Wadia 581-SE ( driving direct)( only max 4.5V output, might get max out)
2: EMM CDSA-SE ( with a Krell HRC-HR Pre)
3: EMM SE Combo ( no pre)
4: Wadia + Krell HRC-HR pre

Rest of system : Krell KAS mono's + Revel Salon ( 86db@6 ohms.
Let me know if any of you have the EMM SE combo ( multi voltage )for sale at a resonable price.

Thanks in advance.
You will make a mistake if you buy something based on someone’s “what is better” suggestion.
You have to hear for yourself, preferably in your system.
The possibility of one the same player sounding the same in two different systems and rooms is nearly zero. Add to it sound preferences of a person that heard any of the players in some system somewhere, and try to translate wording used to describe the sound.
You will not know anything more than when you asked the question.
If it is a coin toss...

I would choose Wadia if you listen to classical music. It has the ability to pull out the detail of professional musicianship, the textures and layers from the composer, and the subtle nuances in balance and rhythm from the conductor. It also presents a realistic soundstage that makes a believable representation.

I might consider EMM if you listen to jazz, pop, and rock music. I don't feel those genres benefit as much from high resolution. The EMM may have some warmth that is needed for many popular recordings.

For classical music, I keep on coming back for the details. That is why I have 15 recordings of Mahler #2. If you like jazz and pop, the details are interesting, but does not sustain itself.

I seriously doubt that the max output on the Wadia would not readily play at an unhealthy level of loudness. Perhaps you know something I don't though.

In terms of Wadia with pre vs. no pre, there is no firm consensus. If you go without a pre and only have a single source, then you need to invest in a proper platform, power cord, and consider a modified unit.
Thanks again Rtnl,

I auditioned a Wadia 581-Se and it was infact very good just like you said and thats driving my amps directly. I listen to mostly acoustic guitar and piano pieces, sometimes a bit of female volcals.

I have since placed an order for one and will have it ometimes next week. BTW, how many hours do they need breaking in?.

It will take over 1000 hours to break in. It may sound disjointed and raw for the first 400-500. Then things will start to congeal.

There is also a decrease in performance when cold. It takes about 24 hours to warm-up. Not an issue, since you will leave it on all the time. My amps are the same way.

I've had good success with Elrod power cords. They tighten-up the base, and with increased dynamics and energy throughout. The 27ix sounded flat with stock cords, and the upgrade was truly eye opening. Some people like Virtual Dynamics, but I'd rather give my money to David Elrod.
Shunyata and VH Audio Airsine also work well.
I have the 581se and I disagree with Rtnl when he says that the Wadia will take 1000 hours to break in. Mine was pretty amazing right out of the box. I will say though that after about 200-300 hours it moves to an even better level of production where it has now seemed to settle.
Agree that Wadias in general take some break-in time, and also that they sound best after they've been plugged in and turned on for a good 24 hours or so.
I owned an 861SE and it sounded perfect out of the box. the 1000 hours is bs. i put on several thousand hours and my system never got better.

i ran it direct to my speakers and kept it on 24/7 as i used it as a preamp for multiple sources. i replaced it with a Linn Unidisk 1.1.
The Wadia 581-SE is in the system. Fresh out from the box sounded a bit conjested but 24 hrs later, it sang beautifully. I'm sure it will get better with more hours and initial audition was very pleasant.

The pre amp section is very good even though had been said better with a active pre amp. I'm going to try a Spectral 30SL and see what happens.....

I also plugged in the Accuphase PS-1200V mains regenerator with the 581 and the improvement was amazing.

Cheers. :)