Review: Audiomod Modified: EMM Labs Phillips SACD 1000 Transport

Category: Digital

Audiomod: EMM Labs Modified SACD 1000 + EMM Labs DAC6e

Having lived with the EMM Labs DAC6e and companion EMM Labs modified Phillips SACD 1000 transport utilizing the ST Optical glass connectors for a period of three months, I found myself wanting even more out of my system. Not that this digital combination wasn't spectacular. In fact, it is the best digital I've ever owned or heard up to this point in time in any system (there is still quite a bit of digital out there that I haven't heard yet). But when compared to vinyl (still my reference point for a source component), the EMM gear was still not quite in the same league in the areas of midrange color, three dimensional body, dynamic bloom, and upper octave air.

Being the ever-inquisitive audiophile, I tried numerous ways to improve the EMM gear. First let me say that you are doing this equipment an injustice if you don't experiment with different isolation schemes. The Phillips transport is not the last word in build quality or isolation design for an ultra high-end transport. In fact, I would venture to say that it's probably the most sensitive component (barring speakers of course) I've ever had the pleasure of trying to evaluate for any form of isolation. But I digress and this is not a review of isolation devices.

The Transport to a greater extent and the DAC to a lesser extent are also extremely sensitive to power cords and power supply filtration. If you haven't yet experimented with this I highly recommend you do so immediately because you haven't heard all that can be achieved with these components without optimizing this aspect as well. This led me to believe that the EMM Labs combination could be improved by upgrading some of the internal components too much higher quality parts. Since the Phillips transport was built to such a low standard and proved to be the most sensitive to cords and filtration it seemed like the most probable place to begin.

I'd heard that Richard Kern of Audiomod had recently acquired an EMM Labs DAC6e and companion EMM modified Phillips transport and contacted him to gather his initial impressions of the combo. I was curious to see if Richard had any plans to modify this equipment. Richard and I had a lengthy conversation comparing notes concerning the sound we were hearing from the EMM gear. Amazingly we completely agreed on the EMM's strengths and weaknesses and decided to proceed forward with a mod to the power supply.

Richard began ordering various Black Gate caps, to replace the stock power supplies board caps with (standard OEM schlock) N and Nx, and FK type Black Gates. Ultimately the entire board was completely Black Gated. This was the first board Richard sent me. It utilized only one non-N type Black Gate with a single FK type as the main filter cap. I inserted the board in my transport and was immediately blown away by the improvement in sound. After about 750 hrs, I started to feel that the tonal balance had shifted, just a touch too much, towards the dark and chocolaty direction. Yet in many other ways it was such a drastic improvement: three-dimensional imaging, inky black backgrounds, and finally overall dynamics were all greatly improved. Once again Richard and I compared notes. I felt a little like Goldilocks, "this EMM's to sterile, this EMM's to rich". What's a poor audiophile to do? Meanwhile Richard was able to get his hands on an Nx type Black Gate to replace the single FK type with. He felt sure this would solve the problem thus resolving my dilemma.

I swapped out the FK with the Nx, put a CD in the transport and sat back to evaluate. All I can say is it's just RIGHT! All the magical improvements the FK cap had made were still there, but now that little extra ripeness was gone and instead a magical midrange was present with perfect tonal color and body, and three-dimensional imaging with a commensurate increase in soundstage depth and width. Meanwhile the slight dryness (digital nature) the bass had was gone, replaced with a dynamic slam I've never heard any digital source capable of previously.

EMM gear is known for its incredible speed and detail. Did this mod help or hurt this aspect of its performance? The answer is meliorated. The detail, start and stopping transients, and lack of fuzz or grain have all been maintained and even minimally improved upon, primarily due to the even blacker backgrounds on which the music is overlaid. Cymbals rang truer; brushes floated in space. Low-level detail retrieval was also vastly improved.

So what can I say? At the cost of $375 (for a $10,000 DAC & $2,000 transport) this was the most cost effective improvement I've ever made to my system. The fact that what many consider to be the best digital combination can be improved to such a great extent for so little money is absolutely mind-boggling. Don't get me wrong; the EMM gear is still sensitive to isolation devices, power cords and filtration. Now I truly feel it's raised digital to compete with a very good to great vinyl playback system (but still not the equal with an excellent vinyl system). Vinyl still has a slight edge in upper octave air and overall dynamics. In general, on most recordings, I could flip a coin in the decision of which playback medium to listen to. For this diehard vinyl enthusiast, that's very high praise indeed. The Audiomod modified EMM Labs Phillips SACD 1000 transport for the EMM Labs DAC 6e (or DCC2 for that matter) is a must for those searching for digital nirvana.

One final note, with the latest price increase on the as yet to be released EMM Labs transport (now $6800 retail).
This mod is looking more and more like the most cost effective way to extract the most out of the DAC 6e or DCC 2.

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Nice review. I agree with you that the CD player is the most fertile area to modify and invest in. I have spent as much on isolation, cords and cables, modifications, and power conditioning as I have on my DAC and transport. Each step has been a revelation and this is a very addictive part of audiophilia. It is clear that digital is extremely sensitive to electricity and environmental factors. The digital system I have now is totally different in sound compared with where I started. The music literally shimmers and glistens with emotion and energy, and CDs that have sounded dull in the past have been rejuvenated. This is very good and dangerous stuff.

One kinda wonders what is the inside scoop as to why manufacturers don't use the best in their price-no-object constructions. I know that there are certain constraints, but there is also a certain aloofness about it as well. For example, Wadia in its instruction book does not recommend other power cords, but switching to the Elrod Statement II has probaby been the best single upgrade I ever made.

Congratulations and thanks for a well-written review. I've developed a keen interest in the EMM Labs Dac lately, and it's nice to get a comparison with vinyl from an analogue guy. Your contention that the stock EMM lacks somewhat in "midrange color, three dimensional body, dynamic bloom and upper octave air" perfectly describes my impression with all digital, as soon as the needle hits the groove. I currently own a Lindemann D680 (I see you've had one also), and I'd like to know how you would compare it with the EMM.
The review convinced me to get the exact same mod from Richard Kern. Although Richard warned that that it would take over 500 hundred hours for the improvement to stop, the effect was dramatic in the first minute. It made a more significant difference in Redbook than SACD. Before the mod I was bothered that the Philips 1000 was so far below the Meitner DAC that the music was being ill-served. That is no longer the case. Thanks for your thoughtful review. It prompted me to act, and I am grateful for the results.
Excellent review. I'm glad to see you were not deterred by something that happened a little while back in this area.

I was told by a meitner dealer that the Philips 1000 had a high failure rate in the field. Is this BS?

Unfortunately there is a lot of truth to the high failure rate of the phillips units, I have a meitnerized unit and its dead. The worst part is there is no fix available- what a waste- and I had to shell out the cash for the pricey CDSD while keeping a dead less then 6 month old phillips. The good news is that even with a $149 best buy dvd player as the transport and a cheap digital cable the combo still outperforms my old audio aero capitole mkII! The only upsetting part is that I can't listen to my SACD's until the CDSD shows up. I know of a few other who have had failures as well, it seems to be a phillips problem and NOT a meitner problem, they just picked a bad unit to modify.
Its not clear to me where the mods don, the player, the DAC or both?
Divo- The mods are done to the Phillips, to the best of my knowledge NO one will touch any Emm labs equipment- though in time anything is possible.
mandarinspirit - no that was NOT bs - the SACD 1000 is just about the biggest lemon in hifi history,

i have 2 of the meitner mod philips and neither of them work right.