Review: Audiomod Modified: EMM Labs Phillips SACD 1000 Transport
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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