Review: EMM CDSA X-Upgrade CD Player

Category: Digital

Here are my impressions of the "X" upgrade.
In Redbook:
Older CDs are presented with much more refinement, like a good remastering.
I have a large collection of Time-Life CDs of 50s-to-90s music that I have
had for 20+ years and a lot of the problems with these are handled elegantly,
or at least much more elegantly than with the original CDSA.
(And far better than previous Accuphase 75V and Meridian 508.24 players.)
How so:
Midrange "shout" is much reduced.
Images are more saturated and solid but not thick or punchy or forward.
Highs are less piercing.
Bass is tighter.
Overall, there are softer image boundaries, and musical components are more "rounded."
Vocals sound more continuous and silky.
Percussion has more impact.
And with all this, things are just more relaxing.
And especially, there is more spatial information and layering.
I'm not sure if there is more detail, except in the area of soundstaging.
The overall sound is warmer than the previous CDSA, so that the detail
comes through without chilliness.

In some 1960s Linda Ronstadt, the glare I used to hear is gone, but
things are not rolled off, it's just that the vocal is more integrated with the background.
The same goes with Tom Jones, where some grain is now gone but the natural gravely voice
is still there. With all the female singers in these old recordings,
like Petula Clark and Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross, the shriek is almost gone
but the character of the voice is all there.
I don't mean to imply that things are all perfect, as some redbook digital pushiness
and shrillness sometimes raises its ugly head, but I feel were getting there much more

closely with the X upgrade, but not by blunting things.

With SACD, the changes are less profound with the X-upgrade, but there are some

Again, there is a warmer sound and also more layering. I think bass
is more controlled with a good resonance. I have SACDs of Billy Joel
(the Stranger and 52nd Street), and the piano is just so wonderful to
my ears, with a warm, controlled decay that just sounds so right and
satisfying to me. And the vocals are rounded and present and just
recessed enough to avoid any pain or shoutyness but still have
lots of realistic substance.

This substance-effect is also evident in redbook,
just not as uncannily real as in SACD. I have found this to be
an EMM hallmark quality, where some extra level of meaty truth is extracted
from the music, both in redbook and SACD.
I have stuck with EMM for many years because of this.
The trick is to do this without chill or tipped up sound, and
EMM is getting much better at this, and the X-upgrade is a real step
upward in this area as I hear it.

To summarize, redbook with the X-upgrade does not cure but mightily reduces
many of the usual annoying negative aspects, like shriek, shout, grain, and
opaque bass thump. And the best thing is that it manages to do this on some
bad, over-equalized CDs, like older 60s-80s discs from the dawn of digital
or some newer hyped-up ones. I think the X-upgrade somehow translates these
issues into a more even-handed, balanced presentation, rather than just
passing it through for better or worse. Overall, the sound is warmer than
the previous CDSA, but with more resolution.
SACD with the X-upgrade is just plain wonderful. Warm but clear and natural
and just so satisfying.
SACD is clearly superior to redbook, and it is such a joy that
I feel it is a crime that more of the great music of the past
50 years has not made it to SACD.

Associated gear
McIntosh C46 preamp, Edge NL12.1 Amp, Harbeth SHL5 speakers, Headphones:Sennheiser HD800s, Grado PS1000s, Audeze LCD2s, Beyer T1s, RSA B52 headphone amp, Rudistor RP010B headphone amp.

Similar products
EMM CDSA-SE, EMM SE DCC2+CDSD, Accuphase 75V, Meridian 508.24, Sony 5400ES
Sorry about the spacing, I copied-and-pasted from a text file.
As a follow-up, I definitely notice that on various CDs and SACDs where I felt the vocals on my Sennheiser HD800 phones were slightly dry, now they are nice and liquid, but not in
a swarmy gooey way, just really natural, like all the bits are now filled in. Headphones are good for digging into sound character, especially the revealing ones like the 800s.
Hi, thank you for the review!

I was wondering how does the CDSA-X compare to the PD MPS-5 ?

Thank you,
CDSA-X has more controlled and detailed bass than the PD, and also a more controlled lower midrange.
The MPS-5 has more easygoing highs. (All of this on redbook).
I also have the XDS1 which has more palpability and realistic image texture than either of these, and both the good qualities of the CDSA-X and the MPS-5.
My impressions of the MPS-5 are from the initial version 3 years ago when I owned it for a few months.