Review: EMM Labs DAC6e Signature Edition DA converter

Category: Digital

EMM Labs DAC 6e Signature Edition Upgrade-Initial Impressions


There seems to be so much back and forth diatribe on the internet recently regarding the EMM Labs Signature Edition upgrade. It has been evident to me that much of the talk was "psychobabble" most of which has been started by people who like to fuel speculation and drive the rumor mill. It seems to me that most of these people serve no other purpose than to create uncertainty about an otherwise excellent and first class company that caters to we the audiophile community.

My good friend Mike Lavigne posted a very articulate review of the upgrade but unfortunately it became vapor and disappeared.

I would like to preface my comments with some disclaimers.

1. I have no vested interest in EMM Labs except to say that I have used their gear in my system since the first modded Sony SACD 1000.

2. No one has asked me to write my impressions of the new SE upgrade.

3. I am first and foremost an audiophile and have been involved in this hobby for well over 33 years.

4. I would like to consider myself and my system sufficiently at a level that I can comment in a reasonable and meaningful fashion about the DAC6e upgrade.

5. Even though I have the DAC6e and have the ability to listen to multichannel I am still very much a two channel purist.

6. My comments are related only to the DAC6e SE and not to the DCC2 SE

7. I have owned pretty much all high end equipment over the years. I can be considered biased to the extent that for my ears the music reproduced by the EMM Labs CDSD and DAC6e truly rocks my sonic boat, so much so that after all of these years I feel that with my system where it is now I have reached where I want to nirvana

8. Having said all of this I hope this thread will be posted by the moderators to give my overview of the new Signature Edition upgrade.

I received my SE upgrade yesterday from EMM Labs where the turn around time was fast ( less than one week and with a new shipping box to boot)

Judging from my "Return Authorization Number (U-0001) I would have to infer that my unit was the first in line for the upgrade and therefore any other speculation by naysayers is IMO only gossip at best.

I will not interject my remarks with such "flowery" comments or adjectives such as the proverbial "the veil has been lifted" or the "layers of the onion are peeled" etc, etc.

Suffice it to say I will make the following observations of my past 24 hours of listening. Initially I felt that the changes were subtle in some respects but more than dramatic in others.

All of us no doubt have what we call our "go to" disks and reference recordings that we use over and over in our system and in others. These represent our frame of reference to highlight something(s) which will bring out the best or show the inadequacies of a system.

I would like to consider that I have a SOTA system with speakers than truly illustrate my above point. My initial thoughts after listening were the following

1. A more than dramatic expansion of the soundstage. With my Wilson X-2's I always felt that the soundstage reproduced in my room was superb...until last night. Much to my amazement the soundstage now transgresses the boundaries of my speakers and literally flows from wall to wall. There is also an added depth to the soundstage.

2. An absolute precise and crystal clear clarity to vocals. I thought that I had that lifelike presence before but something yesterday just absolutely locked in the imaging in a manner that I have not previously heard.

3. I agree with prior posts that the sound floor has been dropped and that there is now a much cleaner sound. Mike Lavigne implied this when he stated that the Signature Edition takes us further down the sonic road.

4. There is indeed a better articulation at the "high" end. So far I have not listened enough to comment about increased bass that others have heard.

5. I will add further comments after more extensive listening.

6. Finally, I am not looking for validation from others who read this thread about why I did the upgrade and what I heard. After all, it is my wallet and my ears. The EMM Labs gear reproduces the audio flavor that light up my ears. I like what I have heard so far and have absolutely no regrets in my decision to do the upgrade.

Most important for everyone to know however is this....Everyone asks "should they do the upgrade?" My mantra in this hobby has always been to "do what is best for my ears and my wallet". Those who already own Meitner gear IMO already have SOTA equipment. If you never hear and/or never upgrade to the Signature Edition and keep the status quo, you will still be blessed with countless hours of listening bliss with SOTA equipment. If however you do hear the SE and feel the urge to do the upgrade, the change in your system will be one that you will never regret.

Happy listening...

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Thank you for the review. The upgrade is tempting. Between analogue and CD it is difficult to keep up. I would love to know if your characterizations apply to both SACD & CD.
My characterization applies to both but believe it or not the "WOW" factor is the enormous imrovement made with the playback of Redbook.

This update is a winner.
Dgad, the Signature Edition does move a bit more toward analogue; more immediate and less veiled. the original EMM Labs is not veiled compared to any other digital.....but compared to the Signature it is not as vivid and clear. as OB mentions this applies both to SACD and redbook.

i would approach the question of upgrade more from a percentage of listening perspective; if your digital is better will you listen more? i would say that i am more relaxed and involved with the upgrade.....and more likely to keep my focus on the music.

You have hit the nail on the head. I listen much more to vinyl. The update should balance things. It is a question when. My Schroder SQ in 2 months is coming as are new speakers.

I love the EMM now but it was never as "involving" on CD as my Audio Aero. It was more accurate, just not as involving. On SACD that was a different matter & I wouldn't pay to upgrade the already wonderful sound. For CD it does make sense. Thanks.
Mike...I agree

Much less fatiguing
I am glad you guys are loving the new Signature Edition. Everyone who has recieved them is going crazy over them.
I have finally had opportunity tonight to do some extended and serious listening...only me with my "go-to" disks.

Last week when I put up this thread I initially felt the changes to be subtle. Not so now, This upgrade is a serious contender.

Much cleaner, more precise imaging,larger soundstage and lower noise floor. This is the goods.

EMM Labs has taken some bad postings here and in othe forums about everything except the kitchen sink. Make no mistake about it. This company is for real and delivers the goods. They (IMO) remain on the cutting edge of the digital domain. Although not analog, this is as close to the real thing and continues to keep me from taking the plunge back into vinyl. Although I might at some future date, the added enjoyment I am getting from the Signature Edition upgrade continues to bring smiles to my face.

For anyone here in the SF Bay Area who either has a DAC6e or a DCC2 and is considering the upgrade it would be my pleasure to provide a private audition.
How much is it, all costs included?
You will need to contact Jonathan Tinn to arrange an RA Number.

He will discuss charges and shipping
Thanks for the answer. I had meant what was the cost of the unit + the upgrade, and whether it included the transport, etc. THEN I realized that I could have answered this for myself, at least in part, just by looking at your virtual system... Sorry 'bout that.

A simple call to Jonathan Tinn will give you all of the info that you are asking as well as a lot more scientific detail about the upgrade.
Got it. Thanks and may you continue enjoy the music from your wonderful system.

I have spent this past weekend listening to most of my Reference Disks and I can honestly say that this upgrade is truly remarkable
Oneobgyn, great review! I was privileged to hear A-B test at Mike's house between the old and new EMM. The difference was huge indeed. The new EMM sounded even more lifelike.

Since you're so close in the SF Bay Area, would you be interested hearing one of my Esoteric UX-1 based NWO players in your system? I'd love to hear your honest opinion about it.

I probably would. Your room or mine?
You are welcome to listen in my room but I am afraid you'd be unfamiliar with my audio system.

Hearing it in your system would provide you with the best reference.

Let me know.


My issue is pulling cables. I hate to re-eastablish the di-electric that I spent hours to create by taking out my gear, installing new gear and then re-installing mine. Typically takes at least 100 hours to get me where I was. I don't like that.

Can't you add the UX-1 onto your system w. an additional set of cables without pulling or changing anything? I would love to hear the results of such a comparison.
I hear what you're saying and I agree. Do you have more inputs available on your preamp? We can leave your EMM connected and use different cables for the UX-1 connection. The cables may be inferior to what you use with the EMM, I have no problem with that. I can also bring my own all Silver power cord and single ended IC cables.

Are you using SE or XLR with the EMM?


I probably could but you know that the results will be skewed in each of our directions depending on who the listener is and what the source is.
I use XLR with the EMM

Yes I have multiple inputs (SE and XLR) with the Ref 3
Now someone needs to bring a turntable and then we have a true comparison.

Great review. I enjoyed your enthusiam for EMM Labs gear - no question that this is undeniably some of the best gear on the planet. Great that you get such an improvement in "clarity", "articulation", and "soudstage depth" on an upgrade.

Before the upgrade you already owned the top of the top gear in our industry. In some ways I am surprised that you can still squeeze out such dramatic improvements at your high level.

I doubt I will ever reach your level. So I was wondering about your opinion on how much more room for improvement you think there is left in the sound you are now getting?

although one can never say "never", IMO I am where I want to be. In all honesty I feel that I have reached audio nirvana.

If I ever said "ever", I would get back into vinyl and a TT but the EMM gear is as close to vinyl as the real thing. As a result I am very happy and see no need for change. Anything else would be IMO the "Law of Diminishing Returns"
Groovy Alex and Doc. Keep us posted if you get together.
it will likely happen but just as at Mike Lavigne's shootout, the results will be mixed depending on who the listener is and what the source material is.

The Denon I brought to Mike's house sounds good but can not hold a candle against the Esoteric based NWO-2.

Is your preamp true balanced? How about the amps? I am just thinking whether Balanced or SE connection would be best in your system.

The Ref3 is true balanced but Vladimir's ML 2.1 is pseudobalanced
Doc, of course we all know that most things are relative and uncertain, except for those two notorious exceptions that we shan't mention in good company, one of which we sadly deal with once yearly, and the other one, so much more reasonably -- mostly once in a lifetime.
Yet, in the particular case under discussion, all I'd want to hear is your very own gut feelings, from your home, with your own preferred music, through your own system -- augmented by Alex's fine test unit, fed in parallel with your EMM into the Ref 3. Ideally, to minimize variables, Alex's unit should be powered and connected to the Ref 3 with the same well broken-in Valhalla types of PCs and ICs you are already using on your system.
Sounds like a good excuse for a BAAS meeting. A Peychev Esoteric UX-1/Meitner Stack face off. That would be a close call.
Unfortunatley as I have said above, the results IMO are already predetermined based on prior correspondance with Alex
yesterday i had 5 guys visit for a fun listening session. although we need no excuse for a session at the audio barn one curiosity was how the new EMM Labs Signature Edition DAC6e and CDSD would compare to the David Schulte (The Upgrade Company) unpgraded Reimyo CDP-777. the Reimyo was one player i had heard that i liked and wondered how redbook on the EMM would compare.

David Schulte himself had flown in from Detroit as well as Max (an Absolute Sound reviewer from Albuquerque) my friend Cyrus and his friend Jeff from Spokane. another happy David Schulte customer Bill lives here in Western Washington also attended. Bill also brought a David Schulte modified Theta Compli Universal player to add to the mix.

any session at the barn typically gets dominated by vinyl and this one was no different. vinyl basically kicks ass.

but before and after the vinyl we did listen to the various digital players. Bill had brought his Grand Prix rack (exactly like mine) and i had enough Jena Labs power cords that we were able to have each player on exactly the same rack and use the same power cord. Bill also brought a 2 meter balanced set of Transparent Opus interconnect which we compared to my Valhalla balanced......we preferred the Opus (no surprise there) so that is what we used for the EMM-Reimyo comparison. as the Compli has no balanced output Bill brought a set of Transparent MM Ref RCA interconnects for that (my experience is that it is very close to the Opus and i know from past experience that i prefer the MM to my Valhalla).

we first listened to the EMM and then the Reimyo. David Schulte was first to speak up; he commented that the EMM was quite a bit better. for a modder to immediately conceed that a product betters his 'baby' showed a lot of class. other comments were basically along those lines. as i never sat in the sweet spot during the EMM-Reimyo comparison my comments are somewhat tempered.

what i heard was that the EMM Labs was a good deal more detailed and refined. you heard farther into the music. there was an ease and relaxed presentation that the Reimyo could not match. OTOH the Reimyo was an outstanding digital player and if we did not have the EMM there would have been no sense of anything missing.

Bill (who had not heard my system for almost 6 months) commented that the new EMM Labs Signature Edition had got closer to my vinyl.....which i agree with.

all this was with redbook.

we did then listen to the Theta Compli which did itself proud. when you consider the Compli is a $3000 list price player with a $1000 mod; and we are comparing it to a $12,000 player with a (???) $3500 mod and a $23,000 digital combo.......the Compli sounded great. yes; it was not as detailed or as refined......but it was very natural and non-digital sounding without any tubed output stage that robs the immediacy and vividness of the music.

if the modded Reimyo represents SOTA of redbook players the EMM Labs Signature Edition simply leaps beyond SOTA redbook to another level.

our session went from about 2pm to about 9pm with lots of vinyl, a bit of single-malt (Lagavulin 16 year old), and just the enjoyment of the company of other music lovers.
Great review Mike.

The more that I listen to my DAC6e SE the more that I am amazed....especially with Redbook.
Mike: Just as a little correction, The Reimyo is 14k before modifications and the EMM Labs combo is just under 22k.
I was one of Mike's guest last Sat and his review was spot on. The EMM labs just does everything better. Attending a session at Mike's house is akin to playing Agusta National if you are a golfer. World class sound and hospitality. Thanks Mike. Cyrus
Cyrus, you are most welcome. it was my pleasure hosting such a class group at the barn. you guys are welcome any time.
Gotta love this hobby and the new friends it brings
I concur, both Mikelavgne and Oneobgyn are world class hosts, besides having world class sounds.
"I concur, both Mike Lavigne and Oneobgyn are world class hosts, besides having world class sounds"

Yours isn't too shabby either my friend
Thank you oneobgyn. I am hoping you will come over sometime here and give my system a listen.

I am planning to be in the DFW area in October and will be looking you up for a listening session.
You are very warmly welcome. Please bring your CDs.
You can bet on that
Hi Oneobgyn,

Thanks for the review, I appreciate the time and efford you put into writing it. My Dac-6 is going in for the Signature upgrade tomorrow and I'm sooooo looking forward to hearing my favorite music with the EMM Signature Combo.

Are you finding the unit is still improving with extended break-in, or has it pretty much settled in? If it is still improving, do you mind telling me what you are hearing from having more playing time on it?

I already find the non-signature DAC-6 so good at delivering the music and its emotion. It's by far the best dac I've heard and I'm just wondering what to expect from the Signature.

Many thanks,
To answer your question.....

yes the Signature Edition as does alol gear needs break in time. I have beeen unusaually busy lately so extended listening time has decreased somwhat however I probably have at least 100 hours on the new unit.

The change in soundstage is enormous as well as the feeling of "just being there". There is just a larger and wider soundstage as well as a feeling of openness and transparency. The difference with redbook CD's is even more amazing.

"I'm just wondering what to expect from the Signature"

Tom ...for me (and hopefully for you) one word describes it..."goosebumps"
Hi Oneobgyn,

I just got my DAC-6 Signature today. I was only able to listen for 10 minutes or so, and what can I say... the thing is freakin' me out. It is that good!

Wait for 100 hours of burn in and then report back, It gets better yet
I received my DAC6e signature last week.

Afre 30 hours listening, I feel more detail and macro dynamics.
However, it sounded less transparent and more depressed, especially at low volume level. And little bit more dark than the old DAC6e's sound.

I don't know...maybe I have bad luck.
Maybe my old CDSD(#2618) has the reason or more break-in needed. it necessary to reset the CDSD for new signature DAC6e?
Any idea or comment?

Thanks in advance.
I suggest you discuss this with Jonathan Tinn