Emotiva ERC-1 CD Player Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 18 November 2009

When people learn that I write reviews of A/V equipment, invariably I get asked, “Do you get to keep it after you're done?” I always chuckle and say, “Sure. If I pay for it.” Accumulating shelves full of gear is not my goal; rather, satisfaction comes from sharing my hobby and passion with others. If I uncover a piece of equipment that I believe is otherwise hidden from the public, share my findings and offer another option to outfit a system, then that's a success.

My philosophy stems from frustration with brick-and-mortar shopping. Outside of major metropolitan areas, there are few – if any – places for consumers to experience or experiment with gear outside the realm of the Sony's of the world. Nothing against Sony, but there are hundreds of other manufacturers' products that shoppers will never know about unless they engage in some active Internet research.

I live about 150 miles from Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, making it mildly inconvenient to window shop on a whim. The closest “big” city is Duluth, Minn., which does field one electronic retailer offering gear from a couple recognized high-end audio manufacturers. Problem is, almost nothing is in stock. You can visit the store, look through a catalog, but the only way to buy the product is to have the retailer order it and then contact you when it arrives. Expect to wait at least one week for delivery and then another trip to pick up. Meanwhile, you could hop online, order it yourself and likely pay less. Better yet, look for a direct connection such as from Emotiva Audio, which sells hi-fi gear to consumers online from its Franklin, Tenn., headquarters.

Emotiva ERC-1 Insides

Emotiva is the brainchild of Dan Laufman, a former audio manufacturer for other concerns, who wanted to bring his own product lines to market for fellow audio and home theater enthusiasts to enjoy. The company offers a range of amplifiers, interconnects, speakers and accessories, all for sale directly via Web. Emotiva sent its flagship ERC-1 CD player ($399) along with .5m pair of X-Series RCA interconnects ($16.99) for review. At those admittedly modest prices one could be forgiven for having lower expectations, but that would be a mistake. Big mistake.

Design


At first glance, you might mistake Emotiva's ERC-1 for a McIntosh product. Its sleek black front panel is nicely book-ended with gleaming steel corner plates. Turn it on, and the display emits a blue light a la McIntosh and Marantz. Look for the drawer, however, and all similarities end. The ERC-1 is different than most CD players as it features a magnetic slot-loading mechanism and high-density foam clamps to maneuver the disc. When the player is turned on, the display waits for the mechanism to engage before prompting “Ready.” You place a disc into the slot about halfway, then the disc is transported into the player, it is read and playback begins. You can't really “see” inside the slot, but within resides a digital section housed in a steel substructure that prevents unwanted noise from interfering with the audio.

I had never seen anything quite like it and was curious about the reasoning behind such a setup. Lonnie Vaughan, Emotiva's vice president and chief technology officer, told me, “In regards to the slot load system, it is somewhat of an interesting story behind it.  From a sonic standpoint there isn't any difference, but from a performance and stability standpoint this system is rock solid. You can actually pick up the player and drop it from a few inches and it won't skip which is a far cry from a tray system. In the original design there was a tray loader, but when I contacted all of the manufacturers that I consider to be highly reputable, none of them made a unit with a metal tray.  They were all plastic and flimsy.  In my opinion if you buy a $39.00 player and it has a plastic tray, well you kind of expect it. But when you pay a few hundred dollars or more, it should have a certain feel to it that inspires confidence when putting in your CD that plastic trays just don't convey.
ERC-1 slot load
So I started researching slot loaders and all I found were the old style which used rubber rollers to load and eject the CD.  Now if you have ever had a CD scratched by one of these, then you will understand why this wouldn't work either.  Then I came across a new design which is what is currently used.  The loader mechanism itself has a partial tray internally with magnetic clamps on it.  When you insert the CD, the mechanism recognizes it is there and the magnetic clamps come down to hold the CD onto the internal tray.  The tray motors back into position, the drive motors up into the CD and the magnetic clamps release.  This is a unique system not currently being used by any other company that I am aware of and best of all, it can't scratch the CD and is solid.”

Features

Emotiva clearly put the sound first with the ERC-1. It sports four separate power supplies, each driving its respective section:  CD carriage, digital section, analog section and display. The audio board features a fully discrete output stage that can pump out 7 volts, and is fully isolated from the digital sections and power supply. A 24-bit, 384-times oversampling Analog Devices 1955 DAC helps wring the smallest audio details from any disc. The rear panel is outfitted like many players costing hundreds or thousands more. It simply does not look or come dressed like a sub-$400 player  - with a set of balanced XLR outputs, two pairs of analog outputs (should you choose to connect the player to two input devices), coaxial and optical digital outputs, and detachable power cord. Remote controls rarely elicit “Wows!” from users, but the ERC-1's remote is the bomb. Cast in steel and built better than some cars I've owned, it's well-appointed with 12 commands accessible via a set of raised metal buttons.

ERC-1 Rear Input Panel

Sound

This is a very quiet player. Without the standard machinations of a tray-loading system and attendant parts, the ERC-1 simply plays music – no whirling artifacts from the CD drive are heard even up close. Music emerges from that black background beloved by audiophiles everywhere. Clean, detailed sound with broad staging are what I heard, no matter what I played through the ERC-1.

T. Rex's The Slider had a crystalline clarity on tracks such as “Mystic Lady” and “Spaceball Ricochet” and plenty of grit on “Rock On” and the title track. The ERC-1 was particularly good at reproducing the decay of crash cymbals and the overall sustain of instruments.

I liked the Emotiva's HDCD-decoding capabilities, allowing me to take full sonic advantage of the many such discs in my collection. If you're a Grateful Dead fan, you know what I'm talking about. Truckin' Up To Buffalo is a 3-disc favorite of the band's 4th of July show in 1989. The HDCD engineering perks up the many performances here: “Terrapin Station” and “Morning Dew” - to name two tunes – sounded very clear and full through the ERC-1.

The player does tend toward brightness compared to the Swiss-like neutrality of Bryston's BCD-1 CD – a terrific player, but retailing for $2,300 more than the Emotiva. Even a track as boomy as Kiss' “I Love It Loud,” the ERC-1 presented it with a bright, gleaming smile. It that befuddles metal heads, adjust your bass accordingly. The ERC-1's sparkling personality, however, makes songs such as David Gilmour's “Blue” dreamy delights, padded in lush ripples of sound. And albums by ELO, with the creamy Jeff Lynne production, really benefit from the ERC-1's sonic footprint.

The X-Series interconnects are no throwaways either. Composed of an insulated oxygen-free copper core and braiding, insulated in PVC, protected by a rugged nylon jacket and capped with gold-plated terminals, you get a lot of cable for the money here. Together, the ERC-1 and X interconnects make a formidable and wallet-friendly team.

Although the ERC-1 is touted to work with CD-Rs and CD-RWs, my experience was hit-and-miss. I loaded several CD-Rs into the player – some discs played, others were not recognized. When it failed, the display indicated “No disc.” This isn't a problem restricted to the ERC-1, but there were many CD-Rs it wouldn't play. Flawless performance with Redbook and HDCD, so-so with CD-R.

Final Thoughts

Hefty build, great sound, eye-catching design and audiophile-grade guts make the ERC-1 a terrific all-around player. At just $399, it's one of the best buys in audio – period. Currently, Emotiva has the player reduced for holiday sale at just $319 plus shipping. Buy it for performance and smile at the price. The ERC-1 is my audio find of 2009.

Reviewer Setup System


  • Grant Fidelity A-348 Integrated Tube Amplifier
  • Emotiva Audio ERC-1 CD Player
  • Emotiva Audio X-Series Interconnects (.5 m)
  • Davone RITHM Speakers
  • RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables (8-foot pair)

Manufacturer Website

www.emotiva.com






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