DAC Shootout: Emm labs Dac2x vs Esoteric K03x

Joey_VJoey_V Posts: 5,887
edited February 4 in 2 Channel Audio
We have a local audiophile group here in DFW where we constantly keep in contact and we meet every month or so... we had a recent meet to listen to the Focal Kanta 2 speakers.

Equipment were as follows:
Speakers = Focal Kanta 2
Speaker wire = Audioquest Oak
Interconnects = Audioquest Wind
Integrated = Mark Levinson No 585 Integrated

At first, we listened through the ML 585 internal DAC then we switched to the Esoteric K03x SACD player/DAC then we added the Emm Labs Dac2X to the mix.

Impressions:
At first, the Focal Kanta 2 speakers were playing with the ML 585 Dac in the mix, it sounded pretty good, I would say a little thin and a little on the brighter side. Definitely sounded like reproduced music. Most of the guys were roaming about, we had wine on hand, it didn't strike anyone as a particularly good system.

Then my friend added his Esoteric to the mix, it was the first time I heard an Esoteric... and this one is a good one. Retail is definitely up there, I'm sure he paid somewhere in the 5 digits for this unit. If you look up the reviews, it is well reviewed and well liked. When we started to play music through the Esoteric, people started to stop the chit chat and listen. It definitely started to sound a lot more like real music... the imaging improved, there was better layering front to back, the singer was more pronounced and palpable, the bass was better... the transients were quick. We ran through a lot of music.... and it all sounded quite good.

No one knew I had the Emm labs in my car, word got out so we decided to bring in the Emm Labs.

The Emm:
So I honestly did not think the Emm was going to be a leap of any kind from the Esoteric K03x... the Esoteric and the Emm DACs we have here are current models, both are similar in pricing and both have their fan clubs. I mean, how much better can another top tier DAC be compared to another top tier DAC?

Well apparently, a lot.

So, we played the Emm... and we did not have the even have the Emm labs dedicated TSDx transport in the mix, we had to use the Esoteric K03x as transport via digital AES out to the Emm Labs Dac2x... so this was definitely a handicapped demo (the Emm link is via its own proprietary interconnect)....

Well, the Emm sounded VERY good. It all really just moved up in quality. The main thing I noted was that all of a sudden the Focal Kanta 2 sounded very similar to my system at home, the sound that I was used to. The singer took perhaps 3 steps forward in terms of placement, but still with the roundness to the sound that made it sound warm but at the same time it was detailed enough to be able to tell minor inflections in voice and texture. The vocalist was better placed, better hung in space, it was denser in sound and more palpable compared to the Esoteric.

We would flip back after a song and it was very clear that the Esoteric was flatter in sound stage and more 2D.

Then back to the Emm and it was back to being more akin to an event.

The instruments sounded better, sounded more realistic.

Then back to the Esoteric, we could tell perhaps the Esoteric was a little lighter and nimbler, but it sounded more hifi rather than the more musical Emm.

The difference was very significant, stark.

And I was not alone in that assessment.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, we started to really listen between the 2 units.

Conclusion:
Well, it was quite an interesting turn of events.

Everyone in the group thought the Emm Dac2x was better, clearly better... we aren't talking minor change or minor details of improvement, it was all across the board an improvement. More musical, denser sound, better imaging, more space between the notes, good image height, wider stage, etc... all the usual descriptions that have been used ad infinitum.

But what came out of it? Put your money where your mouth is.

The owner of the Esoteric K03x who owns Revel Ultima 2 - borrowed my Emm labs Dac2x and he is selling his Esoteric K03x and bought an Emm Labs Dac2x.

The other member owns a Wilson Sasha 2 (moving up to Wilson Alexx) has an ARC Dac9 and was demoing the DCS Vivaldi at his home... he bought the Emm DA2 (one above mine) after the demo. He put up his ARC Dac9 for sale. He returned the Vivaldi demo to the store. He also says that the Emm DA2 puts a hurt on his VPi Prime Signature (moving up to VPI Avenger Reference).

The third member owns a BW 802d3 has a Mcintosh D100 DAC and a DCS Debussy DAC - he took my Emm Dac2x home to demo after the Esoteric owner had it, he said it was a slaughter against the Mcintosh D100 DAC and it took about 20 seconds for the DCS Debussy to be significantly embarrassed by the Emm. So now he put up his DCS for sale, and is buying the Emm.

The last member is all into vinyl, so he doesn't count.

Prior to the meet we had 2 members with the Emm, now we have 5 members with Emm Labs DACs. Crazy.

Pictures:
Esoteric K03x
main.jpg
Emm Labs Dac2x
EMM-Labs-TSDX.jpg
Mark Levinson No 585
mark_levinson_no_585_1.jpg?itok=o8bffp5w


Joey's Gear:
Current Gear:
Emm Labs DAC2x and TSDX Transport -> Cary SLP-05 preamp -> Boulder 2060 stereo amp (w/ Audioquest WEL Signature B) ) -> new speakers -> :D
Rotel RA1592 Super Integrated -> Sonus Faber Olympica 3 -> :o
Rotel RC1570 preamp -> Rotel RB1582 amp -> B&W PM1 -> o:)

Old Gear:
Speakers: Rockport Aviors (5/5), Sonus Faber Stradivari (5/5), BW 802D2 (4.5/5), Martin Logan Summits (4.25/5), Martin Logan Vantage (4/5), Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor (3.75/5), AV123 Strata Mini (3.5/5), ML Mosaic (3.25/5), Onix Ref1 (3/5), Sonus Faber Concerto (2.75/5), SF Concertino (2.5/5), Axiom M22ti (2/5), Polk LSi9 (3/5), LSi7 (2.9/5)
Source: Squeezebox 3 -> PS Audio Digital Link III -> Cary 306/200 CDP -> Cary 306 SACD -> EMM LABS DAC2X/TSDX
Preamplification: Rotel RC1070 -> Rogue Perseus -> Cary SLP98 -> Cary SLP98F1 -> Cary SLP05 (sold and then repurchased)
Amplification: HK AVR330 -> Rotel RB1070 -> Rotel RB1090 -> Plinius SA102 -> Cary 211FE -> Classe M600 -> Boulder 2060
Subwoofer: Infinity Entra2 sub -> SVS 25-31PC+ sub
Post edited by Joey_V on

Comments

  • tonybtonyb Posts: 28,359
    Nice....beautiful looking pieces to boot.
    ERA D-5
    B&K 1403
    Cary Xciter dac
    Joule LA-100
    SVS SB-2000 SUB
    Sony 4k bdp
    Sony 4k 55 850c
    FX 500 surround
    Acoustic zen Satori SC's
    Pioneer elite vsx21
    Sonos-Cullen mod.
    Audio Metallurgy GA-0 digital
    PS Audio Quintet
    Analysis Plus crystal ovals
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2's IC
    Wireworld eclipse 7 Ic's
  • mrbironmrbiron Posts: 4,606
    Well, what's the fun in that. Now you all have the same equipment...

    Nice write-up. Would love to hear upper echelon gear at some point before I die... :|
    Zu Audio Omen MK-1B's, Peachtree Decco65, Bryston BDA-2, Cheap TT, PS Audio UPC200, PS Audio AC3's, Zu Mission SC's, HTPC, One, Bottlehead Reduction & Crack w/Speedball
  • vmaxervmaxer Posts: 4,123
    Good to see you posting Joey.

    Now if you remember, I usually ask about Emma. Got to see a recent photo af the beauty.

    @Joey_V
    Pio Elete Pro 520
    Panamax 5400-EX
    Sunfire TGP 5
    Micro Seiki DD-40 - Lyra-Dorian and Denon DL-160
    PS Audio GCPH phono pre
    Sunfire CG 200 X 5
    Sunfire CG Sig 405 X 5
    OPPO BDP-83 SE
    SDA SRS 1.2TL Sonicaps and Mills
    Ctr CS1000p
    Sur - FX1000 x 4
    SUB - SVS PB2-Plus

    Workkout room:
    Sony Bravia XBR- 32-Inch 1080p
    Onkyo TX-DS898
    GFA 555
    Yamaha DVD-S1800BL/SACD
    Ft - SDA 1C

    Not being used:
    RTi 38's -4
    RT55i's - 2
    RT25i's -2, using other 2 in shop
    LSI 15's
    CSi40
    PSW 404
  • EmlynEmlyn Posts: 1,982
    What was the music source used? CD or high res digital?

    From what I can tell, the Emm Labs gear uses DSD upsampling and other proprietary technology that the other two units lack. They have been involved with Sony since the development of DSD for studio use. Could be the Mark Levinson and Esoteric gear is using the extreme detail resolving approach with the latest DAC chips. That can sound kind of flat by itself if CD is the source.
    1. Polk LSiM707, 704C, 703; Dual SVS SB2000 subwoofers; Marantz SR7011 receiver; Parasound A23 amp; Oppo 205; Toshiba HD-DVD Player; Sony 65" 4K TV; FIOS; PS Audio Power Plant Premier; MIT S2 cables
    2. JM Labs Electra 920.1; Parasound JC2 Preamp; Sonic Frontiers Power 2 amp; Sony HAP-Z1ES; Oppo 105D; Music Hall MMF7 and Acoustech phono pre; PS Audio P1000; MIT S1 Cables
    3. Polk LSiM703; Pioneer Elite SC97 receiver; Oppo 203; Squeezebox Touch; MIT S3 cables
  • Joey_VJoey_V Posts: 5,887
    Source was mostly CD.
    Joey's Gear:
    Current Gear:
    Emm Labs DAC2x and TSDX Transport -> Cary SLP-05 preamp -> Boulder 2060 stereo amp (w/ Audioquest WEL Signature B) ) -> new speakers -> :D
    Rotel RA1592 Super Integrated -> Sonus Faber Olympica 3 -> :o
    Rotel RC1570 preamp -> Rotel RB1582 amp -> B&W PM1 -> o:)

    Old Gear:
    Speakers: Rockport Aviors (5/5), Sonus Faber Stradivari (5/5), BW 802D2 (4.5/5), Martin Logan Summits (4.25/5), Martin Logan Vantage (4/5), Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor (3.75/5), AV123 Strata Mini (3.5/5), ML Mosaic (3.25/5), Onix Ref1 (3/5), Sonus Faber Concerto (2.75/5), SF Concertino (2.5/5), Axiom M22ti (2/5), Polk LSi9 (3/5), LSi7 (2.9/5)
    Source: Squeezebox 3 -> PS Audio Digital Link III -> Cary 306/200 CDP -> Cary 306 SACD -> EMM LABS DAC2X/TSDX
    Preamplification: Rotel RC1070 -> Rogue Perseus -> Cary SLP98 -> Cary SLP98F1 -> Cary SLP05 (sold and then repurchased)
    Amplification: HK AVR330 -> Rotel RB1070 -> Rotel RB1090 -> Plinius SA102 -> Cary 211FE -> Classe M600 -> Boulder 2060
    Subwoofer: Infinity Entra2 sub -> SVS 25-31PC+ sub
  • Joey_VJoey_V Posts: 5,887
    mrbiron wrote: »
    Well, what's the fun in that. Now you all have the same equipment...

    Nice write-up. Would love to hear upper echelon gear at some point before I die... :|

    Yeah... but I found it very interesting that everyone jumped on the Emm bandwagon after the meet. You hear about people meeting up and doing shootouts but rarely is there a universal winner. Most of the time half prefers A and then half prefers B. And even then, rarely do people buy it.

    Hahaha... I wish I was an Emm salesman, or a dealer... I would’ve made some money.

    Next up we will be demoing cables so we will see.

    As for amps we still have to figure out how to compare.

    But yeah you’re right... we will all end up with the same gear at the end.
    Joey's Gear:
    Current Gear:
    Emm Labs DAC2x and TSDX Transport -> Cary SLP-05 preamp -> Boulder 2060 stereo amp (w/ Audioquest WEL Signature B) ) -> new speakers -> :D
    Rotel RA1592 Super Integrated -> Sonus Faber Olympica 3 -> :o
    Rotel RC1570 preamp -> Rotel RB1582 amp -> B&W PM1 -> o:)

    Old Gear:
    Speakers: Rockport Aviors (5/5), Sonus Faber Stradivari (5/5), BW 802D2 (4.5/5), Martin Logan Summits (4.25/5), Martin Logan Vantage (4/5), Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor (3.75/5), AV123 Strata Mini (3.5/5), ML Mosaic (3.25/5), Onix Ref1 (3/5), Sonus Faber Concerto (2.75/5), SF Concertino (2.5/5), Axiom M22ti (2/5), Polk LSi9 (3/5), LSi7 (2.9/5)
    Source: Squeezebox 3 -> PS Audio Digital Link III -> Cary 306/200 CDP -> Cary 306 SACD -> EMM LABS DAC2X/TSDX
    Preamplification: Rotel RC1070 -> Rogue Perseus -> Cary SLP98 -> Cary SLP98F1 -> Cary SLP05 (sold and then repurchased)
    Amplification: HK AVR330 -> Rotel RB1070 -> Rotel RB1090 -> Plinius SA102 -> Cary 211FE -> Classe M600 -> Boulder 2060
    Subwoofer: Infinity Entra2 sub -> SVS 25-31PC+ sub
  • Joey_VJoey_V Posts: 5,887
    vmaxer wrote: »
    Good to see you posting Joey.

    Now if you remember, I usually ask about Emma. Got to see a recent photo af the beauty.

    @Joey_V

    Emma at her 3rd birthday party and her gang of friends.

    This was taken in Chicago.

    nrraukd2xzex.jpeg
    vfughpo4d7nf.jpeg
    Joey's Gear:
    Current Gear:
    Emm Labs DAC2x and TSDX Transport -> Cary SLP-05 preamp -> Boulder 2060 stereo amp (w/ Audioquest WEL Signature B) ) -> new speakers -> :D
    Rotel RA1592 Super Integrated -> Sonus Faber Olympica 3 -> :o
    Rotel RC1570 preamp -> Rotel RB1582 amp -> B&W PM1 -> o:)

    Old Gear:
    Speakers: Rockport Aviors (5/5), Sonus Faber Stradivari (5/5), BW 802D2 (4.5/5), Martin Logan Summits (4.25/5), Martin Logan Vantage (4/5), Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor (3.75/5), AV123 Strata Mini (3.5/5), ML Mosaic (3.25/5), Onix Ref1 (3/5), Sonus Faber Concerto (2.75/5), SF Concertino (2.5/5), Axiom M22ti (2/5), Polk LSi9 (3/5), LSi7 (2.9/5)
    Source: Squeezebox 3 -> PS Audio Digital Link III -> Cary 306/200 CDP -> Cary 306 SACD -> EMM LABS DAC2X/TSDX
    Preamplification: Rotel RC1070 -> Rogue Perseus -> Cary SLP98 -> Cary SLP98F1 -> Cary SLP05 (sold and then repurchased)
    Amplification: HK AVR330 -> Rotel RB1070 -> Rotel RB1090 -> Plinius SA102 -> Cary 211FE -> Classe M600 -> Boulder 2060
    Subwoofer: Infinity Entra2 sub -> SVS 25-31PC+ sub
  • Joey_VJoey_V Posts: 5,887
    edited February 5
    Had a discussion with the crew, we believe a good portion of the sound is probably the execution of the unit as a whole and not just the DAC itself, of course, the fact that the Emm is a discrete unit with it's own DAC chip rather than an off the shelf AKM chipset (on the Esoteric) helps.

    We have begun to wonder how good the best DACs truly are. We are betting the new MSB discrete and above dac units are spectacular. Just released. Definitely not going to be getting one, I'll leave that to the others in our crew.

    http://www.msbtechnology.com/dacs/
    Joey's Gear:
    Current Gear:
    Emm Labs DAC2x and TSDX Transport -> Cary SLP-05 preamp -> Boulder 2060 stereo amp (w/ Audioquest WEL Signature B) ) -> new speakers -> :D
    Rotel RA1592 Super Integrated -> Sonus Faber Olympica 3 -> :o
    Rotel RC1570 preamp -> Rotel RB1582 amp -> B&W PM1 -> o:)

    Old Gear:
    Speakers: Rockport Aviors (5/5), Sonus Faber Stradivari (5/5), BW 802D2 (4.5/5), Martin Logan Summits (4.25/5), Martin Logan Vantage (4/5), Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor (3.75/5), AV123 Strata Mini (3.5/5), ML Mosaic (3.25/5), Onix Ref1 (3/5), Sonus Faber Concerto (2.75/5), SF Concertino (2.5/5), Axiom M22ti (2/5), Polk LSi9 (3/5), LSi7 (2.9/5)
    Source: Squeezebox 3 -> PS Audio Digital Link III -> Cary 306/200 CDP -> Cary 306 SACD -> EMM LABS DAC2X/TSDX
    Preamplification: Rotel RC1070 -> Rogue Perseus -> Cary SLP98 -> Cary SLP98F1 -> Cary SLP05 (sold and then repurchased)
    Amplification: HK AVR330 -> Rotel RB1070 -> Rotel RB1090 -> Plinius SA102 -> Cary 211FE -> Classe M600 -> Boulder 2060
    Subwoofer: Infinity Entra2 sub -> SVS 25-31PC+ sub
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