For an audio company that isn’t the size of Sony, making a universal disc player is fraught with difficulties today. Despite it being not the rip-roaring success it was hoped to be (Netflix, LoveFilm and illegal downloads taking their toll), it’s very difficult to make a universal player without including Blu-ray. Not only does that open up a whole heap of problems for an audio company having to deal with video-side issues, but the cost of paying for licenses to build Blu-ray players is prohibitive unless you sell them in batches of 10,000 per month. And yet, many of those who still buy disc players demand players that can support more than just CD.
Electrocompaniet has done what many companies faced with the same problem has done – buy an off-the-shelf OEM Blu-ray player, and make it EC’s own. In the majority of cases today, that means buying an Oppo, as Electrocompaniet used as the backbone for the EMP3 multichannel universal player. That way, Oppo is the license payer and the audiophile brand gets to act as hot-rodder. But, in so doing, brands like Electrocompaniet invite potential censure; Oppo makes a good product at a keen price and invariably the brand using that Oppo as a platform for its own product needs to add more than a front panel to justify its existence.
In the case of the EMP3, Electrocompaniet takes the standard Oppo BDP-103 platform and runs with it. The unsullied BDP-103 is a fine Blu-ray player in its own right, capable of full 3D picture replay and this part really isn’t touched (screensaver aside). It’s an Oppo strong point and why mess with what’s already good. However, if you paw over the reviews of the Oppo conducted by hi-fi magazines especially, there’s a common consensus that the sound quality of the standard Oppo output stage is a bit of a weak spot. This is where EC comes into its own.
The company added its own balanced stereo output stage and DAC board, hooking a set of XLR terminals on the back of the player. This both upsamples PCM to 24bit, 192kHz as standard and can cope with DSD playback (direct) from SACD directly. The multichannel phono outputs and the circuitry that goes with it are retained from the Oppo. It also retains the wifi over USB connection (cables and dongle supplied) and the provision for connecting into an Ethernet network, it can hook to a DLNA network for playing music though its My Network, but this is a trifle clunky compared to dedicated systems from the likes of Cyrus, Linn and Naim (and even EC itself). But once again, much of this is Oppo territory. Even the remote is the Oppo model, with an Electrocompaniet badge on the front.
Yes it comes in the Electrocompaniet livery – changing the five button Oppo diamond control panel to the four-button commander, and the attendant changes to the control architecture, represents the biggest external change, although the Electrocompaniet classic black and gold behind thick acrylic front panel and generally solid build quality have been applied to the player.
You could spend hours meaninglessly philosophising about the nature of naming (Saul Kripke made his philosophical bones discussing why ‘Richard M Nixon’ and ‘the person who won the US presidential election in 1968’ are not necessarily identical, so get it right and a PhD and a life of navel gazing beckons), but ultimately whether you look at this as an Oppo player in expensive Norwegian clothes or a really good stereo universal disc player largely hangs on one thing – balanced operation. If you use an amplifier with a balanced input, this is a fine choice for playing all kinds of disc extremely well. Whether it’s that almost forgotten collection of DVD-Audio discs (I’ve got copies of albums like Fragile and Harvest on the format, and they are among the best sounding albums I own, generally streets ahead of the standard CD versions) your still-growing (if you are a classical collector) SACD collection, some form of Blu-ray music disc or good ol’ CD, the performance is extremely enticing through the balanced circuitry.