There are few people in the audio world with a reputation like Ed Meitner’s. He made turntables without platters, he made digital converters that were used by recording engineers for Sony, Philips, and Telarc. He pioneered and championed the Direct Stream Digital format, and he was the engineer that identified jitter as a fundamental problem in digital audio. So, it’s little wonder that the company that carries his flag in domestic audio – EMM Labs – makes some of the best digital audio equipment in the business. Meitner’s most recent technological boost was the world’s first 16xDSD digital converter, which first appeared on the company’s DA2 converter, and now on the latest flagship DAC from the brand, the DV2. Were it just a converter, that alone would mark it out as something special, but the DV2 also adds things to the mix to take it to another level.
In a way, we are living in a time of great digital wonders. A portable, low-cost decoder today is capable of playing with precision files the likes of which would require a monumental decoding engine when this century was new. That can make people complacent, make them dismissive, and spark an audio arms race of bigger and better specifications, without necessarily caring as to how those specifications end up performing in the real world. Fortunately for EMM Labs, the idea of ‘specs without performance’ has never been on the list of priorities; instead, the company has developed a commanding reputation for building high-performance products in sound and specification alike. Naturally with that link to DSD, Meitner and EMM Labs alike are in a way forever associated with SACD and DSD related formats, but deep down this is the kind of DAC you could use with practically any file type and get good sound.
However, while most brands are just about coming to terms with 4xDSD or at best 8xDSD, EMM Labs already has that covered and has upped the ante to a 16xDSD decoder first seen in the DA2 processor. While many will point out the almost total absence of anything apart from a few test-tones that reach to 1024fs, that’s not the point. The point is all recorded music is well below peak cruising altitude for the DV2. It can take digits in its stride; almost all the digits you can think of in the real world; 24bit, 192kHz PCM? A walk in the park, 384kHz DXD? The DV2 can do it standing on its, er, head. MQA? It can do that while balancing plates and juggling kittens. OK, so the addition of 32bit, 384kHz PCM is missing from the line-up, but, like 16xDSD, the format itself is all but unavailable in the real world.
Of course, the first to produce a 16xDSD playback option means you can’t fall back on the standard-issue chipsets, and instead EMM Labs has gone fully discrete, and dual-differential, with its MDAC2 single-bit D/A converter block, and its matching MDAT2 (short for Meitner Digital Audio Translator) custom DSP. When it comes to digital, ‘rolling your own’ does have distinct advantages in reducing non-linearities and the processing power of up-conversion. In particular, EMM Labs claim the custom DSP delivers ground-breaking “real-time transient detection.”