It may seem odd to compare a sophisticated audio component to a Japanese toy, but Electrocompaniet’s ECI 6DS integrated amp is so versatile that I can’t help but think of those “transformer” toys that can be reconfigured into robots, monsters, animals, flying machines, action heroes, and goodness knows what else.
But in this digital-meets-analog-meets-computer age components such as the ECI 6DS aren’t so unusual. As Electrocompaniet USA’s Peder Beckman explained it, “Electrocompaniet is known for its great analog two-channel stereo systems. When EC decided to expand into today’s technology we had a decision to make: Build a brand new integrated from the ground up like everybody else does, or take a unit like our well known ECI 5MkII integrated analog amp and integrate today’s digital technology with our existing analog technology. Not the easiest way but the best sounding, and we are all about making the best sound.”
We’ll get into the details shortly, but for now let me tell you that this is one impressive effort—very clean and pure, reminiscent of a mountain stream that allows you to see with crystalline clarity the life below the surface in a slightly magnified way.
At $7499 the ECI 6DS features a 125Wpc power amp section that, frankly, seems underrated; an analog preamp with balanced as well as single-ended inputs (but no phonostage); a 24-bit/192kHz D/A converter, and SPDIF, TosLink, and USB digital inputs. It also sports Internet radio and Electrocompaniet’s Audio Server, from which you can network all your computers and other DL-NA-supported devices like smartphones and satellite receivers. The ECI 6DS will also play from a memory stick, and Beckman supplied me with one with his own mix of 192/24 files at bit-rates up to 9850kbs.
As with other software-based units, the ECI 6DS can be upgraded via the Internet, but note that two or three updates occurred while I had my review sample. Yes, it was over the course of many months, but also, one supposes, par for today’s course.
And while the unit comes with a versatile remote control, Electrocompaniet’s clever, simple, four-button, front-panel controls make the unit not only very clean-looking but also a joy to operate. The left/right buttons select source, while the up/down adjust volume.
As noted, the sound of the ECI 6DS is very clean and pure, and also notably coherent from bottom to top, making for a very well balanced, unified presentation. For example, listening to Esoteric’s excellent SACD release of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 (Curzon/Britten/English Chamber Orchestra) I was struck by the natural balance among the various orchestral sections, the percussion, and the piano, each voice clearly defined with an easy grace that allowed me to fall into the performance without much thinking about the audiophile stuff we can all get too hung up over. Curzon’s piano had a natural, bell-like brightness, yet also the gravitas and lower-register weight that make the first movement of this piece especially ominous in feeling. And the ECI 6DS dynamic coloring and fine delivery of pace retained the necessary tension between the strings, piano, and percussion, pulling the listener directly into the performance.