Especially the latter in fact. It’s an excellent upsampling CD player with a fine sense of the unforced and natural to the performance. It’s actually pretty tough to pin down, because the EMP3 doesn’t draw attention to itself in any way, just making a sound that is understated yet fundamentally right. It’s dynamic, yet not so overtly dynamic to make you point that out or reach for a copy of something bombastic. It’s coherent and detailed too, but again in the sort of unhurried, untroubled way that makes you listen to the music and forget about the playing of it. Soundstaging is good, but not over-elaborate. Yes, it’s possible to mistake this for being a touch flat and uninspired, and in the context of the wrong system – one that demands and expects an edgy sounding player to enliven the presentation – this is not the player to choose. Nor should it be used as a civilising element, although I can see it being used that way. But, instead if the system is one of those that approaches its task without great emphasis, grace or favour. I guess the key word is ‘mature’; it’s a grown up sound for people who’ve done all the fireworks and are comfortable in listening to music rather than the sound it makes.
The difference between ‘mature’ and ‘uninspired’ is best explained by the player’s abilities across a wide range of music. I suppose given the predilection for really odd black metal in Norway in the early 1990s, I should have guessed that Electrocompaniet would be a shoe-in for playing the audiophile’s fave metal act, Tool. But I didn’t expect it to be quite so adept at that forceful onslaught sound you get from the likes of Pantera. And what I really didn’t expect was to be able to play Pantera back to back with Debussy and Bill Evans and find the musical breadcrumbs linking the three (it’s possible… just).
There’s a very definite hand at work with Electrocompaniet’s digital players, because they all have a common goal of sounding like music rather than like digital sound. You don’t discover this in a 10 minute listening session, but when you kick back the hours listening to music without the slightest fatigue. It’s not the kind of thing you even notice when taking notes, save for the lack of notes you end up taking about the product.
In balanced mode then, the EMP3 has a field almost to itself, with only products like the Ayre DX-5 (also built on an Oppo platform) as any real challenge.
If you don’t have or plan to one day own an amplifier with balanced input, the justifications for the EMP3 begin to fall away fast. It’s still a fairly good performer, both in stereo and multichannel mode, with exceptional picture quality too. But that just shows the quality of base model Oppo. It will not provide a sonic challenge to any decent £1,000 CD or CD/SACD player, but its sins are of omission rather than commission, but it goes from mature and intelligent to sounding inconsequential.
This is however, a great strength in multichannel music mode, because it doesn’t go for the jugular the way some more cinematic-oriented players seem to. I’ve got to admit, my multichannel music collection is more limited than I’d like and much of it is Blu-ray concert-based material, but on this it is outstanding, even through my cobbled together ‘bitza’ home cinema system left over from my multichannel reviewing days.
It would be easy to highlight this balanced-only Electrocompaniet recommendation as being a curate’s egg of a player. In fact, it just makes it fit snugly within the confines of the Electrocompaniet ecosystem, where balanced is king. Many of EC’s Classic Line products are not only balanced by default, but only have balanced connectors in place. The EMP3 is just another expression of that. Granted, that makes it more likely to be the disc player of choice for someone building on the strengths of an EC amplifier, instead of the first foot in the EC door, but its strengths in such a system are so marked and obvious, it’s makes models like the EMP2 and ECC1 players in the range a tougher commendation. Not for everyone, then, but in the right context, the EMP3 is a tough act to follow.
Compatible formats: CD, DVD, SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray (2D and 3D), AVCHD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE, BD-R/RE DL
Audio Outputs: 1 x 2ch. balanced line out (XLR), 7.1ch single ended (RCA)
Digital Outputs: 2x HDMI, 1x TosLink S/PDIF, 1x Coax S/PDIF
Video Outputs: 2 x HDMI (NTSC: 480i/480p/720p/1080i/1080p/1080p24, PAL 576i/576p/720p/1080i/1080p/1080p24) Composite
Digital/Analogue conversion: 24bit, 192kHz
Dimensions (WxDxH): 46.6x31.6x9.3cm
EC Distribution Ltd
Tel: +44(0)20 8893 5835