When the EHF-100 Mk2 arrived, I had been playing Amy Duncan’s album Undercurrents (44.1kHz/24-bit FLAC, MQA-encoded), downloaded from 7digital.com. To decode the MQA recording, I used Meridian’s little $299 Explorer2 DAC/headphone amplifier (reviewed by Robert Harley in Issue 263) plugged into the sweet-sounding Aurender N100H network music player, which I was auditioning. For convenience, I merely unplugged the output cable of the DAC from my preamplifier and plugged it into the EHF-100 Mk2. Although I had only downloaded the album the previous day, I was surprised at the sheer beauty of its sound. Even though the master file was only 44.1/24 FLAC, Duncan’s voice had a delicacy, a purity, that I don’t remember hearing before in other recordings. The recording had a pristine, low-distortion quality that reminded me a little of DXD recordings, but without the analytical sound quality that sometimes goes with them. Since I had only heard the record a couple of times, I really couldn’t say whether the EHF-100 Mk2’s playback was anything special, but the overall sonic experience was very memorable. (I’m eager to audition more MQA files.)
The Explorer2 DAC won’t play DXD or DSD files, which form a valued part of my music collection, so I switched back to my PS Audio DirectStream DAC to continue the review. I also switched to my SOtM sMS-1000SQ Music Server with its sMS-1000 Power Supply.
My overall impression: The EHF-100 Mk2 sounded very lively, very spontaneous—probably a result of fast microdynamic capabilities and good forward momentum. It also sounded very neutral; no part of the frequency spectrum was emphasized. Sometimes the term “neutral” can be used to mean “threadbare,” but not for the EHF-100 Mk2. It was harmonically rich and full.
The album Frottole, by the Ring Around Quartet and Consort [352/24 AIFF, 2xHD Naxos/HDtracks], features “short, improvisatory polyphonic songs with instrumental accompaniment that flourished in the Renaissance courts of Italy for some forty years between c. 1480 and 1520.” The disc was recorded with the Digital eXtreme Definition (DXD) system, a very high sampling rate (352.8kHz) PCM recording. With the EHF-100 Mk2, I heard the squeaky-clean recorded sound typical of DXD recordings, and also a very palpable soundstage with lots of air around the performers. Microdynamics were fast and realistic.
Turning to a favorite album, La Folia 1490-1701 by Jordi Savall and his band (ripped to an AIFF file from CD Alia Vox AFA 9805), the EHF-100 Mk2 played the track “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” with terrific forward momentum, and lots of instrumental detail, so that the hyperactive percussion parts clattered forth in their full glory. With other equipment they have sometimes receded into a background haze, but not here. Since the EHF-100 Mk2 had no line output, precluding the use of my subwoofer, I didn’t hear the deep bass present on this track, but even so, the bass, which provides a solid floor, seemed a tad light. A bit of detail and slam was missing. That made the overall presentation just a bit midrange-centric.
On Shelby Lynne’s album Just a Little Lovin’ [DSD64/DSF, Acoustic Sounds], the title track exhibited a similar lack of deep bass without the accustomed subwoofer, but Lynne’s vocals were reproduced with excellent detail and nuance. Percussion detail was quite pronounced, but there was not a smidgen of etch or peakiness.
To see how the EHF-100 Mk2 handled a full orchestra, I queued up Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from the album Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture, with Jon Nakamatsu on piano and Jeff Tyzik conducting the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra [88.2/24 FLAC, Harmonia Mundi/HDtracks]. Orchestral harmonics were rich and complete; upper bass was powerful and realistic. Nakamatsu, a frequent soloist with my local symphony orchestra, seemed to play with an extra dollop of swagger, and the orchestra strutted its accompaniment with unusual verve. Piano sound was bright and detailed, but not at all peaky. Soundstaging was a close approximation of what I hear at a live concert. Dynamic range was wide-open; no compression here. The sound was almost sensuous.
Let’s conclude the audition with a choral work, the “Salvator Mundi” movement from Herbert Howells’ Requiem performed by Craig Hella Johnson’s choral group Conspirare. One of my first high-resolution downloads, this Harmonia Mundi FLAC recording was recorded at 88.2/24. This a cappella performance was utterly serene, with the well-rehearsed chorus sounding almost like a single voice. When a soprano soared upward in a solo part, the EHF-100 Mk2 projected her effortlessly. No part of the frequency spectrum was emphasized. It’s surprising how much power a chorus can project, and the EHF-100 Mk2 never sounded strained as the volume rose in later pieces. Sublime.