Ed Meitner’s EMM Labs, the makers of a series of recording studio and more recently audiophile products for high quality music, Super Audio CD and Direct Stream Digital (DSD) production and playback have announced the appointment of a new audiophile distributor and a series of demonstrations of their products at dealers around the country. The move comes as EMM Labs plans to broaden the availability of their products to the audiophile community.
New Distributor for Audiophile Sales
The new distributor for EMM Labs and their high end audiophile sales initiative in the United States is Philip O’Hanlon from On A Higher Note in San Juan Capistrano, CA. O’Hanlon’s firm has been the distributor of high end audio equipment including the Halcro line of amplifiers for some time and he is a fixture at major audio shows each year such as the Consumer Electronics Show, The Show, CEDIA and the Home Entertainment shows.
O’Hanlon has been using products designed by Ed Meitner’s EMM Labs for his high end demonstrations of audio products (such as the well known Switchman preamp/switcher) even before the company formally entered the audiophile marketplace. He’s been a big proponent of Meitner’s gear and has always felt that it was one of the few firms that made audio equipment of sufficient sonic quality to match up with the products of his client companies. So the new agreement with EMM Labs to bring the Meitner products to audiophile dealers around the U.S. is in some ways a natural connection.
The agreement makes On A Higher Note the official distributor for the EMM Labs products in the U.S. audiophile market. Current products from EMM Labs for the audiophile market include the Switchman III 6 channel preamp/switcher, the DAC6e 6 channel DSD Digital Audio Converter for SACD & CD playback, the DCC2 2 Channel preamp, switcher & DSD converter and the new CDSD SACD Transport. Under the agreement, O’Hanlon’s firm will be charged to bring the products to a series of high end audio dealers in key markets around the country so that audiophiles interested in listening to and buying the Meitner designed equipment from EMM Labs can do so from a local dealer who can provide a high quality demo of the products as well as local sales and support for the products.
Distribution and sales to the professional and recording industry markets will continue to be handled by EMM Labs directly and their current pro distributors including SADiE in the U.S., ATT Audio Controls in Australia, Canada Promedia in Canada and China, DSP Japan in Japan, Binar Prosound & Light in Russia and J&C Intersonic in Switzerland.
Multi Channel Music Demonstrations
As part of the new arrangement, On A Higher Note will be holding demonstrations of the Meitner designed audiophile products from EMM Labs at high end audio dealers around the country. The demonstrations will feature what O’Hanlon considers to be the best sounding Surround Sound SACDs available in the U.S., Europe and Japan played on systems that not only include the Meitner products but also top flight audio equipment from Halcro amps and Magnepan and Wilson Audio speakers. In some cases the dealers hosting the demos have signed up to carry the Meitner product line while other dealers are participating to provide their customers an opportunity to hear what very high quality audio components and systems can bring to high resolution SACD audio playback.
According to the invitation for the event recently held in the San Francisco Bay Area
“A slow revolution is underway that is closing the gap between exclusive home theater systems on the one hand and two channel on the other. Multi channel music seems to be the motivation for many music lovers to finally adapt an all-in-one system of two channel and multi-channel music and home theater. Some lucky individuals have the space & resources to keep home theater separate, but an increasing number are finding that one system can do it all. We have heard multi channel done correctly and find that it has the capability of immersing the listener in the original event and surpassing the experience of two channel music. Multi channel music places demands that most “home theater” systems cannot deliver – nuance, detail, definition; the little details that make music sound ‘real’. This allows stereophiles to continue playing records and enjoying their remarkable stereo system while sacrificing nothing when they choose to listen to multi-channel music or movies.”
Multichannel Audio Demo at Music Lovers
To get an update on what’s happening with EMM Labs and their new plans for the audiophile market, I attended one of the first of the Multi Channel audio events held by On A Higher Note at the Music Lovers store in Berkeley, CA. Music Lovers is a local high end audio dealer owned by Jae Wheeler and Hugh Fountain III. They have decided to not only participate in the demo series but also to pick up the Meitner audiophile product line. According to Wheeler, he was skeptical about Multichannel Sound but was won over by the high quality sound from the Meitner gear.
At the demonstration, a listening room was set up that featured several of the Meitner products (Switchman III 6 channel preamp & switcher, DAC6e 6 channel DAC and the CDSD SACD Transport) as well as Halcro amps for each speaker and Wilson Audio speakers. The setup included 3 large Wilson Audio speakers for the front left, center and right channels as well as rear mounted Wilson Audio speakers for the surround channels. This was a very high end setup, with the value of Left and Right Wilson Audio speakers alone going for $125,000. So it did provide an interesting opportunity to hear Multichannel SACD played back at a level not found in most home audio systems.
A Variety of Surround Sound SACDs
During the demonstration, Philip O’Hanlon guided the audience through a series of selections of classical, jazz and pop/rock Surround Sound SACDs. With the recent interest in the 3 Channel SACDs from RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence, O’ Hanlon brought several discs from each series to demonstrate.
The audience was very impressed by the sound quality of the Meitner gear on these discs and actually burst into spontaneous applause after the playing of a selection from Janos Starker’s Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello on a 2 SACD Mercury Living Presence collection. (The Mercury Living Presence SACDs are due out in the U.S. starting on October 12th, so this copy was imported from Europe where the Living Presence SACDs are already on the market).
The demo also featured several Multichannel Classical Music selections including Telarc’s recordings of the Music of Jennifer Higdon, a Hyperion SACD entitled the Coronation of King George and a Pentatone SACD of Getty’s Joan and the Bells. Commenting on the two 3 Channel SACD series recordings from RCA and Mercury, Music Lovers co-owner Hugh Fountain III noted that both sets of 3 Channel SACDs are “must own” discs for classical music fans. But he also noted a preference for full Multichannel SACD recordings of Classical Music vs. the 3 Channel discs saying that “the 3 Channel SACDs give you a nice window, but the Multichannel SACDs really pull the performance into the room.”
Turning to pop/rock and jazz Surround Sound SACDs, the demonstration featured a wide variety of selections including discs by Steely Dan, John Mayer, Caetano Velosa, Shaggy, Kodo, Ray Charles, Matt Bianco featuring Basia, Diane Reeves, Broadway Inspirational Voices, Bjork, Elton John, Greta Matassa and Jamie Cullum. The selections demonstrated a variety of musical styles and surround sound mix selections including subtle and significant use of the surround sound channels and center channel vocals. Store owner Jae Wheeler was “knocked out” by the acoustic version of Elton John’s Candle In The Wind Surround Sound SACD while other attendees were impressed by SACD Surround Sound tracks by Steely Dan, Matt Bianco featuring Basia, Kodo drums, Diane Reeves and the Broadway Inspirational Singers.
The emphasis in the demos is on sonics and indeed some of the attendees applauded the sound but not the performances from the new Bjork Surround Sound SACD (dubbed “the Icelandic Diva” by O’Hanlon) and the unusual choice of Brazilian bossa nova singer Caetano Velosa performing a tune made famous by Nirvana (the Velosa SACD features his interpretations of a number of well known rock and pop standards – some of which work and others of which do not from my musical point of view).
I know that Super Audio CD fans are always looking for lists of “best sounding” Surround Sound discs, so here’s a recap of the selections played at the Music Lovers demo this weekend for your reference:
- Suite No. 1 in G Major from Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello by Byron Starker, Cello (Mercury Living Presence B0002149-36)
- Time Out of Mind from Gaucho by Steely Dan (MCA B0000868-36)
- Come As You Are from A Foreign Sound by Caetano Veloso (Edge Music/Universal Music Brazil 6024-9819228-3)
- Clarity from Heavier Things by John Mayer (Aware/Columbia CH 90746)
- Hey Sexy Lady from Lucky Day by Shaggy (MCA 0088-113215-2)
- Daraijin from Mondo Head by Kodo (Red Ink SACD 56111)
- Fever from Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles with Natalie Cole (Concord Records/Hear Music SACD-1033-6)
- La Luna from Matt’s Mood by Matt Bianco featuring Basia (Emarcy 6024-982001-1)
- Lullaby of Birdland from The Calling by Diane Reeves (Blue Note 7243-541978-2)
- Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra from Cityscape by Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Telarc SACD-60620)
- Promenade from Pictures from an Exhibition by Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA Living Stereo 82876-61394-2)
- Black Coffee from Live at Tula’s by Greta Matassa (Jazz Stream SACD-002)
- Candle In The Wind (Acoustic Version) from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John (Island B0001570-36)
- The Wind Cries Mary from Twentysomething by Jamie Cullum (Verve B0002534-36)
- Piano Concerto No. 3 from Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos by Byron Janis (Mercury Living Presence B0002148-36)
- Changed My Name from Grace by Broadway Inspirational Voices (DMP SACD-17)
- Death of Tyball from Romeo & Juliet by Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony (Telarc SACD-60597)
- Pleasure Is All Mine from Medulla by Bjork (Mercury 6024-986759-1)
- Drum Procession from The Coronation of King George II by Robert King, The Choir of the King’s Consort (Hyperion SACDA-67286)
- Judgement from Getty: Joan and the Bells by Alexander Vedernikov, Russian National Orchestra (PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 017)
6 More Events Scheduled
The demonstrations of the audiophile products by Meitner’s EMM Labs are slated for a series of high end audio dealers around the country. According to Philip O’ Hanlon, in addition to the demonstration I attended this weekend in Berkeley, the following additional sessions around the country are planned. If you live near one of these dealers and would like to check out the demos and hear a really high end Surround Sound Super Audio CD setup, your best bet is to contact the dealer directly for more details on the time, place and logistics of the events.
- Miami: October 28 & 29 – featuring Peter McGrath who will play some of his 4 channel classical recordings
- Wilmington, Delaware: November 6th at Overture. Will feature Robert Harley, Editor-in-Chief of The Absolute Sound and The Perfect Vision who will talk about multi-channel music
- New Jersey: November at GTT Audio – Demo will be held at the dealer’s new showrooms, now under construction
- Seattle: November/December at Definitive Audio
- Boston: February 2005 at Goodwin’s. Will feature owner Alan Goodwin who has some personal recording he would also like to demonstrate. Will also feature John Atkinson, editor of Stereophile as the guest speaker
- New York City: Date to be announced at the Manhattan Lyric HiFi store