Tasting Erco. Ercotastic? Despite being cute, it also was rather spot on. Once I bid adieu to the leaner/quicker Hifimänner and strapped on Final's denser/bassier D8000 with an HPX leash of audioArt Cable from sunny San Diego—we called Leucadia just north of Yoganada's cliff hermitage home many moons ago—I hit upon my most ideal pairing. With Erco of essentially CNC character (crisp, neutral & controlled), the Japanese planars perked up. Then they injected saturated colors like maple leaves do every autumn. In that context, switching between Pasithea and Erco DAC or Oor and Erco as headfi driver made a more marginal difference than changing Erco's stock power brick to Hypsos. Whilst Pasithea was the even more resolved D/A converter so keener on recorded ambience and depth; whilst Oor was still a bit more dynamic and grippy of a driver… those matches were very similar signatures just a bit more/less pronounced. Qualitatively more significant was stepping up to ferrum's hybrid supply. That seemed even truer for Erco as DAC than head amp. The most impressive thing to me was how close to Oor team ferrum had come with their new IC-based output stage. Those amps on chips are clearly capable seven-legged critters when run dual-differential. High current delivery translates into excellent grip so firm driver control; and dynamic swings. Once the D8000 had lightened the efficiency burden to eliminate the small op-amp Susvara handicap; once HifiMan's more electrostatic voicing had darkened and filled out with Final to split the difference to our pre-Fazor Audeze LCD-2… I heard little incentive to insist on traditional separates. On the desktop, I'd go Erco to double-task D/A conversion and headfi, then target Hypsos later when my wallet bounced back though conditional on which cans I planned on using the most.
On desktop with 24/96 Qobuz Sublime, COS Engineering H1 as balanced-drive comparator.
Wrestling our resident desktop headfi DAC, Erco with its brick behaved more vigorous and intense on the attack, on image outlines and dynamic twitch 'n' shove. The Taiwanese played it a bit softer/gentler. That pushed in the direction of what maximizing allowable Hypsos output voltage does for the sound of connected devices. It gets warmer and more gravitational. Not so Erco's stock SMPS. If its quicker sonic profile has your vote—and/or you have warmer/thicker headphones which you wish would corner faster and more accurately—you won't have need to gild this lily with the €995 hybrid supply. Really. The only drawback with the SMPS is that unless you plug it into an easily reached switched wall outlet, it'll be always live. Shy of pulling its plug, there's no way of turning it off. This could affect the brick's longevity. I've already cremated a virtually identical 24V/2.5V unit after constant 24/7 action over ~2 years. Erco itself obviously does power down with its left rotary switch. No sweat there. With Erco powered by Hypsos on the desktop, the latter's display showed 22V x 0.6A = 13.6W. At 30V, current was obviously lower. Either way, for me Erco drew just shy of 14 watts. [At left, Evan Hatfield remixes on Pinkturban for some fun grooves with bodacious bouncy bass; just the thing to let Erco and D8000 off the leash.]
So… what did Hypsos actually do to or for Erco? In two words, up refinement. With the switching brick, Erco played it younger so more boisterous, edgy and raw. With Hypsos, it grew more mature, calm, deep and suave without taking any real hit on raw slam when sledgehammer beats rained down. However, should you focus solely on energy transference aka aural adrenaline, you might just fancy the switcher. It has more bite, piss and vinegar. In our headphone collection, I'd thus definitely brick our now vintage Audeze LCD-2. The Final planars can go either way. With the Hifiman I'd favor Hypsos. That's it; in a peanut shell. If we did a walnut for a tad more fill, I'd add that ace integration gives designers more control. Whatever functions they combine eliminates variables. That's fewer chances for the end user to tap only partial potential. Thus Erco's seemingly modest ingredients of single older Sabre chip, IC outputs and Sino switching brick combine into rather more than the presumed sum of these parts. What glues it all together is real talent and extensive OEM experience. It ends up with built-in synergy that a buyer can trust to not frankenstein far more arbitrary bits and pieces into lesser performance. The latter's only real distinction would be that we did it without anyone's help. If you're getting too old for that sad game, trust people who do this for a living and are clearly very good at it: here team ferrum/HEM. For me there's also the Jeff Rowland Model 10, Concentra and Concentra II, 47labs Gaincard, Clones and Moonriver 404 connection. They all were/are very good-sounding speaker amps with LM3886-type op-amp outputs. The Erco's gutsy, dynamic and color-intense behavior which very much wasn't dry, pale or restrained reminded me of the 404 Reference and Funjoe's gain clones. If you suffer IC bias as a matter of principle (translation: opamps suck, period!), you'll completely misunderstand what Erco actually sounds like. To my ears, its two core traits were control/grip and dynamic responsiveness. All else unfurled from those qualities.
To sniff out hidden noise, Final's Sonorous X are our residential trackers. Sonically they're kinda/sorta corrected Sennheiser HD800 types. With a whopping 22dB advantage, their 16Ω/105dB spec makes very different demands than Susvara's 60Ω/83dB. They're also heavy as gilded guilt so their all-metal build compromises wear comfort. Here the relevant point was that—obviously without signal—I could open the balanced Alps pot fully then click through low, medium and high gain and hear nothing. Such an absentee noise floor spoke loudly to engineering excellence. It might even welcome IEMs of still higher sensitivity. I simply had none on hand. It's also a bit silly to leash mobile in-ears to stationary kit. But relative to hi-res, Erco's clearly sharp signal-to-noise ratio plus headfi's extreme proximity nixing distance losses crossed off all rational requirements to hear deep into the less significant bits. It's where recorded ambiance, reflections and depth markers live. Even timbres benefit. After all, particularly at lower playback levels their signature higher harmonics dwindle to homeopathic doses. Those soon vanish into residual noise. No wonder Erco could do autumn-saturated colors when a headphone like Final's planar flagship was up to it.
Desktop high end just became a thing. It's what Erco's brochure claimed. It's what I heard. No barfing braggadocio. Plain fact. Fuss pots insisting on a sample-rate display or seven different digital filters are left out. On said score all the Ercoist needs and gets is a signal-lock LED though its color coding hides extra intel. Orange is for PCM, white for DSD, yellow for analog, blue/green/purple for various states of MQA undress, red for error, cycling white/grey for firmware uploading in progress. As a primarily desktop-aimed deck, a remote is MIA. Reach out, fondle and turn on/up is the gig. I'd have preferred a full-size USB port but that likely just dates me. Really, I can't see how/where HEM's latest comes up short. With it ferrum's score is now three out of three. Ercotastic indeed!