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This review first appeared in the February 2010 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Bladelius Embla in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Bladelius Design Group - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacu
Review system: Go here
Review component retail: 29.999
zł l (that's roughly $10.500 or €7.700 if bought in Poland in foreign currencies)

At the helm of the Swedish Bladelius brand is Mike Bladelius, a very interesting designer who headed design at Treshold (1990 – 1994), then consulted Classé Audio’s engineering team (1994 – 1995). He later was often called upon to assist Primare with specific projects. Founded in the Swedish town of Alingsås in 1994, the Bladelius Design Group today owns Bladelius and Advantage and earlier also S.A.T. Machines I previously reviewed from this company all shared a few traits which I assume were reflections on the personality and tastes of the designer himself. The first is plainly visible in the clean industrial appearance of the exteriors. Their clear-anodized aluminum enclosures feature the bare minimum of control knobs and buttons to be instantly associated with classic Scandinavian design. Yet inside I always found surprisingly modern solutions. Mike does not abstain from surface mount devices, fancy displays, micro controllers and such. Together with the stark exteriors and modern circuits, we also get very saturated warm and natural sonics.

Given my prior exposure, I was still surprised to learn that the company had now authored a file player. To most engineers this is still terra incognita and as such not easy to pull off - particularly since Mike decided to forego hard drives in favor of flash memory. His new Embla comes in many configurations with memory capacity ranging from 64GB to 2TB. As the lower storage rates won’t be sufficient, one should really aim at 1TB or more. Different from machines by Blacknote (the DSS30 Tube) and Linn (the Majik DS and Klimax DS), the Bladelius sports an integrated DVD/ROM drive primarily to rip CDs to memory with purpose-designed software which controls read errors and jitter. The integral touch screen displays the amount of detected, corrected (or incorrigible) errors. Read errors result from a combination of disc quality and extracting software. The better the disc pressing, the lower the amount of errors. I watched the error counter with curiosity while ripping discs.

XRCDs had low error rates. The XRCD24 from the new Audio Wave edition for example only started to show errors after 31% of the disc has been ripped. Altogether there were about 25.000. I was surprised that the Japanese version of Chet Baker’s Strollin’ had over 60.000. The European mini-LP remasters of Peter Gabriel turned out to have almost 90.000. On the other hand, the anniversary edition of Dark Side of the Moon on hybrid SACD had none at all. Again, the problem is not only with the discs but also with the drive. No computer drive is as good as a dedicated CD sled. Yet a DVD-ROM with adequate read-in software allows multiple read-in cycles of specific disc sectors to minimize captured errors, something the Embla does automatically.

But that was merely the beginning of the discoveries here. There’s the type of superb touch screen I first saw on Naim’s HDX. It displays large navigational buttons, meta data and cover art. Besides playing from memory, the Embla also accepts pen drives and hard discs via its USB input. We also get AES/EBU and coaxial digital inputs as well as Toslink and even Bluetooth. It’s a pity that with all this functionality, LAN access is only by cable where competitor Chord integrates wireless cards. But that’s only a minor issue.  The Ethernet connection creates access to meta data bases for cover art, track titles and such. In lieu of an Internet connection, the Embla sports a built-in meta data library which was quite impressive. I only encountered a few cases where I had to enter the data manually which was quite easy. Covers of course require an Internet connection.

But there’s more. The Embla is also a full-fledged analog preamplifier with one XLR and two RCA line inputs and outputs each, a fixed output for external preamps and an analog domain volume that’s not digital as it is with Wadia, dCS, Accuphase and Ayon. In short, the Embla is a very comprehensive and complicated device. “The Embla offers a silent playback system without any moving mechanical parts when playing from its built-in flash memory. The Embla is not a redesigned computer system. It is built from the ground up as a high-performance audio playback system. Unlike computer-based products, the Embla is based on our proprietary audio DSP design, allowing complete control over the timing and reading of the discs. Not only is the Embla a playback system but it also includes an analog preamplifier and a world-class DA converter based on our reference CD player, the Gondul M. The DA converter also carries a switchable digital filter with analog behavior. Insert a CD and you have the option to play directly from the disc like a standard CD player or to store the disc on internal flash memory. And you're not limited to internal storage. External units can directly connect via USB and may access files on a network drive or stream music from a PC.

"The Embla comes preloaded with a database for album and track names and will display album art if connected to the Internet via its Ethernet port. Embla makes bit-perfect copies of CDs using our advanced proprietary data reading error-analysis algorithms enabled by a high-performance Teac drive. The bit perfect copies will be stored in strict WAV PCM format. The internal memory for music storage is flash-based for a completely noiseless system. The internal flash memory is upgradeable from 64 GB to 2 TB. Embla has one USB port for USB memory sticks or external hard drives and a second USB port for streaming music from a computer. Embla has also an Ethernet adapter to play music from media servers such as a computer or  NAS. If your local network is connected to the Internet, Embla will retrieve album art and update its database with the most recent data. You can play back PCM, WAV, HRx, FLAC, MP3 and OGG with tag information. Audio data files are supported up to 32-bit/192kHz. The analog volume control works in 0.5db steps and there is also the ability to choose from two separate balanced DAC configurations (two DACs per channel); select a special filter with analogue behavior; and change sampling rate up to 192kHz.”

Sound: Arne Domnérus & Gustaf Sjökvist, Antiphone Blues, Proprius/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 026, K2HD; Chet Baker, Strollin’, Enja/Ward Records, TKCW-32191, CD;  e.s.t., Viaticum. Live in Berlin, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 6001-2, 2 x CD; Frank Sinatra, My Way, Reprise/Universal Music japan/Sinatra Society of Japan, UICY-94368, SHM-CD; King Crimson, the construKction of light, Virgin, KCCDX2, CD; King Crimson, In The Court of The Crimson King, Virgin/Virgin Entertainment, IECP-30001, HDCD; Peter Gabriel, Us, Virgin, PGCDX7, CD; Pink Floyd, Dark Side of The Moon, 30th Anniversary Edition, EMI, 5821362, SACD/CD; The Beatles, 09.09.09 Sampler, Apple/EMI Music, 84414 2 5, 2 x CD; Tina Brooks, True Blue, Blue Note/Wave Audio, AWMXR-0004, XRCD24;Yello, Yello Touch, Universal Music Group, CD.