This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

This review first appeared in the August 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, 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 EMM Labs. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: $32.500 [zł 11.860 for Synergistic Research Tranquility Base]

In audio circles Ed Meitner is a well-known name all over the world
. Incidentally these happen to be both home audio and professional audio circles. Just like another specialist in the digital world—dCS from the UK—the Canadian Meitner made his name with A/D and D/A converters. His eight-channel converters are used by many music companies and recording studios. There is moreover another similarity between these manufacturers. Both invested a lot of money and effort to refine the Super Audio disc format. That could not have been easy given that inventor Sony abandoned it quite some time ago.

Perhaps the issue was not so much the format itself but high-resolution recordings. This is confirmed by Ed Meitner’s recent move. In early July he announced the availability of his new Meitner Integrated Playback System M-2. What’s going on is obvious. It’s a file playback device regardless of whether the files are on a disc or hard drive. The player no longer reads SACD merely CDs while its USB input accepts PCM files up to 24/192 and DSD.

But let’s get back to the XDS1 SE. It's a SACD deck sold under the EMM Labs banner. That’s important inasmuch as Ed Meitner currently operates two brands – the other one being Meitner Audio. His previous companies were Museatex and Melior. Meitner is also known for his association with Sony and Philips during the development of the DSD standard and most  SACD masters were made with his converters. Products from Ed’s current companies are very similar. They use the same core technologies but are not identical.

Why does Meitner need two brands? Frankly I don’t know. Perhaps there's some truth to what can be found on English-speaking forums, namely that it is the result of a legal dispute between EMM Labs Incorporated and Playback Design. Meitner gave the official reason to Srajan where he wrote, “Meitner Audio is where we use EMM tech to develop more affordable products”. Really? I honestly don’t know. The XDS1 SE is not new. Its basic version went into production in 2009 but remains in the lineup. As it turns out, age in no way interferes with its sound, only its functionality. The absence of USB or even S/PDIF inputs show its age. The player is not completely devoid of digital inputs however as it accepts signal up to 24/192 via either Toslink or AES/EBU.

Since we touched upon the M-2 DAC/player as Meitner’s newest source, it is worth paying attention to his choice of disc drives. There it is a slot-loading CD-ROM drive which is becoming increasingly popular in high-end. It needs to be said though that the most respected machine still run with classical CD or SACD drives – the former represented by the CD Pro-2 LF from Philips, the latter by Japanese drives from Esoteric. In a separate category are players using multi-format ROM drives like Wadia.

Today’s player uses Esoteric’s VOSP vertically-aligned optical stability platform. As we learn from The Upgrade Company, Pioneer manufactured it to Esoteric specifications originally for their SA-60 and DV-60 players (an even higher range of Esoteric drives is the VRDS-NEO series). The drive is manufactured in Japan and controlled by programmable DSP. It is made of plastic strengthened at the top by a thick metal sheet with a bolted-on massive stainless steel disc housing a classic magnetized clamp. The tray is very solid cast aluminum.

The role of the drive. How important in a player is its drive? You will get as many answers as there are audiophiles and manufacturers. We can however roughly divide those into two categories – the folks to whom the drive mechanism is not important, only the accompanying electronics; and those for whom it is the most important consideration The first group comprises mostly engineers and theoreticians, the second empiricists again mostly engineers.

The former includes MSB whose top system I reviewed some time ago for Audio. In addition to very advanced electronics and fully discrete D/A converters manufactured in-house, the system featured the Platinum Data CD IV transport with a computer CD-ROM drive housed in a typical 5.25" enclosure. Roy Gandy of Rega feels similarly and in an interview with Sam Telling opined that "…the mechanism itself is relatively unimportant except where it concerns reliability. The aspect related to the quality of sound is entirely dependent on mechanism control, error correction and digital data processing systems.” [Sam Telling, "Keep the customers out", Stereophile 35, N° 7 July 2012].

At the other extreme are companies using Philips and Esoteric drives like Jadis, Vitus Audio, Ancient Audio, Orpheus, Esoteric, dCS and EMM Labs to mention a few. Belonging to the same group is Accuphase with their own drive based on Sony optics. Personally I am wholeheartedly in their camp. Theoretically Roy Gandy and other engineers of the first group like Wadia, Primare, Denon and McIntosh have many arguments in their favor. The error correction mechanism of CD players is so efficient that drive quality should have no sonic effect. However audiophilia constantly challenges such certainties. We counter bookish theories with suspicion. A simple well-prepared audition with various drives and converters is sufficient to hear what I hear each and every time. All drives sound a little different and modify the signal in their own way. Plastic junk and metal beauties sound different. Even among the latter it is easy to point out differences between Philips and Esoteric drives. They simply sound different. Those who claim that's impossible because the book says otherwise deserve a forgiving smile at most. They are like scientists who enthusiastically argued for centuries that the Earth was flat.

Synergistic Research Tranquility Base. The Meitner was tested in tandem with an anti-vibration/noise-reduction platform. The slash sign was necessary because although the platform is designed to minimize vibration, its main task actually is to minimize RF inside the emitting device. It was originally designed to work with computers and hard drives where RF noise is particularly problematic. It turned out that it works equally well for audio devices. For that purpose the manufacturer uses an active EM Cell which I assume is some kind of coil. To further investigate the matter, I went to the source, head of Synergistic Research Peter Hansen. I quote his reply in full since it is helpful to understand the unusual goings on of their device.