Imagine an interview with a mountain climber who just scaled their highest peak.
“What was it like?” the reporter asks.
Reviewing a hifi system that is the most expensive system I’ve ever had in Barn by a very long shot is kinda similar, especially so when the loudspeakers in play are the largest to have lived in Barn.
“What was it like?”
The moral of these stories: The value of mountain climbing and hifi lies in the experience not the size (or cost). [footnote 1]
The EMM Labs / Credo Cinema LTM system does not sound like any other system I’ve had in Barn. A large aspect of that difference is due to the way the line array as implemented in the Cinema LTM energizes the room in a rather unique manner. The closest I can get to a similar experience are the tiny ADAM A3X monitors that have lived on my desktop for more than 10 years. The tiny ADAMs house a relatively large vertical surface area X-ART (eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology) tweeter, a variation on the Heil AMT ribbon tweeter, and that tweeter produces a sound field in the extreme near field (about 23″) that can make listening to music through them feel like you’re listening through really big headphones. As if the music is directly coupled to your ears.
The Cinema LTM produce a similar kind of direct coupling, but they pull off this musical magical trick from a distance of 11 feet and more. As Credo CEO/Director Michael Kraske explained in our video about line arrays and the Cinema LTM, one benefit of a line array is its ability to project sound in larger spaces more effectively and efficiently than a traditional point source approach. This is one good reason why we see curved line arrays hanging from the ceilings of large concert halls.
The “Cinema LTM” is a passive filtered 3-way floor-standing speaker, with line-array technology. Each speaker comes with 32 ring radiator tweeters. A textile membrane with a diameter of 22 mm was installed in a special, extremely compact housing with neodymium drive. This allowed us to mount the tweeters extremely close to each other, which is absolutely essential for a high-performance line array. The distance is only 0.7 mm.
The fourteen high-end mid-woofers feature a 4″ Kevlar diaphragm and a low-loss drive with neodymium magnets. We use our proprietary high-pass filters, so they play at very low-distortion even at high SPL and down to 100 Hz.
In addition, four passive 12″ subwoofers with almost 60 mm stroke are installed per loudspeaker. Thanks to our proprietary crossovers, the unique 4″ mid-woofer and the special tweeter design, we were able to create a loudspeaker with incredible dynamic range, whose distortion values are extremely low.
But the Cinema LTM are not one-trick ponies. Within this system driven by a kilowatt per side from the EMM Labs MTRX/2 mono amplifiers, the Cinema LTM also deliver very deep bass that is as deep, articulate and bloat- and boom -free as I’ve experienced. There’s also an effortless quality to music reproduction combined with real raw power, enough power to rattle every thing that can possibly rattle in the Barn, without breaking a sweat.
At one point during the later day hours after the Cinema LTM setup was complete, Michael Kraske and John McGurk of Audioshield Distribution and I were playing some tunes for fun at volume levels I rarely ascend to and I heard a steady state vibration coming from the other side of the Barn. I walked over to the William’s Space Shuttle pinball machine and put my hand on its playfield glass which was vibrating, nearly humming, with delight. At least that’s how I heard it.
I mention a few of these standout features up front because they took me some time to get used to. When I first sat down with this system, music felt very much in my face, as if it was encroaching into my personal zone in an uncomfortable manner. It was only after listening for more than a few hours that the rest of the soundfield began to emerge in greater and greater detail. Once accustomed to their presentation, the Cinema LTM and I settled down into many (many) moments of rather startling music play.
In a typical review, I like to swap in and out a similar component or speaker to the one under review. This process helps put the thing under review into a broader context, and ideally allows for a conversation about relative performance. This is not a typical review. That being said, there was one piece of equipment change due to a shipping delay, which are more common than 90+ degree summer days in NJ. When this system was first installed, a Meitner MA3 DAC was doing stand-in duties for the EMM Labs DA2 V2 that would arrive the next day. So we had about a day to listen to the system with the Meitner MA3 in play, before switching over to the DA2 V2. Even with this rather brief A then B comparison, it was clear that the EMM Labs DA2 V2 delivered a mightier bass response as compared to the less costly Meitner DAC. This difference was not subtle, which is interesting for a number of reasons, one big one being it highlights the futility of ascribing sonic performance to a component or speaker when listening to a completely unfamiliar system.
To put a finer point on it, I could easily have assumed that the Cinema LTM were a tiny bit bass shy if I’d only heard this system with the Meitner DAC. Which just goes to show, misattribution reigns supreme when we jump to conclusions about things we can’t possibly know, like the reason for this or that sonic quality in an unfamiliar system. This is one very good reason why a show report can never be a review of a given component or speaker.
The DA2 V2 is EMM Labs’ updated flagship 16xDSD/DSD1024 stereo D/A converter. The DA2 V2 features Ed Meitner designed MDAT2 DSP processing which performs real-time transient detection, processing and up-conversion of all incoming audio, PCM and DSD, before sending it to the new 16xDSD DACs. It’s no exaggeration to say that Ed Meitner, EMM Labs founder, played an important role in the development of digital audio, including being part of the team that made SACD and DSD possible. From the company’s website: EMM Labs converter systems are the de facto DSD reference of the recording industry. Currently, almost every new SACD in production is being made with our DSD converters.
The Roon Ready EMM Labs NS1 Streamer was responsible for sending the DACs their bits, using EMM’s proprietary EMM Optilink interface, which provides galvanic isolation between it and the DAC (glass doesn’t transmit electrical noise). The NS1 supports PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD on all outputs, MQA, and through the use of the mConnect app, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Deezer, vTuner, and more. I did not play with mConnect for two reasons—the review period was short and I prefer using Roon. The NS1 also allows for playback from USB storage.
The EMM Labs PRE Reference Preamplifier is the company’s flagship preamp, incorporating custom aerospace-grade composite laminate circuit boards, contactless switching solutions and a precision software-driven analog volume control, fully discrete dual-balanced signal paths, 6 stereo analog inputs (3 balanced XLR, 3 single-ended RCA), and 3 stereo analog outputs (2 balanced XLR, 1 single-ended RCA) that allow for bi- and tri-amping. There’s a nice and hefty machined aluminum infrared remote control and you can set up to three volume level presets for each input.
Woof! The EMM Labs MTRX/2 mono amplifiers are conservatively rated at 1000W into 4Ω (500 W into 8) of output power from its fully discrete Class A/B solid-state design with a claimed frequency response of DC – 500Khz. There’s zero overall negative feedback employed in the MTRX/2 which spec out with a Signal to Noise ratio of > 120dB (A Weighted), Total Harmonic Distortion & Noise (THD+N) of < 0.005% (20-20Khz, Full Rated Power), and Intermodulation Distortion (IMD) of < 0.005% according to the company.
It’s important to note that all of the EMM Labs products are designed from the ground on up by Ed Meitner, the company’s founder, and they are built in-house in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s no exaggeration to say that Meitner is one of hifi’s legendary designers, and his scope of influence also extends into the world of studio and professional audio, dating back to the early 1970s. I’ll refer you the company’s’ About page for more details. Side note: back in the 1980s, I owned the Meitner-designed Museatex Melior 100W Stereo amp, something I wish I still had. Sigh.
The build quality of the EMM Labs gear is unimpeachably precise, and I appreciate the minimalist design approach that emphasizes material choice, finish quality and form. In use, they are a pleasure to interact with from the power switches to the volume control on the PRE to the hefty remote.
This system was wired with cable from Van den Hul (Cumulus Loudspeaker Cable, and Van den Hul 3T Rock Interconnects (XLR), while the EMM Labs gear sat on FOKUS racks from Modulum Audio of Montreal Canada.
I’m not a fan of wishing away time but I cannot wait for October 14, 2022 when Lucrecia Dalt’s new record ¡Ay! is released (my LP pre-order is in). In the mean time, there are currently three tasty tracks available and they are worth the price of full album admission. I’ve chosen to highlight “Atemporal” first for its broad range of sounds and moods, blending acoustic and electronic elements into a sumptuously spicy stew with a bass line that grounds the various clatter, clank’s, and Dalt’s smokey vocals.
This system provides as clear-eyed a view onto the sonic proceedings as I’ve ever heard. I’m talking about the clearest crystal clear clarity, completely effortless and unrestrained startling dynamics, fully formed and completely controlled bass response, with each and every last ounce of sonic minutiae, something Dalt seems to adore, presented with 3 dimensional voice. This system puts Dalt’s vocals solidly out in front and center stage, with as clear cut a form as I’ve heard from any system. In some ways, this kind of sound sculpting in space reminds me of the best aspects of a single driver speaker, which can excel at presence. Which is kind of funny since the Cinema LTM are as far from a single driver as you can get.
All of these qualities were imparted on every piece of music I played through the EMM Labs/Credo system, no matter the simplicity or complexity. Valentina Goncharova’s Ocean – Symphony for Electric Violin and other instruments in 10+ parts, recently reissued by Estonia’s Hidden Harmony Recordings, is a singular and monumental work (my order is in for the double LP) and ranks among my top finds of all time. I’ve mentioned my NYC days before, where I listened to contemporary classical music nearly exclusively for a few years, so I have some basis upon which to place Goncharova’s stunning work. The music contained on this nearly 90-minute work was created by Goncharova with the help of her husband, using homemade and jury rigged electronics along with violin and sound effects so it sounds like nothing you’ve heard before. Literally.
Since this is not a music review I’ll jump to the reproduction which was, once again, stunning in its ability to communicate a seamless physical presence of every last ounce of sound contained on this tour de force of sonic wonder. Things that ring and reverberate were portrayed with dimensional clarity that seemed to nearly draw the object responsible in space, in Barn, a material creation in air. This system allowed for a ‘listen in’ experience that went as deep as I’ve experienced anywhere, with no apparent limit to level of detail available for close inspection. All without sounding the least bit analytical or forced. These combined strengths, pinhead-sized micro detail with ocean-sized macro impact, made listening to music as engaging as I’ve had the pleasure to participate in. And that is no turn of phrase—when music is so faithfully reproduced with all of its attendant power and glory and nuance on tap, with life-like scale, listening becomes an engagement in time. Stunning.
As you might expect, this kind of clarity in music reproduction can make crappy recordings sound especially crappy. Garbage in, big bold garbage out. One aspect of this system’s great strengths is their ability to reveal and present all of the information contained in any recording sent their way, so if your favorite records are of great music recorded really poorly, you’re going to get great music that sounds like it was recorded really poorly. That being said, I didn’t come across any music in my 3-week time with the EMM Labs/Credo system that made me want to quickly jump to the next track, but a few came close. It’s also worth noting that this system did not dictate my music choices, except during our initial getting to know you period where I was kinda obsessed with playing big music really loud.
Another outcome of this system’s effortlessness was my tendency to listen louder than normal, because turning the volume up (and up…) just made things sound more real, less like a reproduction, approaching the kind of energy that exists in a live performance. I’d imagine we’ve all experienced systems that get less enjoyable the louder they play, sounding harder and more brittle as the level rises. While not exactly the opposite, the EMM Labs/Credo system nearly dares you to up the decibel ante. I actually kept my iPhone handy with a dB Meter app at-the-ready for those times when I was pushing the limits to make sure I wasn’t going too far. Hey, I’ve seen Boris live so I know what too loud feels like.
With any system review, it’s difficult, or damn near impossible, to imagine which pieces you can remove/replace without changing the outcome. To my mind, and this follows my system-building approach, the speakers comes first in terms of sonic outcomes. Next comes amplification, and so on down the line. But that’s not to suggest that things like DACs, network players, and cables don’t matter because they most certainly do. These things are self evident to anyone who has spent real time listening to a lot of different gear.
My intention going into this review was to approach it as a complete system review. A snapshot, taken over a 3-week period of intensive listening. Part of the reason for this particular system in this particular place was space—the Barn is big (35 x 40 x 12’) and this big system needs a big space to perform. Beyond being big, we also learned from Michael Kraske’s measurements taken at the listening position in-Barn as part of the Cinema LTM setup process—which I detailed in a separate post that includes Michael Kraske’s Measurement Report—the Barn measures more than up to the task of critical listening and “comes very close to absolute mastering standards”.
The experience of living with and listening to the EMM Labs/Credo Cinema LTM system ranks among the most engaging, most moving, and flat out wow-inducing listening I’ve had the pleasure to partake in. I very quickly got beyond the Credo Cinema LTM and EMM Labs MTRX/2 mono amplifiers’ physical presence and was allowed entry into the living, breathing, beating heart of reproduced music. What’s more impressive was the feeling of complete and direct connection to whatever music I chose to play in a physically materialized form, converting the Barn’s space into a limitless musical landscape ripe for exploration.
Credo Cinema LTM Loudspeakers: $199,995
EMM Labs MTRX/2 Amplifiers: $85,000
EMM Labs PRE Reference Preamplifier: $25,000
EMM Labs DA2 Reference D/A Converter: $30,000
EMM Labs NS1 Streamer: $4500
Total cost: $344,495 + cables and racks
1. I know some people enjoy arguing over what, for them, represents too much money to spend, for everyone else, on hifi. I’m not one of them and find the basic premise rather childish, a form of acting out, a messy emotional outpour poorly disguised as reason. After all, in a pseudo free market economy you get what you choose to pay for so moralizing and whining over the price of hifi gear adds up to nothing more than a temper tantrum.