Sometimes (okay, oftentimes), I get the feeling that the EMIA guys (Jeffrey Jackson and Dave Slagle) are just on a different project than I am. Like I’m somehow, and continuously, missing the point. It’s perplexing.
They’re smart guys. No question. And they do in fact make audio products (and also do a literal boatload of “white label” work for other audio companies). But their approach just isn’t the same as what you’ll get wandering into just about any other audio demo room at any audio show. They’re doing something different. Sure, they’ll sell stuff, but it’s more like they want to engage. Like there’s a conversation going on, here, that most of us just don’t hear. Shifting metaphors, it’s here that I feel more than a bit like Watson, with Sherlock Holmes running laps around me. Pay attention, Watson!
I’ve seen several EMIA-driven demos now, and each are rather different. At root, however, is this deep respect for analog — the ancient Garrard 301 with what looked like a Schröder tonearm was (I think) pulling the tunes into either an EMIA Silver Phono pre ($12,000) by way of an EMIA Silver SUT ($3600). An EMIA strain-gauge system was also available ($8100) for (I think) the alternate tonearm. Aside from the front end, though, things get a little off the path.
I like to mention that their aesthetic, what Slagle affectionately refers to as “Drug through the Hudson”, is part vintage, part steampunk, and altogether alien from the disposable junk you probably shop for on Amazon. Personally? I love the look. This gear is, at the very least, a bit more craft-like than your average audio venture, and don’t misunderstand, this stuff is expensive. But it’s all hand made. All of it. Not by a factory. Not by some nameless laborer. By these guys. Bespoke? Yes, but I think we’re still missing the point.
What was shown here at Capital Audiofest was a pair of refurbed Quad 57 panels, mounted in a custom frame/stand, energized and driven directly by a pair of on-board amplifiers. From Slagle:
For this round it was Push Pull triode wired EL34’s and while this isn’t technically a “direct drive” amp, I have not come up with a better term. The two interesting Key points are the panels are biamped through discrete step up transformers loading the EL-34’s and the crossover is in the amplifier circuit allowing the transformer direct connection to the panels.
Seats were in high demand, which was exciting to see. The sound? Don Cherry & Ed Blackwell El Corazón was flipping unbelievable. I think I heard folks comment that the highs were a little this or that, that the bass was a little this or that, but what I heard was loud, immersive, and dense — an aural feast, with real bass. Yeah, that was not what I expected.
The system (panels, stands, amps) can be done for $36k, inclusive.
If you’re into analog, you have to hunt down these gents at the next show. I have no idea what they’re going to be doing, or why, but you have to go. You have to. Just do it. You can thank me later. When you do, remember to look close. You must. What you’re seeing and hearing and breathing on is the beating heart of high-end audio.
I’m pretty sure that’s the point.