Pursuing the Ultimate Music Experiences

Audio Federation High-Fidelity Audio Blog

EMM Labs MTRX amplifiers – Day 15

EMM Labs MTRX amplifiers day 15 report.

I want to talk a little about our history with amplifiers.

Our first real amplifier were Levinson 20.6 100 watt/channel pure class A amplifiers. We got them about four years old, used [from Alvino at the old Sound Hounds. We still see Alvino at RMAF once in awhile. If you want to blame someone, blame him :-)], and they were so much better than the $4K Denon and the Adcom 555 (I think) before that. So much more authority and openness. The Levinsons warmed our living-room during the Winters and heated it to near intolerable levels during the summers for about 5 years.

Then we got the Edge NL10 amps. So much clearer, much more resolution, more life.

It was just a few years later when we got the Lamm ML2.1 single-ended tube amps here. Music. Sweet Music. This was not just great sound, but music.

Then there were the Audio Note UK Kegon 300B SET amps. This is when ‘drug-like’ sound started to infect me. When I started getting random flashbacks to when I was young and ‘hearing’ music for the first time. This was when my life opened up, and I chose to live a life that was accepting of any and all, but still all too rare, not-your-ordinary-everyday mind-altering ‘music experiences’.

And this lifestyle required tube amps.

Because solid-state amps sound D.E.A.D. Or at least, they used to.

All the vocals on solid-state sound as if the singer was a tired over-worked professional belting out the 34th take in a sterile, smoke-filled studio in some drab building in the big city. They ‘fake’ any emotional involvement in the song.

All my life, until tubes, this is how I thought music sounded. Listening to music like this, it was still enjoyable. It is not like there is a choice provided to most people. It is either solid-state sound, or no music at all.

Lawrence Welk – all the fake smiles and fake emotions. No emotion in any music. When learning guitar or in the [required Junior High School] glee club – when they said ‘Emote!’ I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. None of the music I had heard had any emotion in it. It was all reproduced with solid-state. And later bad digital. I thought professional musicians were not supposed to emote, it wasn’t professional.

A month or so ago, we had an 100% solid-state system here for a few weeks. No tubes. At all. And the above paragraph describes the truth that I re-realized about my, and probably many others, relationship to music and the lack of real human everyday emotion in most of it… if you listen to it on solid-state equipment.

Fred posted a comment a few weeks ago about how he did not care how the MTRX compared to other solid-state – how did it compare to the best tube amps?

Well, I’ve finally moved past a lot of the need, that I personally felt, to compare it to other solid-state amps. I’ve gone down the list of other amps and determined how and why they had not met my needs. They did not support my ‘musical mind-altering lifestyle’.

Essentially, solid-state amps have been unable to convey real, honest-to-goodness we hear it everyday, human emotion.

A few weeks ago our solid-state system was the EMM XDS1 CD player and EMM Labs PRE2 into the Edge M12 amps. All are on the musical side of neutral. But no emotion. D.E.A.D.

But yesterday we put in the EMM Labs PRE2 in to replace the [tube-based] Audio Note M9 Phono preamplifier. We are 100% solid-state, again.

But there is still emotion! It is different. A little bit different. There is not that tube-driven dynamic swell of exuberance for each note like tubes provide [what is more ‘real’?]. But there is sufficient resolution and control of the dynamic swings in a voice that there is actually some emotion communicated from the musician to the listener here.

We have been enjoying a very rich Heart and Mind sound here, with the AN M9Phono in the system. It is hard to weigh and tell you the ratio of Heart to Mind that that system has, as my mind is still very, very fascinated by what the MTRX are doing. So much clarity and so much more dynamics and accuracy and so like real music.

All I can say is that there IS some heart to these amps, unlike any solid-state amp I have heard.


Or, I think, they are able to let through the subtle details of the music, the details that convey emotion from one human to another. Subtleties of breath inhalation and exhalation, subtleties of harmonic structure changes in a voice, the slight off-the-beat notes that indicate suspense or excitement, depending on if they occur right before or right after the beat used by the rest of the music. Solid-state amps haven’t been able to do any of this stuff [yeah, I know, some very famous reviewers do not care. To them music must be fine without the ‘subtleties of emotion’. But that doesn’t mean that we have to think it is fine, too.].

These subtle details are required for my personal music-holic lifestyle. Not sure I can ‘travel to strange new worlds’ in my listening chair without them.

“Engage warp drive, Sulu”… I mean ‘MTRX drive’.

Body-caressing Sound

Body-caressing Sound – when the richness of the music, and perhaps slight changes in ambient pressure caused by the music, evoke an actual physical experience with the music.

This the second part in a 3-part series on Ear-caressing Sound, Body-caressing Sound and Soul-caressing Sound.

As expected, after reading the first post, Neli wasn’t too sure I hadn’t gone over to join the loonies and crazies that seem to be reproducing like mad on the Internet these days.

But no. Rare as it is, Ear-caressing Sound exists. And so does Body-caressing Sound.

In fact, I’ve experienced Body-caressing Sound many times, though I did not have a name for it. I had not labeled it, had not identified it as a separate identifiable experience, which pretty much meant that I ignored it for the longest time.

I experienced it again recently, and I’ll describe the circumstances. Hopefully they will be familiar to you, as well, and you will realize that you too have experienced this.

The situation was downstairs here, listening to the smaller Audio Note system. It was loud, loud enough to be at least, to some medium degree, pressurizing the room [the doors were closed, but the stairway to the 2nd floor cannot be closed off. So room pressurizing is always gong to be a little weak in this room, but better than upstairs, which is open to the dining room].

I forget the exact music, but it was something rich and tuneful; a swelling and long beautifully drawn out note, like that made by a tuneful saxophone.

Maybe it was the actual room pressure changes, or maybe the wonderful emotional and harmonic richness of the note. It felt like I was being hugged in a warm, lightly affectionate, playful, loving embrace. In this instance it was from the back and encompassed most of the right side of my rib cage and about half of the left side. [like the previous post, one could make the analogy that this is like it must feel to be hugged by a loving parent when one is very small].

It is a highly pleasant experience, and to be desired [by me, anyway :-)]. It is a wonderfully human and pseudo-physical way to interact with the music. When it starts happening it works best if you open up to it and treat it like it was the anthropomorphized melody itself hugging you; it’s spirit, or perhaps it is the soul of Music itself.

It, logically, seems like this would be most likely to occur with small Jazz, with a rich sounding instrument, in a room that the sound can pressurize a bit. But I am sure I have experienced it with Rock and Roll, in open-spaces, and other kinds of perhaps non-optimal circumstances.

So, next time something weird like this happens to you, think about this post and relax. Enjoy. It may not be so weird after all. In fact, it is awesome. And probably one of the reasons why music has been with us for millennia.

EMM Labs MTRX amplifiers and Acapella Atlas speakers

EMM Labs MTRX amplifiers – Day 10

The EMM Labs MTRX amplifiers have been on a solid 10 days. With the heavy snow we have been getting, not sure how much longer the power will stay up; so we’re keeping the Audio Note M9 Phono preamplifier in the system, also on for 10 days [i.e. we are waiting for a ‘power event’ to take the opportunity to change out the M9 for the Emm Labs PRE2 preamp [also on for 10 days, just not in this system] so we can hear a 100% (except cables and speakers) Emm Labs system.]

acapella atlas speakers and emm labs mtrx amps


I have been listening to Radiohead ‘In Rainbows’ every day, comparing and contrasting and trying to detect how the amps are breaking in and warming up. We’ve probably heard this CD 50 times in the last couple of years, and a test track off this album several hundred times. We’ve heard it on a couple dozen systems, some much, much more expensive than this.

It is just sounding way different than it ever has before. And I’ve been wracking my poor brain trying to figure out how to describe it. I mean, it is *really* different.

The closest I can come to how different it is is to compare it to a system that we had here for not nearly long enough [another system I had a hard time describing]. This other system had the big Audio Note digital (CDT5, DAC5 Fifth Element and Fifth Force  [$200K or thereabouts. BTW, AN has announced they have a way to bring a lot of this kind of DAC quality to their less expensive models]); Audio Note Gaku-On 45 watt 211 amps; the harmonically complete Audio Note M9 Phono pre; Marten Coltrane Supreme I speakers ; and all Nordost Odin cables.

Between the ultra-high-res of the speakers, the true-to-life harmonics and ruthless speaker control of the amps, and the analog-like dynamics and separation of the digital front end – with Odin power cords giving them all the power they needed – it was very dynamic, very high-res and very tuneful. It was a significant step beyond what we, any of us here, had heard before. [and we have heard a lot of great sounding systems before]



At night. The EMM Labs MTRX amps [there is an awesome gentle blue glow underneath the amps, which the camera, and the 30 second time-elapsed exposure I used, has exaggerated here], Audio Note M9 phono pre, Acapella Atlas speakers and EMM Labs XDS1 player

So fast forward to today.

We have the delightfully musical Acapella Atlas speakers; the pure harmonics and ruthless speaker control *and ultra-high-resolution* of the emmLabs MTRX amps; again the harmonically complete Audio Note M9 Phono pre; and the separation and tunefulness of the Emm Labs XDS1 CD / SACD player.

In both systems, we have significant harmonics, significant high-resolution, and significant control, by the amp, of the speaker. Very different sounds and presentations – but similar in that both really excel in ALL the key aspects of music reproduction in ways other systems fail to do.

The amps have turned our nicely musical Acapella Atlas speakers into high resolution, highly accurate speakers. This is just so weird. When the amps want the speaker to produce a sound, they do not take no for an answer. They drive the speakers to the ragged edge. [the relatively inexpensive Sony SSAR1 that these amps were on at RMAF and CES could be heard stumbling trying to perform what was asked of them, and failing. Not so the Atlas.]

Traditionally, speakers are lazy and amps try to make them do things but the speakers are somewhat reluctant. All the time. [The speakers drive characteristics change on a moment to moment basis depending on what the music is playing that instant]. One of the things we LOVE about the Audio Note amps, especially the larger ones, is that they can control the speaker and make it do what it is supposed to do. This means that notes start, rise, peak and end properly, which means that the dynamics are more true to life – otherwise everything sounds ‘washed out’. For most amps, the ‘washed out’ sound emphasizes easy things, like small percussion-like transients, because that they are able to reproduce – they are just unable to produce the midi-dynamics correctly, stuff like piano notes and guitar notes. You can hear that there was the beginning to a note, but after that, the amps are just taking a wild swing at what the note is supposed to do and moving on to the next note. So you hear a lot of dinka-dinka-dink which are the starts of the notes and then a lot of more-or-less muddy sound that you mentally have to map to the instrument that ‘must have’ made that note.

But the MTRX control the speakers… I am not sure ‘better’ than the Gaku-On amps is the right words, because they are so different [We’ll try our best to describe just how they are different in a future post], but…

It is like the first time you walked into a stereo store and heard a real stereo [this is what I keep unwittingly flashing back to]. There is just so much more information, and the information layering is clearer, and even the length of time various notes are audible is different [because they are not getting overwhelmed by other notes happening at the same time and are able to live out their normal, natural lives].

In our minds we are often trying to compare what we hear to what we heard with Edge solid-state amplifiers. For over 10 years or so we lived with several of them here. We also had a pair of Edge amps in this system immediately before we changed them out for the MTRX [An upgraded pair of Edge M12 monoblock amplifiers, a wonderful amp that performs way above its price class]. The (now defunct) Edge amps were to our ears the best solid state amplifiers made. Other solid-state amps we like are some of the Ayre, Goldmund, and MBL amps. We like amps to have resolution and have some micro-dynamics, midi-dynamics too would be nice. We don’t like most solid-state amps … at all. The bright-sounding amps, the muddy trying-to-never-sound-bright amps, the OK but essentially boring why-bother amps, the bombastic grainy amps, the just plain bad-sounding amps and all the amps that are worse than that. Nope. We don’t. Like. Most. Solid-state amps. At. All.


But we do tolerate a few solid-state amps. In particular, the Edge NL Reference at 800 watts per channel; $125K at the time. The smaller penultimate Edge amps were very high res, but a little laid back dynamically. The big NL Reference (pyramids) kind of balanced this out some, for better or worse. They also took at least 3 days to warm up :-), during which time their sound changed dramatically, which is some of the reason we expected the MTRX to take time to warm up. The NL Refs essentially did everything one would want from a big amp, and did it very well, but were spectacular at none of it [their best feature might be that they did have an enormous ease to them and never sounded grainy or edgy].

The MTRX is like the Superman to the Edge NL Reference Clark Kent – it does everything one would want from a big amp, but it does it spectacularly.

It is kind of embarrassing.  Who is going to believe it? Absolutely spectacular Dynamics.Absolutely spectacular Resolution, The famous Emm Labs purity to the Harmonics. And it makes it seem so blasted Easy. The 4 basic food groups for amplification, right?

*I* think this is bigger than the EMM Labs CDSA [Remember? Their $10K player that easily beat all other solid-state players at the time, up to and including the big Burmester/Esoteric/dCS $60K players?].

Like the XDS1, the MTRX background is startlingly quiet. The music is very, very clear sounding. You can hear way, way, WAY into the music [I find myself thinking ‘you jokers!’ to Radiohead because of all the shenanigans they play with weird noises in the very deep subtle backgrounds of the main melodies].

The primary change I hear after 10 days of warm up is that the characteristic Emm Labs ‘tonal purity’ has been enhanced. You could definitely hear it 10 days ago – but now it calls attention to itself. Just like when you hear an instrument in real life. The tone man. The Tone!

Moving forward, I am going to have to start listening to a different CD. I keep getting distracted by my enjoyment of the music and forgetting I am supposed to be figuring out how these amps sound different than other amps. Maybe we’ll put on one of Neli’s CDs that are really, really, really.. you know…  boring(?) next :-) [No, of course I won’t say which ones. What? Do you think I’m nuts??? ;-)]

The Emm Labs MTRX amplifiers are $130K. The two-box Audio Note M9 Phono full function preamplifier is $145K or thereabouts [our several year-old demo model is available at a very nice price. North America only. Sorry.] And … our demo Acapella Atlas speakers are also available. We would love to move the Atlas to a new home before CES. Email us or call Neli for details 303-546-6503].

Oh, and the Edge M12 monoblock amplifiers; a wonderful amp that performs way above its price class, on consignment also at a very reasonable price].

emm labs mtrx amps and acapella atlas speakers

Sunshine! Yay! [about 69% of our days are sunny here. Pretty near the top of the sunniest cities in the U.S (Wow, Yuma!). We get glum and gloomy when there isn’t any sun out :-( ].