Bladelius Embla: All-in-one wonder
|The Bladelius Embla has clean lines and an uncluttered front panel.|
The Bladelius Embla is marketed as a 'completely silent playback system' much like the Bryston BDP-1, but the difference is that this is a one-box solution that features a built-in DAC and ADC (Analogue-Digital Converter), a normal CD player, a bit-perfect ripper, USB inputs and a preamp as well.
|The touch screen of the Embla looks very cool.|
|The buttons on the remote control are too tiny.|
The Embla has so many functions that I took quite some time to check them out.
The differences between the Embla Basic and the Embla Full Version are that the latter has a touch screen, a second DAC card which has two more filters, analogue inputs and an ADC feature.
Playing a CD
|The CD slot is rather narrow, so you have|
to push the CD in gently and carefully.
Playing from internal flash memory
Streaming from a laptop
I used J River as the music player and the sampling frequency shown on the touch screen was 48KHz. Bladelius has confirmed that 48KHz is the standard sampling rate for this particular USB input.
The sound quality was okay, but since it could not stream at higher sampling rates, I decided to try the other USB input.
Using a thumb drive or external hard disk
The second USB input is located just below the power cord connection. First I plugged in a USB-powered 500GB Western Digital external hard disk. Nothing happened, so I telephoned Eugene Ngoh who told me that I had to use an external hard disk with its own power supply.
Then I plugged in a 4GB thumb drive. Again nothing happened, so I telephoned Eugene again and he told me that the thumb drive had to be in FAT32 format. I googled around and found out that some thumb drives are in the exFAT or the so-called FAT64 format which is not currently compatible with all USB inputs.
I looked around my drawer and found an old Kingston 2GB thumb drive which had some hi-res music files stored in it. I plugged it into the Embla - and it worked.
To stream music this way, you have to turn on the ‘external buffer’ otherwise the sound quality will be adversely affected. With the buffer on, the sound becomes ‘relaxed’, very detailed, smooth and spacious.
|The Buffalo 1TB external hard disk which|
was plugged into the Embla's USB input.
I spent most of the time listening to the Embla in this mode.
Later, I hooked up a Buffalo 1TB external hard disk with its own power supply and just played all the hi-res files in it - from Linn 24/88.2 Studio Master FLAC files to HDTT 24/192 classical music WAV files.
I had three Reference Recordings HRx 176.4 files and these caused some loud hissing sound and I tried to figure out what was wrong. I deleted those files and downloaded the same titles again from the Internet and again the hissing sound was there.
So I telephoned Koo, Eugene’s business partner, who handed to me an original Reference Recordings’ HRx data disk (Thinking About Bix by Dick Hyman) containing WAV files.
I slipped it into the CD compartment and the 176.4 HRx WAV files played without any hissing sound. Then I copied the files into the laptop and transferred them to the external hard disk and the HRx WAV files were streamed to the USB input and they played without any hissing sound.
So the hissing sound from the downloaded-from-Internet HRx tracks was probably caused by corrupted files.
The Embla plays PCM, WAV, HRx, FLAC, MP3 and OGG with tag information and files are supported up to 32bit 192 kHz via this particular USB input.
Using the filters
The Embla has two separate balanced DAC configurations (2 DACs/channel) to provide two different sonic signatures.
It also has three filters - Filter A has its DAC (Burr-Brown) and filter based on the reference CD player Bladelius Gondul while Filter B uses a different DAC (Wolfson) and Filter C is tuned for an analogue sound (the filter is set to minimum phase type without pre ringing). Resampling is automatically chosen when set at Filter C.
There is also a feature which sets resampling at 44.1, 48, 96 and 192KHz. Resampling can also be turned off.
When using Filter A, the sound - which supposedly has pre-ringing artifacts - is the most exciting and dynamic of the three filters. The dynamics of the leading edges of music were retained and to my ears, this was the best-sounding mode, especially when playing rock songs.
With Filter B, the sound was a bit purer but the leading edges were rounded off and overall the sound lacked some sizzle.
|The Filter and Resampling modes.|
To get the iPad app going, you need to connect a wi-fi router to the ethernet input. If the wi-fi router is connected to the Internet, then album art will be shown on the touch screen and the iPad.
If a CD is ripped while the Embla is connected to the Internet, album art will be stored in the internal memory along with the music files.
|Album art is shown on both the|
Embla's touch screen and the iPad.
Availability of album art depends on the album played - not all album covers will be displayed.
When using the iPad (or even the remote control), it is best not to flood the Embla with too many commands too quickly as the player can get confused.
Since the remote control has such tiny buttons, I found the iPad app to be very useful and after a while I felt a bit lost without it. However, there were some functions that could be controlled only by the remote control or touch screen.
Using the ADC
Since the turntable was hooked up to the Embla, I decided to test the ADC function. The sampling frequency can be set to 96 or 192 and I found the 192 setting to sound better.
With digital out, it is possible to connect the Embla to a recorder so that vinyl can be ripped and stored as digital files.
However, I felt that digitising vinyl playback removed some of the spatial information from the music. Somehow, listening to vinyl through the ADC even with 192KHz sampling was not the same as listening to vinyl directly. Something went missing in the digitising process and I think it affects soundstaging and spaciousness. There seemed to be less space around and between the instruments and singers after digitising.
It is also supposed to be able to play songs via Bluetooth, but I tried to play some MP3 songs from my Nokia handphone without success as the handphone could not locate any Bluetooth device. Apparently the Bluetooth function will only be available with a software update some time in the future.
Michael Bladelius, the owner and designer of the company, has come up with an all-in-one high-end component that performs very well. To me the only thing missing is a headphone jack.
As a CD player, it sounds very smooth, detailed and rich, but when a thumb drive or hard disk with hi-res files is plugged into the USB input, its performance is elevated to another level and it would not be a misfit among the Weiss, Berkeley and dCS.