Electrocampaniet ECD-1 - Modded by Empirical Audio
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PhilS

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I recently purchased a used Electrocompaniet ECD-1 DAC and had it modded by Empirical Audio. I've been listening to it for about three weeks, and now that it is full broken in, I thought I would post a couple of impressions and thoughts, both about the ECD-1 and the mods by Empircial Audio (Steve Nugent).

The ECD-1 is really a wonderful DAC in stock form. It does not get nearly the same attention on this site and others as the Benchmark and Bel Canto DAC's, probably because there are not as many around, but it is really a DAC to consider if you are in the market for a good DAC to match with your CDP or transport. Although I have not listened to the Benchmark, I compared the ECD-1 to the Bel Canto DAC 2 (which I really enjoyed and found to be a very nice DAC), and I preferred the ECD-1, even in stock form, to the Bel Canto. While the Bel Canto had a little more oomph in the lower frequencies, the ECD-1's midrange is really something to behold. Voices and other instruments in the middle of the spectrum sound so smooth and pleasing to the ear, yet without a hint of harshness. The stock ECD-1 also excelled at the high end. Cymbals sounded more realistic, and there was more HF detail in every recording. Every once in a while a ECD-1 shows up on Audiogon for about $1100 to $1300, and at that price, I think the ECD-1 is an excellent value, and maybe even a steal.

Now to the mods by Empircial Audio. I actually had the full turbo mod package done by Steve Nugent, which includes the Superclock 3 turbo mod. It took about three weeks for the mods to get done. I was somewhat worried that the mods would not make much difference and would not be a good value for the price ($1650), or that the beautiful midrange of the ECD-1 would be lost in the process. I was wrong on both counts, as the mods transformed a really good sounding DAC into a DAC that produces a magnificent sound.

In fact, the differences and improvements were so noticeable, I actually found myself making a list of the areas where I found improvements. I don't normally listen to music this way, but I couldn't help myself. Some of the areas of imrovement are as follows: 1. The bass produced by the modded ECD-1 was signifciantly improved from the stock unit. 2. Every piano note sounds much more realistic, and has more of a percussion effect, just like a piano sounds when you are standing next to it. 3. Backgound noise was lowered quite a bit when compared to the stock version. This is something I wasn't really looking for, and I didn't hear any noise in the stock unit, but I notice the absence of it quite clearly after the mods. 4. Notes decay longer if that is the right word to use. A prominent note will recede into the distance gradually, instead of falling off a cliff. This makes every recording sound more musical. 5. HF response was defintiely improved, to the point where I heard things I hadn't heard before in recordings I have listened to probably 50 to 100 times. 6. The focus was improved also. It was easier to tell voices apart in duets and harmonies, and instruments could be more easily separated and identified (and remember, this is compared to a pretty good DAC in its own right -- one that I preferred to the Meridian 588). 7. Vocals are much more realistic, and I have even found that it is much easier to understand the lyrics in many songs that were somewhat difficult to understand before. 8. The modded ECD-1 is a more dynamic DAC, notwithstanding that the stock unit was no slouch. The modded unit gives punch to songs and recordings that just didn't have it before, at least to the same degree. At the same time, the mods did not deprive the ECD-1 of any of its glorious midrange. And there is not a trace of digital harshness anywhere. 9. I have also found that the modded ECD-1 sounds wonderful with every kind of music, although I have not listed to classical. But rock sounds great, with no glare or harshness that is often experienced in digital rock recordings, jazz sounds punchy and dynamic and your toes start tapping, and vocals, especially female vocals, just make you sigh when you hear them through the modded ECD-1.

In summary, it's hard to believe that a source could sound better than the ECD-1. From time to time, I see a fairly high end source on audiogon, and while in the past I might have been tempted to purchase a high end CDP, I have lost all desire for that with the modded ECD-1.

I would also add that modded equipment, IMO, offers an excellent value, as others on this site have noted, if you have the right people doing the work. I had a lot of confidence in Steve Nugent's work based on what I had read on the Audio Asylum and elsewhere, but based on what he did to the ECD-1, he would be on the top of my list for any other mod I was considering. As others have found, he also keeps you informed every step of the way, and seems to take pride in making your unit the best it can be. He even added a few new touches or tweaks to my unit that he had discovered since he first came up with the mod for the ECD-1. That's what a craftsman does who treats his work not as a job, but as an art. And what he did to the ECD-1 was indeed art.

So if you're in the market for a high end source, keep an eye out for an ECD-1 (as again even the stock unit is really good), and don't discount the benefits that a really good mod like those provided by Empirical Audio can provide.
 
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Jon L

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You should also post this review at Audiocircle, where Steve's forum is.

Do you have a speaker setup?

Congratulations on your new DAC. Having heard Steve's turbomod P3A many times, I have no doubt you'll get great enjoyment out of your DAC for years to come.
 
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PhilS

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jon L
You should also post this review at Audiocircle, where Steve's forum is.

Do you have a speaker setup?

Congratulations on your new DAC. Having heard Steve's turbomod P3A many times, I have no doubt you'll get great enjoyment out of your DAC for years to come.



I don't have a speaker set up for this equipment combo.

I will try to post at Audio Circle also.
 
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Wmcmanus

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Nice post PhilS. You've done a great job at explaining where the improvements are most noticable and this should help anyone who is considering Empirical Audio's services.

I agree with JonL that you should do everything you can to spread the word. Guys like Steve Nugent do such great work, and yet they still don't get all of the respect that they deserve because the number of people they can deal with is limited. So even if every single customer is thrilled to death with their modded units, there will always be naysayers who are not convinced in terms of the value added.
 
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