Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport Review Highlights

Best of 2014 Awards

The ERC-3 is not just another inexpensive CD player. This one not only sounds great in and of itself, it also delivers excellent digital out if you want to use the DAC in your processor (if you have one of the really high end SSP’s).

Who ever heard of a <$400 CD player that has balanced outputs? The ERC-3 does. Unique? Yes. Unusual for Emotiva? No.

Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport Review

Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport Highlights Summary

  • ERC-3 offers a serious, and well dampened chassis
  • Quality DACs matched with analog circuitry (balanced and unbalanced)
  • Top-class digital transport providing various digital outs to DAC of your choice
  • Versatile playback options – CDs, HDCDs, MP3 CDs and Hybrid SACDs

Introduction to the Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport Review

When I was first asked to do a review on reference CD player, my first response was simply “ok” as I thought to myself “this should be easy”. But as I began pondering the last time I personally owned a CD player, I realized, long gone are the days of the Pioneer 6-Disc magazine cartridge that “clunked” as they cycled through the favorite flavors of the month.


  • Design: Redbook CD Player
  • Codecs: Redbook CD, MP3
  • Connectivity: Stereo XLR Balanced Analog Audio Outputs: 1 set Stereo Unbalanced Analog Audio Outputs: 1 set Digital Audio Outputs: 1 Coax S/PDIF; 1 Toslink Optical S/PDIF; 1 AES/EBU
  • MFR: 10 Hz – 20 kHz ± 0.04 dB
  • THD+N:< 0.002% @ 1 kHz, < 0.015% (20 Hz – 20 kHz)
  • S/N Ratio: 94 dB
  • Output Level: Balanced Outputs: +12 dBV (4 V RMS; 11 V P-P)
  • Unbalanced Outputs: +6 dBV (2 V RMS; 5.5 V P-P)
  • Dimensions: 4” H x 17” W x 14” D
  • Weight: 21 Pounds
  • Emotiva
  • SECRETS Tags: Emotiva, Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player, Reference CD Player, CD Transport

I was initially introduced to the compact disc in 1985 when a friend adamantly told me how much clearer a CD was over cassettes or records (yes still in production at that time). Back then, we didn’t necessarily listen for the depth or detail of music, but how much distortion was evident in the reproduction. So when I first heard the CD play, l definitely noticed that it lacked noise, clicking, humming, scratching and off-timing of music that was associated with cassettes and LP’s. Most of us did not understand that we lost depth when we gained clarity.

Recently many music lovers have moved back towards vinyl recordings for various reasons… some for nostalgia, others because they want to experience the pure unadulterated analog sound, or in my case… both. There is something truly special about pulling an album out, smelling the sleeve, placing the album on a quality turntable… and ruminating on the sound the way it was meant to be heard. But, with the advent of digital media, and the milestones that have been made with DACs, FLAC, WAVs, streaming, and other sources of music, we have become very… ummm… how shall I say it… demanding and impatient.

Who would have ever thought that the Compact Disc player would be in the same classification as the record player or reel-to reel (i.e., “old technology”)? Most often when someone wants to listen to a CD, we usually play it on a Blu-ray player or in our HTPC and get a quality sound that we rarely question. Why should we question the sound when it’s being channeled through a quality set of DACs (digital to analog converter), but a reasonable question is ask is, what are we using as a reference? How do we know that the sound we are listening to is truly the sound we are supposed to be hearing? It’s kind of like that statement in the movie The Matrix, when Mouse asked the question, “How do we know this tastes like Cream of Wheat if we’ve never really tasted Cream of Wheat”? That’s a good question. This why Emotiva created the ERC-3 (Gen 2) Differential Reference CD Player.

Emotiva is an Internet based company using 20th century business practices that provide quality equipment at reasonable prices. They’ve made a lot of noise over the recent years by simply satisfying customers and allowing the customers the spread the word through various forums. With some, the name Emotiva emotes the term “value” rather than just the word “quality”. The ERC-3 Reference player is a strong effort by Emotiva to reprogram our thinking when looking for audiophile status equipment.


Design of the Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport

I initially thought they had mistakenly sent me an amplifier for review. This package was unexpectedly heavy and well packaged. The player was excellently double boxed (important to me), and well preserved with an additional cloth cover. I’m not for sure if the packaging was for practical purposes or not, but either way, the unboxing made feel like I was unwrapping something special.

I took a few moments to admire anodized aluminum facing and machined bezels with Allen head fasteners. The layout out has a very refreshing and simplistic approach that reminds us what its purpose is (playing CDs). Previous, Next, Stop, Go, Eject, and On/Off. That’s all! Any-additional controls (ie., Rev, Fwd, Dim, Repeat, etc.) will be found on the remote control.

Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport Review

The back is equally simplistic with (3) types of digital outputs including coaxial (s/pdif), optical (Toslink) and less common AES/EBU which is used in professional applications. And of course you have a choice of balanced or unbalanced analog outputs, the standard trigger and back power switch. Equipped with an Analog Devices AD1955 high-performance DAC with multiple isolated and filtered linear power supplies for analog and digital circuitry, Emotiva promises that connection to the analog outputs will provide unsurpassed superior sound. The supported formats include CD, HDCD, The CD layer of SACDs and MP3 files recorded on CD-R’s. The ERC-3 does NOT play: DVD-A discs, DVDs, or Blu-Ray discs. So if you’re looking for something to play surround content or non-hybrid SACD’s… you may need to look towards a universal disc player like an Oppo or Denon.


The Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport In Use

For testing, I connected the unbalanced outputs using ERC-3 using Monster Cable ULT I600-8 THX Ultra Cables to an Anthem MRX-500 in preamp mode. The power came from Anthem MCA20 and a MCA50 (for stereo and multi-channel listening) driving KEF R900 series speakers (R600 and R300 for multi-channel).

Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport Review

In the off mode, the lights are dormant with the exception of unique yellow glow surrounding the power button. When powered on, the yellow switches to a blue illumination along with all the buttons. The VFD status display illuminates brightly and is easy to read. The solid drive door opened without hesitation, and the feel was solid. A nice interior light (great for darkened atmosphere) illuminated my initial choice Duke Ellington In Grand Company. The sound was crisp, clear and robust. I almost got carried away with the sound and had to remind myself what I was doing. The supplied remote is much like the player: solid, heavy, simple, and navigation between tracks was nearly instantaneous.

I settled on a few songs to cross reference with my other sources, which is an Oppo -103 using unbalanced outs, and a HTPC using JRiver Media Center and asynchronous USB connection to Cambridge Audio DAC Magic and FLAC files. I recognize that this testing is in reverse order… The ERC-3 player is supposed to be the reference, but for years I’ve been moving all of my CD collection to FLAC files for simplicity purposes. Straining to listen to any nuances between the 3 sources, each of them proved excellent in delivering music as intended. The company advertises this as “digital transport” player for those who choose to use their own DACs. So for fun, I used the digital out (Toslink) connection to observe any difference between the internal DAC and my external sources.

Back and forth, I finally settled on using the internal DACs of the Emotiva for the duration of the testing period. As the days went by (nearly 3 months of testing and working through my CD collection), I found myself rather enjoying using the Emotiva ERC-3. In many ways in was like the good ol’ days (though CD’s don’t smell like vinyl), there was a pure enjoyment being intentional about the music I was about to play. I perused through old favorites like Jeff Beck, Eagles, Eric Clapton and Nils Lofgren, and each time I enjoyed the confidence the recordings were being played at the highest quality that my ears could possible distinguish.

Moving between CD’s made me appreciate the quick load times (much quicker than the Oppo Player) and ability of quickly arriving to the songs I wanted to play. Actually, when I wanted to play something fast… the ERC-3 was much quicker than waiting on the HTPC to load up.

There are a few minor things I’m compelled to mention (mostly cosmetic). The blue lights don’t match each other; the blue halo and the blue VFD are different shades of blue (yes, I’m nit picking), and the yellow standby light prevented the system from blending naturally with my other components. In most instances this would be irrelevant, but in my case, my system/rack in a plain view and is a part of my décor. Also, music doesn’t auto resume after standby. Not that it’s a big deal, but I found that to be a missing feature on more than one occasion. Other than some insignificant preferences, I found this player as a worthwhile investment for any music lover.


Conclusions about the Emotiva ERC-3 Differential Reference CD Player/Digital Transport

By the end of the testing period, it was clear which component was going to be used as “the reference”. Often when listening to streaming or ripped files, we question what we are hearing because we hear what seems to be the thinning of the reproduction, however I never doubted the sound I was hearing through the Emotiva ERC-3.

If you have a large CD collection, and still appreciate being intentional and methodical about your music, at $399 direct pricing, this is a steal. Offering world-class build quality (inside and out), sensible layout, and confidence your music is being handled with care… you will have no regrets buying the Emotiva ERC-3.