What if I told you the best linestage I have ever heard in my system wasn’t the $28,000 tube preamp I loved for so long or the incredible $38,000 transistor unit that I recently had in the house” If you have to have an active linestage, these two units are the best I have heard. If you can get by with a passive unit that is so plain looking that it’s almost invisible, then I can tell you the best linestage I have ever had in the house is the silver version of Emia Remote Autoformer. Truth is it’s not even close in my system.
Jeffrey Jackson and Dave Slagle created EMIA to fulfill the need for affordable high-end audio components using clever design and quality parts. On the Emia website it says, “Emia represents a way of thinking or a concept if you will, rather than a specific product. Our unique way of thinking blends the knowledge and experience of Jackson of Experience Music and Slagle of Intact Audio with the goal of integrating the subjective and the objective to further both the art and science of musical reproduction. While so many people today are simply trying to copy and bring a vintage technology to market, we strive to understand the underlying concepts and apply them to contemporary sound reproduction through the introduction of new designs.”
Jeffrey and Dave have chosen to use unassuming chassis design that puts the bling on the inside as Dave Slagle is fond of saying. Everything they make is hand-made in their workshops. Emia is not even close to being a mainstream high-end audio company. You have to place an order and most often wait for the product, but I promise you it is worth the wait.
According to David, Emia’s goal in circuit design is to think outside the box and look at everything from vintage Western Electric parts to modern circuit boards. One of their primary design principles is their belief in using the best part for the job, and that they say, they couldn’t care less if that part is vintage, modern, inexpensive or expensive.
The Remote Autoformer provides control from +7dB to -53dB in 1 dB steps. You also get something I will no longer live without, the ability to balance the system between the left and right channels in 1 dB increments. It has three inputs and two outputs.
In a conversation with me, David jokingly said resistive attenuators were “so last century.” He feels that real systems use inductive volume controls and points out that they were good enough for Western Electric, and they are still the best. He maintains that he uses an inductive volume control that measures really well, is easy to install, and provides sufficiently fine volume steps. He said, “It makes much more technical sense to use an auto transformer for this application. Since there’s no need to isolate the primary and secondary windings, and both windings may be grounded, it is perfectly fine to combine the primary and secondary into a single winding. That’s exactly what McIntosh has been doing for decades with their output transformer based solid-state amplifiers.”
When I asked him how the Emia units are different from other autoformers he has made before, he answered, “All of the autoformers I make have essentially the same character. The only thing that differs between them is the attenuation taper and switching methodology. This unit uses higher quality relays and a processor to accomplish a switching arrangement that provides -54dB to 0dB in 1dB steps. Beyond 0dB the unit seamless transitions to up to an additional +7dB of gain also in 1dB steps. The unit also allows remote input selection between the three inputs. Balance control is also done by remote in 1dB increments by automatically bumping one channel up or down by one step at a time, so no additional circuit is required.”
He then added, “To me, the two biggest features of this unit is the ability for remote balance control and the transition to gain only when needed. Other units allow a single 6dB switch that changes the entire character of the sound.” Speaking for myself, I find balance control a necessary function in order to get the ultimate enjoyment out of my system. So, I agree that the ability to fine tune the balance is really nice.
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