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Audio file player
Bladelius Embla

Price: 29 999 zł

Distribution: Arspo Audio

ul. Piotrkowska 82 (w podwórku), Łódź

tel.: 42 630-00-82
tel. kom.: 601 301 303



Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Brand Bladelius owned by Bladelius Design Group, is a Swedish company, where Mike Bladelius is the moving force, an incredibly interesting person. Let us just remind, that he was the head of construction at Treshold between 1990 and 1994, then in 1994-1995 a consultant of the engineering team of Classé Audio. Later he was employed many times, to aid with projects at Primare. Bladelius Design Group, which owns Bladelius but also Advantage, and earlier also S.A.T., was founded in the Swedish town Alingsås in 1994. The devices I tested, that came from this company, had a few common characteristics, which – I presume – are a reflection of the personality and tastes of the designer himself. The first one is directly visible - it is the clean, raw form of the exterior design. The enclosures, silver colored, made from anodized aluminum, with the bare minimum of buttons and knobs, are immediately associated with Scandinavian style. But inside those, I found surprisingly modern solutions. Because Mike does not abstain from surface mount, displays, microcontrollers, etc. And with the raw exterior and modern insides, we get an incredibly saturated, warm and natural sound.

Given all this “preparation” I was surprised, when a file player was introduced by the company. Because this is still not something easy to do, it is still “terra incognita” for many people, and thus difficult to manage. Especially when Mike decided to go the extremes, and went for flash memory instead of hard disks. Embla is available in many configurations, with storage capacities ranging from 64GB to 2TB. Because the low capacities are really not enough, we should think about versions with 1TB and more. Different to the players from Blacknote (DSS30 Tube HERE) and Linn (Majik DS HERE , Klimax DS in this issue of “High Fidelity”), Bladelius has an integrated DVD-ROM, which can be used mainly for ripping the CDs to the internal memory. There is special software, designed especially for that task, that controls reading errors and jitter. The amount of detected and corrected (or not) errors is displayed on a big touch screen. The read errors are the result of the quality of the disc itself and the reader – the better the disc is pressed, the amount of errors is lower. So I watched the counters with curiosity, while ripping discs. XRCD had low number of errors, for example the XRCD24 from the new Audio Wave edition started to show errors after 31% of the disc has been ripped, and there was about 25000 in total. I was surprised, that the Japanese version of the disc Strollin’ Chet Baker had over 60 000 errors. But only the European mini-LP re-masters of Peter Gabriel turned out to be tragic – almost 90000 errors. On the other hand, the anniversary edition of the Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd on hybrid SACD had no errors at all… Like I say, this is not only the problem of discs, but also of the drive, and no DVD transport will not be as good as a dedicated CD drive. But a DVD-ROM with adequate software allows to use a trick – the disc can be read a few times over, and the results for each sector of the disc can be averaged minimizing the amount of errors. And Embla does it automatically.

But this is only the beginning of the adventure of discovering the player. I mentioned the touch screen – this is really a super idea, taken – I believe – from the NaimHDX player. It displays large navigational buttons, information about the performer and the disc, the cover art, and allows also to navigate the discs. Except for the internal memory, the player can work with external ones, like pendrives, HDD – via the USB port. We have also AES/EBU XLR digital input, as well as S/PDIF on RCA and TOSLINK. There is even a Bluetooth link. It is a pity, that with this functionality the LAN can only be accessed by cable – Chord converters/players have wireless cards integrated inside. But this is a minor problem – the network access allows to use the databases with covers, titles, etc. And even if we do not use internet, then the player uses a built-in library, which is really impressive – I had only a few cases, when I needed to enter descriptions manually, what is actually quite easy. But the covers are only available, when an Internet connection is made.

But this is only the beginning of the adventure, like I said. Because the Embla is a file player, a DAC and fully fledged analog preamplifier in one box. We have three line inputs – one XLR and two RCA – and two preamplifier outputs – one XLR and two RCA. When we use our own preamplifier, we can set a fixed output voltage. Let me just add, that volume control happens in the analog, and not the digital domain (like in the players and DACs from Wadia, dCS, Accuphase or Ayon Audio). Embla is a truly complicated device.

To see it with the eyes of the manufacturer, I suggest to read the company materials, as presented by Mike Bladelius:

“The Embla offers a silent playback system without any moving mechanical parts when playing from the built-in flash memory. The Embla is not a redesigned computer system; it is built from the ground up as a high performance audio playback system. It is designed as a true audiophile unit from the ground up and not a modified computer that can copy discs. Unlike computer based playback products the Embla is based on our proprietary audio DSP design, allowing complete control over the timing and reading of the discs. The Embla is designed as a true audiophile unit from the ground up and it's not a modified computer that can copy discs. Not only is the Embla a playback system but it also includes an analog preamplifier, a world class DA-converter based on our reference CD-player, the Gondul M. The DA-converter also carries a switchable digital filter with analog behavior. Insert a CD and you have the option to play directly from the disc like a standard CD-player or you can store the disc on the internal flash memory. You're not even limited to just internal storage. External units can directly connect via USB to the Embla, as well as you may access files on a network drive or music streaming from a PC. The Embla comes preloaded with a database with album and track names and will display album art if connected to the internet via its Ethernet port. Embla makes bit perfect copies of CD's to memory using our advanced proprietary data reading error analysis algorithms enabled by a high performance Teac drive. The bit perfect copies will be stored in strict wav pcm format. The internal memory for music storage is flash based, which gives you a completely noiseless system. The internal flash memory is upgradeable to larger size. Available from 64 GB to 2 TB. Embla has an USB port for USB memory sticks or external harddrives, which can be used for external storage of music. Embla has a second USB port for streaming music from a computer. Embla has also an Ethernet adapter for connection to your local network. This allows you to play music from media servers such as a computer or a NAS . If your local network is connected to the internet, Embla will retrieve album art and update its database with the most recent data. We can Play back PCM, WAV, HRx, FLAC, MP3, OGG with tag information. Audio Data files are supported up to 32bit, 192 kHz. We have also a built in analog preamplifier with analog volume control in 0.5db steps. There is also the ability to choose from two separate balanced DAC configurations (2 DACs/channel); ability to select a special filter with analogue behavior; ability to select up to 192kHz sampling rate”

To date we tested the following devices from Bladelius:


  • Ame Domnérus & Gustaf Sjökvist, Antiphone Blues, Proprius/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 026, K2HD; review HERE.
  • Chet Baker, Strollin’, Enja/Ward Records, TKCW-32191, CD.
  • e.s.t., Viaticum. Live in Berlin, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 6001-2, 2 x CD; review HERE.
  • Frank Sinatra, My Way, Reprise/Universal Music japan/Sinatra Society of Japan, UICY-94368, SHM-CD.
  • King Crimson, the construKction of light, Virgin, KCCDX2, CD.
  • King Crimson, In The Court of The Crimson King, Virgin/Virgin Entertainment, IECP-30001, HDCD.
  • Peter Gabriel, Us, Virgin, PGCDX7, CD.
  • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of The Moon, 30th Anniversary Edition, EMI, 5821362, SACD/CD.
  • The Beatles, 09.09.09 Sampler, Apple/EMI Music, 84414 2 5, 2 x CD; review HERE.
  • Tina Brooks, True Blue, Blue Note/Wave Audio, AWMXR-0004, XRCD24; artykuł HERE.
  • Yello, Yello Touch, Universal Music Group, CD.

This digital player from Bladelius is the most “analog” sounding player, I hosted lately. I am not saying it is the best one, because it has its problems, but most “analog”. Just to give you an example, closest to the Embla, in terms of sound and quality, was the Avid Acutus . Yes, this is really a classy, incredibly saturated sound, which will, with discs like Strollin’ Chet Baker, or Viaticum e.s.t., with their organic, almost contemplative sound, enchant us with the ability to fill out the lower registers and to show an organic, strong midrange. Mike Bladelius gives his products a certain character, which, I think, is the reflection of his personality. In short, it is about reproducing the “human” side of music and equipment, about depriving the midrange, the part of the sound spectrum we are genetically most sensitive to, from any trace of a digital signature, or even anything, that could be attributed to a mechanical reproduction. The fight for the best sounding midrange, and building the whole sound around it is of course not an idea of Bladelius, let me just call the examples of Harbeth and Spendor, which had the same thoughts much earlier. This is one of the possible approaches to sound, and a very enjoyable one. And in addition many sound engineers, the most important ones, share this approach. I will just quote Wilma Cozart Fine, responsible for the pearls in the Mercury Living Presence series, under Mercury Records label, who claims, that midrange is the critical subrange, and it is most difficult to reproduce (ref. H. Pearson, Wilma Cozart Fine: The Muse of Mercury, „The Absolute Sound”, January 2010, Issue199, p. 38-42). There is no doubt, that Bladelius has this sentence written with golden letters, hanging above his desk…

Such an emphasis on one of the elements of sound implies – this is only a “product” – a modification of other elements, but about that later, because I think, that if I start from showing, in which areas other devices are better, it would put the way we should approach the Embla upside down. Because I started the test not from the listening session, but from handling it. Technophobia is a common issue, and it does not show, that somebody is dumb, but a certain approach to technology as w whole, or rather the approach to the supremacy of technology in daily life. It is interesting, that most audiophiles are, to some extent, technophobic. And although a music lover, striving to hear the full glory of the music, the best possible performance, the best possible sound – I am talking about an audiophile here – seems to be acquainted with consumer electronics, but in reality he is only its passive user. The volume knob, some buttons, wire sockets – this is the top of what he wants to take care of, and what interests him. Well, we live in a free country. But the conservatism of the environment, the attachment to known solutions is surprising. I am not even thinking about the positive attitude towards tubes and turntables, because this is related to their sonic qualities, but about a general adherence to simplicity. Also in terms of handling. This is why file players are often associated with computers, and a computer is in the hi-end world regarded as persona non grata, evil impersonated, the devil himself. This is based in the bad experience from the past, but also – in my opinion – in a certain complication of how we have to handle such sound source.

And on this background the Bladelius player stands out. Similar to the Naim HRX player the Embla is equipped with a big touch screen, which makes handling of the unit a breeze. After prolonged contact with such an user interface I would like to see all CD players to be equipped with something like that! Such a player is the Boulder 1021, where the track list, cover are downloaded from the Internet at the moment, we place the disc in the tray. In case of file players, this is even simpler, because those can be equipped with a pre-loaded database – Embla has it – and allow for a network connection. This allows all necessary information to be gathered while the disc is being ripped. During most time, the Swedish player was connected to the Internet, and only a few times it was not able to collect information about a disc (eg. My Way Frank Sinatr, recently issued by Sinatra Society of Japan), and once wrong information was assigned (I ripped In The Court Of The Crimson King King Crimson, in the mini-LP version, and displayed were the tracks from Lizard of the same group). But most discs were labeled correctly, and only the lack of disc covers made me connect to the Net.

So, an “A” from ergonomics! This is important, because the switch from a CD player to the Bladelius file player is nice and easy. But the sound is equally important. Mike Bladelius proposes with the Embla a clear vision of sound. Its base is a full, incredibly saturated, even over-saturated, midrange. I am sure, that many audiophiles will go crazy, when listening to their discs presented that way. I mentioned the Chet Baker and e.s.t. on purpose, because their warm sound was additionally saturated by the Swedish player, this was a true orgy, a hedonist engulfment in nice sounds. There was not even a slightest trace of a mechanicalness, sharpness or brightening. The device presents the world on the other side of the mirror, as if it would be a better version, of what we have around us. Everything is incredibly smooth, warm and saturated. When at the end of the first piece, Chet Baker introduces his friends, this sound fills the room completely, taking it into possession. It has a dark side, I will tell about that later, but it is secondary to the pleasure it gives. When a guitar plays, then we hear it, as if it would be in our room. And I mean the volume, the saturation, etc. Of course this is only a suggestion from the player, in reality a guitar amp sounds different, but having no direct comparison, it will be hard to determine. I know that, because I often work with tube amps, and I know, that their sound, regardless their brand, the chosen effect, etc, there is more sharpness, that the attack is harder. But this I can tell only because I remember that, because this is written in my memory. Without such a “guide” that, what the Embla shows, will look absolutely true. I say even more – I thought, it was better than the reality, because it had no annoying edges, was not brightened, etc. The same thing repeated with In the Court Of the Crimson King, where attention was drawn by the very wide and incredibly vivid sound stage. If something was recorded in counter phase then it was shown far to the side of the loudspeakers or behind me. Also the cymbals from this old recordings were splendid – they had a strong beat and were slightly sweet and strong. No brightening, we should remember that, just nice treble and good volume. Already with Baker I noticed the vocals, now I had to confirm those remarks – the vices from the Crimson disc had a velvety, smooth character. And please do not think, that the device wants to caress us to death – but just quiet us down and relax.

But not only the well recorded, Japanese versions will sound that way. For example the disc Us from Peter Gabriel, where the vocal is recorded quite brightly, like in the Washing of the Water, what makes it a bit blatant, will show us everything I am trying to convey. Embla played this disc, as if somebody would work with it a bit, creating a master a la Japanese. There was no extra information, of course, but the irritating, digital noise was taken care of. In the culmination points of the pieces, the voice was still quite bright, but finally we could listen to the disc. To verify this, I ripped the disc The Construction of Light King Crimson. This is a truly worthlessly recorded disc, almost unlistenable, compared to the earlier disc Thrak. It seems, that the signal is always clipped, both on the digital and the analog sides (the microphones). Horrible! The Bladelius player does not make any miracles, it does not walk on water, and did not change the voice of Adrian Belew to sound similar to his other discs. But… Except for the piece Prozac Blues I could listen to it. And I used the opportunity to get to know this disc better. Earlier I just waited for it to end, an actually didn’t know it at all. And if a recording would have its digital flavors, but will be well made, then the result will be exceptionally good. The climatic recordings from the disc Touch Yello by Yello, like the beautiful You Better Hide, had a power, which was not foreseeable, especially in context of such a good system. Bas sounded low, it was selective and clean, similar to the treble. The cymbals surprised me every time – in plus. They had weight and timbre going in the direction, we hear from a good turntable.

But there is a price to pay for this… My Lektor, but also the Accuphase DP-700 and Linn Klimax DS, as well as other top digital players have a more resolved sound, everything is better differentiated. Embla, while trying to better everything, in reality is getting on the edge, because it sacrifices many elements, that make the hi-end, on the altar of “niceness” and warmth. All the mentioned players have the center of gravity a bit higher, which – I remind that what I wrote about guitar amps – is closer to the real world. The Bladelius bass is really reaching low, but the lower end of the sound spectrum is not so well defined. With organs, like on the disc Antiphone Blues from the duo Domnérius & Sjökvist there is no such solid base, as we could hope for. This can be heard even with a contrabass, but there, the stronger subrange around a few hundred Hz helps in creating big sound. Also dynamics is rather leveled, softened. So there is no strong attack of the big band, like from the disc My Way Frank Sinatra. On the other hand, the preamplifier from Bladelius sounds in an incredibly refined way. This is a very simple circuit (maybe that is key?), which can easily replace devices from the 10000-15000 zl range. And we have the possibility to shape the sound with upsampling and digital filters. For me the filter “C” sounds best. Upsampling is selected automatically when using it. And although the filter “B” with 192kHz upsampling made the sound become clearer, not so “hulky”, but lost much on coherence, the most important aspects of the Embla’s sound. One more thing, I could not connect any USB device, being a pendrive or an external HDD, to the unit, so I could not test the player with high resolution material. A pity! Maybe I made some mistake somewhere, but I used a pendrive formatted in FAT, just like the manufacturer required, and the Embla did not recognize it. But still, using it only as a CD with a disc library, this is an incredibly nice sound. The preamplifier is really something, and we need just a nice power amplifier to create a very satisfactory sound. It can be done better, differently but this is a really thought through concept, with which we should get acquainted, at the very least.


The Bladelius Embla is an audio file player. It is equipped with a CD reader, which we can used to rip discs to internal or external memory and internal flash memory. As quoted before, the Embla can play PCM, WAV, FLAC, HRx (Reference Recordings) and MP3 files. AIFF is not supported, and it is a popular codec. The front panel is extremely nice, because it is almost completely covered by blackened acrylic. To the left we do only have a disc slot, and to the right an LCD touch screen, which provides all the information about the system and is used to control the unit.

On the back there are a lot of connections:

Digital inputs:
1 x RCA (S/PDIF)
1 x USB
1 x Bluetooth

Analog inputs:
1 x XLR
2 x RCA

Digital outputs:
1 x RCA (S/PDIF)

Analog outputs:
1 x XLR
2 x RCA

There is also an Ethernet port, and USB port to attach the unit to the computer, an IEC power socket with a mechanical switch, and also ports for multi-room connections – RS232 ports and 12V triggers.

Inside there are surprisingly few elements. Everything inside is split into three sections: a PCB with a display logic, a DVD-ROM from Teac, with an extra enclosure used to gain extra rigidity and shielding and the digital and analog section. The latter is placed on one big PCB close to the back plate. There is also a power supply, with many sections. The current is supplied by a very big toroidal transformer, of which many integrated amplifiers could be proud of. This is important, because digital processors with high computation capabilities require lots of current. We will find there a few dozen capacitors (!), including the splendid capacitors from the American company Dubilier. The power supply occupies more than half of the PCB, and a part of the stabilizing circuitry was bolted directly to the thick, aluminum bottom plate. I mentioned, that the signal can come from the flash drives – here are big Kingston discs (in the tested unit 2x64GB), or from the drive or from the external digital input. Near the USB port we see the receiver IC, with a copper plate glued atop of it. It is used to cool and shield it, but it does also obscure the markings on it. It is probably a very recent chip, as it can process signals up to 24/96. Next we see another chip, the Cirrus Logic CS8416 – this is a digital receiver, which can accept signals up to 192kHz sampling rates, so it is open to HD files. Then we have a DIT4192I Burr-Brown transmitter chip and finally a Cirrus Logic CS5361 analog to digital converter, 24/192 and with 114dB dynamics. Because we can record analog signals from the radio or turntable onto the internal memory… This chip is not far from the analog inputs. Those are handled by the Burr-Brown OPA2184, one for each channel. Unfortunately, two important chips, the upsampler and the volume control IC were also covered with copper plates. The output circuits were mounted a bit on the side, apart from other circuits. One channel is on the main PCB, while the second one is on an additional board, connected with the main one via a goldpin connector. The DAC chip on the top plate is also covered with a copper plate, but the one on the main PCB isn’t. Probably Mike assumed, that shielding through the additional board is sufficient. The chip is the DSD1792, a 24/192 sigma-delta unit, capable of converting DSD and PCM signals. The I/V conversion is handled by four BB OPA604 ICs, the ones on the lower PCB with radiators. Output is utilizing two of the same chips. Everywhere we can see very good capacitors – electrolytic Dubilier ones and splendid Sanyo and polypropylene Wima. Let me add, that the clock used is a very nice unit, stabilized thermally and mechanically, which is also used for the drive – the best solution from the point of view of digital technology.

The enclosure is made from thick aluminum plates, where nicely looking ventilation “windows” were made, covered with an aluminum mesh. This is not necessary, the insides gets not that hot, and we just allow dust inside. The remote controller is very solid, made from a milled block of aluminum. But it is very impractical, as it has lots of small buttons, no lighting, etc. And you can kill with it, or break your foot, if it happens to slip out of your hand. The rip and drive software was written by the company Mocean Labs.

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).