August 2, 2009

Music, Sweet, Music! Esoteric X-03 SACD/CD Player.

This is an old post of ours in the blog we previously contributed to.

Esoteric X-03 Special Edition SACD/CD player.

My very good friend ask me what I thought of the Esoteric X-03 SACD/CD player? I answered just as above captioned title. He was amused and said "it can't be! Esoteric players tend to tick all the right audiophile boxes, but can come out sounding rather mechanical or analytical".
Top panel detailing, the gold "Special Edition" plague didn't show up on the photo too well.

In this review, I especially looked out hard for that effect but found none of the mechanical, analytical attributes during the term of this review. I played all types of music through it, classical, jazz, pop and rock, but always found the Esoteric to be very musically satisfying, in the context of my system. Maybe my system is bias towards beautifying music, hence could be more forgiving in nature compared to other similar level set ups. What ever the reason, the Esoteric X-03 just fit in to my system sonically like hand in glove. In the past 3 years of comparing high end CD players against my Marantz CD7, I have never found another CD player to sonically advanced over the CD7 convincingly. It's always 2 steps forward and 1 step back type results. With the Esoteric X-03, I have finally found it!
The back panel, note the WBT Next Gen style RCA plugs?

The Esoteric's build quality is of battle ship quality, that was something once my Marantz could claim, but by comparison, it has now being demoted to battle cruiser quality instead!The player weights a few kgs more than my 23kgs Marantz, but the trump card has to be the all aluminium tray! It slides in and out like as if riding on a layer of air! It's that smooth. The review unit has Special Edition logo pasted on to it and the shipping carton, I wonder if it's all those gold plated WBT Next Gen RCA plugs that makes it "special"? Otherwise, from the outside, I can't tell the difference from a regular X-03.
The "Special Edition" packaging.

Let's dissect the sound a little more. From the very first silent notes on a classical track, I could tell this player's noise floor is frighteningly quiet! No hiss what so ever, just an eeri, airy silence, like as if you can hear a pin drop in a large space kinda silence. From the very start the Esoteric's smoothness is very apparent. Some may even accuse it of being too smooth, without character! I beg to differ though. I find this player's tonal balance to be very even and neutral. No added mid range warmth here to seek comfort. The highs have a very special quality that is at once airy and realistic. Playing some jazz music with some elaborate drum work, I find my self playing my imaginary drum kit, I was once a drummer boy many, many years ago. The Esoteric reminded me of the Zildian cymbals and high hats, I used to hit. The snare drums had that special quality too, that is many CD player's weak point, most do snare drums without the initial energy of the stick hitting the skin patch, the Esoteric came closest again to reminding me about my old snare drum kit! The low frequency, if at first did not sound outstanding, is actually the most realistic that I've came along. When the kick drums play, it just sounds so much like my drum kit that I used to play. The Esoteric just makes me wanna stop listening to music and look for my drum kit and jamming partners all over again! It's that realistic! from a musical instrument sound point of reference.

It does vocals very convincingly too, they are always singing in your room with solid density. Bass lines does not have that exaggerated tightness that we're used to with many CD players. The bass lines flow from note to note very organically, without calling for attention to it self, yet, if you decide to look for it audibly, it's all there in full glory. In fact the overall staging and imaging presentation is very organic, and as close as CD players gets to vinyl reproduction in that respect. The images are never card boardy, and never have very strong out lines, just very smooth and organically fade to black back ground kinda effect.
The solid aluminium tray, that glides like on a cushion of "air"!

The Esoteric X-03 also digs deep in to the CD format and retrieves as much information that's possible. And quite like the JPS Aluminata I played with last week, I've never heard so many details in my music like this before. However, the details are all very organically integrated in to the over musical presentation, that whilst you hear it's there you do not find it annoyingly so. Micro and macro dynamic swings are amongst the best that I have tested too.
The Esoteric X-03 even matches like part of the avant garde package, together with the Pass Lab X2.5 and the FE Spider like rack. Beautiful!

All the above I was describing was it's performance in CD mode. I did try the player in SACD mode with the very few SACD titles that I have. I thought unlike the norm, which SACD players tend to short change CD performance to justify it self, the Esoteric never resorted to that game. In fact, I felt it did all it could within the CD format's limitations. Playing SACD just does all the above sonic magic plus a little more. Staging is deeper and wider, imaging just a little more palpable. With the right classical recordings, hall effect is more apparent. Overall, the SACD side of performance is just a little bit closer to the analog vinyl source.

To sum up the final arbiter of this review in the parallel car world universe, my Marantz CD7 feels like the previous generation of BMW 740i series(Ken Ishiwata drives mostly BMWs), whilst the Esoteric X-03 feels like driving the very latest Lexus LS430. If you're familiar with both cars, I know I am.

Just a little quibble to note, when changing format(the player auto detects) from SACD to CD, the next disc takes about 30-45secs to load the TOC and vice versa. However, if you're changing from disc to disc without format change, then loading of TOC is no longer than a standard CD player.

All in all, if I had RM$32K today, I'd tell Nelson of Centre Circle Audio that I won't be sending back this CD player to him. But I don't have the $$$, so my lost is now any one's gain! If you're looking for a high end CD player at the price level, do check it out! I have already included the Esoteric to be one of the finest CD player on the lower side of RM$50k, along with the Audio Research CD7 and Meridian G808.2. It's that good, if not better!

Esoteric is sold by Centre Circle Audio, tel: 03-77282686

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