June 18, 2010

An Esoteric Named Desire. Esoteric X-05 CD/SACD Player.


The Esoteric X-05 CD/SACD player sitting on where my Marantz CD 7's usual place.

We got a request in December last year from our reader called Joseph to compare the difference between the Esoteric X-05 and it's more expensive brother, the X-03. However, due to the product demo and home trial arrangement by Center Circle Audio meant the review had to be pushed back, time and again. I then got news that the X-05 unit on demo was sold and they are waiting for a new shipment to arrive.

Strangely, when the new shipment arrived, a unit of the Esoteric X-05 went to Hi-Way Laser for demo instead! Well, I had a mission to fulfill, as I had promised Joseph earlier. I grabbed this demo from Kenny without hesitation.

The CD tray action is super smooth! No body does em' like Esoteric!

This is where things start to get serious in scheme of all things Esoteric. The X-05 is almost as well built as the X-03, with a few exceptions. As the Esoteric X-05 is the cheaper of the two units at RM$21k, some thing's gotta give. So what's the compromise you asked?

To start, the X-05 feels lighter, but built just as solid, however, as far as the eye can see, the CD tray is now made of plastic, rather than milled from solid aluminium of the X-03. It is on the inside where most of the changes are made. The X-05 uses the lower cost, but still very effective VRDS Neo/VMK5 transport mechanism. Only one power supply transformer powers all circuitry and regulation stages to the audio and digital circuits. The DAC is also an older design CS4398(implementation is still one pair in balanced configuration) instead of the top range Burr Brown 1704 pair used in the X-03.
A peep window on the top panel allows up skirt perverts to satisfy their mechanical lust.

Like the X-03, the analog outputs are strictly stereo only, i.e. non multi chanel. The tonality of the Esoteric X-05 is very much cut from the same cloth of the X-03, very, very neutral. The highs are less extended when compared to the X-03, but still much airier when compared to my 10 year old Marantz CD 7. The top end is refined, delicate and smooth. The mids are dense with clarity and openness. The bass, again, does not sound as tight as the X-03, but still, you won't find the bass lines wobbly either.

Comparing to the X-03 again, the X-05 does not dig out as much information, but still trumps my Marantz again, even if just by a slight margin. I did find the sound stage and imaging presentation of the X-05 to be more laid back, compared to both the X-03 and the Marantz. When playing large scale classical music, the X-05 gives more of a mid hall perspective, compared to both the other players, which presents in a rather front row seat's perspective. The Marantz and the X-03 will sound more immediate and intimate, while the X-05 will always maintain a space between the music and the listener. Neither presentation is wrong nor right, it'll ultimately boil down to system owner's preferences.

The Esoteric X-05 will however do macro dynamics just as well as the more expensive X-03, but the micro dynamics falls a little short by comparison. If there's one surprising area, where I felt the X-05 subjectively trumps the X-03, is the musicality factor. No wonder so many people fell for the X-05 over the X-03!(price factor aside). The X-05 gave superior toe tapping musicality, if some what, a little compromised hifi attributes, compared to it's bigger brother.

The above observation applies when playing in CD mode. I did play a few SACDs on the X-05 and can say that it doesn't sound that much different in, compared to playing CDs. Like it's bigger brother, the X-05 will take a little time to change from CD mode to SACD mode automatically(it doesn't allow manual selection). I did however detect a slightly richer and more organic sound with well recorded SACDs. The X-05 also manages to resolve a bit more information out of the SACD format disc.
A view of the back panel.

The Esotric X-05 compromises on issues of ultimate resolution and micro dynamics. On the flip side, it's musicality somewhat overshadows that of it's bigger brother, the X-03. It's most natural competitor today would be the Ayre CX-7eMP, another of Hi-Way Laser's product. In my books, both disc spinners are worthy of consideration and only one's individual sonic preference and product feature(for example, the Ayre does not do SACD, so if one has a whole collection of SACDs, then it would be no contest in favour of the Esoteric!) would be the final arbiter of choice.

In summary, to use the familiar car analogy again, I felt that if my Marantz CD 7 were an older generation BMW 7 series, the Esoteric X-03 is the latest Lexus LS430(now upgraded to LS460), then the X-05 is the equivalent of the Lexus IS250. It has most of the sonic attributes of the bigger brother in the Esoteric stable, yet proves to be surprisingly fun and musical to listen to. Pardon me if I copy a line from an auto(Toyota) advert, the Esoteric X-05, " It's Desirable!"

Odiosleuth had tactfully reminded me that my system has changed since I last re-visited the Esoteric X-03 in my system last December(it was a friend's unit on loan to me while he goes away for his holidays), and that my PMC Fact 8 speakers may be doing some of the talking to influence the out come of this review. This review is mostly based on comparison taken from my lasting memories of the very special sounding X-03 in grained inside my mind.

Lastly, there's good news for anyone here interested to buy an Esoteric X-05 now. Kenny tells me that this particular unit on demo and review, is to be sold at a discount so........ special, you'll need to call Kenny and ask him your self, and prepared to be in for a very pleasant surprise. Hurry to avoid disappointment.

Note: This special discount is only available from Hi-Way Laser.

Esoteric is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny, tel: 019-2813399.

Esoteric also sold by Center Circle Audio, contact Sky, tel: 03-77282686

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Big E,

I am most intrigued by your saying:-
"The above observation applies when playing in CD mode. I did play a few SACDs on the X-05 and can say that it doesn't sound that much different in, compared to playing CDs."

While the X-05 capable to do from 5-80kHz and your PMC Fact 8 can only reproduce at max. 30kHz.
To complete the whole course, how about those interconnects and speaker cables. Are all these also capable to carry the signals faithfully.

Does your above statement still valid, now.

Best regards