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Einstein would be impressed with the Esoteric’s handling of the Forth Dimension
The foundation for this system is its transport, but an atomic clock adds space/time coherence to the sound

The Esoteric components under review are a paradigm of electronic engineering where expense wasn’t an issue, and quality has taken priority over cost. They are expensive, but offer to the consumer a no-holds-barred playback system, the likes of which can not be found in any other design of which I know. There are five parts to the system and include the transport, its power supply, two DACs (one for each channel) and a world clock. I auditioned the TEAC system with a pair of Focal Scala loudspeakers, connected to a Boulder amplifier controlled with the VAC preamp. These components were also used to review the Focal Scala evaluation posted somewhere else on this site.

For an audiophile the four rather large components look not only impressive, but also communicate the importance of the source component. The system had been arranged on a resonance-inhibiting shelf, which matched the steel-grey colour of the components and literally radiated their significance. From a technical perspective, I would think that most high-end audiophiles would consider the system’s appearance attractive. From an aesthetic viewpoint, this may be questionable. However, these components are all about solidity, technology and function, and in this light — and for me — they are simply beautiful. The entire system was accommodated on a vibration-free stand (I do not know its brand) that matched the components’ appearance and provided a stable foundation for the important signal transfer.

There are simply too many technological features to discuss them all, but highlighted here are the most important design elements of the system:

First, the P-01 transport.
The TEAC and Esoteric playback equipment has long used what the company calls a VRDS clamping system (Vibration-free, Rigid Disc clamping System) with neo added indicating the latest generation design. It features a magnesium turntable with custom steel ball bearings to ascertain the smoothest running operation possible. A 12 mm aluminum base holds the steel bridge for the construction that accommodates an aluminum tray without a shutter. Additionally, the assembly includes a vertically aligned optical stability platform (VOSP) and also features speed controlled tray motion (only this model). This transport is built like the proverbial Tiger Panzer; it measures17.5 x 6 x 16.9 inches (W x H x D) and weighs in at 62 pounds. The smaller power supply weighs an additional 35 pounds

Next up is the D-01 DAC(s)
There are two of them, one for each channel. The sonic and technical advantages of monaural DACs include eliminating cross-talk and better power distribution for each analog audio circuit. Additionally, separate D/A converters remove differences in sound between the left and right channels because each separate unit has the exact same parts and PCB layout pattern. By avoiding a stereo converter, audible improvements are gained. Better-defined spatial elements, such as air around instruments and voices, superior imaging, more transparency and enhanced ambience and presence are but a few of the audible benefits. Of course, the unit is designed to play back Red Book and SACD formats.

The DACs’ inputs incorporate two XLR s (balanced), one RCA and two IEEE1394.SACD DSD signals are input through the IEEE1394 or the XLR1 input terminal (original Esoteric ES-LINK format). PCM signals can be input up to 192kHz (dual or stereo). When the signals output by the player are either stereo or multi-channel, the unit outputs the channel as selected by the menu.

Three digital filters allow choosing FIR, RDOT, FIR+RDOT or none at all. The signal is converted up to 768kHz before being sent to the multi-bit D/A converter chips, BB-PCM1704s. SACD DSD signal is converted either to 88.2kHz or176.4kHz before inputting to the digital filter.

Signal output from the digital filter streams into D/A converter IC through a FIFO (fast in / fast out) circuit, which reduces signal jitter. The D-01 is equipped with eight D/A converters per unit (Burr-Brown 24bit multi-bit D/A converter: PCM1704). With the use of eight DACs per unit, the S/N ratio and linearity is greatly improved.
Esoteric uses +/- 42V discrete power circuit construction in the driver circuits for analog signal outputs. This very high rail voltage produces prompt circuit derivability and excellent transitional rates.
Each component weighs 43.4 pounds and measures 17.5 x4.25 x 16 inches (W x H x D).

The Master Clock G-0PRb

The Esoteric top-of-the-line design is based on a rubidium –based atomic clock that employs an atomic resonance frequency standard as its timekeeping element — the most accurate standards known. Atomic clocks do not utilize radioactivity; they use precise microwave signal emitted by electrons when they change energy levels (additional uses for atomic clocks include GPS and the controlling of frequencies of TV broadcasts). The G-0Rb is a delicately adjusted design, which incorporates top quality, hand selected and carefully voiced parts. It’s done to assure signal purity throughout the design aided by 6N copper connections that boasts 99.99997% purity. Among other high-end parts, the unit’s power supply employs selected capacitors that assure stability. There is a lot more to this design, but all we need to know is that this is the most accurate clock on the market — and the end-result is that the audio signal provided to the other components in the system is without error — period. Its output frequencies are 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz, 100kHz (universal frequency). Terminals are BNC and coaxial. Power consumption is 81W. Its dimensions complement its associated components and are 17.4" x 6" x 13.8" (W x H x D); weight: 40 lbs.

The Sound
Before I describe what I heard while auditioning, I would like readers to know that the high caliber of the design will reveal all flaws, including those originating in the recoding and mixing studios. Consequently, I selected some of my best-produced CDs from Concord, Telarc, JVC and Milestone, selected a few more Deutsche Gramophone, Universal and Fidelio CDs for classical music and got ready for some serious listening.

I began listening to a CD titled Todo Sobre Di Madre (Spanish Universal). The album consists of music from the film of the same name and features the Czech symphony orchestra and a number of solo artists. There are ten tracks, most with orchestral passages with a large string section, but in addition to that, there are Miles Davis-like trumpet solos as well as electronic instruments such as Moog and electric bass. An accordion and voices round out this CD and offers a rather complete workout for any audio system. As I am intimately familiar with the material, I listened for sonic distinctiveness — elements I have not heard with other top players I had auditioned over the years. It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes into the first track, when I noticed that the edge on forte and fortissimo passages had magically disappeared. I had heard a little edginess with the best players I had auditioned and reviewed, (the EMM Lab, the TEAC Esoteric P1 and the Audio Aero Prestige players) and I had attributed the small flaw to CD production slipups. However, on the Esoteric system the music flowed smoothly over the rough edges and introduced, instead, an organic and phase coherent impact to the music. It seemed that the sound was reproduced with all original phase relationships unchanged — that is the only commonsensical explanation I have for this. I also noticed that the material I was listening to connected me more intimately with the performers and/or the music’s significance. As I listened more and paid particular attention to the melodic flow of the music, I noticed a heightened sensation of pitch and the relation of successive pitches across time. It is difficult to explain, but I think when timing, pitch or hue, fundamentals, harmonics and resolution all merge and become one complex element, the ear senses that all is right, thus more fulfilling. A logical explanation is that the human brain is incredibly responsive to timing information and can estimate the size of an enclosed space based on reverberation and echo present in the signal that hits the ears. We can pinpoint the position of voices and instruments on the sound stage based on the differences of but a few milliseconds between the times of arrival of sound at one of our ears versus the other.

Getting back to the listening sessions, I’d like to elaborate on a few additional elements, regarding space, imaging, inner detail and harmonics. While all quality players provide listeners with these elements, few convey them with coherent harmony. The Esoteric system doesn’t stress one or two of these important factors, but rather combines them all by uniting sound staging with the series of harmonics above and below fundamental notes at fixed intervals, in an exact fraction of length. This leaves listeners with the proper timing impression as well a better understanding of the importance of harmonics — the stuff that results in musicality.

The Esoteric components offer to listeners all those important elements that reveal timbre-related accuracy such as pitch and intensity, colour and resonance. This helps recreate musical detail, dynamics, image and resolution. Listening to these components is not only delightful; it’s also a learning experience.

All commodities can be evaluated by a simple, logical rating system that takes value and performance into consideration. Thus, it would be much uncomplicated, if somewhat unsophisticated, to rate components as poor/bad, good, better and best. When it comes to price vs. performance, more often than not, the price is indicative of quality. In the audio industry, the best products are typically expensive, although I have seen the odd exception, usually from unknown players who have little business savvy, if any. Usually, when components are praised as “good for the money”, it is always for a price. However, when price isn’t a concern quality can be obtained as manufacturers can employ the best parts available and employ the required craftsmanship to execute prudent assembly. Also incorporated in that higher price tag is the cost for research and development, and this can amount to a very substantial sum.

The foundation for the entire system is the transport, on which I will comment in the paragraph below. For now, however, l would like readers to know that I believe this transport to be unrivaled in the industry. Thus, coupled with the DACs and the re-clocking device to complete the playback system, the separate components become a complex no-hold-barred playback system.

I became aware of the importance of a CD transport, way back about 15 years ago when I auditioned the TEAC Esoteric separates, the P1 and D1. The tests my listening panel members and I conducted showed that the transport affected the final sound characteristics much more than a number of different DACs we had on hand at the time. These DACs ranged in price from $200 to $7k and, though there were audible differences, they were not blatant. However, when we changed transports, the effects were striking. Clarity, resolution and space/time elements were markedly better, and I remember that we were all surprised. In those days, DACs were mysterious digitalia misunderstood by most consumers and many reviewers, including this writer. In the early days of CD technology, jitter was often mentioned, but most folks believed that the more or most important component was the DAC. However, jitter or the lack of it is likely the most influencing element as it feeds the signal into the DAC prior to conversion, and even when the transport is of superb quality, the tiniest trace has some bearing on the sound. The Esoteric world clock is the best of which I know that practically eliminates all jitter related errors and may well be the component that takes the sound quality to the highest possible degree.

If we were to judge sound by measurements alone, it would be like ignoring music and hearing it as a collection of tones to form a melody, instead of a Beethoven Symphony with every note on every instrument making up a musical epic. Therefore, I believe that reviewers must have an understanding of and familiarity with music, as there are no specifications for what is called musicality. Thus, to convey the essence of a review we must set aside our preference in musical material, have enough experience with live music and correlate the reproduced material with the art form in an understandable manner.

On the other hand, listening to audio gear for the purpose of evaluation must not be limited listening to music. Reviewers (this one included) often listen for certain passages that allow them to single out bass, midrange and highs. For the evaluation of elements such as imaging, spatiality, focus and dynamics, the musical program material is going to be their choice — like it or not. Though there is nothing wrong with that, it isn’t going to convey the spirit or significance of the music to readers who may not be familiar with the program material. In this evaluation, I attempted to communicate my listening experience, the best I can and, hopefully, conveyed that the Esoteric system is the best I have heard in reproduced music. However, there may be better as I was advised that there are upgrades for those who must have them (check with your dealer).

TEAC Esoteric CD Playback System Models P-01 Transport,
D01 DACs, G-ORB Word, Master Clock Generator

American Sound/ TEAC Canada
D-01Vu $19,000 each Canadian - $18,000 each US
P-01Vu $37,000 Canadian - $35,000 US
G-0Rb $19,500 Canadian - $18,500 US
* see main story
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