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Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Digital Source: Musical Fidelity A5 CD
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood with RB300, Ortofon RB520mkII
Amplifier: Musical Fidelity A5, McIntosh MA2275, Genesis Reference Amplifier [in for review]
Speakers: Nomad Audio RPDs, FJ OMs, Rogers LS 3/5a
Headphone: Musical Fidelity Xcanv3, AKG K701
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Ash XLR [on loan], Acoustic Zen Mc2 = Zen XLR [on loan]
Power Cords: Cobalt Ultimate, Zu Bok & Mother
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics, Standesign stand
Room size: 15' x 30' x 9' opening to 3 other rooms, short wall setup, suspended wood floor, sheetrock walls and ceiling.
Review component retail: $7,500 each

After reviewing Esoteric's SA60 multi-format player and finding a lot of qualities to like, it would have seemed quite natural to investigate the company's more ambitious new player and DAC. But that's actually not how this review came to be. As I was exchanging emails with Genesis owner and manager Gary Koh to schedule the review of their new reference amplifier, we eventually came to the realization that I did not have a balanced preamplifier but that the version of the reference amplifier initially available would only accept balanced inputs. At that point Mr. Koh suggested I test his amplifier in the same configuration he used at CES this year and which he found very synergistic: driving the amplifier directly from the variable balanced outputs of an Esoteric P05/D05 combo. After the necessary and expected dragging of feet and complaining about introducing another unknown element in my system, I happily let him convince me to review Esoteric's newest stars prior to evaluating the Genesis Reference. A few emails later the folks at Esoteric sent a P05/D05 pair my way, actually the exact pair Mr. Koh had used at CES. Hence two weeks after sending the SA60 back to the mother ship, I was in business with a multi-month loan on a duo that Esoteric has such faith in as to introduce it as their 20th anniversary celebration offering.

The P05/D05 is positioned by Esoteric as an evolution -- not revolution -- of 20 years of product development going back to 1987 with the introduction of the foundation P1/D1 featuring the first VRDS clamping system and the first TEAC components introduced under the Esoteric brand. This historic launch was followed a year later by the X-1 and then in 1997 the P0 to celebrate their 10th anniversary. 2001 saw the launch of the now famous P70/D70 introducing word synchronization among many other refinements, paving the way for the first P01/D01 SACD separates in 2004 and the P03/D03 a year later.

It should be telling and puzzling at the same time that Esoteric chose as their new technology platform and anniversary celebration a combination of DAC and transport costing less than one third their current flagships. Any other company would have used the opportunity to introduce a new 'cost-no-object' statement and waited a year or two to trickle down the technology. In a move unlike any in their past and unlike what is customary in the industry, Esoteric launched this new statement -- the first standalone DAC using the highly praised AKM 32-bit chip and the first CD/SACD drive featuring their new VRDS-Neo 5 -- at a price somewhere in the middle of their line.

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Esoteric's naming convention uses low numbers for their top gear, increasing numbers as one descends in the catalog. Hence the unchallenged P01 and mono D01 DACs still sit at the top and fall in the category where decency demands that prices remain unmentioned. Those are closely followed by the P03 and dual-mono D03 DAC ($14,000 each), now followed by the more affordable P05 and dual-mono D05 ($7500 each). Price-wise intertwined with the separates is the X line of single-box players (the X01D2 at $16,500, the new top-line integrated player); the $8200 X03-SE and the newly released $6000 X-05; and the UX lines of universal players (the UX1Pi at $16,500 which serves as the base for the no-concession APL HiFi NOW 3.0-GO and the UX-03Pi at $9500 whose Pi moniker indicating the presence of an HDMI expanded mode video output). Of course there is also a P03 Universal ($18,000) that combines the audio features of the P03 with ultimate video playback.

All of these may be more or less mixed at matched at will without forgetting the new Master Clock generators ($4000 for the 0.1ppm G-03X, with the 2000 times more stable but 'only' four times as expensive 0.05ppn G-0Rb which requires a climate-controlled enclosure for its Rubidium clock to perform at this exalted level of clock frequency stability - which incidentally is not a measure of jitter performance at all but just clock-frequency variability).