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The X-05, unlike what one might suppose, is not the one-box version of the P05/D05. It uses the same Cyrus chip as the SA60 but in a balanced, double mono configuration, not the AKM 32-bit processor. It does use the new VRDS-Neo 5 transport however. As it stands today, the 05 line seems positioned as the entry into the X and P/D worlds respectively, regardless of technology and with a price about half of the 03 components.

Although I actually went to listen to the X-03SE extensively to get a closer benchmark, these auditions were not conducted in my system and therefore won't be part of this review. I might mention some of them anecdotally but none of those conclusions should be considered final. Unfortunately, I was not able to listen to a P03/D03 to get even a feel for how they compare but Srajan's extensive and detailed review actually gives very good clues on how they might differ. My current reference, the Musical Fidelity A5, was of little help in establishing the true value of the 5 x costlier Esoteric separates. No matter how good the A5 is at its price, it was outclassed in almost every aspect of musical reproduction to make most comparisons irrelevant. Surprisingly, the Acoustic Solid turntable I reviewed in January provided the most insights on the strengths (and very few weaknesses) of the 'Fives'. It was only by understanding why I eventually found the turntable more compelling to listen to than the SA60 that I was able to pin-point just why the P05/D05 combo was so overwhelmingly addictive.

If it seems I am jumping ahead of myself without covering the basic technical data, you are quite correct. Despite the marketing buzz around the 32-bit AKM processor or the emphasis put by Esoteric on the shorter and therefore less vibration-prone spindle shaft design, what really matters about the P05/D05 is not being the newest and fanciest toy to be built by real engineers but rather, how un-high-endish it sounds. I mean that as the highest and most sincere compliment. Over the years we have been trained to associate higher resolution, more air, more space, more of anything with higher end even if it sometimes meant leaving music behind - as long as there was 'more' of something identifiable, our money was well spent.

The P05/D05 combo, even more than the X-03 before them and at one third of the price of Esoteric's top separates, does try and challenge this paradigm. Ultra high-end does not have to mean hearing more but far more importantly, hearing differently. In not so many words, this combo is one of very few digital sources I've heard that excels at tonal richness and textures, fully developed bass like the best hi-mass turntables (not just deep or tight or detailed but all of it - plus bloom as well when called for) to support a complete and absolute absence of digital harshness, brightness or aggression. If you've read Srajan's 3rd page on the APL Hifi NOW 3.0 GO, you know that the modified UX-01Pi achieves breakthrough status with its effortless yet extended and sweet upper end. Although I won't claim the D05 equals the modified APL effort, I can easily relate to Srajan's description of its treble and upper midrange when I listen to the D05. It's a trait probably inherited in no small measure from the AKM chip. The most endearing quality of the P05/D05 may after all not be its powerful bass nor its gigantic soundstage nor even its tremendous resolution but its complete lack of listener fatigue even on the hottest of hot recordings.

Voices through the P05/D05 will jump at you perfectly credible from Leonard Cohen's deep baritone to Nathalie Dessay's most ethereal soprano arias without ever sounding forced. And when you close your eyes, the walls disappear in all directions, recreating the most spacious yet solid stage you may desire - but that's common to a lot of high-end players. Where the P05/D05 is unlike any other digital or analog source I've heard is its ability to give musicians relief and three-dimensionality. I do not mean layering musicians front to back on a stage, I mean giving them solid bodies, not just images. Listen closely to Jacqueline Du Pre in Haydn's Cello Concerto No.1 [EMI 7 63283-2]. You can actually hear her move in front of the microphones and the change of sound creates the illusion that the cello sits solidly in front of us, not a hologram of a cello but the curved wooden body, metallic strings and cellist wrapped around it.

When I write about the P05/D05 forcing me to hear "not more but differently", this is not a reviewer's way of turning lower resolution into an asset. The P05/D05 is as resolved as the very best, quite a bit more actually than even Esoteric's own X-03SE. Its resolution simply never jumps at you. It is instead part of the overall transparency and respect for the source and the musical texture. Resolution in the P05/D05 becomes an instrument which supports tonal accuracy but does not supplant it. Resolution serves a better sense of ambiance and the event, a greater presence yet goes mostly unnoticed. Dynamics are scaled accurately from Cecilia Bartoli's lightest and gentlest sotto voce arias in her Italian recital with Jean-Yves Thibaudet [Decca 455 981-2] to the most bombastic fortes in Shostakovich's 11th Symphony directed by Rostropovich [LSO 0030]. Yet never will you feel that the player overdoes it in one direction or another. Leading edges on Tchavolo Schmitt's guitar [LCDM 2741330] or Christophe Rousset's harpsichord [Oiseau Lyre 436 127-2] are sharp, metallic and lively yet as sweet as honey on Joyce DiDonato's voice in Mozart's Clemenza di Tito [Glossa 921107]. Decays also extend forever and then some with the P05/D05, thanks to the quietest background of any digital source I have been privileged to listen to.