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When I first introduced the E03 in my system, I was plagued by quite higher than acceptable noise levels. Testing throughout the house revealed that the E03 picked up noise from the freezer’s motor in the garage and the de-humidifier in the basement. Unfortunately—and for the very first time I must add—no power filter was able to eliminate the problem, not the Isotek Nova, the Isotek Titan or the Monster Power HTS5100.

I was not sure the review would proceed before I followed Esoteric's advice to use a cheater plug and lift the ground. Instantly the problem vanished. As it turns out, the E03 is a very efficient noise sniffer. It will let you know about any contamination in your system. The good news is that the solution wa both cheap and easy. Nonetheless my new music room currently being built in the basement will have dedicated power lines and grounds to address the issue at its very power delivery source.

With the hum finally banished, the E03 proved very quiet - not as quiet as the Audia Flight Phono which thus far is the absolute reference in that department but not far behind and certainly not an issue over my 97dB/m Zu Essence speakers unless I pushed the volume to completely unhealthy levels. In practical use, the E03 was as quiet as anyone could desire.

The really important question though is how the E03 sounds. That’s the real issue. Besides being superbly transparent, revealing and absolutely neutral, I can’t think of anything else to say about the sound. LP after LP, one singular impression was on endless repeat: the needle went deeper in the groove and retrieved more information than ever before, even more than the Flight Phono was able to conjure up. I knew of course that the needle wasn't really going any deeper but damn, it sure sounded like it.

Alas, just talking about high resolution cuts the E03 far too short. It could leave the reader with an unjust impression of harshness or sterility which absolutely applies not to this machine. The E03 actually offers magnificent instrumental textures and vocal accuracy, fluidity and rhythm, expansive dynamics on large orchestral surges and tremendous litheness on instrumental flutters, with deep and resolved bass, extended and nuanced treble and imaging and staging to die for. In other words, I have yet to find anything at which the E03 does not excel.

When powered through the Accustic Arts Ferrite II power cord at firstI thought the E03’s only weakness might be a slightly lighter than desirable tonal balance. Yet switching to the Zu Mother cured that impression without losing any resolution. In fact, this association of Zu Mother and E03 very quickly became my favorite and the one I used for most of my audition.

Starting with Sir George Solti directing the LSO in a recording of Mahler’s First Symphony [Decca, re-edited by Speakers Corner], the impression was one of depth and width, the muted trumpet calls in the distance endowed with superb brassiness. Similarly the drums evinced a texture I had never heard before, resonating in the background far behind the orchestra. Although far from being his most complex, this most youthful and joyful Mahler symphony never fails to amaze me with its perpetual changes of musical sceneries but I had yet to hear it recreated with such veracity, such lifelike dynamics and magnificent instrumental tones and details. No, it was not a live concert but the closest illusion I'd managed so far.

The most telling aspect that I was listening to vinyl remained the discrete surface noise and the rare clicks and pops. Here the E03 is unforgiving and will let you hear your records' condition as is, pristine or soiled. This may actually be the only reserve I’ll express about the E03. It may not be most adapted to an old and scratchy vinyl collection. The Italian Flight Phono was far better at minimizing the impact of less than ideal quality discs.

Switching to Johnny Cash, the man materialized in my room. The effect was simply incredible. I knew this recording to be very intimately miked but had not realized just how well Cash’s tired voice was captured. I suspect the Zu Essence played their role in this apparition as they really shine on male voices but no other phono preamp so far had made Cash sound so real. You know the old reviewer cliché about a veil being lifted from the music. I hate complacency but in this case, that’s still the best description for what I heard.

Again and again it recurred with each disc I listened to - a feeling of closeness as though I had moved many rows closer to the stage without that undue projection that sometimes accompanies gear that is a bit too extrovert. The E03 was perfectly balanced and did not throw any specific parts of the music at the listener. It just cleaned the glasses for an undistorted view of the event.

Proceeding with James Brown Live at the Apollo, far from a superior record by any stretch, Mr. Dynamite on that night of October 1962 exuded the James Brown sound and persona that made him the idol he is. The Audia Flight and its gently warmed up sound almost sugar-coated the performance. Yes it sounded good but almost too good to lack some of the raw energy. The E03 on the other hand brutally revealed the challenge of recording a jam-packed house in 1962 yet the primal energy was left intact. Which was best, living with the distortion and saturation originally recorded but the man's astonishing energy preserved; or some gentle mellowing to smooth over the technical challenges of the recording? Only you can tell which suits you better. I went for raw and primal on that one.