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Whilst the midband of the I-03 was gentler, the decisive difference to me appeared in the presence region. Two minutes into the song and lassie Amos begins to scream. At stout levels over my standard setup this equates to ear ringing. It’s painful. Not so the Esoteric. No worries, the lady still protesteth in earnest but up high she does so a bit milder, less incisive and penetrating. Asked to decide between ruthlessly honest or conciliatory, the Esoteric I-03 goes for diplomacy. That’s easily confirmed with harsh e-guitar riffs or power piano. The Japanese is a mellower operator. Occasionally this undermines the hard honest just-so approach a bit. But relative to long-term friendliness and lean-ish forward mastered fare it’s quite the boon. Contrary to my reference separates, I can’t imagine a system or musical choice where the Esoteric would ever go on anyone’s nerves.

Granted, if you prefer your mids wiry, lean and tacitly present, you may not – um, warm to the I-03. Its approach is mellower and softer. Or "clearly superior" as colleague Jörg opined with Miles Davis’ "My Funny Valentine" after I switched him from my stuff to the Japanese. The trumpet was "warmer, most pleasant, somehow more organic or natural". Yep, one clearly could see it that way.

: Esoteric’s I-03 is a very complete integrated amplifier that's free from sonic gaps or dominant voicing. While this doesn’t eliminate character, it’s first and foremost an all’rounder which convinces with its breadth of sonic virtues rather than specific highlights. Only on second listen do certain micro tendencies present themselves. The design team does prefer silky fluidity to dry rhythmic élan. The tonal balance is a few degrees warmer than dead zero and the overall milieu is one of integration, not 100% neutral separation down to the molecular level.

This machine is well balanced and satisfying. I recommend a longer audition than a quick A/B or a few short test tracks. Think long-distance runner. Virtues don’t communicate after 100 meter sprints. Those could easily lead to misjudgment. Best indeed would be a weekend loan if the dealer is amenable, then sampling the widest variety of music.

Psych profile

  • Tonally neutral bass with sufficient reserves for current-hungry transducers. The quality is semi dry with good balance between articulation and fleshiness. Perfect integration with the midband. Some of the competition offers more punch and speed.
  • The treble is clean, free of artefacts and arguably at home on the milder side of the fence though ‘rounded over’ already overstates it. Seamless integration with the vocal range.
  • The midrange is pleasantly juicy and sonorous. The lower midrange-to-presence- region transition is somewhat subdued for a slight softening effect. Many recordings benefit. Simultaneously transient acuity mellows.
  • The virtual stage shows ample breadth and depth in line with the price. Instruments and vocals are dimensioned generously. Localization sharpness is spot on.
  • Good timing and dynamic chops but by tendency the Esoteric subscribes more to musical flow than toe-tapping fanaticism.


  • Dimensions and weight: 445 x 162 x 468mm (WxHxD), 31kg
  • Trim: Clear-anodized silver
  • Socketry: 3 x RCA, 2 x XLR in (one RCA convertible to MM or MC phono, 1 x RCA out, 1 pair of speaker terminals per channel
  • Output power: 240/360wpc into 6Ω RMS/peak
  • Other: Fixed-gain thru-put, headphone output, defeatable output stage for pure preamp use, assignable input sensitivity per input, remote control, dimmable/extinguishable display
  • Power consumption: 45 watts at idle, no standby
  • Warranty: 2 years
  • Website
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