Esoteric D-07 D/A processor Page 2

During the review period, Soundkeeper Recordings' Barry Diament sent me his new release Equinox, from drummer Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn (CD, Soundkeeper SR1002). This naturally miked recording of acoustic instruments showed off the D-07's good side—its superbly clean midrange, its natural instrumental timbres, its persuasive way with percussion—but also its slight drying-up of the recorded ambience. Paul Beaudry's double bass was also a little less well defined than I would like, particularly in his solo plucked riff at the start of "Yanvalloux."

The D-07's USB input worked without problems with both my Mac mini and my Windows 7 PC, using iTunes/Pure Music in Memory Play mode (Mac) and Foobar 2000 (PC) to give bit-correct playback. Set-up was a little confusing with the PC, whose Windows Control Panel identified the D-07 as "SPDIF Interface (Esoteric D-07)," even though the connection was via USB, not S/PDIF. The sound via USB was grain-free, with voices sounding sweet, and was certainly competitive with the sound quality via S/PDIF or AES/EBU.

However, the fact that the D-07's USB port didn't accept music recorded with an 88.2kHz sample rate was a problem, for me at least, as so many of my own recordings are made with that sample rate. I did use the Halide USB–S/PDIF Bridge ($450), which I reviewed last month, plugged into one of the D-07's S/PDIF inputs, to play 88.2kHz files from the Mac mini, but that really shouldn't have been necessary. And though the difference was vanishingly small with some recordings, I did feel that 24/96 data fed directly to the D-07's USB input sounded a little cleaner overall than fed via the asynchronous Halide converter to one of the D-07's S/PDIF inputs.

Comparisons
My go-to D/A processor is the sample of the Benchmark DAC1 ($995) that I bought after John Marks reviewed it in July 2003. The Benchmark's rather bright tonal balance was obvious in level-matched comparisons with the D-07. Playing some of the live concert downloads Bruce Hornsby makes available free on his website, the Esoteric was more refined in the midrange and above, making the Benchmark sound too aggressive. The Esoteric's lack of grain was an advantage with these lossy compressed files. The DAC1 excelled, however, when it came to low-frequency weight and definition. The Esoteric's bass tended to sound too polite, with low frequencies that were less well defined than the Benchmark's.

In this issue Michael Fremer reviews the dCS Debussy DAC ($10,995), which also offers a choice of linear- or minimum-phase reconstruction filters, but has an asynchronous USB input that will operate correctly at 88.2kHz. Playing Polyphony's recording of Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna (CD, Hyperion CDA67449), and driving both processors set to the minimum-phase filter with AES/EBU data from the Ayre C-5xeMP, the D-07 dried up the recorded acoustic a little when compared directly with the Debussy with levels matched. Soundstage definition was equally superb with the two processors, but there was just a little bit more depth apparent to that stage with the Debussy.

I finished my comparisons with the Debussy with our "Recording of the Month" for August 2010, Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden's Jasmine (CD, ECM 2165), this time using my Mac mini as the source via USB. It was this apparently undemanding album that threw into sharp relief what you get for the extra $6195 for the dCS processor. This quiet album of often contemplative improvisations was just less musically involving through the Esoteric than through the dCS. The D-07 was less expansive, less generously balanced in the lows, yet at the same time its bass was a little less well defined. Haden's fingers plucking the strings of his double bass sounded less generic, and had more character, with the Debussy. Don't get me wrong—the Esoteric is a fine-sounding component—but the dCS processor gets closer to what I would want from high-end digital. For more than twice the price, of course.

Summing up
The Esoteric D-07 offers solid construction, solid audio engineering, and equally solid sound quality. It presents a significantly cleaner, more sophisticated sound than the entry-level DACs, though its slightly dry soundstaging will work best in systems that are themselves a little laid-back. While the D-07 doesn't quite scale the sonic heights of the best D/A processors, it does get close for significantly less money than required by those high-fliers, and thus can be recommended.

Company Info
Esoteric, a division of TEAC America, Inc.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
(323) 726-0303
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