Esoteric DV-50 universal player Page 2

The DV-50 includes massively powerful upconversion/digital filtering facilities. A front-panel switch lets the user select between two different filters or combine the two. The first filter, identified as FIR (presumably for Finite Impulse Response) provides a fixed 8x upconversion, yielding rates of 352.8kHz for conventional CDs and 384kHz, 768kHz, or 1536kHz for DVDs, depending on whether the latter was mastered at 48, 96, or 192kHz resolution. This filter is described in the manual as having "a sharp roll-off and firmly defined bass characteristics."

The second filter, called RDOT by Esoteric, "uses fluency theory" and "has a slow roll-off and natural extended audio characteristics." This filter provides frequency multiplication (upconversion) to a 705.6kHz rate with conventional 16/44.1 CDs, and upconverts DVD to 768kHz. There is some dizzying number-crunching going on inside the Esoteric.

The real fun is reserved for RDOT+FIR, which combines the two filters' processing power and, it is claimed, sonic characteristics. RDOT+FIR gives you Land Speed Record upconversion rates of 1411.2kHz for conventional CDs and 1536kHz for any DVD-based audio format. Six sapphire-blue lights on the front panel tell you how much upconverting horsepower has been selected with the RDOT/FIR/Both switch. Insertion of an SACD—even a compatible, dual-layer SACD/CD hybrid—causes the DV-50 to default to SACD mode.

The hardware that accomplishes this mind-bending mathematical prestidigitation is a set of four D/A converters—two per channel in a balanced, differential configuration for increased accuracy in signal tracking. The conversion chipset is controlled by a "high-precision crystal controlled oscillator" and master clock located on the audio PCB. The clock controls the "entire DV-50 system to eliminate variances that produce jitter."

The PCB itself is a four-layer glass-epoxy construction providing separate paths for power, grounds, and audio. Further appurtenances include a high-slew-rate op-amp from National Semiconductor "to perform current/voltage conversion on the current output from the D/A converter IC," and an Analog Devices chip for "synthesis of differential audio signals and as an active low pass filter" (footnote 1).

Other especially thoughtful touches include a soft finish on the disc tray to avoid scratches, and three integral hardened-steel, Tiptoe-like feet complete with attached cups—and even thin, soft, sticky-backed felt discs to stick on the cups to prevent damage to the surface this brute is sitting on. And, hallelujah, those 30-second waits for an SACD-compatible player to boot are only a sour memory. It took the DV-50 only about five seconds to determine what kinds of data were present on a disc and boot up.

Lots of Listening
After some brief, get-acquainted listening, I burned in the Esoteric DV-50 with a week's worth of brown noise courtesy of the Ayre/Cardas IBE System Enhancement CD, as is my standard practice for all solid-state sources and preamps. This treatment had the usual benefit of smoothing out the player's sound and getting it ready for the serious business to come.

First on the to-listen-for list were any differences among the upconverting filters. My test tracks, all from CDs, were: "Anji," from Bert Jansch/It Don't Bother Me, Transatlantic ESMCD 407 (UK); "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance," from Frank Zappa's You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol.6, Rykodisc RCD 19569/70; "The ConstruKction of Light," from King Crimson's live Heavy ConstruKction, DGM DGM0013; and the first two movements of Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica, Naxos 8.550737. I fed each filter the same set of music, playing each test track back to back through all three filters, then moving on to the next track.

The results were consistent: All of the filters offered very good sound, but the maximum upconverting steadily provided the most complete and continuous presentation. Images were invariably rounder, better-focused, and more like the sound of an analog master tape—the latter still being the highest-resolution medium I have heard.

With the Bert Jansch track, the solo acoustic guitar sounded a bit darker through the FIR filter, and gained clarity and articulation with the RDOT filter, particularly on the rasgueados, where Jansch flicks his fingers downward over the strings. The RDOT+FIR built on this by presenting a greater sense of the presence of the entire instrument and the man playing it, to enticing effect. On the Zappa piece, L. Shankar's violin had a fuller, more present sound, with superior definition of his bowing effects, and Vinnie Coliauta's drums had better sock and definition through the RDOT+FIR. What's more, there was considerably more air around Ed Mann's vibes. The increase in resolution of the choir in the Vaughan Williams was uncommonly apparent—the voices had much more individuality and distinctiveness, and the space surrounding them was much better defined. The rearmost corners of the stage were more evenly "lit," and the presentation, as a whole, was far more of a piece.

The breadth of the DV-50's dynamic range was also enhanced by maximum upconversion, particularly in the bass range. Kick drums and orchestral bass drums had more force and firmness, as well as more wallop and definition. It was also interesting to note that the filters produced slightly different timbral presentations, though why this was so I do not know. The FIR setting was consistently the darkest of the three, with somewhat less sharp differentiation of timbres and less resolution deep into the stage than in the other modes. It's particularly odd to me that the FIR filter, when combined with the RDOT filter, gave the most balanced and revealing overall performance, but perhaps it was a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Footnote 1: For the videophilic, the DV-50 provides progressive-scan video through a 12-bit, six-channel DAC engine (with noiseshaping) from Analog Devices. It will play single- and double-sided, single- or dual-layer DVDs with Dolby Digital, MTS, MPEG, or Linear PCM digital sound, MPEG-2 video, and DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. Sorting out the significance of all of this makes my two-channel-audio head hurt; I leave it to the folks at the Guide to elaborate further.
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