Esoteric P-2 CD transport Arnis Balgalvis, April 1991

Arnis Balgalvis wrote about the Esoteric P-2 in April 1991 (Vol.14 No.4):

You can't be too rich, too thin, or praise a great product too much. The P-2 transport has impressed me at least as much as it did Robert Harley in Vol.13 No.12. I would like to accentuate his positive impressions with a few of my own observations.

I was impressed when I encountered the transport that started it all, the Esoteric P-1, and it happened again when the P-2 arrived—each time a transport of this caliber was included in my system the sonics took a turn for the better.

I'm not talking subtleties. The improvements immediately sprang to life in a very perceptible manner. For specifics, I defer to RH's apt descriptions of the particular sonic gains one can expect from the P-2. He's right on the money.

But there's more. As much of a surprise as it may be to those who read Bob's P-2 review, additional sonic gains lie ready to be coaxed into pleasing us.

Some call it art, some call it science—I call it tweaking. Those of you who longingly look at all the fun our happily tweaking analog compadres have should not despair—as you'll see, digital is holding its own.

After all, tweaking is something we can do ourselves to control the sonic outcome. (For further information, consult Robert Deutsch's comprehensive "System Tweaks and Sonic Tonics" article in that same December 1990 issue of Stereophile.)

First of all, the obvious—don't hesitate to experiment with different digital cables. Borrow from friends, dealers, and your fellow countrymen and listen for yourself.

Here's the best part. The P-2 just happens to provide multiple outputs for the digital signal, making it uniquely suited to digital cable-comparison adventures. Two coaxial and two optical ouputs appear on the P-2's rear panel on two RCA and two standard EIAJ Toslink jacks, respectively. Things really fall into place if the Stax or Esoteric D-2 processors or the Wadia Digilink 30 or 40 digital interface is also available. All of these products have digital input-selector switches permitting the user to choose among one of several coax inputs, as well as at least one plastic fiberoptic input. The Digilink 30 handles coax cables only.

To proceed, just plug in any two coax cables—you can even add a fiber-optic cable if you have a D-2, Stax, or the Digilink 40—and switch away. This is about the best digital cable-comparison facility I know. So far, my experience with digital cables is somewhat limited, but, as of now, I've found the Theta digital cable to be a real honey.

A word of caution, though: If an input is not terminated on the Wadia Digilink, a loud pop will be heard in the speakers when an open input is selected. Of course, to avoid grief, mute the preamp—or switch to an unused input—while going through the empty digital input.

My next tweak concerns the AC power: It helps to use a fancy AC cord like the Music And Sound Power Master cable. I heard a fairly modest improvement in soundstaging, but it was there. Don't forget to listen for the best orientation of the AC plug. More details and dynamics are the likely rewards of that effort.

But power-line conditioning is the way to go. All my low-level and front-end components are fed by a Tice Power Block. On top of that, I retained the Music And Sound Power-Master AC Line Cord from my pre-Tice days. Again, the polarity of the AC plugs was as important as ever.

The last and most rewarding area of tweaking has to do with placement and support of the CD drive-unit. In general, everything discussed applies to all transports and players, but unfortunately there is no universal cure-all. I have found that desirable results can be expected when CD transports and CD players are supported by Navcom pucks or Monster Cable Footers. A minimum of three, but usually four pucks or footers will do the job.

On the whole, gains in soundstage spaciousness and detailing, overall definition, and timbral rendition can be expected when the suspension qualities are altered in this manner. But don't count on making progress in every case. With some CD players and transports I was disappointed to discover veiling—usually in the midrange—and restricted dynamics when supension pucks were introduced.

The P-2 gave its best in my system when supported by a Monster Cable Tranquility Base. Once again, the results were far from subtle. For example, when the Audiophile Society executive commitee members recently heard my system, the most asked question was what was responsible for the improved sonics since the last time. The only change was the Tranquility Base under the P-2.

Of the gains, most prominent was the musicality. Playback was simply more palpable. No, strings were not devoid of digital glaze, but they were rendered more delicate and airy. Massed strings occupied more space, and the inner makeup of the soundspace was more distinct. It was easier to become involved with the performance; less listening effort was required. To paraphrase RH, music became the predominant preoccupation, subduing the inclination to criticize.

If the soundspace was exciting before, you should hear it now. The whole stage became even more alive with spatial artifacts. Focus and delineation within the stage were more refined, details easier to pick out, instruments had better presence, and lateral and front-to-back dimensionality had more certainty.

That's it so far. The Esoteric P-2 transport has refined CD playback capabilities significantly and is a major contributor to the ongoing saga of digital developments. I'm happy to report that this already outstanding product can be coaxed to perform even better sonic feats, raising the enjoyment of CDs to a more satisfying level.—Arnis Balgalvis

Esoteric, a Division of Teac America
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
(323) 726-0303