Esoteric DV-50 universal player

Ever since the introduction of high-resolution digital formats, audiophiles have been waiting for the smoke from the format wars to settle. What would the winning software be? DVD-Audio? DVD-Video? SACD? 24 bits at 96kHz or 192kHz? As new formats struggled to establish themselves, upconverting technology became commonplace for the playback of the familiar 16-bit/44.1kHz "Red Book" CD format. What to do? Invest large amounts of cash in a system that played "Red Book" (maybe with upconverting, but if so, by how much?) and one other format, and hope that you've bet right? And what about movies on them new-fangled DVDs, Tex?

The answer was obvious: a universal player for everything—all music and movie formats—in one easy-to-use, high-performance box. But the wait for this long-rumored Philosopher's Stone of digital media seemed like Vladimir and Estragon's for Godot: endless.

After that eternity, the sun began to break through the clouds. At the September 2002 CEDIA Expo in Minneapolis, I first set eyes on the Esoteric DV-50 digital player. After examining its solidity and noticing that its faceplate contained the logos of nearly every digital format known, I immediately hit on Joe D'Angelo of TEAC U.S. for a review sample. Joe agreed, and after some production delays back in Japan, a snazzy new DV-50 arrived in early 2003.

You'll notice that I've mentioned TEAC. As you may or may not know, Esoteric is TEAC's nameplate for its no-holds-barred high-end gear, and is something of a company within a company. It's been a while since any gear special enough to bear the Esoteric label has been exported to the US, but it was determined by the Japanese powers-that-be that the DV-50 was more than worthy of the designation.

Serious audio types have often wondered why the major Japanese consumer-electronics firms so seldom turn their enormous resources and platoons of top-flight engineers loose to design to the limits of technology and sonic excellence. When the bean-counters are set aside and the engineering staff is unleashed, wonderful things can happen in even the largest of corporations, as proved by such components as Sony's SCD-1 SACD player—and, now, the Esoteric DV-50.

Tom Swift ain't got nothin' on this
Describing what the DV-50 does and how it does it takes some 50 pages in the extremely comprehensive and highly complex owners' manual. Focusing on the Esoteric solely as an audio component makes the task of description only slightly less daunting.

The first thing I noticed was that the thing is built like an aircraft carrier and weighs over 46 lbs. Once it's muscled onto a stand of appropriate strength and solidity, it's apparent that, despite the DV-50's vast capabilities, its front panel is straightforward and easy to master. The real programming complexity is in the video functions, the menus for which are displayed on your TV or video monitor. I jury-rigged a video cable out of a long interconnect and plugged it into my 32" Sony WEGA TV to make sure that all of the audio-related menu items were configured correctly for maximum sound quality on the Setup Navigator, then left well enough alone. The hefty, well-made remote is no more or less complex than that of a typical high-quality DVD player, and was fairly easy to get used to for audio-only use.

While the DV-50's clean, well-organized front panel contains nothing unfamiliar to the audiophile, the rear bristles with connections. The happy DV-50 owner can select balanced or RCA "high-quality" audio outputs on sturdy, tight-fitting jacks, then mosey on over to the video options, which include standard (RCA jack), S-video, D-video, and three-jack component-video outputs. Also provided is a full set of 5.1-channel audio outputs, as well as optical and coaxial digital outputs. The DV-50 can thus be used as a transport driving an external converter (for non-SACD sources only; there is no FireWire output), should you so desire. The Esoteric can do very nearly anything except refresh your drink. My colleagues over at Stereophile Guide to Home Theater will positively plotz over this thing.

What it plays and how it plays it
Grab a beer and a sandwich—this will take a while.

As an audio-only player, the DV-50 will play any "Red Book" CD, any DVD-Audio CD (single- or dual-layer), linear or packed PCM digital audio, all SACDs (single- or dual-layer, stereo or multichannel), and MP3 files burned to CD-R or CD-RW with 44.1kHz or 48kHz sample rates. I may be missing something here, but you get the point. The only audio-related feature you don't get is HDCD decoding.

TEAC America, Inc.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
(323) 726-0303