Happy Holidays! Hopefully you've enjoyed your Thanksgiving Feast and are preparing for the remainder of the holidays, a joyous time. Normally, this month's column discusses lower cost audio equipment, tweaks, etc, which could be given or received but I've been very fortunate to be able to review great but expensive gear over the past three months which must be reported on pronto. To paraphrase a famous novel, "it's the best of times and the worst of times" in my listening room. The best of times because I've had four superb pieces of equipment to review which have brought my listening to a new and unexpected level of enjoyment, but the worst of times, because for the first time, due to age and the need to sooner or later retire, I cannot afford to keep all of them. Woe is me! Each has brought me significantly closer to the so-called "Absolute Sound", and once I heard the amount of difference they've made there's no turning back. For the first time, I'm sure that I'll never be totally happy not having all of them in my system.
One of the advantages of reviewing is that we get to listen to many variations of what is out there, spotting trends, improvements and being able to then match various equipment to our systems for the best musical reproduction. This is also an advantage to the reader as we can then have an improved system, which will point out the best and worst characteristics of the equipment being reviewed. Just about anyone could mix and match years ago when there were actual high end audio stores, but most of them have closed. Try to get two or three pieces to evaluate from your local Best Buy or from a web dealer and see how far it gets you. The negative to this of course is that once one hears a significant improvement it is difficult to live without it. Up until now buying the improver hasn't been a problem. Now the time has come when my major audio buying days are done.
The first two superb pieces are the Adept Response aR12 and aR6 power conditioners reviewed last month, AA Chapter 97. Believe it or not, even after over 500 hours of usage, they appear to be still breaking in and further improving on their ability to control AC gremlins. I have to agree with Harry Pearson who in issue 174 of the The Absolute Sound on page 116 gave a mini-review extolling the aR12's virtues compared with other conditioners he's tried. I don't know whether they've peaked yet, but the lack of electronic grunge, which we normally take for granted, has dropped another level over the past month. I haven't evaluated all of the AC conditioners out there, but of the eight that have been here these are the best for my system and the electric gremlins that have to be combated. There may be better units out there for AC conditioning, or your gremlins may be different, but I don't think you can go wrong with one or both of these units.
Unhappily, while I'd like to keep both, my pre-retirement budget won't allow it. Therefore, I've been using the aR12 with one aR1P for my Crown Macro-Reference subwoofer amp for the front three channels and source components and an APC S-15 for the rear channels and one for the video components and the mix, while not breaking the bank, is giving me the best audio and video heard and seen yet. There has been no discernable difference in the quality of the sound compared to using the two units in my system, and therefore, the 12 will stay as my Christmas present to me. Heh! The kids are old enough to get their own presents, and the wife will have to be satisfied with a scarf bought at Goodwill. Enough said.
TEAC ESOTERIC P-05 D-05 Transport-Processor
Why so interested? Because, while it's chassis and internal construction is built to the same specifications as the monoblock D-01 and stereo D-03, there are several innovations to the units that may make them giant killers for the price. First, the P-05's new VRDS mechanism; it's been redesigned to maximize its playback of the higher speed SACD, which supposedly has also improved the pickup of the digits on CD by making small changes in the turntable loading mechanism, motor, spindle and power supply. The D-05 is the first DAC in the world to use the new AK 4397 delta-sigma DAC from the Audio4Pro division of AKM Semiconductor with 32-bit processing from the digital input to the analog output. Not only is the D-05 completely dual-mono from power supply (two separate power toroidal transformers) to the balanced output amplifiers including two AK 4397 chips used in balance mode, each circuit on the chips have their own power supply to reduce crosstalk to a minimum.
ESOTERIC is TEAC's high-end consumer division, and in the past few years they have come out with a huge number of audiophile-grade digital equipment for every price and taste and decoding combination. Unhappily, there are so many with varying characteristics that deciding which one is right for an individual is a task in itself. Their least expensive audio only player, the SA10 with the VOSP transport, which does CD and 2 channel SACD decoding but no DVD-A or V lists for $3500 while their top of the line P-01 D-01 combo with separate G-0Rb master clock, which also has the same limitations would set you back over $53,000. Interestingly, only their one chassis audio-video units will do DVD-Audio or DVD-Video playback except for their D-03 UNI units, which will do both but only two channels per unit. Through my experimentation, it turns out that it's the transport and not the converter that is the limiting factor. This is probably due to the fact that it is very difficult to maximize a transport for digital pickup quality for more than one or two types of discs due to their physical differences, and DVD-Audio is a video based system. The P-05 and D-05 combination at $14,000 as compared to the P-03-and D-03-UNI at $26,600 with similar features plus DVD-Audio and video decoding certainly fit with my situation.
The P-05 transport has a BNC type word clock input, an RCA type SPDIF digital output, a FireWire digital output and two XLR AES-EBU digital outputs for dual band transmittal of signal (isolating the left from right channel at the transport.) The Transport can read both CD's and SACD's to allow higher bit rates but cannot decode either and can transport the SACD multi-channel signal only through the FireWire to external decoders. All three can transport both CD and SACD two channel information. To play back multi-channel SACD's either the units can be set up to translate the signal to 2 channel or one can use three D-05 units piggybacked through the FireWire with each set to decode 2 of the six channels through its two FireWire jacks. Very cleverly, one of the jacks is a four pronged and the other a six prong, which allows use of either type of cord for stereo.
The D-05's will automatically read where they are in the chain for which two channels they should decode. Unhappily I didn't have three of them so cannot report on how this would work or sound. There is also a signal ground for connection to the converter and system for those who have hum grounding issues. The front has all of the normal transport buttons plus a menu button for setup and a word clock light to show whether the unit is locked to an external clock through its BNC connection.
The D-05 has both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR analog outputs, RCA and optical SPDIF, dual XLR and two FireWire digital inputs, BNC word sync in and outputs plus grounding post, which makes for some interesting things that can be done with it other than just acting as a converter for the transport. More later. The front has a power switch and word clock light, menu, volume and input buttons.
A couple of caveats before I turn on the kudos this combo deserve. First, the included cords. I guess they feel that high enders will probably use some specialty AC cord, but why include the inexpensive one they did. Second, the BNC cord is way too long at over 1 meter for its function as these units seem to want to nest together, and a shorter cord could only increase the accuracy of the timing signal between the two units. Third, there are no XLR AES-EBU cords included. This was the most difficult as very few audiophiles and almost no manufacturers in the US have true 110 ohm AES-EBU cables, especially the two short ones needed. This is very important as I found the best reproduction of CD's by far for the units to be using the Dual XLR transmission. TEAC or their dealers should think about including these with the product.
Second, while the converter can decode 24-bit/88-kHz or 96-kHz DVD-Audio digital transmissions and even up sample them to 176 or 192 kHz, the transport cannot read DVD-Audio discs. This includes the two-channel variety. How much would it have cost TEAC to include this ability in the transport? It tends to be much more expensive and difficult for manufacturers to do SACD reading and decoding. It can't be a problem with the VRDS-NEO transport, as it can do pickup of DVD-Audio information that is included in their UX-03 and P-03 UNI units. Anyway, think about it TEAC. The converter does an excellent job of DVD-A decoding using my DV-60 transport with word clock sync and SPDIF output with the D-05, even allowing up sampling to 192 kHz. I hate to say it, but using the DV-60 as transport and D-05 as decoder, two channel DVD-A's sound far more natural than using the DV-60's built-in decoders. I could not see whether multiple D-05's ganged through the FireWire could decode multi-channel DVD-Audio from a capable transport such as the DV-60, so maybe TEAC can answer that at the end.
Third, with all of the digital inputs available and the excellent power output, this would make a superb digital preamp except that it has no balance control. Something to think about TEAC. Hookup was fairly easy with the transport placed on top of the decoder in my Arcici Suspense Rack, with both RCA and balanced analog connections directly to the preamps, SPDIF digital from both the transport and converter to my Lexicon MC-12B pre-pro for comparison, and Word Clock and SPDIF digital input from my DV-60. All three types of digital transmission between the two chassis were evaluated, once the proper cords were sourced.
Setup was also fairly easy. The transport was set as the slave and the decoder as the master. There are four filter settings that can be used similar to the DV-60 for CD, off, 2 or 4 FS or actually converting the PCM signal to SACD before decoding. In PCM either straight 44 or 48 KHz can be used or these can be doubled or quadrupled up to 176 or 192 kHz before decoding. There are two levels of word-clock synchronization, PLL1 for connection to a unit with word sync capability, such as the P-05, and PLL2 for those digital producers without syncing capability to provide an internal word-sync clock. The two units are made for each other, with the converter controlling the transport through the word clock, which is accurate to 3 parts per billion. One can also add one of three external Word Clocks with even further accuracy to 0.005 parts per billion. Now here's an interesting additional ability: all of the D-05's digital inputs can also be used by other digital sources, thus making the D-05 a digital preamp for all of your non-Dolby and DTS decoding. Its circuitry uses 32 bit processors, so digital volume control can be used without loss of information for all of the inputs.
Finally, the meat of the article; how did it sound? Straight out of the box, without the AES-EBU cords that had to be ordered, I'd say it compared somewhat favorably to the original Sony CD player from 1982 (i.e. digititis to the max). On my best live recordings, the soundstage extended to maybe the edges of the speakers without significant hall sound. Trumpets were glaring, strings were edgy and bass was thumpy. As hundreds of hours of break-in time was recommended, the unit was left spinning discs continuously during which the AES-EBU cords arrived. Interestingly, hooking up the DV-60 as transport to the D-05 noted an improvement, but the combination was still below the level of the DV-60 alone. Therefore both the transport and D/A converter needed the time.
After about five days using a couple of my CD and SACD break-in disks, there was a significant improvement. The soundstage began to open up, deepen and coalesce. The stridency was significantly reduced and the bass began tightening. These units would make the biggest non-believer in equipment break-in a convert. As I write this the unit has been playing continuously for about four weeks and there's been no further improvement over the past week. When used in tandem, the combo seems to play back exactly what's on the disk without commentary. The best of my disks sounded superb, better than any other time I've listened to them, while some of my older digititis type CD's did sound somewhat better but not enough to seriously listen to. On the other hand, several discs, which sounded middling on other units, came close to the best for music retrieval. The units must be doing something better with digit retrieval and analog conversion.
The remainder of my comments will be of listening sessions using the AES-EBU dual-link for CD as the SPDIF and FireWire links, while superb and still better than my DV-60 or modified Denon 5900 players, are not quite as good, lacking the last measure of quality. Also, with CDs the setup using the 4 FS 176 kHz setting with dual-link beat out the PCM to SACD decoding. SACD's were played back both through the Dual-link and FireWire, as I really couldn't tell the difference between the two.
With the above setup, the combination appears to be picking up more of what's on the discs than other units, including the DV-60- D-05 combination through SPDIF using the word-clock function. The sound is neither romanticized nor digitized like other high end units, but seems to be what's actually recorded on the disk without commentary. It's become a cliché in high-end audio to say that one can pick out nuances never heard before, but this machine does just that. For instance, one of my favorite CDs is The Last Night of the Proms recorded at the Albert Hall during live performances of the summer Proms Concerts. It is actually a compilation done over three years and various concerts. While in other concert halls, the poor folk seats are towards the back and upper tiers, the PROMS floor area is seatless allowing them to pack the masses in to within a couple of feet of the podium, and most of the front-rowers bring in various noise making paraphernalia to use during the performance of the last three pieces of the evening which are always the same, i.e. Wood's "Fantasia on British Sea Songs", Handel's "See the Conquering Hero Come", and Parry's "Jerusalem". One can now hear not only differences in microphone placement and recording techniques for each evening, but also much bigger differences in hall and audience sound, which were indistinguishable as a haze of noise previously.
There are also extremely loud pops when balloons released by the hoi polloi hit the suspended microphones and burst, which are now not just loud but heart-stopping due to the increased dynamics. You may be saying, "why the hell is he talking about crowd noise and explosions?" Because these and other extraneous hall sounds are what makes the difference between a dead studio recording and a live event… or between pickup of all of the available information on the disc or loss of the ambient information. With this unit one is truly transported to the live event. Even the coughs are more natural, with several actually sounding as if they are coming from behind my left shoulder. On my CD of the Beatles' Abbey Road, during the beginning of "Golden Slumbers," they've mixed in extraneous noises. One being an insect who is panning from right to left. Previously the little thing seemed to fly from in front of the right speaker to just to the side front of the left one. Now he flies beyond the left speaker to about 20 feet from my left shoulder before disappearing along with the tape noise from its recording, never heard before. Extraneous noise to the music, yet meaningful in the ability of the units to resolve it. And you won't believe Ringo's drum solo during "The End"… chest compression galore! Well-recorded voices are far more natural, with an in-the-recording studio presence not previously heard here. A CD of Joan Baez's Farewell Angelina done with two microphones now transports one to the original studio venue much like the vinyl I have of the same recording.
On the other hand, early digital recordings with some digititis are not romanticized. An early London of Dutoit and Montreal called Fete A La Francais has superb playing and sonics, and this machine does a wonderful job of bringing out the music, but unhappily also some stridency built into the disc heard on all previous machines its been played back on. If you want to glamorize your recordings, go for another.
As stated, one can set up the D-05 to do just 44.1, 88.2, 176.4 kHz or DSD playback of CDs. While some people prefer non-oversampling/up-sampling DACs, this unit definitely brings out more feeling of continuousness of the sound field with the maximum up conversion. Conversion to DSD, while giving a somewhat more analog-like presentation, loses a little bit on attack and clarity of the space. With the ability to control this from the remote, one can switch easily between them to determine which is best for each disc. Fun for tweakers like us.
On to stereo SACDs; while there aren't many of them, the RCA series of those great two and three track recordings of the 50's and 60's have got to be heard. This is the first time that I've found the digital reincarnations to be superior to the original 1 to 5-S vinyl's I have of several played back on my mega-bucks analog rig, and if my long term memory serves me, very close to what I heard on my second or third generation master tapes from years ago played on a souped up Ampex 350 tape machine (see below). Again, compared to the DV-60 and Denon 5900 mod, there is far more there, there, if you know what I mean. Even the three track ones converted to two track reveal more information and drag one into the performance, than using the DV-60 with three front channels.
Recently recorded 5.1 SACD's lose most of the surround effect, but the front channels do capture some of this when the units are set to combine them. While most of the ambiance information extends out only to the listener's level, the quality is still superior to both what the Denon and DV-60 accomplishes. On the other hand, when I connect the information from the front channel preamps also to my Lexicon MC 12B, ambiance recovery is almost as good as listening to the 5.1 channels out of the DV-60, with just a slight discontinuity in the sound field.
Using the DV-60 as transport connected through SPDIF and word clock to the D-05, I was able to listen two DVD-Audio recordings from Aix Records which have several tracks of 24/192 two track recordings, and to many of the 24/48 or 96 recordings I began making of my vinyl and DAT tapes, using both original sampling and up sampling to 192 kHz. In addition, I also played back several of the DATs through both my Pioneer Pro DAT Deck and my TASCAM DV-RA1000 recorder into the D-05. In all cases, the reproduction was again superior to any time I've listened to them previously.
So what's the final word? For two channel PCM and SACD, this is the finest decoding device that's been in my system and possibly the finest that these two ears have ever heard. To paraphrase Robert Harley in his Absolute Sound review of the P-03/D-03 combo, the units produce "A Transparent Window on the Source." Saying that, there are other units out there that others may like better. For instance, the $10,000 Chord top of the line unit CD player using a tube output stage sounds somewhat more romantic, but I think that it may be idealizing what's on the disk, and it will only play Red Book CD's. I have not had the EMM 2 channel unit here but have heard it at shows, so I really cannot compare the two. Also, there is the TEAC 01 and 03 units that are significantly more expensive if one wants to really go for top of the line. Finally there's the Nova Physics Disk Player which sounded superb at the Stereophile Show and which we were supposed to get a unit for review but haven't.
Every one of my finest recordings sounded finer. One has to hear the sound this unit produces to appreciate it. It is the most three dimensional and real sound field digital ever produced in this room with some of the best CD's, possibly rivaling the best stereo analog, both vinyl and master tapes. The two channel RCA SACD remastering sound cleaner, clearer and more live than the third generation master tapes that I owned years ago of the same performances. The best quality input is the dual AES-EBU, with the FireWire close but even the RCA SPDIF word-clocked to the DV-60 as transport sounded better than the DV-60 alone, which is no slouch. It's so good that I'm almost prepared to sacrifice my pension fund to keep the units but can't for the sake of my poor family. This is the first product I can remember returning that I truly wanted to keep. I'm really going to miss these units, and, as most reviewers take months to complete their evaluations, even though the review is done, I plan to keep them as long as possible. Maybe I can possibly buy the D-05 to get a large percentage of the improvement, and possibly not buy any Christmas presents for anybody else. I wonder if I do that, whether the Ghost of Christmas Present will pay me a visit. Oh well, the problems of an audiophile!Have great holiday everyone!
Thank you for your review on the new P-05/D-05 transport/DAC combo. We feel your review is objective and fair. We are very pleased to know that you appreciate the system’s ability to recreate the listening experience, without coloration. We take great care through R&D to recreate source material through highly accurate data retrieval. We believe the listening experience starts with the source so we strive to bring you the cleanest and most accurate signal path throughout our entire system. The P-05/D-05 system is near the price point of our highly acclaimed P-70/D-70 system. This is the first time that ESOTERIC has offered a VRDS system with separate transport and DAC at similar price points to the P-70/D-70.
The issues that you raised are important to us and we would like to clarify our position for your readers. If we included "higher end" power cords for the P-05/D-05 system, costs to the consumer would rise substantially. We use the finest power cords that are available at the price points that we need to allow us to meet the target MSRP for the entire system. We also feel that the decision to use optional, high end AC cords, and/or power conditioning is subjective. We agree that incremental improvements can be achieved through the use of different power cords, interconnects, shorter BNC clock cables (based on component positioning), speaker cables, anti-resonance devices, etc. Because we see these incremental upgrades as added cost items, we believe the decision to include or purchase these items is best left to the consumer, in consultation with their dealer. On the D-05 you have mentioned that there is no balance control. We do not see the need for one just as we see no tone controls on very high end pre-amps. It is our assumption that each channel would be fed to our DAC at an equal level and that any balance adjustment thereafter would be done by the connected device such as an amplifier, pre-amp/processor, etc. However, we will feed back that concern to R&D for the future consideration.
We thank you again for the opportunity to be reviewed on the P-05/D-05 system. We look forward to working with you in the future.