EMM-Labs XDS1 vs Esoteric K-01


I’m a longtime Wadia owner (now S7i), but want to upgrade to a better SACD machine. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Esoteric dealer with a demo K-01 in my area.

So which machine to choose?
We received our K03 which I wanted to evaluate before we took the plunge for the K01.

I have been in professional audio sales for 25 years previously working for Sound by Singer and Innovative Audio, and I have heard almost every uber expensive piece of digital out there, and the new K01 and K03 are remarkable pieces of engineering.

Most of the time Esoteric's players were extraordinary in terms of their build quality but I always felt the sound to be somewhat mechanical.

The new K03 after a bit of break in has completely challenged my perceptions of digital. The Esoteric floats a huge 3 dimensional image, has superb resolution, excellent bass and dynamics and sounds remarkably liquid.

Place one on top of still points, use a good power cable, put 2 HRS damping plates on top, and sit back and you will marvel that you can get such a remarkable degree of resolution yet it is so listenable.

This player is one of the true achievements of modern digital design, personally I have always felt the Meitner and their offshoots to lack a sense of warmth, clean but a bit sterile sounding for me, same with the big DCS incredible resolution but a bit dry, listen to a KO1 and you will realize you are in the same class as the uber players for a lot less money, and with the famous build quality that Esoteric is famous for.

I found the player sounds best with no digital filter employed, you have so many possible settings so you can tune the sound to your taste, also the player needs 500 hours of playing time before it sounds really good.

Dealer disclaimer
I agree with audiooracle.

The K-03 is an incredible achievement. I'm a dyed in the wool vinylphile but have spent a disproportionate amount of time listening to silver discs over the past 2 months.

Dealer disclaimer.

What is the K-03 retail? $13,000?
i've owned the Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD/server dac digital player for almost 4 years. it has an Esoteric disc drive, and has multiple digital inputs so works great as a music server DAC.

if you are considering those players i recommend also checking out the MPS-5.

i'm really into analog and have 3 high end tt's as well as a couple of RTR Master recorders. the best thing i can say about the Playback Designs MPS-5 is that it's the first digital that can hold it's own in my system against the analog. click on my system page for details.

also; the dac in the MPS-5 is programmable, so it's as future proof as any digital i've seen.

the EMM Labs and Esoteric make high quality products too, so good luck on your search.

btw, i'm not a dealer. :)
I have owned the Esoteric K-01 for about 3 months. I completely agree with your assessment of this amazing CD/SACD player. I upgraded from the Esoteric X01D2 (and previously owned a couple of Krell players). The K-01 is, by far, the best player I have ever heard.
Mike: Do you have any ability to demo the K-01 against your MPS-5? I'd be interested in hearing more from you given all the time you've spent with EMM Labs equipment, the MPS-5.

BTW...Winston Ma's UCD version of the Steinway Take 2 disc that was recorded in your room sounds amazing!
Thanks for all the response :-)

I have now listened to a EMM-Labs CDSA a couple of times, and it's not the sound I seek. I can't describe exactly what is "wrong" with the sound, but I quickly lost my wish to continue to listen. My experience with the EMM-Labs sound, can best be described as dark and totally without drive.
From your comments, I get the impression that you heard the unit in a dealer set up and not your system. If that is the case, then it would be prudent to temper any "conclusions" unless you are very familiar with the system(s).

In any case, I'm not quite clear how you can determine the performance of the XDS1 based upon an audition of the CDSA, which is a model many years the XDS1's junior and by all accounts, not even in the same league.

If my spotty memory serves me right, we've discussed this offline as both of us are Wadia fans who have gone or are considering going in another direction due to Wadia's business decisions in recent years (i.e., the cancellation of the 981).

In my experience, the XDS1 betters (typically significantly) my former GNSC Statement 861se in all facets save two. Those two are forwardness of presentation and drive. Where I sometimes miss this Wadia presentation is in two types of music, female acoustic solo (since the Wadia gives a front rows perspective versus the XDS1's relatively further back presentation; however, this is purely a matter of personal preference and is merely a slight difference in degree) and hard rock (where, while close, the 861se gives the music just a little more drive).

In any case, if your EMM dealer won't loan you one for demo, you can speak with EMM direct and they should work something out. I would never buy anything that expensive (outside of speakers due to logistical issues) without an in-home demo.

Good luck.
i agree that esoteric makes excellent cd players, well, from a technical point of view. I was once a fan of the X-series players when i started this hobby. the best part about esoteric is its transport and pick up system, that's all about this company could do: outstanding detail, powerful dynamics, solid and well defined images(high density) that no other cd players in its class could compete. i had an X-01 LTD for a short while and i tried x-03se, K-03, K-01(with high anticipation). Neither X-01 LTD nor K-01 sounded clinical or like mechanics, but i can tell you, all these Esoteric players that i had play around are "Soulless", they just dont know how to transform details into music. For the same price, i would pick some players with inferior hifi quality but better sounding.
I sold my Burmester 089 (excellent player FWIW), and bought a GNSC Statement Wadia S7i. I betters my old 089 in every way except the Burmester is a little "warmer". But, the S7i does take a long, long time to break in with the Black Gate caps, but every few weeks, it get more,"more". I am very happy indeed, and just as important, it is a great pleasure to talk with Steve at GNSC. I in fact, bought the Wadia based on his reputation, which he has lived up to, in each and every way.
04-18-11: Talk2me
I don't know how to be more delicate in saying this, but Burmester Top or Reference Line is the best in the world without a doubt, period, end of discussion. If you value all the best things from valves and vinyl with the reliability of solid state, Burmester is your answer. It is not even close. Even among the highest, most expensive players, Burmester is the best.
Talk2me (Threads | Answers | This Thread)

You put this unit for sale shortly after you posted this. Are you now trying to sell the GNSC modded unit?
Talk2me, what is your assessment of the Wadia direct vs. preamp?

Wadia is extraordinarily sensitive to power cords, footers, and shelves.
Audiofeil and AudioOracle, can you comment on K-01 and K-03 break in patterns?

I am getting the impression that K-01 upsampling rates and filter settings may need, to some extent, be broken in on their own.... E.g. after breakin in 44.1 Khz with filters off for about 350 hrs, DSD+FIR1 seems to need still some break in time of its own.


Disclaimer: Reviewer