Esoteric Digital Separates

Happy Holidays!

I've been giving some thought to my digital front end and am wondering if anyone has had the opportunity to compare any of the Esoteric single box players with their two box separates. I'm currently using an X-03SE which I love--great sonics and build quality--and am wondering what happens when you go to separates like the P05/D05 or P03/D03 combination. I don't want a change in sound character just more and better of what I'm getting with the X-03SE.

Thanks and enjoy.
Dodgealum, haven't owned any Esoterics but I came very close. Anyway, if you're not aware of this site, the page linked below should provide some useful feedback on your question:
I own the P-03U/D-03 combo and can tell you that I've never heard anything like it in terms of the level of accuracy, musicality and enjoyment that it produces. I moved up to this combo from the UX-1 Limited (which I enjoyed very much) and experienced the same type of large leap in every major category that is referred to in the article that Foster_9 mentions above. It is worth nothing that the P-05/D-05 are a worthy combination to be sure; I've know 2 people who have owned that stack. The 03 level is just 'more' and 'right' in every category. The 01 series represents 'nirvana' of course but one must win the lottery to think about that investment. Interestingly enough, Esoteric has introduced a SOTA 1-box unit combining the same fanatical dual-mono DAC design and over-built nature as is in the P-01/D01 and P-03/D-03 offerings; they call it the K-01. I would truly love to hear that unit some day just to compare my current results with their latest and greatest...
Thanks, Foster 9. Very interesting comparison represented in that piece. Zephyr, since you have the clock, what do you think would be the wiser upgrade path--adding a G-03X clock to my X-03SE or going with a P-05/D-05 or P-03/D-03 combination without the external clock? Also, can the new tandem machines be used a la "set it and forget it"? I'm not much for fiddling around with various decoding schemes and would rather have the machine simply decide on the conversion and playback settings that will yield the best sound.

Sidenote: How do you like those Legacy Focus SE's? Some have compared them to my Daedalus DA-1.1's.
Dodgealum, I also have the P03 D03 G0s combo. Adding a G03x clock to the X03Se will make no audible difference that you will be able to hear. I have tried the G0s clock with the X01 limited player in a previous system of mine and in my dealers system as well - in both cases I could not hear a improvement. There is no doubt that moving to the P03 D03 will be a substantial improvement from your X03SE (with or without an external clock). I have not heard the P05/D05 combo so I cannot comment on that. If you do go the P03 D03 route, then at some point, adding a G0s or G0rb clock will make a nice audible improvement (not earth shattering, but a worthwhile improvement). The P03/D03 combo is a set it and forget it combo - the only real decision for you to make is whether you want redbook upsampled or not - and if so, to either 2x (88.2) 4x (176.4) or to DSD. Once you decide that by listening, you set it that way and it does the same thing everytime. Some people like upsampling others don't - its really your preference for your ears in your system.
Apologies in the advance for the extremely long response; the thread has prompted
many good questions and points for feedback...

I agree that moving to the P-03/D-03 is the right move in terms of value for
the money you are looking to spend and overall sonic results. I've used my G-0s
clock (Rb oscillator clocking precision) to re-clock an X-03SE I had on loan for
2 weeks while my UX-1 was being upgraded as well as my UX-1 after it received its
upgrade to "Limited" status. At 176.4khz re-clocking I was able to hear some
improvements in both units but it was not as staggering an improvement as simply
moving to the P/D combo.

I've heard from several people who sell/demo the P03/D03 and the
P-05/D-05 combos and the overall feedback is that the 5 series
with the 32-bit DACs does not produce as musical and engaging
a result as the 3-series. The same feedback and more has been
gained from 2-3 owners of P-05/D-05 that I've spoken to on Audiogon
over the last couple of years. In all cases for RBCD and SACD,
the overwhelming favorite is the P-03 and D-03 combination.
That stated, for those fortunate enough to own the P-01VU/D-01VU
that I've spoken to, they say that RBCD is superior with noticeable
improvements on that highly-priced pairing over the 3-series with
their favorite SACD performance still being the 3-series run in
dual AES mode.

The G-03x clock will not give you any noticeable improvements in general
when utilized to re-clock a unit like the P-03/D-03, P-05/D-05 as the G-03x
does not deliver appreciably more accuracy than the crystal oscillator
circuitry that is already in the D-03 and D-05. The G-0s (in Rb oscillator mode)
or the G-0Rb (default is Rb-only) is the clocking upgrade to take notice of and
target long-term as you are moving to +/- 1-3 ppm to 0.5 ppb (as in billion)
which does deliver a very noticeable improvement when re-clocking any digital
unit that can accept Word Sync Input. The G-0s or G-0Rb make their overall
positive effects known most noticeably when you've used them for a while and
then remove them from the system; you'd notice a bit less refinement and precision
in imaging and fullness in certain aspects of the musical performance.

To my opinion though, what the G-0s and G-0Rb adds is the last .01% (not literally)
of improvements; in order to fully appreciate it, you need to be 'done' in all other
system aspects before thinking about dropping that much money on a high-precision
clocking circuit with parts per billion accuracy. I've come to this opinion after moving
up with the clock before other things were 'done' in my system and consider this part of
the path that I chose to be something I could have improved my thinking on at the time.
Consequently, I'd advocate moving to the P-03/D-03 first, re-clock the P-03 with the
Word Sync-Out functionality of the D-03 (has its own clocking circuity you can utilize
to sync the transport to the DAC and hear noticeable improvements in doing so) and get
used to pairing, break them in and enjoy them first so that if you do decide to add
the "uber clock", you'll know what you are experiencing after you add it to a system
you already know.

Others may not agree with me, but for the same money as the G-0s or G-0Rb,
you can take interconnects, power cords, ground solutions and/or speakers,
pre-amp or others components to where you really want them to be versus
ignoring other possible improvements and focusing on one the 'last few inches'
of improvement in the digital playback part of the equation (the uber clock).
For example, in the system above, if you move to the P-03/D-03/G-0s or G-0RB,
you are adding 2 more components (net) to the above system; that will increase
the amount of rack and equipment in between the speakers and get in the way of
hearing improvements brought about by the new digital playback stack you are
looking to add (IMHO). I found a huge improvement when I stopped doing this
and invested in moving all equipment (except for my Edge NL12.1 amp) out to
the side/rear of the room; this takes more racks, longer power cords (at least
1 for amp generally) and one good, long set of interconnects from pre-amp to amp.
I'd suggest looking at this before you purchase the "uber clock".

All of the above are personal opinion that I've come to after years of experimentation and
decision-making (some of which I'd re-trace steps on and change).

Observations (much more concrete);

- the P-03/D-03 is definitely a set it and forget combo after you make choices for clocking, up-sampling and filtering

- re-clocking is a separate choice from how you up-sample; I find that whether I use the clock circuitry in the D-03 or the G-0s, my favorite overall clock frequency is 176.khz. Again, this is separate and distinct from up-sampling choice

- up-sampling is a separate and important choice; it is largely a matter of personal sonic taste. I've tried every combination (44.1, 88.2, 176.4 and DSD) and favor 176.4khz up-sampling with all sources except SACD for which pure-mode DSD to DSD is my favorite

- Digital filtering On or Off is a choice. I tried both with all of the above combinations in the P-03/D-03 and have left Digital Filtering "ON" for several years as it is my favorite

- running the P-03/D-03 in "Dual AES" mode is by far (to my ears) the vastly superior choice for RBCD and SACD playback. If you have the P-03U (I do), the same is true for DVD-Audio (2-channel) playback

- running balanced XLR connections to your pre-amp is the superior sonic choice for output from the D-03 to your pre-amp no matter what is downstream from your pre-amp

- if you have the P-03U (I do), turning off the video circuity during audio playback does make a small improvement. The remote control makes this a 1-button choice and I'd highly recommend it

- STAR GROUNDING is a BIG deal with Esoteric separates whether you have 2 or 3 or 4 units put together (3 is with clock, 4 is if you are lucky enough to own the P-01/D-01 and master clock separates in 1st generation or VU configurations)!!! Esoteric's lead design is a grounding fanatic. In Esoteric's show setups, either he or a delegate will ensure that for best performance all Esoteric gear shares the same floating ground reference using a star grounding topology. I have found this to make a huge difference in my system using the Granite Audio "Ground Zero" star-grounding unit with appropriate ground cables. Given the 4 different grounging points in an Esoteric 3-box stack (transport has 2 different grounding points), the dual AES cables between transport and DAC, the balanced cables from DAC to pre-amp and the connections from amp to pre-amp, this makes consumate sense to me ever since I was given this feedback that all units should share a common view of a ground reference. This is particularly true of an Esoteric 2 or 3 (or 4) box stack in and of itself. More importantly, it SOUNDS BETTER when you get this setup right. System resolution, imaging, noise floor, etc...all improve drammatically. This is especially true when you have high sensitivity speakers in the mix

- you don't have to spend thousands on digital cable(s) for the clock circuit but you do need an accurate and high quality 75-ohm cable choice

- the choice of balanced interconnects and AES digital cables is important regardless of price point; find ones that you like and stick with them

As to the Legacy Focus SEs; I'd stack them up against ANY speaker I've ever heard.
I am convinced that they are one of THE best values and performers in the audiophile
world. They deliver everything important or that I ever wanted for any type of music
(I listen to everything!) and they do it with rock-solid imaging where these 200+lb
speakers disappear, musicality, tonal accuracy, etc...Over the past 6 years, since
picking up my first pair of Legacy Focus 20/20s, later moving to the Focus HDs and
last year moving to the SEs, I can tell you that I have NEVER had listening fatigue.
This is something I've not experienced with any other speaker. I would advocate that
no matter what one demos insofar as speakers are concerend that you find some way to
weigh a potential buying choice against Focus SEs or Whisper HD or XD from Legacy
before buying. I am not a dealer in any way shape or form. I am however a staunch
advocate of Legacy speakers. Hearing is believing the case of the Focus SEs, the
new Whispers or (according to a couple friends I trust), the Helix HDs.

Please let me know what other questions you might have an how I can help further.

Happy Holidays!
Anyone considering separates should understand they are opening a can of worms.

I have spent more money on cables, shelves, and footers to optimize my digital components, than the cost of thecomponents themselves. While I have absolutely no regrets and the results speak for themselves, do not think that you can buy separates, throw them on any rack with stock PCs, and be done. Each separate is very sensitive to everything.

There is something to be said for the value and peace of mind of a single-box unit.
That is a good point in general however, given your separates (Wadia) and mine (Esoteric), I can tell you I made the same mistake and have since sold off the most costly cables) and found options that are available for less that give me 99% or better of what I had from 4-8x the price depending upon which cable you look at. I made the same mistake with one-box units as well in my entire system. There is a point where 2K, 3K, K and beyond cables fail to deliver a proportionately better return on investment. You can do more for less as I found much too late in the game...
Zephyr, We are in agreement that there are many overpriced/overhyped cables with too many compromises, along with many value cables with nice performance. I do believe there are some game-changing cables out there that bring an improvement beyond that of a component upgrade.

If someone was to go with the Esoteric K01, or the Wadia S7i, or the TAD D600, they would have quite a formidable set-up with either an HRS or SRA platform, and an NVS Silver Ultimate 1 power cable. This would probably exceed suboptimally set-up separates. Any of these combinations should be quite magical.
Not to divert from the op, but Zephyr24069, I see you use some VH Audio cables. Can you tell me of cable options that you refer to that offer more performance for less. I do have a couple VH Audio Airsine power cords.
I am using VH Audio Symmetry (all copper) XLR interconnects and am extremely happy with them. I also am using a pair of Symmetry-grade all-copper 110-ohm AES/EBU for the connections between my P-03 and D-03 and am extremely happy there as well. To give you some idea of the meaning of my 'happiness' my prior cables were Tara 0.8 XLRs with HFX Floating ground stations (1m and 4m) and a pair of 0.5 AES/EBU with HFX Floating grounds. I find the VH Audio Symmetry cables to be amazing in terms of what they give and also in terms of what they replaced.
Rtn1: Good points all around.....

Hi Dogealum,

Actually i had the X03 SE for a few months, thn upgraded to the X01 D2, and a year ago upgraded to the P03 D03 duo.

What i can tell you from my experience is that the upgrade to the, at the time top one box was a big step, but the upgrade from the X01 D2 to the separates was actually a bigger step forward in comparation. I was very impress by the gains all over I got when going to the 03s from the X01. Far more than when I upgraded one box units. This came as a surprise to me.

The X03 was a fine player. Now the P03 D03 is at a totally different level ( sonics but also $$$ while...). If u have the means my advice is to go this way.

I would not go with the clock and your current unit. Im now considering the clock for the duo, but people say for one box units effect is very very small to none (I dont have first hand experience here though). But the change from X03 SE to the 03 s is anything but small. Quite huge all over.

Dont have experience with the 05s but people say the 03s are more balanced and better performers.

If I were you I would upgrade to the P03 D03 s. Thats exactly what I did, with one step in between, and i dont regret where I ended. after you spend some time with the separates, try to audition the clock ( i will do it myself in a few days) and see what it adds up if any.

I would only have one doubt if i had to buy brand new now: Are they maybe about to release a new P03 D03 like they just did with the top one box model (K01 I think is called)? If so, you may want to wait but how to find out? Dealers probably have no clue

Hope this helps
Hi Zephyr24069,

Very detailed and interesting post. I would like to know more about the ground zero solution you comment.

Did you have an audible ground loop present or use it just lo lower noise floor? Can you elavorate a bit more on how you connect this and exactly what componets you have connected to the gadget? Does it really make a significant improvement or is it more on the subtle side of things?

I have not been able to find any review. Just a few lines mentioned on another much more expensive (12.000 Usd) gear review, that seems to be similar or for the same pourpose, but with a nice finish. The Tripoint Audio Troy. In that review they say that the granite solution did not make too big of a difference and that the Tripoint was great... Now Im not goning to expend 12 grand on this thing to lower floor noise..., but could consider the Granite if it delivers.

Thanks for the info
Hi Eli,

Let me clear the air on the Tripoint Troy. To say that this is like the Ground Zero with a nicer finish is like saying a Kia and a Ferrari are both cars, with the Ferrari having a nicer finish.

I'm not going to argue the price, because it is certainly expensive. But, this has made one of the most profound impacts on my system and has taken it into new realms. I did demo the SR Powercell 10SE just before purchasing the Troy, and there was just no comparison. I would have no hesitation in recommending the Troy, even at the current price.

Now, the Ground Zero at $600 is certainly more approachable, and if it provides an audible benefit, then great.
Thanks Rtn1 for clarification. I do have the SR powercell 10SE and it works great. Although it is non current limiting conditioner, I have plugged into it only sources and pre amp, having the monoblocks directly to dedicatedmlines. The effect on sound it has is very nice in diferent areas (used together with SR PC).
Now Im a bit confused. you compare the Troy with the powercell? Im not familiar with thenTroy but arent they diffeerent things? One being a power conditioner and the Troy being a ground isolation solution? I thought they both were actually complimentary. You plug PCs of the components into the powercell. But into the Troy only "ground" cables coming from the GRN terminals or chasis of gears? Or does the Troy also accept PCs on top of the grounds?

Also there seems to be a huge price increase here. I saw the review of 2009 quoting it at 8.000 usd and today they seem to be asking 12.000 for the same thing?? May I ask how much you paid for yours?

Hi Eli,

You are correct that the Troy is not a power conditioner, and I apologize for being unclear. I was looking for a method to decrease the noise floor in my system, and tried the Powercell first, with everything plugged into it. The Powercell was one of the largest conditioners on the market (10 outlets), and I figured that plugging everything into one box would reduce the noise by sharing a common ground. The Powercell did not have much of an effect in my system, with the amps plugged in or left on dedicated lines. I had been using a Shunyata Hydra with an Elrod PC, but not everything would fit into its 8 outlets.

Next, I took a chance with the Troy, and it worked-out.

I did purchase one before the price increase, and felt it was expensive then. You would have to contact Tripoint to see what type of prices are available currently.
Ok thanks for theninfo. That iswhat I thought.

Im sure the Troy has a good effect on ur system. If the granite has it as reported here, more so should the expensive Troy.

Now if the asking price justifies the amount of gain, alone or compared to the 600 usd granite, is the eternal question. Not an answer there as it is a personal thing in each case, taking into account perceptions and each ones economic situatuion, I guess.
It is true as you pointed out, and some others, that the amount of "gain" is what should be taken into account when dropping more $$$ to upgrade and decide where to do it.
Besides the speakers, that are somewhat limited by the listening space you have, the decission of upgrading amps, pre amps, sources, power related gears, or cables should be tied to this gain on a whole system approach. Taking one to the extreme while having a weak link in other is not going to yield best return per invested (invested or should I say spent?) dollar.

Per instance the major gain I have experienced so far is with the pre amp upgrade to the ARC 40 annyversary from the classe CP 700. Gain was just impressive. Feels like if I had upgraded not only preamp but also power amps, source.... So probably my classe pre was the weak link in the chain and upgrading provided not only the swap gain but the full potential of the rest fo the gear.

A bit off topic now, but something to consider when deciding if the next big usd should go to a clock, separates or whatever.
I did not have a ground loop present as I had an electric put in an over-built 10-gauge 20-amp circuit with Oyaide cryo'ed R1 outlets, oxygen free high quality copper custom-pulled and had him rearrange my entire panel in the house to balance it and ensure that the circuit was the first off the main and on a leg that had no high-power devices (heat pump, kitchen, washer, dryer, etc...) on it. I utilize the Ground Zero simply to give a common ground reference beyond what the circuit already does and to drop the noise floor further (which it does). I have the freedom to arrange the components into groups and use the Lo-Med-High switches to find the optimum permutation that brings the best results for my system. For EMI/RFI filtering I utilize Tara AD/6C units with great results. Both of these offerings provide the right levels of what I am looking for in each respective area at a low price point.

I have been through several different configs over the years and have utilized MUCH more expensive power cords (Shunyata Anaconda VX in later configs followed by Tara The One PCs) together with Shunyata Hydra8's and later Furman Reference 20i and Exactpower 15A (separate configs). I found that for my tastes, all these units, power cords and configs brought obvious benefits but also injected their own sonic personalities into the equation. I have found (IMHO) that s more simple config with basic grounding, a great dedicated circuit & outlets and straightforward EMI/RFI filtering gives me what I am looking for without any injected personality of the power cord or power device influencing what I hear. Perhaps I left a 'better' solution behind in some of the higher-end gear that I had for power however to be honest, I do not miss it all.

I've read up on the Tripoint Troy on their website and the info that they give as to whether it is a solely a grounding device or it has EMI/RFI filtering personality.
Thanks for the info Zephyr. As power conditioner I already use the Powercell 10 SE and it works fine. Im happy with it. I may try out the Granite star ground though. I was looking for something like that. Do You know if they ship oversees? You define it as having a good and material impact right?
I'm not sure about overseas from Granite but I cannot see how they wouldn't. I got mine through Mark at Music Direct; I believe they will ship overseas but you'll want to check with Mark S. there on it. He can also tell you A LOT about the me and I'll give you his contact info.
Hey guys I have been reading your comments and just want to say I have the Power Cell 10SE and the Tripoint Troy and I believe for my system anyway, they work wonderfully together!I have dedicated outlets. Shieleded AC wiring leading up to Maestro outlets. I have a dedicated 9 foot ground rod for the outlets.I use all purist audio Dominus power cables,interconects,and speaker cables.The Troy is hard to describe as far as improvements are concerned. All I can say is that I heard it demoed and that was it. I saw how it maximized the musicallity and that was all she wrote!If I had to sell off most of my equiptment the Troy would have to stay for fear of not being able to replace it. All the other items can be replaced eventually.At one time people thought that cables were too expensive. Now I realize there is no substitute for quality cabling. Well before I heard what the Troy gets RID of ,I didn not know that there was so much noise, grundge,hash,electronic smear until it was gone. Quite honestly I am surprised no one has addressed this problem before! Hope this helps! Happy New Year!
Nice system and room looks great booboobaer. I see you have focals. Thats the only major upgrade i would consider if I build a bigger room. Not the Grande, which are fantastic but too.... Grande in all senses, but the next model that came out this year. Still that is a long shot and only a thought.

For what people say theTroy has to work great. But at 12K grand, i think is too much. Moreover considering Im overseas and would have to buy blind. Also info on their web is almost non existing... There are solutions out there costing a fraction. Like the granite for 600. Even assuming they do, say, half the performance of the Troy, it may be a better option for me to exploRe and take the risk of buying blind. Being the Troy what it is, just cant imagine whats in there that justifies a 12 k mark, regardless of the results it yields, which Im not questioning at all. Also seems it was 8k last year, which is already a lot. A 50% price increase overyear? Like if things were booming... Talk about deflaction.
I respectfully understand!I feel the same way, if I cant hear a product on MY system first then I wont buy it.I would talk to the owner of Tripoint ,it could not hurt. Take care and happy listening.
With the K-01 out now I can't help but think there is a revision/upgrade coming to the P-03/D-03 combo as well. Like the OP and owning the X-01 limited I'm all set to move up to the P-03/D-03 but have decided to wait and see.
Here is a slight variant of the question asked by the OP. Has anyone compared substituting an Esoteric transport one or two grades below a given Esoteric DAC? For example, pairing a P-05 with a D-03. Reason I ask is that I often hear that transport quality becomes less critical as the quality of the DAC (and the transport, for that matter) increases. The quality level of even the least of the Esoteric separates is pretty high.
Hall, I fully agree. I think if I had to buy today a P03 / D03, I would be in serious doubts. Chances you will see something coming in, in that sense are high. Not so much I revision I would think, but a whole new system, with more inputs on the DAC. Similar to what they have done with the X01; after 3 revisions/upgrades, seems like the K01 is a totally new set.

Wouldn't be so concern, frankly. regarding the new combo being that superior to the existing in absolute sound performance, since current is already excellent, but it will probably have more flexibility input wise, and be ready for accepting hard drives, servers and the like. I would love to see it capable of doing streaming like the Linn DS or the Squeezbox systems, with an ethernet.

But I don't think there is a way to find out. Dealers would not have a clue, most likely. And in the other hand, the D01 P01 is a much older model and is still around. So what to do in your case is a tough call. Don't know if someone has some info in this respect that can be of help for your situation.

Dougmc, I would not do that. I think the transport is key to good quality. At least as important as DAC. Extracting well and accurate I think is key. Also bear in mind that it is the P03 the one that up samples. The D03 can accept all kind of samples, but has not the capability of up sampling itself.

I would buy DAC and transport that are of equal quality and balanced among them, whatever that is.

Having said that, I have not heard the D03 with the P05, so if you have a chance listen to them.