Esoteric P-03/D-03 or Esoteric K-03

Of the above mentioned units, which would be a better purchase? If the DACs in the K-03 are considered better than the previous P-03/D-03 models, then is the K-03 a better choice or is the older pair a better choice used? A new K-03 is a few thousand cheaper than the other pair used. Thanks in advance for your advice.
I have not heard both P03/D03 neither K03. From some reviews and owners comments, i gather that the newer unit like P02/D02 is more rich and musical than P03/D03 though P03/D03 sounded neutral and very detailed...but somewhat dry or lean...according to some. Better to hear it before making your purchase, if possible. The newer K01, K03 singles units, and the latest separates P02/D02 aims to change the game, and to silence the critics of some who claim Esoteric players are clinical or bright at times.
newer singles might sound more natural and might want to try a used K01, seen a few selling for around $14k.

- K01 transport is a refined and evolved from P03's transport design
- K01 internal DAC uses 32bit DA devices, compared to 24bit in D03
- K01 internal DAC is more versatile because it can also used for converting your PC music files or you can connect high end internet radio device such as Magnum Dynalab through coaxial input cables. D03 can't do this.
- Most importantly, i think K01 internal DAC will sound better, not just because it has 32bit DA devices, but it directly plays SACD native DSD, instead of D03's converting PCM to DSD.

my 2 cents...

Yeah, the K-1s are currently going used for about the same price as the P-03/D-03 combo used. But all of the ones I've seen on sale are out of my voltage. I'd prefer a 220-240 volt machine if I were to go that direction. The K-03 new where I live is cheaper by about 3-4 thousand than the combo unit used. Thus, my asking of the question. I won't be able to audition the used combo unfortunately, but later I might have a chance to hear the K-03 before purchasing. My sense is that given the recent changes to the Esoteric gear and the trickling down of technology to the single box machines, they might be a better choice overall then the combo, which surprisingly enough might well be overpriced used given these changes. However, that's speculation on my part and it would be good to hear from someone who's actually heard the gear and can compare reasonably well. Your comments are helpful, Jimmy, so thank you for that.
Jimmy, what is your experience with the Dynalab internet radio played through the Esoteric K01 DAC? I am looking for the right way to listen to internet radio through my rig. I would also like to listen without switching on the K01 at times.
OK. Some helpful discussion here on this topic:
One note on something written above, P-03 and D-03 do maintain full DSD for SACD all the way from transport through DAC decoding and playback. There is an option to convert DSD->PCM and PCM->DSD however you need not choose this. The DAC chips in the D-03 are 'dual-mode' in that they can accept DSD or PCM signal inputs; they are unique from what I see in the industry in that regard.

As far as the P-03 and D-03 sounding clinical, lean and bright, I've found that this is often a function of the cabling, power cords and other equipment that are involved in the system. With my current setup, the P-03 and D-03 do not ever sound clinical, lean or bright. Choice of decoding, upsampling/clocking, etc...also figures in.

This may start a healthy debate however from some units I've heard, 32-bit DAC chips are not always better just because they are 32-bit. I've heard units that use them that don't sound as good as what comes out of the D-03 and a very few that equal or better it in some ways. I'd say forget the technical stats (32 versus 24, etc..) and let your ears be the judge!
heres my 2cents worth :
i have had the P3-D3 for a few years and recently bought the K-01. i kept the P3-D3 for some tiome so i could do a side-by-side test.
the K-01 needed a few hundred hours break-in but once that was done it beat the P3-D3 combo in every category, often by a good margin. i really liked the P3-D3 so that was somewhat of a suprise
more dynamic, better soundstage, more precise instrument location, less edgy, etc etc.
i also highly recommend the G-ORb word clock - i used it with both players and it adds the magical touch that digital sometimes lacks.
the K-01 is good - with the clock its excellent.
I heard the K-03 both with and without the G-0Rb clock at Axpona 2011; the unit was amazing. The K-03 was playing straight through to an Esoteric amp; they later added the C-03 pre-amp to the circuit and the performance took another big leap. Esoteric has done an amazing job packing performance, musicality and their usual excellent build quality into the K-01 and K-03 units....I don't suffer from the clinical, bright and edgy sound that some P3/D3 users have reported but if I did not have the system I have I would definitely give the K-01 serious consideration. Having all that performance in a single box does simplify life (cabling, power, etc....)...
Thanks for the replies. Zephyr, how did the P-03/C-03 combination that you have compare to the K-03? How close is the K-03 to the separates? I don't think I can go up to the K-01 due to price unless I wait a few years until more used ones come on the market and in my voltage, so I might go with a K-03, but I recently found the separates on sale locally for about a thousand dollars more than the K-03. Consequently, this question is a bit more significant for me now. Thanks in advance.
The K-03 was an impressive single-box player that I enjoyed hearing more than the DV-50s and UX-1 Limited Edition that I owned several years ago. It's RBCD and SACD playback were very good, spacious and musical without being edgy or bright. It could have been the room or the use of the K-03's line attenuator volume control in place of another pre-amp however it did not give 100% of the space, articulation, musicality and sound stage I am used to having at home which definitely is an unfair comparison with the P3/D3/G0 separates together with the cabling and room I have. The K-03 was drastically better overall than the UX-1 Ltd that I referenced above and better than any other single box unit that I've heard. The fit, finish and build quality are typical Esoteric high-end perfection. Where the K-03 playback opened up and excelled dramatically in all categories is when the Esoteric team switched over to running the K-03 into the C-03 pre-amp. That was a world of difference and safely the combination I would focus on (or other great high-end pre-amp of your choice) and spend the cash for versus using the K-03 without a pre-amp. I have heard and read from people that have heard the K-03 as well as the K-01 that that K-01 exceeds the performance in in every category over the K-03 by a good margin and that if you can afford it new or used, that the K-01 is the unit of choice. They did say that the K-01's direct mode (no separate pre-amp) is very good however the best combination (for them) was the use of a high quality separate pre-amp.

Insofar as advising you as to whether you should focus on the K-series versus the P3/D3 series today, be honest, I think you have to hear them both. I can tell you that I am extremely happy after over 5 years with the separates and that I am not looking to swap them out in favor of one of the K units however all of that is a matter of personal preference (and possibly a stubborn nature :-) ). I think the only possible system progression that may await me someday is the new P-02/D-02 setup or matching 2 single D-01VUs or a single D-02 with my P-03U (advised by an Esoteric as a valid upgrade option).

I can get much more specific as to what I heard with track listings, impressions, etc...however I would prefer to do this on email or phone so please let me know if you would like to talk further.
That's a very good description, Zephyr. Thank you. I have an ASR Emitter II amp, so that's what I'll be using when I upgrade my SACDP. I get a really good sense now about what you think about these two particular sets of components.
You are very welcome...the K3 and K1 represent a ton of great performance in a more affordable and smaller footprint package. It's amazing to see and hear how far the industry has come in the last 10-20 years...
Some useful comparisons posted at Arthur Salvatore's site:

To sum up:

"Compared to the Esoteric P-05/D-05 combination, the K-03 has more weight, body and impact. During dynamic peaks and complex music, it never gets slightly thin or brittle sounding, which the 05s have a tendency to exhibit. The bass has greater extension and more punch.

The new DAC technology of the K-03 is also evident in the high frequencies, which are extended and airy, but not intrinsically harsh or brash. The K-03 is definitely superior overall sonically, and has the added feature of USB compatibility. Furthermore, the need for AES EBU cables to connect the transport to a DAC is eliminated. The K-03 offers better performance, computer compatibility, greater simplicity and lower price. A no brainer in favor of the K-03 compared to the P-05/D-05.

How then does the K-03 fare against the vastly more expensive Esoteric P-03/D-03? Here, the sonic comparison is an interesting one. The separates are more ballsy. They sound more powerful and authoritative. Not by a wide margin, but it is noticeable. The 03s are very smooth and refined sounding, yet the older DAC technology works against it in the high frequencies, which sound a tad muted and rolled off by comparison to the more detailed, airier presentation of the K-03.

The overall sonic presentation of the K-03 and the 03 separates are cut from the same cloth. They are very similar in tonality, soundstaging and timbre. The differences are subtle and are most evident in the frequency extremes. The separates have more weight and body in the bass, while the K-03 is more vivid and translucent in the highs. However, when price, flexibility and simplicity are considered, the K-03 would be the most cost affective choice by any measure. Add the digital remote volume control of the K-03, which the separates lack, and the K-03 is the winner."

Regarding the comparison between the K-01 and K-03:

"As discussed in the review of the K-03, the performance for both CD and SACD are exemplary. Very satisfying on every level and in all parameters. Without access to the more expensive Esoteric models, one could easily live with the K-03 with nary a complaint. For most, the K-03 will fulfill all requirements and will be the last player ever purchased. Enter the K-01. Let's cut to the chase and proclaim the K-01 the superior player. It is noticeably superior sonically in a couple of areas, and only subtler better in a few others. In no parameter of sonics, is it inferior. Essentially the K-01 is a refinement of the K-03. It is not a difference in kind nor does it represent an order of magnitude improvement.

K-01 Vs. K-03
Now for the specifics. The first most notable quality of the K-01 is its immense projection of a soundstage. Not only is it expansive, but it has the further quality of being especially focussed. Instruments simply exist in a large soundscape, but precisely separated in the positions they should be. The K-03 slightly miniaturizes those images by comparison.

The K-01 renders frequency extremes with such precision and force, it takes the visceral thrill of listening to music to a new level. The bass especially has weight, impact AND inner detail not experienced by anything short of the fiercely expensive P-01/D-01 with the atomic clock.

The upper frequencies are characterized by incredible extension, air and detail. Never harsh or strident or analytical. Simply natural is what can be heard. The K-03 by contrast, while sounding superb at both frequency extremes, is noticeably compromised. It does not carry the enormous visceral punch or authority in the low frequencies nor is it as effortless at the top. These errors are ones of omission, and are not readily observable without a direct comparison to the K-01.

Another revelatory performance parameter of the K-01 lies in the area of harmonic completeness. The K-01 reveals a wealth of harmonic content, which has the affect of making the music more complex and riveting. The proportion of fundamentals to harmonics is spot on. Many players favor one over the other, which is responsible for errors in tonal balance. For example, if a component errs on the side of reproducing more fundamental of instruments, the sound will be leaner and perhaps psycho acoustically appear faster. When the opposite occurs, and more harmonic content is disproportionately reproduced, the resultant tonality will seem warm or " musical". The K-01 tonal balance is very lifelike and is simply accurate. The K-03, while again very accomplished in this area, subtracts some of the harmonics, especially noticeable with massed strings."
Thank you...that's great summary article!
Thanks for all the great comments...
Really helpful.
Has anyone heard and compared K-03 vs K-05 or K-07?