Esoteric P03 - D03

Hi all,

I currently own an Esoteric X01-D2. I'v recently been offered a very good! deal from my dealer to trade this for a stock P03-D03 distributor wants to get out. I was no expected as I was really shopping for an analog extension to my system. So I have accepted.

I was very happy with my X01, although I think it was actually better (in relative terms) with red book CDs than with SACDs, contrary to what magazines say. However, given I'm basically buying at second hand price for a new unit, and returning the X01 at a very good price, I decided to go ahead.

AS said I was happy with the X01-D2. Reasons for change, basically 2: Flexibility of a separates, specially allowing me to use DACs digital input with my streaming mod transporter, if desired. It can also handle higher saple downloads than the transporters DAC.

Of course, a gain in overall quality. Specially when it comes to SACDs, but also to CDs, given the D03-P03 working together flexibility and configuration alternatives. I've read a lot about how good this 2 together are, but have not had any direct feedback.

Regarding this last point, a question: I've been told by my dealer that Esoteric importer says the best way to connect these 2 is new Esoteric i-link cable. I don't think I want to go this way, but have no experience. Not only the cable has to be very expensive... but from reading the manual, digital XLR seems the way to go. I-link seems to be more oriented to multichannel, which I don't really care for in this se up. Any suggestions? How are you, other P03-D03 owners doing this connections and what are your experiences on it? Also, any direct experience among these 2 units. What areas of improvement should I expect, in your own experience, compared to the X01-D2?

Eli, you should consider asking best way to connect D-03/P-03 directly to Esoteric (TEAC America). Call Tim Crable at 323) 726-0303.

May I ask what settings you were using for your redbooks and SACDs on D2?. . . e.g. oversampling to DSD for redbooks?

BTW, performance of P-03/D-03 will further benefit from the application of an external clock. . . G-0Rb being the most advanced in the Esoteric lineup. G.

I own the P03/D03 combo and in my opinion, the best way to connect them is via the Dual AES/EBU digital connection. This allows you the flexibility to up convert redbook CD to 88.2, 176.4 or to DSD as well as play SACD's. In my listening tests, I prefer the up conversion to DSD for redbook. If you use the ilink Firewire connection, you can only send the D03 native redbook (16/44.1) and DSD from an SACD as the ilink connection bypasses the upconverter circuit in the P03.
I concur with Babybear. When I owned the P03D03 I preferred dual XLR cables. I would also experiment with the upsampling (176.4 or to DSD) to see what you think. I am actually going in the other direction and will try the X-01D2 to save space in my rack.

A rubidium clock will make a change to the sound, subtle, seems to be a bit rounder and fuller but not worth the asking price unless you find a great deal (I ran mine with a laboratory grade rubidium clock instrument rather than the Esoteric version).
Classicjazz, have you already compared P-03/D-03 combo side by side with X-01 D2? Any comments? G.
G., I never convert CDs to DSD. Sound does just not feel right. Hard to put it in words, but I would say it sounds artificially warm, lacking detail and dynamics.

You basically have 3 options only. Depending which one you choose the D2 will use one set of DACs or the other.

MultiDAC, will use the quad dif per channel BB DACs. For Redbook, by far the best. This mode will only play 16/44.1

1 Bit, uses de AMD DAC (same as for DSD) but for PCM streams. I never use this mode for either Red Book or SACD. Don't really like it.

DSD mode. as expected for SACDs is the best. Don't use this with CDs. Is just not good

You also have a mode called Reference. This will basically choose the "right" mode depending on the type of disc. It basically does what I do. If you insert a CD it will go multiDAC. If a SACD, it will go DSD. I've never seen it select 1 bit.

This unit is very good for a single box solution. Does not have the flexibility of converting, digital filters, playing modes and inputs, but you have 2 set of DACS: the same as the D01 for CDs (although only 4 per channel vs 8 of the D01), and the same as the D03 for SACDs (but only 1 per channel in this case as opposite to 4 of the D03). Again, I fell it is a better CD player than SACD player, in relative terms. Don't get me wrong, SACDs sounds very good as well, but I fell this unit gets almost 100% out of CDs, while this is not the case for SACDs. I have more and more SACDs I like so I wnat to improve in this area. For old CDs now, most of the time I use the streaming device via ethernet. Also looking forward to try this with the DAC.

XLR is what I also thought to be better, babybear and Classicjazz. Did not now about only playing native redbook with ilink. This is important. So XLR it wll be. Not only will be probably less expensive, but also more flexible. And with a very good pair, i doubt it will sound worse.

I'm also interested Clasicjazz to now if you have done a direct comparation. I will be able to answer this very soon myself but was wondering.

Babybear, how do you like the separates? Strong points and weak points if any?

My advise is if you're going to upgrade to P-03/D-03, only do it if you can buy the reference clock at the sametime. With that the combo is miles better than the X-01.
Thanks Kiwi. Is in my radar for sure. My plan is, first break in the 2 units alone, get familiar with the sound and modes, and then, in a couple of months or so borrow the unit from my dealer. He can lend me one to try out. If I like it, I will order.

For what I've read, it is in my mind doing it. However others say difference is not that big. Want to hear first hand before making the investment, which is quite big.

You seem to have experience with direct side by side among the D2 and the combo. Can you elavorate a bit more on differences and points of improvement, please?

The clock - either the G0s or the G0rb will make a nice improvement - it adds a level of refinement to the sound but it is more on the subtle side. I think your plan to initially get the P03/D03 and use the clock in the D03 to clock the P03 transport is the correct approach. Then demo the external clock at a later time. When you do demo it, I'd recommend leaving the clock in for about a week and listen. Then remove it - you should hear the difference and then you can decide if the improvement you hear is worth the additional expense.

As for how the P03 D03 compares to the one box Esoteric players - I did own the X01 and then the X01 Limited models. The P03 D03 is a significant step up - it has a more organic and liquid sound, is more refined, has better resolution, has a wider and deeper soundstage, etc. I have not heard the X01 D2, but I would bet that the X01 D2, while better than the X01 limited, is closer in sound to the X01 limited than it is to the P03 D03.
I wish I could answer your questions I never had the X01D2 and P03D03 on hand simultaneously. Here is what I have had: DCS Elgar Plus full stack vs P03D03 vs Wadia 921/931. Then sold DCS. Added Playback Designs MPS5 and compared all three. Added Esoteric UX1 (standalone, as transport, also for DVD-A). There is one disc available in DVD-A and SACD that I tried, a Brahms Symphony 1 conducted by Marin Alsop. They have different sound, not sure if they use the same re-mastered file. I will go back and try again since it has been a while. Sold the Wadia (regret it). Sold the P03D03 (don't regret it). Added Zanden 5000 Signature. Added Boulder 2020. These days, I find the areas that I remark are all very similar between the 5000S, MPS5 and Boulder. Odd since the 5000S is NOS and tube, the MPS is 2xDSD and the Boulder has its own sophisticated digital filter at about 16x. The Boulder has by far the most sophisticated analog section. In any event, I sold the 5000S (still have a 5000 MkIII) and am acquiring an X01 with the original P01 style mechanism so I can upgrade it to D2). If we were to work by the transitive property, one might be able to extrapolate a hierarchy of my preference (and tangentially, the sonic properties).

I had an X01 a long time ago and found it a bit sharp edged and tonally bright. Since then I have changed my thinking and look for mixing and matching based on what I want to hear at a given time. This is likely due to having tried many of the top competitors in my own system, not on audition but paid for, simultaneously and with other variables held constant (preamp, amp, speakers).

Babybear, I will let you know my impressions, albeit based on recall. I only liked the P03D03 set on DSD upsampling; as PCM the sound seemed to have a tinge of tinniness. As DSD, the sound became more (too) diffuse, easier to listen to but with a noticeable loss in image clarity and transient definition. I sold the P03D03 because the MPS5 had the same qualities but with a less diffuse sound that I prefer.
ClassicJazz, thanks for info. Did you try different cables and power cords with it? You are the first person I find that doesn't like this particular Combo, and specially who recalls as an Esoteric attribute diffuse or lacking image clarity. If something I read people actually complaining about too much of the opposite. Anyway, can be system / room specific or a matter of taste, but was just wondering.

If you did not like the P03-D03, why are you willing to try out the D2? Would not trying out a different manufacturer one box solution make more sense?

For what I can be of help here, not having heard the Combo still, there is a chance you may like the D2 for redbook playing, since it uses different DACs than the 03s, and maybe it has a somewhat different sound print. However for DSD, I think you may not like the D2 either: uses the same DACs as the combo but only one per channel.

On the other hand, I had the X03-SE home for some 3 months, and although using different DAC configuration than the D2, the sound was similar in nature (although the D2 is clearly better with a more rich, complex sound). So there is a chance if you did not like Esoteric 03s, you may have trouble with Esoteric digital sound in general. Just guessing but could be worth you give it a long try before you commit?

Read this thread with interest. I upgraded from the X-01 Limited to P-03/D-03, added the G-ORB clock more than a year later. I've never heard the D-2 version of the X-01, so don't know how much better the D-2 is than the Limited, although the upgrade to Limited was pretty significant. The P-03/D-03 was a dramatic improvement over the Limited, especially in SACD, in precisely the ways you have all noted. But the real point I wanted to make is by themselves the P-03/D-03 did red book best, at least to my ears, with DSD conversion. But the minute I added the G-ORB clock, there seemed something a bit over-inflated about the DSD conversion, which I had never heard before. When I switched to 176.4 there seemed to be something cleaner and more natural about all red book playback. Whether this means the clock so improved 176.4 upconversion that it outperformed the DSD, or uncovered some negative artifact in DSD conversion, I don't know. But just as taking out the clock after listening for a week demonstrates how important the clock is by its absence, switching back to DSD conversion after a week of listening at 176.4 (with the clock) made it clear to me that I didn't want to go back. Anyway, that's what my ears tell me; certainly you have to listen to yours. (P.S. For purposes of completeness of information, I use Stealth Varidig Sextet digital cables between the P-03 and D-03.)
Thanks for feedback Mgottlieb,

That is more close to what I've read in other places, when comparing X01 to the Combo.

Regarding Limited vs D2, I don't think there is a difference in Red Book reproduction (not at least big), since it is basically the same set up and digital conversion scheme. What the D2 added is native DSD reproduction with a new set of capable DACs on top of the PCM capable ones. I would imagine the D2 is an improvement vs limited in SACD, but not that much when it comes to Red Book.

If you say that P03-D03 was a dramatic improvement vs Limited, it should be the same vs D2.

However the step forward regarding SACD, on paper should not be as great when compared to the Limited for the reasons above. Still although P03-D03 shares the same chips for native SACD DSD conversion than the D2, the combo implements a quad diff scheme per channel, while the D2 has only one chip per channel. This alone, plus design improvements and superior power management should yield a good advance in SACD.... All in theory according to tech specs.

The improvement over CD PCM should be basically the same from D2 to combo and from Limited to Combo..

Do you fell either with DSD without clock, or at 176,4 with the clock, the combo also was a big improvement when playing redbook?

For cables I intend to use Synergistic Research: D3 digital interconnects, and Hologr. D power cord. The power cord works great on the D2 already. I will need an extra one if I decide to go this path for the transport. The D3 never hear it, but will revert on it if I finally go for it.

Yes, everything about the P-03/D-03 was better than anything else I've heard in either redbook or SACD, but I haven't heard either the P-01/D-01 or the Scarlatti stack.
Sacarlatti neither have I. The P01/D01, well they don't sell it in Europe; at least not in the EU. Seems they have an homologation problem with the power supply., so that is not an option. Regardless, if it was, asking price is just too much. Not really willing to pay that much for digital. I think P03/D03 + clock is already a bit over the limit. I don't think beyond this point there is really an absolute improvement, but liking one over the other is more a matter of taste. In my personal opinion and for what I've heard, once you get here, if you want a big jump you need to go into analog, with its pros but also its cons.
A little update on my digital. Last Friday dealer passed by and delivered the P03-D03 combo by "surprise". It did arrive a week or two earlier than expected...! Maybe production pipeline is not that strong these days...

He basically dropped them and left. I guess didn't really want to take the D2 out of rack, unpack, move thing around, correct placement and the like. Not in the best of shapes. I didn't mind really. I enjoy doing it and also at this point things are quite loaded back there with all the cables and stuff. I take great care on placing them in the right order and really prefer not to have anyone messing around.

Anyway, into the task I went. Unpacked. I'm already used to the Esoteric packing system, form the D2 and X03se. Still impresses me the quality and convenience. First thing I thought when i saw them: man this things are MASSIVE. I was expecting something like 2 sets of D2 (in size and termination). Not quite. These 2 units are quite more impressive to the aye. Quite something, I have to admit, and very nice looking.

Placed them in the rack and found myself the only cable I had to connect them was a single digital low end RCA from Van der Hull. SInce the unit came in early the cables I ordered to connect them had not yet arrived...

So plug them in with this unit and started playing. Of course no DSD capability. DId not really pay attention to the unit that night, since it had 0 hours in and poor connection.

Next morning I spoke to my dealer. He lend me a brand new pair of Esoteric Mexcel DA6300 balanced. They are supposed to be, according to Esoteric, THE cables to use with this units, period. He will confirm to me price on monday, but I suspect they will be EXPENSIVE. Not sure how they compare to the also expensive Synergistic Research D3 pair I already ordered. Still no cable to clock the transport to the DAC.

Today Sunday, I did my first listening session with the unit. Very preliminary findings to follow. Consider the unit only has about 40 hours of playing in, the Mexcel cables are quite new as well, and I don't have the units clocked to each other. For what I read this units need LONG 200 to 300 hours of break in.

So, that may be the case. But still I can advance this unit is much much superior to the D2 on SACD playing. It is really much more pronounced than I would have expected. If this is going to get better over time, I can't even imagine. I am surprised on the findings, really, considering short time in, not perfect connection the like. SACD playing, just got into a nee dimension, when you compare. Bass is crazily deep and detailed. Soundstage just raised and expanded all over the place (this is something remarcable). More detail, and much more definition. In two wordsrealy re SACD playing: IN CREDIBLE.

With redbook had only listened for short periods, and haven't tried DSD mode still. Can't really comment much here, but for the little listenign I've done there seems to be lees of an increase in quality in for this format. This could change when I do a more detailed listening and try different settings.

So just a little advance of my findings, D2 vs Combo, from very early stages still. More to follow if you are interested, let me know.

One question regarding cables: anyone has experience in direct comparation between the Mexcel DA6300 and the SR D3 cables? Or at least with any of them? Any feedback on either one of them


Eli, I suspect that with 200 or 300 hours you will have just tickled the P-03/D-03 combo into life. . . not really broken it in. Expect the two creatures to evolve for much longer until they reach musical maturety.
Ok, that's a long time. Actually, the performance has come down a bit from the first listening session I did and commented above. Huge soundstage reported has contracted in all senses. This I've seen before with other gear. Fist few hours they perform well to go under for a long time, and eventually they emerge with an even greater performance.

Anyway, the sound is very good still as it is now. Even with so little time, it is still superior to the D2 in SACD playback. Not much testing still with Redbook.

Guidocorona, any experience with Esoteric Mexcel digital cables and these units? They are suppose to be good but big $$$. I have intensive experience with SR and love them, but only analog. Assume digital should be just as good. What cable brands do you use with them. Have you tried the SR D3? I will report on these but was wondering if anyone has first hand experience already.

Thought I would chime in. I've used the Acrolink (the manufacturer of the Esoteric-named Mexcel cables) DN-6000 analog cables between phono and preamp and found them extraordinary. Between the P-03 and D-03 I use Stealth Varidig Sextet digital cables and found them truly excellent, a major improvement on the cables I used previously, and at these price levels haven't experimented.
Thanks for feedback. Not familiar with those. I decided not to go with the Mexcel for now. Just too expensive and I have not really a valid element of judgement to compare. I'm going with SR D3 and see how it goes. THey have been great on analog, speaker and PC, so I hope digital are just the same.

Once I'm familiar with them and the gear may compare with the Esoteric ones if still around my dealer... or maybe not. Depends on how happy I'm with sound. At this point, I'm looking forward to end the upgrade process, feel happy with results and fine tuning and relax for a while and enjoy music. This may take a while still though. We'll see.
Eli, I have not tried any of the Esoteric wires yet. SR are not my preference. I have found that the Shunyata CX series King Cobra works wonderfully on my X-01 Limited, my Rowland Criterion and the Rowland Model 312 amp. . . King Cobra is a true generalist. . . in theory, a 5 gage PC should be best on a power amp only, but somehow KC seems to generate a great soundstage without any bloat on every component I have tried this far. . . wonderful and non fatiguing extension, and harmonic exposure to die for. For ICS I have had extremely good results with Furutech Evolution II and custom Furutech wires called High End Performance, assembled from bulk Furutech wires. As my digital front end is a 1-box unit, I have no experience with digital wires. G.
Hi all,

I have now almost 350 hours of plying time in the P03/D03. Finally have it connected with two SR XLR D3 in dual mode, and a D2 for "clocking" both units. Also a SR H.D. as PC.

Sound is great and a significant improvement over D2 in all senses really. I could elavorate more if it is of your interest. Just let me know.

However I do have a question regarding transport noise that is bothering me. I starting doing serious listening not that long ago, once I got the right cables and had some good hours on the units. I have to say the thing is very noisy. Quite more than I recall the D2 being. I can hear the transport when spinning with volume set to 0 or very low from my listening position.... not happy about that. Of course when music plays at normal level or even low, you won't hear the thing, but when there is a silent in the middle of the song, if you "look for it" sometimes you will find it.

Now my question to other P03/D03 owners. Is this something normal that you also have in your units or is it something I should complain against and ask for a replacement? I've read some about this noises and also other esoteric models but seems that some people get a noise and others don't.

Can you please give me your feedback on your experience with the P03? Do you also get the noise but live with it? You never had it, or you had it and got it solved, either replaced or fixed?

Thanks in advance
Some Esoteric transports are slightly noisy. . . others in the same models are dead quiet. The mechanical whirring of the transport mechanism appears to have no bearing on the sound. At 350 hrs Esoteric gear barely starts to breathe. . . once you get to 800 hrs you will start have an idea of what your device can do for living. . . at 1200 hours it will have reached adulthood. . . . then you will be really smiling! Keep us posted. G.
Thanks Guidocorona. WOW, that is a long long time. Well, it does sound very impressive already. It's really quite something. I had it totally wrong. Was sure the jump from the X-03 to the X-01D2 would be much bigger than that of the D2 to the P03/D03. Not quite. D2 is good but this combo is really something else, both in CD and SACD. THe level of detail, soundstage reproduction, dynamics and bass is really at another level, far superior. All at least in my system and to my ears...

What I find very strange though is that some units may be dead quiet while others do actually makes the, what is supposed to be, balls bearings sound. I would had assumed that if it is a design issue, all the units would be affected.

I'm very sure right now I will keep my unit regardless if I can get this issue solved or not. Sound is already so good for me with "only" 350 hours and even with the noise present. I would not say it does not affect the sound. At the end of the day, the noise is there, behind all the music and so surely it gets in the middle of some low level details or information. However, even with this, the quality, detail and all the rest attributes are much much better than anything I have listened to before in the digital field. But I just wished I could get rid of it and will try to do it.

One question Guidocorona. Does your P03/D03 have this noise or not? You just live with it or managed to get it solved. Some say it can not get solved, but only mitigated to some extend, which makes sense to me. But others claim they don't have it at all... That's strange and makes me wonder how far I should go to try to find a solution.
Eli, I have an X-01. . . My friend babybear has P-03/D-03/G-0s. . . His transport is as quiet as a mouse. Guido
Tell Babybear if he wants to swap transports.....

Did his came silent or had it fixed?
Eli, Babybear's transport has been totally silent from day 1. A friend of ours has a noisy P-03 transport instead. Guido
Strange. That is really bad from Esoteric. I would have thought it was a design "feature" of all the P03. Or something that affected some units of a certain series that got solved afterwards. But if you now first hand some of the transports do make the noise and some don't, it is bad. My unit is brand new, and so recently produced, and has the noise. Some older doesn't. So it is absolutely a random chance you get a noisy unit...

THis all means they now how to make them noiseless. And surely they now about the issue. Don't they test the units before shipping? Or they do and just don't care about some of them being as noisy as transports get? Do they maybe feel having their clients paying over 14.000 Euros for a transport is not a big enough amount as to have quality control checks and sending back the noisy units to get them fixed before shipping?

This is pissing me off, really, and a shame on Esoteric. Regardless of how good the thing sounds, and it sounds good, it shows very little care for the final output they produce, and very little respect for their clients -so us. Makes me wonder what other things about design and quality control they don't care enough about... on this or any other of their product line...

With what I'm learning here, I think I will call Esoteric directly and have a word with them.
Where is Bill when you need him??
My transport has a noice during time it pulls in the CD tray in and load the CD, sound likes "e e e and a click" and then quiet. I think this is kind of mechanical problem or not a good design on this transport.
Bill... who is Bill?
I've heard people comment here on noisy Esoteric transports but have never experienced it. I can hear a quiet whirring noise when the system is dead silent and I get to within a foot of the P-03, but never from my listening chair and never when any music is playing. The same was true of my Limited, and my original D-50.
Jojomusic, I think that noise is a different thing. And also normal. I think it has to do with the transport mechanism "grabbing" the disc to hold it firm and getting ready for playing or something like that. I do get that also, and I had it in all other Esoteric players. After the disc gets ready and loaded the unit goes quiet. That is ok with me.

It is the noise Mgottlirb refers to I'm talking about, but in my case, and others as reported, much louder than in his case, being audible from listening position like 3,5 or 4 meters away from the unit, while the disc is spinning if you turn volume down.
Hey Eli, so what have you found now about the performance of the Mexcel 6300 AES/EBU cables? I have the 03 set and am using NBS Pro IV cables (Two) and am marginally happy. I think there is better. Not sure what direction to go. Aloha, David.
I'm arriving a bit late to this thread, but I have directly compared the 7N D6100R Mexcel Acrolink digital cable with the SR D-3 in my system between Esoteric Transport(UX-1Pi with an original UX-1 assembly) and 32-bit DAC. This was done in December 2008 and is in more detail on my system site (pt 1).

As I said in the system discussion, I would have been quite happy with the Mexcel cable, had I not heard the D-3. In my system, the D-3 was more involving and created a much deeper soundstage with better layering front to back of both voices and instruments. It should be noted that I have an all-SR system, so there was undoubtedly a bit of "synergy" (sorry...) going on. The differences between the cables was not subtle - in my system, the SR D-3 is world-class. YMMV