2 days ago I was able to audition an Esoteric audio system. It consisted of the following:
Esoteric F-05 (Class A/B) integrated amplifier
Esoteric K-03 - CD/SACD Player
Over the years, I’ve been a vintage audio guy and I’m also into headphones. Someone told me that listening to an integrated amp with headphones (6.3mm) will give you an idea about how sound quality from the amp translates over speakers. I’ve found this to be very true in practice.
I gave it a go - with the NAD HP50, KEF M500, and some other (more) high-end headphones the store had. Currently, I only have the NAD’s and KEF’s, but I’ve owned dozens of high-end headphones in the past. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. Please allow me to explain without calling me a liar. It’s nothing personal, just my impressions!
There was considerably less drive/power behind the headphones. For instance, you would literally feel the bouncing air on the cups on closed-back headphones. Literally the same as a headphone dongle with a small amount (in mW of output power). In each song I listened to, I heard familiar details, but it was glossed over by a very sharp and peaky midrange and treble. There was clearly a boost in these frequencies. Bass was anemic. Normally, with high-power headphone amps and even some vintage integrated amps (high-end back in the 90s with 0.09 or less THD etc.), I got the detail with the sonic finesse. In other words, everything the Esoteric amp and CD player did together, I’ve already heard before. It simply pushed mid-treble frequencies to the forefront.
And the cost for this system? 13 Grand for the CD Player. And at least 10 Grand or slightly more for the amp. So 23 grand or slightly more with taxes factored in.
For this kind of money, if they are including a 6.3mm port for headphone listening, shouldn’t it be optimized? Afterall, if you’re going to include that in an amp, make sure it sounds good! I’ve heard headphone systems costing much, much, much, less that sounded better.
My last disappointment was the CD skip - track seeking function. It was very slow. Even some vintage CD players had a skip function where you hold down the track change/skip button and the numbers move like a stopwatch. On the K-03, it was by the second, or a few seconds at a time. And I had to press the play button again, rather than simply seeking the part of the song I want to listen to.
Source: high-quality CD’s that I burned with .wav files (familiar songs, and original CD’s from my CD collection)
Don’t get upset, Esoteric owners. Feel free to share your impressions without getting mad at me. I know this is a touchy subject; since the object of one’s desire (especially after spending this much money) should be justified!
More than likely the headphone output on the amplifier was added as a convenience feature and not intended for serious listening. You were probably hearing the shortcomings of that inferior output and not the CD player or amp.
But it is the responsibility of the retail outlet not to promote headphone capability on something not up to the task.
It's always troubling to me to hear about the 'faults' like the ones you described coming from uber expensive gear. When paying that kind of money, you expect near perfection. I considered the F-07 at one point but decided on the Luxman 505uxii integrated. I have the Sennheiser HD-650s and they sound great with the Luxman. Just from what I've read here on Audiogon, Luxman seems to have a much better reputation that Esoteric. Isn't Esoteric owned by Technics?
I have no particular agenda about Esoteric, but your statement at the beginning, about judging an integrated amp by the way it drives headphones, is frankly a head scratcher. As mentioned above many manufacturers supply a headphone jack without tuning their equipment for the special needs of headphones. In general you will do much better with a dedicated headphone amp, especially with the much more demanding headphones that have come out the last decade or so.
Thank you for your impressions about that Luxman amp driving the HD-650s. They’re great headphones! Esoteric is the higher-end of TEAC. The CD player track-seeking function, like I said, was a huge disappointment. This is a component that can be hooked up to a "master clock" with near-atomic levels of accuracy. Perhaps it needs that clock attached to it to have faster seek times? I don’t know, but still, for 13k you can do a lot better I’m sure.
To all, regarding the headphone out and the sound quality from it.
If Accuphase, a company who is apparently at the same caliber as Esoteric and has an optimized headphone out on their integrated amps, then why can’t the F-05 have it too?
Why include a useful feature on an audio component as an afterthought? Especially at this price...it just seems illogical. For instance, let us assume that one or more of their customers [Esoteric] wanted to use the amp for headphone listening after work, and speaker listening late at night?
Esoteric product descriptions and marketing material in general likes to use a lot of flowery language: lavish, luxurious, and 36 bits of dynamic range processing on their D/A convertors. And the K-03 appartenly has 4 DAC chips for each channel (L/R) so 8 in total! is all that really necessary to achieve great sound quality?
The other thing I don’t get is the weight of their CD players and amplifiers. I mean, for an integrated amp, or even a CD player, does it really need to weigh 70 pounds or more?
If we have it on an audio stand, a shatterproof, tempered glass desk, a workbench with a cold-rolled steel surface/heavy duty wood, or any other ideal place for audio components, how does such heavy casework on its own improve sound quality? Just seems excessive to me.
Strangely, the F-05 literature mentions "dual mono at every stage" but it only has one 1 EI power transformer. I guess they simply wired it differently. Another strange thing. in some songs I’m very familiar with, when the stereo image (vocals or instruments) would confidently pan to the right side, the F-05 changed it so the pan was on the opposite side. This in my opinion messed up the stereo image during these parts of a song.
I hear where you are coming from, but using headphone outputs to review a piece of kit isn't that reliable. You only proved that the headphone outputs were inadequate. Unfortunately many manufacturers treat headphone outputs as merely convenience features, a box to check.
Luxman is a good example of this. Among the very best integrated amps out there for build quality and sound quality but, unfortunately, the headphone output (per reviews) is driven directly from the main amp, via resistors. So, very high output impedance. Fortunately I never use headphones in the same room and if I did I have the output from my Mytek Brooklyn to use, whose headphone outputs are said to be outstanding.
Lastly, I've never heard an Esoteric setup that made me stop and listen. 😁
Someone told me that listening to an integrated amp with headphones (6.3mm) will give you an idea about how sound quality from the amp translates over speakers. I’ve found this to be very true in practice.
If you're putting together a system at that level, each piece is purpose driven and most "hifiguys" would probably never even try the built-in headphone amp unless it was intended to ofer a high quality headphone amp. As a self-proclaimed headphone enthusiast, surely you're aware of the importance of a high quality dedicated headphone amp.
Well it is true that some preamps include a high quality headphone amp, that is the exception not the rule. I had a Modwright LS 100 that had a pretty decent headphone amp, but it still didn't compare to my external dedicated headphone amp.
Better if they don’t include it then, for integrated amps that don’t also prioritize sound quality for headphone outs. The expectation remains because of the cost. If it were a $100 receiver or some no-name brand, it wouldn’t matter. The same money they spent on the headphone port and whatever required it work could be used on slightly better heatsinks, capacitors, etc.
Based on all the flowery and over-the-top language on the Esoteric site, I was expecting better. However, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In essence, please take this the right way. I am not trying to deter anyone from trying the F-05 or other units from Esoteric. I have no real say because this is the internet and people do as they please. And on top of that, you guys know a lot more than i do.
There are certain things that are going to "tick the boxes" of expected features. I'd rather see manufacturing efforts (and my money) go into the parts that do the main business.
All cars are going to have seat belts. Are you going to call a performance car junk when you decide to take it to the track and the manufacturer didn't include a racing harness instead of run of the mill seat belts?
Certainly an interesting observation. I have always had a separate headphone system…although originally driven by my CD player.
I personally would never assume the headphone output would be at the same level as the speaker output… but if I tried it and it was not up to par, I would be disappointed.
When I was looking for a high quality tube head amp a dealer friend suggested a get a Cary integrated he had. I dismissed it… and bought a Woo WA-5. He heard it and was shocked by how much better it was… so, I guess I knew this.
I personally would never assume the headphone output would be at the same level as the speaker output… but if I tried it and it was not up to par, I would be disappointed.
Finally, someone understands what I was saying. I have nothing personal against them. Stereo pan issue on the F-05 was just plain weird. Vocals that I've always only heard on the right channel suddenly appeared on the left channel when using headphones.
Always lusted over accuphase equipment. I believe they’re more in line with Luxman than esoteric. I don’t listen to headphones so I can’t comment on the quality of that function regarding esoteric. It does seem odd they would put the Jack with not much thought into implementation.
@jackhifiguy. I really don't see the point of this exercise. The amplifier is designed to drive loudspeakers and primarily to be listened to in that configuration.
No one in their right mind would buy an expensive integrated amplifier to listen primarily on headphones, so why audition it that way?
The sound that you describe is not reflective of the way Esoteric amplifiers and CD players sound. In fact, if they draw criticism, it's usually in the direction that they are too smooth sounding.
As regards your subsequent post, clocking in digital audio has nothing to do with the track seek/select function.
As regards the comment's about weight, you might as well generalise that to most high end audio that uses linear power supplies and casework that aims to be as non resonant as possible. Actually, Esoteric could improve the products by making the top panels of thicker material and making the product even heavier!
If headphone listening is that important, I'm surprised you're not using a dedicated HP amp in the first place. I'm using my Woo from the tape output of my Luxman; the Luxman's HP jack is for convenience only.
I didn't say primarily for headphone listening. I said for both speakers and headphones. Yet again, it makes no sense to include a feature on a costly audio component if it isn't optimized for performance. As I said before, that same money could be used for EVEN more casework.
The tone controls were set to OFF and ON - with the knobs exactly in the middle. I didn't move them. And yes, I was wearing the headphones correctly, not backwards. Left for my left ear. Right for my right ear.
The store associate also double-checked the cables and made sure they were plugged in properly before I started listening at all.
In defense of Esoteric, the K-03 was released in 2010, 12 years ago. The current version, the K-03XD, has gotten this review (taken from Music Direct website):
Well this is something completely different. I've not had it that long and am still running it through its paces but I'm coming to the conclusion that this outperforms any turntable that I'm familiar with. And this is coming from a true dyed in the wool, buried in the analog camp kind of person. It doesn't sound like a cd/sacd player or like any turntable that I'm familiar with. It sounds like master tape. Pretty convinced now that DSD is the way to go. No streamer i have listened to and I have heard some truly great machines don't sound like this. It has changed my world view about playback systems. The fact that some fifty cent discs from a resale shop can sound phenomenal makes it a game changer. Disc after disc in my collection sound like I never heard them before. I will definitely think twice next time some limited $135.00 plus disc comes out. That's it for now and I will be listening to a bunch of Mofi sacd discs recently purchased of music I already own on Mofi One Step pressings. It should be interesting. One more thing; it deserves an additional star. Score: ******
Just one review, but I've read similar comments on some audio threads.
Manufacturers often stretch the "dual mono" thing.
The Esoteric makes the claim as do others, that because they separate sound boards and/or caps wired separately from the one transformer, it gives them the right to make the statement.
Where there is an egregious flight from truth is "dual mono at every stage" implication. If that were true, then the amp would have 2 separate power cords, toroidal transformers, power supply capacitors, and main circuitry. Basically it would be like "monos" in one box but truly separated "at every stage".
Not sure what your intention is - to build an end-game system for headphone OR loudspeakers? You own a dozen headphones and you chose a integrated amplifier. You should know better (by now, with your experience) that a dedicated headphone amp would do a better job, since it is meant to do that.
The only think I can think of about the slow read times for the Esoteric K-03 is that it is an older product OR it is somehow making sure that the "seek" do not mess the timings. I could be completely off. But I used to have an older Marantz SA-8260 that behave exactly like what you describe. Great sound but slow seek times.
High price does not necessarily translate to high performance. Now-a-days even products from PRC costs $$$$. So make sure that you spend time and effort to evaluate the stuff you are buying. I spent 2.5 years to find the right loudspeakers for me.
BTW, I don't own a single piece of Esoteric. So making sure that you make the best possible judgement when you are buying an end-game system.
For what it's worth, I have experience of all the Esoteric CD player lines from the Grandioso downwards. They are superb sounding machines. The current XD models which have the newer Atlas transport mechanism and the Master Sound Discrete DAC are a substantial improvement on the previous generation of players. They are extremely natural sounding - very much like a good analogue front end, without the shortcomings of vinyl playback*. For people with large CD/SACD collections, we are fortunate that Esoteric is still continuing to support disc based playback in invest their R&D budget in it. *By which I mean the variable quality of vinyl pressings.
I think the OP is trying to say for the kind of dosh that Esoteric charges, you ought to get a decent headphone amp. The OP seems oblivious to the numerous posters who point out that some companies don’t really care about the headphone amp. Does this make their products “Bad Value”? Probably. However, people that can afford to buy an Esoteric stack aren’t licking S&H Green Stamps. If they want headphones they are willing to shell out for a separate headphone amp, perhaps from a different manufacturer.
Complaining about Esoteric being bad value is like complaining about a Rolls Royce expense because a Ford Focus can do the same thing as the Rolls. My brief listening to Esoteric Gear didn’t make me want to take out another mortgage to replace my setup, but I did appreciate that the Esoteric is quality stuff and if someone else wants purchase it, no skin off my nose
I had auditions with the 509 and 590 luxman integrated and wanted to love them. Despite the specs they didn’t drive any of the tested speakers well. Went to a dealer to make a potential audio research integrated but the demo sold before unboxing. Sales set me up with esoteric f03 and Fyne audio speakers. Only knew the esoteric name and knew nothing of its circuitry, or specs. Just wanted that natural non hi fi sound at home. The mc phono stage handles my lomc with ease. My last headphones other than noise cancellation were Lafayette criterion’s. That little headphone plug in the f03 may convince me to drop some coins on headphones.
Why are we talking about the performance of gear from 2009/2010?? Esoteric players now dont even use DAC Chips. The new ones sound absolutely phenomenal. Build quality and DAC are incredible....get up to speed OP!!
Are you suggesting that their previous offerings are inferior?
That is very much like saying a Ferrari from the year 2010 will lose 300 horsepower because we are in the year 2022 now. If you are paying this much money, the expectation is a world-class performance.
May I ask what Esoteric uses now, rather than DAC chips?
Esoteric has never been known as being one of the top performing Amp companies. The CD player you mentioned wasnt anywhere near TOTL well over a decade ago. The "3" is the middle of the road with only 2 lower models and that series is like 5 or 6 generations ago. Its like comparing a 3DO gaming system to an X-Box!! You couldnt sell that model player for probably much more than 2K these days. For the 13K you could get the current "3" model and have plenty of spare change left over.
Are you so lazy that you cant do your own homework?? Go to the Esoteric sight and do some reading. Whats it gonna take 5 minutes to educate yourself??? If you are in the market for a New CD Player and you see a DAC Chip listed I suggest you look elsewhere unless your happy with mediocrity. The TOTL CD Players like Esoteric, MSB etc have graduated away from Chips several years ago.
13K for a CD player. Wow! I'm trying to wrap my head around that. I've never heard that player, but I left a rather great CD player years ago and moved to a music server which is miles ahead acoustically. Resolution, sound staging, attack, dynamics and anything else you want to throw in was clearly superior.
I could be wrong, but I feel as if the CD player will someday be relegated to mid-fi. A music server set-up is a bit more complicated and there is the monkey work of hand loading your collection, but is well worth it. Best of luck finding your sound.
13K doesnt even get you anywhere near a TOTL CD/DAC Player. MSRP for those is around 35K for Esoteric All in one solution and MUCH more for MSB. If you go for the separates (Spinner and Dac) you'll probably be near the 100K Range
Your completely wrong about your Music Server vs Spinning CD’s. All one needs to do is compare the DR Database of CD Pressings to the crap that is now supplied by the Record Companies for download etc....Your stuff is HIGHLY compressed/Brickwalled and you get nowhere near the resolution that one gets in the majority of cases from original pressing CD’s that were made in the 80s. Obviously you havent heard a High End Spinner/DAC before or you wouldnt make such ludicrous statements. You have no idea what your missing out on.
This is why I opt for external headphone amps. The one that comes with most amps, or some cd/sacd players is an afterthought at best. There are some exceptions, such as the Naim 5si, it has a great built in headphone section. I'll also have to agree with the poster above....streaming in no way compares to a great cd transport and Dac. That has been my experience. I like streaming, just not for serious listening.
@jackhifiguy, you are not here to learn, you're here hoping to find someone who agrees with you, a kindred spirit if you will, to justify your apparent dislike of Esoteric products but it seems to go deeper as if you were dissed, hurt, by a woman or a friend. "Egregious flight from truth"? Those lying copywriters at Esoteric, sheesh! Esoteric knows a lot about dual-mono designs and their top DAC is even built with separate chassis'. You can use a single transformer and chassis and be a dual mono design. I'm not sure about the slow read times for the Esoteric K-03, but is that as important as the fantastic sound quality that the player produces? The replacement player for the discontinued K-03, the K-03XD has been improved in every way. It can process any digital signal out there. From the comfort of the listening position you can do all sorts of things, besides being able to play either layer from cd/sacd as most machines default to sacd, you can upsample cd's 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, all the way to DSD before converting to analog, and do this in real-time from the remote. The entire signal path is discrete from input to output and that includes the dacs amplifier (I/V) which probably explains the un digital music that comes out of it. Even just plain Redbook CDs sound fabulous. And frankly, that goes for any Esoteric player of any vintage that I've heard.
The F-05 on the other hand is another amazing product. I own a Rega Elicit-R Int amp and on paper, they look similar but when driving my ATC 19 v2, do not sound at all the same. Don't get me wrong, I think the Rega is great but compared to the Esoteric, sounds somewhat anemic ( maybe too strong a word). The F-05 uses some of the latest output devices rated at 30 amps. This amp takes control of the ATCs with aplomb. Some of its features include being able to adjust the output level, separately of every input plus a nice feature when changing inputs from various sources, the volume goes down then ramps up again, nice. I know this because I own an F-05 and K-03XD and you know what, I never tried headphones with it and to judge its sound only through headphones sounds ridiculous.
Vitus....The K-03 is over a decade old. The 3XD is not the one that replaced it. Your forgetting the K-03X, K-03XS and maybe another one that my old brain cant remember. Esoterics UPGRADE cycle is like every 2-3 years when they spin out the replacement models.
One more thing, master clock generators or typically known as a word clocks don't speed up functions of the player but take the data stream, samples to an even higher rate of accuracy making for even better sound. Expensive? You bet, but the difference is not subtle. They're like the icing on a cake. I listened to one connected to a K-03XD and an all-out five chassis full-on Grandioso setup that I couldn't tell you the cost of but can tell you weighed in at two-hundred and seventy pounds, give or take a pound or two.
Isn’t esoteric the company which until recently the owners of certain players got stiffed by having to pay $2,500 just for shipping costs to send their players to Japan for repair, and that did not include the outrageous repair costs themselves?
Wow, great company, great customer service. But if you're okay being treated that way and then recommending them to others, hey, c’est la vie.
Yea its better to have a High End OPPO 103 Clone that Ayre has no parts for at all should anything go wrong. (And they havent had parts for it going back to 2016 when I first inquired). Get the most out of your 50 Pound Doorstop while you can. LOL Instead of posting on Audiogon endlessly all day every day get a 2nd Job so you can buy some modern day gear instead of that using that Fossilized mediocrity from the stone age. At the very least get a GEER BOX so that you can hook that Ayre/Oppo Clone up to a better Dac.
Your making a mistake assuming that components optimized for speaker automatically means headphone output is at the same level. True, there are some integrated that both are great sounding, but that is not the norm.
Likewise a system dedicated to great sounding headphones does not automatically translate to speakers. If it did, we'd all be saving lots of $$$.
@yoyoyaya Just do a search here on Agon and you will find posters documenting their disappointment in having to send their units to Japan for repair. This is nothing new other than you were not aware of it.
I believe that there is now one warranty repair facility in the U.S. for these repairs instead of having to send the units to Japan. I don't have or follow esoteric "stuff" so if you care you can check this out yourself.
If somebody paid 2K to send ANYTHING to Japan other than a Car they are a MORON. All they had to do is setup a FEDEX Account and it would have cost them probably 1/3 that amount or less if they did their homework and used the FEDEX "great rates" program. UPS probably has a similar option.
Pretty funny a guy who's gear is made up entirely of no-name brands that has no re-sale value is always trashing the upper tier brands at any opportunity. 20+ Years on Audiogon and THATS your system? REALLY Sad
Depends what you consider old. Since youve been on A-Gon for 20+ Years I would say you cant be much younger than me as Im in my 50's. Still havent taken the Pass out of the box and Half my gear (or more) is still Brand New in Box.
You think I cant find any of your past posts where you bash certain brands?? Seriously?? Since you have so much money to throw around (Somewhere other than on Audio gear apparently) care to make a wager? I retired at 44 but can always use some more spare change for new toys.
No idea what to make of your Chinese Fortune cookie nonsense. You bashed Esoteric and I and others responded. You use other people's "stories" as if they were gospel and factual without any evidence. GUILTY until proven innocent huh?. Your claim that it costs 2K+ to send a piece of gear to Japan is not only ludicrous but completely ignorant. Keep spreading the lies and disinformation. What kind of an impression does THAT make??
That post you linked is a Joke. The guys complaining that the CD player made in Japan in 2005 has a problem and that nobody in the USA has parts for or can fix it 15 years later? Most companies wouldnt even have the parts left laying around after 15 years had passed especially for a CD Player which change parts frequently....YOUR AYRE player they stopped carrying parts for 5 years after it was released. Dont hear any complaints about that from you. Did you even bother to look into ANY of this or you just felt like re-posting a 3+ Year Old nonsensical thread to try and prove your point of view. Some clown complains that his 15 year old CD player doesnt work so you trash Esoteric's brand name for all eternity based on THIS??
Nope no disability here. Became a full time caregiver cause I refused to put a parent in a nursing home.
Again...the cost of mailing is ludicrous. Anybody buying a 15 year old CD player is already a fool to begin with. How could ESOTERIC charge him for shipping those 2 amounts. If he had shipped it directly to them via FEDEX/UPS/DHL esoteric would have NOTHING to do with the shipping charge incurred. That shipping charge that he stated is more than that CD Player is worth. Wny bother getting it fixed at all?? LASERS dont last 15 years which he should have known before he purchased it.
As for being a "Pretend" human being...again dont know what that means. I have worked with Hundreds of people in the music industry since the 1980's. I have acquired almost 10,000 Gold and Platinum Record awards in that time period. About 4000 of them are featured on my Facebook Page RIAA AWARD COLLECTORS for anybody to see. Value of those 4000 awards alone is at least 2-3 Million. Feel free to check out part of my "pretend" life. :)
@jetter. I was aware of those posts before I made my comments. The internet, sadly, is full of stuff that gains currency because people who don't have any personal experience repeat the received experiences of others rather than talking about their own lived experience.
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