Review: Esoteric DV-50 with Superclock 3 mod CD Player

Category: Digital

I previously posted a short review in response to what I thought was a large number of DV-50’s for sale on Audiogon. Since that posting, I’ve had many emails asking whether I felt the same now. My answer has always been yes. I’ve also had many questions as to whether I would ever change players, to which I have responded “maybe to the Esoteric X-01”.

Since I have owned a number of high-end players and prefer the sonic signature of the DV-50, the logical step would be to the X-01. That train of thought is based on the reviews of these higher priced Esoteric units. The consensus has been that each is essentially a refined form of the DV-50 with better resolution.

I have also been following the current rage about the modified Denon 3910. I believe many of my emails have to do with the modified Denon being compared to the Esoteric. To date there are at least 5 people and/or companies doing these modifications. Having owned a 3910 for use in my theatre room, the modified unit is quite an accomplishment. The stock Denon is quite simply…dead. Why not modify the Esoteric? Upon researching possible mods for the DV-50, four of the five people doing mods weren’t interested. I was actually told the DV-50 was inferior by one person.

Along comes Douglas Jesse of Reference Mods in Warren, MI. He made several recommendations to possible modifications but the one I opted to try first was the Audiocom Superclock 3. Doug indicated the Superclock 2 had improved almost every unit they ever installed it in. “The Superclock 3 is supposed to be a dramatic improvement“. He stated. This would be his first DV-50 upgrade, so he was also interested in the outcome. At $295 installed, this was a very cost effective attempt at improvement.

The theory behind the Superclock is a reduction in jitter. This is also a complaint that I heard about the Esoteric during my mod research. Supposedly, even the most expensive CD players have inferior jitter reduction circuits (clocks) and the Superclock remedies this. If the high jitter factor in the Esoteric was true, the mod should make as big of a difference as in the cheaper players.

I called Reference Mods this morning to see about picking up the completed unit. Doug said that he had listened on his system and thought there was a dramatic improvement. There was surprise in his voice as to the extent of the change. I was fortunate not to get a speeding ticket on my way to Warren.

The unit is now burning in and is at about 7 hours. The full burn-in period is 200 hours.
In its current state, the improvement is very evident. More musical with better timing, air, transient attack (it was already fast), and definition. Should I dare use the word analog? – It has moved two levels up on the goosebump scale. The only negative thing I have noticed during this break-in is the extended high-end is compressed and changing by the hour. Soundstage width is slightly thinner and also getting better with each CD.

As always, the music used to evaluate my equipment consists of both SACD and Red Book, covering the gamut of musical categories. Specifically this evening, I have evaluated with Joe Sample “The Pecan Tree”, Boston Pops “Summon the Heroes”, Joyce Cooling “This Girls Got To Play”, “The Very Best of Dave Grusin”, Peter Gabriel “ Shaking the Tree”, Bob Baldwin “Standing Tall” and Keb Mo “Keb Mo”.

This modification may put the DV-50 ahead of the X-01 in performance. The mod is that good. Before you sell your Esoteric to get that newest rave unit, I recommend spending the $295.

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Magnepan 3.6 with Mye stands
Aurios bearings
Kimber Select interconnects
Monument Stage 3 speaker wire
Richard Gray 600
Supra Lorad Power cords
Zsleeve Ultras
Walker SST
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Very interesting, I'll be looking forward to your opinion once it burns in fully! Iove my DV-50s as it is now, but always would like it to be better!

Keep us posted... say in a week or two when it's played a while!

Now passing into the 21st hour. I put the XLO burn-in CD in overnight, repeating track 9. Due to modifications on the Superclock made by Doug, this may not need the 200 hour break-in as stated by Audiocom. Doug states that the Blackgate caps that he replaces have a long break-in whereas the Rubycons do not.

Between 18-19 hours, the top end got bright, but has now settled down. It has opened up and is very detailed and extended. The soundstage width is also correct now. One of the most prevalent improvements is the timing and pace of the music. The presentation is much more convincing as in a live performance.

I plan on playing the unit continuosly to the 200 hours. I'll post only if there are changes, and then at the end.
I am considering having Douglas Jesse mod my SCD-1. How would you rate the quality of his work. I understand Richard Kern has a reputation of being one of the best but I hate to ship the unit out to Oregon giving the potential for shipping damage. I am located in the grater Detroit area and could drive the unit over to Warren.

Thanks, Chuck
Doug knows his craft. He can make many recommendations for you to choose from and he knows the Sony well. Give him a call and you can go to his place to discuss your unit.
TGUN5, It would be very interesting to add a moded DV50 such as yours to the list of players to be compared in the upcoming shootout in the next few weeks by AVGURU and the Chicago gang.
Details are posted on the long DV50 thread.
Tgun I'm glad to see you took the plunge on the clock.Believe it or not what your hearing on red books is what I'm hearing using a 3960 Toshiba SC3. The SC3 is an amazing upgrade to any player!

This response is limited solely to the question of the comparison between the Esoteric X-01 and the stock DV-50, and has no relevance whatsoever to the modification to the DV-50 discussed--that sounds interesting, but I can't address it. The suggestion, however, that this modification will bring the DV-50 closer to the sound of the X-01 may or may not be true, but has to be seen in light of the fact that the DV-50 and X-01 are so different that they could be the products of different manufacturers. I have both sitting side by side in my system (the DV-50 for DVD-A mainly), and both have at least 4-500 hours on them. Put most simply, the X-01 is the most brutally honest source of any kind I have ever heard: a good SACD (the only medium I listen to on it; I use it as a transport for the dCS Purcell DSD and Elgar Plus in redbook) is simply stunning--well beyond the level of the DV-50 in SACD, or anything else I've heard. But on a poor or mediocre SACD (and there are plenty), the X-01 simply tells it like it is; and more than once I didn't want to hear it, gave up and threw the disc into the DV-50, which editorializes a bit--some extra warmth, less revealing. Interestingly, in DVD-A the DV-50 seems more "straight", less warm and cushy, than in CD or SACD. I've pretty much concluded that in digital, unlike analogue, you can't have it all. You pays your money and takes your choice; and then next year you do it all over again. (And yes, I have heard the EMMs and the whokle dCS stack.)
I knew I should have been more careful in my quick assessment of the X-01 and DV-50. I made this assumption based on the few reviews that have been written on the new Esoteric’s. I also heard from more than one person who made the comparison in-store and found the X-01 to have more resolution than the DV-50. I understand there is a new review in either Stereophile or Absolute Sound stating that the X0-1 is a definitely a different beast than the DV-50 - so be it. I have not personally heard the X0-1, but as I previously said, it probably would have been the logical next step to my DV-50.

The real issue is whether the modified DV-50 is a significant improvement over stock, and whether it can compete with more expensive players. As far as your rebuttal, it is somewhat confusing to me. You are listening to an X-01 as a transport with DSC components for Red Book. You state that it is superior to the DV-50. I would expect it to be You also state that you only listen to SACD’s on the X-01 and only DVD-A’s on the DV-50. Then, I assume you mean that you prefer DVD-A’s to other formats on the DV-50, because you refer to them as “straight”, “less warm and cushy”. I simply don’t agree with that assessment.

If you mean the overall performance of the X-01 is superior to the DV-50 in all formats, I have already said that I expect that. It appears that you wouldn’t be interested in the Superclock mod anyway; as it seems that you have spent your way to a solution you are comfortable with - 3 players for 3 formats.

To give everyone an idea of my tastes as used for this review…..I do not prefer the sound of most DVD-A’s. This is primarily due to most of the remixing and not the DVD-A format. In either case, they are not as good as the majority of SACD’s. I do listen to primarily Red Book CD’s. There are now many Red Book releases that actually sound better than the current best SACD’s. A good example of this is Bobby Lyle’s current 2 CD release, straight and smooth. Listen to most selections on the Straight CD. – WOW.

As far as the analogue issue, the improvement in the Superclock mod has taken the DV-50 to the analogue level if you want to call it that. There is a presence in the overtones that will simply amaze. Wood sounds like wood, metal sounds like metal. – to the extent that I have never heard in ANY CD player – one box or not. The only comparison to this “realness” is what we used to experience with albums.

I am an audiophile of 30+ years, so I am very aware of the analogue / digital issue. I have owned many exotic tonearms, cartridges, and turntables. My last reference head-amp was the Conrad Johnson Premier Nu-Vista. Last pick-up consisted of an Oracle IV, Koetsu, and Sryinx. With newer CD’s, the presentation, feeling, and realness on the DV-50 is now superior to analogue in my opinion. It has much to do with the Superclock producing those “analogue” overtones and the fact that they are more prevalent without the surface noise on an album. And yes, I cleaned mine regularly with a Nitty Gritty. I know there are many vinyl guys that will just not believe this and may not agree even upon hearing.
That is what makes this hobby interesting.

At least one other SC3 owner has emailed me with the same observations with his mod to a Toshiba. The bottom line is that the DV-50/Superclock 3 is quite amazing and I am anxious to hear it against the X-01.
No rebuttal intended. I am always interested in hearing that a mod on a piece of equipment I like has improved it, and that certainly includes the DV-50, and I thought your comments very informative. My only point was that it wasn't necessarily a correct assumption that a particular upgrade to the DV-50 took it in the DIRECTION of the X-01, which sonically is startlingly different in character. As to the other questions you raise, yes, I do think the best single thing the DV-50 does is DVD-A, and in fact I did a direct A-B in my system of the DV-50 against the UX-1 and in DVD-A preferred the DV-50. (Of course I know that other people disagree.) My indicating I mainly listen to redbook through the other units was only to make it clear that my comments were mainly addressed to SACD. My point about analogue was that there seems to be a much greater discrepancy between the way different digital units play back specific digital discs than there is between different analogue rigs on different LPs. And I'm certainly not advocating four digital units where one will do, my system just grew that way out of a few strange coincidences, and provides some interesting comparisons as a result.
Thanks for your response. I now understand better where you are coming from. I apologize for the tone of the post, which was somewhat gruff in nature.

The player is now passing the 50 hour point. I listened a little today, and everything is still right on, with no changes.
The player has past the 220 hour point and has not gone through any other changes. It is, as expected, just slightly better than at 50 hours. VERY Impressive. Doug did a great job on the install, and has many other options in mind. Power supply mods will be next.

Although the unit has become a little more refined, the original improvements outlined in the first post stand as stated. I'm anxious to go to the Chicago "shootout" hopefully scheduled for Feb 5th. Also hope to find someone with a UX-1 or X-01 to compare with.
It is truly amazing that your slightly modded Esoteric DV-50 was neck-and-neck with the FULLY MODIFIED APL Denon and Modwright Sony in the shoot-out!
Wow! Thats saying something!
Great to hear about how the mods improved this all ready great model. I'm going for the full upgrade and will receive the DV-50 back hopefully by the end of May. More later!
I have a DV 50 too and am interested in modification with Jesse. Can you send me some info to get in touch with him.
Great info on the Superclock 3 upgrade....Thanks for taking the time to share with us. Please do keep us updated as you continue with your upgrades.
Nevermind people, Ifound it.
Tgun5: did you tweaked your DV 50 S any further? Have you ever had the chance to compare it to the APL modded Denon 3910/5910 or the Underwood Level 2 modded Denons?
Indeed I have had RAM do additional mods which have dramatically enhanced the player. Doug Jesse hand-built some silver diode bridges, silver wiring, and added Jensen caps among other power supply mods. For the price, they are a bargain. Inner detail has been even further improved. Pace, timing, and transient attack all improved. The power supply mods made an even bigger difference than the Superclock, however, since the Superclock benefits from these changes, it is hard to tell what percentage the mod does alone.

There has been a standing challenge for any modified Sony or Denon unit to come here for a shootout, but only one "taker" has been rescheduling for over a year now and I doubt he will ever show. I also doubt that there is much interest at this point since the DV50 is off the radar so to speak.

Interesting so where is here for a shootout. I have an SCD-1 that Doug is going to install the SC3 and SCPS this week. He has also recommended some additional mods to the output stage; not sure what I am going to do. You can e-mail me maybe and maybe we can get together and compare.


I went over to RAMeast (Douglas Jesse) today to drop off my SCD-1 for the SC3 / SCPS install. He showed me around, pretty amazing stuff he is working on. I must admitt I was a little hesitant at first to let him work on my unit, not knowing anything about him, but with what he showed me I am totally amazed at what he is playing with and I am very comfortable with his work and ability.

Chuck - I live in Sandusky, OH and would be happy to have you hear anytime - either with your unit, or just for a listen. You will be very happy with Doug,s work.

Thanks for the invite. However, I was hoping you were closer to me as I lve in Clarkston, Mi which is kind of a drive about 3 hours minimum. You are right about Doug's work! I had him do the transport mod along with the SC3/SCPS install and my SCD-1 is a much better player and it hasn't even burned in yet. He has recommended mods to the output stage and power supply; I am already planning on doing those mods; probably over the summer when I don't listen that much.

Thanks, Chuck