Veteran manufacturer Esoteric had not one, but two, major product introductions at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Reflecting general trends in the industry, one new piece of gear is aimed at vinyl fans, while the other is for those embracing digital-file playback.
The Esoteric E-2 phono preamplifier ($9,500 USD) improves on the E-1, which has been on the market for eight years, adding balanced operation and enhanced circuitry for MC cartridges. The unit has one XLR input and output, as well as one RCA in and out. Total harmonic distortion is listed at 0.007 per cent.
One the digital side, the Esoteric N0-1 network audio player ($20,000 USD) is the company’s new flagship. It includes the AK4497 DAC, which is said to be AKM’s best. It also has a 35-bit D/A processing algorithm and differential eight-circuit independent power regulator design for each channel.
At RMAF, Esoteric was showing the new components with a rack of other company products, including the S-02 power amplifier ($20,000 USD), C-02X line stage ($20,000 USD), K-01X SACD/CD player/DAC ($20,000 USD) and G-01X master clock ($20,000 USD). The turntable was a VPI Prime Signature with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge ($8,309 USD). Speakers were the Canton Reference 3K ($15,600/pair USD). Cables were by AudioQuest.
Digital demo tracks included John Coltrane’s “Autumn Leaves” and Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years.” Coltrane’s horn has a nice tone, with an appropriate amount of bite, while the bass was deep and tuneful. The pace on this track was also noteworthy, and there seemed to be a generous amount of air in the upper frequencies. Mick Hucknall’s voice, meanwhile, was focused and palpable. The horn work was polished and the Esoteric/Canton combo also did a good job handling the dynamic shifts in the number.
Overall, Esoteric continues to make some of the most refined-sounding gear on the market. It’s definitely worth an audition for those shopping in this price range.