Esoteric P05x D05x Review
Equipment Reviews – Esoteric P-05X and D-05X and Pink Faun 2.16
I appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone but hope the following reviews may bring a moment of interest to our audiophile friends.
Today I have the very real pleasure of reviewing some Esoteric and Pink Faun equipment in my home system because of the latest home lockdown. What better way to spend time listening to music at home?
Many of you will know of Esoteric from the high end Japanese audio industry but you may not have heard of Pink Faun. So here is my take on components from both manufacturers.
The system was used via the new Michi P5 Pre-Amp and M8 Monobloc Power Amps feeding Marten Mingus Quintet speakers. Cabling was mostly by Jorma. Sources other than those for review were the Innuos Zenith digital transport / streamer and the matching USB Re-Clocker.
Esoteric are a part of the Teac Corporation of Japan founded in 1953 and have become their high-end brand worldwide making digital players since 1987, a bit like Lexus is to Toyota. They specialise in SACD/CD transports and players using the Teac highly regarded VRDS transport mechanisms and build complementary DAC’s but they also build high quality Master Clock Generators, Network Players, Pre and Power, Integrated amps and Phono Stages, all built to the highest standards of fit and finish inside and out. They may be costly, but they look and feel the part.
Today I am reviewing two components from their 05 mid-range series, the P-05X SACD/CD Transport and the matching D-05X DAC, a forthcoming review will add a standalone Esoteric Master Clock to the mix.
First impressions are that the build quality is exceptional, matching anything built in the UK or the USA. Each component has four bespoke isolating feet and high-quality rear terminals all set in sculptured aluminium cases. The P-05X can be linked to the D-05X DAC in three different ways, by SPDIF RCA, by twin digital XLR or by twin ES-Link4 high speed HDMI cables. There is also a BNC connection from the DAC to the Transport which provides in-built master clock synchronisation which can of course be upgraded with the external master clock making for a three-component player system.
I listened via twin XLR and twin HDMI connections each with the internal clock linked from the DAC to the Transport to hear how they performed as a pair and to find out if I could hear a difference between the different connections.
P-05X Transport – This is a SACD/CD Transport (not a player) using the Teac VRDS-NEO (VMK-5) transport mechanism and the same laser pickup system as used in their flagship Grandioso transport. THE ES-LINK4 HDMI connection allows most of the digital processing to be done
on the transport side with key information sent separately to the DAC. The transport incorporates three separate toroidal transformers.
Due to the many upsampling options available I chose to do all listening with the BNC clock link active between the units and with the Transport upsampling standard CD’s by 8x and the DAC then upsampling to DSD. SACD cannot of course be upsampled.
Via Dual Digital XLR and BNC clock link to the D-05X– It’s always difficult to assess how a transport sounds as it cannot be used in isolation, so my listening was mainly using the Esoteric Transport and DAC together. Twin XLR cables make use of the dual mono construction of both components and allows the transfer of higher resolution files. This option is selected on both the Transport and the DAC. I first played some Beatles from the recently re-mastered Abbey Road CD and Ringo’s drumming was the best I have heard at home. The sound was dynamic, yet smooth and silky and with immediate room filling presence. The timbre of John Lennon’s voice on “I want you- I want you so bad” was outstanding and totally immersive. SACD is definitely better than CD giving a wider and more open soundstage, it’s a pity they are not easily available in the UK these days.
Via ES-LINK4 Digital HDMI and BNC clock link to the D-05X – Not having the manufacturer supplied HDMI cables to hand Initially I tried using high quality HDMI cables with ARC channels active but this wouldn’t work with the D-05X which appears to need standard HDMI cables to allow correct function. I only had very basic non-matching HDMI cables to hand nevertheless
the sound was excellent and probably better than via the Dual XLR connections. I’m sure it would improve with the correct cables. The differences were not night and day, but they were sufficient to suggest this is the way the two units should be connected in preference to Dual XLR or RCA.
D-05X DAC – The DAC incorporates twin toroidal transformers for independent left and right channels. It features 34-bit D/A processing and high-resolution playback with upsampling of 2, 4 or 8 times or it can convert the PCM signal to fixed 22.5MHz DSD levels if desired. Via USB it can handle signals up to 22.5MHz DSD or 768 kHz/32-bit PCM. It does not decode MQA files. This is no real loss as Qobuz can be used as an alternative where files are mostly 24-bit 96 Hz resolution and sound very similar to MQA Master files from Tidal.
The D-05X uses 4 32-bit 2 channel DAC circuits per channel using 8 of the Asahi Kasei AK4497 chipsets, 4 per channel. The BNC link to the P-05X transport provides a master clock signal to synchronise the two units and minimise jitter and effectively makes the two units act as one device.
Used with the P-05X Transport – as discussed above these two units are designed to work and function best when used as a pair. My notes above relate to this pairing.
Used as a standalone DAC fed from other sources – I used my Innuos pairing of Zenith / USB Re-Clocker to feed the DAC and compared it to using the Michi P5 built in DAC which uses twin AK4490 chipset whereas the D-05X uses 4 pairs of the newer AK4497 chips. The sound from the two DAC’s is clearly from the same family but the Esoteric D-05X was a clear winner
here as I had expected because the cost difference allowed Esoteric to design a much better implementation and signal integrity in its DAC. The D-05X adding a more effortless, dynamic and detailed sound without becoming overly bright. Just listen to ‘The Snake’ by Eric Church on his “Desperate Man” album and he was there in the room with me. The same goes for Elvis and this DAC shows just how good his voice was and how good these recordings from 50+ years ago were.
As with the SACD/CD Transport this is a fine offering from Esoteric and is highly recommended. I wonder if Esoteric might consider a future upgrade to include MQA decoding.
This is an outstanding SACD/CD transport and DAC combination with options for connection to the DAC that make listening an adventure and a real pleasure. And so it should be at the price but in today’s high-end marketplace it appears as good value when build quality, looks, longevity and the performance are thrown into the equation. There are many other high-end components nowhere near as well built as this duo. They are designed to be used together and that is how they sounded best to me. However, the DAC performed exceptionally well as a standalone unit and would make a good purchase at this price point.
At a later date I hope to review these two items again but this time inserting the G-02X Master Clock Generator to see what this adds.
Pink Faun – Streamer 2.16 (£7,950.00)
Pink Faun started in the 1990’s trading valves (tubes) and later modifying equipment for customers. They are based in the Netherlands where they currently design and manufacture high end hand-built streamers that incorporate as standard a dedicated ethernet input for streaming purposes and a number of USB outputs for connection to a separate DAC of your choice.
All Pink Faun streamers are built to order and come with blank bays ready to accept a dedicated range of digital output cards that can provide a separate LAN Bridge, USB Bridge, SPDIF Bridge and a I2S bridge modules at additional cost. These can be specified at the time of order or added at a later date. As standard it comes with the LAN input and a variety of USB outputs.
The Streamer 2.16 is a Roon ready component with Roonserver as the default playback software. It does not include a DAC and does not rip CD’s to a hard drive, it just streams from the internet or from your NAS Drive. For customers requiring more from their server Pink Faun also offer the Streamer 2.16x which has improved design and component selection in key areas including upgraded clocks and power supplies.
I had the standard 2.16 Streamer available for review feeding via USB cable into the Esoteric D-05X DAC. Roon found the 2.16 straight away and I was able to connect it to my Tidal and
Qobuz accounts without any problems. The 2.16 was initially used in place of my Innuos Zenith Mk III Streamer and USB Phoenix Reclocker.
Pink Faun as a Streamer only via Ethernet input and output via USB to the Esoteric D-05X DAC : The Pink Faun is large, heavy and remarkably well built and will take up some real estate on your component rack but at least you can see and feel where your money has been spent. But better still you can hear it as well. I don’t have a home network via dedicated NAS Drive as I really have no need to stream music around the house. So initially I used the Pink just as a streamer playing music from Tidal and Qobuz. Used this way the sound was impressive, and it did show a small improvement over the Innuos Zenith. Perhaps the Innuos Statement would have been a better comparison. The Pink just does not sound like digital, sounding much more analogue in its presentation. I was very impressed. Listen to Dick Parry playing sax on Dark Side of The Moon and you will hear what I mean.
I tried it direct into the Michi P5 DAC but after a while I found I wasn’t concentrating so much on the music so I went back to the Esoteric D-05X for the remainder of my listening.
After a while I got a little tired of having to find music to stream from the internet, it’s a generation thing, and yearned for the ease of use of the Innuos Zenith with its onboard hard drive containing all my ripped music files. Fortunately, the Innuos has an Ethernet output to a server and this led me to the following set up:
Pink Faun fed from an Innuos Zenith Digital Transport using the Ethernet Server output on the Zenith and into the Pink Faun then via USB into the Innuos Phoenix Reclocker and then via USB to the Esoteric D05-X DAC:
Perhaps a bit complicated and probably overkill but boy did this improve things from a convenience and a sound point of view. The advantages here are that all of my library held on the Zenith was now available to the Pink Faun and I didn’t just have to rely on music streamed from the internet. This is where Roon comes into its own.
The sound fed from the Zenith was similar of course to the Pink on its own but there is in my opinion still something better from ripped CD’s than from direct streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz. However, when inserting the Phoenix Reclocker between the Pink and the Esoteric DAC a further improvement in sound and clarity was evident and this is how I proceeded to listen.
Used this way it sounded very good with greater mid-bass slam, better guitar and vocal definition and such a wide soundstage. Can it boogie? Try listening to Superstition by Stevie Wonder and stay seated.
The Pink Faun 2.16 on its own is £2,700 more than Zenith/Phoenix at £5,250. But using all three together as I did it comes to £13,200 and this brings it closer to the Pink Faun 2.16x at £13,950 but the 2.16x was not to hand for comparison and nor was the Innuos Statement at around £10k. The 2.16x of course still needs to be fed from a NAS Drive if you want to do more than just stream music and it needs to play into a DAC, not having one of its own.
The sound from this combination was exquisite making me want to delve deeper into my collection of music. It has uncanny imaging ability and although not used as Pink Faun perhaps intended it makes for a thoroughly immersive ride. Even backing vocals have more clarity, depth and interest. Listening to the guitars on Chris Rea’s Auberge and the whole mix is there.
A final listen to ‘Morning Has Broken’ by Cat Stevens had so much emotion and surely this is what we are all looking for, I just had to play it again.
Was the Pink Faun better than the Esoteric SACD/CD Transport pairing, no not quite? CD still has the edge in my opinion but servers such as the Pink Faun are catching up very fast and only CD players of the quality of the Esoteric can still show a sonic advantage.
Anyone buying any of these components is clearly dedicated to their hobby, but they won’t be disappointed. All three offer excellent performance and I am sorry to have to return them to the showroom.
I hope that those of you taking the time to read my lengthy reviews here have found it interesting. Please contact us to listen to this and other equipment in our three dedicated listening rooms.
Thanks for listening.
Bob at Team Nintronics – November 2020.