Ever since we were mistakenly and somewhat naively promised “perfect sound” back at the launch of Compact Disc in the early 80’s, the format has suffered at the hands of those who continuously compare it unfavourably with analogue. So, I constantly read and hear people saying that CD player A is better than B because it sounds more like a record player. My advice is that if you want an analogue source then buy a turntable and all that goes along with it, but certainly do not waste your time comparing it to an Esoteric. What Teac have done over the past few years is to considerably refine their flagship CD players, but they are most definitely digital music machines and sound unlike any record player I have ever heard. But, despite that, there is no doubt that in the D2 version of the established X-01 they have produced one of the very best single-box players around.
externally. The tray still slides in and out with that wonderfully silky action, but now it is concealed behind a motorised flap, borrowed from the more expensive models, which locks tightly shut, sealing the disc bay from light, dust, vibration and the outside world in general.
With each individual electronic and mechanical function of this player, the Esoteric illustrates perfectly just how a high-end machine should operate. Every time you use it, it reminds you that this is a truly beautifully constructed piece of audio electronics, with a fit and finish that most others can only dream about. But, given Esoteric’s probable R&D budget perhaps that isn’t so surprising.
The D2 version allows you to select from three DAC modes and the one that you prefer will likely depend on the disc in the tray, the characteristics of your system, and to a certain extent your personal taste. In fact I found that it could even depend on which track you happened to be playing when you made your selection. The choices are single-bit, multi-bit and DSD and it would be hard to characterize them here in anything other than a general sense, as you really have to compare them in situ and in real-time. You also have a reference setting that allows the machine to automatically choose the most obvious alternative. Its performance on properly formatted SACD can be stunning in the breadth and weight it brings to instruments and it has made me a staunch convert to the format. It’s a little late I hear you say. Correct, but I have never heard quite such a persuasive case as the D2 makes and if I owned one I would seek out as many of these discs as I possibly could.
With these and other electronic improvements, what Teac have added sonically to the previous X-01 armoury is a huge dose of reality and humanity. No longer does the impressive resolution sound like an academic exercise in detail retrieval. The tonal balance is a just about perfect fit for most high-end systems and the instrumental and vocal textures are denser, leaving the whole sound far, far more organic. Now that the slight stridency has all but vanished the D2 is much easier to live with. You will be impressed with not only the bandwidth but also with the superb top to bottom control and focus that the machine provides. I would never call it warm (or remotely analogue), but the way it can exert such grip and sheer articulation without sounding contrived or detached really sets it apart. It is one of those rare players that is powerfully rock solid, yet can produce layer upon layer of impossibly finely shaded detail that extends from the instrumental, through the harmonic and into the ambient.
At high frequencies the Esoteric is very comfortable, endlessly open and revealing and has replaced the icy coolness of the previous models with a refined, multi-coloured tonality and explosive dynamics. I used it with the Lyra Connoisseur 4.2L SE preamplifier and a pair of Ayre MX-R power amplifiers driving JMlabs Micro Utopia speakers through a complete Nordost Valhalla cable loom and I couldn’t get enough of the sheer vigour and enthusiasm that made this stunningly coherent and musically involving system one of the very best I have ever had at home. For pure clarity of expression the D2 is hugely impressive in its explicit nature and uncanny ability to unravel the music into perfectly understandable elements. It is one of those machines that positively thrive on complexity and even the densest of recordings are laid bare and locked within that broad, deep soundstage. Ask it any musical question and it will come up with a perfectly coherent and lucid answer. But it is, like all great equipment at this level, endlessly demanding of its partnering electronics. This is a lean sounding player with no superfluous body or added warmth but it is tremendously fast, very rhythmically persuasive and will give the rest of your system a real examination in speed, resolution and dynamics. To get the best from the D2 you still have to pay serious attention to every aspect of the installation, but if you do then you will end up with one hell of a system, especially if you seek high resolution. This is a very impressive CD player indeed and when I weigh up its attributes sonically, factor in the amazing build quality and then look at the competition, I have to admit that even at this price, it actually represents decent value for money. Now, finally, it’s a machine would like to own. Over the past couple of years I have spent time with both the original X-01 and the improved SE version. Both were interesting machines, built around that impressive VRDS-NEO transport and able to extract more sheer detail from CD than just about any of their competitors. In Japan they are regarded primarily as SACD machines (reflecting the much greater availability of SACD titles in the Japanese market) but I always viewed them as CD players that happen to play SACD discs. The only problem with those previous models for me was that they had a cool, somewhat impersonal steeliness about them that was a touch over-analytical for my tastes. In some ways they personified those aspects of digital replay that so many analogue die-hards still object to. You could certainly subdue these traits somewhat with careful choice of support and cables, but it never really went away and characterized those players to the extent where I admired them but never really felt the overwhelming urge to own one. But, someone back in Japan was smart enough to recognise exactly where their musical shortcomings were and the result is that the D2 version has addressed the problems admirably.