Strictly for the few... Esoteric with a capital "e".
By Jack Lawson 6th August 2018
The Music Room opened 39 years ago with a motto and a non-commercial model that we hope makes us worth discovering.
"By enthusiasts, for enthusiasts."
That means that we do not sell mass-produced, household names, or High Street products that we would not ourselves buy. The usual suspects are not cutting edge because the manufacturers only need to make them look high-end but they spend more (of your money) on the marketing and the path to the market. Interest Free Credit. Product Launches. Dealer Incentives. Reviewer Incentives.
Commercially it is a successful formula and it is internet and High Street – not just the online and printed magazines -- who support and grow those brands “who play the game.”
And every so often the disillusioned owners drop by The Music Room and discover some great brands, like Esoteric! "Why did the magazines not tell us?".
Well, again, why haven't they told you yet about the astounding value of this Class A amplifier? An amplifier Absolute Sounds in USA made product of the year? Because it is ground-breaking AND can save you a lot of money.
"Too late... if only I had known..."
Esoteric's awesome F-03A
So here is The Real Hi-Fi News. Esoteric is one of the very few high-end brands focused on real progress rather than market placement.
In case this sounds like we are supporting our franchise, rather than opting to sell Esoteric because we admire the team, a few moments of your listening time will tell you that here is something special. At last, high-end that is worth the money. Check out the parts count by online photos of the interiors.
Esoteric is the specialist team within TEAC, perhaps like Jaguar’s SVO. Esoteric unusually thrives within a global corporate empire, but happily has independence, massive resources, and connections. It remains a team which is not dictated to by accountants and production engineers
Esoteric K-05Xs new for July 2018
In Tokyo, every Esoteric product is painstakingly designed and hand built. Your component will have travelled on trolleys from one assembly desk to the next. At around 4-year intervals, a new revised version will incorporate many new techniques, and a new model is born, at the end of July the latest being K-05Xs which has evolved from its ancestors.
Esoteric call it a new Renaissance in Playback as an art form. Is this an idle boast or a truthful indicator? If truthful, how is it possible for one brand to evolve to be different from all others? It was the trajectory Mark Levinson was achieving ten years back before corporate meddling decided to “rationalize” activities.
Esoteric became acclaimed for its CD Mechanisms which began with the TEAC VRDS, way superior to the Sony and Philips transports universally used by all others. Esoteric never licensed its top transports and, I think, do not today permit any rivals to use even the basic ones. I suspect this may be because one high-end brand used its own electronics which were less than ideal; Esoteric prefer their own transports with their own associated boards.
Be that as it may, the famous transports were just the start of Esoteric’s superiority. Their analogue circuits are even more advanced. Their website describes innovations so this newsletter / review will mention only a few of the latest revisions which, I can inform you, make a quantum leap ahead of what you expect from high-end audio.
In simple terms, in 2018, a K-Xs series Esoteric CD player, and F-series integrated amplifier will recreate a musical event on the scale of a giant system. The promise that Esoteric’s Grandioso technology has been employed at affordable level is absolutely true, and clearly audible.
We have mentioned the superior CD turntable and the superior analogue circuits manufactured by Esoteric but the latest models use digital processing of unprecedented finesse and precision. What distinguishes Esoteric is the implementation. In rival brands, the chipsets are not fed with ripple free current, jitter free clocking, analogue interface so speed, detail, phase information is typically lost. The bit rate in early 30’s offers a staggering potential that Esoteric has learned how to unleash. Remember the exponential value of 34 bit is more, much more than double, 16- or even 24-bit which most rivals cannot process but special in truth only because they chipsets are capable, but not delivering in context.
Esoteric’s exponential 34-bit is like the lottery. Three digits not so difficult, four getting harder, but five or six extraordinary. And so it is with the processing achieved now by Esoteric’s infrastructure of these amazing, lightening fast processors. All would be academic and unexciting except, in the service of music, it is palpable. Esoteric’s faith in incremental improvements, all together, have proved them right and I am suggesting that you check it out.
As at July 2018
The revised Super Audio CD players K-01Xs, K-03Xs, and new-this-month K-05Xs bristle with numerous incrementally developed innovations which you can rely on their integrity is no gimmick. Thankfully abandoned is the menu of filter and upsampling options needed in the past to dial in optimum retrieval and musical presentation. You just need to choose upconversion (say 2 X) and SACD Filter: on.
Esoteric’s ESL-A1 optional input technology
One of the most remarkable upgrades is Esoteric’s analogue link from Grandioso allowing the owner to use the modular input of Esoteric F-Series amplifiers. I believe these modules will sell for around £400 in the UK. The user simply slots it into the spare bay and gains a third pair of balanced inputs. Then select ES (from XLR or RCA) output from a current range Esoteric streamer / DAC / CD Player or an Esoteric Phono Stage; you’ll use the normal XLR balanced interconnect, but bypass the impedance interaction that all interconnects suffer.
I realize that this technobabble sounds very … er …. esoteric, even nerdy and niche. Which is true but this latest technology is actually extremely user-friendly, even compact. It introduces at “affordable” level domestically scaled Hi-Fi that really hits that musical nirvana; instantly.
Whatever your music, pop or classical, legacy or audiophile prepare to be astonished and tell me that I am right. From vinyl or digital disc, streaming or downloads
I just continue to wonder why the online and printed media conceal the truth and enthusiasm which we at The Music Room try hard to make available to our customers and friends.
It continues to be an honour to represent the dedicated and brilliant Esoteric team. Many years of your enthusiasm and vision have resulted in today’s models which do not pursue market trends and cost-cutting. Matched with horn loudspeakers for best results Esoteric’s Grandioso is probably the best audio that money can buy and scaled down (slightly) for more affordable products, it is something that every music lover or audiophile should see… should hear… should be moved… and should consider personal priorities.
ATC: for over 40 years, ATC speakers are handmade in the UK. We have these neat SCM-11 on permanent demonstration and they never fail to impress.
Image © The Music Room
ATC make loudspeakers to satisfy the extreme demands of professional users worldwide and they are specified by a user list that tells us something: if it is good enough for so many uncompromising engineers and musicians, it will do nicely for us.
It is sad that hundreds if not thousands of domestic loudspeakers are bought on the high street by people who could look further. Call on us, and for £1,300 -- per pair -- invest in SCM-11. The initials SCM stands for Studio Control Monitor and that is more than a slogan; they let you hear what the producer heard.
Moving coil loudspeakers may look as if little progress has been made but nothing could be further from the truth. The elliptical cabinets are elegant and all the drivers, in-house crafted professional units, are far superior in performance to just ten years ago. ATC has recently released the SCM50ASL-SE, simply gorgeous legacy product finished in Art Deco Piano Black Lacquer. The active fifties are a legend. With evolved technology, built-in amplifiers, and cabinet making to grace the finest New York penthouse suite, the price of £30,000 per pair is hardly cheap but very good value. Less costly than many esteemed loudspeakers heavily promoted on the market.
So far we have mentioned two retro, two west coast, and two Brit monitors in our portfolio so let’s pair two German mainstream brands that can slip through the net.
The team at Burmester are just as serious about their loudspeakers as they are their electronics. Case in point, they chose Munich High End 2018 to launch this statement, flagship loudspeaker that is in every way as impressive as their iconic amplifiers.
Image © The Music Room
The cliché (dare I say stereotype) is that Berlin’s Burmester and Swiss Revox make great electronics and also add loudspeakers almost as an afterthought. Think again! While most people feel better with an acclaimed loudspeaker badge on their loudspeakers, these two companies have dedicated development laboratories, separate departments for loudspeakers, and they are are less inclined to aspire to the prices the loudspeaker industry still manages to achieve.
Revox is most successful in its local markets, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where people are fastidious and seek excellence. For some reason the UK has always been parochial; mediocrity has triumphed under delusion for too long.
Visiting the Revox factory and loudspeaker division a few months ago, just on the German side of the border, I was interested in their Joy systems and in secret analogue projects. (rumours of turntables and an open-reel tape deck) but I walked away with the sound of their loudspeakers etched in my brain.
Impossible for the price and the size. Not just impossible, but astounding.
How many UK audiophiles have Revox on their shortlist of loudspeakers?
I think loudspeakers clearly differentiate specialist dealers and those customers who looked further and aspired higher now look back with satisfaction on the days they spoke to us. More than any other brand, those people who discovered Zingali have written to thank us for diligence and enthusiasm. Truly an investment and an heirloom product, they grace houses and continue to delight music lovers. Many people have owned theirs for over twenty years and cringe when they hear what is offered today. You just don’t see them circulating the used market. Their pro-grade drivers are indestructible.
But while we’re still very fond of the old Zingali designs--and today’s Zingali may seem the similar on the surface--just take a look and listen to the new designs. The same solid wood and horns, but cabinets are better carved and finished; all in house. Countless refinements to the classic recipe of the patented room coupling horn principle have raised the performance almost beyond recognition. As stated, the value is exceptional, making a mockery of commercial names, and prices start from £2,195 per pair. You will be astounded by what you see and hear. Just do not ask to see and hear the flagship product and you will be steady.
Zingali Client 1.5 30th Anniversary loudspeakers. An heirloom product unlike any other loudspeaker.
Image © The Music Room
Zingali Celebrates 30 Years of Awards in Japan, Asia, etc.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Zingali launched the Twenty series, of which the Twenty 1.2 Evo is the third and latest series ten years on. Costing £12-14,000 depending on finish, it offers very obviously and stated simply, a loudspeaker superior to almost anything else on the planet. It is in every way a rational purchase.
And the flagship, no compromise, is still called the Client Name. (To reflect its neutrality and custom solution, your name is inscribed on the plate). The latest version 1.5 EVO has “30th Anniversary 1986-2016” engraved in front of the bass wave-guide “feet.” The cabinets are strikingly sculpted exterior, brilliantly calculated geometry and dimensions internally, and the soundstage does redefine the word loudspeaker.
In a world where the giants of the genre can cost a quarter of a million in hard currency, the 30th anniversary Client Names do not seem overpriced even at £35,000. If you can accommodate them, and if you can afford them, they will surprise you. Not least, in our experience, wives instantly appreciate the transcendent musical shape and sound, form follows function, and the discerning pleasure of ownership of a hand crafted, batch of one, to your design.
And there are more surprises we prefer to discuss in our city showroom rather than publicise: these include second-hand and, well, surprises, to reward personal callers who aim higher and are prepared to travel a little further.