Esoteric N-05XD DAC, Preamplifier, Headamp And Music
The Esoteric sound has normally been deemed as rather representative of the so-called Japanese sound, which is to some nuanced, introverted, controlled and detail-oriented, and to others thin-sounding, sharp, lacking body and bass shy. Yet Esoteric's first self-developed Master Discrete DAC has definitely revised the stereotype of the Japanese sound which was criticized as sounding like a radish (think about the light flavor as well as the shape of a radish with a big head on the top and a thin bottom end).
N-05XD has inherited the traditional focus on details and nuances, yet it is much fuller, more musical, and analog sounding compared to their previous lineups utilizing AKM chips. Reproducing the full sound quality of the original masters, the N-05XD represents a new frontier in network DAC/preamps, therefore it is not an exaggeration to say that the N-05XD has evolved the stereotype of the Japanese sound.
The Minimalist Approach
On the Build And Finish
On the Master Discrete DAC
Technically, Esoteric's Discrete DAC features a sophisticated discrete circuit design with Delta Sigma (ΔΣ) modulation, rather than an R-2R Ladder design, however, Esoteric's Master Discrete DAC shares the sonic traits of both a full-sounding analog R-2R and the technical capabilities associated with chip DACs. It is a combination of Esoteric's exclusive Delta Sigma (ΔΣ) modulator, and separate custom-coded FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) digital processing algorithms developed for each step in the conversion process that allows it to achieve this.
"The fundamental goal in the development of the Master Sound Discrete DAC was to achieve an accurate, full-bodied reproduction of all the vibrancy and energy of music. Music is infused with all the passion that a performer brings to a passage, with instantaneous and explosive energy." — Esoteric
Due to the quality of the internal components of the N-05XD, it is really not necessary to add any DDC (Digital to Digital Converter) or jitter purifier, nor is there a need to add isolation or damping materials, in that their stock feet and board at the top of the chassis do an excellent job in this regard.
On the Streamer
On The Headphone Amp
On The Preamplifier
The N-05XD also has a top-notch volume knob, which feels smooth and premium. As Esoteric says, "Just a touch of its volume knob clearly reveals this quality in its most exquisite form and promises the fullest and most satisfying enjoyment of Esoteric's pure signature sound."
On the Master Clock
Despite the ongoing debate over the phase noise and jitter generated by the increased distance between the DAC and the master clock, as well as the role of the clocks in DACs for playback and the role in recording and mastering equipment, I would always refer to my first-hand experiments to gauge before jumping to any conclusion, because HiFi is in practice and the proof is in the ears, and in the case of the N-05XD, (in my opinion) it is a must.
On The Listening Impression
In order to gauge the macro and micro details, I used the highly regarded classical album " Track 24, "Caprices for violin, Op.1, MS.25", showcases the outstanding control of N-05XD. No matter how fast the violin was being played, everything sounded effortless and in control, in a way that didn't feel compressed or forced. Even in the super-high registers, there was no sign of digital glare, hash, or fatigue.
Thanks to the realistic tonality and texture of the instruments as well as the massive sense of space, live performances have never before sounded as pleasant to my ears as they did through the Esoteric. Playing "Trilogy Suit" from the album " feels as if I was literally at the concert. Clapping from the audience has never sounded this real and euphoric. Even the cough and noises from the background could be not only located but delineated as to their physical shape. It was funny, you could feel how much a guy in the background was annoyed by other loud audience members, by the way he was shushing at them.
Meanwhile, I never lost the palpable vocals in that three-dimensional room. On the contrary, there is a strong focus on the vocals, making it a perfect match for vocal-centric music as they feel so close to your ears that you can feel the shape of the lips and mouth of the singer. Listening to the track "Moses Don't Get Lost" by Bessie Jones, I felt like I was surrounded by the choir of female and male island singers, involuntarily tapping my toes to the beat along with them.
Casey Abrams' Robot Lovers manifested the excellent separation between the singer and various instruments in the band, positioned accurately and clearly. Any movement and motion of the singer could be easily noticed by the continual change of his location on the stage.
As for the lows, the N-05XD is not a bass monster that can slam or rumble aggressively as Mojo Mystique XSE, and RocknaWavedream, yet the bottom end is still present. As evidenced by the track "Bossa Nova U.S.A." by Dave Brubeck and The Dave Brubeck Quartet, the attack from the jazz drum set is strong and intimidating.
Closing: The Golden Mean Of Two Worlds
Adding a master clock, a higher quality source, and an amplifier will definitely better fill the enormous stage with even more body, soul, dynamics, and life. After all, the highlight of the N-05XD is still its Master Discrete DAC. The forte of the DAC is its massive stage size and the natural sound of the instrumental textures and tonality. It is so good that it managed to alter the genres of music that I normally listen to, as I seldom listen to classical or live recordings. Esoteric's corporate philosophy has been the reproduction of the original sound performed by musicians in a studio or concert hall, and the N-05XD really delivers it.
At the asking price of $11,000, the N-05XD has an outstanding DAC that it shares with Esoteric's flagship, a good streamer with a separate linear power supply, and a headphone amp that could adequately drive all headphones and IEMs along with a well-built preamp. It is no wonder that it has been crowned the best product of the year by many. Welcome to the age of the new Esoteric sound, and welcome to the age of the new Japanese sound.