• Esoteric D-07 DAC Review

    Wednesday evening the Minnesota Twins will play the New York Yankees in game one of the American League Division Series. This is Major League Baseball's first round of the 2010 playoffs. The reason I mention the Twins v. Yankees playoff series is because it has a direct parallel with my experience evaluating the Esoteric D-07 DAC. The New York Yankees are known as a team that seeks out the best players in baseball with great stats, high profiles, and high salaries. Over the years the Yankees have been incredibly successful using this all-star team approach. Once in awhile the Yankees stumble and lose to teams with less known players who come together as a team at the right time. This year the Minnesota Twins could be that low paid team built from within the organization's ranks to upset the Yankees. In high-end audio the Esoteric company is known for great specifications, components that support advanced technologies, and complete digital systems with fairly high price tags. For the most part this formula has worked very well for Esoteric and its legions of satisfied customers. The Esoteric D-07 sports 32-bit stereo DACs, dual mono design with 32bit resolution throughout the signal path, support for very high sample rates on most digital inputs, word clock in/output, a beautiful aluminum chassis, 32-bit digital attenuation, upsampling all the way to DSD, an apodizing filter, and a host of other great technical concepts. Unfortunately my experience using the D-07 DAC over the last several weeks has made it clear that the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts and an all- 

    Continuing The Baseball Analogy With The Esoteric D-07 DAC

    Readers familiar with baseball know that it's a game called by umpires. Umpires use their eyes and ears to make judgement calls during every game. Even though the strike zone is clearly defined in the baseball rulebook there are disagreements during every game about balls and strikes. Reviewing audio components is somewhat similar. Writers user their eyes and ears to make judgements during every component evaluation period. Some judgments are based on objective criteria such as jitter specs. Even so there are many disagreements how to measure and interpret these specs or results. Other judgements such as sound quality are subjective and never fail to bring about disagreements after every review. What this boils down to is a series of judgments and opinions. Calling it as one sees it. One umpire's strike three is another umpire's ball four. One audio writer's "terrible USB implementation" is inside another writer's "best USB DAC on the market." Fortunately in high-end audio consumers have an opportunity to make these judgement calls themselves and to use instant replay until a satisfactory opinion can be rendered.

    Computer Audiophile readers are encouraged to check out Vade Forrester's recent review over at SoundStage for a contrasting opinion of the D-07. [Link]

     

    Strike One (Not a good start)

    When the Esoteric D-07 DAC arrived I connected it to my system and open the manual for a cursory page flip or two. I usually get components up and running and return to the manual afterward for clarification and recommendations. Sure it's backward but I believe I'm in a group with a majority of people when it comes to manual reading. I skipped to the USB and computer audio portions of the manual first. To my dismay the D-07 manual instructs readers to improperly configure the operating system, to use Windows Media Player, and says, "The USB-connected personal computer must be running with Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Vista. Other operating systems are not guaranteed." In addition the manual contains incorrect and misleading information about the D-07 USB input.

    A. Information about using Windows

    The statement that Windows is the only operating system guaranteed to to work with the D-07 is troubling. If Windows truly was the only OS guaranteed to work I could simply make a note of this deficiency. However, there is nothing special about the D-07 that even remotely suggests it should not work with other operating systems. The D-07 USB implementation works with an operating system's built-in USB drivers. In fact I've yet to see a USB DAC using native device drivers that doesn't work on at lest Windows and Mac OS X. I'm unsure what lead to this statement's placement in the manual, but it's not helping Esoteric win over potential customers using Mac OS X.

    I consider any computer configuration that does not output bit perfect audio to be an incorrect configuration. Readers can imagine the look on my face when I read the following information in the D-07 manual.

    • "Use the OS based media player for playback (Windows Media Player, etc)."


    • "If the sound does not playback normally when you are using a supported operating system, and the connections are correct as described above, check the following points. Click “Control Panel” and then “Sound”. Click the “Playback” tab and check that “SPDIF Interface ESOTERIC D-07” is selected. [The] Following settings are also recommended: Clicking “Properties” at this window (“Control Panel” and then “Sound”) displays the following window (pictured here pdf). Click “Supported Formats”, then uncheck the check box of “Encoded Formats”. Check the check box of the sample rate you want to set. Click “Advanced”. Select “2 channel, 24 bit, ********Hz”. Regardless of the format of your selected music file, PCM signals are sent at the selected sampling rate when using the USB connection."


    Recommending Windows Media Player without discussing the negative sonic impact of imperfect output is a mistake. Following this the manual goes on to show readers how setup the Sound options within the Windows Control Panel. All the provided information is technically correct, but is absolutely the incorrect way to output bit transparent audio. There is nothing written about Exclusive Mode, or WASAPI, Kernel Streaming, and ASIO output methods. In the J River Media Center article I wrote on 02/24/2010 [Link] I actually recommend setting the sample rate in the Windows Control Panel to a rate that is unlikely to every be used. This way a DAC that displays the incoming sample rate will let the listener know something is configured incorrectly if this unlikely sample rate is displayed. Playback applications should never rely on the Windows Audio Control Panel settings if bit transparent audio is desired. These applications should use WASAPI, Kernel Streaming or ASIO for bit transparent output, even at the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz sample rate.

    Manufacturers should either instruct customers correctly or not instruct them at all. Esoteric is an industry leader in digital audio and a company others look to for innovation. Esoteric's explanation of how to output audio is likely viewed by distributors, dealers, and customers around the world as the correct way to use a computer for high-end audio. This is a disservice to the aforementioned entities and the industry as a whole. All of this information in the manual about Windows only and how to configure Windows appears to be an oversight by Esoteric at best and lack of research or interest in computer playback at worst.

    B. Incorrect or misleading information about the USB input

    Many potential customers and Computer Audiophile readers frequently rely on user manuals provided by manufacturers to find correct information about components. Questions arise about sample rate support via USB input or specifics about upsampling all the time. Quite often a reader will paste information from the user manual into a comment and the thread will conclude with the assumed correct information straight from the horses mouth. With this in mind, here are a few specs copied word for word from the Esoteric D-07 DAC user manual (bold emphasis mine).

    • "Input sampling frequencies XLR*, RCA, OPTICAL 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 (kHz) USB 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 (kHz) * Only the XLR terminal can receive DSD signals when connecting with an Esoteric P-05 CD/SACD transport. (The Esoteric P-05 is an optional component not included with this device)."

    • "The D-07 features a variety of digital inputs, including a USB terminal, that support the playback of Super Audio CDs together with ESOTERIC’s Super Audio CD Transport products, as well as the playback of high-resolution music files. The D-07’s USB input can accept native resolution up to 24bit/96kHz."

    • [Analog output] Output terminals XLR (2ch) x1 RCA (2ch) x1 Output impedance XLR: 100? RCA: 100? Maximum output level 2.2Vrms (1 kHz, full scale, 10k?) Frequency response 5 Hz - 40 kHz S/N ratio 130 dB Total harmonic distortion 0.001 % (1 kHz) [Digital input] Balanced digital input XLR x1 24bit/192kHz Coaxial digital input RCA x2 24bit/192kHz Optical digital input Optical x1 24bit/192kHz USB input USB Type B x 1 24bit/96kHz [Word Sync output] Output terminal BNC x 1 Output frequency 44.1, 88.2, 176.4, 48, 96, 192 kHz (rectangular wave) Output level TTL level (75 ?) [Word Sync input] Input terminal BNC x 1 Input frequency 44.1, 88.2, 176.4, 48, 96, 192, 100 kHz (rectangular wave) Input impedance 75 ? Input level TTL level [General] Power supply AC 230V 50Hz AC 120V 60Hz AC 220V 60Hz Power consumption 7 Watt External dimensions(WxHxD) 442 mm x 103.5 mm x 346 mm (17-3/8" x 4-1/16" x 13-5/8") Weight 9.5 kg (21 lbs)


    The first example is simply incorrect. The Esoteric D-07 cannot handle 88.2 kHz audio. Period. Either it does not play or the playback application is required to down or upsample the audio in order for the D-07 to handle it via USB. The second example clearly leads average unlearned computer audiophiles to believe the 88.2 kHz sampling frequency is supported. Resolutions up to 24/96 has an inherent assumption associated with the phrase that all usable sample rates or all sample rates supported by the other interfaces up to 24/96 are supported. The third example is simply a reiteration through implication that support for 24/96 includes the relevant sample rates below. The above examples are not simply nitpicking. These are real world examples from the D-07 manual that will mislead and disappoint consumers.

       


     

    Ball One (Pretty good)

    The Esoteric D-07 is certainly a jack of all trades. Its XLR, RCA, and optical inputs all support 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 (kHz) and the USB input supports 32, 44.1, 48, 96 (kHz). The D-07's 32-bit digital volume control allows one to bypass a preamplifier and the associated interconnects. Support for DSD audio from SACDs is enabled via the XLR input when using the Esoteric P-05 transport. Fans of upsampling will approve of the D-07's support for 2x, 4x, and DSD upsampling options. The D-07 offers two digital filter choices that only apply to PCM audio signals not upsampled to DSD. The Finite Impulse Response filter is a 32-bit filter that oversamples the input signal to eight times the frequency of the original. According to Esoteric this is supposed to provide a "fuller, richer and deeper sound" but I found it to be a bit over-exaggerated, inaccurate, and almost cartoonish sounding in my system. I used the S_DLY Apodizing filter for nearly all of the review period. The D-07 manual describes this filter as, "A 32-bit short delay filter oversamples the input signal to 8 times the frequency of the original signal. This provides an impulse response without pre-echo, natural attack and reverberation. This setting provides tonal quality that is closer to the original recorded material and without enhancement." I don't disagree with this statement. I think the Apodizing filter is closer to the above attributes than the FIR filter. Unfortunately just because the filter is closer to something doesn't mean it is close to something. During the review I also used a Lynx AES16 audio card that's capable of accepting incoming word clock signals while sending out AES digital audio. In the past I've achieved very good sound using a DAC to send word clock out to a Lynx AES16 card. Using the Lynx AES16 / Esoteric D-07 combination did offer sound quality superior to the USB input and equivalent to using the Weiss INT202 FireWire to AES / S/PDIF converter into the D-07. The D-07 can also receive an incoming word clock signal from an external clock such as the Esoteric G-03X or G-0Rb, or a Lynx AES16 card.



     

    Strike Two - Foul Ball

    When Esoteric announced the immanent release of a DAC with USB input many computer audiophiles, including myself, were pleased to see such an esteemed company get into the game. I certainly applaud Esoteric for thinking about computer audio and the next phase of high-end audio reproduction. However, it now appears that computer based audio and the USB input were afterthoughts to Esoteric. Below is information obtained from the USBProber application. It clearly shows there is no support for 88200 Hz and the USB implementation as an Isochronous adaptive data endpoint. Surely I never discount any USB interface because it is adaptive as opposed to asynchronous, but this is simply an additional data point to consider when evaluating a product. As it turns out the D-07 sound quality via USB input was my least favorite. In this case the specifications (adaptive USB) and my listening experience (not positive) both jibe.


    • Audio Class Specific Audio Data Format
      Audio Stream Format Type Desc.
      Format Type: 1 PCM
      Number Of Channels: 2 STEREO
      Sub Frame Size: 2
      Bit Resolution: 16
      Sample Frequency Type: 0x04 (Discrete)
      Sample Frequency: 32000 Hz
      Sample Frequency: 44100 Hz
      Sample Frequency: 48000 Hz
      Sample Frequency: 96000 Hz
      Endpoint 0x03 - Isochronous Output
      Address: 0x03 (OUT)
      Attributes: 0x09 (Isochronous adaptive data endpoint)
      Max Packet Size: 388
      Polling Interval: 1 ms



     


    Strike Three (There's always next time)

    Most disappointing to me was the sound quality of the Esoteric D-07. I could easy look beyond the previously mentioned strikes against the DAC if the sound quality was spectacular. Unfortunately I was underwhelmed by nearly everything I heard coming from the D-07. One important item to keep in mind while reading my sound quality assessment is the rest of the audio components used throughout the review. I only evaluated the D-07 using my current playback system. This is comprised of the D-07 feeding a McIntosh MC275 tube amplifier directly via Kimber Select RCA interconnects, and the MC275 feeding Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers via Kimber speaker cable. Feeding the DAC was both Windows and Mac OS X based music servers using a Weiss INT202 FireWire to AES-S/PDIF converter, straight USB, or an AES digital signal from a Lynx AES16 card. I am willing to say this may not have provided the best synergy for the D-07. Yet another reason I encourage readers to check out Vade Forrester's D-07 review mentioned earlier in this article.

    The first thing that comes to mind when describing the sound quality of the D-07 is a photographic print. The sound of the D-07 has a matte character to it as opposed to a glossy character. Ideally there would be no character to the sound of this DAC, but in the real world a more acceptable character would lie somewhere in between matte and glossy. Throughout the review I used a verity of music to evaluate the D-07. In heavy rotation was my standard Shelby Lynne album Tiers, Lies, and Alibis, Petteri Iivonen's Art of the Violin at 24/88.2 ( Yarlung Records 05787), Jack Johnson's compete catalog, Nat King Cole's The Very Thought of You (Analogue Productions CAPP 1084 SA), and Britten's Orchestra by Michael Stern's Kansas City Symphony at 24/176.4 (Reference Recordings HR-120 HRx). No matter what music I played I could not shake the matte sound. I felt like there was a thin sheet hanging between my speakers and listening chair that removed detail throughout the frequency spectrum. The Esoteric D-07 did not allow me to hear into the music at all. I frequently had to turn up the volume to loud levels in order to hear fine details in a recording like Britten's Orchestra. The D-07's USB input was clearly inferior to the others including optical S/PDIF. Using the Weiss INT202 improved the sound quality compared to USB whether I entered the DAC via AES or coaxial S/PDIF. I heard no difference between AES and coaxial S/PDIF using the Weiss / Esoteric combination.

    Toward the end of the review period I tried very hard to narrow down the cause of my displeasure with the D-07. The sound was simply dead and I really wanted to make it come alive, to experience what so many satisfied Esoteric customers experience daily. I first looked into the D-07's upsampling capability. As many Computer Audiophile readers know I am not a fan of manual upsampling. I call it manual because it's an option DAC users can manually enable, disable, or adjust. I consider upsampling hard coded by a manufacturer to be automatic or uncontrollable by the user. The D-07 allows users to enable, disable or adjust this upsampling feature. In my opinion the sound quality was inversely proportional to the amount of upsampling done by the DAC. The higher I upsampled the more reverb I lost and the less I liked the sound. After upsampling I spent more time with the D-07's Finite Impulse Response and S_DLY Apodizing digital filters. The inaccuracy of the FIR filter was clearly inferior to the Apodizing filter. As I said earlier the Apodizing filter was better than the FIR filter, but it didn't help or hurt the sound enough for me to conclude how much of the sound quality was due to filtering. I think it's fair to say that I simply don't know why the D-07 was such a disappointment in my system. My guess is a little bit of everything, Esoteric and otherwise, all came together to affect the sound quality and system synergy.

    After concluding my listening sessions with the Esoteric D-07 I reconnected my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC and listen to some of the same music I had listened to during the review. Not only is this a sanity check for me but it also allows me to check the other components in my system to make sure they all sound as they should. Plus the $5000 Alpha DAC and the $4800 D-07 are definitely competing for the same consumers who are interested in a comparison of the DACs. As I always say, nothing is better than a personal audition in one's personal audio system. Please take my opinion as a single data point among many. Immediately after connecting the Alpha DAC I was back in sonic heaven. The three qualities that really stood out were the Alpha's superior separation of instruments, incredible detail at low volumes, and wonderful transparency. It was no contest in my current system.

     

    Post Game Report

    By now it should be crystal clear that I call things as I see them. I see the D-07 DAC as Esoteric's half-hearted attempt to enter the USB DAC market. Between the misleading manual, the mediocre USB implementation, and the unsatisfactory sound quality it appears as though computer audio was an afterthought to Esoteric. Like the USB portion of this DAC was a bolt-on feature added just before the DAC's release. It's also possible that the homogeneity of a pure Esoteric system with DAC, transport, and external clock may be what's required for best performance. Esoteric has not reached its current level of prestige and overall performance by making bad products. Even after my experience with the D-07 I can't conclude it's an all around bad product. My conclusions about its performance and sound quality are only valid to my ears through my audio system in my listening room. Again, use this review as a single data point among many. Writing-off the D-07 or any Esoteric product because of this review would do a disservice to anyone in the market for new components.


     


     


     


     


    Product Information

  • Price - $4,800

  • D-07 Product Page - Link

  • D-07 Product Brochure - Link

  • D-07 Manual - Link


  •  

     

    Associated Equipment:

    Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers, McIntosh MC275 amplifier, Richard Gray's Power Company High Tension Wires, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, Wavelength Audio Proton, C.A.P.S. server, Bel Canto USB Link, Halide Design Bridge, dCS Debussy DAC, dCS Puccini U-Clock, Kimber USB Cu, Kimber USB Ag, Benchmark DAC1 PRE, Kimber Select KS1011 Analog Cables, Kimber Select KS2020 Digital Cable, Kimber Monocle X Loudspeaker Cable, ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim, Apple iPad, Sonic Studio's Amarra, M2Tech hiFace, Weiss Engineering DAC202, Lynx Studio AES16 Digital I/O Card.

     

     

     

     
Comments 46 Comments
  1. mgard's Avatar
    mgard -
    Wow, I am taken back by your findings. How long did you have the DAC in your system? Over at another forum, one person said the DAC 7 didn’t dial in until after about a month. The fact that you put your Alpha DAC back in your system and was immediately transported into audio bliss makes one wonder. Again I really do appreciate your reviewing style “call em as you see and hear em”!. <br />
    <br />
    ~Mike
  1. blindjim's Avatar
    blindjim -
    I'd have to agree on the importance run in time frames being either left out of the audition recital, or added in amount too. I see them as quite important information all by themselves and as vital a part of the overall as any other specific technical information… perhaps more so actually.<br />
    <br />
    Every system component I’ve ever owned has proven time and again, their needs for current to be run through them, before they’ll be operating optimally.<br />
    <br />
    I’m disappointed This info around here often comes as an afterthought... and is seldom mentioned during the account of many of the reviewed items listed on the pages of CA.<br />
    <br />
    I wonder as well about this particular collateral item:<br />
    <br />
    Why is there no preamp comensurate to the level of the balance of other components used in the review system?<br />
    <br />
    Is this merely a prefference? Do you feel the addition of an excellent line stage preamp degrades the signal, or diminishes the audio presentation?<br />
    <br />
    Personally, I've found adding a quality preamp into the mix, and I do mean a superior preamp... improves upon almost every aspect of the resultant audio reproduction. <br />
    <br />
    Similar threads on other websites continually reprove this tact on reproducing music, with or without a very good preamp.... as with one being the overwhelming preference. The degree of musical involvement and naturalism imcrease dramatically when I use mine, and diminish when it is out of the system.<br />
    <br />
    In fact, whenever I use my linestage preamp with any other amplifier the sound is improved substantially, despite the level of amplifier in use. This applies as well to the upstream components.<br />
    <br />
    I've as well found with undeniable frequency, using only a DAC or server as volume control very often does not excite me nearly as much as it does with a good quality preamp in place. I find the sans preamp production usually lack luster and or stale, and little more than a black and white rendition of a full color image.<br />
    <br />
    It could be argued too, this amounts to mere preferences. I’d offer another one which supports the final product as being more immediate and palpable. More organic and real.. and with a greater connection to the sound itself.<br />
    <br />
    Realism, after all is the quest. Correct?<br />
    <br />
    Chris... <br />
    I'd be willing to wager if you were to insert a preamp into the mix on as appropriate a level as are the other items in your audio system, you would achieve better results more frequently.... that is of course IF the preamp is a classy one. I’d at least submit your musical enjoyment level will escalate.<br />
    <br />
    I'd also re-itterate, you should uncloud the issue of how long the reviewed piece (s) were actually run in while in for audition in the confines of your system (s). Not just in this review but in any of them.<br />
    <br />
    Unless of course you feel such knowledge or practices are of no value, which does seem to be the case given so little mention is ever made of such things.<br />
    <br />
    It is good to see you referring to the actual lineage of signal path configuration now, as well. Mentioning the actual structure of the components and the cable with which they’re connected to one another… their power cords, racks, etc. including all these details presents a much fuller and clearer picture of the ongoing effort.<br />
    <br />
    I applaud you for making such a gracious note at the end of the review too, alluding to the fact that Results Will Vary… ‘RWV’. <br />
    <br />
    Such should always be the case. Despite the positive or negative outcome of one’s subjective findings when constructing a review. Doing otherwise says to me, “Just get this and all will be well.” … this implied note should never be imperical fact, given the absolutely unfathomable possible system arrangements people might have put together. Let alone take note of the subjective quotient which always enters into the mix when folks get to talking about audio, and sound quality.<br />
    <br />
    It’s quite like shoes. There’s all sorts and colors, and for every event, affair or outtting. There are those high priced models, and there are the really cheap ones. Yet within reason, it is the ‘fit’ itself, which carries the day for the prospective ‘new’ shoe buyer<br />
  1. JR_Audio's Avatar
    JR_Audio -
    Chris, I am impressed about your courage to write what you hear and not to please every company, that loans you some products for review. Your words are still positive and nothing against Esoteric globally, so this is just your opinion, with the Esoteric in your system, in your room with your taste.<br />
    <br />
    But beside that, it looks like that Esoteric has had no idea what they have included with the USB input and no idea about computer playback at all, for example when they advised the WMP for playback. This is something, that keeps me away to believe in the technology of a product.<br />
    <br />
    Very refreshing, compared to other sites or magazines.<br />
    <br />
    Keep going.<br />
    <br />
    Juergen<br />
    <br />
    PS: I guess there will be a long post after that review.
  1. composition's Avatar
    composition -
    First I must declare that I am a proud owner of the D-07 for nearly a year. <br />
    <br />
    I do not use the USB input, but rather the digital coax. I also use the WORD Clock feature to syn the DAC to the Soundcard. For the player, I use the J.River in WASAPI mode, and the I have never encountered any issue that the reviewer mentioned. Using the D-07 with the J.River in Win 7 is simply a breeze.<br />
    <br />
    In addition, I use the 32 digital attenuator to directly drive a 250W Class D amp, bypassing the need for a pre-amp. And the music that flows out is simply accurate, dynamic and musical.<br />
    <br />
    I completely disagree with the findings on the sound quality of the D-07.<br />
    <br />
  1. danielaparker's Avatar
    danielaparker -
    Oh god, it looks like Chris will never become a professional reviewer. This is how it should be done, from Absolute Sound pro Robert Harley describing Esoteric's entry level SA-50, a disc player/DAC with a USB interface (which to my ear sounds worse than the D-07's),<br />
    <br />
    "The SA-50 is packed with sophisticated technology ... The SA-50’s most salient characteristic was a palpability and immediacy in the midrange ... The soundstage was the antithesis of thick, confused, or opaque. ...My only reservation about the SA-50 is that the sound through the USB input doesn’t begin to suggest the full quality of which the SA-50’s outstanding DACs are capable... <br />
    <br />
    With that minor caveat, I can enthusiastically recommend the Esoteric SA-50—the Swiss Army Knife of the digital age."<br />
    <br />
    -- Daniel<br />
    <br />
  1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
    The Computer Audiophile -
    Hi Guys - Thanks for the feedback thus far. <br />
    <br />
    A quick note about burn-in. I received the D-07 directly from Vade Forrester who used the DAC and reviewed it for SoundStage. Upon its arrival here I played an Isotek burn-in "CD" through the D-07 for about 48 hours straight.
  1. JR_Audio's Avatar
    JR_Audio -
    Was this the Tenor TE7022 USB Audio Controller built in, that has the natively 24/96 support via adaptive mode, but missing the 88.2K sample rate, the same as Stello U2 and Lindemann DDC are using? It looks like.<br />
    <br />
    Juergen
  1. audiobear143's Avatar
    audiobear143 -
    Normally my wife and I love reading your reviews because we enjoy high end digital audio and PC based HDD playback. Objectivity is always appreciated but you may not fully understand the nature of ultra high end digital audio devices, especially their need for burn in/break in. (With all respect, 48 hours of burn in on any digital audio device, even if received from another reviewer, is a disservice to the hardware and the review). We also don't think you understand the unfortunate nature of made (or written), in Japan users’ manuals. We have owned a D-07 for 15 months and before we bought it, we listened to what were considered the state of the art "PC/audio" DACs at the time. In our product search we learned that 32 bit AKM chipsets are considered among the very best in the world. We also learned that 32 bit DACs evolved from the professional recording side of the audio business and were first used and applied to consumer products by AKM and Esoteric. Seems like many have followed their lead? <br />
    <br />
    When we first took home our D-07 it sounded very flat and very one dimensional. Like your experience, we were very disappointed but based on our experience with ultra high end digital audio systems; we knew it would need at least 500 hours to effectively burn in. Until you reach that point with certainty, you should not judge any piece of high end digital audio. PC DACS are very different from audio DACS. PC DACS do not require extensive burn in. <br />
    <br />
    At 500 hours of use and beyond we have fantastic depth, warmth, detail, transparency and separation with our D-07. Based on our source selection, we use S/PDIF and XLR inputs. We find as do most audiophiles, that USB is an inferior path by design. <br />
    <br />
    Reading your review today makes us feel that you must have been listening to a completely different product, or must have had some incorrect set up issue or possibly even a D-07 with a problem? After we bought in 2009, we asked Esoteric in LA about 3 concerns that you mention. #1: Why only a discussion of Windows? Answer, cost liability and royalty payable to Apple. (Despite the fact that it works with Apple if you state "works with" or “made for” or "certified to work with" you must pay high unit fees to Apple). If they did this they claim costs would have gone up substantially and with the yen as strong as it is, they did not want to enter the market at a higher price point. Seems logical.#2: Why the 88.2 native USB input limitation and why state the capability in the manual if not actually functional? Answer, the D-07 was developed and engineered for release in the Japanese market in 2006/2007, BEFORE an 88.2 USB chipset was available for use with a dual mono 32 bit chip set AKM D/A configuration. In listing the 88.2 native capabilities, Esoteric told us it was a mistake they deeply regret. Subsequent printings of the manual and spec sheets will have the correction. They told us this was also due to a limitation of the tenor USB chip set used at the time of design (and mentioned correctly in this forum by another reader). For me and my wife, we don’t find this to be a problem because our PC can up sample to 96 kHz and playback beautifully, or we let our PC down sample to playback at 44.1 and let the D-07 up convert to 176.4 or even up to DSD resolutions (which sound even better). #3: Why so much broken English and incomplete information in the user’s manual? Answer, translation from Japanese to English was not processed with the involvement of USA staff. This has since been corrected on subsequent products. <br />
    <br />
    Finally we have to ask of Computer Audiophile, since you disparage the company and the reviewed product (that we feel is an excellent product), did you ever contact the manufacturer or the factory with your concerns before publication, so that they could explain and/or help you to troubleshoot your issues? When we read other reviews on line or in print, most if not all reviewers do that so as to not misrepresent a product or a company (as a professional courtesy)? Beyond that, we agree that the "chips should fall where they may” and that editorial is your domain and your domain alone. In this case you have 2 new readers that simply agree to disagree with your acoustic findings and your experience overall with the D-07. Ours is superb and we have made many hours of comparisons. We look forward to reading more postings and feedback from other D-07 owners. We also hope that you might answer our questions above? Thank you for the opportunity to post in regards to PC audio and the D-07.<br />
  1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
    The Computer Audiophile -
    Hi Audiobear - Thanks for your feedback. I'm really happy to see your positive experience with the D-07 right here below my review. I also look forward to reading other D-07 owner's experiences. This provides additional data points for readers to consider as well as their own listening experience. <br />
    <br />
    I very much understand the nature of high end digital components and each manufacturer's requirements for burn-in. This specific D-07 was burned-in for 300 hours by Vade Forrester and 48 hours by myself. Adding the time Vade spent evaluating the unit we are looking at well over 350 hours by the time I first began listening to the D-07. There are also different schools of thought as to how one should burn-in a component. Some manufacturers suggest running a constant signal while others suggest the only way to burn-in a unit is through normal usage. I wish all manufacturers were like Spectral Audio and burned-in every product before it leaves the factory.<br />
    <br />
    I also understand the process of producing a manual for the U.S. market. I don't believe any of my issues are related to translation. I prefer to evaluate audio rather than the translator :~)<br />
    <br />
    For my own clarification can you provide examples of what you consider audio DACs and PC DACs? I'm a bit lost on this one and think I may not understand your terminology.<br />
    <br />
    I like your statement about thinking I listened to a completely different product. While the product was actually the same, everything else was different including my ears/brain, room, cables, components, etc...<br />
    <br />
    I'll agree to disagree with you about Apple reasoning.<br />
    <br />
    The manual I used was downloaded straight from the Esoteric website and checked again the day of this review be published. I can understand not correcting printed manuals until it's feasible, but updating an online version is a couple mouse clicks. It can also save a company from misrepresentation issues down the road.<br />
    <br />
    I hope my wording didn't come off as disparaging about Esoteric as a whole. I meant to be as specific as possible about this product in my room etc... and that Esoteric didn't get to where it is without excellent products.<br />
    <br />
    I am always in contact with representatives of the components I review. I must have thirty emails about the D-07 in my archive. Some of the issues were discussed. I did not discuss sound quality with Esoteric as it's incredibly subjective. Most manufacturers hand over a product and let the chips fall where they may, expecting to receive calls or emails only in the case of malfunctions or errors etc... General use questions are usually answered when deciding if the product should be reviewed.<br />
    <br />
    I have also offered to reevaluate the D-07 in the coming months after I upgrade components in my system. <br />
    <br />
    Thanks again for reading the site and offering very constructive comments.
  1. stillone's Avatar
    stillone -
    Chris <br />
    I am very surprised at the results in your review of the D-07 since they are very different from what I have experienced. I have owned my unit for over three months now and I would have to say it is the best DAC that I have had in my system. The soundstage is wider and deeper and seems to pull more detail than earlier DAC's I have owned from Cary, McIntosh, Wadia, Musical Fidelity (Tri-Vista), Weiss and Benchmark. <br />
    <br />
    I really cannot comment on the USB connection since I use my unit with dedicated music servers or CD transports with RCA or XLR outputs. I do prefer the S_DLY and 4FS settings for each of the inputs. <br />
    <br />
    I am not sure how long you had the review sample but my unit did not open up and begin get the most out of the low end until I played it for about a month. It is now the only piece of gear I do not power off unless I am gone for extended periods.<br />
    <br />
    After re-reading the review it looks like you did not run the D-07 thru a pre-amp. I think you would be surprised what a quality pre-amp adds to the equation and that goes for any DAC.<br />
    <br />
    <br />
  1. nigel's Avatar
    nigel -
    <cite>I think you would be surprised what a quality pre-amp adds to the equation and that goes for any DAC.</cite><br />
    <br />
    This is the second time today I have read this opinion (from two different people) in comments on this site. Please help me understand.<br />
    <br />
    What can a pre-amp, no matter how good, (plus the extra set of cables) add where there was previously just one set of cables, besides:<br />
    <br />
    1. Some signal gain (or attenuation).<br />
    2. Extra noise (no matter how small).<br />
    3. Extra distortion (no matter how small).<br />
    4. Some (no matter how small) deviation from a totally flat frequency response.<br />
    5. Some (no matter how small) reduced channel separation.<br />
    <br />
    Unless these things somehow compensate for defects elsewhere in the signal chain, I don't see how adding them is going to improve the fidelity of the signal.<br />
    <br />
  1. stillone's Avatar
    stillone -
    You think by adding you only take away. Without a quality pre-amp you are missing all of the micro details, they are there but often hidden in "noise". A quality pre-amp will allow you to have significantly better control over the gain/attenuation. A balanced pre-amp can maintain channel separation and have s/n ratios over 120db. <br />
    <br />
    Everything we add to our system impacts the sound from cables, interconnects, power conditioners, pre-amps to source components. The old adage of Strait Wire with Gain isn't going to make the sound more pleasing to the ear.
  1. nigel's Avatar
    nigel -
    <cite>The old adage of Strait Wire with Gain isn't going to make the sound more pleasing to the ear.</cite><br />
    <br />
    Thanks for your response, stillone, but I think we have to disagree about the old adage. I've been using the NAD M2 Direct Digital Amplifier in my system for a few months now. It is the closest thing to "a straight wire with gain" that I have yet come across, and it sounds great! Not only do I not have a pre-amplifier, I don't have any (conventional) power amplifiers either (nor all the necessary extra cables). The amplification is all done digitally, with digital feedback that eliminates nearly all the noise and distortion from whatever source, including the power supplies. I think systems like this are the future of digital audio.
  1. stillone's Avatar
    stillone -
    I have seen the reviews of your unit and they have been generally very favorable. I have not yet heard the unit and so I cannot comment on the sound. Keeping the signal in the digital domain all the way to the speakers works very well for Meridian.
  1. jivers's Avatar
    jivers -
    How rare and refreshing to read a genuinely critical review. Reading most reviews in the usual suspect magazines is like reading tea leaves. Whether you agree or disagree with Chris' viewpoint, at least you know what it is! We audiophiles deserve this kind of clarity. Way to go, Chris.
  1. audiobear143's Avatar
    audiobear143 -
    PC DACS: www.usbdacs.com/Products/Products.html, <br />
    Benchmark, www.sweetwater.com/c796--AD_DA_Converters?gclid=CJm24_67v6QCFdVb2godTwu31Q, Berkeley, etc.<br />
    <br />
    Audiophile DACS: www.dcsltd.co.uk/product/debussy-dac <br />
    ...www.dcsltd.co.uk/product/scarlatti-dac ....MBL, Esoteric, etc. <br />
    <br />
  1. kenreau's Avatar
    kenreau -
    ...My only reservation about the SA-50 is that the sound through the USB input doesn’t begin to suggest the full quality of which the SA-50’s outstanding DACs are capable... <br />
    <br />
    Bingo - Thanks Daniel, I had the same recollection from that TAS review. <br />
    <br />
    This is precisely why I am intending to go with a firewire interface DAC. The thought of needing to add an outboard supplemental USB-to-SPDIF convertor, or some similar device, plus two additional cables (at the cost of $1K to $2K additional) between my mac mini and DAC is a deal killer for me. <br />
    <br />
    Imho, it is not quite a Swiss Army Knife of the digital age without a solid plug and play solution optimized for the ever growing computer music server platform. On any modern s.o.t.a. level DAC, this optimization for the computer pc/apple generated digital signal should be built into the DAC. I would have really been excited if they had included a firewire port. <br />
    <br />
    Kudos to Chris for being transparent in his observations.<br />
    <br />
    Kenreau<br />
    <br />
  1. Andrew S.'s Avatar
    Andrew S. -
    Dear Chris<br />
    this is a well written and balanced review. I have been critical of you in the past. Not so here. I enjoyed your candour and easy writing style. The baseball analogy - even for cricket loving fans like I, struck the right chord.<br />
    Well done and keep up the good work.<br />
    Andrew
  1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
    The Computer Audiophile -
    Hi audiobear - There is no difference between the DACs you've provided as examples. They are all DACs that have differing burn-in requirements and all DACs that can be connected to a computer. <br />
    <br />
    A USB DAC is simply a DAC with USB input. DACs like the Berkeley don't even have a USB input where as the Debussy does. There really isn't a difference (in this context) between any of these DAC accept inputs.
  1. rtrautner's Avatar
    rtrautner -
    I also want to commend Chris for having the courage to report his experience honestly. Chris is always the first one to say that any individual should listen for him/herself and base choices only on one's own perceptions, not what someone else tells you to think. It is possible for many reasons that one may have different experiences and perceptions of audio systems than another; if not, we'd all own the same equipment (within budgetary constraints, of course). Thus, it's not at all inconsistent that some have responded to the review with reports of superb audio performance from this same product; may you continue to enjoy many hours of listening pleasure.<br />
    <br />
    Ultimately, a less than stellar review lends more credence to those that are more positive.