Still, to earn its keep, a $5k DAC must also outperform DACs costing less. To be sure this was the case, I put the D-07X up against the venerable Bryston BDA-1, which runs $2195. This was not the slam-dunk proposition it might at first seem, given the price difference; the Bryston won a Golden Ear Award and generally punches well above its weight class. In my tests, it proved to have a quieter background than the Esoteric, allowing for easier listening into dense tracks like “Red Rain” from Peter Gabriel’s classic So. On the other hand, the Bryston’s spatial perspective is relatively flat compared to the D-07X’s holography. This is obvious, for instance, from the very first note of the incandescent “Mercy Street” from the same album. On this track, as with all source material, the Esoteric’s sense of space is simply overwhelming. Further, the D-07X has a subtler touch than the Bryston when it comes to dynamics. Listen to the ramp-up near the start of “Red Rain,” and hear how the force builds more inexorably through the Esoteric. Tonally, the D-07X is slightly darker, but also substantially richer. And the D-07X is more adroit at sorting out and sustaining complex rhythm sections, such as the one on “Mercy Street.” All these traits combine to make the D-07X the more engaging and emotionally affecting DAC.
So far, my comments have pertained to S/PDIF sources, but Esoteric put a lot of work into the USB module in this DAC—indeed, the upgrade was one of the primary reasons for the new “X” model. The K-03 I reviewed actually bettered the dCS when it came to USB. The D-07X doesn’t go quite that far, but the two are squarely in the same territory. As with other sources, the D-07X allows the merest digital veneer to peek through, but it more than compensates with tonal richness and dynamic vitality.
In fact, in space and rhythms, I would give the edge to the D-07X over the dCS. Listen, for instance, to the very natural space on “One Sunday Morning,” from the HDtracks 96/24 download of Wilco’s latest album The Whole Love. The sense of space is much larger, and the air cushion around each instrument, especially the piano, really ups the realism factor. On the title track, the D-07X proves rhythmically tighter, ergo more propulsive, than the dCS. In sum, the D-07X delivers bravura USB performance.
I found the Esoteric surprisingly respectable as a linestage, directly driving an amp. It is quiet, smooth and refined. True, it is also rolled off at the top and dynamically mellow, but neither to a degree that obscures detail or renders the presentation boring. The overall density of information, particularly when it comes to timbres and spatial cues, is where you hear the D-07X linestage’s limitations compared to a good stand-alone unit. In such a comparison, the DAC proves engaging and lively enough to convey the music—just not all of it. So, no, the D-07X is not going to unseat any expensive stand-alone linestages, but it may well outperform many of the mediocre $1k and $2k linestages out there. This cannot be said of most other DAC-based linestages.
My time with the D-07X came on the heels of reviewing another similarly-priced DAC. That unit was a keen disappointment, so I approached the Esoteric with trepidation. Clearly, though, my apprehension was unwarranted. The D-07X has not only validated my high regard for Esoteric’s DACs, it has also restored my faith in the ability of manufacturers to build a $5k DAC that is worth the uplift over less-expensive options. In all facets of its performance, the D-07X is something special.
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: Digital USB, XLR, RCA, TosLink, word clock
Outputs: Analog balanced XLR and single-ended RCA, headphone, word clock
Maximum resolution: 192/24
Dimensions: 17" x 4" x 14 1/8"
Weight: 23 lbs.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640