I used my SOtM network music player ($4000 with its sPS-1000 power supply) and a $5995 PS Audio DirectStream DAC. I used the same Audience Au24 SX balanced cables to connect the DAC to the preamplifier, and a $980 Audience Au24 SE USB cable to connect the server to the DAC. Right away, I appreciated that the ESS app provided more information about the file being played, including sampling rate and if it’s a DSD file, what speed DSD file it is—information missing from the iPENG 9 app. Otherwise, the iPENG 9 app performed essentially the same as the ESS app, including streaming music from Tidal, although setting up iPENG 9 to play Tidal was an exercise for computer geeks.
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 sounded even more dynamic—downright thunderous in the climaxes. Kodama uses continuous tempo changes in phrasing the piece, and the SOtM/PS Audio system seemed to make those more obvious. The piano’s harmonic structure seemed just a bit more accurate. I’ve strained to differentiate differences between the N-05’s internal DAC and my PS Audio DirectStream DAC; both were excellent.
If I mostly preferred the sound of the SOtM/PS Audio combination to the sound of the N-05, remember their combined cost ($10,945 including a USB cable) was considerably more. And the N-05 only needed one shelf on my rack, another cost factor that should be considered. While I’ve always thought the SOtM player looked quite nice, next to the elegant N-05 it looked rather plain.
The Esoteric N-05 Network Audio Player is an auspicious entry into the world of file-based and streaming music playback. It sounds first-rate, looks gorgeous, is easy to set up and use—it’s the type of component that makes it hard for a reviewer to pick nits. A wide and useful assortment of filters lets you tweak the sound to suit your taste. The internal DAC is a beauty; if you have a digital device besides the N-05, you can use the N-05’s DAC to improve that device’s sound.
If you want a music player combined with an advanced DAC, check out this new Esoteric. If you want to get into file-based or streaming music playback but don’t want to deface your audio equipment rack with an ugly noisy computer, the Esoteric may be your ticket. Will the N-05 seriously encroach on the sales of Esoteric’s SACD players? I think not; as the data showed, audiophiles are increasingly turning to file-based and streaming music playback and the N-05 makes Esoteric-quality equipment available for that purpose. With the N-05, Esoteric’s first entry into the network audio player market is a winner. Bravo, Esoteric.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Combined music player and DAC
Formats supported: DSF, DFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF, MP3, and AAC. PCM files up to 384/32, DSD files up to DSD128 via internal renderer and DSD256 via external USB input
Outputs: analog: RCA (unbalanced) and XLR (balanced); digital: SPDIF on RCA connector
Drive capacity: None (requires external USB drive or NAS)
Streaming services: Tidal and Qobuz
Dimensions: 17⅝" x 4¼" x 14⅛"
Weight: 24 3/8 lbs.
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Speakers: Affirm Audio Lumination speakers; JL Audio fathom f110 subwoofer
Amplifier: David Berning ZH-230
Preamplifier: Audio Research SP20
Digital source: SOtM sMS-1000SQ network music player with sPS-1000 power supply, QNAP T-251 NAS, PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Torreys operating system