First Listen: Esoteric RZ-1 Music System

Disc players
Esoteric RZ-1
First Listen: Esoteric RZ-1 Music System

Unless you’re designing cartridges  the concept of “small” has traditionally had little regard in the high end. Sure every once and awhile a tiny gem of a loudspeaker sneaks in to placate hobbyists with limited room space but for the most part electronics are BIG, often the more massive the better. A hundred pounds for a monoblock? A lightweight. Only twenty output tubes in your amp? Chump change. Room getting a little warm? Get a grip you wimp. <o p=""></o>

So what about the so-called “life-style product” you may ask? You mean an integrated amplifier with a built-in disc player? Are you kidding me. We all know that anything that reeks of Bose blows, lifestyle’s a loser.  I’d rather download a new app to my iPhone-at least I might be perceived as semi-cool at my neighborhood Starbucks.

Hold on-I’m currently warming up the RZ-1 music system from Esoteric. Music System? From Esoteric? Yes, THAT Esoteric. The P-01/D-01, GORb “Rubidium” master clock, Teac-division Esoteric. So what was Esoteric thinking I keep asking myself? Let’s look a little closer. The RZ-1 is a slot-loaded CD-SACD player, 32-bit USB, SPDIF DAC integrated amplifier. Oops. I almost forgot–with moving magnet phonostage! Looking a lot like the AZ-1 integrated amp with a couple of knobs missing, the casework is a curvaceous yet heavy, jewel-like aluminum with a 40mm front plate.  The linear power supply and transformer take up the lion’s share of the interior which probably accounts for the way the RZ-1 sonically finessed the KEF 203/2 loudspeakers I was driving.

Some other high points; Power output is 100Wpc into 6 ohms and it includes three types of digital input terminals, including USB to support the playback of high-resolution PC based music files. In addition to coaxial and optical inputs (24-bit/192 kHz compatible), the RZ-1 is also equipped with a USB input (24-bit/96 kHz). By connecting to your PC this system enables you to playback high-resolution music files. I only run iTunes from my Mac but it was fully compatible although iTunes is still limited to lossless Redbook. High rez is said to be coming. Also noted on the Esoteric site is that their high-end design expertise was applied to the USB input. Thus, in order to prevent external interference from mixing with the audio signal, the RZ-1 is equipped with a USB isolator which isolates the USB power supply and signal lines.

There are also two types of user selectable digital filters according to Esoteric’s literature

“The RZ-1 is equipped with two different types of digital filters for PCM format signal processing. In addition to the finite impulse response ("FIR") digital filter, which is known for its outstanding sound quality, a short-delay digital filter is also available to remove the pre-echo effect inherent in impulse waveforms, thus creating a more natural generation of sound. The filter selection used is entirely user selectable.”

My initial listening impression provoked a big “Huh?” as in, how can this machine possibly sound this good. And then reminding myself of the price tag I concluded that it had better sound this good. Well it does. Driving the potent KEF Reference 203/2 ($9K/pr, review forthcoming) a three-way midsize with the Uni-Q coincident midrange/tweeter, the sound was vivid, highly energetic in the bass, not as richly extended or detailed as the dedicated and big bore DSi200 from Audio Research but quite competitive through the mids and treble.  There’s was nothing etchy or flinty in the treble range, dynamics and timbre were very, very good. This little sweetie is still breaking in-Esoteric recommends 300-500 hours!!! Let’s see–that works out to about three continual weeks of burn-in. I’m a patient man.