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April
2005

Reviewed by
Anthony Di Marco
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2005


Esoteric
DV-50S
Universal Audio/Video Player

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: DV-50S

Price: $6000 USD; upgrade for DV-50 to DV-50S, $500
Dimensions: 17.375"W x 6.19"H x 14"D
Weight: 47 pounds

Warranty: One year parts and labor

Features

  • 24-bit DAC with Refined Digital Output Technology (RDOT) and Finite Impulse Response (FIR) algorithms
  • Four-DAC differential D/A operation
  • Native DSD playback without PCM conversion
  • VCXO reclocking of digital data for low jitter

Features (cont'd)
  • Two-channel circuit is completely independent from six-channel operation
  • Fully balanced two-channel circuitry
  • Nonswitching, highly regulated power supply with cut-core transformer
  • 14-bit/216MHz Analog Devices ADV7314 video encoders
  • Analog Devices Super Sub Alias Filter for 540 lines of high-bandwidth horizontal resolution
  • High-speed video amplifier coupled with low-pass filters for optimal group-delay characteristics
  • Four-layer circuit boards separate signal from power and ground planes for reduced interference between audio and video signals

It took a while to decide on the Esoteric DV-50 as my reference universal disc player. Despite receiving Reviewers’ Choice awards from both Jeff Fritz and Marc Mickelson, the DV-50’s price of $5500 USD was a bit steep. At the time I was sampling Panasonic’s inexpensive DVD-RP82S and Denon’s solid DVD-2900. Both of these DVD players produced stunning video, while their audio performance ranged from abysmal to average. Marc and Jeff made only cursory comments about the Esoteric’s video performance while praising its reference-level two-channel and multichannel sound. That was enough for me to make the investment. A year later, the editors asked me to compare the DV-50’s video performance with that of its upgrade, the newly available DV-50S ($6000).

The obvious hasn’t changed

After having experienced a product as well-built as the Esoteric DV-50S, it’s difficult to take mass-market gear seriously. My 5.3-pound Panasonic DVD-RP82S felt like a toy next to the 47-pound Esoteric; even the enclosure of the robust Denon DVD-2900 revealed apparent cost-cutting measures. The DV-50S’s remote control alone is heavy enough to be classified as a dangerous weapon. I could have sworn the Panasonic flinched in its presence.

Good connections on the rear and a well-laid-out front panel are more evidence that the DV-50S means business. The menu system is lightning-fast and easy to navigate. My only misgiving was about the lack of a variable crossover for DTS and Dolby Digital discs. According to Esoteric, the DV-50S uses a 100Hz crossover for all channels. Other minor nits picked include the burial of the DV-50S’s Setup Navigator under the General tab and the remote’s lack of backlighting. I would expect a "quick start" feature such as the Setup Navigator to be one of the first settings visible on the onscreen display (OSD) menus. It’s counterintuitive to file such an important setting under the last tab. As with the Simaudio Moon Orbiter, the Esoteric’s Setup Navigator offers only a partial list of settings that don’t configure the player optimally.

I inserted the DV-50S in the same setup as my other players, hooking it up via its component and six-channel audio outputs first to my McCormack MAP-1 multichannel preamplifier, and later to an Audio Research Corporation MP1. The power amp was an ARC 150M.5. My Thiel loudspeaker system comprised CS2.4 mains, MCS1 center, PowerPoint surrounds, and an SS2 subwoofer. Video component cables were the excellent HDXV RGB cables by Stereovox. I didn’t switch out cables or adjust my ISF-calibrated monitor.

Before

Mechanical and electronic vibrations can corrupt sensitive digital datastreams to cause digital errors, which in turn are converted into analog noise. So according to Esoteric, the DV-50S’s robust chassis isn’t just for show. The bottom plate of thick steel and integrated steel support spikes offers a solid foundation for reading and decoding digital media. Combined with Esoteric’s unique one-pound disc clamp, the Pioneer Elite disc transport, which has been heavily modified for the DV-50S, apparently reads discs with very few errors. Esoteric is quick to point out that the Pioneer mechanism isn’t simply an off-the-shelf part. The transport is rebuilt from the ground up to their specifications.

The older DV-50 processes video data through 12-bit/108MHz Analog Devices chips. Progressively scanned images are oversampled four times. As with audio signals, oversampling a video signal increases the number of data points used in the analog decoding of a digital signal. It’s generally agreed that the higher the oversampling, or the more data points, the more accurate the conversion from digital to analog.

The original DV-50’s audio performance could be considered reference-quality, but its video could not -- I found the DV-50’s video playback competent but not jaw-dropping. Spun on the right player, animated films such as Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2 can exhibit wonderful depth of field and beautifully saturated colors. The DV-50 did a good job of reproducing the lush color palette of Finding Nemo, but didn’t provide the fantastic depth of field I experienced with Denon’s less-expensive DVD-2900. The DV-50’s presentation was very two-dimensional. And although colors were well represented, they often seemed a bit washed out. The DV-50’s image reminded me more of the revealing but subjectively sterile Panasonic DVD-RP82S. The DV-50’s video did not captivate me.

The DV-50’s sound, however, was just as impressive as reported by Marc and Jeff. Listening to the Esoteric with my ARC electronics and Thiel speakers produced a fabulously engaging sound that served classical music and jazz beautifully. Mahler’s Symphony No.3, as interpreted by Leonard Bernstein [CD, Deutsche Grammophon DG 427 328-2], possessed all the weight, slam, and harmonic color I could have wanted. And multichannel music from Beck’s beautifully produced Sea Change [SACD, Geffen 493537] produced delicate, articulate images without sounding sterile or harmonically anemic.

After

Esoteric claims that, with the exception of the chassis color, there is no difference between a new DV-50S and a DV-50 upgraded to "S" status. The upgrade ($500) consists of an improved video processor board and a Digital Video Interface (DVI) connector. Esoteric alleges that the player’s image quality has been improved dramatically by increasing the overall contrast and dynamic range of the picture through use of the expanded digital black level switch. My monitor doesn’t have a DVI-D input, so I never got a chance to look at the DV-50S’s digital video output. Based on what I experienced with component analog output, I’m certain that a digital connection to a high-quality HD monitor would impress. With DVI, whatever noise is generated during D/A conversion becomes a nonissue.

It took little more than a week -- over Christmas, no less -- for my DV-50 to be upgraded. On its return, the only apparent difference was a new rear panel with a DVI-D connection and a sticker indicating that "David" had done the upgrade. After giving the DV-50S a few days to acclimate, I began watching movies.

The most important aspect of audio or video playback is keeping the pipeline that handles the data as clear and dynamically wide as possible, so that nonlinearities in the circuit and low-level electronic noise do not affect the signal. According to Esoteric, a 216MHz processor and six 14-bit D/A converters furnish the DV-50S with a lower noise floor -- i.e., less of the noise that would otherwise conceal detail or require low-pass filtering, which has the effect of softening transitions between colors and smearing detail.

The DV-50S exhibited a smoother overall picture than the DV-50, with vastly improved detail and depth of field. Images no longer appeared flat; the undersea world of Finding Nemo seemed to extend beyond the physical depth of my monitor. Transitions between colors and geometric edges no longer shimmered or seemed overly sharp. Shimmering edges are a giveaway for high-frequency image noise. The upgrade’s doubled processing power and two extra bits of resolution made images appear more natural and more organic. Details also came to the surface. Marlin’s scales no longer looked as if painted on, but possessed dimension and weight.

Colors looked brighter and more consistent. Red, blue, green, and black all displayed more density with less visible noise. Pictures were smooth without looking softened. The DV-50S trumped its older sibling in terms of picture integrity and allure. Like any other well-designed audio and/or video product, the DV-50S allowed me to sit back and enjoy the show without dissecting its qualities.

The audio performances of the DV-50 and DV-50S were identical.

Compared

Six DVD players passed through my home during the year I owned the DV-50 and in the four months following the DV-50S upgrade, and the Esoteric bettered all of them in terms of video performance. Simaudio’s Moon Orbiter didn’t have the Esoteric’s depth of field or sparkling detail, while the colors produced by Arcam’s FMJ DVD-27A were not as vibrant. Only the Denon DVD-2900 challenged the DV-50S in terms of how much it allowed me to be transfixed by a film. The Denon’s picture looked slightly oversaturated with certain films; the DV-50S remained extremely well balanced.

The DV-50S was the clear winner in terms of build quality -- for the price, it should be. The only place where the DV-50S fell short of the Denon was in terms of how quickly it handled a layer change. The Denon changed layers on a standard DVD seamlessly and without pause while the DV-50S, like many other DVD players, paused for two to four seconds between layers. I also appreciated the Denon’s glow-in-the-dark remote. It took some practice to navigate the small, unlit buttons of the DV-50S’s remote.

Next to the sublime performance of the Simaudio Moon Orbiter, the DV-50S’s bracingly dynamic performance made listening to multichannel and two-channel media a treat. Not even the highly regarded Arcam could compete with the DV-50S’s robust, natural sound.

A reference for video

The DV-50 earned so much praise for its sound that audio companies such as Audio Research used it at trade shows to demo reference multichannel systems. With the DV-50S, Esoteric has matched the DV-50’s excellent audio with class-leading video playback. If you have the cash, I can’t think of another universal player that offers this level of video and audio in one box.

Review System
Speakers - Thiel CS2.4 (mains), MCS1 (center), PowerPoint (surrounds), SS2 (subwoofer)
Preamplifiers - McCormack MAP 1, Audio Research MP1
Amplifier - Audio Research 150M.5
Sources - Esoteric DV-50, Panasonic DVD-RP82S, Denon DVD-2900, Simaudio Moon Orbital universal A/V players; Arcam FMJ DVD-27A DVD player
Cables - Analysis Plus, Stereovox
Monitor - Mitsubishi WT-46809 rear-projection widescreen monitor with Duvetyne modification and full ISF calibration
Power Conditioning - Panamax, Shunyata Research
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Teac America, Inc.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
Phone: (323) 726-0303
Fax: (323) 727-7656

Website: www.teac.com

 


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