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May
2007

Reviewed by
Randall Smith

 


Esoteric
DV-60
CD, SACD, DVD-Audio/Video Player

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: DV-60

Price: $5600 USD
Dimensions: 17.375"W x 5.875"H x 13.875"D
Weight: 31 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor (three years with product registration)

Features

  • Esoteric proprietary transport and drive mechanism (with highly rigid metal isolation platform)
  • D/A converter with FIR and RDOT+FIR digital filter algorithms for audio signal upconversion, native DSD signal mode, and user-selectable PCM-to-DSD signal conversion

Features (cont'd)
  • 14-bit video processing using Analog Devices ADV7324 with Noise Shaping Video (NSV)
  • Faroudja I/P conversion processor chip with DCDi technology.
  • HDMI output terminal with video upconversion to 1080p (progressive-scan high-definition resolution), using the latest ABT1018 chipset from Anchor Bay Technologies
  • Word synchronization function (word-clock input/BNC terminal)
  • RS-232C connector with standby option
  • 12V DC remote trigger and rear-panel remote-control input terminal
  • Highly rigid chassis construction with cut aluminum top and side panels
  • Slim remote control with illuminated keys

In the world of high-end audio, only a handful of electronics manufacturers share Esoteric’s level of name recognition. A division of TEAC, the Esoteric line of components is an all-out assault on high-performance standards. With a reputation firmly rooted in two-channel audio, Esoteric also provides a selection of CD/SACD/DVD-A/V players that have been embraced by many home-theater enthusiasts.

Beginning with the DV-50 in 2003, Esoteric built a source component that would play the new multichannel formats, SACD and DVD-Audio, but was also a capable DVD-Video player. The DV-50 received much critical acclaim, earned several Reviewers’ Choice awards from the SoundStage! Network, and was, all in all, quite the successful audiophile-grade DVD player. Now Esoteric has replaced the DV-50 with the DV-60 ($5600 USD). While the DV-60 has the heart of an audiophile machine, it also offers top-shelf video processing. By upconverting standard-definition DVD video signals to 1080p resolution, Esoteric is changing with the times.

Getting acquainted

According to my dictionary, the adjective esoteric means "understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest." Couldn’t they have added just one word to that definition: "the select few audiophiles"? My introduction to Esoteric electronics took place when I first met Jeff Fritz, managing editor of the SoundStage! Network. Jeff is an audiophile of the highest caliber, and a well-respected reviewer. At a time when he could have owned any piece of audio equipment in the world, the source component he’d chosen was the Esoteric DV-50. (Jeff has since replaced the DV-50 with an Esoteric UX-3SE.) As he described his entire system in detail and why he owned each component, one of the qualities of the Esoteric player he mentioned to me was its exceptional build quality, including the fit and finish of the player’s enclosure and transport mechanism. Explaining that Esoteric builds its own transports, he opened and closed the disc tray several times to let me hear the click it made as it locked the disc in place. A stickler for build quality, Jeff wouldn’t own anything that didn’t meet his strict standards.

The stout review sample of the DV-60 arrived double-boxed and weighing almost 31 pounds. The brushed-aluminum chassis, which measures 17.375"W x 5.875"H x 13.875"D, is simple yet classy in appearance. The DV-60’s disc transport is a proprietary mechanism that Esoteric claims provides highly rigid isolation, to deliver "superior anti-vibration and anti-resonance properties." At the bottom of the faceplate is a blue LED display that supplies all the pertinent information a user might need. To the right of the disc tray are the standard controls: Stop, Pause, Skip Forward/Back, and Eject. But other than Standby/On, the buttons on the left are more exotic: Play Area and, under Up Convert, a choice of FIR, RDOT+FIR, PCM>DSD, and DSD.

The rear panel is loaded with high-quality connectors: multichannel analog outputs, RCA and balanced XLR two-channel analog outputs, coaxial and optical digital outputs. On the video side are these outputs: S-video, component video, D1/D2 (component), and HDMI. Also provided is a Word Sync input that can be used with an external master clock (Esoteric makes a couple of these).

Setup

Most of my experience has been with home-theater equipment; I rarely have the opportunity to hear high-end two-channel gear at home. I reviewed the DV-60 because of its video-upconversion feature, and because I was also reviewing Anthem’s AVM 50 A/V processor, which has a video processor of the same ilk, and had just purchased a Mitsubishi WD-Y57 rear-projection 1080p TV.

For the first few weeks of the review period, I connected the DV-60 directly to my television with an HDMI cable. This way, the Mitsubishi displayed standard DVD video signals upconverted to 1080p. The sound was delivered via an RCA cable that ran from the Esoteric’s digital coaxial output to the back of my Anthem AVM 50. Later, I routed the DV-60’s video signal through the Anthem as well.

Performance

Once the DV-60 was hooked up, I turned it on via its unusually heavy, well-built remote control, and the player quickly powered up. After a few minutes of looking through the settings, I selected HDMI as the path for the video signal. Once the HDMI button is pressed, the cursor buttons can then be used to select the output format: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. I chose 1080p, and then the correct aspect ratio to match my widescreen TV. The biggest change from the DV-50 is the ABT1018 chipset from Anchor Bay Technologies, which is what makes the DV-60 able to upconvert video to 1080p. The player also provides 14-bit video processing from Analog Devices ADV7324 video DACs with Noise Shaping Video (NSV), plus Faroudja’s I/P conversion processor chip with DCDi technology. The setup menu provides a number of video adjustments. After some fiddling around, I ended up with settings very similar to the factory defaults. The DV-60’s video adjustability alone could earn it a home in the most discerning videophile’s system.

All set up and ready to go, I began with V for Vendetta, chosen for its abundance of dark scenes. Such scenes had not looked very good on my new RPTV up till then, this apparently a symptom of my Toshiba player’s poor contrast ratios. With the DV-60, my TV’s performance improved several notches. Images in the darker scenes were sharper and more defined, and rendered with much more depth than by my Toshiba HX-XA1 HD DVD player. For the most part, the Toshiba delivered softer images; the grays were not well defined, for example. Through the DV-60, the grays were noticeably crisper, and layered with more detail.

Because the Mitsubishi has two HDMI inputs, I was able to use two copies each of Saving Private Ryan and Monsters, Inc. to switch back and forth between the Esoteric DV-60 and the combination of Toshiba HD-XA1 and Anthem AVM 50. The upconverted 1080p signals provided by the AVM 50 and DV-60 were almost indistinguishable, the biggest difference being the Esoteric’s more consistent color palette. In Monsters, Inc., the Toshiba-Anthem’s colors were not as sharp. The color of an object would appear to bleed into the color next to it, sometimes straying from a natural tint. While the Esoteric’s picture seemed to have a hint of grain, I preferred it to the softer video transfer provided by the Toshiba-Anthem combo. The blame for the difference, I came to find out through further experimentation, lay squarely on the shoulders of the Toshiba. While it’s hardly fair to compare the Toshiba to the Esoteric, which costs six times as much, it took the combination of the $4699 Anthem AVM 50 and the $800 Toshiba HD-XA1 to provide the image quality of which the DV-60 is capable all by itself, and for only $200 more.

Another area where the DV-60 excelled was in the playback of film soundtracks, such as that of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. As I paid close attention to the slight differences in video transfers, several audio passages jumped out at me. Through the DV-60, Foley effects I’d become accustomed to -- bullets striking steel columns as Kong tries to escape from Manhattan -- were more pronounced, sounding almost as if I’d never heard them before. The sounds seemed quicker, and I heard more pop from the rear speakers. Also, at the end of the film, as Kong watches the planes as they swing back around before making another attack, the rear soundstage is defined by a long side-to-side pan of the planes’ engine noise. I’ve enjoyed this effect many times, but this time there was more detail in the sound of the planes as they passed by me. This added detail, plus the razor-sharp image, added a dimension to the scene that I had never before experienced with my system.

Finally, I connected the DV-60 to the Anthem AVM 50 A/V processor via HDMI, which meant that the digital audio signal and the video signal were both being conveyed by a single cable. I also watched films with the DV-60 sending the AVM 50 a 480i video signal, to see if I could tell the difference between the 480i signal upconverted to 1080p by both the Anthem and the Esoteric. I could detect no difference at all. However, the high contrast levels and consistently deep and brilliant colors produced by the DV-60 remained.

In Dan Davis’s Ultra Audio review last October of the DV-60’s two-channel audio performance, one thing not discussed was the Esoteric’s ability to play multichannel DVD-A and SACD recordings via its HDMI output. Using only one cable instead of up to seven to send both video and multichannel audio signals to your A/V processor is really convenient. Some audiophiles like to show off their expensive cables by leaving them exposed, but I prefer the simplicity and neatness of a single cable. The HDMI interface of DV-60 and AVM 50 worked flawlessly; there were no handshake issues.

Conclusion

It took both the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player and Anthem AVM 50 A/V processor to perform the duties of one Esoteric DV-60. While the Esoteric can’t double as an A/V processor, it is of high enough caliber to be the central component of the most discerning enthusiast’s system. The DV-60’s ability to transform the data on a standard-definition DVD into sound and image that are close to high definition was very impressive. While the DV-60 costs a hefty $5600, you get a substantial machine for the price.

With the high-definition HD DVD and Blu-ray formats waging a free-for-all in the marketplace and the high-resolution audio-only formats (SACD, DVD-A) barely able to stand on their last legs, spending over five grand on an SACD/DVD-A/V player may be a tough pill to swallow. The person who will appreciate this player and fork out the dough will be an audiophile and videophile with large collections of DVDs, CDs, SACDs, and DVD-As -- someone who loves his movies as much as he loves his music. Someone who will recognize that the performance he’s paying for comes with a name he can count on. Someone who is a home-theater enthusiast and an audiophile. Someone just like me.

Review System
Speakers - Aerial Acoustics 10T (mains), CC3B (center); Von Schweikert VR-1 (surrounds); JL Audio Fathom f113 (subwoofer)
Preamplifier-Processor - Anthem AVM 50
Amplifiers - Anthem MCA 50, Krell KSA-50S
Sources - Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player, Sonos Digital Music System
Display Device - Mitsubishi WD-Y57
Cables - Nordost, Monster Cable, DH Labs
Remote Control - Universal Remote Control MX-850 Aeros
Power Conditioner - Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6 with Copperhead AC cord
 

Manufacturer contact information:

TEAC America, Inc.
Esoteric Division
7733 Telegraph Rd.
Montebello, CA 90640
Phone: (323) 726-0303
Fax: (323) 727-7650

Website: www.teac.com/esoteric


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