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2 hours of Esoteric D-05 vs Weiss DAC202


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I've patiently waited for Esoteric's D-07 since it was announced last year. It has still to find its way to Sweden though, apparently due to a change of distributor for western Europe. My DAC fund is still a work in progress, but today I decided to stop waiting for the D-07 and instead test the D-05 against Weiss' DAC202, to at least get a sense of the difference in "brand sound".

 

I spent two hours with them, in the Audio Concept store in Stockholm. I'm familiar with the room from previous auditions, and the equipment was MBL 1531 CD player (used as transport), MBL 5011 preamp, and MBL 9007 amps in monoblock mode (I think – could be 9008?) 8011's. Speakers were Focal Diablo Utopia since that's what I have at home.

 

My main musical diet sits distinctly outside of conventional audiophile material: Lots of electronic music, often in the extreme ends of the ambient/noisy spectrum. I'm not primarily seeking the illusion of real instruments. I tend to be drawn to things like dryness, control and resolution.

 

Starting with Weiss, I found it exquisitely smooth and with an almost overwhelming spatiality. I found myself thinking that it's almost as though it adds a reverb to the signal, but in the most flattering way possible. I came to think of MBL speakers with their unbeatable 3D soundstage, but now coming out of the much more directional Focal speakers. At one point I wished the sound was a little more up front and direct; The hugeness of the sound cloud, just as with MBL speakers, takes some edge off of those really ultra dry, in-your-face sounds. The midrange of this DAC is really something extraordinary though, probably the best I've heard.

 

Changing to Esoteric, there is a sense of ruthless and unrelenting precision thanks to its much drier and more direct sound. This sound is much closer to what I'm used to from other equipment, and the lesser spatiality gives the treble a greater sense of laser-like focus, projecting the sound straight into your head. The soundstage not only lost some depth but on a few tracks I found stereo imaging a bit more diffuse and unprecise as well. I even went as far as making sure I hadn't accidentally shifted the channels! This really says something of the 3D sound from Weiss. In terms of dynamics I found them roughly equal.

 

Overall I felt more at home with the treble from Esoteric, but I'm aware that this might be because that's the kind of treble I'm used to. I have no problem seeing the Weiss treble have benefits in the long run.

 

I tried cycling through the different upsampling modes (off, 2xf, 4xf, dsd) a few times but had difficulty hearing much difference with the music I was playing. I didn't toy around with the filter settings or PLL modes.

 

Finally I went back to Weiss for a few tracks. The spatiality is really impressive, again almost to the point where it seems too good to be true. Nothing was coming out of the speakers, the sound was just there. With Esoteric some sounds were clearly centered around the speakers, as is often the case with electronic music. I was hearing the same amount of detail in the treble with both DAC's, just presented very differently. Weiss has more detail and more liquidity in the midrange – it must be pretty much unbeatable here, regardless of price. In the bass they were roughly equal – at first I thought Esoteric had a little more omph, but then on some tracks the roles were reversed. A draw.

 

I found this both interesting and difficult. Weiss' 3D capabilities were so amazing they're borderline gimmicky, perhaps because my ears aren't used to it, but still. Esoteric's sense of precision and focus in the treble — without even the slightest harshness, imbalance or grain — speaks strongly to my audio instincs. Yet Weiss was at least equally detailed and so absurdly smooth…

 

I will listen more, but I think after round one Weiss has an edge. I would gladly make myself more acquainted with that fantastic 3D sound, and the smoothness tells me fatigue will never be an issue. It's also a bit cheaper. Still, and I can't help repeating this, that Esoteric treble speaks to me somehow.

 

I haven't seen others speak much about the 3D aspects of Weiss DAC202. Am I the only one to hear that?

 

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For this testing session I used the MBL preamp for all volume adjustments. Both units have a lot of features that I need to explore in greater detail before I decide upon my final verdict, volume adjustment being one of them.

 

I understand if you want to refrain from spilling details before publishing the full review, but have you heard similar soundstaging from any other DAC? I'd be very interested in auditioning products with similar traits.

 

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Somehow this seem a little unfair in comparison as the DAC202 is priced much higher than D07 or D05? Well, at least in my country anyway..

 

Nonetheless if you prefer the Esoteric sound character.. haven't heard any other dac that sounds really like it. But I would think the Chord QBD76 is more similar than the Berkeley in most respects.

 

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I find your lack of absolute reference point ie no real acoustic recording misleading to say the least.

All that can be concluded from your listening session is that you obviously like both .

 

But without any real reference point it is simply meaningless to anybody else, but yourself.

 

What you subjectively like or do not like when hearing electronic music reproduced by two different DACs says nothing really about which of the two is the more accurate, since you are comparimg two renditions of already computer generated electronic music.

You don´t even mention the original resolution of your test material?

RBCD?

It may sound stunning and impressive to you, yes but has little or nothing to do with HI FI.

 

If I am going to pay 4 to 5 Thousand dollars for a DAC there is only one way to decide which one is the best and most REALISTIC: symphonic or operatic material!

 

There is simply no other comparable material on this level.

 

Pretty nice shop though!

 

I bought my Sennheiser HD800 and Grado GS 1000i from them.

I am going to try out the Weiss with acoustically recorded hi res material where I was actually present at the sessions.

 

Still subjective of course,but at least there will be a defined starting point and real reference.

 

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We recently had a chance to have a listen to the Berkeley 'Alpha' as Chris said it isn't really available in Europe because of ROHS compliance, it is interesting to here three dacs Benchmark, Berkeley DAC202 in the same system with the same (acoustic ) music.

Keith.

 

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Chris: The Berkeley is indeed not available in Sweden, and I'm a little frustrated that their talk of an impending RoHS compliant version never materialized. (they were talking about it at some show, if I recall correctly.)

 

Regarding pricing: In Sweden the D-07 is cheaper than Weiss DAC202 while D-05 is more expensive.

 

I have not auditioned the Grace M902. I'll decide on a winner on these before moving on, hopefully including some lower priced units to see how close they can get. The Simaudio Moon 300D is among the candidates.

 

Chrille: Please understand that it's irrelevant for me to audition with material that I don't listen to normally. I'm looking for a DAC that gives me the greatest possible musical enjoyment, and not necessarily the most objectively truthful sound for any pair of ears. I'm not a mastering studio, but nor am I actively seeking "coloured" sound.

 

To claim that this has "little to do with hifi" is both arrogant and untruthful. You are chastizing me for not sharing your musical preferences, which is foolish both for the navel-gazing snobbery it entails and for the fact that you know nothing about my testing material other than that it's largely electronic. A little humility would become you.

 

I did listen to vocal and acoustic music as well (some Hector Zazou, some folk music, some pop, etc), but again and again I find that certain electronic music reveals much greater differences in equipment auditioning than those records to. I don't doubt that opera and large orchestral works can be even more revealing, but my genuine disinterest in such music makes it irrelevant for me personally.

 

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Could you maybe elaborate a bit more than just say interesting?

 

With acoustic music and good hi res recordings ,it might even be possible to delare a winner in more absolute ie real HI Fi terms between the three, than just saying interesting?

 

All the best the ever so humble

Chrille

 

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ukiro wrote:

To claim that this has "little to do with hifi" is both arrogant and untruthful.

 

Dear ukiro,my claim was not intended as an insult, simply as a statement of facts,because it is a fact.

 

Irrespective of your or many others´ musical tastes,in the true sense of the much abused term HI FI ,there can only be one reference and that reference is acoustic music recorded in a real live acoustic venue.

Everything else will only reveal different preferences in colouration of an already from the beginning more or less heavily distored and coloured electronically derived recording.

 

I am not denying you your preferences or musical tastes ,I am simply saying that those genres are already from start,so full of distortions that all you really need is "bang for the bucks"

I have said it before and I repeat it again here: most electronic pop and Rock will not really in any meaningful way, benefit from high end equipment at all.

As someone said elsewhere those megabuck speakers or in this case maybe that super expensive DAC are in such cases just for decoration anyway with anything below 24 bits and non-acoustic material.

Tough for some to swallow but still facts.

Yours ever so Humble Chrille

 

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Somehow I wonder if this thread is going OOT. :)

 

While I do use classical, orchestra and acoustic pieces to tune my system especially in terms of tonality and for evaluations or review, but it does not change the fact that my main diet is electronic like ukiro (interestingly enough I am also a Focal speaker user). We all have our likes and we should not limit ourselves in our listening behaviour.

 

I would actually argue that it can be more difficult to reproduce a demanding electronic piece than any other genre in some areas such as dynamics and separation, and it would definitely benefit from a good system. Mastering is usually not a major problem to my ears.. the genre probably benefits from not having to go through a mic all the time.

 

The genre benefits from the authority that Estoeric's housesound has. In a way, Chord to me also gives similar vibes in boldness, but with more expression and subtlety, and hence my recommendation to check it out.

 

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Hi there,

 

Ukiro, I do agree with Keith, Quest, and you (of course).

Just listen to what you like, and that should do the trick.

 

Chrille, I am afraid you are off-topic here.

Even if you are attending the recording session, micros/preamps/cables/... will all affect the sound, and are rarely sitting precisely at your position (as far as mics are concerned), at the time of performing.

Worst, I am going to live performances every two weeks (classical, jazz, ...) and almost all the time, these are amplified ones.

 

Sound like a harsh point of view to me.

 

Elp

 

PS : and I listen to electro too, and that is just plain demanding on the electronics/speakers and acoustic of the room.

 

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I posted here in an effort to share my impressions of these fine units with the Computer Audiophile community. It's disheartening to see this somewhat philantropical intent be immediately and needlessly dragged into off topic territory. I may stick to posting on my own blog instead.

 

Chrille, you are correct in some ways, and I will start by trying to show that I understand and agree with some of your points. I hope that you will show me the courtesy of returning that favour.

 

The human voice and traditional non-electronic instruments are the best reference points to gauge the realism of a hifi system, especially if you are very well aqcuainted with the sound of this instruments in the acoustic space of your listening room.

 

The sound of an instrument or voice, recorded with a microphone configuration resembling the human hearing in at least some fundamental way (i.e. not 8 mics spread about the room) and played back in another room will be a very good test for the ability of that system to create the auditory illusion of the instrument or vocalist being physically present in the room.

 

Any such recording, unless made in an anechoic chamber, will also contain sound reflections from the room itself. You will then be playing one rooms reverberations into another room, and we are already making this illusion nearly impossible to pull off in a fully convincing way. If we also record with multiple microphones wich are later mixed down to stereo, we are yet another step removed from even potentially completing the illusion.

 

There is also the inherent colouration of microphones and mixing desks, perhaps things like EQ and other adjustments, and of course the mastering and mixdown to 16/44.1. All these steps affect the sound, so that even the most puritanian recordings are mere approximations of the musical event.

 

If you were present when the recording was made, sat right next to the microphones, and we conveniently ignore the notoriously imperfect audio memory us humans have, you can tell whether the playback of the recording in your system is an accurate reproduction of the live event.

 

If you were not present for the recording, mixing and mastering, how can you know what flaws in the reproduction are due to your system, or due to any step in the recording process? You may hear that the cello is sounding a bit thin, but you cannot for certain know that this is the fault of the DAC, speakers, or anything else. Only by comparing the same recording across a range of components, rooms, and perhaps even mediums (CD, vinyl, digital file) you get to know the recording and get to know its character and intricacies.

 

The exact same thing is true for electronic music, or any music recorded and produced in a non-puritanian way. You get to know the recording, hear it in many systems, find out what sonic information is there to be retrieved. Some albums, classical or not, are very shallow — There isn't much hidden in there, and they differ less from system to system. Others have a seemingly endless array of sonic surprises that that keep being revealed, the fancier the system.

 

As you surely know, some 99.99% of all music out there has some form of compression, EQ, mix desk trickery or other effect applied. This means that "The Absolute Sound", i.e. the full illusion of hearing a real instrument, is not possible with this material. For your operatic and large orchestral work, it may be (in theory) if the recording is done right. But to say that everything else is not hifi is plainly wrong. Hifi is High Fidelity, which is certainly what I'm dealing with when I audition DACs using artists like Alva Noto & Ryuchi Sakamoto, Autechre, Björk and others.

 

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Personally, I think it's cool when someone takes the time to review equipment and additionally describes their own musical preferences. Interesting to read, and gives some context to help the reader understand how that equipment might perform in their own situation.

 

It gives me great sadness that few reviewers have been brave enough to describe the astonishing emotional intensity of Aqua's Barbie Girl, or the breathtaking vocal virtuosity of St Winifred's School Choir when played through a high end hi-fi. But the search must go on...

 

Joking aside, I wouldn't dare suggest that certain genres are more worthy of hi-fi than others, although I don't doubt that your musical taste is a huge influence on your equipment choices. Certainly with multi-track recordings of constructed electronic music, the nearest equivalent to a live musical event would be the mixing process.

 

In fact, you could argue that you've got a far better chance of accurately re-creating that sound in your living room than you have of reproducing a live orchestra performance.

 

Apologies for being severely off-topic.

 

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akiro said :and of course the mastering and mixdown to 16/44.1.

 

Dear akiro:I already said in my first response to you my claims where not,and are not meant as an attack on you personally, or your musical tastes.

 

I was merely stating facts regarding what HI FI ,at least used to be about,and I am well aware of all the things and limitations involved in all types of recordings.

 

I have been at many.

 

You make some really interesting and good points.

 

But for starters,let me just add that I have never considered 16/44.1 as real HI FI.

 

It was at its introduction already a commercially motivated, compromise.

 

There where clearly better digital standards available.

 

But the Powers that were, decided to compromise because it was considered good enough for "the masses" among other things.

 

How it can still be a standard for release of real acoustic music that needs much higher quality to sound right and reasonably realistic, is weird to say the least.

 

 

But luckily some labels that do care about sound quality not just a fast buck, are now releasing their productions with a minimum of processing and sometimes even full dynamic range both as physical discs on SACDs, DVDs and now also some Blu Ray discs.

 

And the most interesting thing happening and most relevant here in this Forum is the ever growing number of titles offered as HI RES downloads at 24/88. ,96 ,176.4. ,192 and so on.

 

Sorry if this sounds elitist or whatever,IMHO it is only in the context of such Hi Res MASTERFILES material that DACs like the Weiss and others can be properly evaluated and even make any real sense at all.

 

No matter how many tricks you play,you can never ever get more than a pint out of a pint bottle.

 

You can hide stuff by filtering and shift things out of the normal hearing range, by upsampling and such .

 

But you can never really improve quality and increase resolution, by any such tricks.

 

RBCD is from start, seriously limited for high quality reproduction of acoustic music.

 

And if you add, as you say, all the processing involved in most commercial productions by the major labels and artists , you have added so much distortion that you end up with something very far from HI FI.

 

I may be stepping on a lot of toes again,but what I am saying is still a fact.

 

ps It was interesting to read your comments on 3D or rendition of depth regarding the Weiss.

 

In my experience one of the truly limiting factors with 16/44.1 apart from its general digititis, ie lack of resolution, is its lack of 3D or capability to reproduce accurately any real acoustic space/ instrumental location, or depth in a recording.

Many well recorded LPs easily outperform RBCD in that respect.

 

All the best Chrille

 

 

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Souptin said:In fact, you could argue that you've got a far better chance of accurately re-creating that sound in your living room than you have of reproducing a live orchestra performance.

 

You definitely have got a strong point there!

 

That is one of the reasons why I often listen via high Quality headphones, they are in some ways actually better at reproducing a live orchestra performance closer to how I heard it live.

 

All the best Chrille

 

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chrille said... "I was merely stating facts regarding what HI FI ,at least used to be about,and I am well aware of all the things and limitations involved in all types of recordings."

 

Pure and simply, to me a HiFi's only purpose is to reproduce music for the enjoyment of the listener. It's doesn't matter if that music is operatic, full orchestral piece, a solo vocal performance or heavy electro. To my mind the only important thing is how much you enjoy it.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Hi ukiro - Your comments are appreciated here at Computer Audiophile. I've chatted with many of the people responding in this thread and can assure you they have the best of intentions.

 

@Souptin

"It gives me great sadness that few reviewers have been brave enough to describe the astonishing emotional intensity of Aqua's Barbie Girl, or the breathtaking vocal virtuosity of St Winifred's School Choir when played through a high end hi-fi. But the search must go on..."

 

I was in the Mbl room at RMAF 2009 and heard a Slick Rick played back on an incredible system. I think some of the audiophiles headed for the doors or even the parking lot, but it was a blast :~)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Eloise said:to me a HiFi's only purpose is to reproduce music for the enjoyment of the listener.

 

Certainly agree with you there Eloise.

 

But what I was trying to define was not your or anybody elses home equipment but the term HI FI in its original sense, ie the ability to reproduce as accurately as possible an acoustic recording vis a vis how it sounded during the actual performance of that music.

 

The elusive thing the British HI FI Company Quad once used to label "The closest approach to the real sound or something similar.

 

Not quite the same as your definition of HI FI, which obviously only refers to your "HI FI" at home?

 

Apples and Pears but still fruit!

 

All the best and happy listening

Chrille

 

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I just want to chime in on the "Electronic" versus "Acoustic" - recordings/music.

 

I'm listening to a lot of different "styles", including opera and classical, but I always evaluate systems also by listening to some electronic music too.

 

I.e. some tracks from Yello (among others), because if a system is capable to show me how the mix was build up in the studio, it tells me that the system is doing a good or a bad job.

A high resolving sytems clearly let one hear "into the mix", showing off the layers of discrete sounds, that where used to create this "wall of sound". Different reverbs used on the single sounds, different - but subtle - positioning ... and so on.

 

The point is, that you have to know "whats going on on the record", best checked with a pair of high quality cans.

I use this approach on every recording, not only on "synthetic" ones.

 

Cheers

Harald

 

Esoterc SA-60 / Foobar2000 -> Mytek Stereo 192 DSD / Audio-GD NFB 28.38 -> MEG RL922K / AKG K500 / AKG K1000  / Audioquest Nighthawk / OPPO PM-2 / Sennheiser HD800 / Sennheiser Surrounder / Sony MA900 / STAX SR-303+SRM-323II

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Sorry for taking some time to reply, but the real world interviened…

 

Chrille: I'm thankful that we seem to have moved on from the genre discussion. I agree with you that 16/44.1 is quite far from optimal. I also agree that for these DAC's, a thorough evaluation will have to include higher resolution material. This little session was just a first test, since I happened to have some hours free on a Friday afternoon. I have some SACD and DVD-A for future tests.

 

What I don't agree with is your categorical dismissal of redbook CD in terms of hifi; Your stance on this issue seems needlessly cantankerous to me. I can't speak for your music collection of course, but mine contains thousands of CD's and I have no plans to stop playing them (or rather, their losslessly ripped counterparts) — on the contrary, I'm auditioning DAC's precisely to make the most of these recordings. If you have been able to transition to higher resolution without missing lots and lots of music, I am nothing short of envious. But for me and many others, this is simply not realistic.

 

(Incidentally though, the bands I mentioned before are offering higher resolution material: Autechre include 24-bit WAV files with their CD and vinyl now, and Raster Noton — "Archiv für ton und nichtton" — the label of Alva Noto, release some albums on SD cards with 24/96 resolution.)

 

When you reconstruct the analogue signal from digital audio, there are a huge amount of things that can go wrong, or at least be more or less poorly done. This is the very reason DAC's sound different, and why the word digititis was even concieved. Properly recorded and mixed, with good D/A conversion (which in turn assumes a very well designed reconstrunction filter with very good interpolation, etc), 16/44.1 goes a very very long way towards excellent sound, and in my book can clearly be called hifi. I don't think we'll agree on the precise definition of the word though, nor is this thread the forum for it.

 

I would wager that in 9 recordings out of 10, even among "audiophile" material, lackluster sound from CD has more to do with inefficient and/or inept utilization of the format than with the format itself. Poor sample rate or bit depth conversion, clumsy mastering and a puzzling fear of dynamics are all things we have to put up with. Granted, a higher resolution format gives less opportunities for mistakes but is also inherently more difficult to use to its fullest potential.

 

Both the Weiss DAC202 and Esoteric D-05 are capable of bringing sound out of a redbook CD that I think many of us never thought possible. In the case of Weiss it was so smooth yet unsmeared I would have no problem believing it was from an analogue source, and the sense of 3D soundstage really ought to be impossible with the format, yet I kept hearing it on CD after CD. So even with your aversion of CD, you ought to give this unit a chance Chrille! You may even soften that hi-res stance a little bit ;)

 

In the end, I'm in this for my love of music. I will keep buying it even if it has shitty sound, as long as it still gives me pleasure. If the source material is sonically poor there's no reason to make it even worse by using a bad DAC.

 

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FWIW, and to conclude with the off-topic part, I do agree with Ukiro on 16/44.1 material. In the right system, this just sounds right. I can't speak for Weiss or Esoteric electronics, but this is damn good on my dCS stack.

 

Now Ukiro, what did you think of the 8011 amplifier ? I strongly consider moving to such an unit, and I kind of like the Utopias (3) sound, although the medium is having too much energy (measurable bump ?), IMHO. I think the Mbl units play a great part in the soundstage you have described (and did not feel with the Esoteric, that might be just too lean).

 

Elp

 

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