Having owned Esoteric's top 3-head deck many years ago, my recent review of the X-03 wasn't my first encounter with this firm. Yet it was a first for me as a reviewer. Being incredibly impressed as my X-03 writeup makes clear, I had further e-mail exchanges with Esoteric's man in the US Mark Gurvey during the current follow-up review on the G25U upsampler/reclocker. I wanted to understand the distinction between retiming and reclocking and how a sub-atomic Rubidium clock works. With the G25U's review nearing completion to mandate return of the loaners to their maker, I asked Mark to paint me a picture of Life Beyond The X-03 in Esoteric's current lineup. Though intended merely for personal edification, I found Mark's reply sufficiently relevant for prospective Esoteric shoppers that I herewith reproduce it. If this were a director or actor commentary on a DVD's bonus reel, you'd see the obligatory disclaimer by the studio to distance itself from the opinions expressed. What follows isn't a formal company statement either. It's nothing more than an informal exchange between two 'philes that contains some condensed information on what added expense buys you from model to model as you step up in Esoteric's current catalogue:
"The next step up from the X-03, for Redbook primarily, would be our X-03 SE (Special Edition). That unit will be released in the US in late May or early June. (The 3 Series which is only 5 to 6 months old in America was the very first time we ever had the VRDS-NEO mechanism in an all-in-one unit priced below $13,000). The "SE" version adds 6N copper wiring throughout. The capacitors and resistors are upgraded for the output stages based on the architecture from our flagship P-01/D-01 system. A P-01 type power cord upgrade is included and WBT NextGen connectors are added on the chassis. I have listened to the X-03 and X-03 SE. I feel that the dynamic range improves with the SE "upgrade." Cleaner highs with improved transparency and lower lows with deeper extension. (Think of it as a 2006 Rolls Royce evolving into a 2007 model). The VRDS-NEO assembly, speed-feedback-controlled horizontal sled transport, vibration isolation platforms, coreless spindle motor, hall-element-sensing type/3-phase brushless motor and vertical pick up assembly (no off-axis error correction) remain the same. I use a simple UX-3 at home and it amazes me.
"From there we move up to the X-01, now in X-01 Limited Edition version only. It was just released in January during CES. This machine is a real killer in one box in that not only does it add a much heavier VRDS-NEO mechanism (plus a 20mm thick S400 steel bridge support vs. the 10mm thick steel support in the X-03), but it also adds 4 high-quality Burr Browns per channel on separate left/right channel boards, i.e. no crosstalk. It also adds all the analog multichannel outputs that the X-03 lacks since it is strictly a two-channel device. Another major difference is the full-size disc platter clamp. In the X-03/UX-3 series, it is made of duralumin for low vibration characteristics at a moderate cost (duralumin is an aircraft metal first used in the SR-71 Blackbird stealth spy plane of the 1980s).
"In the 1 Series, it becomes pure magnesium (which has lower vibration characteristics but is extremely expensive to buy and manufacture). In the 1 Series, the VRDS (vibration free rigid disc clamp) is mostly hand-assembled steel but in the 3 Series, it is die-cast aluminum and steel, also hand assembled. In fact, most if not all of our product except for SMT implants are hand-assembled in Japan including our own custom optical glass pickups. The laser we source but the optical glass we manufacture. There are also major cabinet differences in the 1 Series in that it is a 4-part outer enclosure of steel and aluminum, providing better isolation and chassis rigidity. The 3 series uses a 2-part cabinet. Both lines use our internal chassis-in-a-chassis design. All the "SE" upgrades noted above for the X-03 are also included in the X-01 Limited. MSRP is $14K. This unit is phenomenal.
"From there we move up to our new P-03/D-03 DAC and transport. MSRP is $25K for both units. These would blow you away. From there we move to our ultimate P-01/D-01 flagship. The D-01 is a monoblock DAC so one is required for each channel. MSRP is $50K in stereo, $100K in 6-channel mode. This is the ultimate. If you add the G-0s to any of the above, you add another $13K in MSRP. This adds the ultimate sync timing device to any system that can accept a word sync/word clock input (ultimate unless you go atomic, of course)!
"Each step up is a dramatic improvement and yes, it is very scary. I have been in the industry since 1976 and have never seen product built to these tolerances and design standards. In terms of competition, I have never heard anything that can match these products at each of their respective price points. The man who invented all the famous TEAC reel-to-reel machines of the past is the President of Esoteric in Japan today. He is a legend within the industry and a true visionary and absolute mechanical and electrical design genius. Further details can be found on our new website."