There was a time when I would have thought of ‘digital’ as being a bad word when it comes to audio. My sub-5000 dollar turntable used to outperform the best digital gear that cost a few times its price. Of course, times change and some of the compact discs recorded in those days now give some of the best analog equipment a run for their money. One such example that rewrites the book on how far digital equipment has come, is the TEAC Esoteric DV-50S universal player.
The continual progress of digital technology is constantly raising the bar for new equipment. Heck, reference gear of five years ago can’t compete with equipment a fifth of its price nowadays. To be fair, the reference gear of today has rewritten many books on digital playback.
The TEAC Esoteric DV-50S player is not to be taken lightly - literally. At nearly 50 pounds it is actually built like a tank. You are definitely getting your money’s worth from this machine. The aluminium front panel features an elegant high-style finish, giving the machine a solid and authoritative look. Buttons on the TEAC are machined out of solid aluminium and have a firm feel. The rear panel houses a full suite of gold-plated connectors. Analog audio outputs include high quality stereo (one pair of balanced XLR and one pair of RCA), 2 pairs of stereo RCA mixed-down analog as well as RCA 5.1 analog audio. Digital audio outputs are offered as optical and coaxial. In the video department, you will find two composite, two S-Video and one set of component outputs. Also included are single DVI and D-Video outputs. Pushing the open/close button ejects the transport drawer with authority (as if it were a mini-safe). The drawer comes coated with a soft urethane-based film to protect your discs and enhance overall operation. Even the remote control is milled out of solid aluminium, although unfortunately its buttons are not backlit.
Technological wizardry abounds within the Esoteric DV-50S. It features a second generation Refined Digital Output Technology (RDOT) and a Finite Impulse Response (FIR) digital filter. This digital manipulation is outputted only through the high-quality audio RCA and XLR connections on the back. They can be engaged either separately or in conjunction via a toggle switch on the front. CD audio can be up-converted to a maximum of 1411.2 kHz and DVD-Audio to a maximum of 1536 kHz. DSD (Direct Stream Digital) mode is used when playing an SACD, so no up-conversion is selectable.
The DV-50S incorporates some of the most advanced video processing available. It employs a 216MHz Analog Devices video encoder with a 14bit DAC that will do 16 times oversampling for interlaced material and 8 times oversampling for progressive material. It also uses an Analog Devices filter to output 540 lines of resolution.
The setup in this review consisted of the TEAC connected to one of two preamps: a Bryston BP20 line-stage and an Audio Research SP9-MKIII. The majority of the review was done on the Bryston in balanced mode (using the TEAC’s XLR outputs). I found the balanced mode to be the best for sound with a slightly quieter noise floor and a better-defined sound stage and imaging. However, the machine performed exceptionally in both modes.
Initially, I ran the player on the system in the studio, which I use for mastering recordings. Right off the bat, I knew that I was listening to a fine product. Just like its solid construction, the machine created a very strong and coherent picture. From front to back and top to bottom, it presented a great and solid picture.
To warm up the DV-50S, I placed a hip hop CD in the transport from the album Midnight Marauders courtesy of A Tribe Called Quest. Immediately I noticed details in the bass and subtle sounds that I had never realized were in the recording. The sheer amount of space and fluidity of the music was something that had my roommate thinking that we were listening to a re-release of this recording in a high-resolution format. None of this detail was flushed out like a thousand-watt halogen bulb, though. If you listened carefully, an amazing ability to see deeper than one would have thought possible on a regular CD, emerged. It seemed to show the information (music) in exactly the way it was originally recorded.
As the days wore on, I ran through a series of discs and tried out some of the other formats including multi-channel SACD and DVD-Audio. Playback of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon SACD blew me away. Listening to this recording was as if I had the actual Studer tape machine with the tape on in the room. Cymbals came through with the metallic shimmer of a live concert and the dynamics from subtle to huge came through in a startling manner. None of this was too in your face to the point of being offensive or harsh. It sounded more as if it were being played in real life with the greatest of finesse and subtleties of air.
No less impressive was TEAC’s rendition of Blue Man Group’s The Complex DVD-Audio disc. I played some of the tracks over and over, each time hearing new and different sounds. The TEAC clearly exposed the deep detail and subtleties of the percussion, guitars and custom-made PVC instruments. I could even hear the movement of air through the PVC instruments and percussion.
With classical music, the presentation was nothing short of fabulous. The subtle flushing out of details and harmonics in the Beethoven’s “Violin in D” SACD made me feel like I could touch the instruments. Room boundaries and positions were depicted clearly and remained in their spaces without ever cluttering the music. Often, a lower-quality player would smear or blur subtleties that could be taken as artifacts of the recording or the format. This time, it appeared that I was hearing every last ounce of information in the space in which it was captured. Even the emotion of the music was more present than ever before. Make no mistake - this Beethoven was not vinyl or any other lower-resolution format. There was more air and richness than a CD could have captured and a lower noise floor than on the vinyl version. It’s incredible just how great a digital format can sound when the playback is done correctly.
When I tested some recordings done at 192 kilohertz (24-bit) against analog tape feeds, I could now actually hear the limitations of the tape (who would have thought?). Sure this machine may not be as warm as tape, but the clarity was startling. Even the CD versions gave a shocking resemblance and I could actually hear the differences when compared to tape or the high-resolution masters. Much as before, the dynamics that CD playback produced from this machine were more than I thought the format was capable of.
But there’s another dimension to the DV-50S, namely the video side. Over the course of the few weeks that the player spent at my house, I managed to watch a wide variety of movies through it. It didn’t take long to convince me that the contrast and dynamic range of this unit were simply fantastic, through both the component and DVI outputs. Computer-animated Shark Tale, showed the player’s ability to produce incredible details and added depth to the picture that I have not previously witnessed on my plasma screen. The ocean appeared to be multi-dimensional, raising my movie watching experience to a whole new level. In non-animated movies, the colors were natural and I could actually see the details of different textures. Details that were normally washed out, were clearly visible, and the picture was never overly sharp. Unfortunately, due to space constraints I cannot elaborate further on the players stunning picture quality, but you get a pretty good idea.
TEAC’s DV-50S truly shines when it comes to detail from all digital audio formats, at the same time, eliminating the harshness associated with digital format playback. Its video performance is equally as impressive and meets the high standards that a true videophile will appreciate. This machine is unmistakably raising the bar for today’s reference universal players. What other players reproduce as artifacts or harshness, the TEAC displays as a presence of space and natural colors, not just annoying noises. From the transport to the electronics inside, there are only a handful of players that come anywhere close to this true audiophile/videophile machine.
Price: $7600.00 (Canadian)
TEAC Esoteric DV-50S Universal Player
Disc formats: DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, SACD, CD, Video CD, CD-R/RW, DVD-RW, MP3
High quality analog audio stereo outputs: XLR (1 set), RCA (1 set)
Other audio outputs: RCA (2 pairs), 5.1-channel RCA (1 set), optical x 1, coaxial x 1
Video output: composite x 2, S-Video x 2, component x 1
Dimensions (WxHxD) (in.): 17.375 x 6.19 x 14
Weight: 47 lbs