Emotion in a Silver Jewel Box
Many months ago I was asked about reviewing the Esoteric Grandioso C1 preamp and M1 monoblocks. I had just started to remodel my home, including the listening room, so the review had to wait. I was about 3 weeks away from being done with the project when Scott Sefton of Esoteric contacted me about bringing the pre and amps over to my home. As it turned out, there were some remodel items that still needed a few more weeks to finish (and, of course, months of additional tweaking), most notably redoing the electrical outlets. Nonetheless, I determined that I was ready to start doing reviews again.
A preliminary word about this review. When I finally completed the first draft it was two and one-half times longer than it is in this final version. As you will see, I liked these components so much that I found myself stretching to find something wrong with them. I literally wrote a page on whether they sounded great because they did something “wrong” in the musical reproduction. I finally realized that the added verbiage created the misleading impression that there was something about these wonderful products that I didn’t like, so in the end I took it all out. So don’t be deceived by the shortness of this review. I and others spent many hours debating where the C1 and M1 fit in the pantheon of top-tier audio components.
Esoteric Is The Right Word
I’ve been very familiar with Esoteric’s digital products, having owned several in the past. However, I wasn’t sure what to expect from their preamps and amps, other than what I’ve heard at audio shows. I guess I expected something very detailed and nuanced, and just a shade on the analytical side. Boy was I wrong. Yes, what I received was highly detailed and nuanced, but there is no way you can apply the “analytical” label to the C1 or the M1.
The C1 and M1 are big, heavy and strikingly beautiful. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I suspect that 95%+ of the audiophile population will agree that these components fall into the beautiful category. You will definitely want to display them, as they absolutely beg to be shown off. In addition, their weight and construction are such that aftermarket feet/points are unnecessary. Though I positioned the C1 on a heavy and solid equipment rack and the M1’s on heavy amp stands, I suspect I could have placed them on the floor or on a lesser rack and still gotten excellent results.
The setup was straightforward, with the only unusual aspect being the fact that the C1, which is a two-piece preamp, consists of a DC power supply and a separate control unit. The preamp’s DC power supply is a true dual-mono device, but in a single enclosure that requires two separate power cords to feed dual AC inputs that in turn translate into DC outputs that feed the C1 control unit via two multi-pin umbilical cords. For those of you interested, the C1 DC power unit uses five hefty power transformers and features high-capacity reservoir capacitors and silicon carbide (SiC) Schottky barrier diodes.
Quoting from Esoteric’s website, the control unit “consists of two monoblock preamplifier modules and a logic control module. The input and output sections of each preamplifier module are constructed on separate boards, which are arranged one above the other in order to minimize the lengths of the signal paths. These modules are mounted on a unique leaf spring suspension system that was originally developed for Esoteric’s leading lineup of SACD players. Its floating design helps achieve total left and right channel independence.”
The M1 monoblocks are the proverbial iron fist in a silk glove, with 300 watts into 8 ohms, 600 into 4 ohms, and a serious maximum power output of 1200 watts into 2 ohms. They have 28dB of gain, and accommodate both XLR and RCA connectors.
The functions and controls of the C1 are intuitive and are a pleasure to operate, so there is no reason to spend any time here explaining their operation. Suffice it to say that everything works as expected without even the hint of a hiccup.
I did have an initial glitch with the C1/M1 combo. I discovered that the M1s are sensitive to DC offset, which is a new issue I experienced after my recent home remodeling. This is not the place for a full discussion of DC offset (in my case apparently caused by the wall switches installed as part of a new LED lighting system), but it can cause transformers to develop a mechanical hum, and high-power amps generally have big transformers. Some amps are more susceptible than others, and the M1 appears to be susceptible. However, I was easily able to address this issue with a great product – the Emotiva CMX-2 Precision AC Line Restoration & Common Mode Filter System. This product is very good, not very expensive, and does exactly what it says. It probably deserves its own review, and perhaps I’ll do that in the coming months. Suffice it to say that this product completely eliminated the issue, so I was able to proceed with the review without any transformer hum.
I first tested the C1/M1 combo in the following configuration: My Qsonix Q-205 server’s digital output fed a Legacy Audio Wavelet via a Stealth Audio V14-T digital cable (see my review in September 2016). The Wavelet’s analog outputs fed the Esoteric Grandioso C1 via a balanced Stealth Sakra V12, and the C1 connected to the M1’s via balanced Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 6’s. Speaker cables were Silent Source Silver Signature, and the speakers were Vivid Audio Giya G1.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Wavelet is a custom piece developed by Legacy Audio initially for its fabulous V speakers. It is a DAC, crossover, room correction and digital preamp in a single box. A review of this amazing component will follow, but you need to know that the Wavelet can be used in various ways, and I used it here as a DAC in all cases, but also with the room correction on and off, and incorporating or bypassing the digital preamp. In my initial configuration the Wavelet was used as a DAC and room correction device, with the C1 doing the preamp duties.
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