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Esoteric K-01X Super Audio CD/CD Player Review

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All of this adds up to an advanced level of resolution accorded the CD via the K-01X, truly state-of-the-art sound has been achieved. There is no “serious” listening necessary for recognizing the superiority of the K-01X. The most familiar music takes on a new sense of scale, and dare I say grandiosity, that is at once jarring and compelling. One of the first characteristics to strike me as revolutionary is the ability of the K-01X to sort out and render instrumental lines awhile creating a soundstage of immense proportions. Even on discs that I have been listening to for twenty years are transformed.

The opening of Extremes’ “Warheads” from Three Sides To Every Story has a heart beat outside the right speaker. Through the K-01X, the image of the heart beat moves from 20 feet outside to at least 40 feet to the right and is locked in space. I have no side-walls to deal with so the image has a ton of room to breath. A jet then flies from left to right and goes all the way down the hall and rendered in stark relief. We are talking 60-70 feet outside the speaker. I know these are sound effects, not music, but holly cow, you cannot dismiss the wow factor. Disc after disc was unraveled yielding a wealth of space between densely rendered images. Musical lines ebbed and flowed above a supple dynamic.

Listening to Steely Dan “Babylon Sisters,” I am struck by how full-sounding it is. Not overly smooth or creamy per se but rich for sure. There is just more music coming out of the K-01X than I have heard before. If you like a leaner presentation, the K-01X is not for you. There is real meat on the bones sounding more life like in tonal density.  The lead vocal from “Babylon Sisters” is so expressive with the focus provided by the K-01X yielding the ability to track subtle inflections and phrasing with great ease. On “Hey Nineteen,” the sound is just so sophisticated and suave. Timing cues provided by the guitar picking and tight bass line hooked to the bass drum keeps the sway of the music moving right along. Ease and sophistication goes a long way in describing the sound of the K-01X.

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Digital has been doing a pretty good job with the low frequencies for several years now. Gone is the dry, over-damped, pitch-less bass from the early days of digital. However, the K-01X adds a level of density, definition and dynamic slam that adds up to the most complete rendering throughout the mid bass and low bass that I have ever heard. Great pitch and texture gives the foundation a musical importance and completes the overall picture. “Do It Again” has a bass presentation that can sound boxy and drone like. With the K-01X, the sound comes into focus leaving the unwanted distortion in the dust. The result is the brain has less work to do in sorting out the wheat from the chaff.  With the K-01X you get all the wheat, and little chaff, unless it is on the recording, then you need to watch out. The K-01X, despite sounding glorious on decent recordings, a bad recording like the Pretenders Greatest Hits will have your brain squirming like a toad.

As for great recordings of pretty good music, one of them is Brian Bromeberg’s Wood. If you are not familiar, get familiar. Brian is a master bass player and his band is first-rate. Needless to say, the bass as recorded is singular in its power and texture. The image is so present and focused as well. When the jaw comes up off the floor, it becomes clear that the piano is just as majestic sounding through the K-01X. Sweeping arpeggios and other melodic flourishes are captured with zero grain or glare, particularly in the upper registers. This, coupled to an outstanding sense of dynamics and scale, makes this a true show stopper of a disc.

Another great one is Clifford Jordan Live at Ethels. The sax is closely miked and really jumps dynamically. The sound can boarder on a slap in the face at times, yet the disc really captures a live vibe along with many of the colors a sax can yield. Through the K-01X, the sound has never been truer. The ride cymbal that is locked to the right speaker has never sounded smoother yet more complex than I have ever heard it. There is so much inner detail being tracked by the K-01X, yet it is so well mannered and structured.

“Head For Back Stage Pass” off Jeff Beck Wired has sounded everything from ok to pretty good, based on historical performance from past players. Now the track sounds amazing through the K-01X. The lack of noise and digital distractions allows the true timbre from the bottom to the upper registers to shine through. Purity is a word that keeps coming to mind, as does silence. Effortless dimensionality and dynamics spring forth, giving the music great flow and swing as well as outstanding focus.

If there is a disc that seems to capture a good deal of what the K-01X is all about, then it is Bill Evans Quintessence. Great introspection, space and silence between notes, and true beauty in timbre are captured with ease. This one will remain in heavy rotation.

There are a few quibbles. First off, the remote control operation is not without its drama. I found I often had to repress the command to engage the action. At $20K retail, this is a little troubling. Also, like its little brother the K-07, the K-01X is sensitive to poorly maintained discs, which is pretty much all I have at this point. Hitting fast forward did little to skip past the damage. In the end, I can’t fault the K-01X for my ham-fisted way with my CDs, I guess; that one is on me.

Sadly, I have only been able to listen to the K-01X for a few weeks, as the entire time the unit was here I spent waiting for my new Corona plasma tweeters to arrive from Germany for the Lansche 4.1. Despite the short duration, I have become extremely attached to it. I feel like it’s mine despite having not cut a check. Man, this one is going to be hard to let go of. Despite a few operational quirks, it has really gotten under my skin in the best possible audio nut approved way. Wall busting soundstaging, coupled to the truest timbral presentation I have yet heard from digital makes this fast-fading medium come to life, finding new breath and a great reason for being: The Esoteric K-01X brings music to life.  And remember, there are a mega-zillion CD’s out there just waiting to be poached from collections that have been downloaded to servers and are ready to be fed to the K-01X. What a great time to be an audiophile!

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5 Responses to Esoteric K-01X Super Audio CD/CD Player Review


  1. robert Schussel says:

    I would like to add some comments about Greg Petan’s review of the K01X. I purchased my K01X about a month ago. The K01X is special .To be blunt most of us have probably never experienced a player as good as the K01X. Some dealers claim that players like Solution etc. are better but they are 70% more expensive. For what it is the K01X is a bargain.

    1) For Redbook CDs the K01X offers 4 filter options, direct conversion to DSD and upsampling to 8X. Yet no mention is ever made about these capabilities. I will leave it to others to debate which setting is “best”.

    2) In plain English the K01X is the best $20K single box player available. It is a significant improvement over the prior generation that came out 4 to 6 years ago and comes close to the so called separate boxes reference systems.

    3) I owned a 4 year old $10K+ SACD player. The difference with the K01X was so dramatic it took me a week to stop focusing on the sheen of strings, the deep bass that could be heard ,the biting sound of brass ,rich and vibrating cello strings , the naturalness and fullness of sound (which eliminates the complaints about CD sound) and how good older CDs now sound . For the first time I am enjoying my older CDs and hearing things in them I have never heard before. While the sound is very full a lot of additional detail can be heard.

    4) I can now sit for hours. I had always assumed that my shortened attention span was due to getting older not my player

  2. Joe says:

    Congratulations Greg on the review. Did you run the K01x using XLR or RCA? Did you notice any difference?

  3. Vern says:

    I recently purchased this player two weeks ago to replace my Oppo BDP-105 that I was using for both SACD/CD in stereo and Blu-ray playback. The review is spot on regarding this unit. The soundstage was the first thing I noticed when I played he first CD disc! You do actually hear the individual instruments and their unique timbre on well recorded discs. Jeff Beck’s Wired disc on SACD sounds amazing. It, along with other CD’s and SACD’s reminds me of when I owned a turntable and would spin records. My foot is now tapping to the music again. That never occurred with my Oppo which is a very good sounding mid-fi player. I am running the K-01X XLR with Transparent cabling into an Audio Research Ref5 SE. I would suffice to say this is a digital player that doesn’t sound digital at all. You can tell on the older CD’s. What was harsh and hard sounding before has now turned into a listenable experience. I couldn’t be happier with the money spent.

  4. High Fidelity says:

    Can not see the point of a Stereo only over engineered obese SACD player,

    • Scott Petit says:

      Then you do not appreciate music reproduction that approaches that of the instrument’s live sound. It doesn’t matter what the box is, as long as it produces music in the best way possibly. You may like to know this obese box is also a DAC and that gives it a future and purpose beyond shiny round discs. K-01Xs.

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