Esoteric’s new SA-50 CD player offers a host of features and capabilities unimaginable to the original designers of the CD format. Not just a CD player, the SA-50 will spin SACDs, decode other digital sources (including a music-server’s output via USB), switch between digital sources, and drive a power amplifier directly. If you have no analog sources in your system, the SA-50 obviates the need for a preamplifier. This architecture not only saves money, but provides better sound quality. After all, the best preamplifier is no preamplifier.
Moreover, the SA-50 is packed with sophisticated technology. The unit offers a wide range of user-selectable upsampling options, a two-stage PLL reclocking circuit to reduce jitter from external sources, a dual-mono implementation of a new 32-bit DAC, a clock input, and a new minimum-phase digital filter (selectable) that doesn’t introduce pre-ringing (a type of time-domain distortion).
Although well built and attractive, the SA-50 looks more business-like than Esoteric’s more costly offerings. Priced at $5800, the SA-50 is clearly intended to be an extremely high-value product that provides a multifaceted answer to the needs of today’s complex digital sources. In fact, it struck me that the SA-50 is nearly functionally equivalent to the $23,000 dCS Puccini/U-Clock combination I reviewed in Issue 200. The Esoteric lacks an asynchronous USB interface and external clock, but will do much of what the dCS does at a fraction of the price.