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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
January 2004

Editor's Choice

As is our custom, January is the month that we announce our award winners for the previous year, and while this year's awardees are all very deserving, for the second year in a row, my favorite product has been snubbed. How does this happen? Blame the semi-democratic system we employ to pick the winners. Nobody -- not me, Doug Schneider or Jeff Fritz -- can simply hand out an award. We have to agree, and this is based almost completely on the reviews we publish. Therefore, the reviewer of a product has to make a strong case for the winner in each category.

This year I wrote about an unusually great number of great products, but one product stood out above all others in terms of not only its value and performance but also its innovation. Perhaps this is the reason it didn't win -- it spanned too many categories and never settled comfortably into a single one.

Which product am I talking about? The Esoteric DV-50 universal audio/video player, which I called "…a jack of all digital trades that does a masterful job with them all." The DV-50 marks the beginning of the high-end universal player. While other companies promised such hardware (and a few delivered on their promises after the DV-50 hit the market), the DV-50 was for sale while other such players were still a gleam in some marketer's eye. And the DV-50 came in at a price, $5500, that, while not exactly dirt cheap, made it competitive with very good CD-only players.

Understandably, TEAC America, which markets the Esoteric brand name here in the US, has had trouble keeping up with the demand for the DV-50. Actual sales greatly exceeded estimates for the number of players (which are designed and manufactured in Japan) that TEAC would sell in North America. TEAC America is currently sold out, but not to worry -- another shipment is on the way, a phrase that those waiting for DV-50s have probably grown sick of hearing.

While it's easy to praise the DV-50 for any of a number of reasons, what has made it a mainstay in my system is its stunning sound with SACD. I've heard only a few SACD players, so I can't be considered an expert (as if a lack of experience stops anyone on the Internet), but I will say that listening to SACDs on the DV-50 is pure pleasure. I've made reference over and over again to the master-tape sound of good SACDs, but it's come time to give credit for this assessment to the DV-50 as well. I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, and I've been marveling at the Columbia hybrid SACDs from Dylan's catalog. I distinctly remember listening to Blood on the Tracks [Columbia CH 90323] one Tuesday afternoon while I tried to do some computer work, but the recording, and the DV-50, made working impossible. So I listened, thinking with each cut that Dylan's voice had never been more clear and intelligible. I'm listening to Desire [Columbia CH 90318] as I type this, and even from the other room the utter transparency is undeniable. It's safe to say that I've never heard more information from either of these albums, and I doubt that anyone has at home.

Since my review hit the Internet, I've gotten more e-mail about the DV-50 than I have any other product. Some of you have wondered where you could find one to audition (during a trip to Denver last fall, I came across a TEAC/Esoteric dealer who had no clue about the DV-50 -- to the detriment to his bottom line, no doubt), but a fair number have written to say that I wasn't nearly complimentary enough, that the DV-50 represented the end of the road for them -- with CDs, SACDs, DVD-As and DVD-Vs. Yes, it's easy to overlook, but the DV-50 is a heck of a good home-theater source.

The only area in which I haven't put the DV-50 through its paces is multichannel music, but Jeff Fritz, our in-house multichannel expert, loved the player and uses it as part of his ITU reference system. I'll take his word that the DV-50 is a "wonderful player" with multichannel material.

So for 2003, the Esoteric DV-50 gets my vote, nod, highest recommendation, and undying support as the best product I encountered all year. It's the kind of audio component you buy and forget about, letting all of the music and movies it plays remind you how valuable it is. I've loved dropping out and tuning in with the DV-50.

...Marc Mickelson
editor@soundstage.com


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