Experiencing Esoteric’s new M1X monoblock

Experiencing Esoteric’s new M1X monoblock

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Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine

Prices are listed below in $CA.

es·o·ter·ic: adjective – “intended for, or likely to be understood, by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.”—Dictionary.com

gran·di·o·so: adverb or adjective – “in a broad and noble style—used as a direction in music.”—Merriam-Webster.com

Some moments in my audio listening journey are especially memorable, even remarkable. Moments that stick out and mark my journey like notches of sonic bliss on my bedpost. Such a moment happened recently, when I accepted to attend the official Canadian launch of Esoteric’s new M1X monoblock amplifier at audio retailer Audiophile Experts.

Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine
Stacy regaling the crowd

Having contracted a cold, store owner, Philippe Renaud,was unable to officiate the event, but his wife, Sylvie, received the dozen or so of us eager visitors with gracious hospitality. Demo duties were capably, and with good humour, handled by ringmasters / store reps Mathieu and Stacy, who had spent the day tweaking the system and would split their respective presentations along analogue and digital lines—Mathieu would stream digitally, while Stacy would spin vinyl. I’m happy to report that things never devolved between them into shouts of “No, analogue is better!” or “No, digital is better!”. Rather, Mathieu and Stacy coexisted side-by-side amicably and with obvious respect for the performance attributes of the other’s format. Of course, they may have went at it after we left.

Tokyo-based Esoteric is the ultra high-end division of TEAC corporation, a company known for its pioneering work with early reel-to-reel tape decks. TEAC established Esoteric in 1987 as a science lab / manufacturing facility dedicated to the R&D and construction of hand-built cutting-edge audio products that could compete functionally and musically with the best audio gear in the world.

Before I get to the centerpiece of tonight’s presentation, here’s an overview of the demoed system’s supporting cast, starting with the Esoteric clan: the Grandioso C1X preamp, a two-chassis, solid-state, fully balanced, dual-mono preamp plus outboard power supply; the E-02 phono stage, also balanced and a dual-mono design, with identical power supply transformers, power boards, and amplifier circuits mounted independently on each channel; the N-05XD streamer / DAC, equipped with the company’s proprietary Master Sound Discrete DAC, said to be the most revolutionary two-channel stereo DAC circuit in Esoteric history. It decodes MQA and appears capable of streaming everything but the St-Lawrence River.

The Focal Scala Utopia EVO speaker is a 3-way, Beryllium-tweetered, bass-reflex floorstander whose bass and treble levels are user-adjustable. Sensitivity is rated at 92dB/2.83V/1m, with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, while its frequency range is said to extend from 40kHz down to a gut-whopping 24Hz, which also happens to be 4Hz lower than the lowest note a piano can produce.

Analogue was well represented by Technics’s direct-drive SL-1000R turntable and S-shaped arm fitted with a MC Accuphase AC-6 cartridge. (Accuphase makes cartridges? Apparently.) Completing the vinyl playback package was a Luna Cables Rouge step-up transformer (SUT). Luna Cables also took care of the cabling throughout the system.

Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine
Mathieu in action

Now, for the new kid on the block, the Grandioso M1X, and I use “kid” loosely, almost recklessly. The Grandioso M1X has manly proportions, a slick silver molded carapace, and weighs 136lbs, as much as some full-grown human beings. Just the transformer inside each amp weighs 42lbs. A special amp stand was called in to be able to accommodate each amp’s nearly 2-foot depth.

The M1X’s power supply, the company’s “largest ever”, includes custom capacitors with a capacitance of 60,000 μF (microfarads) and a 3000VA main power transformer. Each monoblock outputs 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4 ohms, and a bewildering 2400W into 1 ohm.

The M1X’s top panel uses the company’s “Dual Honeycomb Grille”, consisting of two grilles of different thicknesses with offset hole-positioning, designed to improve heat distribution, eliminate vibrations, and reduce the top panel’s weight to enhance the sound’s “openness”.

Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine
The top panel’s “Dual Honeycomb Grille”

When an attendee asked Mathieu what he thought about using a power conditioner with the M1X, Mathieu said that, based on past trials, he felt that using any power conditioner with the M1X would likely inhibit its potential.

And who could argue? I heard sound that was dynamically unconstrained, very resolved, and like the real thing. When sneaky Mathieu chose Strauss’s “Explosions Polka” as his first track, the initial bang that sets off the piece made everyone in attendance jump. It sounded like a canon had blasted in our room. Not cool. Actually, very cool. It was an explosive start to our listening session.

But it wasn’t all about big booms. The music was also suave, complexly laid-out, and holographic. Regardless of how much was going in the recording at any one moment, the music never sounded like it couldn’t keep up. It was the opposite. When things got busy, the amp seemed to relish the occasion, taking off with a musical sprint and relaxed sense of composure. The music sounded smooth, transparent, seamless, and full. Instruments sounded realistic, in size and tone.

Impressions I jotted down with certain tracks:

“Rosanna” from Toto lV, on a Speakers Corner reissue and one of Stacy’s fave albums: super dynamic, room-filling, luxuriant, harmonically full, great attack, great piano timbre. Provides the visceral feel of hearing the band play live in studio.

Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine
Esoteric N-05XD streamer / DAC on top of the Grandioso C1X preamp with its outboard power supply

Strauss’s “Explosions Polka”, Tidal-streamed: dynamic as all get out. No obscurity. Limitless sense of headroom. Great immediacy and energy.

Opera track from the Fifth Element soundtrack, Tidal-streamed: realistic-sounding, holographic with great imaging, and very spacious. Spellbinding.

Yo Yo Ma’s “Echoes”, Tidal-streamed: Luscious, richly-resonant, and realistic-sounding. Emotionally impactful.

Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine

The system’s sound was lush, transparent, detailed, and big, with some sounds easily touching the room’s high ceiling. In-room extension was radiant and colourful. There was a purity to the sound, a sense of harmonic freedom. Sound floated effortlessly, un-mechanically, like air.

We alternated between sitting and standing, trading places at the ends of songs. The good news was that no seats or standing positions in any part of the room were bad for listening. Some were better than others, of course, but a lot of it was just down to hearing the sound from different perspectives—the central image seemed consistently solid and centered regardless of where I sat or stood. In fact, I couldn’t recall hearing, off axis, this solid a soundstage before. This system, in this room, turned out to be a great setup to listen to as a group.

The experience left an indelible mark on me.

Admittedly, the M1X, and the whole system for that matter, isn’t meant for the common man. No common man would spend 45K on a monoblock, never mind on two of them. The M1X is for those who prioritize sound reproduction and have the scratch to get what they want.

  The M1X is “intended for, or likely to be understood, by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.” It’s Esoteric.

Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine

And it became another notch of sonic bliss on my bedpost.

Price list in $CA:

  • Amplifier: Esoteric M1X monoblock: $48,000 each
  • Preamp: Esoteric Grandioso C1X preamp: $62,100
  • Network player / preamp / DAC: $14,850
  • Speakers: Focal Scala Utopia EVO: $69,000
  • Turntable: Technics SL-1000R: $27,000
  • Cartridge: Accuphase AC-6: $7500
  • Phono stage: Esoteric E-02: $12,825
  • Step-up transformer (SUT): Luna Cables Rouge: $4850
  • Cables: Luna Cables ($various)
Esoteric Audio, hi-fi, audio, audiophile, PMA Magazine

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