Capital AudioFest Part 4: Esoteric, Aurender, and Mytek

Of the digital companies at CAF who had a presence that expanded beyond mere single rooms, Aurender and Mytek were among the leading brands.

I saw Manhattan DAC II’s in many excellent-sounding rooms, as well as spread over headphone tables at the show. Mytek pays quite a bit of attention to the headphones side of the hobby as well, and as a headphone enthusiast, I naturally took a few listens at their booth and had pleasant experiences with every setup on the table. The guys at Mytek don’t do a halfway job when it comes to anything audio related – their Hi-Fi, Pro, stereo and headphone pairings are always excellent, and they seem to really have their finger on the pulse with their gear selections.

Aurender was another company that was present in a number of rooms. Everywhere from the titanic VAC and Von Schweikert room to the more modest all-in-one Eikon room were using Aurender servers. Both rooms had great sound going for them, but the Von Schweikert room particularly was a great room to listen in. There was a very high-end vinyl setup in this room, and the music sounded tremendous, huge in scale when called for, yet intimate when it needed to be – a hard trick to pull off for such a large system in my experience. The imaging went out past the sides of the speakers and surprisingly, didn’t sound overly warm or colored at all. By contrast, the digital playback was just as good and not nearly as different as you might expect. Things had perhaps a tiny bit less warmth and a tiny bit more focus, but sounded just about as natural and engaging as the vinyl.

The digital conversion in this room was being done by Esoteric, a company I’m not tremendously familiar with, but which had gear in several outstanding-sounding rooms. According to Esoteric, they, like Wadax and several other top DAC makers, have gone beyond even custom-programmed FPGAs to create their own ASIC conversion IC chip. Esoteric claims a 64-bit resolution for their Grandioso DX1 Monoblock converter with four DAC circuits per channel. Everything in the product specification sheet indicates a massively overbuilt piece of equipment – which is what one would hope for in a $44,000 USD piece of gear.

Relative to the cost of the rest of the system, which clocked in at just over $1.5 million USD, the DX1 is actually one of the least expensive components. I point this out less to justify anything, as I tend to think of these kinds of systems as exhibit pieces or ‘event’s unto themselves,’ but rather to note that truly excellent digital is often not the most expensive part of any system, at any price.

That’s the last of the show coverage proper, up next is a wrap up of my experience with digital at CAF and some thoughts on what we can expect going forward.

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