To Howard Kneller,
I must say your review of the Esoteric C-02 preamp really got me thinking. I am currently using the Esoteric C-03 preamp and the A-02 amplifier and I feel they are one formidable combination. On the other hand, about six months ago I upgraded my DAC from the Esoteric D-07X to the D-02. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the difference this upgrade provided. It was undoubtedly the single most significant upgrade I have ever made. Along with the Aurender S10, the digital section of my system is remarkable. For speakers I have KEF Blades, and all cables, interconnects, and power cords are either Nordost Valhalla 2 or Odin. Based on these components, will an upgrade to the C-02 really be a transformational thing? I realize this is a very difficult question for you to answer but I’d appreciate any thoughts you might have.
That is a nice system that you have put together. Yes, the jump from the D-07X to the D-02 is quite remarkable.
With your components, I would recommend the C-02. If the components were of a significantly lower level of performance, you likely would not get as large a benefit in trading up. I think that the C-02 would be particularly beneficial for you if you like symphonic music, as the C-02 is really a timbre-delineating machine.
I will note that I have not heard the C-03X. At substantially less cost than the C-02, that unit may be worth looking into. Whether the C-02 will give you that transformational performance increase that you are looking for is something that only you can determine. But the improvement in refinement, noise reduction, and presence will be very substantial and I would go for it if you have the means. There are, of course, many ways to spend your audio dollar in order to improve performance, but one of the maxims I have found true is to never underestimate the benefits of a great preamp.
By the way, I am not sure if you ever considered the A-03 class-A amplifier. I think you will find that, while the A-02 has rock-solid grip over the drivers and a microdynamic sparkle that benefits many speakers, the A-03 has a sweeter and more open sound than does the A-03. I can't say that one is better than the other, just that there are different strengths and compromises associated with each. Assuming you are comfortable with 50Wpc (a interesting question as the KEFs are benign on paper, but a bit less so in practice), you may want to look into the A-03, depending on what type of sound you prefer. I hope this helps. . . . Howard Kneller