Thanks for sharing this experience IB. I’m still one for holding the original sound sig to account on the design of the unit.
Asking about voicing as DA has in their post is an interesting question. Recently in another system I’ve deployed a Luxman D-06u. It is a very different presentation, with similar dynamic range but sweeter - rolled-off? - treble.
I guess every good character - transparency for example, has it’s too extreme downside. In listening comparisons between the latest Esoteric K03XD and Luxman D10X the differences are dramatic in sound signature. The Esoteric's transparency and clear note presentation is preferred over the Luxman’s softness. Of course personal preference rules. Yet the differences are dramatic. Is it only this model or is it this series, the Xs series that has this character?
Do the their Japanese customers give the same feedback?
On the matter of tweaks like grounding, according to your experience, and in my experience, internal EMI RFI treatments at their limits, can change the sound signature. For me these tweaks should not be necessary to achieve satisfactory performance. Nor am I asking for the stars after buying the moon.
But given the amount you have invested, you presumably want to get optimal performance?
Further down the food chain, say, Tascam, units will be designed to work whatever the situation and be forgiving of inadequate setup. Moving up to the Esoteric level there will be an expectation that the unit is well isolated on a rigid rack, some distance from the speakers. Personally i feel that your current setup, as seen in the pics you have provided, is sub-optimal and i would expect to experience the kind of artifacts you are reporting.
Perhaps if you require the player to function in it's current environment you should consider, as you are, something less resolving and less sensitive.
Personally i would keep your current player, because it's an awesome bit of kit, and optimise setup.
One final observation, if i may.
This is the second recent thread i have read (& contributed to) where the OP has a Pass xp pre-amp and is experiencing an etched, forward presentation....although not attributing it to the pre- amp. In the other thread the OP's finger was being pointed at his Boulder 2060 power amp as the cause of the brightness. Once myself and some other forum members with experience of the Boulder suggested that the pre- amp may be the culprit, the OP auditioned a different pre-amp....and instantly solved the issue
From my experience i don't recognise your description of the Esoteric 'sound': harsh leading or trailing edges, at all. I believe your player is not at fault and instead the issue lies elsewhere. I would begin with providing a decent, massive, rigid support platform for you player before changing components, try to locate it further from your speakers and experiment with high- quality interconnects, my personal recommendation being Entreq as i can say from experience this is a magical combination