A Digital Journey

This is certainly NOT aimed at purest Naim owners, but I hope it will be of general interest. I had never heard a CD based system that I really enjoyed, that changed a few weeks ago when I listened to the CD555 with a single PS555DR, but as that required sums I was NEVER going to spend its application for me was moot. My journey began many years ago when ripping and streaming to a DAC became possible, now this did things I did enjoy. My path led me to the conclusion that State of the Art quality IS possible for remarkably small sums of money, in HiFi terms; but, that this is FAR from a sightly result and is not at all GREEN, which for me is a consideration.

So what is SOTA?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and how do we individually know what is possible? I believe we need to have a network of contacts and take the time and trouble to go and listen to a variety of systems, as well as listen to equipment in our own systems. Even with this there is a high degree of subjectivity, as there is with music itself; what I like may not be to your taste.

So what does this cheaper SOTA system look like? For me the server and endpoint were specific types of NUC running AudioLinux. The system had to have very close attention to power and grounding, and good quality cabling made a positive difference. This resulted in a system that consisted of multiple boxes, including a number of large Linear Power Supplies running 24/7, again not the greenest of solutions. What I ended up with was an unattractive Heath Robinson solution that took a level of administration and expertise, but sounded excellent. Knowing the endpoint I could have achieved the result for about £2k including a 2nd hand Audionote 2.1 R2R DAC, as my route was circuitous I spent rather more than this, getting back a large percentage of my extra expense as I sold off my extraneous equipment.

Having got the system up and functioning am I happy and content? Well, no. I certainly enjoyed the journey and have learned a lot, but, ultimately I just want to be able to play music. Is it possible to simply buy some hardware to get me to my current point without a spaghetti of cables and boxes? Yes, but at a price. For example, the off the shelf solution that got closest to my NUC/AL solution was the dCS Network Bridge, a mere £3.5k to you geezer.

Having got tired of tinkering I bought a 2nd hand Linn Klimax DS/1 Renew for less than £2k. Is this better? No, it is different; in some ways better & others not as good. The Linn did reduce three shelves and multiple boxes to one box on one shelf, a much liked result.

An interesting side note for me is the impact of the source server & file types. The NUC was sensitive to EVERYTHING. It showed up small differences anywhere in the chain, I would say the same of the Sonore and SOtM solutions. The Linn is remarkably unphased by server changes, the quality I get from my NAS is very close, if not indistinguishable, from my NUC/AL. Equally, WAV vs FLAC is so close that I would not wish to put it to a blind test.

This just leaves me with my Audionote DAC. This does things with female vocals that the Klimax can’t quiet equal. I wish the Klimax had a digital output so I could hook up the AN from time to time, I can’t bring myself to sell the AN on, it is delightful; perhaps I should …

You enjoyed the journey, so that counts for something!!

I originally bought a UnitiServe and Naim Dac hoping to avoid such a journey. It pretty much worked. It got me a rather foolproof solution up front (notwithstanding several calls with Naim’s wonderful tech support guru who unfortunately is no longer part of the team), and the ability to upgrade/fine tune as I learned as I went.

Today - with Roon and a Naim streamer player (ND-anything), playback can be remarkably foolproof and high quality and satisfying. Those who still want to journey – have at it. But Roon + ND-anything works and works well!

Hi Bart,

Yes. I originally bought the NS01 & nDAC; that was before Naim produced its streamers. When the NS01 died I bought a Sonore microRendu which showed me what I was missing, but introduced some issues, hence the journey.

I work in IT and so the technical side of being a computer audiophile is attractive, but ultimately I just want to sit and listen to music. However, what this has highlighted for me is the way in which some people will didactically diagnose an issue and pronounce the cure, is this ever justifiable? Yes, perhaps with a system built primarily from one supplier, hence why this forum can be so useful. That said there are many wrinkles, that space in which you find people like Simon!

In the meanwhile I will keep hold on to the Audionote DAC I think and consider buying a dCS Network Bridge if one comes up at the right price.

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