DAC Options

I have a high-end Olive system: CDS2, 52/SC, 135*4 etc.

I play digital music by means of a USB stick plugged in to an Atom which connects to a unity-gain channel of the 52.

It sounds OK, but even playing a 16/44 file doesn’t get close to a CD through the CDS2.

So how do I achieve CDS2-quality sound from my USB stick?

A secondhand NDX is a possibility, although as I don’t do streaming etc it seems an expensive option.

On the other hand, I expect a DAC-V1 would not be much of an improvement over the Atom. I don’t think they can play straight off a USB stick either.

Anyone have any suggestions?

If you use an usb-stick, an nDac would do the trick. You can simply connect an usb-stick to it with the music and play it. It will also avoid a plethora of network issues.

I have no experience with this, it is just an option I consider for myself too since I listen to a few symphonies only - that’s all.

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The nDAC is what you want. In the UK, you can pick them up S/H from the usual sources for around a thousand quid (the latest firmware is 4.11.8, but it’s a straightforward update - via a USB stick!).

A versatile bit of kit, RCA/BNC/Optical inputs for any future streamers. USB sticks can be plugged in front and rear (front takes precedence); I’ve even had mine running from an iPod! Only issue is that navigating round the stick is somewhat “primitive” and involves a modicum of guesswork!

Add an XPS or even 555PS for extra audio goodness.

You may find the sound is “darker” than classic Olive kit (I run a CDX into an 82); at first I wasn’t sure I liked it, but now…well, I’ve got used to it - and there’s a good reason why they use the same DAC chips in the CD555 & ND555!


To listen to music off a USB stick, you need a streamer not a DAC. Yes I know Naim streamers always have DACs in them but buying a separate DAC won’t help.

You will find using a USB stick into the old gen. products a primitive experience compared to the Atom, although the sound quality should still be OK. If you are keepng the Atom, it would be easier to keep the USB storage on that and let an NDX to discover it over the network. Or maybe run a separate NAS/UPnP server.

The Naim DAC can support playback from a USB device connected directly to it’s front or rear USB ports as well as being able to detect and output audio from an Apple iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad and of course an iPod although not so many of those in use these days.
The main issue here is how to control the playback and navigate around your files efficiently.
You may well want to add a computer in to the mix here as a place to store the audio and a place to run a front end application from to control the search and playback functions. An example would be something like Audirvana. The issue then is the connection from the computer to the Naim DAC, you could in that instance connect the computer over optical digital and use one of the Naim DAC digital audio inputs for example.
The other and perhaps more useful option is to source a decent USB DAC like a Chord Qutest and connect that directly to your preamp, this would connect over USB to a computer and you can then control the playback of audio files from there. You would still require a computer unless you have a Digital Transport/Streamer that’s doing the same job, that’s what your Atom is doing already essentially.

With your kit, you are missing out on so much by not streaming. I had a CDS3 and the self same CD’s when ripped to a Core and streamed through an NDS sound as close to my LP12 as I’m ever going to get. Apparently, it’s to do with error correction whilst playing CD’s versus a bit perfect copy when streaming. Who knows, but it sounds bloody my amazing!

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Hi Jack,

Another option:
Meridian 210 + Chord Qutest (+ SBooster to take it up another significant notch.)

The M210 will take your USB. The unit streams via wireless or wired if you decide you want to experiment in future.

Ndac plus XPs is mandatory.
When I had mine connected I was a little disappointed at first.
When I connected the HDX it opened so much up. Maybe usb is not the best route to feed the dac.

Happy nDac user here as well. I must admit I have never compared to another dac, but then I never had the urge to do so.

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I hate to be contrarian but why in 2020 are you playing music off a USB stick? And paying 1000 quid for an nDAC, to me is silly. There are so many better options but you can easily get a DAC that’s as good or better than the nDAC for under 500 used. Connect an old laptop or Mac mini which you can buy second hand and control from any mobile device. I think would sound better and offer so much more flexibly, including streaming. When you want new music do you buy it, rip it and then put it on a stick each time?


If your a bit ‘tech’ savvy then a Raspberry pi is a good option. You can buy these already set up with Dac added that are pretty much plug and play.
Add a Dac of your own like one of the Chords and you’ll get real high end digital playback equal too an NDX.
Later if you wish you can optimize the Pi to stream Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify.

I have always found CD rips on a USB have achieved better quality sound than any wireless streamer I’ve tried and I’ve tried a few.

While I totally agree with “going streaming” - after all I have four RPi-based streamers including a full-fat Allo Signature feeding my nDAC-XPS and bl00dy good it is** - the question asked by the OP was:

…and that is the question I attempted to answer in post #3.

**Kraftwerk’s “Minimum-Maximum” playing at the moment :slight_smile:

Heresy Mr Builder, but I agree having recent, first hand experience.

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I second what @matfff posted.
I was having a difficult time getting any music to sound as good as my Linn Unidisk 1.1 CDP until I picked up an NDS. (they’re ridiculously affordable now). It gives you streaming, iradio, and a very accomplished Dac. I don’t think there’s any better, but I’m biased, of course. I sold my Linn and my TT.

However, if you really just want a Dac, from what I’ve read here the nDac is also an excellent Dac, and it costs less than the NDS.
Best of luck with whatever you choose.


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I used an RPi connected to a Chord 2Qute and used to play CD rips on a usb stick via Volumio but I believe that it’s even possible to do so without an internet connection .

Yes, I can do the same thing using MoOde, so an RPi based solution (without Internet) could be another option for the OP - he could even, at some point, connect a USB hard drive with the whole of his music collection on it - the “ultimate” USB stick :laughing:

However, what Jack hasn’t stated is whether he would feel as comfortable playing with RPi as “thee and me” :smiley: although he is obviously confident with writing to USB sticks.

So, having “answered the exam question” (as my old Chief Engineer used to say) the best “one stop” solution for him could well be an s/h nDAC.


I guess that the op has a silent wish to have the ndac retrofitted with an olive fascia …

Heck, I would support that!!! :grin: