Importance of DAC versus streaming/digital transport (2)

I wrote on this topic in late October and it stirred up a good amount of discussion. In fact after much research I didn’t buy the pre-loved ND5XS (£1250 incl. DC1) in the end but bought a £499 BlueSound NODE 2i and connected it to my nDAC with a Chord Prodac Vee 3. I went for the BS because of its flexibility: it’s up-to-date and can deal with anything. My source is now Amazon Music HD. I’ve since added an Ecosse Big Orange GR8 mains cable and together it’s definitely a match for my CD5X+FC2X but I can draw on an almost limitless library.

Pursuing this idea that handling the (pre-error correction) digital signal is easy and cheap, I compared two CD sources today:
(1) CD5X + FC2X
(2) Sony BDP-S580 BlueRay + nDAC
Fortunately I have two CDs that I have in duplicate: Beck’s Colors and Bowie’s Let’s Dance. I started them in the two disc players simultaneously so I could do a direct, real time comparison.
I played both CDs all the way through and switched between the sources several times per track.
For me, the Sony+nDAC was just a tiny bit clearer than the full Naim source. There wasn’t much in it and if you couldn’t do a simultaneous comparison it would be difficult to say which you prefer. But switching between the two on consecutive lines of the songs I had the nDAC delivering a very slightly clearer sound which I prefer.
The two sources are of similar original cost, around about £2200 for the CD5X+FC2X, with the other costing slightly more, £2100 for the nDAC and less than £200 for the Sony BlueRay transport.
So, point I’m making again is, for me, the digital transport whether streaming or CD is cheap and easy (because of error correction) and the character of the sound is down to the DAC. The nDAC is a better DAC than that found in the CD5X, so I’m also concluding adding a PS to my nDAC will be a worthy future upgrade.

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Interesting findings. I’m always amazed by the subtle or sometimes great differences between different drives or transports and Dacs, at least when they are in the same league.
I have an NDS, which just makes all things digital, sound superb, especially for the what they can be had for, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the nDac. In fact I almost bought one last week.

When I run a lesser CDP thru the NDS, it really does not sound very good. But when I used to run my Linn Unidisk 1.1 reference CDP thru the Dac of a Superuniti I used to have, it sounded excellent.
The NDS is 3 times the Dac that a Superuniti has in it, so the quality of the actual CD drive/reader makes one heck of a difference. I so wish I had not sold the Linn CDP. Mais, c’est la vie …

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Interesting to read about your comparisons.

I do agree that the character of the sound is to a large part determined by the DAC but I wouldn’t necessarily take from this experiment that the digital transport is cheap and easy.

In my mind this comparison proves that nDAC is a good DAC so that even with a cheap digital transport it sounds better than a CD5X/FC2X but this setup might not be showing the full performance that the nDAC is capable of IMHO.

A good next test would be comparing the digital output of a CDX2 with the Sony CDP into the nDAC. If you hear no difference then you can conclude that the digital transport is cheap and easy, but you may be surprised in the improvement a CDX2 brings to the nDAC.


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