Importance of DAC versus streaming transport

I’ve been an avid reader of the forums for many months as I’ve developed my system but this is my first contribution and I do want to make a point which I’ll develop in a second post sometime in the future. First of all, been a hifi enthusiast for many years but really only started seriously when I got my first Naim gear in 2007: CD5X and a Nait 5i amp.

Current amplification is 152XS with dedicated FlatcapXS, with 155XS feeding PMC Twenty23. CD5X now has its own FC2X and to me, sounds fantastic. I really enjoy listening to music on it and that’s my measure.

So, point of post: I also have a Sonos Connect attached which is part of a whole house 5 Sonos system. This was running Spotify Premium through Chord Crimson RCA leads: sounded awful, was only acceptable for background party music.

But then I decided to squeeze as much out of the Connect as possible. Firstly converted to Deezer so at least I was streaming 16/44.1, not surprisingly to all you audiophiles, this made a massive difference. Switching from a WiFi connection to a Cat6 ethernet cable also made another small step up.

I’ve since added a used nDAC via Toslink and wow, this now sounds awesome. I can genuinely listen to anything and love it: as good as my CD source. When I finally added a Wireworld Matrix 2 powerblock with Stratus7 lead it stepped up again. When I first listened to this the immediate thought was ‘liquid gold’. It’s warm, rich and relaxing. So the point of the post: an nDAC can make sense of even a cheap streamer like a Sonos Connect. Why the hell have Naim stopped making them?

The nDAC of course re-clocks all the digital signal from the Sonos. I deliberately chose the Toslink as the optical signal won’t suffer from electromagnetic interference. So removing the jitter, all the Sonos has to do is provide a bitstream, with a 100Mbit broadband the Sonos is only drawing about 1-2% of the bandwidth. It’s the nDAC that defines the character of the music, not the upstream digital signal.

I’m totally bitten by the streaming bug, so my dealer has sourced me a pre-loved ND5XS with DC1 cable. He assures me the DC1 is a better interconnect than my Chord C-lite optical. So the world of hi-res streaming awaits…


You will be surprised. Everything I’ve done behind my DAC V1 has made difference, from switches to server upgrades, fiber bridges and streamer upgrades and power supplies for said streamer. Thinking the DAC does everything is too simplistic - garbage in, garbage out. Source matters tremendously.


The new second generation Sonos will do HiRes audio. The best thing about Sonos is the App.

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Welcome to the board! If your dealer can source you a pre-loved ND5XS2 (newer streamer), you’ll be in heaven.

Provided the renderer is bit-perfect - and I’m sure most if not all those people cite on this forum will be, what affects the sound with different upstream components is mostly due to the susceptibility of the DAC to the RF some introduce and some block: so the particular DAC can make a huge difference for that reason, some making the effect of upstream components minimal, as well as the DAC characteristics greatly affecting the sound.

I will watch this thread with interest as I am currently debating, for the main system, a cheap’ streaming transport + good DAC Vs lumping in with a used ND5 XS or pushing the boat, incurring the wrath of the wife and buying an ND5 XS2. I have had good results using the digital out from a Tibo streamer into my office system and from a fire stick via the TV’s coaxial digital out into an Arcam Movie Solo in our bedroom.


I think that requires a photo :blush:


To address the OPs question. The nDAC is, in computer audio terms, something of a fossil. I don’t know if it had any mid-life updates, but I’m sure that DAC technology has moved significantly making it time to move on. The fact that it has been around for as long as it has is testament to the quality of the design in the first place.

I’m also interested to find out if the “streaming” part of the playback chain makes any appreciable difference. If I put something like a dCS Network Bridge before my 272 and by pass the 272’s streamer, will it make a difference? If the OPs premise that it is the “nDAC [and by extension all Naim DACs] that define the character of the music, not the upstream source” then it probably shouldn’t (assuming that the upstream source is of reasonable quality to start with).

I wouldn’t be too sure the NDX5x will be much of an improvement.
I certainly wouldn’t suggest it as a blind purchase.
The app will seem Stone Age compared to Sonos and you’ll have to say goodbye to Deezer.
Plus Roon won’t be an option going forward.

A second hand Auralic Aries mini could be just your man.

(I have owned the n-DAC and SuperUniti so have experience of the DAC and the old streaming platform).


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Some interesting thoughts above.
One the one hand, Naim streamers, including legacy models, are equipped with digital inputs, so, in theory, could still be used as a DAC to a cheaper streaming transport with more services available. I would argue that this, or non web-based streaming, is where the future value of legacy streamers lies.

How does the n-DAC compare with the DACs found inside any of the Naim streamers? Perhaps someone with experience of comparing them could input here? I too would think that the n-DAC is based on older technology, but how much of a DAC’s performance is based on the ‘technology’ and how much is the implementation/design? What would also be interesting to know is how the ND5XS2 compares overall with an n-DAC? Which contains the better DAC? An ND5XS2 retails at roughly double what an n-DAC costs used. I assume, rightly or wrongly, that an N-DAC with a good input signal should outperform an ND5XS, otherwise, why would the n-DAC be worth more used?

As for streaming, I am just getting into it and have found it surprisingly straightforward so far. However, talk of different Ethernet cables and switches etc. leaves me cold - too many variables and for ever wondering if the setup is optimal. At least with a CD I just put it into a capable machine and press play, knowing I will get the best of it that my player can provide.

Re your last point, its much the same with streaming. Once something works, it works. Can it be bettered by spending more money on ever esoteric extras or replacements, well yes, maybe, or only if you believe in self confirmation based on how much you’ve spent.
I have an older streaming system of Sqbox server and sqbox touch and duets. All work perfectly well and give a good sound through my various Naim kit in different rooms. Recently I upgraded the previous CA dac to a Qutest, a significant improvement in sound quality, at a cost. I am now looking at replacing the sqbox system only because of it’s limitations in streaming hires files. Otherwise the sqbox plus qutest would stay until it broke :slight_smile: Better cables and switches aren’t needed in my system (which includes my mk1 ears), but no doubt if I wanted to fiddle and spend, a SQ improvement could be realised.

So for me a streamer/renderer/transport (use name of choice) plus a good dac provides my simple source to feed my Naim kit, and sounds awesome.

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When the nDAC was introduced I recall many thought that it would be pretty immune to the quality of the digital signal it was fed with. That proved not to be the case, so the quality of the streaming transport will likely affect ultimate SQ. Several good suggestions in the thread, but well worth taking time over your selection.


The NDAC was promoted by Naim as a possible upgrade to, amongst other things, the NDX. To my ears it was a worthwhile upgrade, even without an external PSU which gives you a further 3 possible improvements. I haven’t listened to it on an NDX2, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it still improved things there.

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The following extract was from a spreadsheet provided by a Naim user, which shows some DAC details. See article


Thanks for this post. Very informative for sure. As a nDAC user being fed from a ND5XS2 I do wonder which DSP chip gets invoked first? First hand experience, a used nDAC regardless how old it is sounds fantastic with a quality transport.

Ask for example @marcusman, on what the Ndac made for his Nd5xs2. A nice uplift for sure.


Without a doubt adding a bare nDAC to a ND5XS2 is an upgrade IMHO. More bass, slightly darker(more organic) sound, larger soundstage etc. Not that there is anything wrong with a ND5XS2 I just happened to find a bargain nDAC. The downside, 2 box source. Looking at the spreadsheet snippet kind of confirms my findings for the analytical side of my brain haha. The streaming board in the new streamers is fantastic and its an important component. I previously went through the steps the OP had albeit with Sonore/macMini products, although really good, the ND5XS2 sounded better and I stopped thinking about PS/dc4 cables etc for the Sonore etc. At the time I couldn’t afford a NDX2 (Mexico vacation). Went for a ND5X2 and just love streaming via Tidal/Quboz/local. nDAC was a surprise local find.

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@eenph If you like the sound of the old nDAC, it is a great value for the money.

Big advantages against the current and the previous generation of Naim streamers are that the nDAC is rock solid, it does not rely on application-level software, does not require continuous software updates (and annoying related changes of the sound quality) and it has an impressive number of inputs.

The disadvantages are a perhaps higher sensitivity to the quality of its feed in comparison with more modern (better isolated, buffered, etc.) DACs and the continuous temptation to improve it with a very expensive PSU.

I have a nDAC since about 6 years and I would have no concerns buying another one today, especially at the current prices.

That said, if you do not need so many inputs and of you are fine with a non-Naim DAC, there are very interesting alternatives.

I still hope that Naim will some day come up with a new DAC without integrated streaming platform and with a number of inputs comparable to that of the nDAC.

If this doesn’t not happen until my nDAC needs to be replaced, I will eventually move towards Chord DACs, I think.

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I agree! I’d love for Naim to come out with a new DAC. Yes the temptation to add a XPSDR or 555PS is a powerful thing.

Since I use the ND5XS2 as my transport into the nDAC I do hear the software updates from Naim via the streamer, and recently they sound fantastic to me. (My room, system etc)

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