Following reading threads about Chord and Dave and mentions about Linn and the FPGA DAC’s I am interested in what people’s thoughts are personally on Naim sticking with the tried and tested DAC’s.
I am not a professional and therefore put my trust in the manufactures as to what and why they use what they do to create the sound that they do.
I am interested in that I think it was @Simon-in-Suffolk said that Chord have a tendency to concentrate on the digital side of the DAC whereas Naim seem to concentrate on the analog side of the DAC first. (May have gotten that wrong, sorry if I have Simon.)
I assume Naim probably did test and have a play with FPGA in there R&D testing prior to the release of the current range.
Naim have a tendency to have long product cycles and I wonder if they are missing something in the long run over there competition.
I don’t think you should worry. Naim have pushed the limits of what can be done with the new streamers and they are like they are because Naim think that is how they should sound. There is no hardware limitation.
FPGAs are just components. It’s the way they are programmed that determines what they do. There’s nothing magic or even vaguely new about them.
I spoke with Steve Sells about the ND555 and that it would be the last product with the BB 1704k chip. He was very confident they had plenty of new ideas for the future, without of course giving anything away. As for the direction Chord have taken, well it sounds different to the Naim approach as Simon in Suffolk has pointed out. That would not necessarily meet with the approval of Naim in terms of the “Naim sound”, so they may continue with dac chips.
Plenty of other new very high end DACs using the same discontinued Ti 1704k chips. It’s a matter of design philosophy. I’d not get too caught up in the chips and instead focus on the execution and result.
No that’s not what I said… I was talking about innovation… Naim focus on supporting fairly traditional digital componentry to get the best out of it… and on the new streamers have mainly focussed on developing the new digital transport front ends, and optimised the analogue stages further with respect to distortion and noise in their architecture.
The Chord Electronics approach has been to revisit the entire DAC process and develop bespoke techniques and architecture using custom components. This also needs to address analogue stages, interference and noise management… and managing noise is a significant part of the Chord DACs.
As we know Naim don’t do change for the sake of change. If we go by the product cycle of the original streamer range and how long they were going, was it about 8 years?
With the level of detail that can come from and the tailoring of FPGA DAC’s could this well lead to superior streamer DAC’s from other manufacturers that are already ahead in R&D and implementation.
If the new range is out for another 8 years, FPGA could be miles ahead by then potentially leaving Naim behind as it sounds like there isn’t much more that can be accomplished via the existing DAC’s
Think I am making sense
Kind of … we are referring to specialist FPGA devices with many programmable cores - and these can be specifically programmed in a totally bespoke way as with Chord Electronics and others… this allows alternate, more advanced and arguably improved methods of reconstruction filtering - and certainly allows a wide pallet of options.
Naim on the other hand use a specialised DSP processor made by AD (SHARC processor). These allow custom filters to be designed - but the underlying architecture is fixed. Therefore one can optimise how use the the AD processor - but it is the AD processor. The filter Naim use is only a few code lines long - as most of the grunt is done in the AD processor.
So i would argue Naim could be left behind in terms of innovation in terms of digital reconstruction - which with the advent of new low power FPGA devices is starting to innovate interestingly.
Now it might be that Naim prefer the sound of their traditional approach - and there is nothing wrong with that - but it won’t necessarily be offering state pf the art of what is now possible with current reconstruction methods provided by some.
Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are wonderful devices IMO. With an off-the-shelf application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) such as a DAC chip you are limited to what the manufacturers allow you to do. With FPGAs you have a blank canvas.
I worked with FPGAs for a number of years, not in the audio field, and you can effectively make it do what you want and only what you want. No off the shelf ASIC would have satisfied the clients we had and FPGAs were the magic bullet. Chord Electronics exploits FPGAs to great effect. They are not the only ones though.
Linn only uses FPGA for its Digital Sound Processing (DSP) which includes Space Optimisation. It means I can arrange furniture in my odd shaped lounge in a domestically acceptable way without compromising musical enjoyment. Linn uses a DAC chip from Asahi Kasei Microsystem (AKM AK4497) with its own customisations at the heart of its x DAC, The combination of FPGA and customised AK4497 sounds great to me.
Some folk like traditional DAC chips and there are advocates of Non Oversampling DACs. I’m not one of those. I know many will say don’t worry about the technology, but my thoughts are, if implemented correctly, then FPGAs are a step or three or four steps forward. The best use of FPGA I have heard in hifi is the Chord MScaler followed by Linn Space Optimisation both have increased my listening pleasure.
I have only heard ND555 at a Naim demo so unfair to judge it on that alone, but I’m not looking to change from what I have.
I trust Naim to produce products that SOUND great. We all know by now (2019) that it takes more than putting a certain chip or two in a dac to get a great product. I don’t shop for hi fi by looking at a parts list. If people want to complain that the ND555 doesn’t have XXX chips inside, but have never heard an ND555, I really don’t care
The ND555 white paper explicitly states that the streamer is “perhaps the last commercial product to use this iconic device” . What is meant with “this iconic device” is the PCM1704s chip which, again from the white paper “was listed by Texas Instruments as NRND (not recommended for new design) as long ago as 2004 and about a decade later was discontinued”.
Thus, it seems very likely that the next iteration of Naim DACs will be based on other chips or perhaps on different technologies. I very much hope that, at this point, they are very much focused on bringing these technologies into new products because otherwise they would indeed be missing something.
Perhaps we will finally see an nDAC successor? If I am not mistaken, the nDAC was the device that first implemented the current technology, before this was ported to the V1 and to the streamers!
I couldn’t agree more Bart but… I was meaning could there be a development short coming, given the life cycle of Naim’s NDX range judging by the previous range.
By development I mean that sonically brands that use FPGA implementation will be able to develop more and create sonically superior products over time due to this main factor and scope for tailoring.
i heard recently the DCS Rossini. DCS is perhaps a leader in the market. Their dacs are very advanced, at the top of the competition, with MSB, Chord, …
However i prefer much more my nds. The DCS sound is impressive at the beginning, with big soundstage, lot of details, pin point imaging, very well separation of details…But i was not emotionally connected !
Remember that thar very cheap few euros/pounds dac chips does not make the sound (most of devices). FPGA is another way to do it, ladder DAC another. Better? Not always, more important is what happens before, clock, dsp, power and especially analogue part, that makes the difference.
Remember the FPGA is mostly about the reconstruction filtering and noise shaping, as opposed to the DAC chip, just with Naim the Analog Devises SHARC processor is about reconstruction filtering rather than the DAC chips themselves (PCM1704K). Further I believe Naim configure the DAC chips with their internal reconstruction filters disabled.
The ND555’s PCM1704k uses a balanced interleaved R-2R conversion whilst the Chord devices being discussed use a bespoke ‘Pulse Array Modulator’ converter.