We have been dabbling in top end music streaming, auditioning various combinations of equipment to feed into the 52/135/ART Alnico speakers. In essence, we are trying to find a successor to the CDS3/555PSDR. And it is proving to be educational, insightful and slightly surprising.
We already have a streaming system - the NAS to 2011 mac mini running itunes + Bitperfect app to DAC-V1, NAP140 and PMC DB1i speakers. This is not a top end system. Nor is it an analytical system. It is far too musical, joyful and groovelicious for intellectual analysis. It just boogies and we adore it.
So we step it up a notch or two for the living room system.
For the auditions so far, the server has been one of the top 2 Melco servers (the £5k hard drive and £7k SSD ones) with top end Audioquest and/or Chord ethernet & USB cables. The rest of the system has typically been 552DR, 500DR and Wilson Saha DAW or Wilson Sabrina or Focal Sopra 3 speakers, all connected up with Naim Super Lumina analogue wires.
It is proving damnably difficult to find a streamer/dac that can actually time properly. In most cases, bass lines and drums can be 1/8 of a beat behind the rest of the music. Drummers frequently sound as though someone has strapped lead weights to their forearms to such an extent that they can barely lift their arms to play the drums at all.
A brief summary of our impressions to date with various streamers & dacs, all of which are apparently world conqueringly brilliant, at least according to their awards and magazine/on-line reviews:
Chord Qutest - dear me no. absolutely the worst timing dac we have heard. We prefer the DAC-V1. By far.
Chord Qutest + M Scaler - a revelation. All together better than a bare Qutest and almost times right. A little uncouth but reasonable value.
Chord DAVE - better still, timing almost there but not quite. Richer, fuller and more satisfying to enjoy than Qutest + M Scaler. You can hear where the extra money has gone. A bit artifical sounding and analytical for our taste.
DCS Bartok - the brand new all conquering £10k streamer. Absolutely not. Couldn’t keep time, even with £5,500 of external clock strapped to its front. Inoffensive and cultured would be a kinder summary.
DCS Rossini with latest V2 firmware upgrade - less bad than the Bartok. Still late though. All the notes, massive detail and no music.
Naim ND555 with 1 555PSDR - at last, a streamer than can tell the time and maintain a rythmn. This one can carry a tune and make it sound like music.
Chord DAVE + M Scaler - Oh, that’s a lot better. Seems to handle the leading edge of transients better than the ND555. Resolution and sense of scale betters the ND555. Imaging, sense of life and vitality in the music both better the ND555
DCS Rossini + external clock. Damn but that sounds good. So it takes £5.5k of clock to get the Rossini to tell the time. This combination takes everything that the ND555, Chord Dave & M Scaler do well and equals or betters the best elements of them. The first streaming front end that sounds to us like pure music rather than great hifi. Like being in a place rather than seeing an excellent photograph of the place. But it costs £22k in the UK.
Our two just about affordable favourites are the ND555 and Chord Dave + M Scaler. Both have the right time. The Chord combo wins on resolution and imaging. The ND555 presents a more coherent, all together sense of the whole tune being played and it less analytical. Both are excellent hifi sources to us.
Each of us has a different system and we all hear music differently, so your preferences may be materially different to ours. As there are so few opportunities to make or hear about such comparisons, we thought we’d share our impressions to date.
The journey continues…