Music Streaming - it's hard to find the right time

A confession.

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:

  1. Chord Qutest - dear me no. absolutely the worst timing dac we have heard. We prefer the DAC-V1. By far.

  2. Chord Qutest + M Scaler - a revelation. All together better than a bare Qutest and almost times right. A little uncouth but reasonable value.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. DCS Rossini with latest V2 firmware upgrade - less bad than the Bartok. Still late though. All the notes, massive detail and no music.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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…

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very interesting review and comments. I would not have thought that the rossini / u clock could be so good and better than the nd555.
The PRAT is also very good ?

i find the look of the rossini / clock better even than nd555 or Dave. If the sound is above both, as claims What Hifi too, it is better perhaps for me not to hurry on the nd555. I will try to listen to it.

The specs for the Rossini clock suggest 44.1 and 48 kHz - is it therefore less effective for higher sampling rate source material?

The ND555 is going to set you back £20k, perhaps you should go the extra few thousand for option 8 if it really ticks all the boxes for you?

Hi Alley Cat,
A very fair point re the sampling rate etc. We deliberately used ripped CDs as the source for comparison, as we have several thousand CDs and these would form the start point for our music library. We also have a Tidal subscription but mainly use that to sift through new music to decide which to buy. This usage pattern may well change with a top end streamer.

re relative costs, we have a Feb 2019, factory serviced and DRed 555PS, so the switch cost for the ND555 is somewhat less for us.

We also haven’t finished listening just yet…

Best regards, BF

Ah, if What Hifi says it is better then that must be the case :grin: (absolutely joking at this point!)
Yes, PRAT is fine for us, so long as it has that £5,500 external clock. I had a £170 Seiko watch that used to gain about 2 seconds each year. Perhaps DCS could use one of those instead and save a bit of cash…

Ah, didn’t realise you had the 555PS already!

Enjoy whichever you choose.

I gave not exact information, since i read my post. What hifi uses nds/555ps. He reviewed the rossini / u clock and found it the better digital streamer he could have reviewed.
The chord dave was also very well praised, but What hifi hasn’t really compared both.
The nd 555 was not reviewed to now.

I read a review by Michael Lavorgna, on audio stream. He enjoyed it very much. But just said: « the rossini / clock is more surefooted than enthusiastic « . It means not so involving ?

He is a big fan of the Totaldac R2R dacs. I think he has a Totaldac D1-seven, fronted by a DCS network bridge. That could be another interesting combination.

Best regards, BF

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Just sitting here listening through my humble ND5XS/nDAC.

Feet tapping away to the bouncy, finger-popping jazz of “Symbiosis”. Antonio Sanchez on un-lead weighted limbs behind his resonant kit, stunning with his usual frighteningly precise invention and technique…

Honestly, just before my eyes started to glaze over halfway down your list it occurred to me to wonder why you didn’t just start with a smaller budget and stick with NAIM from the beginning. It was always going to end up here. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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you have also the ch precision dac/ streamer.
For the rossini / clock, i read that the streaming part is inferior to its player ( cd ). Some prefer to add the dcs streaming bridge to the combo. It begins to really cost.

From what I have read,the USB input is not the best option for the Dave/Mscaler.Optical or BNC seem to be the way to go.

Good point Mike!:grin:

perhaps because the cds3/555ps is so good that it was difficult before to find an alternative in streaming…

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Indeed. The CDS3/555PS does set a high bar for a streamer to beat.

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Qutest is there but not TT2?

Sorry emrei. The goal has been to find a streaming system that will better the CDS3/555PS to these cloth ears, hence the posh streamers & dacs involved such as ND555.

The backstop would be to keep the CDS3, install a good server and network infrastructure, then use an inexpensive dac such as Qutest or Naim dac until the next generation of posh streamers & dacs arrives in a couple of years time. This was why we listened to the Qutest. The TT2 falls somewhere in between the two approaches, so we have not heard it, the Schiit Yggdrasil or the Holo Audio Spring 2 dacs, all of which are highly regarded.

Hope this helps, BF

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Bluesfan tested qutest, qutest/ mscaler, dave, dave/mscaler, nd555, dcs bartok, dcs puccini, puccini / clock. I doubt many members could have tested all this components the same day.

this was a great list, I am or was after your comment curious about Bartok :slight_smile: many tnx…

Hi emrei, what would you like to know about our impressions of the DCS Bartok?
We listened to it first on its own, then tried it again with the external clock added to it.

The bare Bartok presented a very smooth, refined and effortless version of each song. It was absolutely inoffensive. There was no harshness or tonal imbalance. It was just … civilised. However, the timing of bass lines was way off, much too slow. Without this timing accuracy, a song is just a bunch of notes to us. It is timing accuracy which turns notes into music. Without it, a song holds no interest to us.
If you wanted a high quality, civilised and smooth background music player for a hotel lobby, then the DCS Bartok would be perfect. It plays civilised tunes in the background, without ever distracting your attention by being engaging.

Having heard what the external clock did for the Rossini, we then wondered whether the external clock could be just as helpful with the Bartok.
Sadly not. The £5.5k external clock made all the difference to the Rossini for us. It made a small improvement on the Bartok but not enough to be worth the considerable on-cost. Basslines were it bit tighter, punchier and more clearly defined but it was only a small, incremental improvement.

Hope this helps, BF

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