Relative quality of streaming 'transport' - isn't digital just digital?

As a transport the NDX2 /ND5XS2 or ND555 will be significantly technically superior than the NDS due to the new architecture and design which improves the transport capability. This transport was an area of significant investment and development by Naim and StreamUnlimited with the new products compared to the old.

Now what you may prefer sonically is indeed subjective… after all some prefer MP3 to WAV… so there is no one truth.

However I for one one found a worthwhile and enjoyable difference between the legacy transports and the new NP800 based transports into a separate DAC… specifically Chord DACs.

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Very interesting comparison, and this is true. I know quite a few youngsters do indeed prefer MP3 to WAV and mobile phones to some high-end stereo systems.

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I am not takling about buffering. If the digital-to-analogue conversion would start only after the data transfer has completed, there wouldn’t need to be any connection between source and DAC at replay time and hence no coupling and no interactions tout cout.

For sake of imagination, you can think of transferring the files to be played today and starting the actual replay tomorrow and after the connection between source and DAC has been shut down.

This already takes place, in practice, when you download Qobuz files on your mobile phone fro remote replay: think of the mobile phone as being the DAC and the wireless as being the connection to the source.

During remote replay this connection is (can be) closed and thus no interaction can affect the digital-to-analogue conversion.

It goes without saying that, in such a setup, the quality of the data transfer between local memory and DAC buffer would have an impact on the sound quality.

But this would be a DAC internal characteristic, independent of the quality of the source that has once brought the data (via SPDIF, USB, TCP/IP, no matter) to the DAC’s internal memory.

In this situation, one would just care about the quality of the DAC, not about the quality of a connection that would not exists at replay time. In this setup, a DAC would effectively be a memory player.

As long as data are transferred from a source to a DAC at replay time, there will be interactions between the streaming section of the DAC and the dac section of the DAC and these interactions will affect the sound quality.

Good DAC designs like the Naim ND555 or the Berkeley alpha DACs manage to reduce these interactions to a minimum. At this level, the quality of the source does indeed become less important than, for example, for the old Naim DAC that is relatively sensitive to the quality of its SPDIF feed.

But even the ND555 cannot completely avoid the interactions between the streaming section and the dac section. The only way to completely avoid such interactions is to shut down any connection to external sources at replay time.

For internet streaming, this already happens in mobile phones and could easily be implemented for DAC as well. But then, all one would need would be a good DAC and there would be no justification for manufacturers to sell sinful expensive transports, reclockers, USB interfaces, etc.

Well in which case the transport ceases to be the prime DAC transport, and so you would need a new transport stage for the DAC and the situation repeats.
A DAC needs at least one transport… ie function that serialises the data into a time synchronised stream of data to be sent for analogue conversion… and then there is the issue out of band coupling.
We have been talking bit streams but is equally valid for nibble, byte or word streams, via a serial link or a bus.

The Naim Core is certainly, among others, a transport as it converts digital sources (music files) to digital streams (SPDIF). But …

… it has been designed to act as a replacement for the UnitiServer and basically is a ripping station that runs a very limited and poorly supported UPnP server and a SPDIF player. That’s it.

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Hello - new here but looking at my first Naim component.

Current system: Sonos Connect > Arcam irDac > Densen DM-10 > Dynaudio Contour 1.3

Yes the source is weak - it’s a long story but I used to have a decent CD player until it broke…and still haven’t got around to getting something decent.

I’m considering three options - budget around £2,000 - £2,500

1a. Keep the Sonos and get a decent DAC:

  • Used Naim DAC
  • Chord Qutest
  • something else?

Pros - under budget
Cons - is the Sonos ‘good enough’?

1b. Change both the Sonos and the DAC

  • Same DAC as above
  • ‘better’ streamer?

Pros - gets a better streamer - why though?
Cons - cost / uses up full budget

2. One box solution

  • Naim ND5 XS 2
  • Mytek Brooklyn Bridge

Pros - eliminates interoperability issues between streamer and DAC
Cons - is the sound of the DAC in the ND5 XS 2 ‘better’ than a used Naim DAC or the Chord?

Of course I would need to listen, but auditioning a used Naim DAC will be difficult.

The big disadvantage of a one-box solution is that streaming technology changes very quickly, while I could get a good DAC and keep it for a number of years.

May I ask your thoughts, in terms of sound quality, on:

ND5 XS 2 vs (used) DAC vs Chord Qutest

(the latter two would be fed from Sonos or (if I really have to) a ‘better’ streamer.

Thank you in advance!
HariV

I based my selection on simplicity when I choose a streamer and went with a ND5 XS with a NAIT XS 2 into a pair of ProAc D2’s when I first bought. For me that brought a lot of value.

A few years latter the system evolved into a better streamer with a power supply as a source into a better integrated amp with a power supply feeding a better pair of speakers.

So my experience would be for you to choose the one box solution with the Naim ND5 XS 2.

Good luck with your decision and enjoy the journey…

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Not necessarily… you obviously need to have matching interfacing, such as SPDIF or USB. But as far as matching transports via a standardised interface… its no different to playing media that is not created and distributed by Naim Records…

As far as streamers and output variations, I asked Naim a couple of years back about producing a streamer with only digital out and no analogue out, and the answer is that it would not be economic… you would significantly impact your products market reach, and the incremental cost for adding the analogue output was relatively small.
Some people get concerned about so called redundancy, but that is no different to having the off board PSUs replacing the internal power supplies, or not using the digital out configuration mode, or not using front end inputs not relevant for you. It’s simply not economic sense to remove them and limit the appeal of the product. These are standardised products not bespoke unique engineered solutions for each customer’s requirements… they would cost an awful lot more with longer lead time’s if that was the case

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I am hoping that Chord comes out with a desktop version of the 2go/2yu, or a one piece solution to match my Mscaler/TT2.

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Hi @jmtennapel

To clarify, I do not have a Densen DAC, I have a Densen DM-10 integrated amplifier.

Apologies - I was trying to keep the “why buy an expensive streamer / digital is digital” thread separate from my whole buying advice thread - because the question wasn’t necessarily about my specific system.

Anyway - happy for the merge!

That’s an interesting point.

I presume you mean “and the incremental cost for adding the [DAC and] analogue output was relatively small.” It’s implied but I think it’s a significant point.

If the incremental cost of adding the DAC and analogue output stage is small, then I am curious as to how small. In a £2,400 component which contains both streaming transport and DAC, how much DAC are you getting?

I think it is generally accepted that loudspeaker and amplifier technology moves the slowest, DAC technology next and streaming technology the fastest. Therefore I can understand why people won’t want to spend money on a one-box solution if the streaming part of it will be obsolete in a few years time, whilst the DAC will remain relevant.

I am in the same quandary…

[quote=“Simon-in-Suffolk, post:33, topic:8277, full:true”]

I do not actually buy Naim’s argument. First, Naim justify the price of components like the ND555 by, among others, by stressing the efforts (and, thus, the costs) that go into isolating the different components (in particular the analogous part of the dac section) that coexist in their integrated streamers. In a network player with only digital outputs, these costs could be partly avoided. Second, Chord, Meridian, dCS, Primare and many, many other manufacturers develop and produce streamers with only digital outputs. If this would not pay off, they would not do it.

I frankly believe that Naim did not introduce so far a network player with only digital outputs mainly to push current owners of nDAC, NDS, NDX, etc. to buy a Naim streamer of the new generation.

This is a legitimate strategy but, given that the internal dac technology of ND5XS2, NDX2 and ND555 is more or less the same than that of ND5XS, NDX and NDS, one that borders rip-off.

Thus, if I was an owner of an ND5XS, a NDX or an nDAC or NDS, I would buy a Meridian 210 or a dCS Network Bridge rather than a new Naim streamer although here is nothing wrong with ND5XS2, NDX2 and ND555: they are good products and they are meaningfully priced.

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I’m not sure that there’s much disadvantage, if any, to the ND5 XS2 one box solution. It was precisely the concern that this is a relatively immature and evolving technology that led me to by the ND5 XS2 rather than the NDX2, as I was concerned with investing that much in a model that might prove outdated with the next model iteration. Since the streaming platform itself is common to all three streamers, I felt that I wasn’t giving up much if anything in that regard. If I felt the need, I would alway add an external DAC as a future upgrade.

Besides, the ND5 XS2 sounds great. Naim’s idea of entry level still sets a high bar.

So if I have understood this correctly, and if it is true, all three streamers have the same DACs as their previous models; but each streamer has an updated but identical streaming platform.

I genuinely don’t really know what to make of that. If all the additional work Naim put into the two more expensive units to justify the 221% / 563% increase in price but keep the streaming transport the same, then that flies in the face of the proponents of ‘better’ streamers for different price points…

I just don’t get it - why wouldn’t a unit costing £11,100 more than another one not have a ‘better’ streamer?

There are changes and new designs elsewhere in the products apart from the NP800 too, which is after all only a part of the streamer transport. The DACs themselves are a relatively minor, but obviously crucial part of the analogue output chain.
There were changes and new designs to reduce EM interference through new multilayer PCB design, introduction of LVDS, new design to improve clock stability, reduced interference coupling between functions, updated SHARC processors, improved internal digital decoupling, improved i2v converter, improved analogue output filter driver stage, improved control and automation, new and improved standby operating mode keeping crucial temp sensitive circuitry powered using standby SMPS … I am sure there are many more I can’t remember , Naim had a fascinating PowerPoint slide pack showing all the advancements and new designs in the new streamers…
Many of these redesigns affect both digital and analogue, and some only analogue.

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Surprised you remembered all these changes from that powerpoint Simon, a good day at HQ and a good outcome product wise.

Ahh… it betrays what I do for a living… :grinning:
Yes it was a cracking day… I really enjoyed it, especially meeting some of the characters on these web pages and at Naim.

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Yes, it was a very good day. It was interesting to hear about the design considerations for the new Network players from the main man himself, Steve Sells.

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