Canada Loaner Program

General discussion of the D100 24-bit Stereo DAC.

Re: Canada Loaner Program

Postby Pneumonic on Wed Dec 30, 2009 7:45 pm

To start I would like to thank Wesley Miaw for allowing me to participate in the Neko Audio D100 DAC audition done through Canuck Audio Mart. Otherwise I would very likely never have been afforded the opportunity to listen to this great piece of gear. Hopefully other manufacturers of audio gear will offer up similar auditions in the future.

I won’t bother reviewing the technical design merits and build quality aspects of the Neko D100 as they are well known and previously described elsewhere. The unit I auditioned was the $1295 D100 (not the Mk2 version which apparently has a higher gain output and which might be preferable to some as this unit is quite low in the gain department)

I set the Neko up in my main rig and compared it to my Universal Audio 2192 and my Metric Halo ULN2 (used in standalone mode). Music was served from my dedicated computer via Squeeze server 7.4.1 to my Squeezebox Transporter which acted as the DAC’s transport in all tests.

All files were encoded in redbook FLAC format and noted below. I didn’t bother testing DAC performance with poorly recorded music (ie classic rock) since I tend not to use my main rig to listen too such material.

Gear used was all the same and noted below.

All sources were level matched by sending a 3K test tone from each device and measuring the voltage at the speaker terminals.

I listened to the Neko first. My initial impression was very favourable. Very analogue sounding was my first reaction. Smooth and polite are two adjectives that best describe the sound of the Neko. Musical and involving would be others. Female vocals shone though and were very engaging with little harshness or stridency. The 2nd chorus on “When I Dream” was one of those goosebump moments as Carol Kidd was actually there, in front of me, to touch. The realism of plucked guitar instruments was there in all of its glory. The Neko resolved “Keith Don’t Go” track very impressively with nary a concern for aggressiveness as is often times the case on this track with lesser units. More complicated music (Le Cid) was performed without serious fault though if I had any complaint it was that the Neko might not be the greatest in terms of either frequency extreme. This seems to be the trade-off for the polite and non aggressive sound. But for many people this may well be the lesser of two evils I suspect. A smaller complaint of mine has to do with what I consider a restricted and shrunken soundstage and image produced by the Neko.

Compared to the Metric Halo ULN-2 the Neko is the more analogue sounding unit. It’s less aggressive sounding and renders music in a polite way but, seemingly, at the expense of frequency extension up top and below. I found the Metric Halo preferable with lower frequency resolution. Beeftink’s “Improvisation” had more impact and immediacy played back through the Metric Halo than the Neko for example. Both units will have their fans depending on what they deem most important to their musical experience. The digital fans will probably prefer the Metric Halo while the analog fans will likely prefer the Neko.

Comparing the Universal Audio 2192 to the Neko was much more difficult as they don’t differ much in sound. Both tend towards the softer side but the UA might be a tad bit better in the lower registers than the Neko. Sorry, not much of a difference to justify much of a writeup comparison.

In summary, the Neko D100 is an excellent DAC for anyone who prefers their music to be presented on the warmer side of neutral and who doesn’t mind if they don’t get the last few hertz extension on either side of the frequency spectrum. At this caliber of DAC the choices are many and really amount to what the listener prefers more than anything. I think at the price point of under $1500 the Neko D100 is a bargain and should be on anyone’s must listen too list.

I extend my congrats to Wes for producing and offering such a glorious sounding DAC for so little $.

- Kerry


Music

It`s Just The Motion - Clair Marlo
Poinciana - Shelly Manne
When I Dream - Carol Kidd
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Barb Jungr
Let's Go Get Stoned - Carmen Gomes
Ballad Of The Runaway Horse - Rob Wasserman & Jennifer Warnes
Keith Don't Go – Nils Lofgren
The Great Soul – Migraine
The Blower's Daughter - Damien Rice
We're All One (Unplugged) - Boz Scaggs
Don't Let Your Right Hand Know - Sonny Boy Williamson
Bring It On Home To Me - Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
Just Like A Bird Without A Feather - R.L. Burnside
Johnny & the Devil - Hans Theessink
Ask Me Now - McCoy Tyner & Joe Henderson
Body And Soul - Beets Brothers
Viola Fora De Moda - Ana Caram
Improvisation - Bernard Beeftink
Poem of Chinese Drums - Yim Hok Man
This Is Tomorrow - Ed Mann
Way Down Deep - Jennifer Warnes
Catapult - R.E.M
Lay Your Hands on Me - Peter Gabriel
The Moon Represents My Heart - Jeremy Monteiro & His Orchestra
Blues Stay Away from Me - Jorma Kaukonen
'Le Cid' Ballet Music - Birmingham Symphony of England

Gear

Martin Logan CLS IIa speakers on Arcici stands
Quicksilver Silver 90 Mono Power Amps
Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 Pre amp
Slim Devices Transporter
Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C speaker cable
Cardas Golden Cross IC
Cardas Lightning 15 digital cable
Aurora power cords
Pneumonic
 
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Re: Canada Loaner Program

Postby dbdog on Tue Feb 09, 2010 7:18 pm

Beware: long review of the D100 follows

I had two weeks to review the Neko D100. I also had the opportunity to compare it head to head with a Bryston BDA-1 ($1995).

Equipment
All my music is on my computer which connects to the DAC’s using a SPDIF 75 ohm Coax cable. From there I use balanced XLR to my Bryston BP-25P solid state preamp. I go balanced XLR out to my Bryston 4B-SST solid state amp to drive Sound Dynamics 300TI speakers. All music was lossless (flac), some redbook and others higher resolution (24/96).

The DAC’s were then simply swapped in and out repeatedly. I will say out of the gate how unfair I feel this review is. After all I’m using all Bryston gear designed to be used together. The synergy is noticeable. Inserting the Neko into this system is a tough test at best.

Important note: while the Sound Dynamics 300TI are fine speakers (http://www.audiocircuit.com/index.php?c=SPZ&m=300-TI) I have since discovered that they are not the most revealing speakers out there. You see, I was also shopping for new speakers when I was auditioning the D100. I have since received them (Thiel 3.6’s) and it is now clear to me what revealing speakers …well… reveal. So the context for this review is a fairly high quality solid state system pushing speakers with I’d say above average but not cutting edge resolution.

Music
I listen to a very wide range including mostly folk, funk, rock, and jazz.

Operation
Operating the D100 could not be simpler. Feed it a digital input via RCA at whatever resolution you wish and it plays it. It also sports an optical input which I didn’t try. The Bryston on the other hand has more features and controls (upsampling, tons of input options). For me I only needed SPDIF and I left upsampling on on the Bryston since that is what most reviewers recommend.

The Neko’s output is very quiet compared to the Bryston. This is likely due to its passive output stage. I've read that there is a higher output version of the Neko DAC available but I tried the low output one. This meant that I needed to turn the preamp volume up about twice as high for the same volume output. This may be a strong point for the Neko in some systems. Many preamps sound better (more dynamic, more open sound stage, higher S/N ratio, etc) the more you open up the volume control.

Sound
Here it is straight up – both DAC’s sounded fabulous. I’ll dispense of the typical objectives used to describe high end sound. I’ve been an audiophile for 30 years and I’ve long since tired of those words. Good sound is all those typical words and none of the bad ones. For me it comes down to this – do I enjoy the sound of the music it makes? The answer is an absolute yes. It sounds like music to my ears.

The differences between the sound of the two was subtle in my system. This is a big compliment to the Neko since it sells for far less and the Bryston is being reviewed very positively all over (The Absolute Sound Golden Ear award 2009). I wanted to preface the comments below with that because I’m reaching to find any significant differences between the sound of the two.

Here are the subtle differences. Right away, I noticed how nice the Neko sounded on acoustic material. It had a relaxed and analog like sound on acoustic guitar which was seductive. The Bryson was no slouch in this area but I give the nod to the Neko on acoustic material. For me this was the Neko’s most endearing quality. If I listened primarily to acoustic material the decision between the two would be easy.

The relaxed sound of the Neko did come at the expense of some snappy dynamics compared to the Bryston. Rock and funk in particular were a touch less rhythmic and driving out of the Neko though this was likely only noticeable in direct comparisons. I’m sure I’d forget all about it a few hours after I stopped switching back and forth. That said however, after my comparison, if I listened primarily to music in which dynamics was a key element (Rock, Dance, Funk, Hip Hop) I’d lean towards the Bryston.

The bass was slightly more prominent out of the Neko. Both had all kinds of extension however the Neko seems more slightly more bass rich than the Bryston. I won’t pretend to know if that meant that the bass was tipped up on the Neko or down on the Bryston. All I can say is that if I felt that my system needed a little more sauce in the bass department I’d choose the Neko. Don’t ask me about bass tightness – I think that’s more to do with the amp/speaker combo than anything.

That it! Try as I did I could not find any other reproducible and consistent differences between the sound of the two. Here is what I don’t know though – what differences would I have noticed with very revealing speakers? I’ll likely never know since the Thiel’s arrived a few weeks after the D100 left. The take away message here is that if I was sticking with my old speakers it would be very hard to justify spending more than the price of the Neko D100 to perhaps extract sound qualities that I’d never hear at worst or wouldn’t miss outside of the A/B tests at best.

My personal bottom line
So which one would I buy: Bryston BDA-1 or Neko D100? For my system as it currently stands I’d buy the Bryston BDA-1 for a couple or reasons.
1. It has a wider range of connection options and I can see myself wanting to try either a BNC or AES/EBU connection when I upgrade my computer since these are reportedly better than RCA (I’ve never tried them so don’t know).
2. It’s output is much louder which as mentioned above could be a drawback in some systems. My new speakers are very inefficient and therefore I need to open up my volume control considerably to drive them to acceptable levels. Combined with a lower output DAC I’d be afraid that I might not have the headroom to get the best out of my preamp. Furthermore the headphone preamp on the Bryston BP25 is very low level and I need to crank it to 1 or 2 o’clock even with the Bryson DAC. With the Neko it might not be enough. I can't comment on the higher output version of the Neko DAC. It sounds like it might nullify this concern.

You’ll notice that none of my reasons mentioned the sound quality since I don’t feel that the difference was significant enough.

Conclusion
Many audiophiles would choose the Neko D100 after A/B comparison with the Bryston BDA-1 since the sound was so close in my system, the price is much better, and my objections (limited connection options and low output volume) might not be a problem for their systems.

Footnote
I’ve made reference to the high resolution of my new speakers (Thiel 3.6’s) compared to the Sound Dynamics 300TI’s. I just wanted to add a word of caution on resolution. High resolution systems make everything sound clearer – even the bad stuff. Lots of recordings sound better with the rough edges removed or not revealed. The same goes for any weaknesses in the system. Throw in a less capable component and high resolution speakers will throw it in your face. The majority of speakers have some colorations (often a boost to the bass to simulate bass slam, a boost to lower midrange to warm up vocals etc, and often a roll off of treble to mask high frequency glare and edginess etc associated with digital sources). The roll off in the treble in particular masks a ton of detail.

On nice sounding recordings through high end systems, hearing all the detail is great and I wouldn’t want a thing to be masked. On less well produced recordings or poorer equipment, I’d rather it be strategically masked. In the quest for audiophile nirvana you will come up against this decision if you haven’t already. There is no right or wrong answer. There’s nothing you can do about bad recordings other than stop playing them. The search for fine equipment is something you can solve with time and money.

Many thanks to Neko for their loaner program. It is an example for other companies who are confident in the quality of their products.

All the best wishes,
dbdog
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Re: Canada Loaner Program

Postby tvc415 on Mon Oct 04, 2010 3:04 pm

Hi

I was wondering whether the Canada Loaner Program is still going. I have read a lot about the D100 and am eager to hear it. I am in the Vancouver area.

Regards,
Mike
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Re: Canada Loaner Program

Postby NekoAudio on Tue Oct 05, 2010 1:09 am

The current program is closed. If enough people sign up then I will open a second round. Sorry about that, but shipping internationally is fairly expensive. If a second round opens up, you would be the first to receive the loaner unit. ;)
Wes Miaw, Neko Audio LLC
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