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M-DAC vs Naim Uniti vs T+A Receiver (The Start)

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shooter

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May 4, 2008
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Nice write up ESP. I'm not suprised the two are different, thats what i was sort of hoping :evil: , but to be totally different is a wonder. And i am suprised that the weight of the naim compared to the T+A is greater, must be in the transformer, which is good news from the Naim perspective as the a good power supply is crutial to making good sound.

So the Naim wins, cool but will Mrs ESP aprrove of the geekery within? Is there anything else out there to try what will do the same, i dont think there is. And there are the speakers, which tbh the ProAc's are very good and changing them to something similarly priced may change the sound but for a real improvment you would have to spend considerably more. What im getting to is the Naim and ProAc could be a happy mariage for years to come, unless you want to spend a bundle oc :grin:

Enjoy!
 

ESP2009

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Feb 16, 2009
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Hmmm, as far as Mrs ESP is concerned, (understandably if I'm honest) the playing of music should be quick and convenient, unimpeded by geekery. Therefore, if I am to get the music streamer into the house permanently I need to ensure these criteria are met.

Really speaking I was joking about the speakers. Honest. :shifty:
 

spockfish

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Jan 18, 2011
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ESP2009 said:
Hmmm, as far as Mrs ESP is concerned, (understandably if I'm honest) the playing of music should be quick and convenient, unimpeded by geekery. Therefore, if I am to get the music streamer into the house permanently I need to ensure these criteria are met.
As you're already have a Synology I suggest you have a look at the Squeezebox Touch. Quick and convenient is what the Squeezebox is all about...
 

ESP2009

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Feb 16, 2009
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spockfish said:
ESP2009 said:
Hmmm, as far as Mrs ESP is concerned, (understandably if I'm honest) the playing of music should be quick and convenient, unimpeded by geekery. Therefore, if I am to get the music streamer into the house permanently I need to ensure these criteria are met.
As you're already have a Synology I suggest you have a look at the Squeezebox Touch. Quick and convenient is what the Squeezebox is all about...
Oh, that's right, just throw another complication into the mix why don't you! :p

And are you suggesting this as an 'instead of' or 'as well as'? I suppose that if I were to save money with the original Naim (rather than those expensive T+A and Uniti 2 options) we could go 'His and Hers'. I could have the Naim and Mrs ESP could have the SBT. ;)
 

ESP2009

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Feb 16, 2009
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I did say that to be fair to the Audiolab M-DAc I would give it another listen.

Despite the part of me that hoped for a simple and straightforward answer to the way forward with my hi-fi odyssey, the £600 Audiolab M-DAC did not seem to be an answer. As previously stated, my Cambridge Dacmagic is doing a sterling job in the streaming from laptop and enhancing V+ box/Bluray sound departments. For me, the M-DAC was not really a sensible option for improving my listening experience in that arena. Yes, it might offer a boost in performance, but (in my case) £400 of difference? Nope.

So, yesterday I hooked it up to:

a) My laptop via USB to Shure SE530 earphones

b) My Primare CDP and amp

to see if it would enhance the sound that caressed my lugholes.

Sadly, I have to report that in both instances I wasn't blown away. Taking them in turn:

a) The M-DAC is a very expensive headphone amp/DAC when compared with the HRT Headstreamer. There are subtle changes. I would hazard that there is an improvement that rounds off the edges and conveys a more fullsome sound. It presents a full-bodied sound but delivers crisp and detailed highlights to balance the experience. Yet, this is by no means streets ahead of what I am already getting with the Headstreamer. I preferred the Optimal Spectrum filter to any other and found -27db about right for sensible listening. This is specifically the case with Shure SE530 in-ear 'phones.

b) With the Primares I honestly could not swear to any difference in performance. There may have been a change, but it was too subtle to grasp under normal listening conditions in the home. I used a premium coax cable from CDP to M-DAC and then bog-standard XLRs to amp. With or without the M-DAC, the Primare performance was pretty much the same as always: darned good.

If I had time and opportunity maybe I would try the M-DAC in the front room with the Marantz KI Sig CDP and amp, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen. So, from my perspective, I would simply say that yes, the Audiolab M-DAC is a quality piece of kit; solid build, nice sound and decent specs. But it could do with more features to make it a viable upgrade from what I already have. My path lies elsewhere.
 

ESP2009

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Feb 16, 2009
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I had an unexpected bonus yesterday evening: Mrs ESP had suddenly realised that she had a meeting to attend (hidden until yesterday by the paper clip she uses to mark the diary pages!) I found myself with a couple or so hours to while away. So, rather than do anything constructive and useful, I decided to play.

Out of exile in the front room came the Marantz CD63 Mk2 and PM66SE KI Signatures. Grasping the bull be the horns, I seized the opportunity to use the optical toslink cable (all 10m of it) I had purchased to link up the laptop (yes, the one without any digital outputs!) Before being consigned to its packaging for return to Music Matters, I connected up the Audiolab M-DAC and gave the impromptu setup a listen.

Very nice! Certainly that bit different from the presentation of the Uniti: more sense of space and delicacy. If more impact and presence is your bag, then the Uniti is your kit of choice. However, given that the combined cost of the two Marantz boxes with the Audiolab M-DAC is less than half that of the Naim Uniti, my opinion is that their performance is on a par – it just comes down to personal taste regarding how you want your music to sound and where it is stored.

Therefore, working backwards, I disconnected the M-DAC to see what the sound would lose without it. And, indeed, there was a distinct change. Whereas with the Primares, the M-DAC hardly had an appreciable effect, with the Marantz kit I became quickly aware of the boost it provided. Without the M-DAC the sound became, by comparison, thin and lacking in focus. As soon as the M-DAC was added to the equation, it seemed to act like an orchestra’s conductor: no matter how talented the performers, they need a single coordinator to bring out the best in them and that’s what the M-DAC was doing. It tightened up the sound, it enhanced details, it organised the soundstage. Impact was added to the sound whilst preserving clarity and musicality. The slight ‘fizz’ or sibilance at the top end was tamed and made crisper. Overall, a definite improvement. Take the M-DAC away and the experience is lessened.

But does the M-DAC provide value for money? Up stepped the Cambridge Dacmagic. Was there a difference? Yes, I believe there was. OK, so it was by no means an exhaustive listening session, but my initial impression was that, as often sensibly stated, diminishing returns do set in. Although I do like the M-DAC, I honestly don’t believe it goes far enough to beat the Dacmagic in terms of value for money. The Dacmagic did everything the M-DAC had done, but just not quite with the same degree of polish. But when you consider the price differential, the added extra that the M-DAC offers is not sufficient. That’s my experience and my opinion, for what it’s worth.

So, the M-DAC got packed away. The Dacmagic was put back in its usual place. I then turned to the Uniti – it has an onboard DAC. It has optical inputs. I hooked up the CD63 and fiddled around a little. The music began to flow once more. Hmmm, to be honest, I am not sure about the result. Thinking about it now, I think I would have to say that what the Naim Uniti does to the Marantz CD63 is change its character too much. Whilst the Dacmagic and M-DAC take what the Marantz has to offer and add polish, enhancing the sound, what the Naim does is stamp its own image on things. I don’t like that. Switching to the CDP module of the Uniti reinforces that opinion: the Naim Uniti sound is great, but it is different from that of the Marantz. Put them together and, to my ears, you get a hybrid that doesn’t quite work.

And that’s it. Playtime was pretty much over. All on-loan kit was packaged up, ready for return. A quick system check to ensure the status quo was re-established, and then it was time to be sociable…until the next time.
 

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