Merging NADAC digital processor

28.06.2018..

Introduction

Always in search of absolute performance, I could not miss out on the Merging of NADAC, nowadays the most promising converter out in the market, with a unique past and a step ahead in the future. So I looked for and pressured Igor Fiorini, musician, producer, and manager for VDM Distribution, a brand representing Merging Technologies in Italy. As a result, thanks more to our chit-chat about music and audiophilia than the long list of commercial opportunities, we have this trail: the first online for the Italian market.

 

Merging Technologies, the manufacturer of NADAC, is the brand that has managed to impose a highly-popular professional standard, a genuine dedicated digital data transmission platform ideal for studios, radio stations, audio production houses, concert halls, symphonic and philharmonic orchestras and in general to all the pro operators who must acquire the sound directly from the source. You will find everything here: a great deal, I think!

 

The company was founded in Switzerland in 1990 by Claude Cellier, an electronic engineer who had worked for ten years in Nagra. His first products are already history: like the Pyramix Virtual Studio, one of the first to handle DSD resolution. The next DXD format - Digital eXtreme Definition, which works at 352.8kHz / 24bit, was developed by Merging together, for none other than Philips, to edit and burn with the DSD resolution and ultimately obtain the SACD. We can see clearly why we are now interested in Merging and its NADAC. To summarize, we are talking about the world's largest digital high-resolution expert, twenty years ahead of anyone else, as he has never abandoned the industry's development despite the SACD standard market outflow.

That high resolution is a necessity rather than a fairy tale, is also shown in the following image, which visually shows how our sensitivity for the analogic is justified and also how high resolution is a duty towards our ears.

 

DSD response


 

From left to right, response to the impulse of an analog system, a digital one at 48kHz, at 96kHz, at 192kHz, and of a DSD with Dirac impulse ("click") at -6bB and duration of 3μs - Source Merging Technologies


Design

As usual, I'm going to look for the hurdles ...this maybe comes as a consequence for loving too much the High-End. Let's start by saying that the NADAC is not a DAC or rather it is not a simple DAC. NADAC stands for Network Attached Digital to Analogue Converter, a DAC that can be connected to a network. Simply describing this tech is almost impossible, so many are its possibilities and combinable uses. To make it short, take a look at the gallery end-of-image pictures and see for yourself.

The NADAC is addressed to the High-End market concerning audio cards' derivation or equivalent pro Merging Technologies, like Horus or Hapi. It satisfies all the professional demands without being pretentious. It's bloody well made and of simple use. The proof can be found in the particular linkage of the NADAC, which is a start point for all products that did follow after it. Of course, you can get all the known digital standards in the NADAC: AES / EBU, S / PDIF Optical Toslink, S / PDIF coaxial ... But what distinguishes it, is its ability to work according to Ethernet protocol, which allows you to wire Cat5e cables or Cat6 even up to a hundred meters without the loss of any signal or even optical Ethernet, which can reach up to 3,000 meters, satisfying its older brother needs of professional destination.

Always speaking in simple terms, the hardware/software are together controlled by an interface, the Merging RAVENNA card, which works on the AES67 standard of the Audio Engineering Society with an RJ45 Ethernet connector. The card works from 44.1 up to 384kHz in PCM, DXD, DSD 64, DSD128, and DSD256 formats and connects from the computer using the ASIO standard on Windows and CoreAudio on Mac. RAVENNA, however, can completely replace anything if provided it with bit, because it works in asynchronous communication. The NADAC retrieves the digital data coming in a large buffer of memory, and its always him - not the computer or the digital reader - that checks the rate at which the data are sent to their DAC. Its precision is the heart of the whole project's success: the Precision Time Protocol allows it to clock resolution of one (1) nanosecond, 10-9,

one billionth of a second ...


Manufacture

To cut to the chase, the cabinet is built with satin-plated aluminum panels, heavy and thick, perfectly connected and angular, all finished with CNC machines. Up front, we find the switch shaped like the company logo - bright, which depending on the condition of the device it changes color; a high-resolution OLED display; two audio-jack and a mini-jack; and the volume controller which can also be used, if pressed, to select more options from the menù on the display.

True to its claim -"Audio of the Digital Age"- the NADAC has on its back all the digital connection possibilities - AES / EBU to XLR and S / PDIF connectors on coaxial RCA and Toslink optical connectors - which makes it available anywhere with the Ethernet, which allows it to be networked. Also available are the inputs for any clock and external power supply.

N.B. It deliberately misses the USB input, because it has the Ethernet one. In this way, Merging, instead of developing only a user-friendly connection like the USB one, does something even better, getting rides of the USB limits like the hardships on long wiring due to the attenuation of the signal, but also of the clock noise and the lack of networking.

we access the NADAC by loosening four large aluminum bolt screws, which will allow us to lift the top. Inside the RAVENNA card is the master but the engineering is so boosted that I'm sure the view will disappoint many of the audio friends. The DAC is the ESS Saber ES9008S Reference eight-channel chip, which merges into two to improve linearity, dynamic range, and lower background noise.

The site has a very clear and well-developed help and support section. Here are the FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions, the free NADAC app for smartphones and tablets, Windows or Macs, the drivers to install on your servers or PC, the manual in PDF, which you can download here, which will be regularly updated on the website.

 

Listening

Once loaded the necessary drivers on your computer and ensured that it reads the NADAC as an audio device, or once you have simply connected a CD player, you are ready to hear the music boosting out of your audio system. Waiting for power-up is normal: we call it DAC, but the NADAC is in every part a real computer, not a simple electric appliance, and therefore performs all its control routines.

Here we find out that versatility is one of the many strengths of this device. Long story short, without getting into boring details, imagine being able to do ... everything. In a nutshell, you can select a single input and direct it to a single output, changing and memorizing your volume preference, including headphones' jack. In this respect, NADAC is truly the modern pre-digital, leaving to the amplification of the mere role of signal booster. After him, you will only need an integrated amplifier with one input or even some speakers to sonorize your listening room.

NADAC is a multi-control device, so you can manage it from tablets, smartphones, PCs, music servers, music streamers and even ... from the front panel. We are spoiled for choice, with all this combination to pick from.

 

Merging Emotion

 

Keep in mind that Merging also has its own player, Emotion, available only on Windows, for now. Personally, I've tested, with the player Audirvana Plus on my Macs (PCM384 and DSD256), all sorts of files and their resolutions to the maximum possible extent. As for the highest resolutions, I had an interesting listening session directly at VDM Distribution, always thanks to the provision of M ° Fiorini: but this will be the subject for a next article. Not having tasted the NADAC other than on my system, the comparison converters were the usual: DiDiT DAC212 and M2Tech Young.

 

Some quick music reference, that we will later better analyze in the VDM Distribution, where we will be able to pick from the big collection of DSD file "native", form Single to Double and to the Quad.

On the tracks of the classic Absolute Sampler CD test - Quick On The Fly Tests, AA.VV, you see how the NADAC is able to squeeze out the most from the every audio tracks. In general, the device has instantly proven of being capable of revealing passages and details, which are perhaps slightly hidden with other less powerful machines.

Alfred Brendel, Mozart Piano Sonatas, SACDRIP, the keyboard runs with an unexpected fluency and precision, typical of the performer but difficult to manage without being too tiring, as sometimes happens.

Finally, an example for everyone on the DSD versions of great classics, A Trick Of The Tail, of the Genesis. Here the compression work is clearly audible, but although a DSD64, the NADAC picks up every details as if it was a vinyl and not a file.

 

The NADAC pushes the concept of neutrality to a higher level than what we are usually accustomed to. The company itself jokes on its website about the concept of "neutrality", in which Switzerland should have some expertise.

Soundstage, dynamic, timbre, transparency, image: all the parameters that I consider and formulate in my reviews, those you will also find in the final synthesis, are better than all my old references. Simply the benchmark is higher, so that with the NADAC, the difference between PCM and DSD files becomes touchable, in favor of the seconds. The "sharpness" of PCM files compared to the "smoothness" of DSD is all to hear. It's a bit like if the machine born to perform at their best the DSD files, highlighted the limits of the PCM instead. This are all metaphors, I'm pushing it to its extreme form, we get it ... However, the honesty of NADAC is totally disarming, it justifies the effort to enjoy high-resolution files or formats with the same devices that allowed their recording and burning.

 

 

Pro

Listen to the versatility of NADAC, you understand its rigor and you have appraised its value of comparison tool, like a Rosetta Stele for digital files. The device connects without hesitation, it's a classic "mule" as you might expect from the components addressed to a professional use, but it still has an accessible and intuitive user interface.

 

Con

"Trash in, trash out" said Ivor Tiefenbrun, about the importance of the source in the system, especially about his Linn Sondek LP12, born in 1972. Mutatis mutandis, if you are going to play MP3s at NADAC, well, it simply will not play them unless your player raises the sample. Its native resolution, as is clearly stated, begins with that of the Red Book PCM of 44.1kHz.

I'm also guessing that NADAC takes away many veils of music and Hi-fi "sound". Listen to it carefully before deciding to purchase it, you may also not like it if you are looking for something euphonic, with some hotness, and assorted options in the series, as long as you like the implant.

 A Modest proposal: why not provide the output stage of the only stereo model with one valves card? The target of the 2 channel is completely different from that of the 8, so why not even offer the possibility of a valve output stage for us "dummyphiles"? Deep inside we are harmless: then make available on the market a nice aftermarket DOC card.

 

Maybe

The NADAC does not upsampling or oversampling, simply it plays the file in the best way possible.

 

Quick metaphors and final recap

In the vocabulary of a Hi-Fi reviewer, a recurring metaphor is "end of games". In this way, the NADAC can be considered final, because it narrows the distance between the users and the true sound of the audio digital file, and put light on any tampering in recording, unattended editing, or emphasized recordings.

 

To whom it is addressed

If you want to reproduce the sound to its raw/original form in the comfort of your home, this tech is perfect. I think that sooner or later everybody should have a NADAC for theirs audio-system.

 

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

 

Timbre | frequency extension, faithful reproduction capacity of the instrument and its harmonics

Types of shooting, use of microphones, their position, mixing and board control damage: the differences are shown clearly with incredible fidelity.

 

Dynamic | micro (detail) and macro (absolute), extension and transients speed

Easy, relaxed, explosive without those "warnings", that sometimes applies to fine-dynamics-components, which seem almost to hold their breath until exploding in fortissimo. It only depends on the quality of the file. Compressed recording means compressed execution. With the best recordings, the dynamic streams fluidly not forced and without distortion, virtually unlimited, made better only by the audio system.

 

Image | environment, transparency, scene, sound plans, virtual stage, sense of presence, resolution
Transparency and presence: the best I ever heard in a digital component, without the note of "electricity" typical of certain digital interpretations and without that kind of "heat" of some of the best analog components, those considered samples of transparency in their sector.


Tone | general setting of the device, if present or characteristic: for example hot, cold, turned, amber, glossy, opaque ...

This parameter is irrelevant in this case, but I have to postpone any observations regarding the amplification stage.

 

Emotion | emotional engagement, highly dependent on pairing, the criteria are absolutely anarchic and personal

In my case, I find charming the possibility to listen to the original file the same way the sound engineer did, the same person that did acquire it, worked on it, its own creator.

 

Manufacture and packaging | Essential and effective: modular the first, double cardboard box and inner spacers the second. There is so much Switzerland in this apparent simplicity, which I see as simplifying complexity.

 

Price/quality ratio | For what it can do as a "sound clearing house", the performances are excellent, without comparison or competition. Whoever wants it must aim at this, and make it the center and pivot of his digital implant. It is a modern, indispensable and evolving reference, and as such, I would like it very much in my audio system.


 

Official technical specification


Outputs

Balanced Analog Output

  • Connector: gold-plated male XLR
  • Impedance: 40 ohms
  • Max output level: 18 dBu (6.1 Vrms)
  • Multichannel dynamic range: 124 dB(A)
  • Multichannel THD+N at 1kHz: -113 dB (0.00022 %)
  • Stereo dynamic range: 130 dB(A)
  • Stereo THD+N at 1kHz: -116 dB (0.00016 %)

Unbalanced Analog Output

  • Connector: gold-plated RCA jacks
  • Impedance: 20 Ohms
  • Max output level: 8.8 dBu (2.1 Vrms)
  • Multichannel dynamic range: 120 dB(A)
  • Multichannel THD+N at 1kHz: -113 dB (0.00022 %)
  • Stereo dynamic range: 123 dB(A)
  • Stereo THD+N at 1kHz: -114 dB (0.0002 %)

Headphone

  • Connector: 3.5mm jack + 6mm jack
  • Impedance: 40 Ohms
  • Max output level: 14.4 dBu (4.0 Vrms)
  • Dynamic range: 123 dB(A)
  • THD+N at 1kHz: -111 dB (0.00028 %)

Inputs

  • AES input
  • Connector: gold-plated female XLR
  • Input impedance: 110 Ohms
  • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz – 192 kHz

S/PDIF optical input

  • Connector: Toslink
  • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz – 96 kHz

S/PDIF coaxial input

  • Connector: gold-plated RCA jack
  • Input impedance: 75 Ohms
  • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz – 96 kHz

Network input

  • Connector: Neutrik EtherCon RJ45
  • Bitrate: 1 Gb/s (Gigabit Ethernet only)
  • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz – 384 kHz, DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256

WordClock input

  • Connector: BNC
  • Input impedance: 75 Ohms
  • Termination: 75 Ohms, software selectable
  • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz – 192 kHz   

Misc

  • Enclosure material: Premium machined and anodized aluminium
  • Dimension: 435 W x 435 D x 95 H mm
  • Weight: 11 kg
  • AC voltage: 100V-240V/47-63Hz (IEC socket)
  • DC voltage: 10V-14V (Hirose HR10A-7R-4S)
  • Power consumption: < 30W
  • Front panel display: OLED, 160x128 pixels, 16 bit colors

Official distributor Italy: to VDM Distribution website

Official current price in Italy: 9,995.00 EUR for the stereo model in trial, 11,130.00 EUR for the eight channels one

Associated equipment: to my audio system

 

 

RIGHT OF REPLY | MANUFACTURERS FEEDBACK


QUESTION | Giuseppe Castelli for ReMusic - What kind of amplification devices do you use in your NADAC?

ANSWER | Ing. Claude Cellier for Merging - The output stage of the NADAC is neither Class A, Class B or Class A/B but, after considerable time evaluating different topologies and designs during numerous listening tests with some of the best ears we know amongst our long standing professional customers, we selected what was universally considered to be delivering the most pure sound based and that is:
 
High-Performance, Fully-Differential AUDIO OPERATIONAL AMPLIFIERS
 
The OPA1632’s excellent gain bandwidth of 180MHz and very fast slew rate of 50V/ms produce exceptionally low distortion. Very low input noise of 1.3nV/√Hz further ensures maximum signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range. Finally this device boasts an ULTRA LOW DISTORTION of 0.000022%
It provides the highest audio quality, with very low noise and output drive characteristics optimized for this application (with a typical short-circuit current as high as 85 mA, so able to drive even the most demanding loads). Since we took that decision (now about already some 5 years ago), there hasn't been any feedback from any of our numerous professional customers (including those with the highest demands) that would have made us question this original decision, nor heard of any new devices that could offer better specs.

Q: What kind of electrical layout do you use in the final stage? (both balanced and unbalanced)
 
A: Layout of both Analog and Digital circuitry is probably the most critical aspect of any well designed Audio equipment. At Merging, we consider PCB layout as even more important (and time consuming) than the actual electronic design, since ultimately, in a product that will contain both High Speed Digital signals (some of these being in the range from 100 MHz to 1 GHz) and Analog signals whose levels may be as low as a few micro-volts (in Pianissimo situations) it is the quality of the PCB Layout that will ultimately drive the quality of the signals. Providing short signal traces, using essentially SMD (Surface Mount Components), taking care of Transmission line impedance continuity (for Digital signals), and extreme care in using as much as possible Balanced signal paths (both for Digital and Analog traces) is a minimal condition to guarantee as little interference (crosstalk) between all those signals. Spending weeks, if not months, in refining PCB layout for our electronic boards is where the final specs can be attained, of which the ultra-low inter-channel crosstalk figures that the NADAC exhibits (typically - 150 dB at 1 kHz, -145 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz) is just one of many examples.


05/11/2016



Peer to peer connection to computers, servers or music streamer - Just plug in a Cat5e or Cat6 cable and the NADAC will be seen as an audio device.
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Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Image courtesy Merging Technologies
The multichannel model, untested, stands out from the outside only by the crowding of the rear panel, as one could imagine. Image courtesy Merging Technologies
The multichannel model, untested, stands out from the outside only by the crowding of the rear panel, as one could imagine. Image courtesy Merging Technologies
Just to make comparisons, above the NADAC on the left you see the DiDiT DAC212 and on the right the Apple TV.
Just to make comparisons, above the NADAC on the left you see the DiDiT DAC212 and on the right the Apple TV.
The cabinet is immense for the amount of components present, I would say that there is room for the growth ...
The cabinet is immense for the amount of components present, I would say that there is room for the growth ...
From left to right and clockwise: the large RAVENNA green mainboard; the green printed circuit of the feeds; the small board at the top left for the headphones outputs; the red one of the multifunction / volume knob and the display; the red one placed behind the front, which deals with the lighting of the company logo; the power supply, shielded by an aluminum flange; the IEC tray and fuse holder; the large red DAC flat board, digital inputs, external clock and analog outputs and the green Ethernet connection board.
From left to right and clockwise: the large RAVENNA green mainboard; the green printed circuit of the feeds; the small board at the top left for the headphones outputs; the red one of the multifunction / volume knob and the display; the red one placed behind the front, which deals with the lighting of the company logo; the power supply, shielded by an aluminum flange; the IEC tray and fuse holder; the large red DAC flat board, digital inputs, external clock and analog outputs and the green Ethernet connection board.
The Ethernet Neutrik connector supplied with the Merging NADAC.
The Ethernet Neutrik connector supplied with the Merging NADAC.
by Giuseppe Castelli
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