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Neko Audio D100 Impressions

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Neko Audio D100 Impressions

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After being a speaker only guy for awhile I wanted to put together a headphone rig again for late night listening sessions. I had never sold my 650's so I had the headphone part covered and then I was fortunate enough to get a Dynahi at a fantastic price. Leaving the source as the only thing left to get, I knew I wanted a dac as I was planning to use the Squeezebox as the transport. I've heard quite a few dacs in the $1k price range over the years and none really ever satisfied me and some I flat out hated then I recalled reading this thread about a new transformer coupled dac. I've had very good experiences with transformer coupled gear in the past specifically sources so I figured I'd give it a try. Neko offers a 30-day money guarantee so I went ahead and ordered one.

It arrived two days later in a relatively small box but it was well padded by what looked like custom foam inserts. The box also contained the obligatory power cable and a little manual. Operation is pretty straight forward, it has two inputs (coax and toslink) which you can switch between using the front mounted switch. The rest of the front panel is pretty sparse, just the Neko Audio logo a power led and a lock led. Both led's are blue but they aren't blinding like you find on other gear. The power switch is located on the back along with the aforementioned digital inputs and the XLR's outs. One complaint about the chassis design, it's basically two parts the bottom and front/back panel and the top and side panels. Due to the lack of screws on the top panel there is a little bit of a gap that can be seen between the top and back/front panels.

From a functionality standpoint the D100 has always locked onto the signal from the Squeezebox immediately. It's worked flawlessly in that regard up to this point.

The D100 has a pretty simple layout and design, utilizing a WM8804 for digital input/receiver duties that then feeds a pair of PCM1794A's running in mono mode. After that it's a passive I/V stage passing the signal off to a pair of Jensen JT-11-EMCF transformers.

First Impressions

During my first listening sessions two things jumped out at me, first is how amazingly transparent the D100 is and second is its tonality. Far too many dacs in this price range impart their own sound signature or shine a light on one particular aspect. The benchmark dac-1 is the best example of this, every time I’ve heard it and with every recording the treble always has this glare/etch to it and it drives me nuts. I don’t want a piece of gear that’s trying to make me focus on a particular aspect of the music, anything that does that is taking away from my enjoyment of the music. The Neko D100 does it the right way, it doesn’t impart any obvious signature of its own and it does nothing to distract me from the music itself. I mentioned the D100 tonality as being the 2nd thing that jumped out at me and it did so for this reason, it sounds spot on. Woodwinds, strings, drums, guitars, flutes, etc all have the correct timbre and tonal balance.

Further Impressions

After about 10 days or so of listening I have a better feel for the Neko D100’s strengths and weaknesses which I’ll be breaking out in further detail below.

Strengths

  • Transparency – further listening has validated my initial thoughts, this is one remarkably transparent dac
  • Tonality – same as above, the more I listen the more I enjoy the tonality of this dac
  • Vocals – vocals are presented effortlessly and naturally, I really enjoy female vocals with this dac
  • Dynamics – it can be punchy as hell when needed and quiet as a mouse a second later
  • Imaging – very precise placement and good spacing between elements
  • Non-fatiguing – can listen to the D100 four hours on end, no listener fatigue at all

    Weaknesses

    • Softness – at the extreme ends of the spectrum (low bass/high treble) it is a little soft.
    • Soundstage cohesiveness – some gaps in the width of the stage (could just be the typical 650 soundstage though)
    • Low bass – loses some definition/punch at the very bottom of the frequency range
    • Conclusion

      The Neko Audio D100 is a winner, functionally it works flawlessly and sonically it meshes traits found in far more expensive sources with a very pleasing and enjoyable sound. I’ve had a ton of fun listening to it and as of now have no plans to return it. It’s a killer value and I’d take it over just about any other dac in the $1-2k price range.

      Note

      As I get more phones and get a chance to hear it in my speaker rig I'll add to these impressions and change anything as needed.

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Very cool. I know Wes is bringing it to CanJam, and I think with a Luxman P200 amp. I'll make time to give it a listen.

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Thanks for the impressions. Did you listen to any particular kind of music or just a little bit of everything? The DAC also fits quite well with your avatar.

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Little bit of everything really, my tastes are pretty varied.

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Glad the product stands up, as Wes's ad strategy also seems quite novel. I've run across the Neko Audio banner on just about every audio site I've visited in the last month or so and it seems like he's betting heavily -- if not exclusively -- on forum participation and exposure to build his brand. It'll be interesting to see how that works out.

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Thanks for taking the time to write up your impressions Todd. It does sound like a damn good value. Is the Dynahi a pretty transparent amp? I don't know how that amp sounds, and it will be interesting to hear your thoughts on the D100 through your speaker amp or any other headamp you have access to. Also, have you tried the Dynahi with the APL Denon? I'd be curious to know how it compares even though the price range is different.

On another note, it has been said before but why do these manufacturers keep using the same names for DACs and amps? Stello, Neko, Channel Islands, Cambridge, Genesis, etc. all have D100s or DA100s and I am sure there are others.

Edited by Voltron

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The Dynahi is about as transparent as they come, IMO it and the B22 are the top of the heap when it comes to solid state amps.

Haven't tried the APL Denon in the headphone rig yet but I might do that when I try the Neko out in the speaker rig.

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Thanks for posting your thoughts, tkam, and I'm very glad you're enjoying the D100. :)

Glad the product stands up, as Wes's ad strategy also seems quite novel. I've run across the Neko Audio banner on just about every audio site I've visited in the last month or so and it seems like he's betting heavily -- if not exclusively -- on forum participation and exposure to build his brand. It'll be interesting to see how that works out.

Actually my master plan is to inundate you with great reviews until you can't help yourself. ;) With respect to publications, Positive Feedback Online and TONEAudio Magazine have given rave reviews and I have more positive reviews in the pipeline.

The other side is to answer any questions you have about the D100. Thus my forum participation. I also spend a lot of time answering email. I'm a very technical person and so I like people to understand why the D100 is good.

On another note, it has been said before but why do these manufacturers keep using the same names for DACs and amps? Stello, Neko, Channel Islands, Cambridge, Genesis, etc. all have D100s or DA100s and I am sure there are others.

It's because I'm a geek. :P 100 lets me increment numbers like a versioning system and a D in front tells me it's a DAC. I thought about picking names from my cats. How about the Neko Audio Nami?

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Well glad to see that you will be at Can Jam Wes so I can give your DAC a listen. I hope the Luxman P200 is in the ballpark of the P100, if so that should be a really sweet match. Last I recall, you are in room Newport C table 7, the same room as Lavry, Donald North Audio, and Westone, some good company no doubt. I intend to stop by and perhaps a few others will as well.

Have you picked out the source for your system yet?

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Have you picked out the source for your system yet?

I'm bringing my MacBook which will let people listen with a wide variety of songs. I've already confirmed that the optical output doesn't have a noisy signal so that should work fine. I'm also going to have a Denon DVD player with both coaxial and optical outputs for anyone who brings a CD.

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Great to be able to read your review Todd as this DAC is one that I have been thinking about.

This is is definite CanJam gear list for me as I need a DAC for my Squeezebox Duet and the Benchmark DAC 1 and the Lavry DA10 that I have now are just not doing it for me and Dreadhead's review of the Weiss DAC 2 has me thinking I need to broaden my search as the Weiss was next on my list.

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dimitris, the reviews at PFO and TONEAudio are both with speakers instead of headphones.

A Tale of Two DACs ...the Bel Canto e.One Dac 3 and the Neko Audio D100

The Neko Audio D-100 DAC

There is also a review on the Neko Audio forum D100 vs Transporter DAC--MichaelHiFi also posted a less detailed version on the AV123 Forum but their forum has undergone some changes and I can't find it there anymore.

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Sounds like a nice DAC. It's interesting that the DAC has Jensen output transformers. As a coincidence I am using a Jensen Transformers "Isomax" box to convert my PS Audio Digital Link III XLR to RCA, for use in my Stax rig (while using the RCA out to feed my dynamic amp at the same time). I like the quality, and the sound.

If Neko comes out with something like the D200 and adds RCA out and USB input, then I would think about replacing my Apogee mini-DAC with one. While I like the mini-DAC I think it still may have just a little flavor of it's own vs the DL3.

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Strange question since I know you've sold your Opus 21 a long time ago, but how do you think this would do as a DAC vs. the Opus as a DAC? I'm not asking for anything exact obviously but just ballpark rough estimates.

I'm not happy with some aspects of the Opus, specifically grain, but I also don't use a conditioner and the grain may be caused by that - it could simply be AC noise?

Me = technically incompetent noob utterly confused :confused:

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Ups! Sorry i didnt notice. Thanks a lot!

Oh, sorry if I came across a little blunt. Didn't mean to. :)

As a coincidence I am using a Jensen Transformers "Isomax" box to convert my PS Audio Digital Link III XLR to RCA....

If Neko comes out with something like the D200 and adds RCA out and USB input, then I would think about replacing my Apogee mini-DAC with one.

The D100 supports RCA inputs on your pre-amp without the need for a converter like the Isomax. Since the D100 uses output transformers you can use XLR female to RCA male cables without affecting the signal quality.

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I'm not happy with some aspects of the Opus, specifically grain

If grain is your main concern then you should take a serious look at the Neko, it has zero grain which I'd attribute mostly to the transformer coupled output.

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If grain is your main concern then you should take a serious look at the Neko, it has zero grain which I'd attribute mostly to the transformer coupled output.

I was wondering if the transformers get hot or warm after a few hours of use?

Thanks

USG

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Well I've never left the top off with it running, so I can't tell you if the transformers directly get warm. But the case itself never even gets warm, stays cool no matter how long it's on.

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I was wondering if the transformers get hot or warm after a few hours of use?

I can only speak anecdotally from when I was designing the unit, but everything remained about room temperature to my touch: the chips, voltage regulator heat sinks, transformers. (Don't do this at home, kids.)

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Even on my speaker amp the output transformers don't seem to rise above ambient temps so I doubt the output trafos on a DAC would.

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