Neko Audio D100 MkII review

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awe-d-o-file

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Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« on: 21 Feb 2010, 01:26 am »
Model:    D 100 MkII
Category:    DAC Processors
Suggested Retail Price:    $1395.00
Description: Upsampling DAC w/ coaxial and optical inputs



    If you go to Neko Audios website you can sign up to audition their D100 MkII DAC. Yep there's a list and you just get in line and you receive it free and get to try it in your system. So don't trust me, try it yourself.

    I had a Musical Fidelity Trivista for over 6 1/2 years before the Philips transport gave out as many or most did. There are no replacements. Since then I have been looking to upgrade my digital rig. I tried a Cary 306 SACD before my Trivista died thinking buy this and sell your Trivista while it still works. Man that thing just didn't do it for me. The SACD playback was like my Trivista but the redbook was harsh and edgy. I couldn't take it. That surprised me from a piece of Cary gear.

    I tried a friends Meridian (can't remember which one) and that was too sterile and not to my liking, too much HF. I actually prefer the Sherwood an AA member gave me over all of them. It is quite modded with ps mods, internal tweaks and I bypassed all the crap before the primary to the transformer and use my P-300 as the on/off switch.

    OK, that was a brief recent history: the Neko now arrives. I have a concern that the Neko, a passive DAC, will not have enough output to work in my system that has a passive linestage. No problem! I noticed no difference there. Bear in mind the loaner unit is the Mk II with 6db higher output than the standard D100. I used a $140 retail Vampire digital cable and the XLR to RCA cables supplied by Wes at Neko Audio.

    Listening right away proved to be a pretty big shock. Never have I heard a digital rig anywhere reproduce HF as well. It was a very vinyl-like experience but w/o the phono stage and surface noise. And this thing with its passive design is dead quiet.

    Every area of music quality improved. Bass, which was another concern with a passive DAC and passive linestage was actually better. The image improved by getting both wider and bigger from front to back. Like I said there was no area this thing was not superior in every area of playback you would rate.

    Finally after several days decided that it was a calmer presentation yet it retained all the dynamics of the original recordings. I think it just does a better job of reducing digital crap. This also surprised me a bit as I would rather have a DAC that uses a native sampling rate or a multiple thereof.

    Anyway you owe it to yourself to try this unit, it is really something. And of course you have nothing to lose except a little return shipping money.


    ET




Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier:    CJ MF2500A, 2100
Preamplifier: Placette Passive
Sources (CDP): Sherwood CD 980 as transport
Speakers:    Magnepan MG-1, Polk SDA SRS 1.2TL
Cables/Interconnects:    Speltz and Richard Gray for power
Music Used (Genre/Selections):    jazz,world,fusion
Room Size (LxWxH):    14 x 30 x 12.5
Room Comments/Treatments:    plenty
Time Period/Length of Audition:    2 weeks
Other (Power Conditioner etc.):    PS Audio P-300, Richard Gray 600
Type of Audition/Review:    Home Audition


Recordings:


Mino Cinelu S/T on Blue Thumb
Zap Mama A Ma Zone on Luaka Bop
Charlie Byrd S/T the Crystal Clear D2D made from the master laquer not a tape like the Sheffiields
Steely Dan Two Against Nature
Nina Hagen Definitive Collection
Robert Miles Organik
Big Brother  Cheap Thrills
Marc Johnsons Bass Desires S/T
Terje Rypdal Waves
Jack DeJohnette New Directions Live in Europe
Miles In a Silent Way
 

TheChairGuy

Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #1 on: 16 Jul 2011, 03:51 am »
I went to the NorCal Audio Show today.....it was okay; indeed, I'm a bit tired so today was not the best day to hear a lot of music and be critical.

One standout for me was the Neko Audio room.  I've been of the opinion that digital has limitation versus vinyl overall....this DAC blurs the digital disadvantage distinction I've held for years.

The Neko Audio room was paired with BIG speakers from Chapman (T-8's, I believe).  That tends to be the worst thing you can do at these shows - stuffing WAY too large speakers in pint sized rooms.  No matter what you do with bass traps, towels and drapes - it's simply too small a room to handle the bass.

Despite this, that room sounded dang fine.  So many unknowns in systems and rooms you're not acquainted with...but some part of that fine sound I heard almost has to have been the Neko Audio DAC there.

Kudos.  I might have to make my first audio purchase in quite a while now  :thumb:

John

rajacat

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #2 on: 16 Jul 2011, 04:34 am »
Hey John,

I never thought you'd say that digital is closing the gap. :o Not high def. to boot. :)

-Roy

TheChairGuy

Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #3 on: 17 Jul 2011, 12:45 pm »
Hey John,

I never thought you'd say that digital is closing the gap. :o Not high def. to boot. :)

-Roy

Hey RajaRoy,

Actually, I've been saying for the past 2-3 years that digital has gotten absurdly good for exceedingly small prices...in that way it's been closing the gap for a while.  I haven't heard a truly un-listenable digital player that's been made in the past 5 years.  That's a lot more progress than I ever would've thought.

I don't have my vinyl set up (preferred is a non-suspended deck with good feedback rejection and a Grado cartridge tweeked with nude style and better tracking using either van Alstine Longhorn and/or longer-than-9" arm) to listen to the Neko Audio DAC side-by-side...but, I have to say my 10 minute visit in the Neko room gave me some of the same tingly feelings I get with vinyl.  Maybe it was some other excellent matching of components going on, but I'm pretty sure the more natural, unrestrained and good imaging I was hearing was in some way due to the DAC.

I think they used a tube preamp / SS (biggie Parasound) amps....but, the only other times I've enjoyed digital at these shows tends to be when GOBS of tubes are used to cover it's vices up.  This room didn't seem to need it. Unique alone in that regard.

Consider also that while digital has improved...me, you and them have gotten older.  Digital likes demographics like that.  No matter what we all do to have healthy lives - our hearing in in decline - especially that of high frequencies.  It's precisely there that I've always found vinyl to be superior to digital....to a point where I have to question (a bit) whether it's digital that has improved the past few years or my hearing has declined so much that it's now good enough :thumb:

I don't think it's declined that much - and that digital has improved as much as I believe it has - as well, among DAC's heard in any price point that I can think of myself participating, the Neko Audio was a standout among the many.

There was about 40 rooms at this show (I probably hit 30) - quite a few had vinyl (which tends to equip itself to small spaces better at these shows), but the majority had digital and most of those seemed to be computer audio.  So, I probably had 20 rooms to notice the inadequacy of most of the digital front ends....but, the Neko Audio room was decidedly different and better sounding.

Should I decide that $1500 of my finite funds are best spent on a Neko Audio D100 Mk. II DAC and put it side-by-side with my VPI Classic / Grado Gold1 (modded)....I'll try to add to my thoughts in this post  8)

rajacat

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #4 on: 18 Jul 2011, 04:34 am »
Yes, there's  a multitude of new DACs being offered recently. I've toyed with upgrading my present DAC but new speakers are a higher priority presently. As it stands now, my digital rig is better then my modest vinyl setup probably because of the sub standard cart. We do have a nice vinyl shop in town but it's very long on rock but short on jazz so my selection is limited. I've also had a number of purchases where the LP looked good cosmetically but sucked when played. I suppose I should make an investment in a RCM but when looking at the long term a new DAC  is probably the better investment for me. My CD collection dwarfs my selection of LPs. In addition, I've become enamored with computer based audio. I suspect I'd have to blow a couple of grand  before I'd be satisfied with LPs.

Charles Calkins

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #5 on: 18 Jul 2011, 05:19 am »
 I had the Neko room guy play my CD without using the DAC. Just the first track. Then he hooked up the DAC to the CD player and played the CD first track again. Tune easily sounded much better played through the DAC.

                                              Cheers
                                              Charlie

Russtafarian

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #6 on: 18 Jul 2011, 05:37 pm »
I visited the Chapman room Friday and Saturday, having struck up a friendship with designer Stuart Jones at the Newport show.  The smaller speaker they set up on Saturday worked better in the room, but aside from 50hz bass overload with the bigger speaker, it sounded very nice both days.

I talked to the Neko guy about his DAC design because he's doing something I've been doing for years: transformer-coupling the DACs output.  We compared notes: he uses Jensen transformers, I use Lundahl.  He uses tantalum filter caps, I use Wima film.  He's building an outboard DAC while I mod inexpensive universal players (presently an Onkyo).  And he's getting the same clean, smooth, resolute sound out of digital that I get at home.

Provided you have an easy system to drive or can feed the output into a good buffer stage, transformer-coupled DACs can really sound magical.  Good job Neko!

Russ


NekoAudio

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #7 on: 2 Aug 2011, 10:07 pm »
Just found out this thread got updated. :)

I'm also someone who has found the distortion and noise added by digital systems undesirable. And as TheChairGuy mentioned, a lot of times people think they have bright speakers or need some tubes to eliminate fatiguing treble or extra room treatments to deal with bloated bass. But the truth is their digital gear (which may have extremely good standard measurements) is the problem, and a DAC that measures extremely well while reproducing complex music is the solution.

The D100 Mk2 will work great with an load of 10kohm or higher; there are many who are using it with passive pre-amps.

TheChairGuy

Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #8 on: 3 Aug 2011, 12:23 am »
Nice work, Wes....come September you may be hearing from me :wink:

John

NekoAudio

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #9 on: 4 Aug 2011, 02:24 am »
Nice work, Wes....come September you may be hearing from me :wink:

Thanks. Looking forward to it. :) If you have any questions in the meantime ask away.

rollo

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #10 on: 12 Mar 2012, 11:53 pm »
 Well we had the opportunity to hear the DAC at our recent Audiosyndrome club meeting. The general consensus was analog like smooth yet detailed. A rare combo in any component. No matter what program material was thrown at the Neko it responded accordingly. When we played rock it was dynamic enough to appreciate the artist. Same for small Jazz and vocals, which were heart melting. If ya like bass no disappointment here, play those Organ recordings pour a glass of wine get the Captain Nemo hat and enjoy.
   If one is considering a DAC under $1500 jump im hook line and sinker, it is that good. Not a dealer for Neko.



charles

golfugh

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #11 on: 12 Mar 2012, 11:55 pm »
Looking forward to my time with the II.
Mark

mfsoa

Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #12 on: 13 Mar 2012, 12:28 am »
Thanks to Charles we also heard it, all too briefly, at another GTG last month and it certainly did all the things he said it did.

Very nice indeed.

-Mike

dflee

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #13 on: 10 May 2012, 02:00 am »
Just heard that I will be getting the loaner next and am looking forward to checking it out. Don't have the best of gear but do enjoy what I've got. Using the Musical Fidelity X DAC V3 with X10 V3 presently and am looking forward to see if the MKII is worth the difference.

Later
Don
« Last Edit: 3 Jun 2012, 03:18 am by dflee »

dflee

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Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #14 on: 7 Jun 2012, 06:22 pm »
My take on the MKII:
First I'd like to thank Wesley for letting me stick his DAC into my equipment chain.
I save dimes. You can get $1000 dollars worth in a single gallon container. I have never made it to half full before using it for either my wife's birthday or Christmas but now it's got a different motive. The D100 MKII has demonstrated to me how wonderful my system can really be. One thing I noticed in-particular was that during low volume listening I was able to hear separation of instruments and nuances that were not there at low volume (or in some cases, at all). The best way I can explain the sound is liquid. It has such a black background that your able to hear deeper into the music without increasing volume and details become just a part of listening without really trying to hear them. Red book cds don't have the hash or glare that you can get from them and the music just seems to flow. Over the period of time I have had the dac I have listened to more cds than I have in a long time and I won't even begin to name them all, but it has varied from Mozart to Marley and just about everything in between. This has become quite an experience for both my wife and me. Should my set up remain intact, I will not hesitate to get this unit when funds are available.
I save dimes.

Later
Don

setamp

Re: Neko Audio D100 MkII review
« Reply #15 on: 7 Jun 2012, 06:44 pm »
mfsoa.  how would you compare the neko with your minimax?