There is some phenomenon happened in audiophile world throughout this few years. I listed out two here, first, the audiophile crowd seems to be younger than it was. I remembered when I started my audiophile journey, those audio equipment is very pricey and un-affordable (I was young that time), but throughout these years I can said that I am mostly positive, not only because high performance equipment are very affordable now but also because of budget audio equipment do not sound bad now, in fact, sometimes it created a 'blurred line' between low, mid and high end products despite the price difference (I am not denying the higher end products sounded better, but please considered the price to performance ratio as well).
I knew that first phenomenon might no related to my review today but I just feel I want to talk about that, but second phenomenon that I want to mention here is definitely related to my review today. Computer have became more and more important in music playback process, this is something that we cannot denied. Computer and smart devices change many things, there is no exceptions for Audio world as well, definitely. CD Player, CD transport, MP3 players, and many that I can't remember now are simply things of yesterday already. Everyone seems to be on track with PC/Computer and Smartphones.
I am not denying the conveniency that latest gadget brought to us but all of these can't really shadowed the fact that audio quality has been sacrified as well, the inteference and poor USB surface/converter that is in the DAC now, in other words, source is not good enough for a PC, in a pure Hi-Fi definition.
What is Source?
This is a very important question and what we said the root of an audio system, the base of a building, the most basic component in audio equipment, the front line of a team, also deniable one of the most important factor for good sound.
Source is the one that read your files, CD or anything. If the quality of the source is inferior then it will be meaningless to own a high end DAC, amplifier, speakers/headphones, cables. The only thing that I can think of which is more 'in front' of source is the power conditioner/regenerator and files/CD.
I am a CD player and PC-Fi source based listeners, there is a lot of collections on my CD rack, to be honest my CD player is just an old school one and very entry player, but I have some serious Pc based DAC as well. One thing for sure, the USB implementation of current DACs on the market has been improved greatly, but it is still can't compared well with proper source such as the one I am going to review today, Soundaware D100 Pro Deluxe Edition.
Soundaware is very new outside of their origin, Nanjing, China. But in China, they have successfully created some huge wave in the audio community, very close to how a tsunami hit the shore. Well, east and west rarely discuss about audio stuffs together, but in China they are a lot of normal people crazy on audio equipment, ask Benchmark, Weiss and Rudistor, how well they are selling their stuffs in China if you do not believe me.
Local people are definitely in love with Soundaware products. Soundaware have sold a lots of their products and get 100% positive feedback from buyers. You get the pictures now, this is not just any typical new brand out there.
Digital Music Transport
Listening music through PC-Fi have some disadvantageous besides the convenience. Firstly, you have to switch on computer to really enjoy your musics. This is cruel when you just want to enjoy your music, I found myself very difficult to focus on music every time I am on the internet. Sometimes I just want to stick to music, just music.
Also, Pc-Fi has a lot of inteference and lagging (Depend on performance of computer) while Digital Music Transport can eliminate this problem. I have experienced few times that my computer have jammed in the middle of my music listening session, this is really something very obstructive.
Thirdly, audio quality is far superior than PC-Fi. Like what I said, source is very important in final audio quality.
Compared to CD transport it is far more versatile and have comparable or better audio quality in the same price range, but the conveniency of Soundawae D100 Pro Deluxe is uncompareable.
Easily said, Digital music transport read the music files from SD Card, Pendrive, Hardisk (Any of your storage media), then it will transmit the digital signal to your DAC and so on.
Design, Build quality and Finishing
Design of D100Pro is very simple but elegant, alhough it is not difficult to tell that it is a chinese design products, but I believe things will get better in their future products. D100Pro is far from being ugly though, build quality is very good with three very solid sharp base leg. Not only the build quality is tough, the unit feel heavy and solid in hand, means that it is only looks big but inside of it, there is a lot of good things inside. Finishing is fine, I don't see any rough corner or finishing here, impressive for a newcoming audio company.
D100Pro read music files from your SD Card, USB Pendrive and USB Hardisk (One SD Card slot and two USB Slots). After it reads the files, it will transfer the digital format to your DAC through AES/EBU, Coaxial and Optical output, personally I use coaxial alternatives as it is the most convenient alternative available for me now, however, guys from Soundaware recommended AES/EBU alternatives and they experienced best sound through this options.
All of the song selection and setting changes can be access through buttons in the front panel and look through the big and beautiful colour screen.
Ergonomics are spot on, I don't have to look at the manual book before I am using it, control is pretty straight forward. Besides using direct control at the front panel, users can use the excellent remote control as well which you can access all of the control at your convenient and fingertips. Remote control itself is an universal remote control to be exact, if you would like to you can use it to control other electronic appliances in your house as well.
Soundaware D100Pro Deluxe Edition supports DLNA and UPNP streaming, as long as you plug in a network cable to D100Pro, you can select songs from your IOS and Android devices very easily. It is not difficult to see Soundaware has really put effort into it.
D100Pro Deluxe Edition can read WAV (But no WV), Flac, APE, MP3 and Cue files, they are working on a newer firmware which can worked with SACD ISO, DSD (dff dff) and ALAC in the latest firmware, at least for now Soundaware is always listening to feedbacks and improving their products through firmware.
DAC : Firestone Audio Tobby, Arce MDAC3, Yulong Audio D100 II
Headphone Amplifier : Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear Diamond Edition, Firestone Audio Bobby, Tubeamp BL-2, iFi Audio iCan
Headphones : AKG Q701, German Maestro GMP400, Shure Srh-940, Shure Se425, Chord & Major 9'13 Classical and 7'13 Jazz
Speakers : oBravo AI-25P
Interconnect : Monoprice Coaxial and Balanced XLR, Charleston Cable Company RCA interconnect
Soundaware D100 Pro Deluxe Edition is a Godsend. It delivers what I am expecting and at some degree it actually performed beyond what I have expected. First of all the blackground is dark black, which is very silent and there is little to no unwanted noise in my music. The music came out very easy and in a non-forceful way. Every tiny spaces are filled up with note and nuance, luckily this is not something that need you to wash your ears to notice the different after changing the sources to Soundaware D100 Pro Deluxe Edition, I instantly noticed the differences, it is obvious.
Secondly, soundstage, imaging and positioning has been brought up to another level. I knew that AKG Q701 has a very wide soundstage but with the D100 Pro, the soundstage is not only wide but added with sense of natural, not only this, imaging and positioning has been improved greatly as well. I can easily sticked to music now, without any tiring feel, of course there is no magic like turning a bad imaging headphones into good imaging, this is not realistic, however, D100Pro is capable to bring out what is the best that your headphones/speakers can offer. Detail level is nicer as well, the detail is now coming out with less effort, it is easier for me to 'see' it.
Matching the D100Pro with a capable DAC and I am very pleased with the result. The improvement out from the D100Pro versus PC is very promising and has been improved a lot. In fact, I have going back and tested my PC setup, the iFi Audio iDAC with my PC, the result is I have to readjust my ears now, everyone knew that I like the iFi Audio iDAC, but now I can't really going back to my PC based audio, the sound coming out from my Pc based audio is so much empty and too much noise on the background, strangest part is I have never have this kind of feeling before, it is far from unbearable but I just leaning towards D100Pro more often.
Everyone knows that I am more towards headphones setup rather than speakers, however things get a little different lately when oBravo AI25P and AIS100 arrived in my review lab, to be honest they are very capable and detailed, the difference between PC-Fi and using D100Pro is very obvious (Tested with Firestone Audio Tobby), there is always better, fuller nuance and sense of air is always better with D100Pro, not to mention that soundstaging (Positioning and imaging as well) performance is so much better also.
So I believe you are asking if D100Pro worth the selling price (1400USD and depends on your region), my answer is definitely positive. However, for lower end setup I don't really think this money will be nicely spent, I am not saying that in lower end setup you will not noticed the differences that I have mentioned, but thousand plus USD is not a small amount of money, I am thinking that change to a better DAC/Headphone amplifier/Headphones/Speakers will do much more justice. However, if you already have lets say 1500USD or anything more than this, D100Pro is worth the investment, it do provide finese and breath to the music. However, if you want to listen to music only but don't like to be sticked with PC or CD player, than D100Pro is a fine choice. Said, Soundaware D100Pro Premiun Edition nailed down the price to performance ratio. I sincerely recommend this wonderful digital music transport to you.
Edited by mrinspire - 9/21/13 at 1:20am