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DACs item created by The Monkey, May 6, 2010
Pros - Unique design, clean look, excellent sound
Cons - No USB, no DSD (is this really a con?)
(This is my first time writing a review on the site's new look, so bear with me...)
Ah, the Neko. A DAC that's been around for a little while now, but only recently have I heard about, much less owned it. Stumbled across it online while looking for a new DAC, and after reading reviews and a little back and forth with Wesley, the designer, I decided to pull the trigger, and well, I'm very glad I did!
My rig: MBP running JRMC > Singxer F-1 > Neko > MAD Ear+ HD. I've also got the Auralic Vega/Taurus stack, but that's an apples to oranges comparison, so if it appears in the review, it will certainly be brief.
Even though this isn't the newest FOTM design, the Neko has held it's own wonderfully. Wesley's unique all-passive design has produced a very natural, non-fatiguing, yet highly-detailed converter that would serve most audiophiles well, as long as they don't require USB input. It's a fully balanced design with only COAX and optical inputs. I believe you can specify when you order, whether you want RCA or XLR outs.
Build quality is solid. Basically we're looking at a metal black box with a power switch on the back and an input selector on the front. My kind of DAC! No obnoxiously cluttered menus, switches, or dials here. Just a piece of hardware that does it's job, and does it well!
From the bottom up...
Bass: The low end on this guy is very impressive. There's a nice vinyl-esque heft and fullness that provides a great foundation. Songs like Half Time by Amy Winehouse and Grown Folks by Snarky Puppy really show of the resolution and fullness of the low range that the D100 mkII offers. It's bass bests that of the Bimby, Cuinas, and Concero to these ears!
Midrange: Excellent! To me this is where DACs live or die. If you can't get the mids right, then why are we even giving you the time of day? Vocals have a great presence and richness that sounds very multibit-esque to me. A lot of qualities here are similar to those of the Gumby and Bimby. Guitars have a nice bite, but no harshness. Instruments have a wonderful organic quality that aren't nearly as digital sounding as the Mojo or Geek Pulse. Some of the best midrange I've heard in my entire head-fi journey.
Treble: Solid. Compared to the depth of bass and richness of the midrange, I'd say the treble isn't quite as impressive, but that's not to say it's bad or unacceptable. It's not as rolled of as say, a NOS design, but there's a bit of relaxation up top that trades the last amount of air for 'easiness.' Recordings like Chris Tomlin and Steve Vai that can be a little treble-happy are easier to listen to thanks to the Neko. If you're a fan of brighter headphones a la Grados or HD800s, this might be a great piece of source gear for you!
Soundstage/Separation/Etc: Above average. Similar to my impressions of the treble range, this isn't an area I'd necessarily write home about, but I do think it's in line with it's price point. On well-recorded material, there's a very good sense of space and depth between instruments - think Morph the Cat, Frampton Comes Alive, Grammophon classical recordings, etc. And conversely, when there's not, there's not. All I have to say about that!
In conclusion, the D100 mkII is to me, a highly underrated DAC that could make a serious dent in the market if it was a little prettier. It's no nonsense, small-house design keeps it off the hype train, but I certainly think well of it and recommend it without hesitation if you're not needing USB or DSD capabilities. To give you an idea, here's where it stacks up with the last give DACs I've owned: Vega > D100 > Teac 503 > Cuinas > Mojo.
Check it out!
Pros - Natural Sound, Great Bass.
Cons - Too much bass when paired with wrong equipment
I will start this review by providing some background. I had just purchased a Beyerdynamic T1. I paired with a Bottlehead Crack I loaned off a friend and it sounded amazing except for one thing. There was too much treble energy and it hurt my ears. I tried burning it in and it only improved slightly. The other problem was a clear lack of bass impact. There was some midbass hit but low bass presence and body was severely lacking. I decided that the Beyerdynamic T1 was not for me and sold it.
Shortly after, I read a review on Headfonia that claimed that this Neko DAC (which I had never heard of) was a fantastic natural sounding unit with plenty of low end emphasis. It sounded like the perfect solution for the T1! It was a pity I read it after selling the T1. Anyway as fate would have it, I found a refurbished Neko unit for a fantastic price. I bought it without hesitation and then began rebuilding my set up. I was more careful this time and I actually bought another T1 and had it recabled by Whiplash Audio with their latest and greatest Hybrid V3 cable.
I had a Burson Soloist Amp at this time and I figured that since it did such a great job with my MrSpeakers Mad Dog 3.2 that it should be able to handle the now re-cabled T1 and the bassy Neko DAC. Unfortunately the Soloist has a very strong character of its own that it imparts regardless of DAC used. When I plugged in my T1 to this new setup, all I heard was the Burson Soloist. I switched out a few DACs and it was still the same. I decided to go back to the trusty Bottlehead Crack that my friend had and pair it with the Neko. What I heard was MAGIC. THIS was THE sound. 3D, wide, smooth, detailed, full-bodied, spacious, clearly imaged. Sparkle, yet with all the bass impact/body I wanted. I lacked nothing.
I of course then proceeded to buy my own Bottlehead Crack amp (had it upgraded with a better stepped attenuator and capacitors - thanks @Loquah), added an Audiophilleo 2 to increase detail retrieval and perfection got even better.
I'll come back to the Neko now and not make this a T1/Bottlehead Crack review. The point I was trying to make though was that equipment synergy is of utmost importance.
Pairing the Neko with a Burson Soloist did not yield the results I wanted with the T1, but it worked well with MrSpeakers Mad Dog 3.2.
When pairing the Crack with Neko and Fostex TH900, the sound was overly dominated by bass elements in the music. It sounded great but it was very imbalanced.
Burson Soloist with Neko and TH900 resulted in a weird unnatural disjointed sound that had bass impact that hit unnaturally hard, too much treble emphasis and everything else was not present enough. However, I found that it was mainly the fault of the Soloist as no DAC could make it work well with the TH900.
Even the mighty Bakoon HPA21 + Neko + TH900 resulted in music that was noticeably tilted towards the bassy end of the spectrum.
The only amp that could make the TH900 work with the Neko was strangely enough the RSA Intruder which is a very good and very neutral portable amp. That combo was strangely potent.
Anyway, this DAC has very unique qualities and anyone who has a good transparent amp and equipment they wish to inject a massive dose of natural bass-laden sound to neutralize over-excited treble, this is the DAC for you. Just make sure your headphones are good enough to bring out the best from the Neko and that your amp does not color the sound so much that the Neko cannot shine through.
I cannot recommend the re-cabled T1 + Crack + Neko combo enough. It's very special.
Pros - Beautiful midrange, punchy bass
Cons - Not the last word in detail
I was lucky enough to have this DAC in my house for 2 weeks through Wes's loaner program. I do not own the DAC. I am also not much of a writer so I am going to keep this as short as possible.
My current desktop setup currently consists of a Macbook Pro -> Electrocompaniet ECD-1 DAC -> Headamp GS-1 -> HD800/JH13/HD650/PS500/Thunderpants. I have been looking for a smallish desktop DAC to replace the rack sized Electrocompaniet ECD-1 that I have owned for a few years and which I have grown to love. I was thrilled to get the chance to demo the Neko DAC. Because of the short amount of time and my desire to see how it fit into my desktop setup, I only used it with the GS-1 and only directly compared it to the ECD-1. I also own a PS Audio PWD MKI which is fairly new and is used in my main setup - with my KGSS, Woo Audio WA5LE, and Apex Peak/Volcano. I never directly compared the Neko to the PWD.
I should also point out that I demoed this a month ago so I am going from memory and a few notes I jotted down. Sorry for taking so long to write this Wes.
Let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed the time with the Neko and if I had the extra money, I would probably buy the Neko and get rid of the ECD-1. I could certainly see a time in the future when I do just this.
The things that stood out to me about the Neko was its beautiful midrange, natural tone, very smooth vocals, and a really damn fun punchy (but not too bloomy) bass!!! It wasn't the last word in treble detail but that is not something that really bothers me too much. The DAC was extremely musical, maybe more so than the ECD-1. The soundstage sounded deeper to me on the Neko than the ECD-1. Did I mention the punchy and fun bass?! I also love the simplicity of the Neko.
I didn't directly compare it to the PWD but don't think that I would choose it over the PWD. Of course, the PWD costs quite a bit more and takes up a lot more real estate so that is not a very fair comparison.
I had a great time with the Neko and would give it the slight nod over the ECD-1, especially with its compact size. It's definitely something I am going to think about when I get some excess cash. Wes has something special here.
Pros - Natural sound
I live in Spain and I've tried the Neko D100 DAC recently (E.U. Loaner Program). Excuse me but as it is much easier for me to write in Spanish will comment on some impressions in this language.
Lo he utilizado en mi sistema de altavoces y también en el de auriculares formado por preamplificador y power de Jeff Rowland, transporte Electrocompaniet EMC 1 y altavoces Avalon Arcus, todo ello alimentado por un Exactpower EP 15A y SP 15 A conectados a una línea eléctrica dedicada (además de Norodost Quantum y power strip Ryder). El cableado es Cardas Golden Reference y Cardas Clear, todos ellos XLR. Power cords Shunyata Anaconda y Phyton, Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC 10.....
El equipamiento de auriculares ha sido el Leben 300 CS300 y Audeze LC2 y LC3, Sennheiser 800 y Beyerdynamics Tesla T1.
Los DACs que utilizo habitualmente son el Berkeley DAC y el Benchmark DAC USB.
El Neko D100 ha mostrado estar al nivel de los mencionados en muchos aspectos. Es curioso como muchos audiófilos, cuando nos referimos a las fuentes digitales, valoramos la percepción de las mismas por comparación con las fuentes analógicas. Cuando decimos, "suena a plato" solemos hacerlo como un halago. Y éste es el caso del Neko.
Además de tener una excelente resolución y extensión en frecuencia, buen equilibrio tonal y dinámica, no he percibido la "digitis" que tanto nos desagrada a muchos aficionados.
Podemos estar escuchando horas y horas nuestras grabaciones favoritas sin atisbo de fatiga auditiva.
Si tuviera que definir su sonido en una sola palabra podría ser: NATURAL.
Sin duda es una opción a tener muy en cuenta en su nivel de precio.
Pros - Soundstage, separation, clarity, bass
Cons - Slightly rolled off highs
Pros - natural sound, instrument separation
Cons - top & bottom end
Thank you to Wes Miaw for loaning his D100 Mk2 Stereo DAC to try. This alone speaks volumes about Wes and Neko Audio.
I'm really not a reviewer, but I'll try to offer some impressions. I hope they will help give you a better idea of what the D100 Mk2 has to offer. I did not attempt to listen critically but rather chose to just enjoy the music. I lack the expertise to delve into the inner workings and parts chosen. Others can address that.
My system: Drobo -> macbook/itunes -> D100 Mk2 -> Luxman P1 ->headphones. The unit I received had XLR outputs and Wes provided XLR to RCA cables which I used.
The unit came well packaged with everything needed to set it up. Had a nice solid feel. It has a non assuming appearance in basic black with an input selection knob on the front. Takes either coaxial or toslink inputs. I used toslink. Pleasant blue led lights. The overall appearance is utilitarian, but it looked like it belonged in my rack.
The first thing that stood out immediately for me was the instrument separation. Much better than my current d/a converter. The sound is warm and natural, and listening was non fatiguing. Soundstage was good. As the previous reviewer said, this dac is fun to listen to. It also didn't take long to discover that both top end and bottom end does not extend as far as I'm used to. It excels in mid range reproduction.
At the end of the day it is all about the music. The D100 Mk2 certainly passes the music test. The music sounded natural with excellent tonality. I didn't find anything that didn't sound right. Vocals were spot on and is certainly a strong suit of this DAC. Norah Jones "Come Away With Me" was perfect. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn was sublime and I got lost in his music one evening. Andrea Bocelli's "Amore" was outstanding.
Bottom line? If you're looking for a d/a converter that gives you great value and a warm natural sound with excellent tonality then this unit is certainly worth a listen.
Pros - A warm and inviting DAC that makes listening fun
Cons - Not for those seeking the last degree of detail
DISCLOSURE: I received a loaner D100 as part of the Neko Audio D100 loaner program. Wes Miaw, the man behind Neko Audio put together the loaner program. All outgoing shipping was at my expense. The loan was not contingent upon a positive review. However, Mr. Miaw did ask if I would post my impressions (good or bad).
The D100 is an unassuming DAC. A black box with a silver knob input selector in the middle and the ubiquitous blue lights for power and signal lock. The unit is small and unobtrusive, and while it isn't high fashion, it is well-built and utilitarian.
I'll leave the technical details to others, but it is my understanding that Wes chose to forego some of the bells and whistles for premium parts and execution. Good decision. With the D100, Neko Audio appears to have sought a well-rounded sound. It is not the last word in detail. Good. I've had it with brittle, shrill DACs, which, frankly, at this price point is what you get when a DAC manufacturer goes for "detail." So instead of the sparkly highs, the D100 gives sumptuous mids and a bit of bass kick that I find very musically satisfying.
To put this in context, the D100 doesn't sound "gray" or boring like the Bryston BDA-1 does. Instead, the D100 has that sweet sound that reminds me of the Electrocompaniet ECD-1 (one of my favorite DACs out there). And the D100 is one of the few new DACs that I've heard that isn't afraid of presenting plenty of bass. And I suspect there's a little mid-bass hump there that contributes a bit to the euphonic sound signature that I perceived.
Now, does all this mean it's just a fun DAC and therefore relegated to Mid-Fi? Maybe. But if this is mid-fi, then that's where I want to be. If you're in the market for a DAC for $1000 - $1500, you ower it to yourself to investigate the D100. It's just a really well sorted DAC.
Phones: O2 mk1, Grado HF-2, JH13
Amps: Beta 22, KGSS DX
Transport: iMac optical out playing ALAC