My thoughts on the Neko Audio D100 Mk2 DAC
Jan 8, 2012 at 5:30 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 10

mackay maus

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[size=11.0pt]Review of Neko Audio D100 Mk2[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]I recently had the pleasure of auditioning the Neko Audio D100 Mk2 DAC. [/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]I’ve called myself an auditioner-not a reviewer. I feel ill equipped to review this DAC simply because it was light years over what I have listened to in the past. My current DACs are the Headroom Ultra Micro DAC and Desktop Portable. These are both great units in their price range-but the Neko easily bests both units in its liquid natural sound.[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]Also, I’m not an audiophile. I listen to plunge into the music, not analyze signal. (Plus I’m not articulate enough to dissect the signal.)[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]On opening the box, and pulling out the DAC, I was impressed by the weight and solid build quality. I did not open the unit, but assume the craftsmanship on the outside is reflected inside as well. [/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]The unit is streamlined, clean and well designed. It is simple, in the best sense of the word. No ugly plastic power bricks, no settings to calibrate. No bells and whistles. I loved the simplicity of the unit. You plug it in, turn it on, watch it lock on instantly, then forget about it and sit back and enjoy the music.  [/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]All my listening was done with Grado GS1000s, HD 650s and IE8s with aftermarket cords. Music ranged from opera to rock. The DG issue of Satyagraha by Glass is my reference opera for new gear-imaging the chorus shows any equipment’s limits. The Neko placed the chorus behind and around the main singers where it should be. The Beastie Boys Hot Sauce Committee was crisp, sassy, and provided all the bass I needed.  Dylan’s Mono Box exploded into life over the Neko. I was mesmerized by how immediate and vital these recordings sound. The effect was similar with the Miles Davis recording from the Blue Coronet. Shut your eyes, pretend you smell cigarette smoke, and you are sitting in the club in 1969. [/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]The Glass and Beasties are state of the art recordings. The Dylan and Davis show the limit of 60s tape. The Neko handled the former and was forgiving of the latter.[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]I also compared the Neko to the built in DAC on my Rega Apollo. Again the Neko showed it had a warmer, more analog sound. When running signal to my MicroZOTL amp, I found vocals a bit too tubey, and preferred the solid state Micro Ultra amp. This is more a reflection on the sound I’ve dialed into the MZ amp than the Neko, and any tube head could tube roll for a pleasing sound with the Neko.[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]I often find piano music on CD fatiguing-too brittle and harsh. The Neko made even the bombastic (but so very fun!) Steinway Christmas Album listenable. Every note was crunchy and clear, but with the decay that makes piano music listenable and realistic.[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]My only quibbles-and they are personal aesthetic quibbles-reflect more on the design on the actual unit. While I admired the simple black box look of the DAC, I would have liked to a smaller black knob rather than the large silver one for switching-or even better, the knob moved to the back for a clean sphinx-like front. And I would have the power and lock lights lined up. There might be engineering reasons for not doing this, and I know most folks don’t have my obsessive-compulsive gene![/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]I’ll sum up my felling on this DAC in one sentence. I’ll be buying one when funds permit and I can sneak it into the house.[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]Thanks again to Neko Audio for the review unit.[/size]
 
nekoaudio.com
[size=11pt]Neko Audio LLC[/size]
[size=11pt]P.O. Box 23405[/size]
[size=11pt]San Jose, CA 95153-3405[/size]
[size=11pt]408-476-3276[/size]
 
Jan 13, 2012 at 6:07 PM Post #5 of 10

elnero

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Good read Matthew!
 
I have to post my thoughts on the loaner as well. Unfortunately my work started to get really busy coming on the end of my time with the DAC and since I've been putting in all kinds of overtime. Hopefully next week will see the end of the overtime and I'll get to post something more. I will say this, the Neko opened my eye to just how big of a difference a really good source can make.
 
Jan 17, 2012 at 1:54 PM Post #6 of 10

pigmode

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I ended up buying my audition unit. Imo the D100 MKII sits at a similar level as my last DAC (Anedio D1), but with a smoother sound and less forward mids and highs. All the above without giving up detail resolution. The Neko is a bit slower on the attack, but also has a more natural tone. Imaging is excellent, lending great detail, clarity, and depth.
 
I'm not a technically oriented person, but it looks like Wes has put a good effort into solving power issues with design, quality components, and a physical architecture designed specifically to address those issues. As a listener, I can say the D100 starts with a black background which noticeably benefits the sound coming out of it. 
 
 
 
 
Jan 18, 2012 at 6:21 PM Post #7 of 10

slackman

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Quote:
I ended up buying my audition unit. Imo the D100 MKII sits at a similar level as my last DAC (Anedio D1), but with a smoother sound and less forward mids and highs. All the above without giving up detail resolution. The Neko is a bit slower on the attack, but also has a more natural tone. Imaging is excellent, lending great detail, clarity, and depth.
 
I'm not a technically oriented person, but it looks like Wes has put a good effort into solving power issues with design, quality components, and a physical architecture designed specifically to address those issues. As a listener, I can say the D100 starts with a black background which noticeably benefits the sound coming out of it. 
 
 
 


Thanks for the info!
I've never heard the D1, but your description of the D100 (and a few reviews I read) makes me think its sound is in the same area as the udc1.
Can understand you went for such a sound.
For myself in the studio and on my speakers I think I'd prefer the D1 sound.
 
 
Jan 22, 2012 at 6:34 PM Post #10 of 10

elnero

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After an extended delay and a few failed attempts at writing these, here are my impressions of the Neko D100 MKII I had for a couple of weeks thanks to the generous loaner program Wes set up. First off I'd like to thank Wes for the opportunity to audition the D100 MKII and apologize for talking so long to get my thoughts posted. Loaner programs like this are a wonderful way for people to experience something they otherwise might not have an opportunity to hear.

When I auditioned the Neko D100 MKII my system consisted of a HeadAmp Pico DAC and a vintage Harman Kardon 730 receiver driving Audeze LCD-2 Rev.2's. I've owned or heard a few DAC's in the under a grand category but while some have been technically better than the Pico I've kept coming back to the Pico because, on a budget and paired with the right amp, it's seemed to offer the best balance of conveying the music in a natural manner and  technical performance for my preferences.

The first thing I noticed when I started listening with the Neko was a sense that something was missing, it only took a few songs for me to realize that a layer of grain had been removed. This lack of grain gave the music a smoother yet more realistic portrayal. I felt this was most noticable through the upper mids and treble which, while more upfront than my Pico, sounded more natural.

It's been awhile since I had the Neko I here, I have my notes and recollections of my feelings but it's lasting impression is of it's wider, deeper, taller, more believable sense of scale. Not only was the stage larger with more layering but instruments themselves were bigger with more room around them which allowed them to breathe and occupy their own space better. This really became notable on live recordings where I became more aware of the recorded space, it's dimensions, where the musicians were placed and how other auditory clues from the audience helped feed the illusion of "being there". Overall, and not just with live recordings, this increased scale made for an overall more immersive experience. Going back to the Pico after listening with the Neko made the music feel like it was being flattened and compressed into too small of a space.

That brings me to another significant difference I noticed between the Neko and the Pico. Music just flowed from the Neko, when I went back to the Pico the music had an almost forced feeling, like it was being thrust at me. I don't know how to explain this further, I think in part at least, it was the smaller space which the music lived in when played through the Pico but there was more to it that I think given more time I could get a better grasp on.

As I'm writing this I've become aware that I'm not talking about the typical things like, frequency balance, textures, detail retrieval, etc. The Neko most definitely signficantly outperformed other DAC's I've heard in all these areas, yet somehow these differences don't seem quite as noteworthy. I don't want to make it seem like the differences were insignificant, they weren't, I think it's because all of these traits meshed into a whole picture, the wonderful textures and detail, a balance where nothing seemed hyped or missing, all came together as a very natural, realistic sounding whole as opposed to having a spotlight shone on them.

I find it very hard to find much to fault with the Neko. If I had to nitpick I could say that on some recordings the Pico's bit of extra midbass made for a bit more fun and in a few other cases the darker nature of the Pico took the edge off, but these are more flaws with the recordings than faults of the source. Maybe given more time and experience I would be able to distinguish more shortcomings but from where I sit now the D100 MKII is so much better than anything I've heard previously I'd gladly sacrifice the listenability of a few recordings for everything else the Neko brings to the table.

As I mentioned earlier, I came into this audition having no real experience with higher-end, $1000 + sources. I have owned or auditioned a few well regarded under $1000 DAC's like the CEntrance DACmini and the Headroom Ultra Micro DAC. All have been enjoyable in one way or another and where I found they all differed from one another with each having their own strengths and weaknesses, none stood head and shoulders above the others. I've always considered myself a source first kind of guy but lately I've wondered if digital had got to the point where differences, while noticeable, weren't overly dramatic and more a matter of flavor. While there may be some truth to that, especially in the under $1000 category, the Neko D100 MKII is without a doubt head and shoulders above the other DAC's I've heard to date and the difference wasn't subtle. While finances don't allow for me to buy one at this point the D100 MKII has reaffirmed my faith in the source first mantra and given me something to strive for. My hat goes off to Wes not only for designing such a brilliant sounding DAC but for being such a great person to deal with.
 

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