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NAD D1050 DAC and headphone amplifier

Discussion in 'Dedicated Source Components' started by derbigpr, Apr 4, 2014.
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  1. derbigpr
    Say hello to these two good friends.  Just a teaser before a review which will come in a few days, probably in a video format.
    For now, after living with it for 5 days I'll only say a couple of crucial things that I believe people interested in this unit would like to know but can't find out since there's not a lot of information available on this device, also I'll only talk about it as a headphone amp + DAC, not as a DAC alone. I'll list positives and negatives indicated by the + or - sign before the comment:
    + First and foremost I am glad to report that the headphone amplifier is adequately powerful to power any of the headphones I've tried the unit with (T1, HD650, K701, D600, DT770 80 ohm and several other cheaper headphones), however here I will only talk about how it fares with the T1's since they're the ones I've had with me these days.  It really has heaps of gain, I don't dare to turn it all the way with T1's because it simply gets unbearably loud. In fact, it gets louder than when plugged into the Musical Fidelity M1HPAP headphone amp, I can turn the M1HPAP all the way with T1's and it's bearable, with D1050 I can't, this thing is a driver-destroyer if you want it to be. Even with some really bass heavy and dynamic music such as Infected Mushroom - Vicious delicious, which has a crazy punchy bass, the amp holds the T1's by the balls and hits with confidence and solidity, not a hint of distortion or loss of control.
    + The headphone output is completely silent - there's is no hiss whatsoever even with the ultra-sensitive Denon D600's.
    + Volume control is digital -  which is positive because it means there's no channel imbalance...
    - ...but it's also a negative point because it's a pain to adjust the volume level.  Literally, operating this volume knob could be classified as manual labour. It literally takes 2-3 full turns to go from low/medium to medium/loud volume on the T1's, and on top of that the knob is pretty hefty and it takes above average force to turn. I don't want to sound like a nancy, but the knob should be bit lighter and more sensitive, this way it's basically impossible to change the volume quickly. That said, I'd always choose this instead of possible channel imbalance and some other issues with a regular volume pot.
    - There is no volume indicator. Basically, I'm not sure why NAD did this, but this is so far the biggest fault of this unit as far the physical characteristics go. I know their D3020 from the same series of products has a volume indicator on the front screen, but D1050 doesn't. This means you can never know how loud the headphones are going to be before you plug them in, so I always end up turning the knob counter clockwise to reduce the volume as much as possible before plugging in the headphones, which again takes about 3-4 full turns just to be sure I won't fry the drivers or damage my ears. At least the volume resets after turning the unit off.
    + The unit is very pretty, pictures don't do it justice (especially mine taken with a phone in a half dark room). It has a very premium feel to it, it feels monolithic, solid, the front face houses a screen with nicely dimmed white/blueish writting. Apart from the glossy plastic parts in the middle of the amp, sides are covered in a rubberized material, there's a little metal mesh that let's you see inside the amp, and the NAD logo is a nice metal badge, not a sticker or just some paint printed onto the plastic. The volume knob is made of some sort of dark grey metal, but has a rubberized edge. All the inputs or outputs in the rear have a feel solidity to it, no loose RCA jacks here, the same goes for the headphone input, it again takes some force to insert the plug and there's a solid click at the end of travel.
    - Headphone jack on the front is 3.5 mm. Again, not a logical move by NAD considering this is aimed at higher class headphones meant to be used at home. This means I have to use an adapter with all of my headphones, and using a 2€ adapter on the T1's doesn't feel like the happiest solution, but I'll get one of those 6,3 to 3,5 extension cables. Used to have one that I got with the HD650's, but thanks to my cat, "used to" is the crucial part of this sentence.
    (remember, all impressions are with the T1's)
    In one word, sound is excellent. I compared the unit to the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus, Denon DA-300USB,  Teac UD-H01,  Asus Xonar Essence STU and Essence One (basic edition) and the NAD came out on top. However, take this comparison with a grain of salt since it was in no way done in ideal conditions. It just seemed to me in the store that NAD D1050 sounded nicer than the others.  It absolutely declassed the CA DAC Magic, which is rubbish with headphones, and it sounded slightly, but obviously better than UD-H01,  DA-300USB and STU. These three were on about the same level, with Denon being behind the other two in terms of power, bur sonically very similar. Essence One was pretty close, however, E1 had some channel imbalance at low volume, so it's out of the equation for me. In terms of power, both were powerful enough to play binaural Chesky recordings (which are pretty silent) to ear splitting levels and both sounded very good while doing it. I can't say D1050 sounds better than E1, it's simply impossible to tell in 15 minutes, but in that short period both left a very positive impression.
    What I can say is that D1050 sounds excellent. A level above Musical Fidelity M1DAC I think, even though they're in the same price category M1 shows its age.  D1050 is very, very detailed, coherent, solid.  Tonality out of the headphone output is neutral, maybe leaning towards brighness. Some might find it bass light, and I can definitely say the bass is lighter and doesn't extend with as much ease as out of the M1HPAP, but hey...it's a 600€ DAC+headamp vs. a 700€ dedicated headphone amp.  M1 is slighlty fuller sounding overall, slightly more spacious and more hefty in the bass region. However, it hisses on high volumes, has slight channel imbalance and doesn't go as loud as the D1050.
    I don't know what else to say, I don't really want to go deep into describing the sound, because I find it pointless. All I can say is that in my opinion the sound is excellent, better than that of other offerings in the same price range that I've tried and for the money it's definitely a 5/5 product. The headphone amp is very capable, very powerful, silent, balanced, clean, etc. The entire package sounds very clean, extremelly detailed, natural,  high in sound resolution, separation of sounds is great, highs extend effortlessly, mids are nice smooth and full,  and bass is very tight, detailed and well textured, but maybe somewhat light. Soundstage is good, it's not huge, and depth is not quite on the level of the M1HPAP, but imaging is comparable. Sound is smooth and musical, doesn't have that cold digital feel to it that a lot of cheaper DAC's can have, however, it does feel a bit bright-ish. I don't know, it may be because I'm used to the M1 stack which is pretty warm.  To put it into numbers, if 10 was the neutral level, then bass would be 9, mids 10 and highs 11 in terms of presence/loudness.
    For now I'll leave it at this, feel free to ask any questios about the unit and I'll try to help out.
    bode, Light - Man and MMB1 like this.
  2. jonnyt
    Great review. I am thinking about the amp for my PC setup and have a question about whether it will work.
    I currently have a small pair of powered speakers connected to my pc with a standard 3.5 jack and the front of the speakers has another 3.5 for me to attach headphones to when i need to listen quietly.
    My plan is to connect the NAD to my PC via USB and use it as an external soundcard. I would then use a 3.5 to phono splitter to attach the speakers to the back of the NAD and then insert headphones to the front of the NAD when I need to.
    I'm pretty sure that there will be no problem with the PC connection and the headphones but am not sure if the speaker connection on the back will work? Also, if the unit is powering speakers and headphones are inserted, will it cut sound to the speakers?
    Thanks in advance.
  3. derbigpr
    Hi, there are only RCA and balanced xlr outputs on the D1050, so you can connect speakers into one of those two outputs, but the volume knob in the front doesn't control those outputs, they are fixed, so you'd still have to control the volume of the speakers on speakers themselves.
    When headphones are inserted, all other outputs cut out, so you can't listen to both at the same time.
  4. Frenchwah
    How are you listening? usb,optical, or coax? I'm using coax a Tributaries 6 cable and I find it very full sounding not at all on the bright side and the bass is awesome.
    Everything else I find spot on nice preview. Although you probably should of posted this in the first 1050 post : )
  5. derbigpr
    I use it with USB. I have compared USB and Coax and optical and didn't find any differences in sound betwee them. What bothers me now is that I'm noticing some slight channel imbalance in favor of the left channel that I didn't notice before, but is now definitely present if I compare the sound to some of my other amps.
  6. Greggo
    Just got mine today... After one hour, here are my first impressions:
    Context - All of my listening as of late is on a Dragonfly 1.2 on MacBook Pro with Google Play and JRiver MC19, headphone duty split evenly between Senn HD700 and BeoPlay H6.  I have personally found the Dragonfly to be such a good performer that I have been in no hurry to sample more expensive components.
    1) More different than better, but still better than my Dragonfly 1.2
    2) Midrange timbre and texture is the strength I am noticing the most right now.  Maybe this is what others have described as "musical" or more "engaging"...for me, it just brings a richness to vocals that I don't associate with a tube or romantic sound at all, it really just sounds like a better balanced and higher resolution connection to the human voice
    3) Treble not quite as crisp and there is a little less breathiness on female vocals, but if you like Alicia Keys or Lorde, they both sound like they are whispering into your ear, very intimate and organic sounding.  A little more midrange present and slightly more forward than I was expecting, but I find both to be positive so who knows for sure, but I feel like I am getting closer to teh studio session rather than further away so this impression suits me just fine.  So far this is a very good pairing with the HD700 and H6 as both have plenty of treble detail already. (Edit:  I should add that upon re-reading this, I would never describe this as a dark or slightly recessed sounding DAC, or even leaning to that side, it is just a different angle on the highs as compared to the Dragonfly.  I think the mid to high transition may just interact differently with HD700 which is what I am listening to as I am typing this...)
    4) Bass is there, sounds fairly big and dynamic but not tight or full of slam, I like it personally as sometimes what others describe as tight and tuneful comes off to me as a bit dry and without natural decay.
    5)  In general, I get a sense of music being set free, not ultra dynamic, but very naturally dynamic and smooth flowing in a way that so far makes me feel very good about this purchase.  Audio memory really sucks, but I will say this anyways... I think this gives the Bifrost/Asgard2 combo a serious run for the money.  Not saying it betters it, but I would not hesitate to throw this in the ring and fully expect a few folks with a particular headphone pairing would prefer it in some cases.
    I hope the midrange stays just like it is and only the bass and highs evolve much during burn in.  Will leave the unit powered up for a few days and run 20+ hours of music through it and report back again.  I have already noticed a slight change in presentation since I have been typing this and going back and forth on a few things (about 90 minutes of running at this point).  Things are relaxing a bit more and imaging has spread out ever so slightly, but enough to be appreciably noticed.
    Parting thoughts - love the form factor, going vertical and not looking back!  I am going all in with 3.5mm cable connector on my phones so the small jack here is a blessing for me, tired of managing adaptors. Volume control is weird at first, but I am already appreciating the very fine grained control over SPL and focusing on the positive, but yes, if going from very very soft to very ver loud you feel like the crew on a sailboat working that wheel.  I have the gut feeling that if I was a big HD800 fan I would need a little more finesse and sophistication of sound delivery, but I also have the feeling that since I am truly a fan of the HD700 that this may very well be all I ever need.  Looking forward to the next couple of days.  Honeymoon is off to a good start.
  7. atanov
    Has anyone tried this DAC/amp with Hifiman HE-500?
  8. zool
    Just got the D1050 to day. And have spent a couple of hours with it (5-6 hours so far). Sounds really good I must say, Definitely a good improvement over my iBasso D10 cobra. But that was expected, I would have been really disappointed other wise from a dedicated desktop piece like this vs. a smaller portable DAC. The D10 is still very good though, I like the warm sound of it. Soundstage and detail is improved allot with the D1050 and it has great rhythm and timing, sounds very musical IMO. Have not tried the integrated headphone amp too much.. Just briefly. I'll get around trying that more out later. I'm getting a O2 amp this week so that'll be an interesting comparison. I do however prefer tube amps over solid state, so I don't think I'll be using it very much anyways (for home use).
    I thought long and hard before getting this DAC. There were some things that I didn't like about this unit.. It has a wall wart PSU cable (instead of a integrated proper PSU) and it uses a single stereo DAC chip instead of dual mono design which allot of the better DAC's are using today. But It has gotten really nice reviews and I have 2 weeks to decide if I want to keep it or not. If not I will probably go for a Rega DAC at about 2x the price of this unit :frowning2:.
    When it comes to case and buttons etc. I really like that it's small (about the same size as Benchmark dac1) and it has a nice matte and glossy black finish to it. Really like that it was designed to stand upright, suits my setup just fine. Although I'm not really a big fan of the touch button system. I would rather have preferred real tactile buttons. Looks really good though. A discrete white light showing buttons on top and input/sample rate setting on the front.
    I'll have to try it in my speaker system and with some other amps headphones as well before I make up my mind. Also give it some proper burn in time to settle. Time will tell if that has any bearing effect on SQ.
  9. zool
    Just a quick comparison with the onboard amp and my little dot mk III. The onboard amp definitely sounds allot more neutral (Like SS amps often do when compared with tube amps) with a impressive soundstage. I would prefer it to sound a bit fuller in the bass area but I think this is something that could improve after burn-in. Don't get my wrong, with the fidelio X1 that I am currently using it's definitely not lacking in the bass area. But it just doesn't quite sound as full and engaging as the LD mkiii. Never the less, it is very impressive. I have not heard a DAC that has such a capable headphone amp built in it. I never liked the amp on my Benchmark DAC1 and I have had a bunch of other DAC's where I thought the on board amp was not quite up to par. But then again the X1's are not so hard to drive so I guess I would have to try it with some more headphones before making that judgment. The d1050's headphone amp definitely sounds good to me, at least with fidelio x1's.
  10. EarthToTommy
    I have the NAD D7050 and notice a difference between USB and optical. The optical connection from my MacPro to the NAD sounds significantly better than USB (both through speakers and my Signature Pros). Overall, I'm simply thrilled with this digital line from NAD.
  11. Greggo
    Well, it's been a while so I thought I would check in.  Only one complaint about this unit, and as mentioned before, the volume wheel can get a bit tiresome as it could easily deliver twice the throw for each turn and still offer plenty of micro adjustment for the user.  Other than that, what else can I say except that I love this little DAC/amp.  Not the best DAC in the world, not the best headphone amp in the world, but all these features in such a small and friendly form factor?  Absolute bargain for what I think is a very high level of performance.  No regrets.  No wanting for more pricier or exotic units, and there are plenty out there.
    Here is the list of pairings at my disposal, each and every one of them are distinctly different and those differences are appreciated easily on this unit, but at the same time the strengths of each of these headphones are well served and their weaknesses fairly mitigated.  I was certain that I would decide that at least one or two headphones would need a different DAC and/or amp to meet or exceed my expectations, but nope, all is well and I will probably add another headphone or two to my collection over the next 6 months and just stay put with this little NAD as my personal reference.  Dragonfly still on call for portable/mobile duty, and holding up well.
    Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9: female vocals still sounding as beautiful as I have ever heard them, rich AT voicing and nice punch
    B&O BeoPlay H6: smooth yet still somehow crisp, spacious, relaxed, classic B&O sound
    Focal Spirit Pro:  I hate these headphones because I love them so much, a very pleasant surprise and the D1050 nudges them off the pure neutrality thing in just the right places.  Going to add the Classic to the collection but still keep the Pro, really like what Focal is doing in the headphone market though build quality is a bit of a concern given feedback from others...
    Sennheiser HD600:  I thought for certain I would need more treble energy and image specificity to make these come alive...nope, they sound fantastic on the NAD
    Sennheiser HD700:  These senns help the NAD stay closer to perfect bass than anyone else, though admittedly still not what I would call "tight", but big and punch and very satisfying... and the NAD helps the senns to avoid sounding too peaky without taking anything away from them in terms of resolution and PRAT.  The HD700 could probably throw a slightly better soundstage but the goods are still there.
    Highly recommend this NAD D1050, probably the best electronics purchase I have ever made in terms of performance, value, versatility, and having the overall experience exceed my expectations.
    I bought the 1050 thinking it would be more like the d3020, in terms of connectivity. I listen to music solely streaming from spotify, and I wanted a dac looking to add more detail to the music. I have had it for a coupe weeks now and I am sorely dissapointed. For the same price it offers less features than the D3020, and as far as I can tell the sound is essentially the same. The only "upside" is a "better" headphone amplifier, but I do not know how it is better as I have not heard the d3020 to compare, and for this it gives up the speaker amp, bluetooth apt x, the remote control, sub woofer output as well as analog inputs. I can not help but to feel somewhat foolish having purchased the lesser of the two. All my grief aside, I have to agree with your review, the sound it produces is very pleasing and the headphone output is capable of driving any headphone in my collection with very good clarity and excess of power. 
  13. zool
    I doubt the d1050 has the same internals as the d3020 as far as the DAC goes. I know they use the same DAC chip but the d1050 very little room for any thing else than the internals of the DAC. I don't think they could have kept the same structure and also crammed a power amp in to the same box.
    I'm very happy with the d1050. I was going to get a gd-audio product at first but having heard they do not do customer support I changed my mind about gd-audio. And for a while I was very set on Rega DAC but it seemed that the d1050 had very much the same characteristics of the Rega DAC and that's why I decided to try it out. I think with the proper IC's and using it through USB it sound great. Don't think there is much out there at this price point that is much better.
    bode likes this.
  14. Greggo
    Yes, too bad about your experience... it is important to always know exactly what you are getting.  I am not sure if the two units share the exact same DAC performance, they are clearly targeted for very different system implementations, but for all I know the DAC sections could be the same.  Having said that, I agree with Zool and would be surprised if the D3020 offered the same absolute level of performance given everything else in their, but who knows.  I did find some reviews before I purchased mine that indicated the headphone amp in the D1050 was clearly superior to the headphone amp in the D3020, and that is what tempted me to take a chance on the D1050.
  15. dizzyorange
    If you've purchased a recent version of the NAD 1050, you owe it to yourself to hear it with the original firmware (the firmware that was likely installed in the glowing reviews when it first came out).
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/675359/nad-d-range/30    (bottom and next page)
    If anyone wants a copy of the old firmware I have a copy saved (use at your own risk of course).  
    Basically the difference is night and day. 
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