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Merging NADAC Listening Test

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Dom and Irene Brulhart.jpg


Irene and Dominique Brulhart and me in their garden-farm.


We went to Geneva, the home of Merging Technologies, to have a critical listen to their new NADAC. We were invited to the home of Jean-Jacques Bieri, just outside of Geneva, with a beautiful view of the lake. Before then, Dominique Brulhart, chief engineer of Merging picked us up and took us to his home where he and his wife Irene treated us to a fine Italian lunch and tours of their garden and garden-farm.





Merging NADAC on the right, "ABC" DAC on the left of Bieri’s YBA stack.


Bieri is an engineer and well known local audiophile who had worked closely with Yves-Bernard Andre (YBA) in developing many of his products and was the world-wide distributor of YBA before he sold the distribution company some time ago. All of his equipment, including speakers are YBA. His home has been used in several recordings.


Jean-Daniel Noir, a recording engineer who specializes in recording early music (for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and several other labels), ran the tests. We also had the French-Swiss distributor of "ABC" attending, who brought the "ABC" DAC to compare with the NADAC. The "ABC" at about $25K is almost three times the price of the NADAC.


The system was stereo only, so we could not test the sound of the mch NADAC. Two different sources were used – Pyramix on a Windows laptop to play PCM files and a portable Mac running A+ to play DSD files. We played both CD files and hirez files through both DACs and with both Pyramix and A+. Most of the recordings we used were engineered by Noir, including both CD and hirez files. I had brought my Decca book along and the Grieg Piano Concerto with Radu Lupu and Andre Previn from the first CD from the book (originally engineered by Wilkie, Philip Wade and John Dunkerley in Kingsway Hall and remastered for the book by Michael Bishop). For CD’s we also used the YBA CD player as a comparison.


All of us listened from several different listening positions in the spacious room, which was custom designed for sonic playback excellence. The session lasted for over four hours, with breaks for wine (I unfortunately can no longer partake!), so there was plenty of time to hear selections, many done blind and usually playing a selection at least two times with the same configuration and then switching to another.


The discussions after each comparison were in French, which I cannot understand, but I was always asked for my opinion at some point – sometimes early and sometimes late in the discussion.




I was fortunate to have one selection (the Grieg Concerto) with which I was extremely familiar. The others, (including the Grieg) were played enough times, that I became quite familiar with them also. The Grieg of course is a big orchestral piece with piano, one of the selections was from an original instrument Bach Violin Sonata (gut strings A=392), and there was an early instrument and vocal ensemble.


What was very interesting and satisfying is that we all came to same conclusions, independently about the character of the sound quality of the different selections, even though there was one time when our preferences for which we liked better were different. The comparisons were made between the CD and the NADAC, and NADAC and "ABC".


Here are my impressions and preferences.



Consistently with all the CD sources, I preferred the NADAC to the CD. The sound was more open and had greater depth. The sound of all the CD’s was similar. With the big orchestral passages in the Grieg, I heard the tonalities of the instruments as being true to their respectively sounds. There was a realistic depth the orchestra also. For the early music ensemble – I especially liked the vocals – very attractive sonics and realistic depth. The YBA CD was flatter in perspective, though tonally very similar. We went back and forth several times, playing each selection twice. Then Jean-Daniel mixed things up and just identified A vs B. I was able to choose correctly each time it was done. At one point, I described the sonic quality of the selection as what I thought was the reverse of what I had heard before, but it turned out I didn’t hear the identification of A vs B correctly and my identification was correct. For one of the selections, Bieri described the sonics the same as I did but his preference was for the CD sound. In the other cases, he agreed with my preferences.



Here the comparisons included some hirez files (I think one was DSD and the other 94/24 PCM, but it could have been higher rez). The difference in sonic character was not as much in the depth, but in the tonality. The "ABC" consistently had a darker yin sound than the NADAC, one that could be very attractive to some, but I found not true to the tonality of the instruments or voice.


For me, it was a very clear choice, again the NADAC was my favorite for each comparison selection. It was much more true in tonality than the "ABC".



In the listening test we only had the stereo NADAC. However, for stereo, my understanding is that the NADAC uses the same chip configuration as the mch. My understanding, after talking with Dom, is that the NADAC is based on the same technology of the Merging professional Horus and Hapi ADAC’s. It can play up to 384/24 PCM, DXD and up to 256 DSD. The analogue outputs are both balanced and unbalanced, while the digital input can be through any network connection, but not USB. In the comparisons, the Mac was connected to the NADAC through the Thunderbolt connector, while for the PC it was connected through a network connection.


There are eight DAC chips in both the stereo and mch versions. When playing stereo in either one, the chips are ganged in groups of four for each channel. In mch playback, there is one chip per channel.




Currently I have two DACs that I use for playback. A BADA2 with the BADA USB box for PCM stereo and an Exasound E28 for mch DSD and PCM and for native DSD stereo. The Exasound can also play stereo PCM. I generally use A+ on my Mac Mini for playback, although I also have JRMC on the Mac. I also have a Pacific Microsonics Model Two which I use in my ripping project, but can use for playback (using Pyramix).


My current plan is to have my Merging dealer Tim Marutani order a mch NADAC for me to compare with both the Exasound in mch (and stereo PCM and DSD) and BADA2 for stereo PCM. I will also be able to compare the NADAC with my Pacific Microsonics Model Two for stereo PCM playback. I may also borrow Tim’s BADA Reference DAC to compare with the NADAC (and my Model Two!) for stereo PCM playback.


These comparisons will take place after we get back home, depending on the availability of the NADAC multichannel.


So far, I have been very impressed with what I have heard – but need to hear in my own system and Tim’s super system (Magico M series, Constellation elections, Aurender W20, N20 (prototype).





EDIT: I hate to make adjustments to people's posts, but due to a complaint received i felt it was OK this time. Plus, the changes made are only to the name of one DAC (from its real name to "ABC"). The nature of the complaint I received was that the person who organized the listening session was unaware that the results would be posted online and he said the "session wasn't organized seriously enough to consider it relevant" and that nobody from company "ABC" was present. -CC

Analog-VPIClas3,3DArm,LyraSkala+MiyajimaZeromono,Herron VTPH2APhono,2AmpexATR-102+MerrillTridentMaster TapePreamp

Dig Rip-Pyramix,IzotopeRX3Adv,MykerinosCard,PacificMicrosonicsModel2; Dig Play-Lampi Horizon, mch NADAC, Roon-HQPlayer,Oppo105

Electronics-DoshiPre,CJ MET1mchPre,Cary2A3monoamps; Speakers-AvantgardeDuosLR,3SolosC,LR,RR

Other-2x512EngineerMarutaniSymmetrical Power+Cables Music-1.8KR2Rtapes,1.5KCD's,500SACDs,50+TBripped files

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