In the May 2016 issue of Enjoy the Music.com's Review Magazine I wrote a very favorable review of the Gold Note Meditteraneo turntable, B5.1 tonearm, and Tuscany Gold phono cartridge. One of my first thoughts when receiving a review sample of their DS-1000 streamer/DAC was that if their turntable / tonearm / cartridge combination that I reviewed is any indication of the quality of Gold Note's other products, I would expect them to not only to have a very high sound quality to price ratio, but also have a visual appeal that outclasses much of their competition (and I don't think I need to go into how Italy seems to design some of the best-looking and highest performing products on Earth, all Fiat quips aside).
The subject of this review is the Gold Note DS-1000 a component that allows one to stream music wirelessly from one's home network, when wired to an Ethernet connection, but also stream internet radio. Fortunately, the DS-1000 is also a digital-to-analog converter, with USB, S/PDIF and optical inputs that can decode digital signals up to and including DSD. The sample I was sent for review is a standard issue DS-1000, but options are also available, including two choices of a tube output stage, a dual-mono "Super External Power supply" with a choice of either 100 or 250 Watts, or a "super external atomic clock" made with either Rubidium or Cesium. I'll discuss all its features on the review sample, but not any of the options, because as I said, they were not installed in my unit and I'd only be guessing as to their performance. The DS-1000 I'm reviewing here, even without any of its options, became an essential part of the audio chain in both of my systems.
My sample of the DS-1000 was an early production model. It did not come with a remote control, but instead relied on the Gold Note iOS app that I downloaded to my iPhone 7+ and iPad (an Android app is also available). The app's response time was slower than a "normal" remote, because of the variable rate at which it changed and filled the screen. However, I had no problems with this extremely useful app, and it was nice to have the metadata on my phone or iPad, but personally, I think a remote control would serve most audiophiles better. Even if I had a remote, I would certainly use the app occasionally. Other than this nitpick, my time with the DS-1000 was a very, very pleasant one, especially in my main system that housed the music server. More about that later.
Unlike the Gold Note Meditteraneo turntable that I reviewed last spring, the DS-1000's outward appearance isn't nearly as flashy. It is certainly a nice-looking component, especially its top plate, which has a large Gold Note logo featured in its center. Other than that, it is basically a large rectangular black box. However, the presence of its front panel 3.5" thin-film transistor (TFT) display makes it unlike any other rectangular black box on my equipment rack, that's for sure. Its color display, on the left-center portion of the DS-1000 black front panel gives the unit a very sleek, modern look, despite the rather large size of the component.
A single control knob is on the right-center portion of the front panel of the DS-1000, which can rotate and be depressed to navigate through its menu, although using the remote, or in my case the app, was a much easier. The Gold Note DS-1000 can play digital files with a resolution as high as DSD from one's network either from a LAN (Ethernet) connection or from Wi-Fi (a home network). The two USB inputs on the front panel can decode music from a memory stick or any other source with a USB output, and on the back panel of the DS-1000 are digital inputs for S/PDIF via RCA coax, optical, or USB. Its output stage was developed from Gold Note's Favard CD player, received from a fully balanced, solid-state dual-mono PCM1792A. The Gold Note Zero Clock circuit uses three different master clocks, ensuring you'll be hearing an up-to-date, future-proof DAC that can decode any digital format one can think of.
I've previously had music-streamers in this downstairs system, but none anywhere near the pedigree of the Gold Note DS-1000. The sound quality of streaming music off the hard-drives that I accessed from the home network sounded better than playing the same files off their silver disc counterpart (if available), which makes sense only because the digital converter inside the DS-1000 is much better than any disc player or other DAC that I used in this system. Internet radio also sounded better than I was used to. One should realize that the bulk of these internet stations "broadcast" at a very low resolution -- content and convenience are what one is getting when listening to internet radio. There are some "HD" FM stations that send their signal over the internet, and the sound quality is a bit better, as their signal is usually sent as AAC, and therefore at a much higher bit-rate. Still, as of now, I haven't come across any high-resolution stations that are playing the content I like to listening to, at least not on a regular basis. Still, I was mighty impressed with the sound quality I was getting from these internet radio stations, regardless of their resolution, where previously I risked getting a headache listening to these low-resolution transmissions.
I've had DACs of various quality and price range pass through my system throughout the years, and there is no doubt in my mind that when the DS-1000 is used as a DAC, the sound quality that this Gold Note component delivers is at a level way above its asking price. The kicker is that the DS-1000 is much more than simply a DAC, and I suppose if I was forced to rate it this way, it performs as if the DAC in the DS-1000 at the level of a $10,000 DAC or more. But the DS-1000 is not only a DAC, but also a streamer. And all things being equal, it's as if Gold Note throws in the streamer for free. Or perhaps the other way around. Regardless, the DS-1000, although not cheap, is practically a bargain when one considers the quality of its internal DAC combined with its fine streamer.
My main listening room is acoustically treated with two dedicated AC power lines that run directly from our home's circuit panel. The computer-based music server's preferences are set to ASIO to play DSD files, with its output data format set to 32-bit, running Foobar2000 or often J. River Media Center 21 to play the files, using a Furutech USB cable which is then routed to the Gold Note DS-1000's rear panel USB input. The Ethernet cable I ran from my router to the input on the DS-1000 was a generic cable that I purchased on Amazon (and so perhaps this is a good time to investigate the sound of an audiophile Ethernet cable, although I'm quite skeptical that it will make a difference). I am well aware that there are music streamer/DAC's that run into the tens of thousands of dollars (and more) out there, but my only experience with one of these high-priced units was the internal DAC/streamer that was contained within the $50,000 Dan D'Agostino Master Audio System's Momentum Lifestyle integrated amplifier DAC/streamer.
As I no longer have the D'Agostino in-house, plus I'm relying on my sonic memory of the component, I can't help feeling that the Gold Note DS-1000 has more sonic similarities with the D'Agostino than differences. Perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but there is no doubt that this Gold Note DAC is certainly worthy of mentioning in the same breath as the D'Agostino component. Its DAC is that good. The speakers in my main system that played the files from this Gold Note component are the Sound Lab Majestic 545, which I took ownership of shortly after reviewing them this summer, is augmented by a pair of Velodyne 15" 2500-Watt subwoofers. The power amp is my trusty 350 Wpc Pass Labs X350.5, the preamps I used for this review are both 2017 Blue Note Award winners, the marvelous Merrill Audio Christine Reference that I brought up from my other system, and the very flexible Mark Levinson No. 523 preamp. Everything was connected via MIT and Merrill Audio interconnects, and the speaker cable is the ultra-deluxe and amazing sounding cable made by Westlake Audio.
For example, through the Gold Note DS-1000, when an oboe is playing a solo in a large orchestra, of course a good conductor creates space for the oboe to be heard, but even so, with the DS-1000 I was able to hear a multitude of details, one being the air around the oboe – because a dynamic distance had been placed between the sound of the oboe and the rest of the instruments and groups of instruments surrounding it. The oboe and the rest of the orchestra might have been playing at their appropriate volumes, but all the sounds were separated from each other not only in space, but dynamically.
Ravel's Daphne et Chloe might be called a warhorse by some. But not by me. Even though I've heard this ballet score, or choreographic symphony, as Maurice Ravel liked to call it, played live, the complete score or as one of the concert suites that Ravel composed, numerous times throughout my adult life, and on my stereo countless times either on LP or digital, to this day I'm still in love with this masterpiece. I'm a sucker for a full orchestra and chorus, and even more of a sucker for this piece, mainly because it is part of the impressionist movement that was occupying much of the time of the French composers in the beginning of the 20th Century. I have many "favorite" versions of this piece, but since I was recently reveling in the version on RCA conducted by Charles Munch, it is as good a version as any, and better than most, to discuss what I heard when playing this excellent reading. The RCA team recorded this version in 1955, but it wasn't released in stereo until 1960, as part of RCA's Living Stereo series. The expertly transferred SACD was released in 2010.
As I mentioned previously, through the Gold Note DS-1000 I felt as if I could hear inside the music, and when the full orchestra and chorus starts firing on all 16 cylinders, this positive trait made itself known by making it possible to not only follow individual voices and groups of voices in the chorus, but by letting me hear details of the full orchestra while they banged it out. The inner detail that the DS-1000 rendered during these climaxes was incredible, as it possessed the dynamic distance I mentioned, therefore, instruments, voices, or groups of instruments or voices that were playing simultaneously but at the same volume as each other never became sonically intertwined – unless that was the intention of the composer. The experience of relaxing in my listening seat and playing these SACD files through the DS-1000 had many similarities to listening to this piece in the concert hall (of course, minus the fidgety or noisy fellow concert goers sitting adjacent to me), even though there is no way any stereo system in my home is going to be able to replicate a full orchestra and chorus performing on a fifty-foot-wide stage projecting its sound into a 1500 set auditorium. But that's not the point.
What I mean is the that the DS-1000 allowed me to experience the immersive, meditative experience that comes from listening to a top-notch performance in the concert hall, where sometimes my mind focuses upon the strings washing over me, and then I'll turn my attention to the section of the chorus that is performing their part, perhaps even attempting to focus my attention on an attractive member of that section, and then turning my attention back to the large swaths of sound washing over me.
Then, perhaps my mind will turn to trying to remember where I parked my car, but only for a short time as my attention turns back to the performance, and Ravel's unique orchestration, and how he was able to mix tonality and melody without reverting to the older classical model. Ravel was somehow able translate the text of Daphne et Chloe into musical language, without any literalisms to distract the listener. This was the musical language of impressionism, relating the essence of the subject rather than focusing on the details. And when listening to this digital file, I became lost in the music as I sometimes get lost when listening in concert – the genius of the composer and the players is brought into sharp focus, unencumbered by any artifacts of the recording process, other than the rather large amount of tape hiss that was present on the nearly 60-year-old original recording tape, since no attempt was made to remove in in post-production lest the timbre of the original recording be altered.
Luckily, the soundstage of the DS-1000 is extremely capable, allowing the Boston Symphony Orchestra as recorded in Boston's Symphony Hall to appear in miniature before me. When I would close my eyes and listen, it was if I was somehow transported back in time, albeit again, in miniature, to hear this concert of Daphne et Chloe even though it was recorded so long ago, the sound stretching way beyond the boundaries set by my speakers and listening room.
It would be a mistake to think that the Gold Note DS-1000's DAC could only expertly reproduce DSD files. The hard-drives on my music server are filled with plain vanilla "CD quality" 16-bit/96kHz music files. My favorite period of Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention is from the mid-1970s, such as on 1975's One Size Fits All where his band was loaded with ringers, in this case Chester Thompson on drums, Tom Fowler on bass, George Duke on keyboards, and the always amazing Ruth Underwood on vibraphone, marimba and percussion. Frank Zappa also uses this album to showcase what can be done with multi-track magnetic tape, as he edits in some of the basic tracks for a couple of songs from a live concert on a radio show, and a guitar solo on one song from a concert in Helsinki. Nevertheless, the bulk of the album was recorded at a few studios in the Los Angeles area, and engineered by some of the best in the business. This is a relatively complex recording, but the DS-1000 was able to sort it out, allowing each instrument to be reproduced with a very lifelike character (other than the synthesizer, that is).
Even though some of the musical passages are ridiculously intricate, every instrument and voice was made much easier to follow, and especially easy to enjoy! I love how the marimba matches note-for-note the brisk melody that the band is playing in the lead-off track "Inca Roads", where Zappa's lyrics during the highly syncopated finale pokes fun of Ruth Underwood's prowess on her instrument ("Did the Indians, first on the bill, Carve up her hill, On Ruth! On Ruth! That's Ruth!"), and during it, the DS-1000 is not only able to sonically unravel each voice and each instrument, but I could even hear the small segment of the riff that was manipulated to raise the pitch on at least one of the voices. I've been listening to this album since I was a teen, and have continued to do so into adulthood via an LP on Discreet Records, a Warner Brothers sub-label for Frank Zappa's albums between 1973 and 1979. But I'm now more than happy to listen to it on a recently remastered CD ripped onto my hard-drive, and for the last few months played through the DS-1000. All the traits that I've discussed, along with a low-frequency adeptness that reached much lower than I've ever heard, and a treble that gave me the impression that it was missing that annoying high-frequency ceiling that most digital-to-analog converters run into when decoding lower resolution files.
Of course, the fact that the DS-1000 is a very modern component is an important one, as it converts PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz through its S/PDIF coax and optical inputs, and it can do the same with its front panel USB inputs where one can simply insert a memory stick. It can be controlled from not only a remote, but from an iOS or Android app, and depending on the source, can reproduce the most musical sounding internet radio I've ever heard. Its price is not just competitive, it is reasonable when one considers not only the performance, but the features offered by this highly recommendable component. Bravissimo Gold Note!
Supported Audio Formats
Price: €4799 without preamp stage, €5750 with, and add €950 for analog input
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