Merging Technologies NADAC

Device Type: Network Attached DAC
Input: Ethernet (RAVENNA/AES67) on RJ45 connector, AES/EBU, Toslink, Coax S/PDIF
Output: balanced XLR: x8 for Multichannel, x2 for Stereo, 3.5mm jack + 6mm headphone jacks
Dimensions: 435 W x 435 D x 95 H mm
Weight: 11 kg
Availability: through authorized dealers
Price: $10,500.00 for Stereo, $11,500.00 for Multichannel-8
Website: nadac.merging.com

"Timing is everything." Tommy Shaw
The Ravenna IP technology allows for syncing of multiple audio devices over Ethernet using the Precision Time Protocol (PPT) achieving clock accuracy "in the sub-microsecond range". This comes in handy in recording studios where Merging Technologies got its start, and earned its reputation, back in 1990 in Chexbres, Switzerland. As we all know, timing is everything in home audio, too, so Merging Technologies (MT) imbued its NADAC with, among other things, the Ravenna IP technology.

I think it's fair to say that the Roon Ready NADAC's appeal is four-fold; stereo, multichannel, multi-room, and Roon. Even though I have the Multichannel-8 version here for review, I've set it up to function exactly the same as the Stereo version since I am not multichannel endowed. For anyone interested in getting the NADAC multichannel picture, there's no better place than Kal Rubinson's review over on Stereophile. You'll also want to watch Kals' video interview with Merging Technologies' Dominique Brulhart as it's chock full of great information.

The NADAC employs eight DACs using the ESS9008S Sabre Reference Audio DAC chip and by putting the Multichannel-8 version in stereo mode using the front panel control, these DACs are summed, 4 per channel, for optimal performance (the same as the Stereo version). There's also a dedicated ESS9008 chip for the headphone output. Resolutions up to 384kHz, DXD, and DSD256 are supported via Ethernet while the AES and S/PDIF inputs max out at 192kHz.

The NADAC's anodized aluminum case weighs a whopping 24+ lbs and is very nicely put together; no rough edges here. The front panel includes the company's logo which acts as the on/off button and is so well integrated that you may not realize this to be case without looking closely. Once you press it, the logo's white ringed LED lights up to a soft glow. There's a small square display for going through setup options, which aslo shows basic playback information. To its right is a knob/switch for navigating the menu options and controlling the NADAC's volume. Finally on the far right sit the 3.5mm and 6mm headphone jacks.

Multichannel-8 (top) and Stereo. image credit: Merging Technologies

Around back are the ins and outs and the multichannel version is necessarily busier to accommodate all those extra channels. Setup was pretty much a snap; all users have to download and install the NADAC drivers (Core Audio or ASIO), the Ravenna installer, and there's also an optional iOS control app. The software setup steps are very nicely detailed in the downloadable setup guides, a process that took me all of a few minutes.

Physical connectivity also took a matter of minutes; I used the included MT Ethernet cable to connect to my TP-Link Media Converter, which is in turn connected to my router, and a pair of Tellurium Q Black XLRs leashed the NADAC to my Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amp. The DeVore Fidelity gibbon Xs handled speaker duty, as usual. I used my iPad running Roon Remote to control playback throughout this review but it's worth noting that the iOS NADAC app allows you to control its volume.

As (bad) luck would have it, we lost power during the NADAC's time here, tree across a power line due to one NJ's tropical storms, which meant resetting the NADAC in order to reset its IP address, and then restarting Roon Server so it would once again see the NADAC. The potentially confusing part was the Roon Control app still displayed the NADAC as the output device but alas, no sound. NADAC owners may want to consider setting a static IP address for their unit.

Good Time
Listening to my system with the NADAC in it was pretty much pure pleasure. Over the course of many weeks, the NADAC delivered a super clean, super stable, highly detailed musical picture while not being fatiguing or unnatural sounding. It was easy to relax and enjoy all of my music and, perhaps of greater importance, music that was new to me.

Maggie Rogers Blood Ballet

Compared to the very impressive MOON by Simaudio Nēo 280D MiND (see review, the NADAC offered up a more refined sound image, where every last piece of the sonic puzzle simply gelled in a more convincing manner. There were times when I let Roon Radio take over track selection so I was delighted with the surprise of musical choices and their accompanying sounds. I learned a number of things from this experience including how good Marissa Nadler's music sounds, how well the NADAC deals with acoustic music, and how the NADAC can handle the hard stuff without getting the least bit tipsy.

The NADAC's headphone amp mimicked the DACs performance when using the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones; clean, clear, and in control. I also connected the NADAC to the Ayre's XLR input I have set for Pass Through mode, bypassing the Ayre's volume control to give the NADAC's own a chance. The main difference I heard was a bit less air (pardon the pun) in the presentation with the sound image hardening up ever so slightly. So my preference in my system was to put the NADAC back into the Ayre's volume-controlled XLR input. YMMV.

For a more price-relevant comparison, the NADAC falls within totalac d1-tube-mk2 DAC territory (see review), which offers some very stiff competition to my ears and preferences. While I no longer have the totaldac here, my emotional memory of it leaves me leaning into its corner as there was simply a stronger emotional connection to my music through it. That being said, I could easily see how other listeners with other systems could prefer the NADAC's clean, clear sound picture and superb resolution of every musical nuance. There are no winners or losers when dealing with such wonderful sounding music makers as these.

Good Times
The Merging Technologies NADAC is more than capable of delivering the sonic goods for near-endless hours of musical enjoyment. My guess is its appeal, and distinction, is even greater for multichannel users so I'll let Kal Rubinson close out my review, "...I found the NADAC Multichannel-8 flawless. It provided some of the best sound I have ever heard in my home."


Also in-use during the NADAC review: MOON by Simaudio Nēo 280D MiND

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
bobflood's picture

Is this the first true Network Attached DAC? And, do you think this category has a future?

Kal Rubinson's picture

I think it is the future. ;-)

bobflood's picture

I also think this will be the way of the future but my concern in the present is that there still must be a server function upstream and with the renderer function built into the DAC you are limited by what the DAC will accept. In this case if Roon or a proprietary software package is your thing then OK but it is limiting. It might also limit the ability to perform DSP with the various programs available if the Network Attached DAC is not able to accept the incoming signal after processing.

I might not be understanding all of this completely but these are the issues that came to mind.

Nothing is easy in this hobby. It only appears to be.

Bob

BTW; I enjoy your articles in Stereophile very much. I am not a multi-channel fan but I learn from your writing.

Thanks

Kal Rubinson's picture

Those are matters of concern but there's no universal agreement on acceptable formats with any interconnection protocol. Users can choose the player app that suits their needs, with or without DSP capabilities.

madfloyd's picture

This DAC is very good, but ONLY with DSD. I, like others, have found that HQPlayer is required to upsample PCM to DSD otherwise it sounds rather bad.

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