totaldac d1-server

Device Type: Music Server
Input: Ethernet, USB Type A/B, AES/EBU, Coax S/PDIF, Toslink
Output: AES/EBU, Coax S/PDIF
Dimensions (H x W x D): DAC height 110mm, width 360mm, depth 290mm, Power Supply height 65mm, width 122mm, depth 180mm.
Weight: 6.5kg.
Availability: Direct
Price: 4,990euros incl VAT in EU, 4,590euros ext VAT out of EU (appx $6,249 at the time of this review)
Website: www.totaldac.com

A totaldac Package
The totaldac d1-server is based on an 800MHz ARM based Cubox minicomputer running RTLinux (Real-Time Linux) and the MPD music player daemon. There's an integrated "digital reclocker" which accounts for a large chunk of the d1-server's price—the d1-digital reclocker is available as a stand alone device from totaldac for about $4,900 while you can pick up a Cubox 2" cube computer for around $100. The d1-server comes in the same chassis as the d1-dual DAC I was so impressed with when I reviewed it (see review) and continue to be each time I give it a listen.

In order to use the reclocker, you have to run a USB cable on the back of the d1-server from the integrated minicomputer's USB Type-A output (the one on the bottom) to the USB Type-B input. This setup also allows you to use the reclocker with an external source. The reclocker uses the same asynchronous fifo memory as the d1-dual DAC and according to totaldac, "...it also has an internal clock which strongly attenuates the jitter of any digital source".

There's a host of digital inputs/outputs including Coax S/PDIF, Toslink, and AES/EBU, and a 69-bit digital volume control which is controlled exclusively through the supplied remote. Of course there's an Ethernet input to connect the d1-server to your network so it can, ideally, access your NAS, as well as a USB Type-A input for connecting USB storage (and according to the totaldac manual, "Please don't use a 2.5inch box even with an external 5V power supply because most time the external 5V power supply is just in parallel with the USB cable power supply, so the poor quality external supply will send ripple current to the d1-server and send pollution to the d1-server, resulting in not the best sound").

Music playback is accomplished via an MPD Client. totaldac recommends the MPaD/MPoD remote app for iOS devices or MpDroid for Androïd tablets. I used the MPaD app for the iPad. The d1-server supports most common file formats including FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC (Apple Lossless), AAC, OGG, and MP3 and comes with the same external power supply as the d1-dual DAC as well as the same Philips remote.

Problems Communicating?
I initially could not get the d1-server to recognize my Synology NAS. The preconfigured Iomega StarCenter NAS that Vincent Brient of totaldac sent along for the review worked without incident so this was a puzzling problem. According to the d1-server manual, you have to name your NAS "totaldac-nas" or in the case of multiple NAS, you append the number 2, 3, and so on to the name (since my WD MyBook Live NAS does not allow non-alphanumeric characters in the device name, that discounted it as a contender for use). In addition, the music folder must be called "music-nas". While I had taken care of all this and set up a Guest user account with read/write access to the "music-nas" folder, the d1-server refused to see it. Vincent and I worked through a number of scenarios via email and he finally suggested I update my NAS software since he had no problems using a Synology DS214 with the d1-server. So I updated the Synology DSM software and everything worked fine. Go figure.

photo credit: totaldac

I also tried connecting a La Cie d2 Quadra USB drive but could not get the d1-server to see it. I imagine this was due to a formatting issue since I also tried a generic USB drive and it worked right out of the gate. So I used it along with the Iomega NAS from totaldac for this review. You can buy this NAS directly from totaldac and the review loaner came with a 500GB SSD (a 1TB SSD is also available). I paired the d1-server with the totaldac d1-dual DAC, my Pass INT-30A and DeVore Fidelity The Nines.

I will also add that I currently have the Lumin Network Music Player, Moon MiND Network Music Streamer, and Bluesound Vault here for review and all of these UPnP/DLNA devices had no issues finding, reading, and playing back music from all of my NAS devices without me having to do anything besides selecting them in the associated apps. And that's the way I think these things should work.

The Linux OS and MPD software for the d1-server are housed on a microSD card accessed around the back of the unit. totaldac's Vincent Brient commented in one of our email exchanges, "Obviously the d1-server software will improve, that's linux software and application, upgraded versions will be released. People will have to write a new image on the microSD card for that. For example Airplay is almost available, and more to come (maybe DLNA...)." I'd certainly say there's room for improvement on a functional basis and UPnP/DLNA compatibility would ideally simplify NAS setup.

Listening
I compared the totaldac d1-server to my MacBook Pro by connecting both to the d1-dual DAC. A simple click of the totaldac remote allowed me to listen to the USB input from my Mac or the AES/EBU input from the d1-server. One operational quirk worth noting is the remote for the d1-server also operates the d1-dual DAC so if you want to make a change to just the DAC, you have to disable the remote on the server by flicking a switch on the back. If you have the remote function activated on the d1-server and adjust its volume with the remote, you'll also adjust the volume of the d1-dual DAC. I ended up leaving both unit's volume maxed and controlled the output level through my Pass INT-30A.

By comparison, the d1-server presented a different tonal picture which I found to be more natural than the Macs. Something like Don Cherry's pocket trumpet on Art Deco had a more refined and nuanced sound through the d1-server. Through the Mac, Don Cherry sounded somewhat stunted by comparison or perhaps a better way to explain it is he sounded farther away as compared to the d1-server which presented as much resolution and detail as you'd expect to hear standing in front of Don Cherry. There was also a greater sense of dynamic contrasts with the totaldac server, a richer tonal palette, and overall I found the d1-server to be more engaging to listen to.

Just how much more engaging? After weeks of enjoying/listening, during one later night session, it struck me just how uncannily resolving this totaldac system really is (I'm referring to the combination of the d1-dual DAC and d1-server). I was listening to Jimmy Scott from All the Way in 24/192 from HDtracks and found I could hear into the recording seemingly as far as I'd care to go to the point of hearing very subtle changes in Jimmy Scott's vocals and inflections that were never apparent to me before. I've listened to this exact same recording on most every DAC that has come through here including the d1-dual DAC. While on its own the d1-dual DAC provides a major portion of this uncanny resolution, the totaldac duo further lit up the performance in a way that mimics hearing the real thing right in front of you as if you could move in closer, physically, to the performance/performer breaking down the barrier between reproduction and listener. Stunning.

I also tried the d1-server with the Auralic Vega DAC (see review) via AES/EBU and Coax S/PDIF but the Vega could not lock onto the d1's signal. There were repeated and regular skips and interrupts making music unlistenable. I also tried the Vega with the review sample Moon MiND Network Music Streamer since it also offers an AES/EBU output and this pairing worked without a hitch. I experienced the same issue with the exaSound e20 DAC that's here for review when paired with the d1-server—endless stuttering.

The Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC (see review) proved a better partner for the d1-server as there were no issues with the same AES/EBU connection. The d1-server also appeared to feed the Mytek a quieter and more musical signal than my MacBook Pro as the improvements noted with the d1-dual DAC were also apparent through the Mytek. I will also say that the overall sound that I enjoyed with the totaldac combo was more attributable to the d1-dual DAC which the Mytek pairing bore out.

You can also run the d1-server in "reclocker mode" by connecting your computer to the d1's USB Type-B input. While I can't see why anyone would do this since the whole reason for a product like the d1-server is to get the computer out of the hi-fi and you can buy the d1-reclocker separately for less, I was curious to see if it would make a difference on its own. And it did. With the reclocker, music sounded more refined, more nuanced, and simply more natural. I also noticed that instruments had a greater sense of tonal richness and density. Admittedly, the cost of the reclocker at roughly $4,900 for the stand-alone device is rather steep but it also offers real and easy to hear improvements. Whether or not these two factors add up or not is ultimately up to you.

Vincent Brient recommends connecting the d1s together with an AES/EBU cable and I listened to both the AES/EBU and Coax connections and based on this admittedly unscientific comparison I preferred AES/EBU (the contenders - WireWorld Gold Starlight AES/EBU versus a DH Labs SilverSonic Coax). Listening through the AES/EBU connection provided a seemingly endlessly empty background from which music emerged in a nicely dimensional and natural-sounding manner. I also compared some of the same music played from the USB drive and the Iomega NAS and I preferred the latter for many of the same reasons but to sum them up, music was more engaging and natural sounding when played back from the NAS. Again, this was simply a listening comparison and a relaxed one at that. I played some music that resided on the USB drive and listened, and then I played some music from the NAS and listened some more and found I preferred listening to the music from the NAS which is proof enough for me when it comes to these kinds of comparisons.

This totaldac pairing was responsible for some of the most convincingly natural and enjoyable music reproduction I've had the pleasure of experiencing in my listening room. All aspects of any music reproduction checklist were not only checked but they were rendered as silly as they are, listening for sound effects instead of listening to music. The totaldac d1 duo forces you to relax and curl up with your favorite tunes unhindered for as long as time allows. To my way of listening, this is exactly where we want to be. So on a purely sonic level, the totaldac d1-dual DAC and d1-server are exceptional. On a functional level, especially when paying this kind of money for a server, I expect things to just work. Plug and play.

Summing Things Up
This is a difficult component to sum up. On one hand, once things were working they worked exceptionally well while on the other I had some difficulty getting there.

totaldac offers a preconfigured 1TB SSD NAS for 990euros (incl VAT in EU, 910euros ext VAT out of EU or about $1,200) and this may be the way to go to ensure compatibility for those people not wanting to dig into their NAS configuration settings. While I am happy to hear that totaldac is working on providing an improved version of the software, when I add all of this up and factor in the d1-server's price, my feeling is in order for the d1-server to be competitive it really has to offer at least better NAS compatibility and DLNA-like functionality on par with like-products on the market. The DAC incompatibility problem that I experienced with the Auralic Vega and exaSound DAC is to my mind a larger issue and obviously needs to be rectified if the d1-server is going to have a place in the broader market.

What I can say for certain is the d1-server and d1-dual DAC make some beautiful music together.



Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the d1-server review; Lumin Network Music Player, Moon MiND Network Music Streamer

COMMENTS
Priaptor's picture

Mike,

More than the "quality" I think the most important aspect of the report is the approach of a company that makes some of the best digital equipment out there.

I just don't get why more aren't doing this or are forcing "their way" of doing things on their customers.  

I own an MSB product, would love to see them release a full blown server with the same qualities of their excellent DACs and transports utilizing their proprietary Pro I2S.   Servers are not just where things are going but where they are and why more high end companies like MSB, Berkeley, dCS, etc are NOT endorsing this by providing a solution with with their own technology is beyond me.

The closest I can come with MSB is the UMT+ as in "Universal Media TRANSPORT +" and while it does provide somewhat of a "server" capability utilizing their Pro I2S, it still lacks the method most of us want and continues to provide the end user many of us don't need, namely a transport forcing a price many of us find unnecessary and needing to look elsewhere for a solution. 

These companies do not have the clout of a Steve Jobs who can dictate what people should buy.  Kudos to TotalDac for listening to their customer base. 

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