N10 Review - Stereophile
Triggered by Larry Greenhill's review of Tannoy's TS2.12 subwoofer in February, where he mentioned using a performance of Beethoven's Symphony 7 by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, I downloaded the files and dragged'n'dropped them on to one of the N10's internal drives. LG had auditioned the DSD64 files, but as the SFSO lists the provenance of the recording as being 24-bit PCM at 96kHz, that's what I bought. (Why move a step further away from the original format?) From the opening declamatory chord through the glorious melodies in the first movement, the shuffling rhythm in the second movement, the joyous scherzo, to the triumphant horns in the final movement, the symphony that Richard Wagner called Beethoven's "apotheosis of the dance," sourced from the Aurender, had me glued to my seat, though with feet tapping.
I switched to the Antipodes DX Reference playing the same FLAC files and was hard put to hear any change in the sound. The Antipodes server's superbly palpable imaging was matched by the Aurender's. Both effortlessly connected me with the music of "I Say," from Happy Rhodes's 1993 EP, HR5 (16/44.1 ALAC, Aural Gratification). (A shout-out to Jon Iverson for turning me on to this idiosyncratic singer in his January review of the Apogee Groove headphone amplifier.) Using all of her four-octave range, Rhodes has laid down multiple vocal lines over a haunting, chugging, gamelan-esque instrumental backing. As I'd connected the N10 to the PS Audio DirectStream DAC via both USB and S/PDIF coaxial links, I could play this hypnotic song over and over with the Aurender app, ostensibly to compare the sounds of the different outputs, but actually just to groove on the groove. I heard no meaningful differences.
I did hear a difference between a DSD file played natively via USB and transcoded in real time to 176.4kHz PCM via S/PDIF. When I played the "Moonlight," from Peter Takács's complete cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas (DSD64 files, Cambria Master Recordings), the DSD version was louder. Checking with a DSD64 1kHz tone, I confirmed the level difference: a very audible 6.5dB. Peculiarly, with a DSD128 file, the difference was smaller, with a level reduction for the PCM version of just 0.72dB. (Perhaps the digital filter that transcodes DSD to PCM reduces the level to avoid the possibility of peak clipping, but why, then, the difference in level between DSD64 and DSD128 files?) Once I'd adjusted for the level difference with the Beethoven sonata, the difference between DSD and PCM was very difficult to hear—if at all.
Over the past year, I've been working my way through The Decca Sound: The Analogue Years—a boxed set of classic classical recordings from the English record company (50 CDs, Decca 001934702)—ripping the CDs to ALAC files as I do so. An album from this collection that I keep returning to is Clifford Curzon's performance of Brahms's Piano Concerto 1 with the London Symphony conducted by George Szell, which is displacing in my affections Emil Gilels's 1972 version, with Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic. Recorded in London's Kingsway Hall in 1962, by Decca's A team of producer John Culshaw and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, this recording has a bold, upfront balance. Nevertheless, with the files played on the Aurender feeding USB data to the PS Audio DirectStream DAC, Curzon's arpeggiated musings in the slow movement still sounded magically mysterious. This server is a keeper.