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NEM's embrace of just FireWire limits the matching computer to those made by primarily Apple. Computers designed to run the Windows operating system require an additional FireWire module by way of a PCI card and software driver. Once connected the computer—-Apple or other—needs to be loaded with the best software player extant. To accompany the DAC 1394 SE Andrejs brought along a DIY Intel-based computer running Apple’s OSX. As software player the PC came with Amarra and Audirvana Plus as plug-ins to Apple’s iTunes. One of the built-in disks was loaded with a variety of FLAC and WAV music files including hi-res versions.
Setting up the PC and NEM DAC was very easy. We used the Avantgarde Acoustic XA preamplifier as go-between for the DAC and power amplifier. For the latter we could choose between the matching Avantgarde Acoustic XA power amplifier or our Ncore 1200-based monos. All kit connected with balanced XLR cables. The DAC 1394 SE also offers RCA outputs which in combination with the Trafomatic Reference One preamplifier or our Audio Note Meishu saw duty. Loudspeakers were Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega and Vaessen Galaxy Reference.
At 22kg the DAC 1394 SE is not a modern lightweight converter. Clad in sober black metal with a front panel made of artificial stone adorned by a simple aluminum strip that holds the large power knob, the 42 x 20.5 x 45cm unit does not look very spectacular. At the back things are no different stylistically with an IEC power inlet, FireWire connector, a pair of RCA and XLR each and a useful ground-lift switch.
The outside may look a bit cold and functional but inside beats a warm heart quite literally. Lets enter the DAC via the FireWire port and explore what we meet there. The first stop is a circuit board as the portal to the actual D/A converter. This board converts the incoming IEEE 1394 signal into the chip’s native tongue of I²S. NEM sources the board from Canadian TC Applied Technologies. On this board sits a digital interface communications engine or DICE chip. Engine is the correct word as the chip is a complete computer with embedded ARM 32-bits RISC processor for its CPU. Next to conversion of FireWire to I²S, DICE technology also cleans up jitter by means of a proprietary JetPLL solution. Other well-known users of this top-notch technology are Daniel Weiss of Switzerland.
Once the input is cleaned and formatted, it's presented to an AD 1853 24/192 stereo chip. NEM uses no oversampling and just a single chip. Simplicity is all well and good but why then the big case and deceiving weight? And how about that warm heart? NEM pays homage to the credo that once a power supply is done right, the musical outcome will surely follow. Therefore just as in their AI-50 power amplifier, the bulk of the case’s contents is dedicated to power. Incoming DC is welcomed by a bulky transformer and 5C3S rectifier. Just like the power amp the incoming power is choke rather than capacitor filtered because a choke will smooth out the opening and closing of the rectifier far better and without the nasty spikes caused by charging and discharging capacitors.