With the advent of digital sources like CD players, DACs and streamers, one has automatically welcomed all manner of software into one's listening lounge. And here we don't mean music software but control code which supervises the workings of a device, even enables the owner to alter certain parameters. Think of general DSP or digital signal processing. There's also a layer beneath adjustable software and its graphic user interface called firmware. That's software coded into the hardware of a device which becomes the microcode steering the hardware to perform predefined tasks. See it as the operating system of all the various parts which together create a device like a PC or streamer. Firmware can be manipulated by software which interacts with it and the user. Gold Note's firmware update enhanced their DS-10 functions and fixed minor bugs. The latest firmware empowers the user to access features on Gold Note's chosen AKM AK4493EQ chip, then adds more. The Japanese DAC chip contains six digital filters each with its own specific characteristics. Asahi Kasei Microdevices call these sound color filters and they embed in their 32-bit chip as part of their overall Velvet Sound architecture. In the AKM literature we found the following:
AKM's diagram visualizes these six filters which affect our perception of how close we seem to be to the sound's origin. With Natural Tone you sit close up with hardly any echo while Traditional Sound gives the illusion of sitting farther away to experience more acoustic reverb.
In addition, the Italian designers included what they call DAC PWR to change the AKM chip's current. Combinations of filter, power and de-emphasis parameters can store in three presets to make for a mind-numbing array of possible settings: 6 digital filters x 4 de-emphasis values x 8 power values = 192! Aside from creating access to AKM's factory on-chip digital filters, Gold Note also opened access to AKM's de-emphasis options. Mainly older recordings used pre-emphasis to improve their S/NR a bit like the RIAA curve does for vinyl. Just before they applied noisy processes like A/D conversion, compression or its counterpart expansion on the audio signal, they boosted the high frequencies. During playback, this recorded boost was equalized with de-emphasis for a cleaner treble. It naturally took us a lot of experimenting with the settings to arrive at a sound which we would both call our favorite. Most DACs offer just a few selectable filters to shorten this hunt. Our Mytek Brooklyn Bridge for example has just seven with the proviso that none of them apply to MQA which uses its own filter.
New companion power amplifier
After listening to many CD and much streamed content, we arrived at 4-0-7 as shown above which became our preset 1. By contrast, 0-0-0 was too sharp to us while 2-2-2 muffled the sound with a virtual blanket. So the scope of obtainable sonic flavors was quite broad. Setting presets was easy. With the rotary knob one selects 'setup' in the main menu which will light up red. Now dial to preset 1, 2 or 3 and push the knob. Turning the knob grays out the desired parameter of 'PCM EQ' for the filters, 'DEE' for de-emphasis and 'DAC PWR' for the chip's operating current. Push the knob again. Now the category turns blue and can be adjusted up or down by turning the knob. Push to confirm, dial back to the right part of the screen, select 'OK' and save the setting. The learning curve to get around this menu and its options was very short. Anyone can master it in no time. In the main menu, the coded preset is selected by turning and pushing the rotary knob to instantly switch from one preset to another. This makes comparisons between them ultra convenient.
We very much welcomed this firmware innovation and viewed it as the DS-10's cherry on top which gives the user full control over operating parameters internal to the DS-10. 192 possible configurations explain the nickname chameleon. In our estimation, there'll always be the one perfect setting to best suit your given source—CD, USB, Bluetooth, Ethernet, WiFi—and rest of your hifi chain. It neatly eliminates the old often costly routine of pursuing those shifts with a new cable or serious hardware swaps just to arrive at the sound you really want. With some experimenting, the DS-10 should become the perfect source for any system. You just must take the time to explore all its options, then trust your ears.
Gold Note also just introduced their PA-10, a €1'390 power amp in the same form factor and size as the reviewed DS-10. It is a fully balanced Mosfet design which generates 75wpc into 8Ω but can bridge to a very surprising 600W/4Ω. It gets the adjustable damping factor feature of the full-size PA-1175 MkII stereo amp plus remote triggers. There are XLR and RCA inputs and finish options of black, silver and champagne gold.
For Gold Note, the DS-10 just became the central hub of a compact one-brand system. Add their PH-10 phono stage for vinyl, a PA-10 for power and a pair of A3 Evo stand-mount speakers. Presto, you have a system whose comprehensive features—the chameleon DAC aspects, the phonostage's adaptable values and multiple EQ curves, the amp's selectable damping factor and high-power bridge mode—plus potential upgradeability with future firmware updates will serve up music just the way you like it … and do so for many many years to come.
What could be better than that?
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