Review: Audionet DNC & EPX – Digital Analog converter – (Digital Network Client).
German perfection and quality
Audionet is a German brand with more than 20 years of experience in the market but it is not very popular in Spain, at least until now. On their website there is a whole statement of intent: they literally say “ unlike other companies on this planet that are chasing the perfect sound, ours is not driven by financiers or marketing people. Audionet was born from real German scientists and engineers«. Indeed it is, 20 years ago a group of young German engineers created the brand at the University of Bochum. It is also curious that they affirm that among their principles they were neither the search for the maximum information, nor the perfect timbre, nor an ideal frequency response … What they were looking for was a realistic dynamic, something that seems very difficult for many teams of high Fidelity.
I find it curious to read this on your website to prepare the introduction of this article, when precisely the dynamics is what has caught my attention the most about this device and what is repeated the most in my notepad … That and an irreproachable construction , as I have rarely seen and in some aspects unique: in AudioNet not only the circuit but also the components work a lot, which ones are based on their position in the circuit and what quality is the minimum admissible for them (always very high). We are going to start precisely with its internal and constructive details, as is my custom …
We have tested the DNC model, a DAC converter with a built-in network player, and which also has the curiosity to have FM radio. Its output is fixed, that is, it is not a preamp (Audionet has another model that does have that function in addition to DAC and streamer, the DNP). We also had the EPX external upgraded power supply tested. The DNC is a “universal” digital source, meaning that it will be able to receive signals from optical readers or play files from our network, hard drives or USB sticks directly, or from the Internet. Perhaps the access to Internet radios explains why it has an internal FM receiver, something curious to say the least. The digital part, in addition to the DAC, has more unusual features:
To begin with, the Audionet, both the DNC and the separate power supply EPX, are presented as fairly sober devices. Available in the black color of the photos we tested or in silver gray a little more elegant perhaps, the chassis is made of aluminum plates of considerable thickness. They weigh, and in particular I was surprised by the weight of the EPX power supply but we will soon find out why … In view of the finishes and construction of these Audionet, several words come to mind: precise, elegant, sober … When it comes time to lift the lid and see how they are made inside, we could add orderly or sophisticated to these words, but really what we will pronounce will be another: Brutal !.
To explain this I have to start with the power supply: Just take a look at the photo inside to realize how far Audionet has come in its quest for perfection at this level. At first glance, anyone would say that it is a power stage, or perhaps a separate power supply for an amplifier, with the two large toroids and the more than 20 high-capacity, high-end electrolytic capacitors (I don’t remember ever seeing so many Elna «For Audio ” together). But no, this enormous electronic effort serves to improve the (as we will see already good) power supply of our player or a preamplifier, giving them a spectacular and clean energy reserve.
Let’s see the Audionet DNC in detail. At the back we have all the connections: 9 digital inputs including network and USB should be enough for any system. It does not include any of the I2S type, although I particularly have some qualms with those connections that really only work between devices from the same manufacturer since there is no universal protocol for external connections itself. At the far right of the device we have the balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, and the unbalanced connectors already attract our attention because a high-end Furutech connector is not seen in any device … This will be a constant from now on, the use of connectors and materials of the highest quality within reason: For example the internal fuse is a gold model also from Furutech, And all capacitors have an adhesive since it reduces their radiation and vibration. It is not usual to see such audiophile details even on high-end devices.
If we already look inside, it is striking that it is very crowded: This Audionet is not by far one of those devices that sell us with a lot of “air” … The fact is that we have on the one hand the power supply of all digital circuits, for another is feeding the analogue part with a good toroidal transformer accompanied by various regulations and a good collection of quality capacitors (Elna Silmic). It is not what we have seen in the separate EPX power supply, logically, but it is more than usual for a device even in this range.
On different boards we can see the different sections of the DNC: The USB digital input that uses an XMOS chip whose glass is wrapped in silicone to dampen vibrations (I already said that there are many important details in here), the file playback part, and highlights on the right side the DAC conversion section.
There are two plates, one per channel, and each one carries a Burr Brown PCM1794 chip, which is not the latest fad (and not compatible with DSD) but it is clear that Audionet knows it thoroughly and knows how to extract music from it. Partly perhaps because of the “upsampling” to which they are subjected, since all digital input signals go to 24bit and 192 kHz in asynchronous mode with Audionet’s own technology. The analog section that follows the DAC chip is almost as impressive as the separate power supply: Very elaborate and nothing to do with what we usually see in other devices that is little more than the application recommendation of the chip manufacturer with a couple of operational. This circuit is much more complex, the “Audionet Ultra Linear Amplifier” that they use in their preamps too, with no capacitors in the signal path. Even if nobody does
This test actually has three phases or stages: I tested the Audionet with the EPX source, then I figured out how to use its room acoustic correction system and applied it in my living room, and lastly I used the DNC without the separate power supply. I know that the logical thing might have been to do just the opposite, but in view of that beastly power I was not going to leave it unplugged, I’m sorry …
I’m going to start with the few things that didn’t convince me about the Audionet DNC: Apart from the fact that it doesn’t accept music in DSD format, it is not compatible with Roon (my favorite program / server). Audionet has its own control application, the Audionet Music Manager app, which did not convince me much in use. On the other hand, both the acoustics program (Carma) within its natural complexity, and the “Audionet Remote Control Point” (configuration and use, libraries, etc.) that are used from a computer, are very good.
Regarding the acoustic measurement system of the room and correction or equalization, Audionet has its well-known Carma program that I just mentioned and they have managed to integrate it very well with their devices. As always when it comes to acoustic measurements, it is better to have some previous experience or we will not know exactly what they are asking us or what they are explaining to us that we should do, from the necessary connections to the system and with the computer (essential) … perhaps I worked in parallel with the popular free REW program to confirm the measurements and also to get me to propose a correction equalization, something that I missed in the Audionet program. But once it is done and running, the truth is that it is done quite quickly and, above all, here its application is very practical:
The procedure for all this is the usual one that amateurs know: We connect the computer to the system (in this case to the USB input of the Audionet DNC) and we connect a calibrated microphone to the computer. With the microphone at the listening point, the computer reproduces several test tones and this is how the acoustics of the room are measured, explained very briefly because it is always advisable to test several points for the microphone and pay attention to variables that may influence the measurement. . The program offered by Audionet and its equalization (with 5 points only) are not intended to obtain the final “perfection”, but rather to correct or allow the user to correct the most notorious or annoying problems in their room. For that it is true that those 5 points will be enough in most cases, also leaving us with a system that is still “purist” in this sense as it has very little manipulation of the signal. Another important thing that the Audionet allows is to indicate the distance to the boxes, something that I personally carry millimetrically (it is very important) and that the DNC allows to adjust ideally. You have to use a computer to manage or edit all this, but once it is done (which can or should be done by the installer-distributor) with the mobile application or the remote control we have enough.
Well how does it sound? Save the best for last … even if Audionet’s build quality and perfectionism have already been highlighted. Perhaps that is the word that best defines the sound of the DNC and perhaps the brand: «perfect». It’s difficult to explain, but as soon as you start listening to it, you realize that that mental review you always do, in “test mode”, looking for faults … well, you can’t find any. It does not have a weak bass (if not the opposite), in mids it offers clarity without harshness, the highs are crystal clear and not at all aggressive, the scene is deep and stable … not only does it fail at anything, but it does everything very well. The sound is “settled”, solid, and the soundstage is very three-dimensional, wide and deep, very noticeable. And best of all, something that immediately catches your eye: always with excellent dynamics.
Digital sources are sometimes criticized because they lack the “life”, the punch of real music, while a good analog source seems to offer better that live music feel. Any live instrument, or a voice, has a dynamic that leaves no doubt that we are not listening to a recording: the Audionet DNC is very close to that “direct” ideal. It is not just a question of whether the notes of a piano sound as they should (hammer strike on the string and resonance) or of the claw of a drums or guitar, it is that “everything” sounds more alive and more real. When we compare a somewhat “dark” system or component with a more transparent one, the feeling that we are lifting a veil is known: with the Audionet the feeling when comparing with other sources is that the others have a “brake”. And that dynamic not only gives more freshness and more life, more realism, to the music, it also makes it more interesting: it makes you want to keep listening and if you need to turn up the volume. Without the EPX source, the truth is that at the beginning I hardly appreciated a change but in the long run you do notice how that dynamic deflates a bit, but the DNC as it is maintains that characteristic very well, really.
Let’s go with the room correction. In my case I only tested the Audionet in the living room, which has worse acoustics, and the measurement gave the well-known “peak” in bass of the main resonance (at about 35 Hz) in the left cabinet (closer to a corner), and around 70 Hz in the right box, plus a certain “plateau” around 1 kHz in both. I am in the process of moving (furniture) and I had not measured in a while, in fact I will have to “put on” to improve when I finish. But with Audionet’s five EQ points in the Carma program I already got a very flattened response (the graphs capture the measurements before and after both boxes in the program) and this is how it was also reflected in REW. Passing the correction from the computer to the DNC is very easy (they are connected through the network and just “synchronize”).
As I mentioned above, activating or deactivating the correction while it sounds is also easy with the mobile (it is silenced for a moment), although since I only lowered peaks (it is his thing when equalizing and not trying to fill “valleys”) you have to compensate by raising the volume slightly . The effect was discreet but it was noticeable in an apparent greater softness and especially in that the scene, already deep in itself, gained even more in perceived depth. The low-end peak is very low (35Hz) and is only apparent with little music, but the rest is striking, and it was something I noticed consistently (depth and smoothness). It is clear that Audionet’s equalization work, in addition to being subtle, is well “programmed”: these filters, even in the digital realm, are not always “clean” and much less musical.
Audionet DNC Conclusion
My first experience with Audionet makes it clear to me how serious and perfectionist these Germans are. Their sets are full of quality components and audiophile “tricks”, but all with impeccable construction, no “craftsmanship.” The sound is at the height of that care, it is solid, impeccable, without failures and with the scene and the dynamics as fundamental elements, possibly thanks to the obsession with feeding the best possible … and that with the external source it can still improve. Being able to use your own program to measure the room and file the main imperfections has a prize without counterparts, which is not something we can say about all systems of this type. Excellent discovery and totally recommended.
+ Exemplary interior construction and premium components
+ Wide connection possibilities: versatility
+ Clear sound, stable scene, “perfect” timbre
+ Excellent dynamics, extraordinary with improved font
+ Ease of use: application, control, display and equalization
– No «Roon ready» (for now)
– Does not play native DSD music