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Review: Soulnote D-1N D/A Converter

Review: Soulnote D-1N D/A converter - The Soulnote D-1N DAC has garnered attention for its distinctive approach to audio immersion and tonal warmth, making it a noteworthy contender.
5/5 - (1 vote)

Introduction

Soulnote, a Japanese audio manufacturer, has recently gained attention with its unique approach to audio equipment. With eight years of history and a fresh perspective, the Soulnote D-1N DAC enters the scene, promising a captivating auditory experience. This review explores its features, performance, and distinctive sound characteristics.

Design and Build Quality

The Soulnote D-1N immediately catches the eye with its elegant aesthetics. The front panel features finely milled horizontal stripes in silver or black finishes. This attention to detail and craftsmanship lends the DAC a premium and sophisticated appearance. The minimalist controls, including the power switch, input selection buttons, and lock range selector, are subtly integrated into the front panel, ensuring they don’t disrupt the clean design. However, the company emblem, though tastefully placed in the middle, might be considered somewhat ostentatious by those who prefer an even more understated look.

The build quality of the D-1N is robust and sturdy, reflecting Soulnote’s commitment to producing well-crafted audio equipment. While some might miss including additional visual elements or display screens, the DAC’s simplicity and clean lines contribute to its overall appeal. It’s a design that speaks to audiophiles who appreciate both form and function in their audio components.

The Soulnote D-1N DAC exhibits an exquisite design paired with top-notch build quality. The aesthetic appeal of this audio component is immediately striking, thanks to its finely milled horizontal stripes on the front panel, available in both silver and black finishes. This meticulous attention to detail lends the DAC a premium and sophisticated appearance that would grace any audiophile’s setup.

One of the standout design features of the D-1N is its minimalist approach to controls. The front panel seamlessly integrates essential buttons, including the power switch, input selection buttons, and the lock range selector. These controls are cleverly concealed within the design, preserving the clean and uncluttered aesthetic. This minimalist design approach contributes to the DAC’s overall appeal, appealing to audiophiles who value both form and function in their audio equipment.

Beyond its visual appeal, the build quality of the Soulnote D-1N is robust and sturdy, reflecting Soulnote’s commitment to crafting high-quality audio components. The materials used and the precision in construction are evident, ensuring durability and longevity. This emphasis on building quality instills confidence in users that the D-1N is a reliable and well-crafted audio device that will serve them faithfully over the years.

Furthermore, the Soulnote D-1N’s clean lines and understated elegance cater to those who appreciate a blend of aesthetics and functionality. It avoids unnecessary visual distractions or extra elements, ensuring the focus remains on the audio experience. While some may prefer additional visual elements or display screens, the DAC’s simplicity and tasteful design enhance its overall appeal.

The Soulnote D-1N DAC combines a striking design with impeccable build quality. Its minimalist yet elegant aesthetics and meticulous attention to detail make it a visually appealing addition to any audiophile’s setup. Its robust construction and durable materials ensure that it looks the part and stands the test of time, offering both form and function in a single package.

Features and Connectivity

The Soulnote D-1N excels in providing versatile connectivity options for audiophiles. It boasts an impressive array of digital inputs, including USB-B, AES/EBU, and two coaxial S/PDIF connections. These inputs cater to various source components, ensuring compatibility with various audio setups. However, one notable omission is the lack of an optical Toslink input, which could have further enhanced its connectivity options.

Under the hood, the D-1N employs each channel’s ESS ES9038PRO converter chip, signifying a commitment to top-tier digital-to-analog conversion technology. This choice aligns with Soulnote’s philosophy of delivering high-quality audio experiences. Additionally, including a switchable low-pass filter gives users the flexibility to fine-tune the DAC’s performance according to their specific audio system and preferences. This feature can be particularly valuable when optimizing the DAC’s interaction with different amplifiers and speakers.

Another standout feature of the D-1N is its non-over-sampling (NOS) mode, a distinctive approach to audio playback. This mode bypasses oversampling, a process common in digital audio, offering an alternative sonic perspective. However, it’s important to note that enabling NOS mode can significantly alter how music is presented, creating a unique listening experience that may not adhere to conventional stage representation. Consequently, the DAC offers listeners a choice between two distinct sonic signatures, adding an intriguing layer of customization to the overall audio experience.

Sound Quality

The Soulnote D-1N demonstrates a tonal balance that leans towards warmth, a characteristic that can be particularly engaging for many listeners. This warmth lends a pleasant fullness to the midrange, enhancing the expressiveness of vocals and instruments. Voices, in particular, benefit from this tonal quality, as it emphasizes their emotional depth and richness. Instruments, too, exhibit a confident and well-grounded presence.

In terms of bass reproduction, the D-1N maintains excellent control and precision. It delivers deep bass with a level of authority that will please most audiophiles. While it may not boast the sheer power of some competitors in its price range, its ability to render low-frequency notes with tightness and clarity is commendable. The DAC strikes a balance between impactful bass performance and maintaining overall sonic accuracy.

The Soulnote D-1N truly shines in its ability to resolve high-resolution details with finesse. Despite its commitment to providing excellent detail retrieval, the DAC refrains from overemphasizing these details to the detriment of the overall musical presentation. Instead, it seamlessly integrates intricate nuances into the musical flow, creating a listening experience that feels both natural and effortless. The DAC’s high-resolution capabilities are not showcased as standalone virtues but rather as integral components of the overall musical expression.

In the treble range, the Soulnote D-1N exhibits remarkable detail and clarity. It excels in rendering clear and precise high-frequency tones. Whether capturing the subtle nuances of a cymbal’s shimmer or articulating the airiness of vocals, the DAC’s treble performance is highly engaging. It achieves these treble qualities without veering into excessive brightness or harshness, ensuring a harmonious tonal balance.

Sound test

The Soulnote D-1N DAC sets itself apart in high-end audio with a sound signature best described as an immersive and captivating experience. During extensive listening tests, several aspects of its sonic performance became evident, showcasing its unique character and capabilities.

Spatial Presentation: One of the most remarkable attributes of the Soulnote D-1N is its unparalleled spatial presentation. It creates a sense of immersion beyond the ordinary, transcending conventional notions of soundstage. Instead of merely placing the listener in front of or amidst the musicians, the D-1N seemingly transports you into the very fabric of the music. It’s akin to diving into an underwater world, surrounded by a vibrant and three-dimensional musical tapestry. This distinctive spatial quality is an inherent part of the “Soulnote sound” and is a testament to the DAC’s ability to engage the listener profoundly.

Warm and Full-Bodied Tonality: The D-1N imparts a warm and full-bodied tonality to the music, creating an inviting and enveloping sonic experience. This character is characterized by a subtle emphasis on the lower frequencies, enriching the sound with a greater foundation and upper bass presence. It elevates the expressiveness of vocal performances and ensures instruments are portrayed with confidence and realism. While it introduces a slight warmth, it does so without obscuring details or veiling transparency. Every nuance and subtlety in the music is retained, and the overall effect is a harmonious and engaging presentation that enhances the emotional connection with the music.

Detail and Resolution: Despite its tonal warmth, the Soulnote D-1N doesn’t compromise on detail and resolution. It maintains impressive clarity and precision throughout the frequency range, allowing intricate musical details to shine through effortlessly. The DAC’s high resolution ensures that fine nuances are faithfully reproduced, contributing to a rich and textured listening experience. This characteristic makes it equally suitable for genres demanding intricate details, such as classical music or jazz, where the smallest nuances can profoundly impact the listening experience.

Treble Performance: The treble region of the D-1N is marked by its detailed and articulate delivery. It excels at presenting clear and precise high-frequency notes, imbuing the music with a sense of air and sparkle. Notably, the treble is extended and refined, without any hint of harshness or sibilance. It strikes a balance between delivering the intricacies of cymbals, strings, and high-pitched instruments while remaining non-fatiguing during extended listening sessions. This treble performance adds a layer of brilliance and energy to the overall sound signature, contributing to an engaging and immersive sonic presentation.

NOS Mode and Lock Range: The Soulnote D-1N offers unique features with its NOS (Non OverSampling) mode and Lock Range selector. In NOS mode, the DAC delivers a more conventional stage image that aligns with the listener’s expectations. This mode provides a focused and precise portrayal of the music with a stage that falls within the bounds of conventional audio experiences. In contrast, the Lock Range selector offers a range of options to tailor the DAC’s behavior to the source and listener’s preferences. Higher lock range settings introduce a sense of spaciousness but also slightly diffuse the presentation, while lower settings prioritize precision.

Recording Sensitivity: The Soulnote D-1N is sensitive to recording quality and production nuances. It can reveal intricacies in the recording process, making it particularly responsive to well-engineered and homogeneously recorded tracks. However, it may highlight discrepancies or inconsistencies in less meticulously recorded material, emphasizing the importance of high-quality source material.

Dynamic Fidelity: The DAC’s approach to dynamics is best described as natural and effortless. It doesn’t showcase dynamics as a separate virtue but allows them to emerge organically as the music dictates. This approach maintains a sense of realism and musicality, ensuring that dynamic shifts are rendered faithfully without any artificial exaggeration. The D-1N’s ability to seamlessly navigate dynamic contrasts contributes to a highly engaging and emotionally resonant listening experience.

In conclusion, the Soulnote D-1N DAC delivers a sonic performance that defies conventional boundaries. Its spatial presentation immerses the listener in a three-dimensional musical world, while its warm and full-bodied tonality enhances expressiveness. Despite its tonal warmth, it maintains exceptional detail and resolution, allowing intricate nuances to shine. The treble performance strikes a balance between clarity and refinement. The unique NOS mode and Lock Range selector offer flexibility in tailoring the listening experience. The DAC’s heightened recording sensitivity and natural dynamic fidelity make it a standout choice for audiophiles seeking a captivating and immersive sonic journey.

Spatial Presentation

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Soulnote D-1N is its spatial presentation, which stands apart from conventional stage representations. The DAC has the remarkable ability to immerse listeners in an expansive and captivating sea of sound. It offers a three-dimensional auditory experience that departs from traditional stage norms. Instead of positioning the listener in front of or between musicians, the D-1N seemingly envelops the listener in a vast and dynamic sonic landscape.

This spatial presentation is both immersive and unconventional. It transports listeners into a realm where they seem to float amidst a symphony of tones and sounds. This unique perspective can be likened to scuba diving in a vibrant underwater world, where music surrounds and envelopes the listener from all directions. It’s an experience that transcends typical stage dimensions and traditional audio listening.

However, the D-1N’s spatial presentation is particularly sensitive to the characteristics of different recordings. It readily reveals inconsistencies in mixing and recording environments. For example, if a track features vocals and accompanying instruments recorded in disparate spaces, the DAC will distinctly showcase these differences. This heightened sensitivity allows listeners to discern the intricacies of each recording’s unique audio environment. While this can be an enlightening experience, it also means that some recordings may not align with the DAC’s immersive spatial presentation, resulting in an inconsistent listening experience.

The spatial presentation of the Soulnote D-1N DAC is a remarkable aspect that sets it apart in the world of digital-to-analog conversion. Here are some key points to elaborate on this feature:

  1. Immersive Soundstage: The Soulnote D-1N creates an immersive and expansive soundstage that goes beyond traditional stereo imaging. It transports listeners into a three-dimensional sonic environment, making them feel surrounded by music.
  2. 3D-Like Experience: Unlike conventional DACs that place listeners before a stage, the D-1N’s spatial presentation makes it feel like you’re floating amidst the music. This unique characteristic provides a sensation similar to being submerged in sound, akin to diving into a sea of musical notes.
  3. Depth and Dimension: The DAC excels in delivering depth and dimension to the music. It allows you to perceive the positioning of instruments and vocals in a more vivid and lifelike manner, enhancing the overall listening experience.
  4. Music Realism: The Soulnote D-1N’s spatial presentation brings a sense of realism to music playback. It’s akin to the difference between looking at a painting of a landscape and actually standing in that landscape, feeling the surroundings.
  5. Recording Authenticity: It’s particularly sensitive to well-recorded music, highlighting the nuances and authenticity of recordings. On the flip side, it can reveal shortcomings in recordings where different tracks were recorded in various acoustic spaces.

In summary, the Soulnote D-1N’s spatial presentation is a defining feature that elevates the listening experience, offering a unique and immersive way to enjoy music. It’s an exceptional DAC that can make you feel like you’re not just listening to music, but actively participating in it.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Soulnote D-1N DAC is an extraordinary audio component that offers a listening journey unlike any other. Its warm tonal balance, controlled bass, and immersive spatial presentation set it apart. While its unique sound characteristics may not cater to every audiophile’s preferences, the D-1N is an exceptional DAC that demands to be experienced firsthand. Soulnote’s innovative approach to sound reproduction provides an intriguing auditory adventure for those seeking a departure from the conventional. With the D-1N, Soulnote invites listeners to explore the boundaries of musical immersion and redefine their audio expectations.

Advantages:

  1. Immersive Spatial Presentation: The Soulnote D-1N offers an unmatched immersive listening experience, creating a three-dimensional soundstage that places you within the music, transcending traditional notions of soundstage depth and width.
  2. Warm and Full-Bodied Tonality: Its warm and full-bodied tonality enhances the expressiveness of vocals and instruments, adding a touch of richness and depth to the music without sacrificing transparency or detail.
  3. High Detail and Resolution: Despite its tonal warmth, the DAC maintains impressive detail and resolution throughout the frequency range, ensuring that even subtle musical nuances are faithfully reproduced.
  4. Refined Treble Performance: The DAC’s treble performance is characterized by clarity, precision, and extension, delivering intricate high-frequency details without harshness or fatigue.
  5. Unique NOS Mode and Lock Range Selector: Including NOS mode and the Lock Range selector provides flexibility to tailor the DAC’s sound signature to individual preferences, allowing for immersive and conventional listening experiences.

Disadvantages:

  1. Sensitivity to Recording Quality: The DAC’s heightened sensitivity may accentuate discrepancies or inconsistencies in less meticulously recorded material, making the source material selection crucial for optimal performance.
  2. Tonal Warmth: While the warm tonality enhances many aspects of the listening experience, it may not suit those seeking a more neutral or analytical sound signature.
  3. Price: The Soulnote D-1N is positioned in a high-end price range, making it a significant investment for audiophiles, especially considering the cost of associated audio equipment.
  4. Limited Input Options: The DAC lacks optical Toslink input, which could limit connectivity options for users with optical sources.
  5. Complex Features: The presence of unique features like NOS mode and the Lock Range selector may require some experimentation and adjustment to harness the DAC’s capabilities fully, potentially posing a learning curve for users.

Profile of the Soulnote D-1N:

  • The tonality is overall balanced but goes in a slightly warmer direction.
  • The resolution is excellent, but details are not extracted – unless they have to be – but rather integrated into the “whole of the music”.
  • The bass appears deep, substantial and very well controlled, can sometimes push in the upper bass, but there are DACs that act even more powerfully. In NOS mode it is slightly reserved in the deep bass.
  • The treble is clearly defined, radiant (sometimes aggressive if necessary), and offers a lot of air. The resolution is also perfect here. Overall, the level ranges between straight and very slightly emphasized.
  • Dynamics are not a “special topic” for the D-1N – it “simply does everything right” with the greatest ease, which is not easy.
  • The spatial representation in oversampling mode is opulently immersive; the D-1N creates a sound space rather than drawing a normal stage. In NOS mode, however, it offers a more conventional spatial design that is clearly defined and offers good orientation.
  • The design is extremely cool, at least for my taste, and the workmanship appears to be of very high quality.

Facts:

  • Model Soulnote D-1N
  • Category: D/A converters
  • Price: 5,990 euros
  • Digital inputs: 1 x USB-B, 1 x AES/EBU (XLR), 2 x S/PDIF coaxial
  • Analogue outputs: Cinch, XLR
  • Compatibility: via USB PCM up to 32 bit/768 kHz, up to DSD512; via RCA or XLR up to 24 bit/192 kHz, up to DSD64).
  • Dimensions & weight: 430 x 109 x 379 mm (WxHxD), 10 kg
  • Colors: Silver or Black
  • Power consumption: 40 watts in operation
  • Other: no remote control, NOS mode
  • Warranty: 2 years