Changing a brand name can sometimes be tricky. When ‘BackRub’ decided to become ‘Google’, for example, it worked out just fine–mostly because no one had the first idea what ‘BackRub’ was (or ‘Google’ at first, for that matter). When ‘Prince’ became ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’, on the other hand, everyone just kept on calling him ‘Prince’.
The reasons for ‘Cocktail Audio’ to become ‘Novafidelity’ in the UK don’t all concern just how dicey the word ‘cocktail’ is when it comes to spam filters. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to expect a transition like this to be smooth–but try Googling (or BackRubbing) the word ‘Novafidelity’ and then try to look beyond all the ‘Cocktail Audio’ results. But nevertheless, for the purposes of the UK (a country which seems to think it’s a special case at every turn) what we have here is a Novafidelity N15D network streamer.
It’s the entry-level product in a fairly comprehensive range of network audio streamers. And as the ‘affordable’ Novafidelity option, it’s a combination of quite lavish specification and some fairly understandable cost-cutting.
The ‘merit’ column is the more extensive, though, so it’s probably best to start here. The N15D is a compact, all-aluminium network streamer/USB DAC into which it’s possible to slot a 2.5in hard disk or solid state drive. It’s able to access DLNA network attached storage devices (it’s also Roon ready, which is useful), and has a Giga Fast Ethernet socket for just that purpose. It can incorporate accounts from many of the planet’s more discerning streaming services (such as TIDAL, Qobuz and Deezer, for instance) into its Music X Neo control app. Internet radio is available directly, from the i-Radio app. There’s Apple AirPlay connectivity (rather than Bluetooth), and it will accept a connection from a Spotify account via Spotify Connect (albeit as ‘cocktailAudio N15D’).
Music X Neo control is both better than before and better than most, if not all, small-to-medium sized companies’ alternatives. But it’s not flawless–and its readiness to reset the volume level to ‘uncomfortably loud’ when moving from track to track on the internal hard drive is at once startling and annoying. Novafidelity suspects this issue is restricted to Android control devices and is working on a fix. iOS controllers don’t exhibit the same eccentricity and, given the UK’s fetishisation of Apple smartphones and tablets, it may not be a deal-breaking fault. But out in the wider world, where Android rules and Cocktail Audio is still a thing, it could make all the difference.
There’s also a USB type B input–which, along with the Ethernet socket, is about it for physical connectivity. No matter how music gets on board the N15D, though, it’s dealt with by an ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DAC–this is a 32bit/384kHz device, with DSD256 and DXD 32bit/352.8kHz capability. The digital outputs, however, are capped at 24-bit, 192kHz resolution. It can handle all popular file types (including MQA) and most of the unpopular ones too.
There are a single pair of stereo RCA analogue outputs for connection to an amplifier, and–in the unlikely event you have a system with a more capable DAC than this and yet are in need of a digital audio streamer–digital optical and digital coaxial outputs too. At the front of the N15D is a 6.3mm headphone output, and a big volume/mute control.
Conspicuous by their absence are a display on the device itself or a remote control with which to operate it. All functionality, in fact, is taken care of by the Music X Neo app, which is generally a fair bit better than most control apps from companies of equivalent size. Typing in the IP address into a browser on the network also controls the N15D.
As luck would have it, there’s three-and-a-half-grand’s-worth of Naim Uniti Star network streamer/amp up and running when the Novafidelity arrives for testing–so in the spirit of experimentation the N15D is attached to one of the Naim’s digital optical inputs using a QED Performance optical cable. At the other end, the Uniti Star is hooked to a pair of Acoustic Energy AE1 mkIII SEs (still one of the most accomplished and likeable stand-mounting designs of this century) using Chord Company Rumour X speaker cable.