As well as having access to TIDAL Hi-Fi and Spotify Premium accounts, the N15D is also able to access some networked audio files and has been fitted with a hard disk drive loaded with a selection of Novafidelity favourites in a range of formats. Out of politeness more than anything, then, the hard drive is used to select the first tune: a PCM file of The Beta Band’s The Three EPs [Regal].
Used purely as a digital streamer, the N15D seems content to get out of the way of music and simply hand it over to an external DAC. As a result, the hard drive-derived songs of The Beta Band sound broad-shouldered, carry a lot of low-frequency momentum and enjoy very acceptable levels of detail–especially in the midrange, where the vocals sit in a pleasant little pocket of space while the music seethes and fulminates around them.
The same is true of a TIDAL Masters stream of Donny Hathaway’s Everything Is Everything [Atco]. There’s credible drive and attack across the board, detail- and character-packed midrange communication, and a pleasing sensation of unity to the individual performances that contributes no end to the overall timing of the recording.
And sure enough, step down in bandwidth to France’s FIP radio station via the i-Radio tuner (a measly 128kbps) and everything becomes more closed in and round-shouldered. Detail levels fall away and clarity diminishes. This relative lack of positivity and resolution doesn’t prevent FIP being one of the world’s most enjoyable radio stations, mind you.
Make the obvious switch, and connect the N15D to one of the Naim’s analogue inputs (using Chord Company’s Clearway interconnect) and thus let the Novafidelity’s internal DAC do all the heavy lifting, delivers across-the-board sonic improvements. It may not come as any great shock to realise the N15D’s digital-to-analogue conversion process is more accomplished than that of a Naim Uniti Star, but what is quite startling is just how much more adept and convincing the Novafidelity sounds.
First things first: the N15D has no problem dealing with a DSD (1bit/2.8224MHz) rip of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited [CBS]. And after it’s served the decoded analogue information to the Naim, the resulting sound is wide, tall and simply loaded with fine details of instrument timbre and vocal toil. The leading edges of individual notes are described with absolute certainty, their decay is similarly well controlled, and the minor harmonic divergences are highlighted just as fully as broader dynamic variances.
And there are equivalent improvements in the way the other selections are delivered. The Donny Hathaway album, in particular, benefits no end from the N15D’s greater insight and fidelity–his voice, so warm and pure in its tonality, is given even greater emotional resonance as the Novafidelity brings the listener closer to a true understanding of his technique.