Back in Hi-Fi+ Issue 129, we came away highly impressed with the Pro-meets-Domestic Merging+NADAC digital converter. There were a few hiccups, but most of those were related to getting something so resolutely designed for the serious pro world into the more laissez faire system design of home audio. Those issues have been entirely resolved in the intervening couple of years, but perhaps more importantly the DAC now sports a built-in (and fully retrofittable) Roon end point player, making Merging less of a DAC, more a full and thorough digital solution.
To recap briefly, Merging is a Swiss professional audio company perhaps best known for its Pyramix Virtual Studio suite. The Merging+NADAC is a blending of the Horus and Hapi converter sections used in the studio with high-end Pyramix systems, and brought to the domestic market as a combination network, S/PDIF, and AES-EBU converter, and headphone amplifier, available in both two channel and eight-channel versions.
A few years into trying to sell an eight-channel DAC into a two-channel world, Merging have recognised that it’s all but impossible to get someone to buy those extra six channels, despite the difference in price being comparatively negligible, as there is no performance uptick to be had by using the full eight-channel design. Merging has both two- and eight-channel demonstrators on tap, but the two channel model was already in use, and as the difference is functionally zero, the eight-channel version was used for the purposes of this test.
One of the limitations to the Merging+NADAC of old was its reliance on RAVENNA Audio-over-IP networking protocols. This has not changed, but RAVENNA has. Where in the past it was a mandatory belt-and-braces approach to networking, requiring a managed switch and the kind of network infrastructure that’s a far cry from the ad hoc wireless networks used in the home. That’s still a best practice route, but RAVENNA has mellowed with age, and is not at all uncomfortable in talking to lesser mortals with unmanaged network switches.
This has a dual advantage. First, it makes the Merging+NADAC far less complicated to install and use in the home. But, perhaps at once less obvious and more important, it allows a slightly more ad hoc approach to using file management programs to control your music. And it’s this change that sees the Merging+NADAC able to morph into the Merging+Player.
This retrofittable upgrade is one of the least impressive looking from the outside. The Merging+NADAC and+Player look almost identical from the outside, and I’m using the word ‘almost’ advisedly. There is precisely no change to the external front panel, almost nothing changed on the rear panel, or even – for the most part – the display. There is also no great change in boot up or power down time. If you were faced with a Merging+NADAC and a Merging+Player side by side and you didn’t have an iPad working in the system, you would struggle to tell them apart. Once you add in the iPad, things begin to change.