Using the NPC
Using the NPC is a new challenge in some respects, old hat in others. For example, if you want to simply plugin your turntable, connect the outputs to your preamplifier, it’s about as easy a setup as you can get. Just plug it in, set the cartridge load, set the gain for the phono cartridge and start enjoying your vinyl.
But if you’re like me, you’re going to want to immediately see how the analog out compares to the digital out and that’s exactly what I want to write about.
The first thing I do is take the balanced XLR output of the NPC and plug it into input 2 on my preamplifier. Input 1 of my preamp already has the XLR balanced outputs from the PerfectWave DAC that I use daily.
Of course the next step is to setup the turntable and cartridge. In my setup in Music Room One I have the Clear Audio Master Solution turntable and arm with a Lyra moving coil cartridge. After plugging the RCA’s from the Clear Audio into the NPC’s phono inputs, it’s then a simple matter to set the NPC’s rear panel cartridge load setting to 100 Ohms (which I prefer on the Lyra over its recommended 200 Ohms).
Next I go to the front panel display of the NPC and finish the setup. For gain, the Lyra seems to work best with 69dB, perfect for a 0.6mv cartridge. Next, I want to set the digital output sample rate and bit depth. Because I do not have anything to play back DSD just yet, I am going to choose PCM. I set this to my favorite, 96kHz/24 bit (it can go as high as 192kHz but I prefer 96 – read all about it in the Owner’s Manual if you want). I connect the I2S output of the NPC through an HDMI cable to the PWD and I am ready to start auditioning. You could also connect it through the coax digital output to your DAC if you want.
Comparing LP vs. CD sound
Using the pure analog output of the NPC as my reference, I put on a few cuts. I really like the Mofi version of Willie Nelson’s Stardust for starters. Willie’s voice is easy to know when you get it right. Halfway through the track I click the preamp over to input 2 and listen to the output of the PWD. There’s about a 1dB drop in level I adjust for and then kick back and listen. Is it identical? No, not quite, but amazingly close. There’s a slight sense of soundstage loss and his acoustic guitar hasn’t exactly the same ring to its upper harmonics, but I am surprised and delighted just how close this is. I mean, we’re splitting hairs here. I’d give it a 95% which, given I am listening to the IRS system in Music Room One, is really quite remarkable. The IRS system in Music Room One is one of the most resolving systems I have ever heard, so the fact that the two outputs sound so close is really gratifying.
I now switch over to Holst The Planets to get a bigger perspective on the two. This time I start with the output of the PWD and get a good measure on the track Jupiter. It sounds amazing on the IRS and I find it hard to imagine it can get any better when I switch to the pure analog. I switch and, yes, it’s ever so slightly better but going back and forth quickly the differences are tiny indeed.
Why this is so interesting
What’s amazing to me is how well a PCM copy of a pure analog playback can be. In recent Paul’s Posts we’ve been covering a lot of ground on how this is possible. How CD’s of the same recording generally sound nowhere near as good as the LP version, yet you can make a digital copy of the LP and it sounds essentially identical.
If you’re interested in these topics or following along with the controversies of PCM vs. DSD, then I would encourage you to signup for my Paul’s Post series and get a daily dose to start your morning off right. Easy to signup, even easier to unsubscribe.