This is Chord’s first network player. What it has done, in effect, is to marry its top-of-the-range QBD76 HDSD DAC with StreamUnlimited’s Stream700 audio streaming client – an off-the-shelf hardware solution for network audio which includes a 3.5in, 320x240 pixel colour display, supports up to 24-bit/192kHz FLAC or WAV files via wired Ethernet (24-bit/96kHz via a wireless connection), provides for internet radio and offers remote control via a smartphone app.

There are just two rear inputs – a BNC socket for S/PDIF connection and, of course, the Ethernet socket – and just two pairs of phono and XLR outputs: one at fixed level and one a variable output, adjusted by an analogue volume control within the DSX1000, which allows for direct connection to a power amp.

There are no front controls other than what looks like a jog wheel but is actually a four-points-of-the-compass push-switch for navigating the menu that appears on the screen. On the other side of the screen is a deeply recessed sensor for remote operation.

Network players are intended, of course, for use remote from the device on which the music files are stored – that’s their raison d’être. But our listening room normally has no network running there, so we set up the simplest one possible: a Mac mini, running Windows XP and Twonky Media, acting as the music server, and a Netgear RP614 router providing the Ethernet connection between it and the player. Using this set-up, getting the DSX1000 to stream music was a doddle.

An open, lucid sound

With any streamer that offers a local digital input, the first thing we want to try is a comparison between the same files played via that and via Ethernet. Our experience is that the two never sound the same and, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, that’s what we eventually concluded. Via the S/PDIF input the sound was a little leaner, sparser and, on some material, arguably more engaging. Via Ethernet it was a bit warmer, the perspective a little closer, and the music delivered with a sense of greater weight and control.

Initial listening confirmed that the DAC stage of the DSX1000 is right up there with the best: open and lucid sounding and capable of projecting wide, deep and stable images. We began with ‘Riders On The Storm’ from the remastered The Best Of The Doors [Elektra]. The DSX1000 did nothing to disguise the rather left-middle-right nature of the stereo but it certainly helped burnish this piece of rock history, making it unexpectedly pleasing.

A piece we used for the S/PDIF versus streaming comparison was the 24/96 download of ‘Snowflake’ from Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow. This was a track where we appreciated the leaner, slightly better separated sound via S/PDIF, but the more we listened to the streamed version the more we appreciated its merits – particularly its ability to blend all the elements into an eloquent, immersive, infectious whole.

The DSX1000 was also able to cut it with items that can all too easily sound lacklustre – for example, Fred Simon’s ‘Poetspeak’, a laid-back number for jazz trio [Naim Label, 24/96]. There’s nothing ‘in your face’ about this recording: it is naturally distanced, with piano in the middle of the soundstage, double-bass to the left and drums to the right. But the playback system has to have a high level of transparency, when it becomes apparent that the cymbals are particularly cleanly captured and the double-bass is unusually natural in sound quality too. Suffice to say that the DSX1000 playing this encouraged settling back for an long evening listening session!

Verdict

If the network option is for you because you want to be able to listen some way from where your audio files are stored, the DSX1000 will deliver some of the very best sound quality available from a remote hard drive or NAS. As a first step into the audiophile streamer market, it’s most impressive.

Originally published in the 2013 Yearbook