I received an Apple ipod for Christmas, plus a Gigaware ipod dock so I was able to connect it to my preamp. The sound was nothing spectacular, although I was able to immediately discern the differences between AAC-encoded files and the Apple Loss-less (ALAC) files I had loaded into it. I mistakenly loaded the first disc of the The Beatles (White Album) in AAC, while managing to correctly load the second disc in ALAC. Even using the analog dock outputs, it was pretty easy to hear that something wasn't right. But even with ALAC files, there was just no comparison between the CD played back on my Cambridge Audio Azur 840C and the ipod through the little Gigaware dock.
I knew that Wadia makes a digital dock, and I saw where CA also made a dock, the iD50, which MusicDirect sells for $179, more in my price range. I got in touch with them, but it turns out the iD50 only has audio outs, and since I really like the DAC in the 840C, it wasn't going to do what I wanted - to extract the digital signal from the ipod and let me send it to the 840C. I read about the Onkyo ND-S1 at Audio Asylum and decided to take the plunge.
The only place to get one, as far as I could ascertain, was on ebay, from Japan. The ones sold in Europe didn't come with the correct voltage or plugs or something - I don't really know - but if it was a Japanese product, why not order it from Japan? Makes sense to me.
So that's what I did - coincidentally, unbeknownst to me, on the same day that CA released their iD100 digital dock, which sells for $299. But I digress.
I ordered on ebay using BIN, which was all that was available, from a seller named buyfromjapan, using PayPal to send the combined $168 for the dock and shipping charges of $28.80, for a grand total of $196.80 USD. I placed the order on Feb. 6th and was ntified that the unit would ship on the next business day, which was the 8th. It said 7 to 10 business days was the usual shipping time. Sure enough, on the 18th, it came with the regular mail delivery.
I'm listening now as I type this, and it is getting harder and harder to concentrate on the keyboard. This is more like it! I have the bits squeezing through a 1.5 meter length of Nordost Moonglo II that I got from Upscale Audio for $139, delivered. After the DAC in the 840C changes the 1's and 0's into an electrical representation of music, it goes through a 2-foot pair of Kimber Silver Streak IC to the c-j PV11, and from there through 1.5 meter lengths of Alphacore flat-wire to a 150wpc VSP TM150 and my Infinity SSW10 sub (refoamed). From the VSP the amplified signal goes through 12-foot runs of Audioquest GBC to a pair of reconditioned Maggie II's. Noise is removed from the AC line by an API 114 line conditioner.
From what I can tell, there is no difference in sound quality between a CD or the same file pulled from the ipod by the ND-S1. That's not to say that there is no difference at all. I don't know if it's the Nordost wire, or what, but there are differences. The music through the Onkyo sounds slightly smoother, but with a slight loss of detail, compared to the same music on the same disc that I loaded onto the ipod in the first place. It's a classic trade-off, and individual recordings may be affected in ways that may or may not be beneficial. But that's all I can tell, other than a slight loss of depth in the soundstage. Width is the same, dynamics (from what I can tell so early on) are the same, frequency extension (from what I can tell with my old speakers and matching ears) is the same. I haven't listened for any length of time to anything other than ALAC, and I don't intend to, especially because I have all these neat playlists made up.
I briefly listened to an NPR station (Exit97.7 WEXT) from upstate Amsterdam, NY. It sounded OK and not so OK, depending on what music was playing. The display on the panel says that the digital info is being input at 16/44.1k, but I'm not so sure that's what's coming out of the ipod. It sounds so much better than my FM receiver though, that I don't care. This is how I will listen to radio from now on. In fact, I think I'll put it on while I proof-read this.
I hope somebody gets something out of what I've written here. I wanted to share my experiences with this new (to me, anyway) technology. It's pretty exciting to have a new source component that is this freakin' cool.