Gold Note DS-10 D/A processor Page 2

When I saw a notification to update firmware, I did so. Unfortunately, the new firmware refused to shake hands with Roon. During the first of several WhatsApp sessions with Lenzi, we enlisted my MacBook Pro to first receive, by email, and then install, via the DS-10's mini-USB port, an older firmware version that worked fine with Roon, although it did not display MQA correctly. I was assured that I was hearing MQA, that the MQA logo would be displayed when new Roon-friendly software was released, and that the sound was exactly the same as with the current firmware (footnote 1).

Another problem was that Roon sometimes had trouble locating the DS-10. With Lenzi's help, I opened mconnect and discovered that even though the DS-10 was receiving a wired signal from the Nucleus+, it was shifting between the wired connection and trying to connect to my wireless network. This problem was easily remedied by removing the DS-10 from mconnect's wireless-playback settings. After that, the DS-10, Nucleus+, and Roon synched flawlessly, and I never used mconnect again.

The DS-10 arrived during the peak of Italy's first wave of COVID-19, when Gold Note's technicians were forced to work from home. With sequestration came an unavoidable slowdown of firmware and software development. The Roon and MQA fixes could not be finalized during the review period. I'm confident it will all be sorted by the time this review is published.


At last
"Whoa!" I exclaimed just minutes after my first listen to the DS-10 (without the PSU-10 EVO, which wasn't here yet). "Is this thing really sounding as good as I think it is?"

The answer: yes. Through its Ethernet port, with the Roon Nucleus+ as the source, the DS-10 easily revealed differences in two very different remasterings of David Oistrakh's historic 1967 recording of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.2 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Kirill Kondrashin—one from Alto (Tidal 24/44.1 FLAC), the other from EMG Classical (Tidal 16/44.1 FLAC). The contrasts were obvious, with the Alto version delivering far more air, detail, life, and sense of being there.

Turning to Ludwig Von Beethoven: Lieder • Songs, from baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Jan Lisiecki (24/96 WAV, DG 4838351), as good and full as the DS-10 sounded, it could not convey every bit of the extra reverberation around Goerne's voice that disturbed me when I first heard the recording. (My husband thought there was something wrong with the system when he first heard it.) Nor could the DS-10 fully reveal the artificial, studio-induced distance between singer and piano as the far more expensive Rossini DAC/ Clock could. But the voice was rich, the supporting piano distinct, and the sound beautiful, pleasing, and quite musical. The DS-10 was sounding far better than I had expected.

I found myself delighted when I turned to the third movement of Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata, from cellist Hee-Young Lim and pianist Nathalia Milstein's excellent recording of Russian Cello Sonatas (24/96 WAV, Sony S80497C). Both here and on Rachmaninoff 's "Vocalise," the DS-10 conveyed the richness of the cello's sound, albeit with-out all of the air and timbral detail—the so-called microtonal shadings—of my reference.

There were lots more tracks, including "John Taylor's Month Away," from King Creosote and Jon Hopkins's Diamond Mine (Jubilee Edition) (Tidal 16/44.1 FLAC), "Journey to the Center" from the 2018 remastering of JVC Jazz Festival Presents A Night of Chesky Jazz Live (24/192 AIFF, Chesky JD435), the title track from Casey Abrams's Robot Lovers (24/192 AIFF, Chesky JD417), and Priya Darshini's "Jahaan" from Periphery (24/192 AIFF, hesky JD450). I ended up loving this last track so much—its mixture of compelling musicianship with astounding depth, percussive effects, and a plethora of audiophile bells and whistles—that I used it throughout the review period.


When I switched the Nucleus+'s output to USB and used the dCS Network Bridge to compare the DS-10's AES/EBU and S/PDIF inputs, I found sound quality through AES/EBU equal to that through USB. AES/EBU produced clearer, deeper sound than the coaxial input. The DS-10's Ethernet input, though limited to 24/192 and DSD64, was the most transparent of the lot. "I could live with this for the rest of my life," I scribbled in my notes as I discovered how clearly I could discern the timbre of period instruments on Cecilia Bartoli's remarkably intimate, breathtakingly beautiful performance of "Leggi almeno tiranna infedele" (At least, you cruel and faithless woman/Read this document soaked in tears") from Ottone in Villa on her marvelous Vivaldi (24/96 WAV, Decca 002894834475) with Ensemble Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi.

To get a clearer handle on the DS-10's performance, I hooked up the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ to the Nucleus+ via USB—as noted above, the Brooklyn DAC+ doesn't accept Ethernet—and compared DACs. The DS-10 delivered richer colors, better-defined leading edges, and more air on the Rachmaninoff tracks for cello and piano. In far more complex, emotionally emphatic, and dynamically explosive music—the second movement ("The Ninth of January") from Shostakovich's Symphony No.11, "The Year 1905," performed live by Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (24/96 WAV, Deutsche Grammophon 002859502-HDTracks)—there was a gray, somewhat dry aspect to the Mytek's sound that failed to engage my heart and gut. The Brooklyn DAC+ placed instruments behind and between the speakers where they belonged, but soundstage boundaries lacked definition. Dynamics were good, but drums sounded a bit boomy, hollow, and flat. Returning to the blessed Bartoli, the Brooklyn DAC+ missed the silence with which the DS-10 depicted space around her voice.

Listening with headphones, the DS-10 again outperformed the Brooklyn DAC+ in multiple respects, including transparency and color saturation. Although I couldn't use a network connection with the Brooklyn DAC+, the Ethernet input further improved the DS-10's headphone playback. Drums on Priya Darshini's "Jahann" were more convincing and surrounded by air. Depth also improved. The DS-10's headphone preamp put more emphasis on midrange fullness than treble clarity. I'd love to hear Herb Reichert's opinion, and I suspect that he'll want to try 'phones and speakers with the DS-10 after he reads this review.

Preamp time
With the DS-10 feeding the MBL N11 preamp, the sound grew warmer, with the satiny glow and finish I've come to expect from the finest preamp Technical Editor John Atkinson has yet measured. The N11 had more of a performance-elevating effect on the DS-10 than on the Rossini DAC/Clock. When I dragged the husband away from his iPad and into the music room, he liked the live presence that the N11 brought to the sound but also preferred the DS-10's less focused, more diffuse presentation to the Rossini's well-defined leading edges. "It's a case of do you prefer impressionism or photography?" he said, as befits a relationship rooted, in part, on opposites attract.

I noted how the Rossini opened up the soundstage and was able to delineate the distinct lines of piano and cello. Those lines were by no means etched—the blend sounded natural—but instrumental flavors were not lost in a thick DAC soup. Ultimately, the DS-10 lacked the Rossini's large embrace—its openness, largesse, and willingness to show all sides, colors, and shades of music with equanimity. The husband smiled weakly and returned to his iPad.

The PSU-10 EVO power supply
Adding the PSU-10 EVO to the DS-10 produced a major improvement to an already very good DAC. On the Rachmaninoff sonata, the cello ached in ways that touched my heart—the Rossini DAC/Clock combo produces a similar effect—and piano lines emerged with clarity. On "Jahaan," the weight of percussion and instruments increased, and bass was clear. The Rossini combo exceled in openness, depth depiction, clarity of leading edge, color saturation, and transparency; it gave equal emphasis to treble and midrange. The DS-10/PSU-10 EVO combo, in comparison, thickened the midrange a bit, delivering sound a bit slower and in a less nimble manner. Regardless, Gold Note's little combo sounded fantastic for a package that costs less than an eighth of what the dCS duo costs.


I removed the external power supply. Now lines were a bit smudged and colors less saturated. Cellist Hee-Young Lim's full and chocolatey-rich tone lost some of its special allure and had a bit of an identity crisis with Milstein's piano: They seemed to merge when the volume and pace picked up. The Rossini delivered music with a degree of musical grace that the DS-10, with or without its optional power supply, could not equal.


Enter the PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Bridge II
Sometimes, when you evaluate several products at the same time, music devolves into a sequence of sound bites and emotions are buried under checklists. Hence my gratitude when Editor Jim Austin wrote, in response to my request for a deadline extension, "Do keep in mind that comparisons aren't really the point. Just tell readers what the experience was like, or, as [the late Art Dudley] used to say, 'Tell us what it sounds like.'"

Following multiple back and forths, I wrote, then scrapped, a conclusion for this review: "I'd love to put the DS-10/PSU-10 EVO up against some somewhat higher-priced DACs, including PS Audio's DirectStream DAC ($5999) with Bridge II Network Audio Card ($899)." I took a break and gave my friend Peter Schwartzman a call. He said, "Wanna borrow my DirectStream DAC? It has the Bridge installed so you can input signal through both USB and Ethernet."

I searched my brain for the perfect complex piece of music that would invite repeated listening. What better choice, in a year celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, than Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan's period-instrument recording of Beethoven Symphony No.9, Op.125, "Choral" (24/96 FLAC, BIS 2451)? I only used its first two movements—I'm waiting until I submit this review to play the rest—but since each is 14:13, I had plenty of time to settle in and see where the music led me.

Initially, I was blown away by the drive and brilliance of the DirectStream DAC (which was running the Windom OS), on tutti (everyone at once) passages. But when the line passed to solo instruments, they sounded smaller, dryer, and more separate from the larger orchestral fabric. Was this because I was listening to players who usually perform Bach, where the emphasis is often on intimacy rather than bombast? While the apocalyptic start to Beethoven's journey to universal oneness got my heart beating, I also found myself strangely unsettled by what I heard.

With the Rossini DAC/Clock, the contrast could not have been greater. The orchestra moved back in what felt like a naturally resonant hall, and newfound air around individual instruments transformed those passages from anemic to fascinating. I especially loved how, in the second movement, Beethoven passes the line from one instrument to the other, as if emphasizing how each is a part of a collective whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. The presentation felt more organic and refined, with a natural balance between the octaves that encouraged me to listen louder than with the treble-prominent DirectStream DAC. It made me want to see my way forward from Beethoven's initial militance and flashes of pain to the deliverance that was to follow.

As for the intrepid DS-10/PSU-10 EVO combo, lines were a bit smudged and less differentiated than through the other units. Colors were less saturated, and soundstage boundaries nowhere near as refined as with the dCS gear. However, solo instrumental passages were better integrated into the musical whole than through the PS Audio. The dCS Rossini DAC/Clock may have produced the most organic, refined, dynamic-yet-relaxed presentation of the three, but when it came to musical enjoyment, Gold Note's DS-10/PSU-10 EVO wasn't far behind. Both beckoned me to the "Ode to Joy" yet to come.


As a double-check, I turned to a seductive performance close to my heart, soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton's rendition of Fauré's perfumed "Les Roses d'Ispahan" (The Roses of Ispahan) from their recording Fleurs (24/96 WAV, BIS 2102). As different as the Rossini and DS-10 sounded, both conveyed the smile, warmth, and love behind the notes in ways some other DACs miss.

Putting it all together
My reference system hasn't hosted many DACs in the Gold Note DS-10's price range. I was delighted with what I heard. This little baby sounded so good—so musical—with its optional, identically dimensioned PSU-10 EVO power supply that I'd urge anyone who can shell out $4300 to try them together. I'm not going to tell you that you should consider what you can't afford, but do keep in mind that we read Stereophile because we care about the music. Music makes a difference in our lives; it helps make us whole. Sitting on a single shelf, powered by a single power cable, Gold Note's DS-10/PSU-10 EVO has the potential to fulfill and heal in ways that extend far beyond words. It's a stellar achievement from engineers who understand what musical deliverance is all about.

Footnote 1: Jason should have been able to confirm that Roon was sending out MQA by tapping the Signal Path indicator in the Roon app's interface during playback.—Jim Austin
Gold Note Italy
US distributor: Gold Note USA via Rutherford Audio Inc.
G108, 14 Inverness Dr. East
Englewood, CO 80112
(888) 279-6755

Anton's picture

A wonderful read!

Golden Note is one of those companies that really seem to have it going on right now.

Mike Fremer positively reviewed their midrange phono cartridge, and now this great digital product review.

Now that is some fine versatility!

Thank you again for that great review.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Recognizing the fact that JVS is the greatest reviewer ever, Stereophile is already paying JVS twice as much as any other reviewer for the Stereophile magazine :-) .......

Jim Austin's picture

... that Stereophile reviewers are very competitive and crave adulation--so now you've made the rest of them angry, and now they're all gunning for JVS!


Jim Austin, Editor

rt66indierock's picture

I am looking forward to meeting you and a couple of the reviewers I haven't met yet and seeing this competitiveness.

I'm laying low until it is safe to get around New York City stay safe.

Jim Austin's picture

is one of the safest places to be right now.

Yeah, we Stereophile reviewers have been known to get into fistfights over tubes-vs-solid-state or analog-vs-digital. ;-)

In all seriousness--while we're not really competitive, we are very serious. Not much cynicism around these parts, a fact I'm very happy about.

Jim Austin, Editor

rt66indierock's picture

Jim, I'm not taking a taxi, using a car service, the subway, an airplane because I don't feel safe right now. I have two modes of travel where I feel safe. Walking in uncrowded areas and my own car.

As for your "fistfights" audio equipment is either properly designed or it isn't. And music is either recorded well or it isn't. Whether a poorer quality recording reaches you emotionally is place for a serious discussion.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile reviewers get into 'first-fights', only when the products of the year award winners are selected ........ Just kidding ..... Just kidding :-) ......

Jim Austin's picture

I've still got bruises from 2019.

Jim Austin, Editor

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

on that score.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Did MF do it? :-) ......

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It always feels good when the first comment is positive, and doesn't rip you to shreds.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The headphone output of Weiss DAC502, which JVS has for follow-up review, should work better with the Audeze LCD-X :-) ......

Anton's picture

Anyway, Golden Note seems to be rising as a company that really 'gets it.'

Mike Fremer recently had a positive impression of their mid-range cartridge, as well!

They are running the gamut from A to D....analog to digital.

Also, thanks for doing the review on your system, giving it the best change to really "explain itself," sonically.

Glotz's picture

Every review you do is excellent, Jason.

The bar is so high in this magazine, how do any of you 2nd guess yourselves??

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I sweat a lot. I also learn from my mistakes. I'm afraid I stumbled a bit in an upcoming review. But I just "got" the opening for my current review while riding my fixed up racing bike back from downtown Port Townsend. Had to stop to allow two young deer to cross the road. Life is good. And now for the most important thing I do: the afternoon dog walk.

Glotz's picture

Enjoy every minute and may the fruit of your labor be sweet!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Weight lifting 100 lb audio components can produce lot of sweat :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The DS-10 headphone output impedance of 10 Ohms is somewhat high, for the low impedance headphones like the Audeze LCD-X ....... That headphone output would work better for headphones with impedance of 100 Ohms or more :-) .......

SteveG's picture

The AK4493 does not limit output to 192k. AKM says this: “The AK4493EQ accepts up to 768kHz PCM data and 22.4MHz DSD data“

Ortofan's picture

... the difference between "coddled cream" and clotted cream?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

A good proofreader.

rt66indierock's picture

I'd love to play around with one and measure it myself. See how it measures up to the king of the hill the Okto dac8 stereo DAC. And of course hear how it plays my reference albums and recordings.

And of course I like MQA firmware issues.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile is gonna be reviewing the Okto dac8 Stereo in a future issue ......

What built-in digital filter(s) do you normally use with your dac8 Stereo? ...... Just curious :-) .......

Anton's picture

That might be a killer!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is not worthy of placing on the 'Monza' equipment rack ...... It costs less than $2k ...... Just kidding :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JVS could compare it with the Brooklyn DAC+, which costs $2,085 :-) ......

rt66indierock's picture

I generally use linear filters, sometimes intermediate and occasionally a minimum phase.

And I don't own a dac8 Stereo, I was able to borrow one, measure it and play my reference albums and recordings. It should be interesting to see if a Stereophile review matches what I measured and heard.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Gold Note DS-10 uses minimum phase filter ....... See, Fig.1 and Fig.2 in measurements ....... Seems like that is the only filter available in DS-10 :-) .......

rt66indierock's picture

I'd like to measure a Gold Note DS-10 and listen to my reference albums and recordings. Maybe do a shoot out with say a Pacific Microsonics Model One.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Do you make your own recordings? ...... If so, at what resolution do you make your recordings? ..... Can you tell us some details about your recording technique? :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, what resolution(s) your reference albums are? :-) .....

cpdk's picture


low2midhifi's picture

It might be a trivial observation, but what I like about this Gold Note DAC is its beefy 3-prong power cord jack.

I own a much less expensive DAC with a similar 3-prong power cord jack, and another with the flimsier one-pin 6V outlet jack. Just as higher quality 3-prong power cord connectors have worked their way down to lower-priced (sub $1000) DACs, so have one-pin 6V to 15V outlet jacks managed to show up in products costing over $1000.00, sometimes much more than $1,000.00.

I have found that one-pin 9V DAC power cord connectors to be more susceptible to the vagueries of the electrical systems in my housing situation (multi-story, multi-unit) than a solid 3-prong connector.

We all want a DAC for the playback options and higher sound quality that they offer. From my experience, a high-quality 3-prong power cord connector is a better assurance that high sound quality does not suffer the electrical offs-and-ons and clicking noises that one-pin cnnectors seem to be at greater risk of producing.

From my purchase history, just as assessing the music reproduction capabilies of a DAC is critical, so is looking at the power cord interface. The Streophile staff tests many more products than I can. I'd be interested to hear their opinion on this matter.

Ortofan's picture

... "beefy 3-prong power cord jack" is vital for a device that draws all of 30W.

Archimago's picture

Could be 30 super duper fat watts that need thick wires :-)

Kal Rubinson's picture

I cannot think of any logical reason to compare the connector for a 120VAC cable to the connector for a 6-5VDC cable. It is as silly as comparing the AC wall outlet with the lamp socket in the fixture.

low2midhifi's picture

Stereophile editors and writers: Perhaps my inquiry was uninspired and ignorant. Instead of using your expertise to illuminate the readers of this publication, you chose again to use your platform to insult and denigrate your readers.

This is the third time (this time it's on the forum) that I have to call out the negative and unhelpful (aka trolling) replies with which Stereophile writers use their platform to insult their readers.

This "national publication," according to Wikipedia, has a circulation that is 1/2 that of the town newspaper of the community where I grew up. Put that in perspective the next time you take the low road with a commenter on this site. I'll mention for good measure the troubling reliance of this publication on decades-old product reviews to keep its pages filled.

I have asked you webmaster to deactivate my account. You may elect to have my remarks expunged.

Audio industry leaders lament the declining membership in this hobby. Perhaps the attitude that experts take towards those who have lesser knowledge is a reason why people lose interest in this pursuit.

I hope you are proud of your remarks. You just lost a reader of this publication for good. I was a subscriber to the print edition, in addition to my engagement on the digital version.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I had been waiting for a response but I did not anticipate this one. What I expected was a come-back about the universal value of better quality connection devices and materials.

We are all equals here. Please reconsider your departure.

dc_bruce's picture

Whew! Strike me dead for the stereotype, but as I was reading of your tribulations, I couldn't help but think of another wonderful Italian product-- an Alfa Romeo.
Kudos to you for working through all this and "telling us how it sounds" and, as part of that effort, telling us how 2 other DACs sound playing the same content through your system.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Much appreciated.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hi JVS, what digital filter(s) you commonly used with Mytek Brooklyn DAC+? ....... Did you use the MQA filter in the Brooklyn DAC+? ....... Did you like the sound of that MQA filter? :-) .......

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I always use MQA's filter with MQA, because it is the filter designed for it. Do I sit in judgment over that filter, and reject it for particular DACs? No. As for the other PCM filters, I didn't put my focus there. The DAC Plus is not often in my system, so I used whatever filter I had grown to like when I spent a lot of time with the Brooklyn DAC Plus on a previous occasion.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Archimago would get a heart attack if he uses that MQA filter in the Brooklyn DAC+ :-) .......

Archimago's picture

No heart attack, or panic attack for that matter, BH...

If it's MQA, by all means use recommended proper filter. Better just skip MQA to avoid paying any taxes on a bad product IMO ;-).

Knights11's picture

Hi jason. thank you for such an insightful review. Did you use the Audioquest Niagara 5000 with the PSU-10 EVO? Or when you were reviewing the impact of the PSU-10 EVO did you use this without the 5000? I ask because I currently have a DS-10 and also a Niagara 3000, and I was wondering what impact (if any) the PSU-10 EVO would have. Thanks!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

To answer your question in reverse order, the Niagara is a power conditioner, and the PSU-10 EVO is a power supply. The Niagara can be used with or without the PSU-10 EVO, since it cleans the power going to any power supply in any component. The PSU-10 EVO, by distinction, replaces the DAC's internal power supply and greatly improves upon it.

I use the Niagara 5000 with everything in my system, including the DACs I review, unless a manufacturer absolutely opposes same. (I ask them, of course.). Because I have Nordost cabling, all front end devices are plugged into a Nordost QB8, which has a star ground and a resistor on its Earth Ground outlet which is intended for the preamp (or, in this case, DAC/preamp). The QB8 is, in turn, plugged into bank 3 of the Niagara - banks 3-6 are identical, but bank 3 is the most conveniently located in my set-up.

My amps are plugged into bank 2 of the Niagara 5000's high current outlets. Bank 2 bypasses a switch, and does not limit current. I've never used the 3000, and can offer absolutely no advice on set-up. I also don't know how it does with extremely powerful high current monoblocks such as mine.

Hope that clarifies.