It’s strange how quick things change. A couple of years ago, the idea of a high-end CD player sporting a USB input would have been unthinkable. Now, practically every new CD player features some kind of computer-friendly input. The NR22 from French brand Neodio is no exception.
The player is very similar in design and layout to the NR One we tested in 2009. Both use a central DVD-ROM drive sitting in a constrained layer base, both use a Crystal 24bit, 192kHz digital conversion, with 100MHz op-amps in the output stage and both sport a hefty 150vA toroidal transformer instead of the usual switch-mode supplies seen in many disc-spinners. They even have both balanced and single-ended outputs. To all intents and purposes, the two players are almost identical.
At least that’s the theory. The NR22’s DVD-ROM transport sits sandwiched between two slices of cork-damped plexiglass, the aforementioned addition of a USB input, and an 8mm thick curved cover of five constrained layers of tinted polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Naturally, the addition of a USB input demands a serious re-think of the internal layout of the player, and lots of cork-damping and care in EMI elimination. Small changes make big differences.
The company pays particular attention to the way the circuit is clocked, in order to minimise the dreaded jitter. Instead of the usual simple quartz-oscillator timing chip, Neodio uses an analogue clock circuit; this seems counter-intuitive, because quartz is more accurate but apparently very prone to microphony problems.
That means the player retains the distinctive, very 1970s French chic aluminium and PMMA front panel, with its completely hidden centre transport DVD mech, bottle-shaped inset for the five main controls and basic orange LED read-out. And it still sits on three adjustable aluminium feet with cork inserts. It’s a mark of just how engineering-led the designer, Stephane Even, is that the three are perfectly placed for resonance control, with the single front-mounted foot sitting directly beneath the transport mechanism.
As you might imagine, a lot of the installation involves getting the player perfectly level, which is comparatively easy, although the player is deceptively heavy and that slows the process down slightly. But do spend the time getting it perfectly level, though, as the resultant improvement in performance is marked. This is intriguing, because in so doing, Neodio gets to treat the CD like an LP; digital engineers are more keen on discussing conversion or error correction, this one considers the spinning disc as Р guess what? Р a spinning disc!
In case you think this now veers off into audio fantasy land, guess again. The engineering behind Neodio is very thorough and exacting. The company deliberately eschews audiophile grade components, preferring instead to use enterprise-grade components that have a very high reliability. So, even though this is hardly a hot running device, electrolytic caps inside Neodio products are graded to work at 105°C, so there’s little chance of things going ‘bang’ during day-to-day use. It’s why the preferred choice of chassis is a non-magnetic aluminium and wood sandwich. The one point that may cause some consternation is the plastic DVD-ROM drive Р compared to the likes of Esoteric, it’s not exactly awe-inspiring. Still, we use these in computers every day without a problem and if it’s good enough for Meridian’s Reference 808.3 player, it’s good enough here.
Neodio is also currently exploring what it perceives to be the gaps between what we can hear and what can be measured. In particular, the company is focused on determining how dynamic range, tonal balance and soundstaging can be related to testing schema (this last is particularly difficult with conventional measurement, because most tests are performed using just one channel). Whether this will deliver any significant changes in the way people test products remains to be seen, but it’s good to see companies like Neodio (and the ‘knowledge alliance’ of Acuity, Nordost and Vertex) pushing the envelope of listening and testing.
Of course, if you set out your store with regard to dynamics, tonality and soundstaging, you had better make damn sure your products do all these things well. Fortunately, Neodio has nothing to worry about here. The NR22 player Р like the NR One that was tested last year delivers all the goods. Once again, it’s in that happy place, with the detail of a dCS the naturalness of a Wadia, the stage width of an Esoteric and the bounce of a Naim. It manages to mix the best of these without sacrificing the whole.