Gold Note DS-10 review


I'm always happy to receive a new product for a review from Maurizio and his team from Tuscany. By each year the Gold Note is pushing themselves to deliver a pure Italian DNA based product with an exceptional value. The DS-10 under review follow up the design cues of highly coveted and awarded IS-1000 Super integrated amplifier and PH-10 phono preamplifier that I've already reviewed here and here.

As you can read on the Gold Note DS-10 continues the successful legacy. As IS-1000 and PH-10, the DS-10 have a lot to offer. Its features and sound quality provides above the price ratio. Like other Gold Note products, DS-10 comes with a fulfilling sense of music's enjoyment, that keeps you immersed in the music for a prolonged time and invites you to come back for more. That is the very essence of what high-end audio stands and I wish more products would follow this trend. 

MEET DS-10


Gold Note DS-10 was designed from the very beginning to offer an upper level of digital audio playback. It builds upon the experiences gained with the DS-1000 and IS-1000 and offers the very essence in a much smaller, all-in-one component. 


DS-10 combines many features and a wide variety of inputs. It's a DAC, line-level preamplifier, a streamer, headphone amplifier and digital hub that allows all of the important streaming services to enjoy the music. 


From the ground up the Gold Note made it clear that despite the smaller size they won't compromise the sound quality. The same goes for the eye-catching brushed aluminum enclosure, which is not only a visual treat. It deals with the proper heat dispatching and unwanted micro resonances and vibrations. 

Gold Note DS-10 belongs to the latest generation of DACs and UPnP-DLNA streamers that sort of  already revolutionized modern music listening. 


DS-10 was inspired by the Gold Note tope tier models and DS-10 brings a lot of trickle-down technology from the IS-1000 Super Integrated amplifier like double power GAIN output and high-resolution Bluetooth 5.0.

There's no doubt how Roon became an industry norm and a must for any streaming device or music server and DS-10 is a Roon Ready device. It's also a multi-room system compatible and a true plug&play device. 

DS-10 needs no complicated endeavours to start playing the music. Either Ethernet of Wi-Fi and power amplifier (or active speakers) will provide an instant lock & load to your favorite music repertoire. 

When it comes to streaming the DS-10 is no shy of all of the services like Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Deezer and it supports Airplay, MQA, NAS access as well as reading from the USB flash drives (DSD64 on USB and LAN, PCM up to 24/192).

The dedicated app will let you deal with electrical profiles, acting on the deemphasis, the low- pass digital filters and the power applied to the digital chip. These profiles are managed and stored in real-time during music playback. This allows uncluttered operation and quite a unique listening experience.

Basically, the sound behavior can be changed to adapt the music that is being played with a particular imprint that suits the user, but in the absence of modifying the audio signal but only adjusting the electrical profiles. This is something that needs a hands-on trail to fully comprehend, but it's a feature easy to like and something that will be useful to many of the users. More in the following section of the review.  

OPERATIONAL


Like every Gold Note electronic component the DS-10 is easy to operate. It shows that immense time was dedicated to the refining the interface as well as the GN Control app


DS-10 provides a plethora of connections (7 digital inputs and 2 stereo analog outputs XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced) which makes it a full featured high-end digital/analog hub that is not only feature packed, but future proof and ready! Below are the schematics of front and back panel inputs, controls and features for easier understanding...


ANALOG LINE OUTPUT
  •  RCA unbalanced
  • 2 XLR balanced
DIGITAL INPUT
  • 3 Ethernet
  • 4 USB HOST (A type)
  • 5 AES/EBU balanced
  • 6 RCA S/PDIF COAX
  • 7 USB DAC (B type)
  • 8 TOS1
  • 9 TOS2

POWER AND THE REST

11 WI-FI Antenna*
12 WI-FI led
13 AC plug IEC standard 14 Bluetooth Antenna* 15 PSU IN
16 GN Link connector

CHAMELEON DAC


DS-10 unique feature allows users to form a specific sonic profile via EQ Curve (low pass filter), De-emphasis curve and energy level. 


But, that's not all. DS-10 also has a chameleon-like nature that can adapt to music, a high-end audio system, and to a personal taste.

All the adjustments to the electronic profiles are made in real-time and they're not directly modifying the audio signal!


DS-10 offers a mind-boggling 192 different selectable setups. Three presents are accessible on the front panel display. Presets are customized and stored via the rotary knob on the front panel or through the remote control.

On the diagram below you can see all the functions and sub-menu selections that are available from the front panel display.  



THE HEADPHONE AMP!?


A few of you asked me to give a bit of attention to the headphone feature of the Gold Note DS-10. As an all-in-one self-contained digital centerpiece, DS-10 is certainly on the radar of the headphone enthusiasts, that are looking for the device, that won't require any additional outboard gear. 


I've tried DS-10 with Audeze EL-8 and Crosszone CZ-1 headphones. The DS-10 offers a well-balanced sound, that with the help of double power GAIN output easily drove both headphone and it should deliver enough gain even to most demanding headphone models. Gold Note proprietary headphone driver technology also lets you choose between two levels of sensitivity to provide the proper driving of any headphone. These two particular features puts the DS-10 on par with some of the great performing stand-alone headphone amplifiers. 


One feature that is more than handy is the DS-10 ability to operate the volume of the headphone output on a channel completely independent from the analog line output on the backside of the unit.


The headphone output is automatically triggered when a 6,3mm headphone jack is inserted into the front panel. By activating the dedicated headphone output the line audio output on the rear side of the DS-10  deactivates automatically. DS-10 also offers simultaneous use of both audio outputs by managing the volume of both audio outputs simultaneously and completely independently. 

This is very practical as you can enjoy the music through the headphones and at the same time allocate the same signal (with a separate volume level) to a different audio device via the line outputs on the back. 


DS-10 needs to be taken for what it is... A balancing whole that needs nothing else to operate and deliver an instant sonic pleasure. And when acting in its designated role DS-10 can provide hours of "eargasm".  All in all the DS-10 packs the right amount of qualities that should keep happy even a bit more demanding headphones aficionados. 

THE MUSIC


With all of the inputs, subscription services and the ability to play all kinds of digital files it's hard to resist all of the music material on-hand and ready to digest by Gold Note DS-10. One can really lost  a sense of the time with an endless realms of available music. If you truly love the music it's the best time to enjoy it!


Jaco Pastorius's self-titled album is for sure among the more important millstones in jazz history. The complete album is a voyage extraordiné. Each track holds its reference qualities, but for this review, the "Continuum" felt as most appropriate. 

DS-10 brought up the needed warmness, harmonic richness, and aural expanse. Pastorius' highly dense and focused bass notes were formulated with needed weight and fortitude. 

With a mediocre digital front end in action, a lot is to be missed when it comes to the reproduction of sonic scenery, yet in a properly balanced system and with potent enough DAC the majestic holographic scenery should take place.  DS-10 allowed sound to escape the speakers and expand into my reference listening room way further, both horizontally and vertically. The level of density was of course not on par with my MSB Technology Select DAC (where are talking 100x factor), but it was highly impressive and far above of what's expected at its given price point. It's not easy to achieve a high-level aural layering at this price tag, yet DS-10 has portrayed a surprising magnitude of details without sacrificing the musicality!


I really like "The River (Tongo)" by Mike Stern form the album Voices for the unique music drive, being so well mixed and expertly produced. It can easily reveal the front end ability of "keeping it all together". This composition is multilayered and requires the DAC that is capable of the unveiling of all the layers without leaving out any information.

When multiple voices appear on the top of the groovy rhythm the sonic projection can too easily collapse. Surprisingly the DS-10 managed to keep it together with the sense of authority. Honestly, I didn't expect DS-10 to go that far with the unveiling of the "The River (Tongo)" convulsed composition. 

It's one thing to keep up with the pace and PRAT, (which DS-10 conveyed spot on), but when the DAC retains also the level of difficulty it's not exactly the usual affair. And Gold Note DS-10 brought an impressive balancing act on both sides; timing and complexity wise!

The next step into exploring the DS-10 core was the immortal "Misa Criolla: Kyrie" perfomed by Mercedes Sosa, Ricardo Hagman, Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires on the album Misa Criolla.

Even the intro alone is enough to bring to the knee many of the DACs' regardless of the price. Yes, most of the DACs will handle the lower octave sudden attack with some level of authority. Yet, with the introduction of the voices the needed and proper air and space around them is never a mandatory feature. This can too quickly and too easily become a baffling affair for the DAC. Gold Note DS-10 again impressively dispatched the more complex sonic composite with unexpected subtleness and refinement. Digital come a long way in how well it can decihpire the original  materail and DS-10 is proudly and boldy exhibits all the right traits that helps formign a belivable sonic ilusion. 

From strictly audiophile perspective, the "Just Like Love" by Steve Strauss from the album Just Like Love is certainly a tour de force track (and album) that assesses most if not all of the audiophile norms. It was recorded on the famous Stockfisch label and ensures a rare and system stressful sonic voyage that really shows all the capabilities of the high-end audio setup. 

Rarely an album provides so much of balanced merits and Gold Note DS-10 has excelled in delivering and keeping the "Just Like Love" complete spectrum equilibrium.

All feels right with "Just Like Love" when it's played back on the high-end audio system with a required level of resolution. There is a certain threshold needed to be met to call the audio system or product a high-end grade. Well, DS-10 doesn't fall short of such designation and with the reproduction of this album it proved to be of proper audiophile DNA. 


DS-10 revealed the most important attributes with enough sovereignty to let my inner sensors instantly follow the momentum. This quality is too often overlooked as many manufacturers primarily focuses on other attributes that occupy the logical receptors but fail to ignite the senses. DS-10 cuts through the case at once and in absence of analytical behaviour. 

I liked and loved how well DS-10 managed to portray Steve Strauss's vocal. The same goes for the guitar grip. This track divulge if the high-end audio system is set up properly within a few notes being played. It also reveals how well the digital front end can hold it up with the presentation of instruments and their given position in the space. Gold Note DS-10 clearly offers the needed level for so-called audiophile-grade reproduction without loosing the music's appeal. 

This review won't allow me to talk in-depth about the equitable weighted qualities of music and sound. Still... 

Music can be enjoyed on many levels, but making a high-end audio product that cannot touch both audiophile and music lovers' bases is a failed product. A product like this shows the lack of understating of the market and consumers. 

Opposite, the Gold Note DS-10 emphasizes the sonic virtues as well as the musicality to the same extent. This Italian music box encompasses all virtuous attributes that make it interesting to a wider public of music lovers as well as those who are technically inclined or want to explore more analytically the sonic propensities. This is where the Gold Note stands out and shows the know-how and understanding of the design team.

CONCLUSION


Why is Gold Note DS-10 such an important product? The answer is not one-folded. DS-10 embraces so many aspects of doing things right, but it certainly starts with being a stylish product that is priced reasonably and come with captivating aesthetics.   


Everything that is packed under the DS-10's chassis (hardware and software-wise) makes this Italian music-box an exceptional value that comes with a remarkable heritage, that not everyone is aware of. On top of it and like the rest of the Gold Note products, DS-10 is truly made in Italy, to be more specific in the iconic Tuscany! Yes, in the very heart of where the very idea of small boutique manufacturers originates!


As with all of the Gold Note products DS-10 offers a luxurious feeling and a distinct look that sets it apart even at the casual eye glance. Instantly recognizing styling easily conquer the aesthetic appeal. Embracing the stylish looks that were ignited with PH-10 was among the more important brand's decisions when it comes to the industrial product design. Current consumers expected the feature-packed product with upper-level sonic performance. Yet... It's not enough. By each year the customers are getting more demanding and it's crucial to achieve the right design and aesthetics that can provoke the senses and radiate with the aura of tastefulness. And bar none, the Gold Note DS-10 comes with an exceptionally high lusting factor!


All of the Gold Note products are no stranger to these qualities. The well thought industrial product design is well spread across the complete portfolio and the pleasing design cues promise a long-lasting standing and sense of proud ownership.

It's not exactly easy to keep the brand and products up to date in the era where everything changes so rapidly. On contrary to some beliefs our beloved niche industry is not prone to these marketing demands. Smaller, boutique manufacturers must strive hard to compete with the industry giants. Keeping the high-end business running well and profitable calls for an open-minded and well-conducted business moves and Gold Note is certainly on the right path with so many well-established products already speaking for themselves. 

In the globalization epoch, it's worth applauding to Gold Note strong determination to keep the production in Italy and offering such quality with a real-world price tag. 

Of course, every company aims to make a profit, but it's important to understand and value such high-spirited efforts of delivering something genuinely different and significant.

Gold Note DS-10 was designed by music lovers for music lovers. On top of it, it was also designed for audiophiles by audiophiles. And Maurizio is among the most passionate audiophiles and high-end connoisseurs that I know. His out of the box mindset and visionary forward-thinking has kept him busy as a successful high-end audio entrepreneur for almost three decades. 


Gold Note is operated by positive-high-spirit passionate people, that under the brand name endures to encapsulate all of those "golden" and pure Italian ingredients that make this unique manufacturer so contrasting and valued by customers. In the era where increasingly bigger audio brands are driven more by the profits of the investment funding rather than the quest for the perfect sound reproduction, Gold Note stands out of the crowd as a healthy antidote. Their innovative and highly appealing high-end audio products are often pointed out for their distinctive qualities. 


One of the Gold Note DS-10's qualities that might not be talked enough about is how well it blends the timeless appeal with a funky, up-beat contemporary feel of handling. DS-10 was designed to operate most easily and straightforward day in day out. Over the evaluation it has proven to act instantly engaging, reliable and without glitches. 


Present times call for high-end audio devices with a wider appeal that can not only trigger the interest of the usual customer base, but can ignite the attention of music lovers and fans that are not strictly seeing themselves as high-enders or audiophiles. What many companies and people don't seems to understand is that they love the music in the same manner as we do! 

And... This is the exact targeted group we need to take our beloved industry into a viable future. We need to keep and cherish the current customer base and act invitingly for the newcomers. The Gold Note DS-10 is exactly the product that can effectively address both.


Gold Note DS-10 is no mass product where the cost is cut on every corner. The DS-10 is a highly potent, well-thought out refined musical box that delivers the performance that will easily entrap the hearts and minds of audiophiles and music lovers. DS-10 was designed from the ground up to provide music pleasures day in day out. And it does! Straightforward elementary. without listening fatigue and in absence of hankering to move to the next new thing.

Gold Note DS-10 is a product made to last and to furnish lasting gratification and represents a true 21st-century digital audiophile-grade hub. It's not only priced reasonably well but with everything that it proffers it's a positive welcoming act that will allow more people of no strict high-end audio origin to open up the windows to the remarkable high-end audio universe we all love cherish so much. 


For what it represents a feature, sonic and value-wise, I'm more than happy to grant Gold Note DS-10 a 2020 Mono and Stereo Highly Recommended Product and Best Buy award. •

Matej Isak

PRICE


-  2.490€

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS


DAC
  • D/A Converter AKM AK4493 PCM up to 32bit/768kHz & DSD512 native

STREAMER
  • Roon Ready, MQA, Airplay, vTuner, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify

CONNECTIVITY
  • LAN and WiFi
  • Bluetooth High Definition 5.0

AUDIO OUTPUTS DAC
stereo RCA @ 1Volt and balanced XLR @ 2Volt

AUDIO OUTPUTS PREAMP
  • Stereo RCA, balanced XLR;
  • 1 headphone 6,3mm Jack on the front panel double gain

DIGITAL INPUTS
  • 1 RCA Coax
  • 2 Optical Tos-Link
  • 1 AES/EBU XLR
  • 1 USB-B DAC Input DSD512
  • 1 USB-A host (for flash memories)

OUTPUT IMPEDANCE
  • 50Ω

FREQUENCY RESPONSE
  • 20Hz-20kHz +/-0.1dB

THD - TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION
  • 0.001% max


SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO
  • -125dB

PREAMP STAGE VOLUME CONTROL
  • enabled/disabled by remote

DYNAMIC RANGE
  • 120dB

SUPPORTED AUDIO FORMATS (NETWORK)
  • up to PCM 24bit/192kHz:
  • AIFF (.aif, .aiff, .aifc)
  • ALAC
  • WAV (.wav) packed/unpacked
  • FLAC
  • MP3
  • DSD64: DSF, DFF
  • Apple Lossless
  • OGG
  • Monkey’s
  • DSD64: DSF, DFF
  • IMPORTANT: UPnP server must support DSD streaming in order to stream DSD files.

SUPPORTED MEDIA SERVERS
  • all UPnP / DLNA / Roon

REMOTE CONTROL
  • included

CONTROL APP
  • available for iOS and Android
  • search "GN Control" on Apple App Store or "Mconnect Control" on Google Play Store

POWER SUPPLY
  • 100-240V, 50/60Hz
  • Multiple Transformer proprietary power supply
  • Power consumption: 30W

OPTIONAL
  • DS-10 Plus featuring 3,5mm mini jack analogue input

DIMENSIONS
  • 200mm W, 80mm H, 260mm D

WEIGHT
  • 4kg net
  • 5Kg boxed

FINISHES
  • Brushed Aluminium in Black, Silver or Gold color

USER MANUAL


CONTACT 


Akamai Audio
Via Virginio, 156
Montespertoli (Florence) ITALY 50025
Tel.+39 0571 675005
Fax.+39 0571 675013

Email: info@akamiaudio.it