2019 was without doubt, my year for Italian audio, and the foremost brand for me was Gold Note. I loved their PH-10 phono stage and PSU enough to buy them for my own system, so I was very intrigued indeed when John Simm of UK distributor Audio Pinnacle offered me the chance to hear and review the DS-10. It is in the same half-width chassis as the the PH-10 and manages to incorporate a DAC, streamer, preamplifier and headphone amplifier in that confined space. The front of the unit has a colour screen, a full sized headphone jack and on the right hand side, the single rotary dial familiar from the PH-10. The back of the unit is absolutely packed. Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA analogue outputs share space with an Ethernet input, two USB sockets, an AES/EBU input and two Toslink optical inputs. There are two fixings for antennae – Bluetooth and wireless, and last but by no means least, the same PSU input as the PH-10. Bluetooth 5.0 is built in to the DS-10, should that suit your needs.
The handsome casework of my review sample was finished in the very classy champagne option, but black and silver are also available. Aesthetics are of course a matter of personal taste, but I really like the look of these Series 10 Gold Note units. I would be disappointed if anything emanating from the Florence area was anything less than handsome.
As I did not have a power amplifier to hand, my listening to the DS-10 was confined to using it as DAC, streamer and headphone amplifier. I hope in due course to welcome it back here with its matching power amplifier the PA-10, which was still under wraps when the DS-10 was here. I hard wired the DS-10 to my router as I am not a great fan of going wireless when a hard-wired option is available. I used a pair of Tellurium Q Black XLR cables from the balanced outputs into my trusty Yamaha A-S3000 integrated amplifier. I plugged the TV’s optical cable into the DS-10 and I turned off the preamp function.
There is a Gold Note app available to control all the functions of the DS-10 but I actually preferred using the third party app MConnectHD, which worked spectacularly well with it. The streamer has native support for Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal and Deezer, it is Roon-ready, supports AirPlay and MQA, it also has a vTuner for net radio. UPNP is also supported. In other words, the good folk at Gold Note have gone all out to give you access to everything your heart could desire in the world of digital replay. You can read the full technical specification of the DS-10 on the Gold Note website with highlights attached to this review. Suffice it to say that this a genuinely high-end machine, which takes musical replay in the digital world as far as it can go, and is ready for the highest possible resolution files that the user can direct to it.
How did it sound
All that is well and good, but how did it sound? Spectacularly good is my honest reply. First of all I called up music from my Naim UnitiServe, to which I have ripped some 3,000 albums from my CD collection. Having instructed MConnectHD to play through the DS-10, I selected UPNP and played my usual suspects: ‘Blood On The Tracks’ from his Bobness, ‘Meddle’ from Pink Floyd, ‘Forever Changes’ from Love, all came and went and oh my goodness they sounded SO good. My own streamer is a first generation Naim NDX with the most recent firmware installed, so I am very used to my digital music being presented with the pace, rhythm and timing for which our friends in Salisbury are justly renowned. I can tell you that the Gold Note was at least as good as the NDX and in some respects, to my ears at least, better. Of course 5 years is a very long time in terms of progress in digital technology so one would expect a 2019 design to potentially outperform one from 2014, but even so this was something of a surprise. Solo piano through the DS-10 was the most believable I have heard from my system – shockingly good actually. The rhythm was toe-tappingly good too – the DS-10 can boogie effortlessly as well as caress the notes from a gut strung classical guitar. When I switched to the vTuner, BBC Radio 3 came though sounding excellent and spoken word programs on BBC Radio 4 sounded totally natural. My Harbeth P3ESRs are direct descendants of the BBC’s LS3/5A design of course, so I was not surprised that they sounded good with these broadcasts. The same story unfolded when we watched television, the DS-10’s Toslink replay was exemplary. Movie soundtracks came through with panache and bothI and Mrs Kelly enjoyed the clarity of dialogue.
I am not a regular headphone user but I was determined to try the headphone amplifier in the DS-10, so I brought my Audioquest NightHawks out for a play. I really like this now-discontinued closed back design. I don’t think they are particularly hard load for an amplifier and certainly it was no hassle to get them driven by the DS-10. Wow. With my iPad on my knee I skipped around inside the Tidal music library, alighting on jazz, country, rock, blues, retro, country and pop music. I had forgotten how immediate the sound is through a decent pair of headphones – immersive too. I really enjoyed it.
As I own a Gold Note Series 10 PSU for my phono stage I thought it would be interesting to try it with the DS10, so I unplugged the mains cable from the streamer and attached the umbilical from the power supply. Unfortunately it did not work. I am sure there will be an immediate and noticeable improvement in the sound quality when the appropriate PSU is attached, based on my experience with the PH10.
From all the above it will be already obvious that I have no hesitation in recommending this Gold Note DS-10 as a DAC/Streamer, with the added bonus of a more than competent headphone amplifier on board. At its current price point it will outperform many competitive products , even much more costly ones. When you then remember that it will also act as digital preamplifier, it begins to look like a veritable bargain. I am really intrigued to hear it with the matching PA-10 amplifier, or better still a pair of them acting as monoblocs – I think we may have a giant killer in our midst.