A faun is a mythological figure; half man, half goat. However, there is nothing mythological about the two Pink Faun audio components that have been been in my system for some time now. And the only pink I see is in the LEDs on the front of the DAC and streamer from this Dutch company, an organisation with after sales service that’s hard to equal.
As far as I can remember this is the first time that I’ve mentioned after sales service at the beginning of a review. And not without a reason; I am very impressed with the service, and it’s not just because I am a reviewer. Every customer that buys a Pink Faun component is entitled to the same. When the product is in any way related to computer audio this is something that has added appeal. Pink Faun has a rather large number of DAC/streaming audio components to choose from. There are three streamers; the audio streamer, the streamer 2.12 and the Audio streamer 3.4 tested here. All three have a built-in Pink Faun I2S bridge, which is available as a separate entity as well. If the customer can’t connect the streamer with I2S to the DAC, there’s also the option for a USB or S/PDIF output. The Pink Faun SPDIF bridge is available with COAX, BNC or AES/EBU connections with a maximum output of 24/192. Besides that, there are several DACs to choose from; the DAC 4.32 SYM, the DAC 2.32 and the DAC 3.32 that I used in this review.
Pink Faun describes the Streamer 3.4 as a computer-based music streamer. It can be equipped with a dedicated SPDIF output, an audio USB output, or, as mentioned, with an I2S bridge. All come with their own dedicated power supply. The Intel-based motherboard feeds on a Pink Faun designed linear power supply, which enhances the sound quality of both the streamer and of any other audio component that is connected to the same power source. The switched mode power supplies found on computer peripherals inject noise into the entire mains supply. With its SSD disc for the OS (a second SSD can be added with up to 4TB music storage space) and passive cooling the streamer plays all the important music formats like WAV, FLAC etc up to 32/192, DSD and DXD. Windows or Linux is used and HQ Player, JRiver MediaCenter and Roon software can be installed. Several streaming services are available like Tidal and Qobuz. Pink Faun is produced and distributed in the Netherlands by the Triple M Audio Shop in the town of Rhenen, where customers are shown how to operate the software they have chosen, how to manage a music collection and how to optimally configure the DAC. Because of the many options that Pink Faun streamers offer, they advise the customer about which software is best for their specific needs. Besides that, every streamer has Team viewer is installed. If at any time the customer runs into trouble, he/she can contact the Triple M Audio Shop who can use Team viewer to get into his system and sort things out. To be clear; each and every time the customer has a problem he/she has to authorize the shop anew before it can intervene. Because I could not find the time to pick up the review samples in Rhenen, I used this distant form of guidance myself and it worked beautifully. In my case I was sent a streamer which only had the HQ Player installed. Most customers choose to buy a streamer together with a touchscreen but I chose a less user-friendly alternative. I used a computer screen in combination with a mouse because I had them both to hand. Although I would not choose this option as a long term solution, it worked flawlessly during the whole of the review period. Depending on the software used, the customer can control the software from any smartphone or tablet.
Almost every DAC uses the I2S format for internal data transport. Normally, in order to bridge the gap between a computer-based streamer and a DAC, a form of coding/decoding, applicable to USB, S/PDIF or FireWire, is needed. With the Pink Faun I2S Bridge there is a direct connection between streamer and DAC chip. Pink Faun uses a single HDMI cable for this purpose because they contain multiple individually isolated conductors. Other manufacturers choose RJ-45 or BNC but need four cables (BMC Audio Superlink) or even a combination of these four cables and an RS-232 cable (CEC).
The heart of the Pink Faun DAC 3.32 is formed by two 32-bit PCM1795 DA-converters, and these are controled by an a-synchronous re-clocking device designed to minimise jitter. Behind the DACs a fully discrete I/V converter is coupled directly to a single-ended output MOSFET stage that is coupled to a DC servo. So there are no capacitors in the signal path that might have a negative effect on the sound quality. The Pink Faun DAC 3.32 is equipped with an I2S input and a 24/192 optical and coax S/PDIF input. It can be extended with plug-in cards if the customer needs any other types of input. These cards are available for USB, AES/EBU, I2S or S/PDIF inputs. One big advantage of this system is that new developments can be implemented very easily, which makes the DAC 3.32 virtually future proof. The power supply of the Pink Faun DAC 3.32 consists of a low B power transformer, an active stabilization with a discrete regulator, a passive controller with very high bandwidth and an active regulator with a high-frequency pi-filter per supply group. In total the DAC contains 19 regulators. It is constructed with high quality parts such as Schottky diodes and Allen Bradley resistors in the signal path and can optionally be equipped with balanced outputs, but this means output capacitors in the signal path.
Both the streamer and the DAC use the same sturdy, black aluminium housing that rests on four rubber feet. Standing side by side on my modified Creaktiv Audio rack they look good, but they might look better without the four bolts on each fascia. In the middle there is a button that can be pushed to activate the component, after which a pink LED lights up. The DAC button is multifunctional; it can also be used to switch between sources. In that case, a white LED will light up in the vertical row of sources on the right hand side. A second white LED in the row indicates whether it’s a standard 16/44.1 signal or high resolution, which indicates a sample rate of 48 kHz or higher. Furthermore the same button is used to activate or deactivate the TCXO clock. Pink Faun’s Jord Groen, who familiarized me with both streamer and DAC, says that with I2S it’s not necessary to re-clock the incoming signal. The customer can choose to disable the re-clocker in the DAC for each input separately. This is the biggest advantage of the I2S input, because the incoming signal is the type of signal the DAC expects. To my ears the sound with the clock enabled is tighter, but less natural. Without the clock in the signal path the sound is more organic, more free and airy, which makes it more musical as well. So I activated the clock only briefly during the first two listening sessions. During the review period I used the Pink Faun cables that came with the components. For both streamer and DAC there is a PCX-1 power cable with Furutech FL-11 connectors, for the connection between DAC and Streamer there is a IL1-I2S interconnect and to make the connection with the Music First Audio Classic V2 passive preamplifier I used the Pink Faun IL1se interconnect (RCA). Van den Hul D102 Mk III XLR interconnects connect the preamplifier with the Pass Labs X260.5 monaural amplifiers that have Audioquest NRG1000 power cords. Pink Faun SC-1-2 loudspeaker cables connect the Pass Labs amplifiers with Harbeth SHL 5 Plus loudspeakers on TonTräger Audio Reference 5 stands.
Both DAC and Streamer are brand new so I leave them powered up for a week during which I listen to them for short periods only. The music comes from my Synology DS214+ NAS via Supra Ethernet cable. Even with brief moments of listening I am impressed by the size and the free and airy nature of the soundstage, I am also distracted by the dynamics. When I finally sit down for my first real listening session and get to compare the Pink Faun combination with my own reference at this price point, the combination of NAD M50/M51. There can only be one conclusion; with the characteristics mentioned above, Pink Faun leaves NAD behind. This is demonstrated by a 24/96 Linn download, featuring Artur Pizarro. The Portuguese pianist’s rendition of Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ sonata is presented against an inky black, clean background in which tranquillity dominates. This enhances the solemn character of the opening and makes the expressive part of the sonata more forceful. It is easier to hear that Pizarro is playing on a Blüthner concert grand piano that has more transparency to texture than a 20th century grand. On the beautiful ECM recording The Astounding Eyes of Rita by Anouar Brahem with oud, electric bass, clarinet and percussion (darbuka and bendir), the Pink Faun makes the instruments sound rich and authentic. I really enjoy the sultry atmosphere of opening number ‘The Lover of Beirut’ and decide to hear the whole album out, there is not one moment that this fascinating music fails to hypnotise me. When the last sounds fade out, I realise that in order to obtain the highest possible sound quality from the NAD combination I always use the HDMI connection, just like I do with the Pink Faun combination. So I decide to connect the Pink Faun Streamer 3.4 to the NAD M51 DAC, but unfortunately the display reads ‘unlock’, and no music comes from the speakers. The HDMI connection between the M540 streamer and the Pink Faun DAC 3.32 does not work either. I am a victim of the fact that there is no standard for the I2S connection. However, Pink Faun assures me that they have the I2S pin specification for most brands so in most cases a solution can be found. On their website there is a list of DACs that are compatible with the streamer. Of course, for this review, I could connect NAD and Pink Faun through S/PDIF optical or coax. But I decide not to do that because it doesn’t produce the sound quality that the HDMI connection offers with both brands.
If I had to give my impression of the Streamer 3.4 and DAC 3.32 in one word, dynamic is the first word that comes to mind. Next to the size of the soundstage and the extent to which the sound is separated from the speakers, the dynamic quality of the sound draws my attention. Characteristics like three dimensionality, beautiful sound colours and an inky black background complete the picture. Dynamic has a second meaning here, because the modular design of the DAC means that it can be modified to meet the changing demands of the owner or to make it compatible with new technologies, and at reasonable prices. The third and last meaning of dynamic stands for the way Pink Faun nourishes the interaction with its customers, even long after the date of sale.
This review was first published in MusicEmotion magazine