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Onkyo ND-S1 Digital Media Transport - Onkyo ND-S1 Digital Media Transport

By Hugo Jobling



Our Score:


Certainly, using the same speaker system and comparing the same tracks played first from my iPod touch using the headphone output and then via the ND-S1's optical output, the difference was tangible. Tracks are reproduced with more texture and detail making the listening experience that much more immersive.

Take AFI's Too Shy to Scream. A great track however listened to, but using the ND-S1 the vocals sound more accurate and instruments more defined; there's a precision and a distinction to the cymbal hits that's lost when using the iPod's internal processing. Similarly, additional vocal clarity was eked out of Frou Frou's Let Go much to my enjoyment.

Turn the volume up a bit and there's notably less compression using the ND-S1, too, no doubt thanks to only having an external DAC working its magic on the signal. The residents of our neighbouring office weren't quite so impressed, alas, but I often have a hard time convincing others that there's nothing wrong with listening to Fall Out Boy and Avril Lavigne.

I'd usually mention alternatives but the ND-S1 is pretty much peerless. However, if you don't already own a decent AV/hi-fi system, Bowers & Wilkins' Zeppelin might be a better and possibly cheaper option as it's still the best sounding speaker dock money can buy. However, it can't dish out sound quality to match a dedicated AV/H-Fi set-up using the ND-S1. Similarly the iTube ValveDock Carbon Edition Mk2 does an incredible job of making an iPod sound great, but it's still using the player's DAC so there's only so much it can do.

The £150-odd asking price doesn't make the ND-S1 cheap but to serious users the improved audio quality together with the built-in USB audio interface will be worth it - especially if you're investing in an iPod-centric system from scratch or introducing an iPod to your existing hi-fi system.


The Onkyo ND-S1 Digital Media Transport isn't cheap, but if you're serious about getting quality audio using an iPod, it's the best option you have.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Value 7


October 26, 2009, 8:27 pm

I was very interested in one of these at the start of the month when I spent a small fortune upgrading my hifi. The deciding factor was that Id rather spend the money on a ReadyNas Duo to store all the tunes in one network location and access via a Squeezebox. My cd player has an optical input to access its DAC (same one as used by the Dacmagic I believe). In short, I didnt need a dock and another remote to kick about the living room.

I suspect its size is a marketing idea. I would imagine that Onkyo would not want to give the impression that this is a regular dock and they have tried to set it apart. They arent the first to offer a means to bypass an iPods dac but at least manufacturers are starting to move in the right direction (Naimuniti being a glowing example of future possibilities).


October 26, 2009, 10:27 pm

How different is this from the Wadia iTransport? Any idea on the specs of the DAC inside it? Can an external DAC be connected to it?


October 27, 2009, 1:02 pm

I didnt think it had an internal dac, might be wrong, but I thought the purpose was to bypass the iPods dac so that you can utilise any external dac you like - so yes, an external dac can be connected.

Looking at the bac of the Onkyo would suggest no internal dac. If wrong in that then Im assuming the dacs in the Wadia will be of a higher quality (due to price difference).

The DacMagic would make a great partner for the Onkyo though.


October 27, 2009, 2:42 pm

why not just get a better bloody mp3 player instead? theres the samsung yp-p3 and the sony x series to your left just for starters


October 27, 2009, 3:50 pm

When you are dealing with "proper" hifi gear, trust me, you will hear the inadequacies of any mp3 player when simply plugged into the back via the headphone jack or regular docking system. The Onkyo allows iPod users to get even more from their system - assuming they store files at a reasonable quality.

It appears to be a very small market Onkyo are targetting but I can at least see the benefits it could bring.

Chris Beach

October 27, 2009, 4:26 pm

The market would be those enamoured by Apple tbh and have already large collections of lossless aac's. As Onkyo would give them a way to playback this on their hifi's. The sqeezeboxes etc don't often support this format.

But for a proper audiophile they wouldn't have bought the ipod in the first place, and instead gone for a player and systems that can play their lossless format of choice. As this is the most deciding factor in digital playback.


October 27, 2009, 4:50 pm

It is designed to hook into the Onkyo Integrated Amps that have a digital input. At least that was how it was set up in Richer Sounds.


October 28, 2009, 11:24 pm

"I'd usually mention alternatives but the ND-S1 is pretty much peerless."

What a ridiculous statement. The Wadia iTransport 170 has been out for ages, and it does exactly the same thing.


October 29, 2009, 11:35 pm

@Caleb: how can it possibly contain a DAC when there are no analogue outputs?


October 30, 2009, 7:40 pm

This review is a JOKE - The Onkyo can ONLY be used with an AV receiver or similar that has DACs on-board - There is NO analogue out - That means that 90% of Hi-fi system cannot use this. Great idea but limited use. Does Hugo Jobling know what he's doing???

Jay Werfalli

October 30, 2009, 8:06 pm

Where does Hugo mention that it has a DAC? As far I can tell from reading the review he never says it does? The iPod has a DAC, yes, but this device is not a dock in the traditional sense. Instead, it bypasses the iPod's DAC completely and taps into the unmodified files stored on the iPod (the iPod is effectively just a server). The whole point is to pass high quality files directly through to a "hi-fi's DAC" and not first through the iPod's one.


October 30, 2009, 8:37 pm

@ Peter Jones – Yes, Hugo does know what he’s doing, but I’m not sure that you do. Saying that this device can ONLY (thanks for the caps, that really helped) be used with an AV receiver or similar, is quite simply nonsense.

If someone is serious about their digital music, they will want to use an external DAC of their own choosing. Therefore the Onkyo ND-S1 will be ideal, since none of the shortcomings of the iPod itself come into play. In essence, the iPod is just a hard drive with good navigation.

Assuming that you rip all your music to your iPod in lossless, the result will be superb quality audio, since all the iPod’s electronics, bar storage, are taken out of the equation.

And let’s not forget that if you do invest in a good external DAC, then every single digital source you have will benefit from it.

As such, many users of Sonos systems will simply output the digital bit-stream from a ZonePlayer and decode it on their external DAC, thus maintaining the highest possible sound quality.

You’re right, the majority of consumers won’t be able to hook something like this up to their home system, but then there is a plethora of products available for them. But for people who want the best possible quality from the music library on their iPod, Onkyo has come up with a good solution.

Oh, and just because someone is an audiophile, it doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t use an iPod when they’re out and about. Of course they may use a portable headphone amp and a set of Sennheiser HD800 cans, but they’ll still want music with them at all times.

Mike Owen

November 2, 2009, 4:09 pm

Some of you seem confused as to what this device does. It essentially turns your iPod into a CD transport that holds WAY more music than any jukebox ever could. Previously, docks used the standard analog outs on the iPod, and with a pretty bad DAC inside, the sound quality was compromised. Now, with this dock and the Wadia model, you bypass the internal DAC and pass a completely digital signal to your AV Receiver or external DAC. The person who said that 90% of AV receivers will not work is an idiot. My 10 year old Sony has optical and coaxial inputs precisely for processing the signal that the Onkyo sends out. If you hear how and iPod sounds using Apple Lossless files and a decent AV receiver, you will be blown away. It turns a portable device into a hi end audio product that can hold hundreds of albums in CD quality (if you use Apple Lossless - there is no such thing as "AAC Lossless" as someone else mentioned)

Tristan Summers

November 9, 2009, 4:55 pm

I have this dock and it SUCKS. I have it connected to an onkyo 876. The receiver takes over the display of the ipod so you have no idea what you are playing. You cannot navigate around the iPod other than next, previous track / playlist. The video out doesn't work.Yes it sounds great but is utterly unusable. This may be different on other amps but for an actual onkyo it is very disappointing.


January 25, 2010, 9:24 pm

I bought the ND-S1 in Hong Kong and is now connected it to a Krell 64 DAC, Jadis DA60 and JK Audio 10 speakers. The system is serving me as a Jukebox, you just have to pick up the iPod and find the song you looking for and play it. I have three 160G iPod Classic and It is convenient as it can play days non-stop. I use it to listen to audio books and music and this arrangement sounds much better than all my expensive headphones and is much more relaxed without the stress of sound in head or changing CDs in the middle of a multi-discs audio book.


February 25, 2010, 7:25 pm

I just received this unit and it works as discussed in the review. I have it connected to an external DAC then to my amp. I did A/B comparisons to my CD player (also running through the DAC) and could not tell the difference between Apple lossless and CD. If you have 128bit MP3s, I think you will find that this unit helps the sound, but also accentuates some of the limitations. Depending on the quality of your DAC, your milage may vary.

The downsides to this unit is that upon inserting your iPod, the unit takes over your iPod screen with an Onkyo screen and you can't see your playlists or albums. The remote is limited as well with no volume control and of course even though you can scroll through albums and playlists, you can't see them on the iPod screen. This may be what they mean by limited functionality with 5th generation iPods. Other iPods may have better functionality. So, I select the playlist I want, then dock the unit and listen. I think by pressing the menu button on your iPod, you can regain the iPod menu screen and then use the remote to select another playlist, album, whatever. But you have to get up, which is a hassle.

My other $50 iPod dock remote has nearly all the wheel functions of the iPod (including volume) and allows you to still see the screen, but the sound is of significantly lower quality as it depends on the internal iPod DAC.

I'm willing to trade-off the remote quirks for the sound quality. I also got this unit from Japan in 3 days via speedpost for about $150 less that the current Wadia on the market.


February 25, 2010, 9:30 pm

I just realized that you can't have a volume control on the remote because this unit only outputs a digital signal. It would have to convert to analog before any amplification could be applied and defeat the purpose.

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