Ideon Audio Comes to Nintronics
“Pure, Perfect Sound – Forever” is how Philips described the start of the digital revolution at the launch of Compact Disc back in 1983. Were they right to say that in their marketing blurb way back then? Forever is a very long time. In the intervening 40 years the standard Red-Book CD format has changed not one jot (if you ignore SACD), but the equipment used today to record and play back digital files has changed beyond recognition. To be fair to Philips and Sony they didn’t know what we know today and materials and components available today were just a dream even 10 years ago, let alone way back in the late 70’s when the format was being designed. In recent years of course the ability to stream music over the internet has arrived and with advances in data transfer speeds and ever larger and cheaper data storage becoming available making high resolution streaming more accessible to everyone at reasonable cost, we are now starting to leave the CD platform behind. However, major advances in CD Transports used in conjunction with modern DACs, up-samplers and clocks all help to rejuvenate CD replay. Many of these advances have only recently become possible (the last 5 years) simply because technology and materials were not available before then.
Along with an industry dedicated to forever improving the extraction of data from the pits of an LP and an enthusiastic customer base designing some impressive (and expensive) turntables, arms, cartridges, and phono stages there is a growing demand for better streaming technology. Ease of use and the vast catalogue of music now available to us all is where streaming has an advantage over vinyl or CD and with electronic and software advances for streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz and with search engines such as Roon the sheer wealth of music available from the armchair is mind boggling. I guess we will never really achieve perfect sound forever, but we are getting closer all the time and today streamed music is in my opinion right up there with the very best that vinyl and CD replay can offer.
Along with our customers we are always seeking the next step forward in all areas of the audiophile industry such as amplifiers and speakers but nothing else is advancing as rapidly today as the world of digital streaming and replay electronics. As we leave older technology behind Nintronics have been looking to the future and to this in mind, we met with Ideon CEO George Ligerakis at the Munich high end shows in 2022 and again in 2023 and following a series of interesting and informative Zoom calls between us we are now pleased to bring Ideon Audio to our store where we now have their full range of DACs, Streamers and Clocks on demo.
If you are as enthusiastic about the finest of audio replay as we are then I’m sure you will have come across Ideon Audio in the press and possible at audio shows but possible not on demo in the UK. If this brand is new to you then let me explain who they are, where they hail from and why we are so delighted to have them onboard.
Ideon are a boutique audio systems manufacturer based in Athens and describe themselves as ‘a team of audiophile music lovers with high sonic aspirations and large music libraries, which explains our fixation with extracting the last bit out of our music files’. They aim to take us to the recorded event with absolute fidelity maintained. They go on to say ’we simply want our products to be the best, in absolute terms and best in class’. We completely agree with their sentiment, aspirations and commitment to meeting their goals and believe they have produced class leading DACs, Streamers and Clocks at all levels.
They currently have four ranges of products as follows, from entry level to the very high end:
- Ayazi Mk 2 DAC - £3,700 in black or silver
- 3R Master Time Black Star - USB Re-clocker - £3,900 in black or silver
I Ω N Series
- Eos DAC - £10,000 in black or silver
- Eos Stream – Music Server Platform - £10,250 in black or silver
- Eos Time - USB Re-Clocker - £6,550 in black or silver
- Absolute Epsilon DAC - £44,000 silver or £45,500 black.
- Absolute Stream – Music Renderer/streamer - £19,000 silver or £20,500 black.
- Absolute Time – USB and SFDIF Re-clocker - £9,000 silver or £10,300 black.
- Absolute Time Full Size - USB and SFDIF Re-clocker - £10,500 silver or £12,000 black.
In addition to the above they also have a miniature USB re-clocker called 3R USB Renaissance Mk 2 Black Star (a big name for a small device) at £390 and they also have a high-performance USB interconnect called the Siren in their product range at £1,800 for a 1m length.
A more detailed review of each series will follow in due course but here are some of the more pertinent facts and figures for their Absolute products:
- ESS ES9038 Pro 32 bit 8 channel DAC with in-house designed control software
- Dynamic range up to 140dB
- Balanced operation throughout with Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs
- Digital inputs on RCA, XLR and USB (1 of each)
- Selected audiophile components and power supplies used throughout.
- Two transformers
- Three exotic ultra-low jitter clocks
- PCM 44.1 to 384kHz – DSD x 8
- 490 x 350 x 110mm (WDH)
- Weighs a not inconsiderable 28kg.
- Audiophile music server/streamer
- Playback from external hard drive or external NAS
- Internal storage between 1TB and 4TB an optional extra
- Playback from all internet and web services such as Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify or from an external attached NAS drive or USB drive. Internal storage of 1TB-4TB is an additional option
- One Ethernet input and two USB ports for connecting an external NAS drive or USB drive.
- Two USB outputs for connection to a DAC, 1 with 5v and one without.
- 490 x 350 x 87mm (WDH)
- Weighs 22kg
- Designed to re-clock, re-energise and re-drive the digital signal.
- Digital in and out on USB to take feed from the Streamer and feed it to the DAC.
- Digital inputs and outputs on SPDIF to use with a compatible CD Transport.
- 490 x 175 x 87mm (WDH)
- Weighs 15kg.
How do they sound? Straight from the box the Absolute three-stack sounds world class, extremely detailed, open, dynamic and thoroughly rewarding. They are not overly bright or edgy but exceptionally detailed and involving. They are not laid back in any way and paired with the right equipment are simply beguiling as they draw you in to the music. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to listen to each component individually, concentrating on listening as a three-box digital streaming solution. Together they grow on you the more you listen, especially as they bed in over time. Ideon suggests they keep getting better as they burn in over at least 300 hours (probably 2 or 3 months of normal everyday use) and as ours have just 30 hours on them at the time of writing it will be interesting to see if they really do continue to get better. I used them with a McIntosh C12000 two box preamp and a pair of McIntosh MC611 monobloc power amps and with speakers ranged from B&W 801D4, KEF Reference 5, and the big Marten Coltrane 3 Statement Edition. For those fortunate enough to be able to seriously consider the three stack Absolute Series components joining their system I can only say you must come and listen as soon as possible, this is one of the very best streaming DAC solutions available anywhere today. It won’t take long to grasp the sheer capability on offer from an Ideon Absolute system.
Moving to the three stack EOS system I used them in conjunction with the Ideon Ion DAC/Preamp in preamp mode only feeding a Chord Electronics Ultimate 6 stereo power amp and Sonus Faber Olimpica Nova 3 speakers. After letting it all warmup for a few hours straight from the box this system was clearly focusing on involvement, enjoyment and long listening sessions. The three stack EOS components have all the same connections as the upmarket Absolute boxes so connection and in use are similar in the way they work. The sound quality is well on the way to competing with the Absolute kit but more in keeping with a similarly priced complete system and this is a good thing because it opens up serious gains in fidelity to real world enthusiasts. The three EOS boxes are smaller and lighter than their Absolute brothers but look just great stacked together and taking up no more space than a decent stereo power amp on the rack. The Ion+ DAC/Preamp has two analogue inputs on XLR or RCA (not 4 altogether) and digital inputs on USB, RCA and BNC. Outputs are available on XLR and RCA for connection to a power amp. In style it doesn’t quite match the EOS series casework but it’s very similar. The ION is offered just as a DAC called the ION or with the Preamp module fitted when it’s known as the Ion+. It uses the ESS ES9028Pro DAC instead of the ES9038 used in the Absolute series DAC.
Over time the Eos system will burn in, and I’ll try it with other speakers and amplifiers but as noted above this is an exceptional stack of components for the price that offers customers a very real choice outside of those more common DACs and streamers that are getting a bit long in the tooth.
I’d thoroughly recommend booking a demo of these DACs, Streamers and Clocks.
P.S. I briefly took home the 3R Master Time Black Star USB Re-clocker to try between my streamer and DAC and did notice a slight uplift clarity and resolution, but my Innuos Statement already has substantial reclocking capability built in. This test was literally straight from the sealed box so hopefully there is more to give as it burns in over time. As a stand-alone unit the 3R Master Time Black Star costs £3,900 which is a 50%+ uplift on Inuos’s own USB reclocker so hopefully that uplift in price will provide a worthwhile uplift in performance in due course. Day two listening having left it doing its thing overnight and now I’m already considering how I can afford to add one to my system.
Next stop is to try the £390 3R USB Renaissance Mk 2 Black Star reclocker to see how it performs for just £390.
Hope to see you soon.
Bob at Team Nintronics – August 2023