Stereocheck Reviews:

Teac NT-505-X: An exceptional device

The sound quality the Teac NT-505-X produces justifies its price, and the functionality it offers is truly a bonus, not to mention its sleek...

TEAC, originally known as Tokyo Television Acoustic Company, was established in 1953. Initially focused on tape recorders, the company shifted its attention to video equipment. During the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, TEAC introduced the world’s first time-lapse camera, TEAS, allowing viewers to witness the athletes’ movements with precision. In 1977, the TASCAM 80-8 reel-to-reel 8-track tape recorder brought TEAC’s sound to a wider audience, including the iconic voices of C3PO and R2D2 in the Star Wars universe.

Moving into the 1990s, TEAC ventured into producing high-end components that appealed to music enthusiasts. Today, TEAC offers three lines of components: the entry-level 300, mid-range 500, and flagship 700. Currently under review is a device from the mid-range line, the NT-505X. This network player, successor to the NT-503, was originally designed with an Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4497 DAC. However, due to a factory fire in October 2020 that destroyed the production line and inventory of DACs, TEAC had to switch to a different DAC, resulting in the addition of the “X” to the player’s name. Further examination is needed to draw definitive conclusions about the NT-505X.

Build

Upon opening the package, the first thing that catches your eye is the instruction manual. Carefully placed underneath it is the device itself, while the side compartment houses the remote control and power cable. Additionally, you will find an adapter from 3.5 to one RCA nearby. The Teac NT-505-X is compact in size and can easily fit on a sheet of A4 format, with the control elements slightly extending beyond the sheet.

The weight of 4.1 kg of the 505X came as a surprise to me, as I was expecting it to be twice as heavy. The appearance of the 505X is truly remarkable, blending the latest technologies with a retro design (complete with a toggle switch for power!) and a professional equipment aesthetic (the side panels double as carrying handles, albeit for decorative purposes).

The case is supported by 3 legs, providing optimal vibration isolation. Initially, it may appear that they are loosely screwed, but this is intentional to counteract vibrations. The body is entirely constructed from metal, featuring solid front and side panels crafted from a single piece of milled aluminum.

On the front panel’s left side, you will find the power on/off switch, adding a sleek touch to the black device. Moving to the right, there is a 3.5 mm connector for coaxial or optical cables, with an included 3.5 to 1 RCA adapter in the kit. Further right is the input selector knob, doubling as a menu interaction tool. The knob is tactile, with a satisfying click and a durable feel.

Adjacent to the knob is a menu button. Continuing right, there is a screen displaying active input information and either volume level or input signal characteristics. Below the screen are a USB-A input and a 3.5 mm headphone output, possibly due to space constraints, although a 6.3 mm connector would be more typical for this device class. The right side of the front panel features the volume control, which turns with noticeable effort, enhancing the player’s tactile experience.

The TEAC NT-505X features both balanced and unbalanced outputs on its rear panel, offering the flexibility to operate in fixed output mode or variable mode when connected to a power amplifier. This design choice reflects the intention of the TEAS engineers behind this system.

In terms of inputs, the NT-505X keeps things simple with one USB-B, one coaxial, one optical, one LAN, and a clock generator input.

When it comes to the internal structure, it’s worth noting that the NT-505X follows the principle of double mono and incorporates fully balanced circuitry. This means that each channel is powered by its own toroidal transformer, contributing to its weight. At the heart of the device, you’ll find two ESS Technology ES9038Q2M SABER32 Reference DACs, one per channel, capable of processing PCM 32/768 or DSD 22.5 MHz signals.

To ensure accurate audio reproduction and minimize sound jitter, the NT-505X is equipped with two clock generators for frequencies multiples of 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz.

TEAS engineers have also included an upsampler in front of the DACs, which increases the sampling of files at the input, either to PCM 32/768 or DSD 24.5 MHz. While this enhances sound integrity, it’s important to remember that the signal undergoes additional processing and deviates further from the original.

To accommodate all the boards within the compact housing, they have been arranged in two “floors” while considering negative radiation to minimize the impact of one component on another.

The NT-505X comes with a well-designed remote control that is narrower than most other PDAs. It features convenient buttons, and an interesting detail is that the upper part of the case is also made of metal, matching its weight to its appearance.

Features

This is where the most intriguing part begins, as we need to understand the purpose and nature of this device. The label on the box reads “USB DAC / NETWORK PLAYER,” implying that it can function as both a DAC and a player. However, upon unpacking and examining the device and its controls, the certainty of it being a player diminishes.

Surprisingly, the device lacks the typical controls found on a player, such as song switching buttons, a “pause/play” button, and a “stop” button. This suggests that its primary function is as a DAC, and there are significant doubts regarding its player capabilities. I even entertained the thought that I may have received the wrong model, the UD-505X. However, upon further investigation online, I discovered that the UD device does not have a LAN input.

I discovered that Bluetooth is the most versatile input option, as it seamlessly supports all the codecs available today, ranging from AAC to LDAC and APTX HD.

  • configure upsampler (2x Fs, 4x Fs, 8x Fs, 256 DSD, 512 DSD);
  • install one of the 7 PCM filter options (the sound does not change significantly, but it is impossible to say in which direction, everyone has their own taste here);
  • enable the use of a clock generator (I didn’t have one and the sound just disappeared when I turned it on);
  • choose a line output (RCA or XLR);
  • choose the level of the output signal (fixed 0db, fixed +6db, variable), and it is possible to turn it off altogether;
  • adjust the brightness of the screen, or set it to automatically turn off;
  • choose volume display units (decibels or steps from 0 to 100);
  • choose what will be displayed on the display (volume or sample rate);
  • turn on or turn off the automatic energy storage mode;
  • see the firmware version.

I couldn’t find any suitable options in the menu to use TEAS as a player, so I connected a LAN cable and selected the NET input. Then, I downloaded the proprietary HR Streamer app on my smartphone, and something amazing happened. The app immediately requested permission to scan devices on the network, and it effortlessly detected my NT-505X. With the app, I gained access to Tidal, Qobuz, Tuneln internet radio, and Spotify.

In the settings of the user-friendly app, I added music from my hard drive to the music library. Interestingly, I had forgotten to disconnect the USB-A connector on the front panel, but surprisingly, the NET input must be selected to play music from a USB drive.

Although the HR Streamer app’s appearance is not very modern, with its sharp corners and color scheme reminiscent of the Windows 98 operating system, it efficiently displayed album covers and worked without any stability issues.

To summarize, I observed three key points:

1. The Teac NT-505-X can only function as a player with the assistance of the mobile app.
2. Playing files from a USB drive is only possible when the player is connected to the network.
3. The HR Streamer app performs exceptionally well.

AirPlay also functions flawlessly, but there is a slight delay of 1-2 seconds between the sound from the speakers and the content on the smartphone screen.

Now, I just need to address connecting the laptop to the USB-B connector. To utilize TEAS as an external card, I had to install the driver from the official website. Additionally, I decided to download the music playback program from the official TEAS website. Although the program looks visually appealing, its design is outdated. It flawlessly plays Flac files in all formats except dxd 32-bit and DSD 512. However, it does not support files with the .wv extension. It’s important to note that these limitations only apply to the official TEAS software.

Sound

Initially, I would like to provide an overview of the integration process of the Teac NT-505-X into the system. The RCA outputs were utilized with a fixed 0db volume adjustment. The player was connected as a transport by means of an optical cable to the TN-505X, while a laptop was connected via USB-B. Additionally, a LAN cable was also connected. To optimize the sound quality, considering the significant impact of power cables on the analog component of any device, a native cable from TEAS was employed to power the player, while my cable was powered by the 505X.

Remarkably, the sound produced by the TEAC NT-505X remained consistent regardless of the method of signal transmission. Whether playing a file directly from the player and sending it through an optical cable or playing the same file from a hard disk connected to the TEAC via USB-A, the sound remained entirely identical. This led me to conduct further sound tests using the following connections:

1. Media player – optical cable – TEAC NT-505X
2. Laptop – USB-B – TEAS NT-505X
3. AirPlay from phone

In order to fully unleash the capabilities of the NT-505X, I replaced my everyday speakers with a higher-class and more transparent alternative. This change necessitated an appropriate input signal. Consequently, all sound-altering features such as upsamplers and PCM filters were deactivated.

In my opinion, it is essential to listen to music in the form of complete albums rather than individual songs. This allows for a seamless flow of compositions, creating a cohesive narrative. For the purpose of testing, I carefully selected several albums that are exceptionally well-recorded and offer diverse elements for the system to showcase its capabilities. The chosen albums are as follows:

1. Peter Gabriel – UP (2002)
2. Roger Waters – Amused to Death (1992)
3. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind (2019)
4. Beady Belle – Belvedere (2008)
5. Vivaldi – Concerti per violino VII
6. Massive Attack – Heligoland (2010)

It is worth noting that all the recordings adhere to the Hi-Res standard, with a minimum specification of 24/88.2.

In general, the Teac NT-505-X produces an impeccable sound. TEAS delivers a flawless signal that leaves no room for criticism.

Recently, I delved into the world of classical music and was captivated by the system’s integral and vibrant sound. TEAS adds a touch of lightness to the overall experience. The level of detail in the treble and midrange is exceptional, yet it never overwhelms the listener. The bass provides just the right amount of support, with remarkable texture and precision. In fact, all the praise-worthy adjectives that can be used to describe the sound should be attributed here.

Listening to a symphony orchestra becomes a truly immersive experience with TEAS. Every instrument can be heard distinctly, yet the overall harmony remains intact. The soundstage is flawless, allowing for seamless transitions in dynamic volume. Whether you’re transported from a small space to the grandeur of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, the NT-505X effortlessly handles it with such finesse that you hardly even notice the transition.

When I made the switch to Massive Attack, the sound underwent a dramatic transformation. I went from experiencing their music in a concert hall to being in a small recording studio that boasted exceptional sound treatment. During the recording process, there was a noticeable emphasis on the lower register, which was evident thanks to TEAS. However, despite its light sound, it failed to fully immerse the listener in the somewhat melancholic interplay of notes and rhythms. Nevertheless, the intricate details were beyond imagination, giving me the sensation of hearing the album for the very first time. The higher frequencies had a slightly wider stage compared to the overall material, adding a cosmic touch to the listening experience. One could speculate that the album’s presentation may not have aligned with the sound engineer’s original intentions, but perhaps this was the intended sound all along. Unfortunately, my confidence in my previous understanding of the material has been shaken since being introduced to the TEAC TN-505X.

Peter Gabriel’s album, UP, is a captivating collection that incorporates numerous electronic samples with deep bass, while also placing great emphasis on meticulously recorded effects in antiphase. In terms of bass, everything here is more than satisfactory. It possesses the desired depth and articulation, with an abundance that surpasses expectations. However, TEAS handles this bass with a certain caution, almost as if it hesitates to deliver more than necessary. Nonetheless, thanks to its exceptional dynamics, the listening experience remains uncompromised. The level of detail in the high frequencies knows no bounds, as if the DAC is capable of extracting every sound present in the recording and presenting it for our listening pleasure. The soundstage is flawlessly executed, with each element finding its rightful place. The effects gracefully move between the speakers, occasionally bouncing off the side walls of the room, and at times even enveloping the listener from all directions simultaneously. The vocals sound astonishingly realistic, occasionally even evoking a sense of unease.

Roger Waters performed by  Teac NT-505-X expanded the listening room to an incredible scale, he simply destroyed the wall behind the speakers and some effects such as barking dogs echoed from the yard and created the feeling that I was listening to music on the second floor. The sound is very musical, but as rich as possible with details.

Slipknot sounded very unusual to me. A lot of details. All sounds are equal without any distortion. But the desire to jump up from the sofa and shake your head to the beat while listening did not arise. Still, TEAS has a more analytical sound.

And finally, a little something calm from  Beady Belle . Here TEAS demonstrates a simply virtuosic ability to work with the texture of the bass and the construction of the musical scene. The presentation was generally very tender (I just can’t find another word). TEAS removed all obstacles between me and Beady and it felt as if there were two of us in the room and I was the only one worthy of listening to her sing. It was a completely new feeling.

I would like to discuss additional connection options for the Teac NT-505-X. The optimal choice for seamless interaction is to connect it to a laptop via USB-B. This connection ensures the highest level of detail and softness in the sound. However, when using other wired connections, which accounted for 75% of my music listening experience, the sound quality is slightly inferior.

On the other hand, connecting a phone using AirPlay still delivers the distinctive TEAS sound, albeit with a lower level of detail. This gives the impression of a more musical playback, although it is only a subjective perception. Regardless of the connection method, the TN-505X maintains its characteristic sound properties, but the degree of emphasis may vary.

When it comes to headphone sound, the device’s character undergoes a slight change. The emphasis on “Detail is our everything” takes a backseat, and unexpected dynamism and musicality come to the forefront. The bass occasionally takes center stage without overpowering other frequencies. The overall class of the system remains at a high level, but the presentation differs slightly. The soundstage is more than satisfactory, and if the headphones match the NT-505X in terms of quality, creating an immersive sound environment becomes effortless.

Conclusion

The TEAC NT-505-X is an exceptional device that belongs to the highest class. With its capabilities, it has the ability to enhance any mid-level system, with each component costing around $1,500-$2,000. It excels in systems of all levels, except for heavy genres where it may not perform as well as other genres, although it still manages to handle them adequately.

The sound quality produced by this DAC justifies its price, and the functionality it offers is truly a bonus, not to mention its sleek design.

In my opinion, if you require such functionality, adding the TEAC NT-505X to your system is a no-brainer.

Teac NT-505-X
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