Wavedream NET: https://www.rockna-audio.com/products/wavedream-net
TLDR: The Wavedream NET is a top of the line music server, CD transport, and streamer. It’s currently the best performing digital source I’ve tested, beating out the Singxer SU-6 to take the crown for top performer.
The Wavedream NET and Wavedream Signature Balanced DAC were kindly loaned to me by m17xr2b on SuperBestAudioFriends.
This is very much a high end component, with a hefty price tag of £7,495 / $9,500. But what do you get for that?
The answer: Quite a lot!
– A music server, with a built in Roon-core that can be enabled with one click. It can also use DNLA, UPNP, Airplay, MPD and HQPlayer NAA.
It has 1TB of internal SSD storage on the base model, though you can opt for a higher capacity if desired, and can also use an external drive, or network attached storage.
The music server section is also completely galvanically isolated from the rest of the audio-related circuitry to prevent any noise getting through and affecting performance.
– A CD transport and ripper. You can play music directly from the CD, or you can rip files from the CD to the internal storage.
During CD playback, Rockna uses a proprietary, FPGA based system to extensively buffer and manage the audio stream to ensure as optimal performance as possible.
– An exceptionally high quality digital source/streamer.
While many people do just use USB to their DAC, in many instances performance gains can be had by switching to a high quality digital source, particularly if the DAC and source are I2S capable.
The Wavedream NET currently has the lowest jitter of any SPDIF source I have tested. (Measurements below) And also has I2S output
And all of the above is powered by a high quality internal linear power supply.
The WD NET itself is….well there’s no other way to put it, it’s huge. Do not plan on this fitting on a desk or even in many racks.
It measures 38x45x15cm and weighs 8kg, however the quality of the build is stellar. It feels sturdy, substantial, and every piece of the chassis has been machined and finished with precision and care.
The display is sharp and clear without being too bright or glaring, and the physical buttons are pleasantly firm and tactile.
On the rear the I/O is neatly laid out, with the cutout for each connector being incredibly precise. The meticulous attention to detail screams quality.
I/O is plentiful, with two HDMI LVDS I2S ports (using the PS audio pin layout), BNC and coaxial SPDIF, AES, and the option to connect a USB DAC directly to the Roon core.
There is of course ethernet for the network connection, and a clock in port for syncing to an external clock source.
The Wavedream NET offers a large selection of features to make it suitable for many use cases, it fills the task of what could otherwise be several separate components.
I mostly used it as a Roon core, with a mix of internal storage and network attached storage.
Whilst having a Roon core built in is most certainly very nice, it unfortunately was noticeably less snappy and responsive than my current setup, which is a small fanless PC running my Roon core and NAS. It wasn’t bad by any stretch, but with tasks like searching for tracks taking a couple seconds whereas my usual setup is near instantaneous, the Wavedream is showing a little age here.
This isn’t a concern however, as you do not HAVE to use the NET as your core. You can run the core on any PC/machine of your choosing, and use the Wavedream NET as a Roon ready endpoint/streamer.
It can be used as an HQPlayer NAA, which is quite popular amongst higher end DAC users, and I’m a heavy user myself, so this feature is fantastic to have.
UPDATE: Nicolae, the designer of the Wavedream NET has commented below and informed that newer units of the NET are shipping with a more powerful CPU to give a faster and more responsive experience running as a Roon core. Excellent to see that the product is being updated, and thank you Nicolae for the response!
Additionally, this article previously stated that the NET could not run as a Roon endpoint, only as a core. This is not true and after speaking with Nicolae I have gotten the NET to work as an endpoint accessible from my main PC core.
However the maximum output rate for the WD NET is 384khz, so for HQPlayer users wanting 768khz (or 1.536mhz) upsampling support, unfortunately that will have to be missed out.
This is arguably less of a concern for Wavedream DAC users given as the Wavedream DAC itself offers high quality, high tap-count filters internally, so HQPlayer may be of less benefit to it than other dacs.
So, the wavedream NET is a very feature packed device with incredible performance to boot. The price is of course quite steep, and so this is definitely something that would be part of a much higher end setup, but, given that it could potentially replace a server, CD transport, AND streamer, actually, the price starts to look quite good!
Performance as a digital source is nothing short of exceptional. I did find that utilising the I2S output from the Wavedream NET to feed the Wavedream Signature DAC did result in a slight increase in quality, particularly in precision of imaging, in particular with the direction of musical elements becoming more focused and precise. Though the Wavedream does seem to have an excellent USB and internal clocking solution, so the performance increase was not as drastic as some other dacs which benefit from bypassing their more mediocre implementations.
As a CD transport (and for file based playback) the WD NET buffers audio to RAM, and uses the proprietary FPGA based system to process, clock, and output audio data.
Data is not at all altered and I did check to make sure it was bit-perfect. This system is intended to address jitter and timing, not audio content or DSP.
But, you don’t just have to take my word for it! Let’s have a look at some numbers!
– Audio Precision APx555 B-Series Analyzer
– AudioQuest Carbon SPDIF Cable (1.5m)
– Uptone Ether-Regen ethernet switch
– 44.1khz and 48khz real music played through device during measurement
– Coax output used unless otherwise specified
To measure jitter, the device is connected to the digital input of the APx555, and the analyzer is set to analyze jitter, not audio content.
These measurements do not show audio/analog info, but instead show the spectrum of jitter, ie: time-domain inconsistencies.
This is the primary factor that a good streamer or DDC will seek to improve.
Aaaaand we have a new top-dog! The Wavedream net beats out the Singxer SU-6 by a small margin and is currently the highest performing digital source I’ve tested.
For a DDC or streamer alone this would be immensely impressive already, but for a device which also has a server and other hardware inside, Rockna has clearly done an exceptional job designing the NET.
A difference of only a few picoseconds is not exactly something that anyone would say it’s anything close to ‘reasonable’ to spend an extra £7000 to get, the SU-6 performs almost to this level and is 10% of the price, but for those chasing every last ounce of performance no matter what, the Wavedream NET looks like it might be the one to buy.
Typically, having your digital source in the same device as a server is not a particularly good idea, and there’s little reason not to use a dedicated streamer to ensure that no EMI or noise from the server will impact the digital source.
But here, Rockna has galvanically isolated the server portion internally and clearly done a good job on the power supply too. Noise is exceptionally low, not quite as low as the SU-6 with its supercapacitor based supply, but still better than many other sources.
Wavedream NET with the Wavedream DAC:
Of course a large proportion of people looking at the Wavedream NET will be doing so with the intent of pairing with the Wavedream DAC.
The NET does not need to be used with the Wavedream DAC, and all of its outputs are fully compatible with any other DAC, including the I2S port which uses the PS Audio pin layout. But people do love matching stacks, and with the reputation the Wavedream DAC holds, this is going to be a popular pairing.
I thought that it would be useful to test whether the NET brings a performance benefit to the Wavedream DAC compared to feeding it via USB.
To test this, I fed a 44.1khz and 48khz J-Test signal through the DAC with both sources, and also ran the test in both NOS and with the ‘linear’ filter enabled.
The ifi Zen Stream was used as the USB source for the DAC itself. The following were all done with the DAC in ‘stream’ clock mode.
Starting with 48khz:
Now at first glance it might look like the USB is better, but actually, it’s simply because with USB the random jitter/noise floor was at approximately -164dB, whereas with I2S it’s at -170dB, meaning the deterministic components are more visible.
Whilst there are some slightly higher deterministic components, the random jitter/noise is reduced by at least 5dB, and additionally, the fundamental has a thinner stem with lower spread, something that is often overlooked in J-Test measurements.
Now we are talking very minor improvements here to what is already exceptional performance with the Wavedream’s internal USB. BUT, hopefully everyone looking at buying a Wavedream NET realises that diminishing returns are well in effect. This is for people looking for the very best at any cost, not those seeking to optimise price/performance.
Improvements here are less obvious, with the main changes being the elimination of a couple deterministic spurs at around 17.7khz, 14.3khz, 8.2khz and 4.7khz.
A reduction of a couple dB on almost all spurs when using I2S here.
So in terms of performance, the Wavedream NET objectively performs the highest of any digital source I’ve yet tested, and does indeed bring a slight improvement to the Wavedream Signature DAC itself.
Is this an improvement worth £7500? Well, only you can decide that.
In terms of objective performance, the Wavedream NET is a feat of engineering and is currently the best digital source I’ve tested.
Whilst diminishing returns are evident, and for 99% of people getting a singxer SU-6 or Audio-GD DI20HE would be a much better option given as they offer close to the same performance for a fraction of the price, for those where budget is not a concern and they just want the best, the Wavedream NET is the one.
It’s a fantastic CD transport and server too, and leaves the user wanting for little else.
I highly recommend the Rockna Wavedream NET……if your wallet can cope…..