Aqua LinQ Network Interface – Part 3 – Core + NAA Module
With the CH Precision C1, the Antipodes K50, and the Aqua LinQ, my system offers multiple options for listening to streaming audio. Although all three methods have their relative advantages, the LinQ provides the tightest, most articulate, and most neutral delivery. This was already the case when I used the HQPlayer server software component on the Antipodes with the LinQ’s HQPlayer NAA Renderer module.
After adding the Core module, thus having both the HQPlayer server and player components embedded internally in the LinQ, the difference is immediately noticeable. “Wow!”, I noted mentally, this is undoubtedly even better. I know, given that I was already raving about the LinQ, this sounds a bit like washing detergent now washing even whiter and ever whiter, right? But please hear me out.
In my first LinQ review, I mentioned that I preferred UPnP to Roon because the latter sounded a little rounded and smoothed. With the HQPlayer NAA Renderer module, that difference was made significantly smaller but it was not eradicated. With the HQPlayer Core module, there’s still a difference between the two sources (given different server hardware, there will always be) but it’s become so very small as to render the matter academic.
What’s more, although I already noticed the LinQ’s remarkable crispness and “cleaning” properties, meaning that it made differences in upstream networked gear less evident, the Core module has further upped this aspect. For instance, the K50 has a rich, relaxed, and smooth sound when used as an all-in-one server but even when used as a Roon server and streaming to the LinQ, some of its character remained audible, most notably its voluptuous bass. Amazingly, with the Core module, I would swear that the resolution and transparency have improved, and with it, the bass. Now, it is easily as tight, articulate, and incisive as when using UPnP.
As it happens, I currently have the Grimm Audio MU1 server available for comparison. Being something of a competitor for the Antipodes K50, the MU1 is an all-in-one solution that works only with Roon. It offers a sound that different from, but more or less on par with, the LinQ’s. Being a bass fetishist, most important to me is that the bass is to my liking, and the MU1 gets this absolutely right, especially with its oversampling switched off. But so does the LinQ, even with only the HQPlayer NAA Renderer module. With the Core module, however, and still served by the K50, the LinQ has even more powerful and incisive bass than the MU1, along with astounding presence and dynamics.
It’s worth noting that with greater precision, along comes a more critical setup. That’s just the way it works. Compared to the smooth K50, and to some extent also compared to the MU1, and when not using an analog preamp, one might find the LinQ to sound a little dry. But that’s only after having listened to the smoother sources for a while. And to put this into perspective, the same situation occurs when comparing Roon on the Antipodes to UPnP.
Also, before the first track has ended, the brain has already adjusted and I honestly feel that the LinQ simply provides the more accurate rendition. It provides the honest truth. But for those who prefer some more sweetening or rounding, of course, there is plenty of opportunity to tweak the sound by using the HQPlayer filtering and upsampling parameters. Personally, I have yet to feel the need to go there. I think the LinQ sounds just perfect using the factory settings.
Finally, along with the improvements in Sound Quality, the operation has also gotten snappier. Due to the necessary HQP buffering that benefits the sound quality, it’s not quite as fast as with native Roon but still plenty fast. Play from pause is instant, pause from play is near-instant, and resuming after seeking (scrubbing) within a track takes 2,5 seconds.
Regular readers will already know that I am a big fan of Aqua products. There’s not a single product in their portfolio that I have not liked and that speaks volumes of the consistency with which the company goes about its business. I have huge respect for Cristian Anelli and his design team for consistently delivering high-quality products.
With the LinQ, Aqua has created what I consider to be a class-leading, and maybe even market-leading, Network Interface. It was already superb in its initial incarnation but with every addition that is issued for the LinQ, its supremacy is further confirmed. The new Core module is not only a must for those who wish to obtain the absolute best sound quality but also for those who desire zero-config, true Plug & Play functionality.