Tuner group test - NTL/Pace Di1000

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Tuner group test
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NTL/Pace Di1000
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NTL/ PACE DI1000  £100


Right, this is where the fun starts! We’ve decided to include a digital cable set top box to provide a counterpoint to the DAB tuners in the test? Why, well you can get so-called Digital Radio through cable and Freeview, often at considerably higher bitrates, at a much lower price – and free TV too! Kind of makes life tricky for the Cambridge Audio, Pure and Arcam, doesn’t it…?


The NTL/ Pace Di1000 reviewed here has just been superseded by the Di4000N, but is still perfectly representative of the myriad ‘digital set top boxes’ around in design, build and features. By and large they’re pretty generic designs using similar chipsets, with any visible ‘distinguishing marks’ being on the TV side of things. We also tried Philips’ DTR500 (£60) Freeview receiver, and most of what we’ve found here applies to this, too. The key point is that both provide considerably higher bitrates for radio than DAB and feature digital audio outputs, so you can pipe this ‘higher resolution’ digital radio out to your hi-fi digital to analogue convertor, or AV receiver, or use your DAT, MiniDisc, DCC or CD recorder in ‘monitor’ mode to listen.


The NTL/Pace box provides outputs for digital TV (including Sky), Ethernet broadband internet and digital radio (supplied by Sky).  The Di1000 set top box comes as part of NTL’s series of entertainment packages starting from £10 per month for the Base Pack which includes the familiar free to air broadcasts like BBC1-6, ITV1-2, Discovery Channel, Sky One, etc., and no less than 42 digital radio stations bought in from Sky. The Di1000 has a basic display on its curved plastic front plate, with large green legends denoting setup and channel number. There is a set of arrowed navigation keys similar to the ones on a DVD player below the display set in an oval button count. To the right of the display are four smaller oval buttons for TV, TV Guide, Interactive and Favourites. On the far right is the power standby switch. To the left are buttons for Channel up/down, OK and a fold out flap containing a viewing smart card slot.


Internally it features an 80 MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second) processor, 8MB RAM, 6MB FLASH, 4 MB video RAM, 4 MB graphics RAM and MCNS DOCSIS/ EURODOCSIS cable modem. There is a separate tuner module which utilises the QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) technique to bring digital signals from the radio stations and then the signals go through a demodulation tuner to get sound and music. The Di1000 has a switch mode power supply. At the back are various Scart and aerial socket connections along with an Ethernet port, phono sockets, F-type connector for the digital cable feed and figure eight mains input socket. The Di1000 has a perforated metal top cover because it runs very warm in use. The newer Di4000N is broadly similar to the Di1000 but features a faster 175+MIPS main CPU, USB and optical digital output while it omits the phono sockets for a mini-jack connection instead. They both measure 380x73x255mm and weigh less than 2.9kg.


Even via its onboard DAC and analogue audio output stage, the NTL /Pace had a generally good spatial sound quality - remarkable considering all the other elements such as the potentially sound degrading TV/ video sections to its electronic design. On Radio Two Digital Cable, the speech had a slight sibilance to it probably because the general tonal shading of the NTL/ Pace was spread towards the upper HF regions. However the bass was excellent, being both well extended and tuneful too, amongst the best in the group! This gave the music a good rhythmical thrust and provided a very tuneful feel to all the music broadcast. Musically there was a snap and fleet of foot presentation, never sounding aggressive or crude.


The Pace was quite enjoyable really on Radio Two, with a nice fluid midband and excellent musical separation, considering its Digital Radio DNA - it procured a generally musical presentation here. On Radio Three Digital Cable, the speech was improved over the Radio Two presentation, though there still remained a tendency to favour for the upper HF regions of the musical spectrum. The music on Digital Cable was clear, crisp and dynamic, while the NTL/ Pace was just about able to hang onto the orchestral crescendos as the music went from the quiet passages to huge dynamics.


The shock result is that, even via its ‘bread and butter’ DAC and analogue output, this humble set top box achieved the strongest and most dynamically assured sound - all the more remarkable considering the hostile internal environment of the set top box, with all its video circuitry and switch mode power supply. Pipe the digital signal out to a serious audiophile DAC and watch it fly on digital radio broadcasts, thanks to those valuable extra bits going into the tuner…


verdict 4


+44 (0)800 052 2000



- surprisingly good sound

- satellite TV, broadband

- ease of use



- slight vocal sibilance



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