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Article: Sonore microRendu Review, Part 1

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Typo, actual price of the Signature Power Supply is $1399.00, and combo deals may be available. This supply is in a beautiful custom made in the USA chassis, and comes with a very nice custom made (by Cardas) DC cable. This level of parts quality adds up quickly. Additionally, the supply is designed to offer the best performance possible, using a custom made discrete regulator circuit, for the µRendu. Considering the much higher cost of products which can compete at the same sound quality level, the combined price is totally reasonable.

 

Good technique, it seems a lot cheaper now ;)

 

So the price of the combination reviewed was in fact $2,048. (I would have corrected my original post but that's not possible now.)

 

That this combo at circa $2K can 'better' an Aurender W20, as one example, is pretty incredible.

 

Looking forward to the part II and Chris' more detailed listening impressions.


Roon lifetime > Mac Mini > ethernet > microRendu (RAAT) w/ Paul Hynes SR3 > Intona > Curious USB link > Devialet 250 Pro > PMC fact 8.

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Good technique, it seems a lot cheaper now ;)

 

So the price of the combination reviewed was in fact $2,048. (I would have corrected my original post but that's not possible now.)

 

That this combo at circa $2K can 'better' an Aurender W20, as one example, is pretty incredible.

 

Looking forward to the part II and Chris' more detailed listening impressions.

 

I would love to see reviews of microRendu with power supplies at different price points.

 

For example:

 

entry level (kind of iFi iPower)

 

mid-level (eg. Sotm battery supply)

 

Top-level.

 

I am believer that it's the analog (and power) part that makes digital components sound great...

 

What kind of sonic attributes are changed by upgrading the power supply?

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Chris-

 

You alluded to this in part 1, but I'd just like to explicitly request that you try at least one or two other power supplies at different price points (less than the top of the line Sonore) to give us some kind of comparison/idea what difference the PS makes for the microRendu.

 

I imagine many owners will be trying to decide if to order an upmarket PS, and at what level is makes sense for them to invest.


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Audiolense DRC>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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Chris-

 

You alluded to this in part 1, but I'd just like to explicitly request that you try at least one or two other power supplies at different price points (less than the top of the line Sonore) to give us some kind of comparison/idea what difference the PS makes for the microRendu.

 

I imagine many owners will be trying to decide if to order an upmarket PS, and at what level is makes sense for them to invest.

 

I started a thread a few days ago in hopes attracting owner impressions of the effects of various power supplies on the microRendu. So far no takers except my impressions of the 3 supplies I've used so far. Hope others will chime in.

 

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f26-sonore-sponsored/sonore-microrendu-power-supply-unit-observations-considerations-and-commentary-28480/

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Okay, I hope people will start posting. First receivers just starting getting the unit on the 4th, AFAIK, so I can see it might take a few days for posts to pop up.


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Audiolense DRC>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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I'm having a hard time grasping what real-world improvement this could make over a direct-connected USB input to my DAC from my iMac, which is in another room about 15ft away. Doesn't an XMOS interface offer some electrical isolation already? Is the claims that a modern computer is generating so much noise that leakage though USB/firewire ground plane is going to reduce fidelity by a great degree? Teach me here, I'm open and I have a run of CAT6 going to the system, for the SBT already. I gather I could just use a hub with the existing network cable in order to provide a path to both the SBT and optionally to the rendu for Roon/HQP use. Aren't there opto-isolators on the market for USB that would accomplish the same thing?

 

Wow, a lot of questions, many of which are very deep complicated technical issues. If you really want to delve into the details of some of them I have written a series of articles on audiostream that go into great detail on some of the issues involved with this.

 

Quick summation: there are several things going on at the same time that cause most USB implementations in DACs to not sound as good as they could. Each is caused by a different mechanism and need a different solution, thus there is no one "silver bullet" that fixes everything. Some of these mechanisms are not well understood, which makes fixing them difficult, it becomes a "I tried this and it makes it sound better", do that even more and it makes it worse. A lot of experimentation to get things sounding the best, and slowly gaining understanding as to what is actually going on.

 

It is VERY important to realize that none of this is gross level stuff, the audio data bits make it across either way. One of the major mechanisms is the operation of the USB receiver in the DAC itself is generating noise on its own power and ground planes which subtly degrades the performance of the DAC chip it is connected to. USB isolators and such make no difference to this mechanism since it is caused by the USB chip in the DAC itself.

 

What DOES seem to matter is the signal integrity of the USB signal itself. Its jitter, noise, ramp times etc. That is what the microRendu is all about. Generating a USB signal with the highest possible signal integrity to feed a DAC.

 

Electrical isolation does also seem to matter, there seems to be at least two mechanisms involved. One is traditional ground loop issues, low frequency noise going through ground connections from the computer to the DAC. A USB isolator does seem to fix these. Note this is NOT noise generated by the computer, it is noise caused by leakage currents from the power supplies of everything in the system going THROUGH the computer to the DAC.

 

There is a wide spread notion that the big problem with USB is noise generated by the computer traveling through the USB cable and polluting the DAC, I have looked carefully into this and do not see this as a big issue. There DOES seem to be an issue with noise on the power/ground wires in the USB cable coupling into the data wires, because of how most USB cables are made this results in some non-common mode noise which cannot be attenuated by the differential receiver in the DAC. Better designed cables CAN fix this. Lower noise on the P/G wires in the cable can also fix this. A subset of this is unbalanced drive on the cable which actually creates some of this noise on the ground wire.

 

The microRendu is specifically designed to address these issues, other motherboards, embedded systems etc are not. That is what you are paying for with the microRendu, a simple computer that has been optimized to significantly reduce these mechanisms which subtly degrade the performance of a DAC.

 

On the questions about network topology and SBT etc, I'll talk about those in a separate post. (maybe in the Dummies thread)

 

John S.

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I'm having a hard time grasping what real-world improvement this could make over a direct-connected USB input to my DAC from my iMac, which is in another room about 15ft away. Doesn't an XMOS interface offer some electrical isolation already? Is the claims that a modern computer is generating so much noise that leakage though USB/firewire ground plane is going to reduce fidelity by a great degree? Teach me here, I'm open and I have a run of CAT6 going to the system, for the SBT already. I gather I could just use a hub with the existing network cable in order to provide a path to both the SBT and optionally to the rendu for Roon/HQP use. Aren't there opto-isolators on the market for USB that would accomplish the same thing?

 

Wow, a lot of questions, many of which are very deep complicated technical issues. If you really want to delve into the details of some of them I have written a series of articles on audiostream that go into great detail on some of the issues involved with this.

 

Quick summation: there are several things going on at the same time that cause most USB implementations in DACs to not sound as good as they could. Each is caused by a different mechanism and need a different solution, thus there is no one "silver bullet" that fixes everything. Some of these mechanisms are not well understood, which makes fixing them difficult, it becomes a "I tried this and it makes it sound better", do that even more and it makes it worse. A lot of experimentation to get things sounding the best, and slowly gaining understanding as to what is actually going on.

 

It is VERY important to realize that none of this is gross level stuff, the audio data bits make it across either way. One of the major mechanisms is the operation of the USB receiver in the DAC itself is generating noise on its own power and ground planes which subtly degrades the performance of the DAC chip it is connected to. USB isolators and such make no difference to this mechanism since it is caused by the USB chip in the DAC itself.

 

What DOES seem to matter is the signal integrity of the USB signal itself. Its jitter, noise, ramp times etc. That is what the microRendu is all about. Generating a USB signal with the highest possible signal integrity to feed a DAC.

 

Electrical isolation does also seem to matter, there seems to be at least two mechanisms involved. One is traditional ground loop issues, low frequency noise going through ground connections from the computer to the DAC. A USB isolator does seem to fix these. Note this is NOT noise generated by the computer, it is noise caused by leakage currents from the power supplies of everything in the system going THROUGH the computer to the DAC.

 

There is a wide spread notion that the big problem with USB is noise generated by the computer traveling through the USB cable and polluting the DAC, I have looked carefully into this and do not see this as a big issue. There DOES seem to be an issue with noise on the power/ground wires in the USB cable coupling into the data wires, because of how most USB cables are made this results in some non-common mode noise which cannot be attenuated by the differential receiver in the DAC. Better designed cables CAN fix this. Lower noise on the P/G wires in the cable can also fix this. A subset of this is unbalanced drive on the cable which actually creates some of this noise on the ground wire.

 

The microRendu is specifically designed to address these issues, other motherboards, embedded systems etc are not. That is what you are paying for with the microRendu, a simple computer that has been optimized to significantly reduce these mechanisms which subtly degrade the performance of a DAC.

 

On the questions about network topology and SBT etc, I'll talk about those in a separate post. (maybe in the Dummies thread) (that didn't come out right

 

John S.

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As ted_b's signature line quotes "We're all bozos on this bus!".


PC with PPA Studio V3 USB card > LH Labs LPS4 > Light Harmonic LightSpeed 10G Split > LH Labs Pulse X ∞ > DHC Complement 4 Ag > Fostex TH900

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Leaving the cost behind for a second (though its as important), could you provide some insight as to why not use a Uptone JS-2 with microRendu rather than the Sonore ? The JS-2 has an additional flexible output, choke-filtered and has greater amperage. What does the JS-2 lack that Sonore Signature provides to power the microRendu ? I am just trying to understand the two supplies better tailored to my current and future needs.

 

I have no personal experience with the JS-2, so I would not presume to comment on how good it will sound with the µRendu. My only comment would be in regard to using the JS-2 as a two output power supply: in my experience, powering two devices (whatever they may be) from a single supply (like the JS-2, which has two outputs fed from the same transformer) is always at least a slight compromise, technically speaking, from having single isolated supplies for each component. Indeed we could go into this ad infinitum and get really complicated regarding the onboard suppiies, and the level of additional regulation, etc... I am confident in saying that additional current availability beyond what the Sonore Signature Supply is capable of is irrelevant to the performance of the µRendu, as the Sonore supply is fully capable of handling the transient needs of the µRendu.

 

Additionally, suggesting that reviewers should review multiple supplies and rank them, etc, is really putting the reviewer in a tough position. Just sourcing these multiple supplies would be very time consuming (consider how many possible supply options are already discussed in this thread alone), and audio reviewing is taxing enough as it is. The most I would expect to see from a review would be a comparison between a very simple option like iFi, and a more sophisticated one like the Sonore Signature. It is pretty much impossible to make a complete purchase decision based on reviews anyway.


ROON: DSD 256-Signature Rendu optical--Buffalo PRO or DSC-2--Ncore 400 Stereo-Focus Audio FS888-JL E-112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, Cardas Clear AC, Iconoclast XLR, Nordost Frey speaker, cables, Synergistic Blue & Hi Fi Tuning Supreme Cu Fuses, Dark Matter system clarifiers.    Design/Build Consultant with Sonore

 

                                                                                                  SONORE computer audio

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I am under the impression that the iFi is already an upgrade type power supply if it performs as well as the marketing associated with that product are true. The measurements appear pretty good so it will be interesting to see how it compares to my laboratory grade Agilent power supply I have been using.

 

I'm hoping the iFi is better but will see I gues.

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I have no personal experience with the JS-2, so I would not presume to comment on how good it will sound with the µRendu. My only comment would be in regard to using the JS-2 as a two output power supply: in my experience, powering two devices (whatever they may be) from a single supply (like the JS-2, which has two outputs fed from the same transformer) is always at least a slight compromise, technically speaking, from having single isolated supplies for each component. Indeed we could go into this ad infinitum and get really complicated regarding the onboard suppiies, and the level of additional regulation, etc... I am confident in saying that additional current availability beyond what the Sonore Signature Supply is capable of is irrelevant to the performance of the µRendu, as the Sonore supply is fully capable of handling the transient needs of the µRendu.

 

Additionally, suggesting that reviewers should review multiple supplies and rank them, etc, is really putting the reviewer in a tough position. Just sourcing these multiple supplies would be very time consuming (consider how many possible supply options are already discussed in this thread alone), and audio reviewing is taxing enough as it is. The most I would expect to see from a review would be a comparison between a very simple option like iFi, and a more sophisticated one like the Sonore Signature. It is pretty much impossible to make a complete purchase decision based on reviews anyway.

 

I agree asking a reviewer to review 4 or 5 power supplies is too much; but I don't think asking to review 2 or 3 with a device like the microR is. Reviewing just the most and least expensive PS probably is helpful to the least amount of buyers. Most users will probably buy one of the upgrade options short of the Sonore Signature. So having an idea if a $300 or $400 upgrade sounds significantly better than a $50 is a very useful bit of info.

 

I agree I can't make a "complete" purchase decision based on reviews, but I can't audition all the PS's and send them back, so that's all I have to go on. I think many don't want to spend lots of bucks on shipping 4 or 5 PSes to themselves, and then pay the costs of shipping back, if it is at all possible to return the units. Basically I have to decide on one to buy, and live with that decision.

 

One of the PS I was considering already get a relatively negative review from one of the early adopters. If it gets another, I'd probably eliminate it from consideration. To me, that's helpful.


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Audiolense DRC>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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...

It is pretty much impossible to make a complete purchase decision based on reviews anyway.

 

For a device like the microRendu it's pretty much impossible to do it any other way really since no dealers can loan them, hence the importance of thorough reviews user feedback - especially for overseas buyers. At least a renderer should be less system dependent than other components - it's really 'how good is it'


Roon lifetime > Mac Mini > ethernet > microRendu (RAAT) w/ Paul Hynes SR3 > Intona > Curious USB link > Devialet 250 Pro > PMC fact 8.

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Good technique, it seems a lot cheaper now ;)

 

So the price of the combination reviewed was in fact $2,048. (I would have corrected my original post but that's not possible now.)

 

That this combo at circa $2K can 'better' an Aurender W20, as one example, is pretty incredible.

 

Looking forward to the part II and Chris' more detailed listening impressions.

 

Well we don't really know this for a fact, but what the mR will eventually achieve is for other competitors of streamers/servers to lower their prices (hopefully significantly). At least that's what logic says if you can achieve great sound with $649, compared to 2-5-10-20k streamers/servers...just my 2c

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Chris & Team microRendu,

Chris, with only a few hours of play, I would have to agree with your assessment, …”I can unequivocally say that with the microRendu in place, my audio system has never sounded better than right now.” Using JRiver, JRemote, MinimServer, and the budget PS, I couldn’t be more happier with the results.

Thank you Team microRendu!

 

--WynnHiFi


Network - QNAP TVS-471 & Intel NUC (Roon ROCK) > Netgear GS108 > 

Primary System - PS Audio DirectStream DAC w/Network Bridge > Emotiva XSP-1 Preamp > Benchmark AHB2 Mono amps > Spatial Audio M3 Triode Master

Secondary System - Bricasti M5 > Schiit Audio Yggdrasil > Schiit Audio Ragnarok > KEF LS50

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Additionally, suggesting that reviewers should review multiple supplies and rank them, etc, is really putting the reviewer in a tough position. Just sourcing these multiple supplies would be very time consuming (consider how many possible supply options are already discussed in this thread alone), and audio reviewing is taxing enough as it is. The most I would expect to see from a review would be a comparison between a very simple option like iFi, and a more sophisticated one like the Sonore Signature. It is pretty much impossible to make a complete purchase decision based on reviews anyway.

 

I agree that there are too many power supplies in the market to do meaningful reviews. At the price of Sonore PS, it should a no brainier comparing with a $50 ifi PS. However, I would really love to see someone doing a comparison between three power supplies

 

a) low priced like ifi at $50

b) mid price in the range of $400-$500 and maybe the upcoming Uptone MPS designed by John S will fit this category nicely. If its not available anytime soon, then maybe one from hdplex or teradak.

c) high price, like the Sonore Signature or Uptone JS-2

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The microRendu looks like a fine device, but I'd question why I'd want to spend $640 when I could buy a single board computer like the Raspberry Pi 3 (which has a quad-core CPU vs. the dual-core in the microRendu) for $35 and achieve exactly the same level of audio quality with any decent USB asynchronous DAC.

 

More concerning though would be how future proof a device like this would be, as it relies on open source software such as Squeezelite and Shairport, which are constantly being updated. There are certain to be incompatibilities in the future with the specific Linux distro and hardware of the microRendu and these rapidly evolving software packages.

 

By configuring your own renderer with a popular single board computer, and then choosing piCorePlayer, Volumio, Rune, Moode, etc. you also have a large ecosystem of support. And by buying several $8 microSD cards it's easy to try out new distributions. I just downloaded the new 2.05 release of piCorePlayer, which includes a standalone Logitech Media Server that runs on your Pi. And there are recent open source efforts that can add Spotify Connect capability to many of these distros.

 

Again, nothing wrong with commercial offerings such as the microRendu, but for many people I believe you can get a much better solution at a fraction of the price and more flexibility with software updates by choosing a Raspberry Pi or ODroid SBC and any one of the audiophile Linux distros under constant development.

 

Here's a recent blog posting by one of my favorite audio bloggers on the renderer he put together with an ODroid-C2 and Volumio 2:

 

Archimago's Musings: MEASUREMENTS: ODROID-C2 with Volumio 2, and USB digital music streaming.

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... and achieve exactly the same level of audio quality with any decent USB asynchronous DAC.

 

Take some time to read the article. Dig through the other treads and find posts from the people involved in creating it (see John Swenson above).


Roon client on iPad/MacBookPro

Roon Server & HQPlayer on Mac Mini 2.0 GHz i7 with JS-2

LPS-1 & ultraRendu → Lampizator Atlantic → Bent Audio TAP-X → Atma-sphere M60 → Zero autoformers → Harbeth Compact 7 ES-3

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Take some time to read the article. Dig through the other treads and find posts from the people involved in creating it (see John Swenson above).

 

I have actually. That's why I included Archimago's blog posting, to provide an alternative point of view.

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I have actually. That's why I included Archimago's blog posting, to provide an alternative point of view.

Hi skikirkwood - Good post / questions. I think your comments are indicative of both sides of the wonderful hobby of ours. Some people have the skills, knowledge, time, desire to build a Pi based player. These people are also satisfied with forum only support for their self-built product. That's totally cool. The other side of the coin is most people who want to purchase a well built, well designed product from a reputable company who will call them up or remote connect if there is a problem, and these people believe in doing everything possible to squeeze every ounce of sound quality out of their systems.

 

Its cool when we can all use whatever device floats our boats and talk about the results and share great music. Nobody is right or wrong for selecting either type of product.


Founder of Audiophile Style

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Hi skikirkwood - Good post / questions. I think your comments are indicative of both sides of the wonderful hobby of ours. Some people have the skills, knowledge, time, desire to build a Pi based player. These people are also satisfied with forum only support for their self-built product. That's totally cool. The other side of the coin is most people who want to purchase a well built, well designed product from a reputable company who will call them up or remote connect if there is a problem, and these people believe in doing everything possible to squeeze every ounce of sound quality out of their systems.

 

Its cool when we can all use whatever device floats our boats and talk about the results and share great music. Nobody is right or wrong for selecting either type of product.

 

Hi Chris, yes, different people have different requirements and priorities, and that's why it's great there are so many solutions out there, both commercial and DIY. As a computer scientist who grew up on Unix, I'm very comfortable with playing around with Linux-based systems, but of course most people are not. But for people getting into the computer audio hobby, even without a technical background, a small degree of learning some basics will give them a great deal of flexibility, and perhaps more enjoyment of the hobby in the long run. It certainly will give you more options.

 

Regarding the commercial vs. DIY approach, my point here was to raise the issue of how future-proof any commercial packaging of proprietary hardware combined with open source software can be. That, combined with raising the issue of questioning do you actually get better technical support from a hardware vendor for this class of products vs. the community support with the DIY crowd. I own a Squeezebox Touch, and like many owners was shocked to hear Logitech discontinuing the product several years ago. But despite being a software engineer, I needed to call Logitech twice to get the Touch configured on my home network. So I suspect the support costs Logitech incurred was too costly to continue a $299 product. And for low cost (< $1000) renderers, I would be concerned about the same fate, especially as one who has used, configured, and had issues with the open source software packages the microRendu comes with.

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Some other forums I am visiting are flooded with DIY guys claiming that they could do things better for a fraction of the money. It seems like products of the uR category act like a red blanket in front of a bull. Also, It is always about cost plus.

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Some other forums I am visiting are flooded with DIY guys claiming that they could do things better for a fraction of the money. It seems like products of the uR category act like a red blanket in front of a bull. Also, It is always about cost plus.

Coming mainly the "audiophile side" of this I find their claims and seeming distress rather laughable.

The price of most items under discussion could be considered a "pittance" in that realm. I do want, seek and expect the best bang for my buck and the Sonic Transporter/uRendu/iFi power bundle I bought punching WAY above its price point.

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Some other forums I am visiting are flooded with DIY guys claiming that they could do things better for a fraction of the money. It seems like products of the uR category act like a red blanket in front of a bull. Also, It is always about cost plus.

 

I think an interesting comparison of commercial vs. DIY is the upcoming Bryston BD-Pi unit. Looks like it will cost about $1200, but under the hood it's based on a $35 Raspberry Pi 2 and $45 HiFiBerry Digi+ board. Of course Bryston is adding a beefy power supply, and a fantastic looking machined aluminum case with an OLED display. Still not clear exactly what Linux distro they are using and what mods they are making, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't choose Volumio, Rune or Moode.

 

So let's say you could add a decent power supply and case to the $80 base parts here, and flash one of the above distros. Does the Bryston unit justify the huge delta in price over the DIY approach. My main stereo has been based around a Bryston amp and pre-amp for over 20 years. I love the company, and what they stand for, so I'd say for many people, the answer is yes. If Bryston can offer 20 year warranties on their electronics, I trust they will offer fantastic support for this product. And the unit looks fantastic, so sure, if a friend asked me for a recommendation in this area, and they didn't want to ever ssh into a Linux shell and type obscure Unix commands, I'd suggest looking at a unit like this.

 

I also really like what Bryston has done here, being totally transparent about what's under the hood. Virtually all high end renderers are based upon some commodity single-board ARM-based computer and a Linux distro. By choosing a Raspberry Pi and Digi+ board, they are tapping into both the great economies of scale these hardware products have, as well as the large and rapidly evolving software ecosystems behind them, and I think it's a great move.

 

That said, I'm very happy with my two Raspberry Pi's with their IQAudio Pi-DAC+ I2S DAC's, one running Volumio, the other piCorePlayer, both supporting Airplay via the Shairplay emulator, and the open source Spotify Connect having been added to Volumio.

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. Virtually all high end renderers are based upon some commodity single-board ARM-based computer and a Linux distro .

 

But that is what is different about the microRendu, it is NOT a commodity single-board ARM-based computer. It is a custom designed board specifically designed to produce the highest possible signal integrity on the USB signal, which with most DACs will produce a significantly improved sound quality.

 

John S.

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But that is what is different about the microRendu, it is NOT a commodity single-board ARM-based computer. It is a custom designed board specifically designed to produce the highest possible signal integrity on the USB signal, which with most DACs will produce a significantly improved sound quality.

 

John S.

 

Hi John, well the bottom line is how do all of these systems sound in comparison to one another. So with the Bryston unit about to ship, I'd be interested in any group of people who could compare the sound of the microRendu, the BD-Pi, and an off the shelf Raspberry Pi 3 with a $10 power supply.

 

My bias is that with any good asynchronous USB DAC they would all sound exactly the same, but I'd welcome any data points that showed otherwise.

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