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A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming

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6 minutes ago, zackthedog said:

The way I understand it, the tx-USBexp must have power one way or the other before booting the computer.  I use a SATA connector as a back-up in case LPS fails or comes unplugged.  But since plugging in the LPS automatically disconnects SATA power, I'm not sure how this helps.  Some clarity would be helpful.

The backup theory of operation makes sense, and was what I assumed was true at the time.  However, how does a backup using a PC power supply avoid adding ground noise to the circuit?

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10 hours ago, mikicasellas said:

After almost a year of looking for the best choice of upgrading my system with a good streaming device/s for me in SQ and money wise, i am now in Nirvana, i just wanted to share my experience right now cause i can not stoping listening to my music from my MacMini as a server with music on its HD or via Tidal thru either Audirvana+ & Roon, although A+ is sounding so so good... well the item added which is making this whole up to a new level is the Bricasti M5, really this device is so good that my system is finally performing to a new level, no fatiguing at all and most important, no digital sound, open clear, deep very deep and ultra organic, WOW!! and this is using my Mac mini as the server, the M5 is only a renderer

 

Very highly recommended guys, for those like me looking for a simple solution

 

Let me say that i have been reading here and there, reviews and asking here and there about the multiple choices out there; SOtM, Sonore, Clones, DSC Bridge, etc, etc.

 

Well this device is Just GREAT!!

 

That’s great to hear. The question that remains, though, is how it performs relative to the other choices.

 

if you ever get a chance to compare, please let us know!

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3 hours ago, austinpop said:

 

That’s great to hear. The question that remains, though, is how it performs relative to the other choices.

 

if you ever get a chance to compare, please let us know!

 

I am still wondering about the SOtM Trifecta of course, i would love to try it, but i would need to buy the gear, i live in Mexico and believe me that i have spent lots of money on shipping and Customs Taxes and restocking fees, not to easy here...if i have the chance to try it i will and let you know of course, but lets be honest, at this price level and to just plug & play with this SQ, believe my system is reaching a level of performance very very good although i am using an OPPO 205 as a DAC which i purchased after i sold my Auralic VEGA while i was deciding which better DAC i was going to upgrade, i needed a 4K player anyway so that also was going to do as a DAC tasks in the meantime i reach other choices that actually are:

 

VEGA G2

DENAFRIPS Terminator

SCHIIT Yggy

PS Stream JR

 

But let me tell you that even with the 205 the DAC is showing how good can be  and now i can wait to choose the DAC upgrade patiently.

 

Cheers!!

 

 

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16 minutes ago, seeteeyou said:

Since Sean Jacobs does accept custom HiFi work

 

http://www.custom-hifi-cables.co.uk/custom-equipment-upgrade-service

 

And their TToL PSU costs £2200

 

http://www.custom-hifi-cables.co.uk/home/power-supplies/chc-555ps

 

Did Roy or others ask him about building something even better for the Supermicro X10SBA-L motherboard that's chosen for SE?

 

Interesting idea!

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1 hour ago, austinpop said:

Review of the Innuos Zenith MkII SE

 
Here - finally! - is my promised review of the Zenith MkII SE, referred to in the rest of this review simply as the SE. I know it feels like I've strung you guys along. I would have written this much earlier, had it not been for the untimely failure of my tX-USBultra, just when I was getting ready to do comparative listening at the 200 hour burn-in mark on my SE. Well, I have received my tX-USBultra back (a saga I posted about separately), which finally enabled me to complete this review. A side benefit of this delay is that my SE is truly burned-in now, with well over 300 hours of play time.
 
The SE came to my attention upon reading Roy's review on head-fi. After his public posts on the matter, he and I stayed in touch and he conveyed how impressed he was with it in his system. Finally, when a group of friends and I decided to do a private group buy, the die was cast. In due course, the SE arrived, and assumed a place in my system.
 
I'm not going to waste time and space here describing what the SE is and its feature set. If you haven't already, go read Roy's review on head-fi and Darko's review on his site. The SE is a standalone music player, that can store music locally, and serve them to a DAC directly via USB. For Roon users like me, the SE can function both as a Roon Core, but also as a Roon Bridge. If used as a bridge, the SE functions as a rather expensive streamer/renderer. In Roon Core mode, the box also provides a bridged streamer output, so you can drive an existing streamer. So it's a very flexible box! It also supports other modes like UPnP, Sonos, etc. I did not experiment with these.
 
As you know, my journey to SQ optimization has led me to my current spaghetti solution based on the SOtM trifecta. As a result, my perspective in evaluating the SE is uniquely mine. It's based on the question - how can the SE improve the overall SQ of my audio chain? Can it do so while simplifying my chain? And does it? This review is all about comparative performance. There are enough reports out there that suggest that on its own merit, the SE sounds wonderful. So my focus here is comparison with my trifecta chain.
 
Also note - we are at a fairly hefty price point here, and definitely in the diminishing returns region of the price-performance curve. I have no illusions on this score, nor am I even suggesting that this kind of expenditure is necessary for good SQ. 
 
Disclaimer
 
I've had people contact me wanting to know if I was affiliated with, or paid by, one company of the other. Let me set the record straight, once and for all. I only review, and plan to continue to only review, gear that interests me for my own system. All the gear is either purchased by me, or lent to me by friends and CA'ers - NOT by manufacturers. Like all of us, I hate paying retail, so will often buy used or discounted products, but not for review considerations. To be honest, I'm pretty small fry, and I prefer it that way! The main reason I write here is because a) I enjoy writing, and b) I feel too few reviews - especially from mainstream publications - take an unflinching, comparative approach, which is what I, and most of the audiophiles I know, really want to know.
 
OK - back to the interesting parts.
 
My Current Chain
 
Let's review the chain I have been using prior to the SE's arrival. The notation I'll use is to indicate the PSU in parentheses, including whether its output is shunted to ground via a JSGT (John Swenson Ground Tweak).  For all the LPS-1s in my chain, the energizing Meanwell SMPSes are all JSGT shunted. Also, unless otherwise indicated, upstream of the chains below is:
  • Netgear CM600i modem (HDPlex LPS) > TP-Link Archer C7 router (HDPlex LPS) > Netgear GS105 switch (Breeze LPS, JSGT)
  • TP-Link Archer C7 router (HDPlex LPS) > Synology DS916+ NAS (SMPS) 
The modem, router, and NAS, are in a different room, and on a different AC circuit. The Netgear switch is in my listening room, and immediately precedes the chains below. All my audio gear is on a dedicated AC circuit, using the 6 AWG wire and outlet sourced from Jim Weil, that I described in a post a few days ago.
 
Here is my current chain:
  • sCLK-EX-modded switch (LPS-1) > sCLK-EX-modded sMS-200 (LPS-1) > ISO-Regen (LPS-1) > tX-USBultra (Hynes SR-4) > Codex
  • Cybershaft OP-14 10 MHz reference clock feeding the sCLK-EX board in the tX-USBultra
  • This clock topology essentially delivers OP-14 quality to my switch, sMS, and tX, and has really been the jewel in my audio crown, as it were.
SE Functional Quirks
 
As I previously posted, the SE's USB controller does not play nice with the USB controller on my Ayre Codex. So I was never able to run the simple chain:
  • Zenith SE > Codex
In trouble shooting, I had several emails back and forth with Nuno of Innuos and Ariel and Ryan at Ayre. While this issue is still not resolved for the Codex, we did establish that it seems to be related to the fact that the Codex USB stage is bus-powered. Thanks to another loan of the QX-5 Twenty by my local dealer, which uses the exact same USB controller chipset as the Codex, but is internally powered, I established that this chain works fine:
  • Zenith SE > QX-5 Twenty
Nuno did mention that another workaround is to use the iFi USB iPurifier2 between the SE and the Codex. Mark Sossa, the US Innuos distributor kindly lent me one to try. Sure enough, this does function correctly:
  • Zenith SE > iPurifier2 > Codex
Usability
 
While the SE's UI is not geared to power users and tweakers like me, I have to appreciate its elegance and simplicity. For computer- or technology-phobes, this thing is a dream. One of the cool features is the CD ripping tool. This isn't something I expect to use much, as the bulk of my CDs were ripped more than a decade ago. Upon Roy's recommendation, I did try re-ripping a favorite CD, and the experience could not be nicer. Roy felt that the rips from the SE actually sounded a little better to him, but I didn't find that to be the case. Still, for those needing this feature, it's nifty.
 
Sonic Signatures
 
Before I get into comparisons, let me talk about the sonic signatures of both my trifecta and the SE. In the rest of the review, I'll refer to these signatures rather than enumerate them again and again. 
  • Current chain based on SoTM Trifecta: As I've described before, the net effect of clock and PSU improvements - starting with the sCLK-EX, the use of LPS-1 and SR-4, and culminating in the addition of the Cybershaft OP-14 - has been in the following areas:
    • Tonal Smoothness, lack of digital glare
    • Sweet midrange
    • Huge and precise image
    • Air - excellent separation of instruments
    • Texture and dimensionality - instruments sound real, and have a palpable dimension to them
    • Resolving - fine details are exquisitely rendered. Brushes and high hat strokes come across very distinctly. A string section sounds like distinct violins (for example) playing together, rather than one homogenous violin, if that makes any sense.
    • As such, this configuration sets a very high bar to surpass!
       
  • Zenith SE: the addition of the SE to a chain yields substantial SQ benefits. These are completely consistent with Roy's and Darko's observations, but I'll describe them in my words:
    • Dynamism: it feels like the music has gained some dynamic range, but it's more that dynamic range is is more realistically rendered. This is actually more apparent if you turn down the volume when making comparisons. 
    • Calmness and ease: related to the above, there is a sense of relaxation and ease to the sound, that I attribute to a lower noise floor
    • Richer and smoother tonality, especially the treble
    • Density, solidity: music had more weight and body to it. Instruments seemed more palpable and real.
    • Improved bass
Findings
 
Let me first dispense with the most obvious and financially most attractive comparison: could the Zenith SE standalone replace my spaghetti chain? If so, I could sell my entire trifecta, and recoup most or all of what I paid for the SE. Sadly - the answer is an emphatic NO. While the SE bettered the trifecta in terms of the traits described above, especially dynamism and weight, there was also a profound sense of loss for the air, dimensionality, and resolution that is so characteristic of all the clock improvements. This was not surprising, nor unexpected, as it's what Roy found in his evaluation too.
 
This would be a good time to take a detour to the topic of axes (or dimensions) of optimization. We have ample evidence now that SQ improvements can be gained by making extreme optimization on both the clocking axis AND the PSU axis. There are other axes too: for example, RF/EMI shielding, and mechanical/vibration control. If you've read about the SE, you know that one of the key things that distinguishes the SE from its lower-priced brethren is the use of very high-quality, bespoke PSUs designed by Sean Jacobs, another British boutique electronics designer. First Paul Hynes, now Sean Jacobs. Must be something in the water there! Or the whisky. :D 
 
The SE and the trifecta chains are perfect examples of systems that have been optimized along these two axes. My trifecta chain is highly clock-optimized, but while I am using excellent PSUs, it could probably sound way better if I used 4+ rails of an SR-7 instead. In contrast, the SE is highly PSU-optimized, but by Nuno's admission in discussion with Roy and me, not particularly optimized on the clock dimension.
 
With this backdrop, I went on a similar path as Roy described in his head-fi posts: could I combine the SE with elements of my trifecta to achieve a new high-water mark for my system's SQ? And what is the cost/benefit tradeoff of the resulting chain?
 
Note: this post is long enough already, so I will not lengthen it by enumerating all the interesting experiments I tried. At different points in the last 3 weeks, I've had loaners of the Ayre QX-5 and Eric's sMS-200ultra and dX-USB HD Ultra, that have allowed me to try all kinds of permutations and combinations. I'll cut to the chase and list only the most interesting findings.
 
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that all the adjectives and qualifiers I use below are relative. Take it as given that each configuration by itself sounds incredible, and without the other to compare, I would be very pleased with the SQ I was hearing. But for comparisons, it becomes necessary to use positive or negative terms to convey relative merits.
 
Finding 1: The best Zenith SE chain outperforms my current reference chain
 
This is the SE-based chain that sounded best in my system:
  • sCLK-EX-modded switch (LPS-1) > Zenith SE > tX-USBultra (Hynes SR-4) > Codex
  • Cybershaft OP-14 10 MHz reference clock feeding the sCLK-EX board in the tX-USBultra
You'll notice that this is still "spaghetti" but not as complex as my current chain. Why the switch, you ask, since the SE can store music locally? See the next finding.
 
This is the same combination that Roy has settled on in his system too. As good as the SE sounds by itself, the addition of the tX-USBultra, reference clocked by the Cybershaft, elevates SQ to an absolutely magical level. My system has never sounded this good! This combination takes the dynamism, the density, and the rich and smooth tonality of the SE, and adds in the resolution, micro-details, and texture of the clocking enhancements. 
 
If I'm honest, I still find my current reference chain to be a tad more detailed and resolving. This is where system synergy comes in. As I've mentioned in my past posts, I have always struggled with a slight thinness to the sound of my chain. This starts with my headphone setup, which is extremely resolving. Part of this is just inherent in headphone listening compared to speakers. Add to that my HD800's which, while they've been modded to mitigate the infamous 6kHz peak, are still unforgiving of any treble harshness or imbalance.
 
Compared to the SE chain, my current chain sounds a little constricted, and seems to have more treble energy. Switching to the SE chain delivers that "aahh" - a sense of calm and relaxation that one gets from reduced treble glare and hash. The sound is more dynamic, weighty, and richer. More importantly, voices sound more natural.
 
Having said all that, it isn't by any means a night and day difference. On some well-recorded and smooth-sounding tracks, it's harder to tell the 2 chains apart. The more inherently brighter the tonal palette of the recording, the more the difference is noticeable. To illustrate this - to myself, during listening - I fired up Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights. I know - I have dated musical tastes, but this is a song that will have you ripping the 'phones off your head on a sub-par system. :D In this comparison, the constriction and brightness of the trifecta relative to the SE was immediately noticeable.
 
Ultimately though, the SE-based chain extends the SQ of my system to a new high-watermark. Is it worth the price? That is highly subjective. For my situation and my ears, the answer is yes, although I still have a few days left in the 30-day return window. I'll talk about this more in the summary.
 
One final note: Knowing the lust and envy that would result, I did also listen to the SE chain driving the QX-5. OMFG! This was a sublime chain. I know in the past I've said that I find DAC SQ differences to be rather small, compared to what I have heard in the digital chain upstream of the DAC. With the SE in the chain, it felt like the DAC difference between the Codex and the QX-5 was more pronounced. I'll talk about this more in finding 4.
 
Finding 2: The reclocked switch minimizes the gap between music on local SSD vs. NAS
 
Since I already have an sCLK-EX-modded switch available, along with an available clock output on my tX-USBultra, it seemed a no-brainer to try this in the chain. Without the reclocked switch, the difference between music stored locally on the SE sounded significantly better than when retrieved from my NAS on the network. Adding in the reclocked switch, the gap narrowed considerably. I have to listen very carefully now to register the slight improvement provided by local files. And of course, the reclocked switch makes a huge improvement for Tidal and other streams.
 
This is really important to me for flexibility. My music lives on my NAS for multiple reasons - it is accessible from multiple systems and devices, and I have a backup strategy in place. Putting music files locally on the SE would then require me to keep my SE copy in sync with my NAS copy. It's not an insurmountable problem, but it is a bit messy. Nuno has indicated they are looking into proving a sync tool within the SE to address this use case. I hope they do.
 
Finding 3: The Zenith SE internal player outperforms Roon
 
This is one of those ironic findings. On the one hand, kudos to the Innuos team for optimizing their internal SqueezeServer player. But as a committed Roon user, this finding actually annoyed me. I have no interest in switching back from Roon to a Squeezebox ecosystem. I still have iPeng on my iDevices from when I used to own a Squeezebox Touch, but I've moved on.
 
So yes - the internal player, controlled by iPeng, does sound better than Roon Core on the SE. From what I understand, much of the improvement comes from allocating a generous memory cache. To be fair to Innuos, they were able to make these improvements since the codebase is open source (I think), while the Roon code is opaque to them.
 
Still, as a Roon user, I would like to see this gap eliminated, and I hope Innuos devotes some energy to working with Roon to achieve that.
 
Finding 4: Improving music player (Zenith SE) has bigger impact than improving DAC (QX-5)
 
One point Darko made in his review about the "Portuguese fella" (the SE - I love his peculiar phraseology sometimes!) is this:
 
For the more seasoned digital audiophile caught between a streaming rock and a D/A converting hard place, know this: starting over with ten grand to spend, I’d take this Innuos and drop whatever cash I had left on a lesser DAC instead of putting the larger percentage of my dollars into a better D/A converter only to feed it ones and zeroes by a standard PC or Mac.
 
It occurred to me that with the loaner QX-5 sitting in my room, I actually had the makings of a very interesting experiment - i.e, compare these two configurations:
  • Upgrade the DAC: replace the Codex with the QX-5 in my current chain
  • Upgrade the music player: replace my current chain with the SE chain in finding 1, keeping my Codex DAC.
Cost wise, these are in the same ballpark, depending on whether you factor in retail vs. used cost, and the resale value of superseded gear. Not perfect, but an interesting comparison.
 
Well, I agree with Darko. Upgrading to the SE chain yielded more bang for the buck - to my ears - than upgrading the DAC. Now of course, upgrading both was to be transported to a divine plane, where you recline on a cloud, caressed by sunbeams, while angels sing. :D 
 
Finding 5: The tX-USBultra sounds better than the dX-USB HD Ultra
 
While my tX was en route to and from Korea, Eric kindly lent me his trifecta chain, comprising the sMS-200ultra and dX-USB HD Ultra. Since I had the QX-5 handy, I was able to drive this chain:
  • Zenith SE > dX-USB HD Ultra (Hynes SR-4) > (AES) > QX-5
  • Cybershaft OP-14 10 MHz reference clock feeding the sCLK-EX board in the dX-USB HD Ultra
The whole time I had it in my system I felt like something was missing, but with so much going on, I didn't really delve into why. When I got my tX-USBultra back, I immediately noticed how much better my system was sounding - and at a level of refinement that matched my recollection. Now curious, I compared the above to this chain:
  • Zenith SE > tX-USBultra (Hynes SR-4) > (USB) > QX-5
  • Cybershaft OP-14 10 MHz reference clock feeding the sCLK-EX board in the tX-USBultra.
Based on this experiment, the tX sounded significantly better. Now I'll caveat that I don't know per se what the relative merits of the USB and the AES input of the QX-5 are. Still, it is a data point, and suggests that the older dX may not be as refined as the tX.
 
Finding 6: The SR-4 has pulled ahead of the LPS-1 after more burn-in
 
I know I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I found these PSUs essentially head-to-head. Since then, the SR-4 has continued to burn in, and I am now able to compare on a chain of overall higher SQ with the SE. Whatever the reasons, I now find that switching back and forth powering the tX-USBultra, the SR-4 is the more refined PSU. Of course, this finding will be revisited when my LPS-1.2 comes in, and we shall see if the tables turn again with the 1.2. 
 
Summary
 
The Innuos Zenith MkII SE is a pretty remarkable piece of gear, and I recommend it heartily. Whether it's right for you depends on many things, but most importantly where you're coming from. If you're running your DAC direct from your stock MAC or PC, prepare to have your mind blown. As you go up the spectrum of existing system refinement, the SE's value proposition becomes more and more nuanced.
 
For my system, the SE does three things:
  1. It allows me to achieve a level of SQ beyond what I previously had
  2. It allows me to simplify my digital audio chain, although it does not completely eliminate the spaghetti
  3. It allows me to sell parts of my current chain to partially defray the cost. I will soon be putting my modded sMS-200, my ISO-Regen, and 2-3 LPS-1s up for sale
There are some cons too:
  1. For Roon users, the fact that Roon Core SQ lags the internal player is annoying
  2. The fussiness of the USB controller with certain DACs requires care with system matching
Final Thoughts
 
Some people will look at this review and ask if I now believe "straight USB" is superior to "endpoint-based." I have never been tied to one approach or the other. For me, it was always about SQ and simplicity. Roy said something similar to me in one of his emails:
 
If you look back at my posts on CA, while I did find SQ to be a bit better with my "straight USB setup," a key reason for switching was because I preferred the simpler setup.  It is interesting just how many people have misinterpreted my rationale for leaving the trifecta, it was never for SQ reasons.
 
It did occur to me that an alternate path to achieve the same improvement as the SE provided in my system, was by the purchase of 4 rails of SR-7. Of course, I'd have to wait a year to get one! I discussed this with Roy, and his take was while the SR-7 still seemed like it had better specs:
 
With the Zenith SE more broken in, it has become a monster.  If I am to be honest, dynamics are a bit better than my server driven by the SR7 but I suspect this is due to the long DC leads I am using (1.5m) and the high impedance barrel connectors used (Paul Hynes hates these).
 
What I have concluded from my experience with the SE is that extremely high-end PSUs do make a palpable difference. This goes beyond the table stakes of low ripple noise, linear supplies, low output impedance, and isolation from high- and low-impedance noise. What these extreme PSUs also provide is a deep reservoir of instantaneous transient current delivery. We know this matters in analog amplification, but who knew it was so important in digital transmission!
 
What I would love to see is an SE-like product that married the concepts of extreme system and PSU optimization with clock optimizations. As Roy's experience shows, his (and others' on this thread) custom sCLK-EX modded servers have the potential for doing this. The trick is to incorporate several rails of an SR-7-like supply into the box, while keeping DC power leads as short and as low impedance as possible. There's the rub.
 
I sure hope Innuos's (or SOtM's or Antipodes') future systems give us the best of both worlds.

 Nice writeup Rajiv, thanks.

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1 hour ago, seeteeyou said:

Since Sean Jacobs does accept custom HiFi work

 

http://www.custom-hifi-cables.co.uk/custom-equipment-upgrade-service

 

And their TToL PSU costs £2200

 

http://www.custom-hifi-cables.co.uk/home/power-supplies/chc-555ps

 

Did Roy or others ask him about building something even better for the Supermicro X10SBA-L motherboard that's chosen for SE?

OMG, I used to be a Naim guy and seeing those Burndy connectors is unsettlingly!

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1 hour ago, seeteeyou said:

Since Sean Jacobs does accept custom HiFi work

 

http://www.custom-hifi-cables.co.uk/custom-equipment-upgrade-service

 

And their TToL PSU costs £2200

 

http://www.custom-hifi-cables.co.uk/home/power-supplies/chc-555ps

 

Did Roy or others ask him about building something even better for the Supermicro X10SBA-L motherboard that's chosen for SE?

This PSU is a replacement for the Naim 555PS. It is designed to work with Naim CD555 or NDS

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3 hours ago, austinpop said:

 

Interesting idea!

 

Yeah, we could actually take a look inside their flagship PSU

 

http://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649359356-naim-xps-dr-naim-555-equivalent-custom-made-by-custom-hi-fi-cables-in-uk/

z58VUxw.jpg

 

Since Supermicro X10SBA-L is cheap to begin with, maybe it makes more sense to modify the motherboard with sCLK-EX before sending that to Sean Jacobs? Then pay him to hardwire the PSU to the motherboard in a way that ALL regulators could be replaced by the latest versions of their CHC-REG regulator modules.

 

Heck, what if something even better than SOtM SATA filter II could be done with a larger PCB and Mundorf caps?

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4 hours ago, austinpop said:

Review of the Innuos Zenith MkII SE

 
Here - finally! - is my promised review of the Zenith MkII SE, referred to in the rest of this review simply as the SE. I know it feels like I've

 

Thanks for sharing! 

I too, am looking forward to what the future can bring....

 

For those of us that can't afford $20K server/dac....

Now if they can get you 90% of the SQ for under $2k for server/dac....I will leave the other 10% for the people that can afford this stuff.

 

Most notable statements in your review that I enjoyed:

 

1. The difference between music stored locally on the SE sounded significantly better than when retrieved from my NAS on the network.

 

my comment>> so it is possible to have local storage sound good!  No need to add an enet->usb device to achieve good SQ.

 

2.  Starting over with ten grand to spend, I’d take this Innuos and drop whatever cash I had left on a lesser DAC instead of putting the larger percentage of my dollars into a better D/A converter only to feed it ones and zeroes by a standard PC or Mac.

 

my comment>> I have always found this true...even playing native dsd via dlna through a cheap $50 sony bluray sounded better than pc playing pcm files to a midfi multibit dac.

 

3.  The Zenith SE internal player outperforms Roon

 

my comment>>  YAY!  Don't need roon subscription.
 

=====

I understand that there is no free lunch....I just want the best possible within a limited budget, and I foresee things getting better all the time...It seems power is the most expensive thing that makes the biggest difference...so all the new "network and media players" should make the ext ps optional for ease of upgrade.

 

 

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Only Innuos could tell us the "magic" of Supermicro X10SBA-L but they already provided some hints somewhere

 

http://hifipig.com/innuos-zenith-mk2/

Quote

“We had to go through a very detailed oscilloscope for measurements. We have literally tested dozens of system boards and the noise patterns you get vary wildly between them. Some are absolutely dreadful and should never be used for audio.

 

https://devialetchat.com/showthread.php?tid=3853&pid=60742#pid60742

Quote

We have tested dozens of boards on the oscilloscope (higher and lower-powered) and we could have easily used similar ones at a third of the price.

 

And then there's also another key to their success, it's better to split things up like they do

 

Quote

note that the Zenith uses 3 linear power supplies - one for the CPU, one for the SSD and one for the remaining board

 

Finally the (hard)wiring between the motherboard and the PSU should also play a fairly important role while connectors could be eliminated for good reasons

 

http://innuos.com/en/catalog/go/zenith-se-mk2-std

Quote

Audiophile-grade silver-coated and shielded cabling for internal connections, hand-soldered directly to circuits to lower impedance from connectors.

 

Of course the next level would be powering the system clocks and RAM etc. with dedicated PSUs while the regulators could be bypassed.

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5 hours ago, austinpop said:

Review of the Innuos Zenith MkII SE

 
 
Here is my current chain:
  • sCLK-EX-modded switch (LPS-1) > sCLK-EX-modded sMS-200 (LPS-1) > ISO-Regen (LPS-1) > tX-USBultra (Hynes SR-4) > Codex
  • Cybershaft OP-14 10 MHz reference clock feeding the sCLK-EX board in the tX-USBultra
  • This clock topology essentially delivers OP-14 quality to my switch, sMS, and tX, and has really been the jewel in my
 
Summary
 
The Innuos Zenith MkII SE is a pretty remarkable piece of gear, and I recommend it heartily. Whether it's right for you depends on many things, but most importantly where you're coming from. If you're running your DAC direct from your stock MAC or PC, prepare to have your mind blown. As you go up the spectrum of existing system refinement, the SE's value proposition becomes more and more nuanced.
 
For my system, the SE does three things:
  1. It allows me to achieve a level of SQ beyond what I previously had
  2. It allows me to simplify my digital audio chain, although it does not completely eliminate the spaghetti
  3. It allows me to sell parts of my current chain to partially defray the cost. I will soon be putting my modded sMS-200, my ISO-Regen, and 2-3 LPS-1s up for sale
 

Hi Rajiv,

 

Thanks for a very comprehensive review.

A couple of questions.

 

1. How were you powering your W10 server?

2. Do you think there might be any advantage "bridging" the SE with the sMS-200?

 

Cheers,

 

Geoff

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2 hours ago, jean-michel6 said:

For peace of mind and easiness the zenith se / txUSB ultra is the way to go. 

For the adventurous and diy the way I am going is fun and full of improvements path ( i am in the process to have my mobo clocks upgraded by sotm ) but as costly as the Zenith. 

 

Hi Jean-Michel,

 

No doubt, one can achieve similar SQ gains going down the DIY path. Finding PSUs of the caliber of the SE may be the hardest to achieve. It will be interesting to see if people are able to source these from Sean or other vendors, without the wait times for the SR-7.

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1 hour ago, rickca said:

I'm very curious about what makes this Supermicro motherboard sound better than other mini-ITX motherboards.

It is interesting to see that the SE uses two separate power sources, one for the big atx connector (only 20 pins powered by the pico) and the other for the CPU.

 

I've never seen that split before.

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This is what worries me a lot with Music Servers, streamers with USB outputs and has resurfaced again with the Zenith and the QX-20 although it can happen with any DAC-Server combo, IIRC an Aurender W20 with something else, was it a BADA Mark 2 perhaps. Everything is all plugged in and quiet. No music. There would have been correspondence with either manufacturer and slow a solution could be resolved, but in the meantime you can't listen to either.

 

Strange there rarely seems to a problem with a computer (other than Linux for DSD512 comes to mind) where things can go pear shaped with a DAC, with the exception of poor cabling, driver or OS issues. This is the reason to buy a transport in the first place.

 

Granted it's not possible to provide compatibility with every DAC ever built, but there must be a specification or rule or other condition to nominate, our music Server will work with DACs that can accept DoP, but not to DSD512 for example, or it only works with FLAC, but not AIFF, give a clue! Lumin are very good, what sample rates and files are played. Spot on.

 

Now here is what makes the blood boil, from the Innuous site:

image.thumb.png.9440e14235270358b05add34fb65dde5.png

Configuring the DAC output, a total blank section. Poor. Bad. Slack.  I was considering a closer look at Innuous but this, just leaves me cold. I'd throw tomatoes at this mob, totally unprofessional. An oversight, or we're waiting for details to finish, sorry doesn't cut it. I'm going in hard and critical on this, because for the prices, the support needs to be better. 

 

The alternative is to provide legacy S/PDIF or AES3 and use USB at your own risk it seems.

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4 minutes ago, sandyk said:

 Sean Jacobs does some very nice work.

 

 Attached is a photo of a partially completed monoblock version of my 15W Class A Power Amplifier design that he custom built for a Rock Grotto forum member several years ago. Up till then , all the other forum members builds were with both channels in the same 2U rack case, with the transformers and Regulated PSU PCBs in a separate 2U rack case.

I wish that I could do builds that look as good as those from Sean !

 

Click on the image twice for a large image.

1st Monoblock 15W Class A-Professionally built .jpg

That's a nice job, plenty of space to breathe. Perhaps some more steel to divide the transformer from the rest would be the icing on the cake, and gain losses of a few db of common mode noise.

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41 minutes ago, HeeBroG said:

1. How were you powering your W10 server?

 

Just the stock SMPS. My W10 Roon Core is just a Dell desktop machine with no HW mods whatsoever.

 

41 minutes ago, HeeBroG said:

2. Do you think there might be any advantage "bridging" the SE with the sMS-200?

 

 

I haven't tried this, because I couldn't get it to work for some reason, and I didn't spend time trouble shooting it. I did try running my modded sMS-200 and the SE, both connected to my reclocked switch, with the SE as Roon Core streaming to the modded sMS-200. This certainly sounded better than with my W10 Roon Core, but it did not match the SQ of going directly out on USB from the SE.

 

Over on the head-fi thread, someone did try the streamed experiment, and reported the same finding as mine above: direct USB from SE was better.

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4 minutes ago, One and a half said:

That's a nice job, plenty of space to breathe. Perhaps some more steel to divide the transformer from the rest would be the icing on the cake, and gain losses of a few db of common mode noise.

 

Agreed.  Altronics did that with their kit for the Silicon Chip DAC. (see attached)

 The original S.C. design did not do that though.

Unfortunately the amplifier's owner died from cancer less than a year later, IIRC..

SC DAC PART 3 p.3.jpg

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1 hour ago, beerandmusic said:

Now if they can get you 90% of the SQ for under $2k for server/dac....I will leave the other 10% for the people that can afford this stuff.

 

Here's something. Someone I know got their Oppo 205 modded with upgrade PSU and OCXO by this guy: http://www.oppomod.com/ He can't stop raving about how good it's sounding - and this is someone who has the trifecta. Very intriguing, but I should caveat, I have no personal knowledge of this outfit or the resulting SQ.

 

1 hour ago, beerandmusic said:

2.  Starting over with ten grand to spend, I’d take this Innuos and drop whatever cash I had left on a lesser DAC instead of putting the larger percentage of my dollars into a better D/A converter only to feed it ones and zeroes by a standard PC or Mac.

 

Those were Darko's words, not mine!

 

1 hour ago, beerandmusic said:

my comment>> I have always found this true...even playing native dsd via dlna through a cheap $50 sony bluray sounded better than pc playing pcm files to a midfi multibit dac.

 

You lost me on this. I don't think this is the same thing at all.

 

1 hour ago, beerandmusic said:

3.  The Zenith SE internal player outperforms Roon

 

my comment>>  YAY!  Don't need roon subscription.

 

 

I guess it all depends on where you're coming from.

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