REVIEW: Comparison of 5 High End Digital Music Servers - Aurender N10, CAD CAT server, TotalDac d1-Server, Auralic Aries, Audiophile Vortex Box

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by romaz, Nov 9, 2015.
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  1. flummoxed

    Until I purchased a USPCB I was using a Curious Link which was excellent, so I think I'm going to go for the same for the USB>USB.

    Now the tX-USBUltra has settled, is your preference with or without?


  2. Malcyg
    Too early to say yet as I have just been running it in in a different setup whilst I tested the dCS in my main system. There are two possible routes to trying to improve the SE output, either via a lightweight Ethernet player or via a USB enhancing device. I have written off the Ethernet player approach now having tried a few options, none of which were as good as USB direct.

    Can the USB output of the SE itself be improved? I haven’t run a direct comparison yet but the tX is widely regarded as being about the best there is for that. Roy (Romaz) suggested that the SE and tX combination was magical, so it will be interesting to see how it sounds in my main system. I’ll be happy if I still prefer the SE direct as it is a neater and cheaper solution.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2017
  3. STR-1
    I suspect much of that magic was due to the REF10 master clock and SR7 power supply Roy was using with the tX.

    I might just take the plunge on a Zenith SE as my plans for doing a home loan shootout with the Melco are running into too many obstacles. If I do, then I will look to see if I can get my hands on a tX to try (I already have an LPS-1 powered ISO Regen). But it would need to deliver without the benefit of a REF10 master clock and SR7. I might consider an SR3 or SR5, or the new SR4 that will be rolling out soon, if those in the know advise that any of those would do just as well as the SR7 with the tX.
  4. Malcyg
    I don’t really follow the master clock reference, could you explain what the benefit of the master clock is? The sales text for the tX-USBUltra states that it has one of the best clocks available. How does tying it to another clock provide any added benefit? I don’t understand that. I could see how there could be a benefit in tying several devices to a master, but in this scenario, there is just the tX which apparently has a very good clock. Sorry if that is a dumb question.

    The tX that I have on trial has a master clock input but I’m not sure how or why I would use it.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2017
  5. STR-1
    I’m afraid I don’t fully understand master clocks and how they would raise the level of the SOtM gear. I’ve just picked up from this thread and others on the CA forum that a number of people, including those with the SOtM trifecta, have heard sufficient benefit to justify buying one -
  6. allhifi
    Excellent counterpoint.

  7. Malcyg
    I started off not wanting to like the tX-USBUltra (tX-U) because it was another extra box, power cable, LPS and USB cable that I’d prefer to avoid. It is also black whereas all my units in my main system are silver, but I wanted to try it out, even if only to be able to reject it with confidence. So, I was pleased when I first connected it up to find that it sounded a little harsh and digital and certainly a few steps back from the Zenith SE plugged directly into my BluDave via USB. My initial reaction was just to send the tX-U back but, when I checked it out a bit online, feedback suggested that it does seem to need a good running in period to deliver its potential. Sure enough, the sound improved by degrees and after a couple of weeks, the sound was significantly improved over first impressions. After 3 weeks of use, I compared the sound of the SE>tX-U to the SE direct and also to the Blu II CD transport. The results were disappointing in a way because the SE>tX-U combination sounded so good that I feel compelled to keep the tX-U.

    Plugging the SE USB output into the tX-U adds a degree of height, width, depth and transparency to the sound stage opening it up whilst at the same time enhancing focus, control and accuracy, which were already very good with the SE. It also provides a degree more subtlety, air and finesse - everything you might hope for actually. I’d say that the SE>tX-U combination is nigh on perfect for me as a Roon Core digital front end into the BluDave and illustrates why it is always worth trying these things out. The sound quality is now so good that I don’t see myself using the Blu CD drive much at all but, nonetheless, it is still nice to have the facility to occasionally spin a disc without needing an extra shelf for another component, so I still personally quite like that the M-Scaler comes packaged with the CD transport. There are certainly no sound quality reasons for spinning a disc since the SE>tX-U is clearly superior to me however, the Blu CD transport has been extremely beneficial in helping me to resolve and refine my digital front end to the level that it is now at and I probably would not have ended up where I am now without it.

    Whilst trying to reconcile my initial negative perception of the tX-U, I found some reviews and this one below which, whilst being somewhat lengthy and elaborate, I did agree with most of the broad conclusions drawn in the piece.

    In conclusion, the tX-U does nicely enhance the all round abilities of the Zenith SE. I have been delighted with the SE anyway, so this discovery is the icing on the cake. This is a decent summary of the SE unit:

    I feel pretty certain that my main system is fully complete now - although I did get the Master Clock version of the tX-U, just in case!
  8. allhifi

    malcyg: Beautifully articulated. And insightful.

    Nicely done.

  9. Clive101
    Perfect review, thank you.
    What I find interesting is that a high end server like the Zenith se can be improved ( and for that matter ) I assume other servers could also benefit from the same treatment.
    Did you try the Melco N1 (entry level Melco) with the tx-u..?
    Although I would not expect the Melco to outperform the Zenith SE, it would be nice to know how Melco plus tx-u vs Zenith SE without the tx-u...?
    I now will look at the tx-u but wanted to avoid for the same reasons in your post.
  10. allhifi
    Great stuff. As said earlier, it also fascinates me that the extra complexity (box's, cables, junctions) could (would, does) impart such improvements.

    I look forward to the day when a complete and thorough understanding (of the real factors at work) can be implemented in a simple Pi-based (Server/Streamer) solution.

  11. Whazzzup
    I’m skeptic. I would think that quality USB connections from internals of the server to the HD galvanized port of your dac are sufficient. The idea of further modification if that’s what is happening to the bits can’t be good for transparency, but I dunno.
  12. allhifi
    You'd think. As I would.

  13. greenmountain
    One problem with assessing a music server is not only the quality of the output but also the input quality of the DAC (+ cables etc.) are important. The Zenith has USB and ethernet out and for my DAC(-amp) a Devialet Pro ethernet is presently considered the better option next to AES (the opinion of dealers and my own experience). But presently my unit gets upgraded with a new server/Wifi/ethernet /USB board and the inputs supposed to be improved. I asked Innous and they stated that likely USB will be better. So I will have to experiment with both connection types but I wonder how much the quality of cables will be confusing the decision making process between USB and ethernet.
  14. SeaWo|f
    Hey. has anyone tried plugging a usb stick into the back of an sms200/sms200ultra? Does this work or does the USB storage need to be self powered?
  15. allhifi
    Absolutely valid and important consideration. And potentially confusing. Before any further (or serious) money is invested, I'd strongly encourage one to consider a AC Power Re-generator or Symmetrical (i.e. Balanced) power supply for all 'source' and digital equipment, and separated from pre/power (analog) devices.

    Not directed at you (greenmountain) at all, but the wise statement 'KISS' is something to bear in mind moving forward.

    The concern I have with Streaming (Tidal, etc.) is the quality of the "signal" I'm actually receiving (yes, I'm sure it's bit/bit perfect and all that)
    I would concern myself with that part of the equation (and all other variables involved) before the signal arrives at my doorstep; is nit as it should be ?

    Likely the reason I began 'Streaming' a few months back. Historically, I'm most late to the party; by the year 2000, I felt CD was finally enjoyable, and began to sell off my 2K LP collection -a move I've never regretted. (Mind you, I did save the precious 100 or so I consider irreplaceable). Come to think of it, isn't it about the same elapsed time (MP-3 style) to today? (lol).

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