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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. STR-1
    The USB before the tX-U certainly does make a difference. I preferred the Curious to the original Lush there, but then thought to try the USPCB. That short connector was a step up from the Curious in terms of detail and cleanness but perhaps an even bigger step up again (with noise reduced further) when I turned the 5V power off (the tX-U doesn’t need the 5V for handshake with the Zenith SE). I would like to try a really good data-only USB cable in that position but they tend to be special order items when they are available and are therefore usually non-returnable.
  2. auricgoldfinger
    Ask your SOtM dealer if they have one of these on hand to loan you: http://www.sotm-audio.com/sotmwp/english/shop/dcbl-uf/

    I have the stranded silver version with the power signal line. It is quite nice between my tX-USBultra and DAVE. The cost is lower without the power signal line.
    STR-1 likes this.
  3. thyname
  4. Nuno Vitorino
    Hi everyone,

    Whilst I usually prefer for our own users to chime in to avoid vendor bias, I've read all kinds of misinformation online that warrants defining our view on the subject. We, and our customers, have used Roon extensively on all our servers (as even the ZENmini can run Roon Core) and we have yet to find the CPU lacking except for DSD upsampling, which is by far the most CPU intensive operation. The concern for larger collections seems largely unfounded for us - we have customers and dealers with over 12TB of music on a NAS running a ZENith as Roon Core and Player and still enjoying a fast user experience. If you use the internal storage, that will be up to 4TB, then the server should cope very well. As for the reasons to use a lower-powered CPU, please read this thread where I provide our reasons to do it. Also note that the new MK3 range have now upgraded CPUs (still low-powered) which have enough power in our tests to upsample to DSD256 in Roon without issues.

    Which comes to the point of the "server + separate player plays better than a single-box server". Well, if you have a very noisy server that pollutes your USB output immensely, it is certainly true that adding an optimised streamer will help. However, the server is never totally isolated from influencing the streamer itself as they need to be connected, either via a switch or via an ethernet bridge on the server itself. Both cases need to be properly treated with good power supplies, good cables and even good clocking in order to prevent most noise from reaching the streamer. At this stage, you're ending up with an expensive spaghetti of boxes and cables. Even so, there's also the matter of the noise itself produced by the ethernet interfaces when receiving a continuous stream of data vs caching up the track from the SSD (in the case of our internal player, that is loaded into RAM). Also consider the effect that switching power supplies on a switch or server are having on the remaining components of your Hi-Fi. With the ZENith, we have noted time and again that we get better sound quality when using it as Roon Core and connecting the DAC directly to the server rather than using a separate server and using the ZENith only as a bridge when connecting it to an i5-based PC running Roon Core and a normal switch.

    So the answer to the question of "does a server+streamer sound better than a one-box" is the same as the "is Ethernet better than USB". The answer is: it depends on how they are implemented.

    The appealing factor about using a ZENith with Roon it's because it's a one-box solution that sounds amazing, particularly for its price. We do believe that for a server + streamer architecture to sound better, you'll have to spend considerably more money to get it and will still end up with spaghetti. But, in the end, this is just another vendor talking. What matters is your experience. So, if you can, go and have a listen and compare for yourself. Just trust your ears. The differences should be evident.

    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
  5. Whazzzup
    Antipodes audio DX v3 will churn through ones highest upsampling of pcm or dsd like a hot knife to butter. One box solution works perfectly. Not dissecting player streamer as antipodes does that as well. Just the flagship one box always seems like the most direct way to disseminate the bits better. Course I have not heard other streamers, don’t work for antipodes, just a consumer, no review specialty....roon core dsp plays great operates flawlessly.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
  6. thyname
    Thanks @Nuno Vitorino for chiming in! I appreciate it.

    In my case, my DAC has a "bridge" built in. Meaning acts as a streamer too, as Roon Ready endpoint.

    So I currently simply connect it to Ethernet Switch. It is an Ayre QX-5 Twenty. I prefer to not use USB if I can. And I have put a fiber optics isolator between the Switch and the DAC / Streamer, to stop any electric passage via Ethernet from router to the DAC / Stremer. Both fiber optics adapters are fed by linear power supplies.

    So the only benefit (if any) for me to using the Innuos ZEN is for it to serve as a Core, instead of my current NUC w/ ROCK. And perhaps using the Ethernet Bridge on the ZEN (ethernet in to it, then out to the DAC). Basically, for me, the question becomes, is ZEN better than my NUC w/ ROCK purely as a Roon Server? I guess there is no answer to that until I try a ZEN MK3
  7. Nuno Vitorino
    Hi thyname,

    If the switching power supplies on your NUC are not affecting your Hi-Fi, in theory the ZEN should not add anything in terms of sound quality if you use the fibre-optic ethernet connection. However, if you do get the chance to try a ZEN or ZENith, try connecting the Ethernet bridge directly to the streamer port on the ZEN/ZENith rather than using the optical isolator. You may actually find it better. The reason is that their own optical transceivers, who need to convert light into an electric signal, may not be that great. So whilst you may have a signal that has not picked up EMI along the way, you may actually have the transceiver itself introducing its own noise in the chain. It works great for noisy sources but the may actually introduce more noise than a "cleaner" one.

    But, like you said, best option is to give it a go. Let me know where you're based on a PM and I can try and help you get a system for you to try.

    thyname and MikeyFresh like this.
  8. thyname
    Thanks again! It all makes sense.

    I do use a linear power supply (SOtM sPS-1000) to power my NUC where the ROCK resides. I also use LPSs for the fiber optics converters.

    Thanks for the offer. My local dealer is also Innuos dealer, so I will work with him to trial a ZEN when it arrives. No need for you to get involved, and waste your valuable time with this. I can take care myself. Thank you!
    ZappaMan likes this.
  9. thyname
    Just an update: I went ahead and ordered my own ZEN MK3 through my local Innuos dealer. Now the waiting begins. @Nuno Vitorino when do you expect to ship the ZEN MK3 to USA? Thanks!
  10. yellowblue
    A new firmware for the Zenith is out. The experimental feature with squeezelite playing within Roon is not totaly free from dropouts but it is a BIG step up soundwise. Maybe good to know that you can set low latency in the settings which is not by default.
  11. vpnogueira

    Let me share my experience with the Innuos Zenith SE:

    Setup: Cable modem connected to the fiber optic (fed by a dedicated external linear power supply) -> Ethernet cable from the modem -> Innuos Zenith SE as Roon Core -> Totaldac Ethernet Cable out from the Zenith SE -> Totaldac Server (as streamer) -> Totaldac Twelve SE DAC.


    What I have tried, in my system (results may vary for other systems, of course):

    a) Zenith SE USB vs Ethernet output into Totaldac Server. Tried both with the Totaldac Gigafilter USB cable and the Kubala Realization USB Cable. The sound using the Ethernet output with a Totaldac Ethernet Cable was much better, so this the one I have been using.

    b) Zenith SE USB into Totaldac Server or Zenith directly as a player into Totaldac Twelve SE. Considerably better sound using the Totaldac Server.

    Based on this, in my experience, Ethernet is the best output from the Zenith SE.

    This Tuesday, I brought my Zenith SE to feed the ethernet input of a DCS Vivaldi upsampler in the system of a friend (very high end system). The Zenith SE was so much better than the equipment he was using! The three of us, audiophiles, out there listening had no need for A-B-A, it was dramatic improvement.

    I wonder what would be the best audiophile cable modem available at this time, to feed my Zenith SE.


    ZappaMan likes this.
  12. Whazzzup
    Don’t know if they are the best, but certainly impressive in build, sound, and expense. Audioquest Diamond rje Ethernet digital audio cable. It’s what I use
  13. ZappaMan
    Can you say what the improvements were?
  14. vpnogueira

    Comparing the Innuos Zenith SE USB output vs. Ethernet output, in my system, the USB sounds a bit hard on the edges, the ethernet sounds more realistic and musical.

    Comparing the Kubala Realization USB cable with the Totaldac Gigafilter USB cable, the Realization has a bit more detail and speed, and the Gigafilter a bit more body. I preferred the Gigafilter.

    Comparing the Innuos Zenith SE with my previus source (CAPs Zuma with AO, linear power supply, etc) or with the source my friend has with his Vivaldi (I prefer not do disclose the brand in public), the Innuos Zenith SE is leagues ahead: More detail, better soundstage, better decay, better bass, more open, better extension on the top, more body, more realistic.


    ZappaMan likes this.
  15. ZappaMan
    Sounds great, I’m looking to get a zen mini 3, and would hope to see some of these improvements that you describe from the se.
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