Equipment Review 18 – Pink Faun 2.16 and 2.16 Ultra Streamers
Introduction – I am in the very fortunate position of being able to listen to and review some amazing audio equipment at home, the only limiting factor being the current Covid restrictions which means that I have to be able to lift it in and out of my car on my own, so big amps and speakers are out for now. It’s become apparent that in the last few years many manufacturers have found and made the extra effort needed to produce some seriously impressive equipment and I jumped at the chance to listen and compare the Pink Faun 2.16 streamer with the new, soon to be released 2.16 Ultra streamer. The 2.16 Ultra I brought home for review is a pre-production unit released by Pink Faun for beta testing before the production line goes live and I admire them for doing this and not just relying on early adopters to undertake ‘live’ trials for them. I understand that production units will start shipping in early the next few weeks, and we are taking orders now.
In discussion with Jord Groen, the company owner, I found out that I am the very first person outside of Pink Faun to be able to assess and compare the 2.16 entry model against the new 2.16 Ultra, so no pressure then, here we go.
Pink Faun started in the 1990’s trading valves (tubes) and later modifying equipment for customers. Over the years they have designed and manufactured a variety of components including speakers but in the last few years have concentrated solely on Streamers. They are based in the Netherlands where all their products are made to order by a small and dedicated team of specialists. All Pink Faun streamers have modular output cards (bridges) and modular storage so that customers can make a choice at point of order and they can also change or expand as they want at any time making the streamers future proof. These bridge modules can include USB, SPDIF, XLR and I2S as well as improved internal data clocks and SSD storage (up to 8TB on the 2.16 or a massive 24TB on the 2.16 Ultra). Some of these options are of course necessary for it to actually function but others such as internal storage are optional.
All of this means that the basic entry cost of each device somewhat depends on your choice of modules and size of internal storage, if indeed you need internal storage, or perhaps you intend to use it for streaming only (the 2.16 Ultra comes as standard with 1TB SSD internal drive fitted). The entry price of the 2.16 with appropriate modules would be in the region of £8,000/£9,000 and the 2.16 Ultra starts at around £23,500 but these prices are dependent on the specification you choose. It’s a bit like choosing options for a new car. Both units are available in silver or black.
Pink Faun also make the 2.16X streamer which sits in the middle of their current range and is an upgraded version of the 2.16. The 2.16X has become Nintronics best-selling Pink Faun streamer and customers having heard both the 2.16 and the 2.16X report a significant upgrade in sound quality and generally take the plunge by spending extra. Perhaps the new 2.16 Ultra will change that.
Technology - All three Pink Faun streamers are just streamers, they don’t have onboard DAC’s, volume controls, headphone outputs or built-in CD drives to rip CDs to their hard drives and they don’t have front panel displays. The front panel has a central on/standby button and that’s it, the rear panel has power, LAN and USB inputs and bays to accommodate customer specified output bridge modules (4 bays on the 2.16 & 2.16X and 5 on the 2.16 Ultra). All three streamers are Roon Ready devices and work seamlessly with Roon 1.8 which had just been released at the time of this review. Pink Faun entered a partnership with Euphony Audio when designing the 2.16 Ultra to develop a bespoke version of their Stylus Operating System for the 2.16 Ultra and I was able to run this as well as Roon to operate the 2.16 Ultra, see more on this below. By the way the XLR output is not an add on module, it is a standalone output that is again specified, or not, at the time of purchase. It was active on the 2.16 Ultra I had for review but was blanked off on the 2.16.
All three Pink Faun streamers are large and heavy units with substantial casework and heatsinks. The 2.16 and 2.16X are pretty much identical to look at but he 2.16 Ultra has much-improved casework that also protects hands from the heatsinks which are exposed on the 2.16. They don’t have any internal moving parts, but they do run rather warm so good ventilation on your rack or shelf is necessary.
Here are some of the basic specifications and the differences between the three units:
2.16 – Custom made rigid frame – Passive cooled power supply and processor – 8 heat pipes for processor cooling – 3 shielded transformers – Separate linear power supplies for processor, motherboard, SSD’s and digital outputs – Schottky rectifier diodes – more than 800,000uF capacity Nichicon capacitors – 8 core processor – Onboard SSD for the Linux OS and for buffering music prior to play – Room for 2 more SSD Drives for music storage - 22Kg.
2.16X – In addition to the 2.16 – Improved motherboard with two OCXO clocks – Signature internal cabling – Rhodium fuses – Furutech mains inlet – general updates to OCXO power supplies – also 22Kg.
2.16 Ultra – In addition to the 2.16X – State of the art computer hardware – 2.16 Ultra OCXO clocks with separate power supplies and capacitors – High performance power supplies – A new dedicated audio operating system in partnership with Euphony Audio – Pink Faun Stylus OS – Improved chassis design with better cooling and protected heatsinks – additional 10 Farad Super Capacitors – General across the board improved Power supplies – 32GB industrial ECC memory – 12/24 core processor – OS and Player running entirely from RAM before playback – 1TB SSD drive included as standard - 30Kg.
System Components - I connected the Pink Faun to my Matrix Audio X-Sabre Pro DAC using the supplied Pink Faun USB cable at around £800 for a 1m length. The DAC was connected to my Michi P5 Pre-Amp and M8 Monobloc Power Amps feeding Marten Mingus Quintet speakers. Other cabling was mostly by Jorma. I used an English Electric 8Switch network switch for ethernet connections. I also connected the 2.16 Ultra to my DAC with the supplied Pink Faun XLR digital cable to great effect, also around £800 in the UK. I found the XLR connection is slightly brighter than the USB connection and in some cases is the preferred connection. It does of course max out at 192kHz so if you have lots of high-res files then the USB connection is the way to go. Not all outputs are active at the same time and need to be turned on or off via the Euphony web site by calling up the IP address of your streamer as it appears on your home network.
Performance – Pink Faun say they designed the 2.16 and the 2.16 Ultra with the very latest digital knowledge and state of the art components but what actually led their design was not the technology it was “no sound – just music”. The company owner told me that his intention for the 2.16 Ultra was “to pull the listener into the music to engage with the artist”.
The Pink Faun servers can be used in three different ways.
I. as pure streamers connected via LAN to a home network (streaming direct from Tidal or Qobuz for example).
II. as a server playing music from a home NAS drive.
III. as a digital transport playing music stored on their internal SSD drives.
As I don’t have a home NAS drive (I rely on my Innuos server and CDs ripped to its internal SSD drive) I listened instead to both units used as streamers and transport players only. I did however briefly link the LAN server output of my Innuos Zenith to the LAN input of the Pink Fauns via ethernet cable and this worked just fine giving me access to my entire Roon library and playlists, but it didn’t sound as good.
Reviewing two streamers is not as straight forward as most other components because practicality and connectivity means I can’t have both running side by side for a quick A/B comparison. Each change requires reconnection to the LAN, a Roon reset, music database changes and of course a warming up period etc.
It had been a few months since I last listened to the 2.16 and the 2.16X and I was keen to hear the 2.16 again and to compare it to the brand new 2.16 Ultra. Listening was done using both the latest Roon version 1.8 released just this week.
Listening to the 2.16 (Used with Roon Music Player via USB) – ‘Living on a Rainbow’ by Angus and Julia Stone is a track full of interest, life and detail and the 2.16 made the most of the songs ability to draw you into the event and place the band in your home. ‘Come Together” by The Beatles is a great opening track to the Abbey Road album with loads of lively punch and dynamics that hold your attention even after 50 years and the 2.16 delivers on the promised audio quality of the remastered album. As the 2.16 warmed up it became smoother in its presentation, it was a bit bright when cold. It didn’t lose any of its sparkle or detail as it warmed, but it did draw me in more and for longer. It’s best to turn it on a good hour or more before settling down to listen or preferably leave it powered up permanently. If you come for a demo, make sure we have it nicely warmed up for you.
‘You and Your Friend’ by Dire Straits has great depth to its very familiar guitar work and vocals by Mark Knopfler and the 2.16 presented it very well and seemed to inject more detail and life kept to the track. ‘Timbre’ is an often-overused word in audio reviews but that is exactly where Pink Faun streamers excel and stand on the shoulders of others. I tried several other tracks from Dire Straits and was always impressed by the 2.16’s ability to present a musical event in my home. It’s their ability to deliver on timbre and melody that most impresses.
Lucinda Williams has been making albums for more than 30 years and her voice has changed considerably over that time, no more noticeable than on her Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone album from which I played Magnolia. Her vocals on this track can be hard to decipher on lesser devices but the 2.16 presented vocals with added clarity and as the pace of the track increased it kept up very well making it an enjoyable listen rather than a struggle to understand the lyrics which can distract from the musical event.
In comparison to some other streamers I have listened to the 2.16 does sparkle a little more than some but this is not a bad thing because in this case sparkle comes with clarity and finesse. The 2.16X is basically an enhanced 2.16 as its £4k+ premium might suggest and could be a better buy depending on personal choice and budget constraints. I had to rely on memory from earlier listening sessions of the 2.16X and also our customer’s feedback to make this judgement and if you are considering a server at this price point you should listen to both before making a commitment. However, most of our customers have chosen the 2.16X over the 2.16 when they have heard both, but personal choice will come into play here.
Listening to the 2.16 Ultra (Used with Roon Music Player via USB) – Moving onto the 2.16 Ultra via Roon and USB it was immediately clear that this streamer is something very special and is a major advance over the 2.16 and the 2.16X, but it is of course three times the price of the 2.16 entry model so audio playback improvements should be expected. Where the 2.16X is an enhanced version of the 2.16 the 2.16 Ultra is a total rethink by the Pink Faun team using their experience gained to design and build an entirely new product, and it shows right from the first track I played, and it only got better as it warmed up (48 hours left on should do it). The sparkle I spoke about earlier in the 2.16 was still there with the 2.16 Ultra but now it was so much more refined and richer allowing me to get much closer to and feeling more involved with the artists and their music.
All the same tracks were listened to again and in every case the 2.16 Ultra outperformed the 2.16 and not by a little. From memory the 2.16X would have got closer to the Ultra than the 2.16 but nowhere near close enough especially if your audio system has the resolving ability to reveal what the 2.16 Ultra can deliver. The 2.16 Ultra just seems so right in all that it does with added space around instruments, a little warmer but no less detailed and resulting in much longer and enjoyable listening sessions. It’s hard to say exactly where it is better, it just is, in every aspect but mostly be bringing a performance alive as if you were present when it was recorded.
Autobahn by Kraftwerk (Tidal 44.1/24 bit) has never sounded so much like a live event. ‘You and Your Friend by Dire Straits was presented with greater attention to detail with guitar work and vocals all seemingly giving a more mature performance, a wider and deeper soundstage and a more coherent performance by the group. ‘Magnolia’ by Lucinda Williams now sounded much more legible with her vocals having even more clarity. I listened to some Rosanne Cash and in particular ‘A Feathers Not a Bird’, this track has a lot going on instrumentally and vocally and the 2.16 Ultra was able to separate everything whilst at the same time presenting it as a complete performance. This is not easy to do.
Listening to the 2.16 Ultra (Used with Pink Faun Stylus OS - USB) – Changing from Roon to the Pink Faun Stylus OS but sticking with USB I played a number of tracks starting with another listen to Rosanne Cash ‘A Feathers Not A Bird’ and the 2.16 Ultra was better able to separate the instruments whilst still maintaining the track as a single performance in harmony with her sincere vocals. A so much more enjoyable experience.
The 2.16 Ultra with Pink Faun Stylus player really did make a noticeable improvement over Roon, but you do lose the ease of use and library management that Roon offers, and you would need to decide whether you prefer sound quality over convenience. Perhaps using Roon for easy listening when friends come around and using Stylus for personal critical listening. Listening to ‘Hey Now’ by London Grammar and with Hannah Reid’s remarkable shimmering voice the track was presented with real clarity and emotion with Roon but even more so using the Pink Faun Stylus player. Keb’ Mo’s amazing vocal ability and racy guitar playing on ‘Every Morning’ made this a very real listening experience and not just another playlist track.
Using the Pink Faun Stylus player which is described by Euphony as ‘an OS for high end computer audio enthusiasts’ was a learning event for me. It is designed to sound better by first uploading the music you select for playback, whether from the Pink Faun internal hard drive or from streaming, to the 2.16 Ultra’s internal RAM. This means there is virtually no activity on the internal CPU’s during playback creating a cleaner environment for bit perfect sound.
Listening to the 2.16 Ultra (Used with Pink Faun Stylus OS - XLR) – Changing from USB to AES/XLR output from the 2.16 Ultra was not a night and day change in sound quality but I did slightly prefer the XLR over USB. It’s not easy to say why and on some tracks perhaps USB is better but on the whole XLR just sounded a little more entertaining and together.
I listened to Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, seemed appropriate somehow, streamed from Qobuz as a plain 44.1kHz/16Bit file. Sometimes these older albums can sound a bit brittle and this one doesn’t buck the trend, but via the 2.16 Ultra and the Stylus player it sounded smoother without losing any detail but with so much more finesse. Just a reminder that this was via XLR not USB.
The opening track on The Division Bell ‘Cluster One’ by Pink Floyd opens quietly but builds as it goes, and this was by far the best rendition of this track I have heard at home and still just a 44.1/16 stream.
Listening to Alan Parsons The Time Machine album which I saved from my music library to the Ultra’s internal SSD drive (I couldn’t find it on Tidal or Qobuz) and again via XLR not USB I felt it was a little brighter but also more dynamic and involving. Not many servers give you any option other than USB playback meaning you need to have a USB capable DAC. Not such an issue these days but to have the option to listen via XLR, SFDIF on RCA or I2S on HDMI is something to be cherished.
Conclusion - I have reviewed many high-end sources, DAC’s, CD Players and streamers recently and perhaps not surprisingly the more you spend the better it seems to get, although added expense is not a guarantee of performance. Of course, a DAC that is three times the price of another is not generally 3 times as good, but it will be better and the same goes for streamers with the entry level devices tending to be a harsher listen. Manufacturers of high-end streamers today have to apply lots of R&D, resources, elaborate resonance-controlled cabinet work and also utilise expensive internal components in their design solutions to finesse those differences and to come up with something very special, and that’s what your money buys. What the team at Pink Faun have done is to spend their R&D time and money to great effect by designing audio computers that are second to none in ability and able to reproduce amazing sound quality and the 2.16 Ultra is the cream. Quite frankly the 2.16 Ultra streamer sounds so good it could cost a lot more and still offer value for money. This is digital playback come of age, more than equal to the best turntables. It is the best streamer I have heard to date and I’m not sure it has much competition at or above its price point.
There are many ways of enjoying playback from the 2.16 and the 2.16 Ultra but the one that suited my tastes best was the 2.16 Ultra using the Pink Faun Stylus player played via the XLR output, but you may of course disagree. Whichever playback option you settle on I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
If your budget can’t reach to the heady height of the 2.16 Ultra, then you won’t be at all disappointed when you get the 2.16 home. If you can stretch to the 2.16X then you will hear a genuine improvement over the 2.16 and I believe most of our existing customers would agree. However, if you can stretch to the 2.16 Ultra then it’s surely the way to go. Did the team at Pink Faun realise their goal for the 2.16 Ultra set by the owner “to pull the listener into the music to engage with the artist”? Quite simply, yes.
This review couldn’t have taken place without the generous time and effort afforded to me by the Pink Faun company owner Jord Groen who helped me to set up and update both devices and to ensure I understood how to operate them fully. Remember that the 2.16 Ultra I reviewed was a pre-production unit and came without instructions.
Anyone buying one of these components is clearly dedicated to their hobby, but they won’t be disappointed. Both offer excellent performance, and I am sorry to have to return them to the showroom. Another item to add to my growing list of Lottery win purchases.
The 2.16 Ultra (pre-production model)
The 2.16 (our demo unit)
Please contact us at Team Nintronics to listen to this and other equipment in our three dedicated listening rooms.
Thanks for listening.
Bob at Team Nintronics – Late February 2021