INNUOS MUSIC SERVERS PART 1
One advantage of knowing the guys at Nintronics is that I do get the chance to hear some good hifi. I had a spare couple of hours one afternoon, and had access to some very tasty kit so we decided to test the latest versions of three out of the four Innuos Music Servers just to see how much of a difference going up the product (and cost) ladder there is. There was no comparison with other manufacturers products, this was purely Innuos focused.
Innuos has been around since 2009 and has a product range of Music Servers where they are looking to make everything at the front end simple from a digital music perspective, with internal music storage (size of disk can be varied), direct CD ripping and also acting as a streamer. The idea is of course that everything is handled in one place (the server), no need for example for a separate NAS with noisy fans in the hifi den and removing any risk from network interference whether wireless or ethernet. All you need is a DAC, amplifier and speakers. It’s a neat idea.
The models included in the test were:
- Zen Mk3 (from £1,899)
- Zenith Mk3 (from £2,999)
- Statement (from £9,800)
The Music Servers were tried using the same set up and cables, going from the Music Server to a Chord Dave DAC to a Gryphon Diablo 300 Amplifier and finally Monitor Audio PL300 Platinum and Audio Vector R3 Arreté speakers. A selection of Jorma, Audioquest and Chord cables were used. Officianados will know of the quality and reputations of the Dave and the Diablo so the Innuos Music Servers were in good company in driving those speakers.
24-Bit tracks by Bjork, the Eagles and David Bowie were imported to each Music Server from the same source, and each server was set up as a Roon end-point for ease of playback.
So what did we find?
First up was the Zen. The initial impression was of sharpness, Bjork in particular sounding a little harsh, less so with the other music. However, there was good detail, lots of weight and a feeling of control. After a period of listening and getting used to the balance of the presentation it became more comfortable. However, was also a feeling that there was something missing that this setup was hinting at but couldn’t quite get to.
The Zen was swapped out for the Zenith. A big jump. Here everything was a bit clearer and more natural sounding. The sharpness with Bjork had all but gone and you could distinguish better the multiple voices of the Eagles, not to mention improved separation of their guitars. The width of the soundstage was about the same, but the depth was greater. All together with the Zenith included that sound was more satisfying.
Lastly the Zenith was replaced by the Statement. Given the difference in price between the two music servers a lot was expected here. Was there more detail? Yes. Was it more refined? Yes. Was it more “musical”? Yes. Fundamentally the music was more emotional and involving in all respects, I wanted to tap my feet along with the music just a bit more. There remained hints of sharpness with Bjork, confidently now put down to the recording.
So what conclusions are to be made here? Well firstly that if money was no object you’d simply go for the Statement, no real surprise there. There are incremental improvements throughout the range, we are starting with good (well very good) with the Zen, and just getting better. As with any hifi there is the law of diminishing of returns as the price increases. The real question is around value, and that’s where every individual must make up their own minds.
Have you ever been in a situation at a hifi dealer where you have gone in with a target piece of kit in mind (and it doesn’t matter whether you are looking for amplifiers, speakers, streamers or anything else), listen to the options that you’ve come to try, narrow it down to one item and then have to decide whether the next one up in the family is just that little bit better and worth that little bit more of your hard earned cash? I have, it can be expensive but equally rewarding….. It could happen with Innuos.
What’s next? Well Innuos also produce the Pheonix USB Clock intended to stabilise the signal across the USB connection to the DAC. I’ve been told it makes a further improvement to the Zen and Zenith and isn’t needed for the Statement, that’s for looking at another day and will follow…….