Streaming. All the cool cats are doing it.
However, confession time…I’m a bit lost. I have some pieces of a puzzle but I don’t know how to put them together. Network bridge? Tidal HiFi? Roon? Ethernet connection on the Uverse router? quality DAC? Yep, got ’em all. But how do I put them all together to create the best possible sound?
I was about to dig into this streaming business and advance my computer audio education. Oh sure, I know DACs, USB to SPDIF converters, and USB power conditioners and all that. But I have zero experience with streaming. It’s like it’s own world. It was time to do some research but that would have to wait until after the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival.
But my learning on the topic was about to accelerate. I heard some fine sound coming from a room at the end of a tower hall. Moving inside I noticed a some Focal Utopias on stands, a large amount of Cardas Clear cable and two mono block Merrill Veritas amps on the floor. The sound was excellent. Clear, open, dynamic, musical. But what was the source? Well it turned out I was in the Sonore room and forty minutes later I would leave with a much better understanding of how all those pieces of the puzzle fit together. Mike Ochs was on hand and about to explain what the value of a “renderer” was, how it fits into the streaming playback chain, and why you really need one to get the best sound.
As it turns out, you just can’t easily put an ethernet connection to Tidal into a DAC and call it a day. Oh sure, you can get a DAC that has a network connection on it but there are almost always compromises on that route. A “renderer” solves it by taking that Ethernet connection to a new level by processing the digital data in a way that makes the data as perfect as possible for the DAC’s usb connection. The result is a cleaner sound that rises above most of the digital gremlins and resulting nasty noise.
But what’s in the box? Well, it’s a small computer actually. CPU, RAM, USB, Ethernet…It’s actually very complex to do this. Sonore makes these little boxes leveraging advanced technologies, many of which originated in Israeli military applications. Sonore made its name initially on high quality music servers then more recently on the MicroRendu which comes in an oval, silver metal case the size of a pack of cigarettes, maybe a little wider. The inputs are the Ethernet connection from your cable and the outputs are the USB that connects into your DAC. Pretty straightforward. If you have a setup of NAS drives, they just connect to the Ethernet connection too.
Digging a little deeper, while not going too technical, the MicroRendu isolates the signal, rejects EMI, and uses sophisticated clocks to clean it up further. It actually creates a new USB data stream for the DAC. All this to ensure the DAC receives the best possible data stream for conversion to analog. That in turn enables all the audiophile goodies from lower noise floor and better dynamics to better imaging and that clear open sound I heard. The MicroRendu goes for $649 USD but you need to add a good 9V power supply. The good news is that iFi has one for just $49 USD. Of course, as you add better 9V supplies, the sound gets better. As you go up the line, the parts quality and sophistication get better still.
Finally, the ne plus ultra of the line is the Sonore Rendu Signature SE. At $3,299 USD this represents everything Sonore knows with the best parts. At RMAF, this was producing the wonderful sound in conjunction with a DAC of Sonore’s own design. This is “money.” A slim height but wide box, this looks like a more proper -sized unit for one’s equipment rack. The power supply is closer to the board and all in one unit. Now you have the benefit of an ultra-low noise, low impedance device, plus it has a new processing board to allow more independent low noise voltage regulation. Added in as well is an ultra-low-phase noise “femto” oscillator governing all processing and USB audio. For clean power, a custom wound Mercury Magnetics EI-style transformer is on hand. Ultra-soft recovery diodes and film capacitor damping assure a DC supply free of ringing artifacts. These guys have thought of everything down to the footers which use Sorbothane pads to keep mechanical vibration from impacting the circuit boards.
It’s an impressive bit of engineering in each of these three products. But the proof is in the listening and the sound was spectacular. I also want to thank Mike for helping me sort out the streaming puzzle. Well done guys!