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Innuos Zenith ripper/streamer
#11
(12-Mar-2017, 20:05)Antoine Wrote: I'd be careful buying this, at least if you'd like to run it as a Roon Server.

Stumbled at a review in a Polish magine (in English, see: http:[email protected]&lang=en) and saw the Zenith mkII has an off the shelf Supermicro X10SBA-L motherboard (about 160 store price,see: http://www.supermicro.com/products/mothe...0sba-l.cfm) with integrated Celeron quad core 2.0GHz CPU. The Celeron CPU is a very low cost entry CPU and way below recommended Roon specs.

Besides this I don't see anything special about this server. There's a cheap PicoPSU ATX dc-dc converter powering the mainboard though they also separately power the CPU directly from the build in linear PSU. The PicoPSU also seems to power the optical drive and/or the SSD.

Can't see anything that warrants the claim of "ultra low noise USB outputs", looks like they're using the motherboard USB outputs and can't see any mods or specialist USB cards/circuitry.

Regarding the "dual isolated ethernet ports'...well duh! All regular ethernet ports have isolation built in. Again no special mods or hardware to be found except a pice of copper strip connecting the ports tomthe chassis.

Personally I think this is way overpriced and underpowered (hardware wise, don't know anything about the software) and would never buy/recommend it, not even to people who don't want to or can't build their own PC's.

Hi Antoine,

My name is Nuno Vitorino and I'm the R&D Director at Innuos. Just thought I'd provide a bit more information about the Zenith to help understand the design options we have made. We didn't choose our board or CPU because it's "very low cost" or "entry-level". Our philosophy is to minimise the power noise within the system and, consequently, to the USB / Ethernet outputs. The problems with using powerful CPUs (read Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs) for this architecture are twofold:

1. These CPUs produce a lot more power noise than the simpler Celeron CPUs;
2. These CPU's consume a lot more power that the Celeron CPUs.

Point 2 is particularly nasty as it would require the linear power supplies for the CPU  to provide a lot more current (note that the Zenith uses 3 linear power supplies - one for the CPU, one for the SSD and one for the remaining board). This would require using components on the LPSUs that are not as good as the ones being used on the Zenith's LPSU to provide more current. There would also more heat produced, which would affect the temperature of the entire system on a fanless system such as the Zenith. This is particularly true for the operation of regulators and clocks on the system.

By powering the CPU with a dedicated linear power supply and given the USB controller is within the CPU provides excellent results without requiring dedicated USB boards. There are, of course, lots of other tweaks at the firmware level on the board, on Linux Kernel and on the software player as well as a very specific Linear PSU architecture to get these results. This has puzzled many reviewers, who were sceptical at first - how come this system without OCXO clocks, SATA filters, RAM Filters, etc, etc, etc can actually sound this good? It's all about the synergy between the board, the linear power supplies, the firmware and the software. Using this hardware combination is a conscious design option, not a matter of reducing costs. We have tested dozens of boards on the oscilloscope (higher and lower-powered) and we could have easily used similar ones at a third of the price.

The ethernet ports on the Zenith are no ordinary Ethernet ports you find on normal "consumer-grade" boards. The ethernet ports have 4 separate isolation transformers each to further isolate the connection (4 small grey boxes right before each ethernet port). We also do extensive anti-vibration treatment of the chassis, the LPSU and even the SSD, converting vibration into very small amounts of heat. This makes a very audible difference in sound quality.

I do disagree with your view that the Zenith is overpriced. In fact, we have been "accused" several times that the server is too cheap and represents excellent value for money. I don't know any cheaper SSD-based music server at the level of a Zenith that you can buy at a hi-fi store. Considering most music servers on the market can't even run Roon Core, I wouldn't also call the Zenith "underpowered".

With regards to Roon, the CPU power is essentially required if you want to upsample your music to DSD128 or above. Other than that, it has been approved by Roon as perfectly competent for Roon duties - the Zenith has 8Gb RAM for this and the SSD helps immensely - the CPU isn't used much except for upsampling. Now, between using a faster (and noisier) CPU, noisier power supplies, a warmer system (I believe no audiophile would like to have a music server with fans on their system) and upsampling to DSD256 vs the Zenith playing direct CD quality or upsampling to PCM 384KHz, our view is that the cleaner system beats the benefits of the DSD upsampling.

One can argue that you can use a very powerful PC for running Roon Core and then use a separate Roon bridge device. However, some of the synergy does get lost this way, the total cost and complexity of the system is higher and it is debatable whether it would actually sound better as playing back from a network stream has its own influences on sound quality. Given sound quality is a very personal subject, I'd suggest customers having a Zenith to try the two scenarios and check which one they prefer:

1. Zenith working as Roon Core playing back at CD Quality or upsampled to 384KHz.
2. Zenith working as a Roon Bridge playing back upsampled DSD256 from a Roon server running on a PC somewhere on the network.

Anyway, Roon was integrated as an option with the Zenith to enable a simple one-box solution to having Roon with excellent sound quality. For Devialet owners, basically means one server connected via USB to their Devialet and they are up and running with an integrated Roon Server and Player solution with the added bonus of innuOS making it very easy to rip, import and backup your music library.

Hope this helps clarifying our approach.

Nuno
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