A custom motherboard (not off-the-shelf); a dual linear power supply from one Dr. Sean Jacobs; three asymmetrically aligned feet tuned to the resonant frequency of the chassis to combat microphonics — these are the core ingredients of the ZEN MK3 from Innuos, the middle unit in the Portuguse company’s current crop of server/streamers. Pricing starts at US$2599, €2099, £1899 for the full-width box (black or silver) fitted with an internal 1TB HDD. That’s mid-range 13″ MacBook Pro cash.
For those making use of the ZEN MK3’s in-built server functionality (UPnP, Sonos, Squeezebox, Roon), a larger hard drive might be required. Bump the internal storage to a whopping 8TB and you’ll find yourself looking at US$3349, €2699, £2440. Now we’re into top-flight 15″ MacBook Pro money.
For web browsing, office apps, video playback and photo editing, Apple gets the nod. Easy. On sound quality spilling from over USB, the Innuos takes it; and by quite some margin. Not all digital transports sound alike.
Before they raise their firsts to the sky, the “bit are bits” brigade should take a moment: it remains highly unlikely (probability –> 0) that the audible differences heard by yours truly – plus the many hundreds of visitors to Innuos’ Munich High-End 2019 booth – fall to data corruption taking place between streamer and DAC.
The culprit is most likely (probability –> 1) electrical noise generated by the streamer and leaking into the downstream DAC along the USB cable to disturb the data stream beyond its error-checking (but not error-correcting) USB receiver chip.
Moreover, it isn’t ones and zeroes travelling down our USB cables and into our DACs’ sensitive circuits but an analogue representation of ones and zeroes: a square wave. Innuos’ lead product designer Nuno Vitorino expands in this podcast:
Not even TOSLINK and its in-built electrical isolation get us out of EMI/RFI jail. Per USB, the transceivers inside the DAC that read the incoming digital signal generate their own electrical noise. The harder they work to read the signal, the more electrical noise they generate.
Hollering “snake oil” or “audiophool” from the cheap seats doesn’t make any of the above any less true. Not everything that we don’t (yet) understand is a conspiracy against our wallets.
In our short film about the Innuos box, you’ll find more comparisons than you can shake a stick at and a real-time overview of the in-house-coded InnuOS operating system/skin which is more beginner-friendly than that found on most server/streamers:
Camera: Olaf von Voss | Video editor: Jana Dagdagan
Further information: Innuos