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George 47

SOtM sMS-200ultra Network Player

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Latest RealReview from David Ayers

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Sometimes in life you don’t get what you expect, and so it was when I agreed to review the SOtM sMS-200ultra network player. What I expected was a drop in replacement for my Pioneer N50a player, which is a decent midrange streamer and is why I jumped at the chance to review something rather more upmarket. What I got was what is more commonly known as a renderer, which means when I opened up the box and examined the contents, instead of the expected RCA outputs, what I actually saw was a single USB out. After initial exclamations of, “what the heck have I got myself into”, I spent considerable time researching this and similar products, the most well known of these being the Microrendu.

So, if like me you don’t know what this type of product is meant to do, let me explain. Basically it is a small computer running software to allow your current DAC to connect to your network, and save having a laptop etc. sat on your rack. What separates this from a regular mini computer is the attention given to inputs and especially the USB output, in terms of the quality of the USB signal and also the noise in the connection. It also supplied very clean power allowing portable DACs to be used as well as mains powered ones. To get sound out, you must attach a separate USB DAC.

 

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The software called Eunhasu comes preloaded, and fires up automatically when powered up. Access to this software is through a web interface via your browser. It has a number of options available, and I will explain those later.

On the rear panel there is a socket for the supplied wall-wart power supply, an ethernet port, two USB ports for attaching hard drives or flash drives, and finally the high grade USB output. A reset button and micro SD card port are also positioned here, the former for emergencies, the latter to hold the software that runs the whole box. An upgrade linear power supply is available, but this was not supplied for the review.

The unit itself is small and slim, and sits on four tiny clear bouncy feet. I didn’t use any special isolation during my time with the 200ultra.

The options to connect in the software include Roon Ready, Squeezelite, DLNA, and the popular HQ Player NAA. Somewhat overwhelmed with options, I decided to not use the HQ Player NAA for any of the review, as it isn’t integral to the use of the unit, and those who love it will already know what it does.

So, now for the problem, as a user of an all-in-one streamer solution, how was I to review this. Here at home I have the aforementioned Pioneer N50A, which can also be used as a USB DAC, the very competitively priced Meridian Explorer 2 DAC, and a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1, which I use as an ADC to digitize my LPs. With this lineup I was concerned that the 200ultra would not be given a fair trial. With that in mind I also arranged with a fellow Wammer who lives 400yds from me that we would also audition the 200ultra in his system with his Stello Eximus DAC. More on that later.

Connecting up the unit was simple enough, power, Ethernet, and Meridian DAC in the back, with my existing QED cable to go from the DAC to my Musical Fidelity M3i integrated amp. I switched on and watched the various colours glow on the from switch as the system booted. I already have Jriver all set up on my laptop to feed my Pioneer, so I used the web interface to activate the DLNA software, set Jriver to stream via DLNA to the player using the “Audiophile 24 bit” configuration and pressed play…

A word about the Meridian DAC, now I bought this with the express purpose of investigating MQA from Tidal. As such, I normally plug it straight into my laptop, and thence to my system. I would categorise the DAC as being good value for money at £129, but a bit rough and ready.

Back to the plot, first track up was David Bowie’s ‘Oh, You Pretty Things’ from Hunky Dory, in FLAC at 24/192. I was amazed, as in mouth open disbelief. This isn’t a rough and ready DAC, it’s actually remarkably capable, but fed from a laptop it has no chance to show it’s true colours. The clean power and digital signal from the 200ultra lets this little DAC fly, with quite remarkable results. Yes I gained the usual clichés like extra detail and control, but what was truly surprising was the gains that I got in dynamic tension, and the flow and ebb of every song that I played.

It should be noted that with the Eunhasu’s implementation of DLNA, it relies on the server sending the information, it cannot be used to pull the files for playing. Now with my Pioneer, this approach is a problem, as it doesn’t support gapless in this mode, but I’m happy to report that all albums that I listened to (and there were many) played gaplessly without any hiccoughs.

Next up I set up Squeezelite to catalogue my music collection, all of which is held on two NAS boxes on my network. This it did very swiftly, and using the Logitech Media Server web page, or alternatively the LMS app on my phone, I was soon able to play any album that I wished. I did feel that the sound quality was marginally softened compared to the DLNA option, but it was slight. I also used the Tidal integration option within LMS which worked but had one fatal flaw, which was that any MQA album I tried failed to illuminate the MQA light on the DAC. Clearly something isn’t bit perfect with this implementation, and searching the internet showed that I was not alone with this issue. Obviously the 200ultra is not to blame for this.

Wishing to test out MQA via the 200ultra, I opted for the Roon 30 trial, as Roon has Tidal integration built in. I can confirm that MQA albums played from Tidal through Roon and the 200ultra will pass through to the DAC bit perfect and the light illuminates appropriately. In fact I had excellent results using this option.

I briefly tried the 200ultra with my Pioneer N50A streamer, which also has a USB input, but I wasn’t particularly happy with the results. I’m not sure why, but I preferred the sound of the streamer’s internal access to DNLA than via the 200ultra and the USB input. Is this because the Pioneer isn’t optimized for USB? To be fair, this wasn’t really a test of how the 200ultra would be used normally.

OK, so with these trials under my belt, I needed to find out how the 200ultra would fare with an upmarket stand-alone DAC. Fortunately for me, I have a friend and fellow Wammer 400 yards up the road from me, who happens to have a Stello Eximus DAC which he feeds directly from a laptop. A quick message, and I was off up the road clutching the 200ultra and my laptop with Roon installed under my arm. Now the Stello is an excellent DAC which I have heard before in his system, and really enjoyed. It is mains powered, and I wasn’t expecting the same sort of improvement that I heard with the little USB powered Meridian. I was wrong. One listen of ‘Déjà vu’ from Roger Water’s Is This the Life We Really Want’ album from Tidal via Roon was all both of us needed to be convinced of the clear superiority of the sound emanating from the speakers. Put simply, it was clearer, more defined and very much more dramatic. My friend’s immediate reaction was, ‘I have to investigate these types of interface’.

So in summary, the sMS-200ultra is an expensive piece of kit that clearly delivers the goods. If you are looking to add networking capability to an existing DAC, then it should definitely be on your must hear list.

www.sotm-audio.com

Distributed in the UK by:  www.eliteaudiouk.com

 

Edited by George 47
Mispoolet David's name. Apologies.

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