Innous Zenith Mk3 and Alma Music

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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#1
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a new piece of gear for the big rig. (Actually, a small correction. I received a ZYX Uni II almost a year ago and have yet to put it in the system because the Benz LPS sounds so darned good. I’ll get to install it eventually, but right now it’s an expensive paper weight.) On the digital side, I play a fair amount of silver discs with the Meitner TX2/DA2 combo but also access a good deal of hi-res material on my NAS server and play some Tidal as well using MacBook Pro/Audirvana /DA2 via a Stealth Select-T USB cable. This combo has served me well for a few years but I knew the time would come to update the Tidal/NAS side of things. I had no great desire to opt for SOA here with its accompanying expense since it seems that nothing is going to change as fast as servers and streaming in the next coming years.

I therefore bought a new Innuous Zenith Mk3 as it had the main ingredients I was hoping for to improve upon the performance I was getting from the MacBook set-up. These were mainly 1) a low noise, regulated linear power supply 2) a 1TB SSD drive so music isn’t be played from a spinning dive and 3) direct LAN connection to the ethernet for streaming as opposed to going with wireless. There were also some bonus features that were trickled-down from the highly rated Innuous Statement such as the use of Mundorf caps. Perhaps best of all, the Zenith Mk3 was Roon ready. As much as I love Audirvana, I have anticipated using Roon for quite some time. All told, the Zenith Mk3 hit a sweet spot of price and performance that made it pretty easy to pull the trigger.

Before talking about the Zen Mk3 let’s talk about something that I encourage anyone considering a similar purchase to consider, which is namely, your choice of dealer. Who is providing the service for your device? Who’s going to answer your questions? Who’s doing the set-up and who are you gonna call when you have a problem? Ghostbusters? I don’t think so unless it’s an internet purchase. Now perhaps you are all more technically competent than I am when it comes to setting up these things. But I was frankly dreading the details of the set-up since I was looking to do something that most people don’t care about which is to incorporate my 20 year cultivated iTunes playlists into the new hardware/software that I was buying. So I’ll tell you who you're gonna call. Superman. He also goes by the name of Alex Siufy from Alma Music. I met Alex and was highly impressed with him and Alma on my first visit there almost 2 years ago.

Let’s make this brief. Alex was incredible. He is not only very skilled at the technical aspects of setting things up, but did so with the confidence and assurance that reduced my anxiety greatly. Alex provided great comfort for what I surely thought would be trip to hell and back for getting the thing to work. After I told Alex I had installed the Roon Core but was unsuccessful in following a start-up guide that is written so that a 10th grader could understand it, he told me to chill and prompted me to install TeamViewer on my laptop. After I did, Alex connected to my laptop remotely to configure my Innuos, set up my Roon, and did what I thought would be impossible which was to import my iTunes playlist (not just the music files) to Roon. And get this- he did it from Italy, while on vacation. In the middle of the night! That folks, is why you should buy stuff like this from a reputable and reliable dealer and not off the back of some truck in an abandoned parking lot. This stuff isn’t exactly plug and play. It’s actually plug and maybe play. It really takes someone who knows their way around this gear to get it humming. And that’s precisely what Alex did expertly.

As far as the sound, there are 2 things that come to mind immediately. The first, is that the sound is without question superior to that from my MacBook/Audirvana set-up. This is as it should be considering the benefits that were elucidated previously. I’m only 10 days in and I’m told full break-in take about 2 weeks, so I’ll defer additional comments until that time. But the other thing that grabbed me is a comment I recall Mike L made when he started enjoying the sound from his SGM server. If I’m paraphrasing it accurately, it was that it was now less critical whether he was listening to a digital or analog source as the SGM elevated his digital playback to an enjoyment level that made him simply care less. Not that there wasn’t a difference between digital and analog. Not that his digital was better than analog. But the enjoyment factor was now a more level playing field. (Mike will surely correct me if I misrepresented his view). With the Zen MK3, I now understand what he meant in a very tangible way. In fact, the Innuous plus Roon has changed my listening habits significantly.

The phenomenal functionality of the Roon player is a sheer delight. Want to know more about the artist or the album? Push a button. Want album credits? Push a button. Want lyrics? Another button. More of the same artist or genre? Another button. Want more music like the music you just played? Roon Radio is calling and has your name on it. Want to tailor a new playlist to include only 2X DSD? Done. 2XDSD and Classical? Done. 2XDSD, Classical and only left-handed composers? An exaggeration, buy you get the idea. Now take all that and add a significant sonic improvement over MacBook/Audirvana to the point that the medium takes a much clearer backseat to the message (i.e. the music) and it’s easy to see why I am mightily impressed with the Innuos Zenith Mk3.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#4
Marty, the Zenith is a big success here in the UK. I believe it's a joint Portuguese/British venture?

I very much take yr point about dealer backup and advice, esp in the realm of streaming which is so rife w potential bugs and issues. Just a few things w that.

First, I haven't used a mainline dealer for system purchase for a decade since I bought my first product researched online, so I don't have any relationship with a single person.

However I am aware that for this area of audio, it would make more sense to buy from a dealer, get proper advice, and some ongoing support, esp in the early days. Indeed, even more than Marty, I am a total dunce in all things computer, my anxiety in going streaming is palpable in me.

OTOH, there is minimal margin in selling hifi, esp at the cheaper end of the market, I couldn't really expect any dealer selling me a $5-7k server/dac combination who might make enough cut to cover a round of drinks, to really find it productive to offer ongoing support.

The good news is I've found a local specialist one-man audio concern that I've struck up a friendly contact with, and is confident he will help me negotiate any choppy waters. So the decision will come down to using his (limited) repertoire and having him as backup, or buy whatever from wherever, but be prepared to work things out w no help.

This leads me to the final consideration. In the UK at least, there is very little choice at the $5-7k sector. Those dealers selling Innuos do not sell any dacs that I like the look of. Those dealers selling eg Aqua, don't sell the Innuos. Those dealers selling Roon Nucleus and Lumïn (U1 or U1Mini) deal the dacs I'm most interested in as alternatives to the Aqua La Voce, ie the Kitsune Holo Springs from US and Lab12 Dac1 SE from Greece.

The Innuos Zenith, Roon Nucleus (w add on specialist LPS) and Lumïn U1/U1 Mini, have good possibility of sounding great w these dacs, I just need to decide if I'm gonna pic'n'mix w no backup, or commit to this local guy, and go his route, likely Lumïn U1Mini and Kitsune Holo Springs.

Alex, if you read this, sorry, but no way of hearing Zenith Mk3 thru Aqua La Voce at any UK dealer.
 
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asiufy

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Jul 8, 2011
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almaaudio.com
#5
Marty,

I'm glad you're enjoying your Innuos. This is one brand that we're proud to represent, as they are an upstart, with all the prons and cons that comes with dealing with an upstart, but their product is truly stellar in all fronts.
And thank you for the very kind words about me. True, I usually don't have to do much to get the Innuos up and running, but moving your iTunes collection, complete with playlists, required some intervention :)

And Marc is wrong, the level of service we/I provide has nothing to do with margin or total amount spent. If your dealer won't support the product he sells, I suggest he choose a different set of products to sell, or you choose a different dealer to work with.

Marty bought the Innuos for his existing DAC, he didn't get an Aqua, and neither did I offer. You don't need the Aqua + Innuos combination to enjoy streaming. The Innuos will work with just about any DAC, including the Aqua.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#6
Alex, I'm not making an assertion, just an assumption, maybe wrong.
What does remain is that Innuos dealers in the UK don't have the greatest range of dacs to demo thru the Zenith (I'm not a Chord fan).

So any Zenith purchase would be an extrapolation it would sound great w another dac (I have an audio buddy who swears by the Lab12 Dac1, I'll be able to hear it soon thru his Zus).
 

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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#7
Alex, I'm not making an assertion, just an assumption, maybe wrong.
What does remain is that Innuos dealers in the UK don't have the greatest range of dacs to demo thru the Zenith (I'm not a Chord fan).
So any Zenith purchase would be an extrapolation it would sound great w another dac (I have an audio buddy who swears by the Lab12 Dac1, I'll be able to hear it soon thru his Zus).
Marc,
As I see it, the choice of servers and dacs is apples and oranges. (You might as well throw in player software are well). There's no reason I can see that the Zen Mk3 (or any model Innuous) won't work with the DAC of your choice. I recall spending a good deal of time considering the Lumin U1 as well. I even downloaded and read the software manual but when it came to configuring it with Roon and iTunes, I felt like I was reading a NASA handbook. In addition, I was unaware of anyone who thought the Lumin line was SOA caliber (that doesn't mean it isn't, but rather I just didn't see any impressive testimonials from the usual suspects), unlike the Innuous Statement. So my comfort with innuous was buoyed by that. I'm also pretty certain that Alex isn't going to put his kids through college on what he made on my sale, yet the service he rendered was priceless and part of the package, as it should be. Plus, he can configure a unit he sells from the moon if he has to using TeamViewer to connect to your computer directly. Cost? zero. Value? You tell me. All told, it was one of those audio transactions I continue to feel really good about. Even better, the proof is in the listening and will be for years to come.
Marty
 
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Likes: Ron Resnick

spiritofmusic

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#8
Marty, testimonials like your's are truly invaluable. I'm afraid I'm all thumbs/apprehension Warp Factor Ten at the very thought of interacting with computer audio/a server for part of my musical exposure, so tales like yr Lumïn = complex & Innuos = simple, are a big help to me.

I may well go down the Zenith Mk3 route and get the dac from my local guy or another dealer in the area.

My man is a Lumïn guy, too many others are w Innuos for him to represent them himself, but his Kitsune Holo Springs dac at least appeals.

The only competitor I can see to the Zenith is Roon Nucleus with upgraded 19V dc LPS, maybe Kenneth Lau or Paul Hynes.

But excellent to hear you love Zenith SQ and userfriendliness, the latter is critical for me personally.
 

spiritofmusic

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#9
Btw Alex, can you clear something up?
I've been on the Roon Labs Community.com website, and there's some debate as to whether the Intel Quad Core N4200 Pentium in the Zenith Mk3 is powerful enough to run Roon, since Core i3 is the minimum recommemded, I believe this is in the Nucleus.

This seems to be contradicted by Zenith users reporting no issues w Roon, the conclusion being limitations potentially only when running massive libraries/multi room/heavy use of dsp.

My choice will come down to Zenith Mk3 or Nucleus w outboard specialist LPS.
 

asiufy

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Jul 8, 2011
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#10
There is absolutely zero problems running Roon Core with the Innuos. I've clients even doing DSP with it.
I will PM with more information.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#12
Good news Keith. Just reporting what I'd read on Roon Community.
Just concerns that Zenith only just matched minimum level of CPU
Might struggle w future Roon upgrades requiring more computing power.

Your's and Marty's comments invaluable in pushing me twds Zenith Mk3.
 
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Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#13
Marc, AirBnB Ra’s loft and get the Innuos Statement.
 

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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#14
Before I head off to Axpona later this week, I thought I’d to give a brief update on my Innuous Zenith Mk3. I know for sure that streamer will not be on my radar as the Zenith Mk3/Roon has really taken me by surprise. The difference in sound compared to my MacBook/Audirvana set-up is very significant. Far more analog in every way. I was content with streaming as a music source, but not as a listening pleasure. It was, to be polite, adequate. But who knew that depth and soundstage could be extracted from 1’s and 0’s like this? I’m naturally curious to learn what the Innuous Statement can add to the Zenith Mk3, but at more than twice the price, it’s not in the cards. I have other places in the system I can earn my wife’s chagrin.

Once the unit settled in (about 2 weeks, just as Alex predicted), I played around with a bunch of ethernet cables since no one should be surprised they make a difference. There was no was in hell I was going to drop $$$$ on cable, so I explored some more affordable options. I wasted some money on some shielded Swedish Cat8 Supra cables, and some more money on the cheapest cables one can find on Amazon (ever wonder what kind of cable you can buy for 6 bucks?) . No need to name names, but I finally found a brand that sounds terrific and doesn’t cost a fortune. I’m currently using a loom of Triode Wire “Freedom” cables.

https://www.triodewirelabs.com/product/freedom-ethernet-cable/

The descriptor that first comes to mind is “natural” sounding. (DDK’s favorite word!). And natural they are. One can listen for hours and not think about the sound characteristics of the cable, but instead focus on the music. My “loom” consists of a 2m run from the wall jack to the Apple Extreme Router (house is wired with Belden Cat6); a 3m run from the Western Digital NAS drive to the Router, and an 8m run from the Router to the Innuos. Honestly, I know nothing about ethernet cable and don’t really want to know. But the TW Freedom cables are keepers for now. And reasonably priced to boot. All 3 cables were about 1K. They were delivered promptly and appear to be beautifully made.

I can’t help but wonder if, just like signal and power cables, the sound of ethernet cables is in part due to the wire, and in part due to the terminations. I’ve noticed that like many other high quality ethernet cables, the TriWire cables use German RJ45 connectors from Telegaertner.

https://www.telegaertner.com/en/info/highlights/mfp8/straight-version/

My guess is that they contribute to the cable’s excellent sound, but as to how much, I really have no idea. Nor do I care. (Finally, something not to perseverate over, but rather, just enjoy!)
 
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#15
Has anyone here compared a top server to a 'proxy' streamer as I call it. Such as the SOtM 200 Ultra. As I understand it, these connect to a Roon core on your computer, and draw the data from a NAS, then send that to the DAC. This avoids the chip / computer noise aspect altogether and I am told results in superb sound quality. It is also a much cheaper route. SOtM also make audio grade switches and LPS to compete the data system from the input to the house to the DAC.

Thoughts?
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#17
Astro, the SoTM range is a little offputting. No complaints on price, but the panoply of boxes strikes a bit of anxiety into my heart.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#18
Dear Marty,

Thank you for this continuing report!

Have you played with Qobuz? I am proselytizing big time on that these days!
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
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#19
Marty, Alex, anyone, can you confirm something? I'm 99% certain to go Zenith Mk3, but a dealer I'm looking to buy a dac from is adamant you still need to run a computer for Roon, even w Zenith.

This is wrong, surely? Zenith is RoonReady and RoonCore, meaning all you need is ethernet from router and usb to dac, and good to go.

Or am I misled on this?
 
Apr 24, 2018
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#20
Marty, Alex, anyone, can you confirm something? I'm 99% certain to go Zenith Mk3, but a dealer I'm looking to buy a dac from is adamant you still need to run a computer for Roon, even w Zenith.

This is wrong, surely? Zenith is RoonReady and RoonCore, meaning all you need is ethernet from router and usb to dac, and good to go.

Or am I misled on this?
Marc, I believe your understanding is correct, based on conversations with both Alex and Nuno at AXPONA.
 

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