Sonore Signature Series Rendu
Output: I2S, Coax S/PDIF (BNC)
Dimensions: 12.75in (width) x 3in (height) x 10.25in (depth)
Availability: direct and through authorized dealers
Streaming your NAS-based music from storage to speakers requires a device that sits in between. The requirements for this device are twofold; it needs to recognize your network attached storage (NAS) and make it available to another device, typically iOS or Android, which acts as your remote control for playback. In UPnP parlance, which I find as clear and easy to remember as Latin, and I never studied Latin, we're talking about a renderer and a control point. The Sonore Signature Series Rendu is, as its name suggests, a renderer whose job it is to serve up your network attached music. It'll also stream from Tidal as you'll learn about below.
Some people like to think that all network players are created more or less equal; a $35 Raspberry Pi being every bit as good as everything less, regardless of everything else including cost. So things that we know make sonic differences like power supplies, internal noise, re-clocking, protection from external noise, processing power, and more, somehow don't matter and a $35 device that doesn't deal with many of these important aspects of overall performance magically disappear like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Knowing that you've spent $35 while others have spent thousands on the * same thing * offering an equally satiating self-satisfied belch. The problem is, it's just not true.
Sonore have taken care in the design and manufacturing of the Signature Series Rendu to ensure its performance is not hindered by sonically deleterious stuff while improving on their lower-cost Rendu:
We decided the correct way to go would be to upgrade all facets of the design making incremental improvements which add up to considerable performance gains. The power supply is upgraded both in parts quality and layout. The big addition is the new isolated, clock/re-clock, output board. By specification, the Ethernet input is already isolated from the noise on the network, but there is still some noise produced on the processing board. To generate an absolutely pure clock signal, we added a separate, isolated, output board with a separately regulated power supply. This output board holds the dual Crystek CCHD oscillators, the re-clocking circuitry, and the output drive circuitry for SPDIF and I2S. Because the Signature Series Rendu generates clean clocks and then reclocks on the output board right before the SPDIF and I2S output jitter is lowered even further. Additionally, a very special SPDIF driver circuitry results in a perfectly clean SPDIF waveform which allows one to get the best out of any SPDIF input DAC.You read that right; the Signature Series Rendu offers Coax S/PDIF and I2S output only. No USB. The sole input is Ethernet. To get the Signature Series Rendu ready for play, just connect it to your network and DAC, plug it in and power it up.
The Rendu supports PCM sample rates up to 192kHz as well as DSD128 via DoP for S/PDIF and native DSD over I2S. You can also stream from Tidal HiFi as long as your NAS is running BubbleUPNP when using an Android device for playback or BubbleServer for use with Linn's Kazoo controller for iOS devices. For DSD playback, your NAS needs to be running MinimServer, JRiver, or Foobar2000 with the SACD plug-in.
For this review, I installed BubbleServer on my Synology DS412+ NAS which also runs MinimServer. For playback, I loaded up Linn's free Kazoo app on my iPad mini. I employed two DACs; the dCS Rossini DAC/Clock via S/PDIF and the review sample PS Audio DirectStream Junior via I2S. I used HDMI cables from AudioQuest as the I2S link which I'll talk about below.
The Signature Series Rendu sports a brushed aluminum faceplate, black metal chassis, and custom footers that employ Sorbothane for vibration control. Sonore also includes a 1M Blue Jean Cable bonded Ethernet cable (with test certificate) which I was not able to use due to distance requirements so I stuck with my AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable. The Rendu feels nice and solid and is certainly simple looking with nothing on its face besides the screened company name, product name, and a very tiny blue power status LED. The on/off switch resides around back but I'd expect owners will only use it on rare occasions, preferring to leave the Rendu On.
Just The Bits
It has been my experience, and continues to be, that the performance of music servers and network players like the Signature Series Rendu exist on a recognizable sonic scale. In other words, they tend to affect the quality of system performance in varying degrees according to some key performance parameters. These include dynamics, micro detail, tone color, bass control, and spatial cues both in terms of the overall sound picture and the clarity within it.
It would logically follow that if I had every single network player on the market here at one time, I could theoretically compare all of them using the same sonic scale, say 1 to 10 for each of these performance parameters. Since this is not physically or logistically possible, I'll make due with what I have on hand and instead of numbers, I'm going to rely on words since numbers do not speak to outcomes, i.e. what does it mean if component A offers spatial cues rated as a 3 compared to component B's 8. I know, 5!
Let's begin with the easy part; the Sonore Signature Series Rendu betters my MacBook Pro running Roon in every one of these key performance parameters. Music simply sounds more natural, better focused, more delineated in space, with improved dynamics and detail. These improvements allow me to better hear into my music and better connect to it. If we want to begin to put together a story as to why and how the Sonore accomplishes these improvements, I'd suggest we simply re-read what the company claims to be their key concerns.
Then, re-read some of our other reviews of music servers like the Antipodes DX (see review) or the Bel Canto REFStream Asynchronous Ethernet Renderer (see review), and you'll read that these companies are dealing with similar concerns.
Moving into more price-worthy comparative territory, I spent some time listening to both the Sonore and the review sample Aurender N100H ($2699). The Aurender offers USB-out only so I had it leashed to the PS Audio DirectStream Junior via USB along with the Sonore connected to Junior via I2S. Cabling was from AudioQuest, the AQ Diamond USB USB cable and the AQ Diamond HDMI cable so we can forget about cables and focus on components (yea, that's kind of a dare ;-).
Using the DirectStream Junio's remote, I was able to remain in the listening seat and switch between I2S and USB, and using my iPad mini, I was able to switch between Lin's Kazoo remote app and Aurender's own app. Basically I would just let the same music play on both so that I could simply switch between inputs to do my comparisons.
Wow. Very close. The kind of close I'd imagine I'd miss in a brief A/B comparison but over time and varied music it became clearer that the Sonore offered a tighter sound image where the Aurender sounded a bit fatter and looser in comparison. Again, we're talking a subtle difference but in my experience subtle can be like spice; you may love a dish with the right spice while finding the same dish with the wrong spice just OK. Eat with relish or fill yourself.
Difference certainly raises the specter of "better" but I'm going to stick to preference. If you like music on the rich, big, bold and warm side, the Aurender may serve you more to your liking. If, on another hand, you prefer tight, big, focused (especially bass), and resolute, the Sonore should be on your "listen to" list. Of course how one's system is weighted will also play a role in which sonic spice you prefer. It's also worth noting that the kinds of sonic changes we're talking about do not add things like bass or treble extension, they enhance what's there, bring your music into clearer focus.
To my mind, and to my preferences, I could easily live with either the Sonore or the Aurender. What's of equal importance for me is the interface to my music and I actually find Linn's Kazoo pretty OK and the Aurender app better. Neither comes close to the enjoyment I get from Roon/Tidal.
Forgetting About The Bits
I love, love, love the idea of getting my MacBook out of my hi-fi. The Sonore Signature Series Rendu offers up as good a case for doing so as I've encountered so far.
Also in-use during the Signature Series Rendu review: dCS Rossini, PS Audio DirectStream Junior, Aurender N100H