Sonore by Simple Design microRendu
Input: Ethernet (10/100/1000)
Output: USB 2.0
Dimensions: 3 ½ x 2 ¼ x ⅞
Weight: not much
Price: $640 w/o power supply, iFi iPower power supply (+$50), Sonore Signature Series Linear Power Supply (+$1,399)
I like simple. I appreciate uncomplicated. Yet I write about computer audio. I also listen to music every day for most of the day so I'm very much interested in the quality of that experience. I've been waiting years for these things to come together and they finally have.
The purpose-built-for-audio microRendu, which is about the size of a deck of playing cards, has an Ethernet input on one side along with a barrel type power inlet (6-9 VDC at 1 Amp min continuous), and on the other side resides a USB output and a micro SD card slot (the card houses the OS). Simple. Inside there's a micro computer running the company's Sonicorbiter operating system, built in conjunction with Small Green Computer, while the hardware, including the proprietary printed circuit board, is also the product of a collaboration between Sonore by Simple Design, Small Green Computer, and John Swenson (of Uptone Audio REGEN fame). There's am improved REGEN inside every microRendu since it also houses a USB hub that "generates a completely new USB data signal to feed your device." Great care has been taken on the tiny innards so that noise does not pollute the outgoing audio signal.
The microRendu comes preloaded with the following software 'outputs' (how you want to interface with your music); SqueezeLite, ShairPort, MPD/DLNA, Signalyst NAA (HQPlayer), and Roon Ready. Selecting one of these outputs through the microRendu's browser-based interface takes all of a minute. PCM sample rates up to 768kHz and DSD to DSD512 are supported depending on your DAC.
In order to use the microRendu you need to have a few other things; a music collection stored on either a NAS or a hard drive attached to or inside a server, an Ethernet network, and a USB DAC attached to your hi-fi. Depending on which output mode you choose to use, the NAS or server must also run the appropriate software. For this review, I used an Intel NUC running Roon Server and my Synology 412+ NAS which houses my music library. Connectivity wise, the NAS is plugged into a NetGear ProSafe 8-port switch with a length of AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable, the NUC is attached to the same switch also with AQ Ethernet cable, as is the mircoRendu. The switch is connected to my ASUS RT-AC68U router.
I did not spend any time, at all, with any of the other outputs with the exception of adding HQPlayer on the backend of Roon. More about that in a separate review. The reason for this is I find Roon, especially when coupled with Tidal's HiFi streaming service, to be better than anything else on the market by a few country miles (see review): Roon brings the computer audio experience out of the dark ages and into the 21st C. For example, once you download and install Roon Server on your server, again I'm using a $535 Intel NUC for this purpose, which takes all of a few minutes, and point Roon to your NAS, which takes all of a minute, you are done with the hard part.
Since I had the NUC Roon'd and ready, I just had to connect the microRendu to my network and my DAC and plug it in. Then I opened the microRendu's browser interface by entering its IP address in my browser and selected Roon Ready as the output. Done. Every device running Roon, which includes my iPad, iPhone, and iMac, automatically see the microRendu. All I had to do was select it in the Roon app as my output device. Done. Time to play music.
One more thing—let's say you want to play music to another device(s) on the same network. I do, since my iMac is in charge of playing music on my desktop system. Since I have Roon installed on the iMac, and the review sample Mytek Brooklyn DAC connected to it, the Brooklyn also shows up as a "Zone" in Roon. So does the Roon Ready review sample totaldac d1-integral-headphone music server/DAC. So I can play to any of these devices from the Roon app, and group them or not, from my iPad, iPhone, or iMac.
Simple Done Right
With the Sonore microRendu in my system, my music sounds as good, or better, than it ever has. Period. This systems has included multi-thousand dollar servers and streamers and the microRendu sounds at least as good, and in most cases better than any of them. For a specific example, I compared the microRendu to the recently reviewed Baetis Audio Revolution III Media Server and found that I preferred the microRendu. Sound quality-wise, I A/B'd between the two using the recently reviewed PS Audio DirectStream Junior1 over days and weeks and the little microRendu simply sounded better. It's worth noting that the AES cable that was included for the Baetis review costs $1,250.
When the tiny microRendu first arrived I compared it to my trusty old MacBook Pro, which has been serving my tunes for years. This comparison lasted all of a few minutes as it was no contest—out went the worse-sounding MacBook Pro which will never again be a part of my hi-fi. The microRendu makes music sound more like music and less like some overly-processed rendition thereof. Every recording opens up into a more natural-sounding space, the noise floor drops to reveal greater micro-detail, nuance, and increased dynamic range, while tone colors become more vivid and you, your mind & body become more relaxed and able to simply listen and enjoy. What more do you need to know?
I attached the microRendu to the Auralic Vega, PS Audio DirectStream Junior, and the Simaudio Moon 280D Streaming DSD DAC and it consistently performed beautifully. For a really nice budget system, I plugged the review sample DragonFlys directly into the microRendu and sent the analog signal to my Ayre AX-5 Twenty via the AQ Mini to RCA converter/AQ Red River interconnects. When coupled with the iFi power supply and the DragonFly Black, we're looking at less than $800 for the digital front end hardware. You can also use the DragonFlys on the go by connecting them to your smartphone but that's another story.
Let's talk power. I have the iFi power supply and Sonore's own Signature Series Linear Power Supply. For a very good sounding budget setup, the iFi supply works wonders. If you want the microRendu to sound exceptionally good, get the Sonore supply. It's really that simple. All of the positive sonic traits the microRendu imparts on a system, and let's please keep in mind we're talking about a system, are ramped up and improved upon in a very obvious way with the more expensive Sonore power supply. I kinda wish it wasn't so, but it is.
It's worth noting that there are any number of other external power supply options that fall somewhere in between the price of the iFi and Sonore Signature, many of which are listed on the Sonore website. I have not had any of these in-barn so I cannot comment on their performance but I'm very tempted to explore some other options in search of an in-between...
What More Do You Need To Know
If you own a USB DAC and want to play network-attached music through it, the Sonore microRendu is currently the best option I've come across—regardless of price. If that doesn't make your computer-audio-music-loving heart bulge with delight, I don't know what will.
If you want to enjoy this experience and not futz with crappy software, run Roon on it. If you want to add access to a few million CD-quality albums for $20/month, get Tidal HiFi. This should keep your mind on your music and off computer audio for years to come.
1. It's worth noting that the DirectStream Junior will soon be Roon Ready so you will no longer need the microRendu in that playback picture.
Also in-use during the microRendu review: Auralic Vega, Simaudio Moon 280D Streaming DSD DAC, PS Audio DirectStream Junior