Sonore by Simple Design microRendu: An Audiophile Odyssey
The microRendu is a tiny computer that has been designed to offer USB DACs an optimum link to their computer or NAS libraries via an Ethernet connection. Simple Design has brought together their insights with Small Green Computer and John Swenson to create a microcomputer that runs on a modified Linux operating system called the Sonic Orbiter with a built in a circuit to regenerate a new USB data signal. The microRendu has a proprietary printed circuit board that does away with non-essential components that don’t serve music reproduction.
Michael Lavorgna has done a fine job describing and discussing the microRendu in his recent AudioStream review. It is highly recommended reading as a preface to reading this review. I will be presenting my experiences with the microRendu and the associated products that helped to bring this component to life in my audio system.
The Ethernet Network
My ASUS G501 JW laptop is approximately 60 feet away from my ASUS RT-AC87U router making a directly wired Ethernet connection very difficult to accomplish. I decided to purchase an ASUS Dual-Band AC1900 Repeater Range Extender, Media Bridge, Access Point with USB 3.0 (RP-AC68U) to provide an Ethernet connection for the microRendu. After all, I had had excellent results with Roon and the HQPlayer with the ASUS laptop running the Roon server, or as Roon refers to it, as the “Core”. I also decided to contact Stephen Mejias from AudioQuest to see if they would loan me several of their Ethernet cables for this review. Stephen put me in contact with AudioQuest’s Steve Silberman who was quite adamant that a wireless connection for my laptop was not really the best way to achieve top-grade sound from the microRendu. He suggested a setup that provided electrical isolation for the network with a system similar to that recently described and successfully used by Michael Lavorgna, but including the Netgear switch.
- 2x TP-LINK MC200CM Gigabit Media Converter, 1000Mbps RJ45 to 1000M multi-mode SC fiber, up to 550m/1800ft
- Tripp Lite Duplex Multimode 62.5/125 Fiber Patch Cable (SC/SC), 2M (6-ft.)(N306-006)
- NETGEAR ProSAFE GS108 8-Port Gigabit Desktop Switch
Comparing this isolated setup with using just a wireless connection for the Asus and the wireless media bridge for the microRendu, I found the sound to only improve by a marginal amount. The problem was the 4 SMPS power supply wall warts for the Netgear switch, the 2 TP-Link Converters, and the ASUS media bridge. Connecting these SMPS power supplies to a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 made a considerable improvement. But I decided to replace these noisy AC/DC SMPS power supplies with less noisy linear power supplies. To accomplish this, I used 2 HDPlex 100 linear power supplies to power the 4 devices. I then plugged the HDPlex 100 into the Shunyata Hydra DPC-6 v2. The results were simply spectacular sounding! The improvement in the system’s sound using this isolated Ethernet setup with linear power supplies displayed a larger, more open, and cleaner sound compared to the wireless setup. It was definitely worth the extra effort.
In addition, going to an Ethernet connection for my computer as opposed to WiFi solved an intermittent dropout of the music I was experiencing. This also fixed an issue that I was having with the HQPlayer streaming to the microRendu. After about 30 minutes of play, the connection between the microRendu and the HQPlayer was disconnected. With the Ethernet setup, everything worked perfectly.
The AudioQuest Ethernet Cables
I had asked AudioQuest’s Stephen Mejias to send me any 2 of his Ethernet cables for use in this review. Well, Stephen wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily. A big box arrived with 2 of each Ethernet model that AudioQuest manufactures. Included were the RG/E Ethernet Diamond ($1195.00), Vodka ($339.00), Cinnamon ($89.00), Forrest ($49.00), and Peal ($29.00). All prices were for 1.5-meter lengths.
Michael Lavorgna has previously reviewed these AudioQuest Ethenet cables at AudioStream finding them to make an ever-increasing difference and improvement as one ascends the product line.
My findings were similar to Michael’s results. Not only did these cables sound better to me than my Belkin CAT-6 Ethernet cables, but ascending the product line resulted in a bigger, quieter, more relaxed sound that was not difficult to hear. I should note that I had greater difficulty hearing differences in these AudioQuest Ethernet cables until I installed the isolated Ethernet setup with linear power supplies. The Diamond and Vodka cables also utilize premium Telegärtner Ethernet connectors as an additional plus in physical performance. For me, the “best buy” in terms of price and performance was the Vodka. But I had no difficulty hearing the superiority of the Diamond, so much so, that I purchased two of these premium Ethernet cables for my system.
Michael and Steve Silberman identified “critical” positions for use of these AudioQuest cables. The Asus computer and the microRendu benefited from these upgrade Ethernet cables. The effect was less apparent using them in the other positions, but I was able to hear small improvements.
Associated Computer Components Used In The Review
As previously mentioned, I used my Asus G501 JW laptop running Windows 10 Pro 64 bit to act as the server or Roon Core for the microRendu. The Asus G501 JW possesses an Intel Core i7 4720HQ 2.6 GHz processor with 16 GB RAM and a very fast PCE Express X4 SSD. This laptop has 3 USB 3.0 ports as well as a Thunderbolt port. The Asus laptop was plugged into a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 distribution center to firewall the noise generated by this computer from contaminating my AC line.
The Asus was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block as was the computer. Two 8 TB GRAID Thunderbolt drives were connected; one for PCM and the other for DSD files. AudioQuest Coffee Thunderbolt cables were used. The GRAID Thunderbolt drives were powered by HDPlex 100w linear power supplies plugged into the Shunyata Hydra DPC-6 ver 2. The GRAID Thunderbolt drives and their HDPlex power supplies were placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base.
I decided to use the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base with the new Premium Quad USB2 Module for this review. The Premium Quad Module represents MSB Technology’s most advanced implementation of USB for their DAC with superior isolation compared to their previous efforts. The Analog DAC was plugged into a Shunyata Research Triton v2 / Typhon using Shunyata’s Sigma Digital AC cable. The DAC was also placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF. The microRendu and its power supply sat on a Tranquility Base.
Using the midroRendu
The microRendu has numerous selectable outputs accessed by your web browser. I elected to use the RoonReady output and the HQPlayer NAA output. Although the microRendu comes with a small solid USB connector that is used between the microRendu and your DAC, I found it easier in my installation to use an AudioQuest .5-meter Diamond USB cable.
microRendu Power Supplies
The microRendu needs a 6-9 volt power supply that is not included. The microRendu is rated at a power input of 6-9 VDC at 1 Amp min continuous. I used three different DC power supplies for this review. The iFi Audio iPower , the HDPlex 100 watt linear power supply, and the Sonore Signature Power Supply. Sonore sells the iFi iPower for $50. I found this low-noise SMPS to work quite well with the microRendu. Its rated 9v output did run the microRendu warmer than the other 2 power supplies, but it was not an operating issue.
Using the HDPlex 100 watt linear power supply was a big upgrade sound wise from the iPower. This $399 linear power supply was able to supply 7 volts to the microRendu. With its independent 19V/12V, User Adjustable 5V-19.5V for the 9V output, and 5V output, this power supply was easy to use for this application as well as numerous others in my system. The HDPlex sounded bigger with stronger and better-defined bass compared to the iPower. I found the sound to be more open sounding with better definition compared to the iPower.
The Sonore Signature Power Supply at $1399 is Sonore’s all-out top grade power supply designed to drive the microRendu. Most everything about this power supply is deluxe from the Cardas-Sonore custom DC output cable; custom made footers with Sorbothane isolators, beautiful aluminum case, and many United States sourced parts. The Sonore Signature Power Supply was designed specifically to provide an ultra low noise, and ultra low impedance supply for the microRendu. The Sonore Signature has a custom ultra-low noise discrete linear regulator as well as the ability to provide the necessary peak current for the microRendu.
At first listening to the Sonore Signature Power Supply, I noticed a fuller sound than that of the HDPlex that was definitely more pleasing. But I had difficulty enjoying the over-all sound of the Sonore. The midrange and highs seemed to be recessed compared to what I was hearing with the HDPlex. I knew something wasn’t right, so I placed 3 Synergistic Research MIG 2.0 Isolation Footers under the Sonore Signature. The resultant sound was now magnificent with wonderful definition and balanced sound from top to bottom. The Sorbothane footers on the Signature might be just right for your installation, but substituting the MIG 2.0s made a world of difference for me.
The Sound of the microRendu
Setting up the microRendu to accept streaming from my ASUS running the Roon Server was extremely easy. I selected RoonReady in the microRendu software, and the microRendu then appeared in the network setting of my Roon server. It is just that easy.
I was very impressed with what I heard with the microRendu inserted in my system as opposed to playing my MSB Analog DAC directly from my ASUS computer. The noise floor dropped to the lowest I have yet experienced allowing an enormous soundstage to emerge that was holographic in its presentation. Fine details emerged, particularly with well-recorded orchestral music, which was previously obscured. The definition, focus, and micro dynamic qualities of the music were allowed to present themselves in a superior fashion compared to the ASUS with associated USB enhancement devices. The bass was tight and well defined with greater power and palpable dynamic changes. The biggest improvement I experienced was a lifting of a subtle veil and low-level grit that was not previously noticed until I compared the microRendu with the ASUS.
But as my editor Michael Lavorgna has previously stated, getting the small things right can make a big difference to the overall perceived sonic experience. My previous efforts in network isolation, linear power supplies, quality Ethernet cables, and the Synergistic Research MIG 2.0 footers allowed me to adequately hear what the microRendu was capable of. I then setup the microRendu software for the HQPlayer. I changed a few settings of the HQPlayer on my ASUS, and allowed the HQPlayer to stream to the microRendu. I converted everything to DSD128 for this exercise. The sound was excellent and worked perfectly with the MSB Analog DAC. I did find that the microRendu does not support native DSD with the Analog DAC making DSD 256 conversion unusable in this application.
I was curious to see how the microRendu handled the solo piano—an instrument that can be difficult to reproduce. I listened to the wonderful DSD recording of Narel Arghamanyan performing Rachmaninov; Morceaux de Fantasie; Etudes-Tableaus, and the Corelli Variations. Playing this recording through the microRendu resulted in the most convincing reproduction of piano overtones I have yet experienced. The dynamics of the recording were stunning with the full power and majesty of the piano reproduced in a convincing manner. The low-level background silence allowed the subtle venue acoustics to be easily identified.
Doug MacLeod’s reference recording Exactly Like This never sounded better to me when played with the microRendu. The focus and definition of the instruments and voice were exemplary. The microRendu allowed the music to flow effortlessly with outstanding dynamic life and detail. This 24/176.4 recording is recorded at a low level forcing one to turn up the volume. The microRendu allowed the transient quickness and impact of the drums to emerge from a deep black background.
An Interesting Finding
In Michael’s review of the Intel NUC and sonicTransporter computers, he felt that the sonicTransporter sounded better streaming to the microRendu than the Intel NUC. It would appear that the microRendu is sensitive to the computer streaming to it. Interesting enough, when I installed Fidelizer Pro 7.3 to the ASUS running Windows 10 Pro, I noticed an improvement to the sound that was easy to recognize.
An Audiophile Odyssey
When I decided to evaluate the microRendu, I never expected to get that involved in the Ethernet setup or power supply evaluation. But this audiophile journey allowed me to experience what the microRendu was truly capable of. I enthusiastically endorse the use of the mcroRendu to elicit exceptional sound from your USB DAC. The combination of the microRendu and the Sonore Signature Power Supply provided me with an outstanding musical experience that was truly impressive.
Associated Components Used in the Review
Ayre MX-R Twenty amps, Ayre KX-R Twenty preamp, Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 4 interconnects and speaker cables, and Wilson Sasha speakers / Wilson Watch Dog II subwoofer.