Device Type: Music Server/DAC
Input: Ethernet, 4x USB data ports, Mic-in jack
Output: 1x USB, HDMI and VGA (for monitor), RCA pair, XLR pair (for sms-1000A)
Dimensions: 360×68×240 (mm)
Price: $3000.00 as reviewed (sms-1000U)
sPS-1000 Audiophile Linear Power Supply
Device Type: Linear Power Supply
Output: High level output: Voltage: 18Vdc, 19Vdc, 20Vdc, 21Vdc selectable, Current: 4A max, Mid level output: Voltage: 9Vdc, 10Vdc, 11Vdc, 12Vdc selectable, Current: 2A max, Low level output: Voltage: 5Vdc, 5.5Vdc, 6Vdc, 7Vdc selectable, Current: 1A max
Dimensions: 360 x 68 x 245 (mm)
Availability: Authorized Dealers
I favorably reviewed the SOtM sMS-1000U Music Server back in 2013 (see review). Since then, SOtM has been working on their flagship music server that now comes with the "SQ" model designation. Among the upgrades from "U" to "SQ" is a standard Solid State Drive (32G SSD for OS), a high quality audio grade USB 3.0 host card using the company's tX-USBexp PCI express USB 3.0 host interface card, external power option for the audio USB output, and a "much improved ultra low noise regulator, jitter clock and active noise canceler." The idea being, better sound.
SOtM offers the sMS-1000SQ in a number of configurations. Options include a Vortexbox-based Linux OS or Windows OS, expanded internal storage (4TB HDD, 120GB SSD, 250GB SSD, 500GB SSD or 1TB SSD), additional internal storage (4TB HDD, 120GB SSD, 250GB SSD, 500GB SSD or 1TB SSD), a slot in DVD RW or Bluray Drive, ultra Low Noise Jitter Clock options (sCLK-48.0 for USB output model, sCLK-2224 for Digital output or Analog output model), and a Silver SATA cable for HDD, SSD or ODD. It should be noted that the analog output version supports PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/196kHz and it will play DSD files once they've been converted to PCM in the app.
The version under review, sms-1000U, includes the Linux/Vortexbox platform, 32GB SSD storage, and the USB digital output. The sMS-1000SQ supports most file formats (AAC, AIFF, Apple lossless, APE, DFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, MP4, OGG, WAV, WMA) and PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz and double rate DSD (via DoP). Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer streaming are available through the ickStream plugin. You can also access Internet Radio.
Since there is no internal storage in the review sample, I mounted my Synology DS212 NAS as a Network Filesystem (NFS) using the Vortexbox web interface. This is not a simple one-step process but the downloadable manual from SOtM walks you through most of the required steps. What the manual leaves out is how to allow NFS access on your NAS, which will differ based on your NAS. I find Synology's DiskStation Manager (DSM) to be very easy to use, so setting up an NFS share for the sMS-1000SQ only took a few minutes.
You can use any compatible iOS/Android app for remote control as well as the browser-based SqueezeBox Server interface. SOtM recommends OrangeSqueeze for Android devices and iPeng 8 for the iPad or iPhone. I used iPeng8 on my iPad. Once you have everything set up and the sMS-1000SQ connected to your network via Ethernet, the iPeng 8 app will automatically connect to it and display your music library. If you add music to your NAS-based library after the initial setup, you need to go into the SqueezeBox Server Configuration settings and re-scan your library.
Setting up my Tidal account involved a few steps. You first have to activate the ickStream plugin in the SqueezeBox Server web interface. Once completed, Tidal will show up in the "My Apps" tab in the iPeng 8 app and you just need to provide your login credentials. Since I am a very big Tidal user/lover, this option was more than welcome.
The included sPS-1000 Audiophile Linear Power Supply allows for two connections to the SOtM server; one for main power, and one for USB output power. These connections are accomplished through the supplied short jumpers which are conveniently marked red on one end and blue on the other. I have to admit I was confused as to what went where but my contact at SOtM was kind enough to send a picture. Yea, silly of me I know. I also puzzled over the analog outputs since no internal DAC showed up in the config tab in the Vortexbox interface. I learned from SOtM that this unit was set up for display purposes at shows so those analog outputs don't output.
I like the overall look and feel of the SOtM components all clean, metallic, and minimal. They are nicely built and have a reassuring heft.
The review system included the Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amp driving a pair of DeVore Fidelity Xs. The DAC in-use was my reference Auralic Vega. For comparison purposes, I used my MacBook Pro running the latest version of the Roon software (v1.1).
It's the sound, of silence
This review will fairly closely mimic my review of the SOtM sMS-1000U Music Server in terms of sonic performance. What I hear when listening through many purpose-built servers and network players/streamers is a lower overall noise floor. This makes the music sound more alive, more vibrant, and simply easier to listen to. It's as if some underlying subtle annoyance has been removed.
I am a fan of the music and work of Bill Dixon and I can still kick myself for missing out on the opportunity to study with him while at Bennington College where Dixon headed the Black Music department. I was fortunate enough to see him a number of times is very intimate settings on campus as well as at venues in NYC. Berlin Abbozzi (FLAC download - Free Music Production) is from 17 October 2000 and features Dixon on trumpet, Matthias Bauer and Klaus Koch on double bass, and Tony Oxley on drums. This music is filled with sounds both strange and familiar with Dixon blowing vengeance and fury through his uncanny control of his instrument. The space of this recording is big and vast and the music unfolds within it in a natural manner. Played through the SOtM sMS-1000SQ, you can hear the depths of the space and voices of the double-double bases in a powerful and focused way. Very nice.
I spent weeks just listening through the sMS-1000SQ to all kinds of music in all kinds of formats. Again, with all of the music I played, there was a very nice sense a natural ease making listening pure pleasure. When it came for some comparisons, I queued up my trusty old Don Cherry album Art Deco from a CD rip and hit play. I know this recording like the proverbial back of my hand and through the sMS-1000SQ it sounded wonderful; tight, focused, with pinpoint spatial accuracy. Each instrument was clearly defined and nicely voiced. Bass response may have taken the most noticeable sound quality hit as it became less distinct and more bloated. Bummer.
I switched over to my MacBook Pro running Roon and things took a clear and very easy to hear step away from that lovely sound picture. Spatial queues were more diffuse, the overall space of the recording became blurred, and a slightly unnatural edge crept into instrumental voices, especially Cherry's pocket trumpet. Of greater importance, listening became less natural, and more forced. There was more work to be done by my ear/brain combo to get beyond reproduction. This kind of change is most notable when listening over time and with the sMS-1000SQ in the picture, there was a more direct path to musical enjoyment.
Next up, or I should say next out, was the sPS-1000 LPS. While not as great a difference as the one between my MacBook and the sMS-1000S/sPS-1000 combo, there was a clear loss of refinement. Most notable here was a blurring of Billy Higgins drum kit which sounded as if I lost some amount of micro detail that makes things like cymbal hits and decay sound more convincingly real. Things also seemed to sound a bit harsher, as if dynamics had been stunted making for a less natural, more shouty presentation.
To sum up, the sMS-1000S/sPS-1000 combo delivers musical performance that easily surpasses my MacBook Pro running Roon. If wishes were fishes, I'd like to see SOtM add Roon as the playback control software since I find Roon to simply crush every other software interface out there by a country mile. It certainly makes iPeng 8 seem broken especially when dealing with its Tidal non-integration.
More Convincing Music
This is what we're after; music that sounds like music and not like reproduction. The SOtM sMS-1000S/sPS-1000 combo delivers on every sonic count that counts for me and I view it as a very worthy contender for your ears, your brain, and your music.