SOtM sMS-1000SQ Windows Edition (Windows Server 2012 R2)
Output: USB Audio, AES/EBU, Coaxial, Optical, HDMI and VGA (video)
Dimensions: 360 × 68 × 240 (mm)
Availability: Online and through authorized dealers
Price: $3500.00 (Digital Version, no internal music storage) + $1000.00 for the SOtM sPS-1000 Linear Power Supply
The SOtM sMS-1000SQ Windows Edition comes with AudiophileOptimizer. See Steve Plaskin's review to learn the ins and outs of AO. I'll just add/agree that it makes this machine sound better, too. The review SOtM unit is the Digital Version, meaning there's no DAC inside. There's also no internal storage, you can add music storage (up to 4TB). What you have, then, is an Optimized Windows server that can come pre-loaded with your choice of Roon, TIDAL, Qobuz, Foobar2000 & JRiver (you have to pay for whatever you decide to use) that will send its digital output to DAC of choice.
The sMS-1000SQ Windows Edition comes with either Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows 10Pro pre-installed (either will work with AudiophileOptimizer). The basic guts consist of an Intel-based 64-bit motherboard, a 64G SSD for OS and apps (also available as 120GB, 250GB, 500GB, etc.), an Atom N2800 1.8 GHz CPU with 4GB of RAM, and SOtM's esteemed tX-USBexp PCIe card for USB audio out (see review).
That USB output also offers the option of providing the sometimes required +5.0V power to your DAC, or not. On or off, the later eliminating the possibility of electrical noise traveling to your DAC. File format support includes all of the big players (like FLAC, DSD, DSF, AIFF, APE, WAV). USB is the output of choice if you want to play back PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD128. AES/EBU, Coaxial, and Optical max out at 24-bit/192kHz, no DSD.
The review unit also came with the optional matching SOtM sPS-1000 Linear Power Supply ($1000). I'm a fan of the SOtM look all minimal and modern and non-flashy. Beyond the SOtM logo, there's a camouflaged power button on each device. That's it. The aluminum encloses come in black or silver.
I chose to run with Roon all-the-way, meaning the sMS-1000SQ acted as both Roon Server and Roon Endpoint, feeding my totaldac d1-six and the T+A DAC 8 via USB. The DAC-in-use was wired to my Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amp, which drove the DeVore gibbon X. All wires are Tellurium Q Black.
Before I jump into the review proper, I think it's important to point out the message in that screen shot; while I've seen audiophiles load slowly, I've never seen Roon display this message. You have to wonder, I do, if a 1.8 GHz CPU with 4GB of RAM is, well, adequate for the task at hand. I have no way of knowing for certain if this was the cause of this problem, which occurred 6 times during the month-long+ review period, but seeing as I've never seen this error message before, I have to believe the blame falls on the sMS-1000SQ. If you have a large library, say north of 20,000 tracks, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.
Of course anyone interested in running HQPlayer will have to look elsewhere as well as it requires more horsepower than what the sMS-1000SQ has on tap.
Levels of Refinement
When comparing different Roon server/endpoint solutions, what we end up talking about are levels of refinement. For this review, I compared the SOtM to my sonicTransporter/microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1 rig (total cost $1680) as well as the review Sound Galleries SGM 2015 ($16,000) server. I mainly used the SOtM with my totaldac but I also tried out the T+A DAC 8 for good measure.
Moving from my usual sonicTransporter/microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1 setup to the SOtM server running AudiophileOptimizer introduced a lighter and cleaner sound. When I first made this switch, I felt the move to SOtM was a step in the right direction according to my preferences so I listened to the SOtM/totaldac combo for a number of weeks, simply enjoying myself and my music.
When I switched back, expecting a step back in preference, I was wrong. While the SOtM may provide a more detailed sound, the sonicTransporter/microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1 delivered more grunt, more body, and more perceived texture. Music sounded richer and more rewarding. I used the track "My God", among many others, from African Head Charge's Song Of Praise for part of this A/B and this song simply had more impact—viscerally and emotionally—when played through the sT/mR combo.
I also performed the same comparisons using the T+A DAC 8 and had very similar results; the SOtM sounded lighter in weight and more finely detailed. However, I also noticed that some sonic particulars stuck out a bit more with the SOtM, making the whole sound less cohesive. This was most notable with sounds in the upper midrange, which proved a tad distracting to the overall musical flow.
To recap, listening to the SOtM was not uninspiring; to the contrary, it was enjoyable. But compared to the sonicTransporter/microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1 rig, it did not offer the same level of musical engagement.
I will very briefly also talk about the elephant in the room; the Sound Galleries SGM 2015 server. This (much) more costly box comes with HQPlayer which does a number of things. Of greatest sonic import is the ability to fine tune, in software, the signal sent to your DAC. In the case of the T+A DAC 8, this means turning every musical bit into filtered DSD512 before it gets to the DAC 8. There's a very different sonic recipe for the totaldac but we'll talk more about this in the SG review proper. Suffice it to say that the SG made both DACs, and the sound of my system, sound much better. More natural, more fluid, more musical.
For my ears, my system, and the DACs I have on hand, the SOtM server did not better my less costly sonicTransporter/microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1 rig. While there were a few checks in the SOtM's plus column, including a greater sense of detail, they did not outweigh what went missing.1
1Upon reading this review for fact check purposes, the people from SOtM believe the review unit to be defective. As such, I will return this unit for testing and will receive it or a new unit back for a follow up review.
Also in-use during the SOtM sMS-1000SQ review: sonicTransporter/microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1, Sound Galleries SGM 2015 server, totaldac d1-six, T+A DAC 8